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

Monday, February 29, 2016

Remote Control Cars: Religion vs. Christianity

The following analogy has been stolen from Pastor Alistair Begg and expanded upon.  I'm sure Alistair borrowed it as well, but I'll give him credit for it.

Imagine you are a young person and it's Christmas morning.  You rush downstairs to find the tree surrounded by gifts and you search for the one with your name on it.  You finally find it and begin to shake the box.  You can't wait to unwrap it.

Your parents finally wake up, I mean it's 5:30 a.m. for goodness sake, and they tell you to wait just awhile before opening gifts.  You are so excited to open that box.

Your parents finally get their coffee and Dad reads the Christmas story.  Now, you can open your gift.  You tear into the paper and discover what lies beneath, a remote control car!  Dad gives you his pocket knife so you can open the box and pry apart all of the plastic pieces that tie down your long awaited prize.  Once the car is free you set it down on the kitchen floor, you grab the remote and press down on the accelerator button and...


You look disheartened and try again.


You finally go back to the box to examine to see if you can figure out the problem.


Right on the box in all caps those words every Christmas morning should be without: BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED.  With those three words every promise the toy made you that morning was broken until tomorrow when a store opened up that had batteries.


Religion can be like this.  Religion promises us a lot, but most promises are modified by a BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED clause.  Religion gives us a great task, one that is worthwhile, but is unattainable because the batteries are missing.  Religious people try and try but the power just isn't there.

Christianity is different.

Christianity is the only religion of BATTERIES INCLUDED.  Christianity rests on the promise that for what we are to do God provides the power in which to do it.  There are things the Christian will do after conversion, but he/she is supplied with the power to do it.

"His (Jesus') divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.  Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love." 2 Peter 1:3-7

See, as a Christian you will grow.  The remote control car will move, but it won't be from your own power.  No, the car will move because of the batteries that were included.  The power to follow Christ is not something we muster up, it is something that has been given to us and BECAUSE of that we make every effort to follow Him.

Religion gives us a task but no power to do it.  Christianity gives us a task as well (not to earn salvation but to experience it) and gives us the power to do it.

More than that, at death the Christian won't need to wonder if he's done enough to gain the salvation of his soul.  At death he knows that he will receive it, not because of what he's done, but entirely because of what Christ did.

If you are a Christian thank God that figuratively stamped on you are the words BATTERIES INCLUDED.  If you are not a Christian, I ask you to stop trying to do the impossible task of powering yourself.  Stop trying and rest in what Jesus has already done for you and get ready for what Jesus is going to do through you if you believe in Him today.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sunday Worship on Oscars Day

Today was another great day to worship at my church, Grace Baptist.  Below are a couple of the songs we did in worship.  Also, below that is a post about the Oscars that I wrote last year.

Below is the post from last year.

The Oscars

Tomorrow night the 87th Academy Awards will be held in Los Angeles, CA.  Millions of people will watch to see the winners announced, the beautiful dresses worn and great musical performances given.  The spotlight will be turned on the films of the last year and those who made them.

I, like a lot of people, enjoy guessing who will be a winner in the major categories, despite the fact that I've only seen a handful of the films being honored.  There's something fun about guessing the awards.  I think Best Picture will go to Boyhood, Best Actor to Michael Keaton, Best Actress to Julianne Moore, Best Supporting Actor to J. K. Simmons, Best Actress to Patricia Arquette and Best Director to Richard Linklater.

There's an anticipation people have to find out if their picks match the real thing.  I look forward to seeing if I'm right, too.

Anticipation and wondering is fun.  Hoping you're right but not knowing for sure or simply wanting to watch the winners announced inspires us watch the Oscars.

Christianity is so different from the Oscars.

We don't have to wait to find out who wins.  Jesus wins.  Anticlimactic, I know.

We win, too.

We are part of Jesus' victory.  At the cross Jesus won and in the end every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, we already know this.  We get the victory with Him.  Graciously He makes us part of the cast of the greatest picture ever made.  See God's story, HISstory, wins Best Picture.  Jesus wins Best Actor.  God wins Best Director.  And in all this He lets us have a part in this great story.

We get to be players in the greatest story ever told!  God doesn't need us in the least bit, but He lets us play a part.  Rather, than just watching, He lets us participate in His glorious story.

Here's the question: are you going to sit and watch or are you going to play a part?  Are you going to make a difference for Jesus in this story?  God becomes part of our story and that is amazing, but He lets us be a part of His story... history... and that is even more amazing.

Play a part in the His story today.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Don't Tell Anyone

"While He (Jesus) was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy.  And when he saw Jesus he fell on his face and begged Him, 'Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.'  And Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, 'I will; be clean.'  And immediately the leprosy left him.  And He charged him to tell no one, but 'go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.'  But now even more the report about Him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of the their infirmities.  But He would withdraw to desolate places and pray."  Luke 5:12-16

One observation from this passaged hit me this morning.

"He charged him to tell no one... but now even more the report about Him went abroad."

Jesus, for some reason that I will not go into in this post, asked the man cured of leprosy to tell no one.  The man obviously told a lot of people because the word spread.  In fact, there are many times in the Gospels when Jesus asked those healed not to tell anyone and they went and told everyone.

Did Jesus do this as a sort of a reverse psychology?  I don't think so.  But look at the irony of the situation.  I'm commissioned to tell everyone about what Jesus has done for me and I tell very few.  This man was asked to tell no one and he told many.

Some of you might say, "Well, if you were healed of leprosy you'd tell everyone, too."  But I have been healed of ALL diseases.  The Gospel guarantees me healing from ALL diseases in eternity.  The Gospel gives me peace with God.  The Gospel is remaking me completely not just my skin, yet I'm slow to tell anyone.

I'm not trying to guilt you into sharing your story, but to think, like I did, "why aren't I?"

Perhaps the key is to be amazed, like the man in the story, by what Jesus has done for you today.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Strength Through the Gospel

Below is a great clip from a sermon from Pastor John Piper.  It is more than worth the six and a half minutes it takes to watch it.  Please take time to watch it today.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Gospel Living

I don't have a lot to post today, but I want to pose a few questions:

Does the Gospel affect the way you live?

Does the Gospel affect the way your church functions?

Does the Gospel affect the way your family functions?

Does the Gospel affect the way you work?

Does the Gospel affect the way you play?

The Christian is one whose life has been profoundly and irreversibly affected by the Gospel.  If you are a Christian the answers above should be 'yes', but if you're like me you might say 'no' much of the time to the questions as well.  Sometimes we say 'no' to these questions because the way the Gospel affects us is so natural that we don't notice.  Sometimes we say 'no' because we are actually unaffected by the Gospel in that area of life.

So, I challenge you to examine your life with the questions posed above.  See if the Gospel is affecting the way you live and if it isn't I encourage you to make the necessary changes so you can say 'yes' to those inquiries.

Below is a video for a series we're doing in a class at my church.  I encourage you to give it a look and if it looks like something that could help you and your church I suggest you show it to whoever in your church makes those types of decision.  (No, I'm not selling this series.  I'm simply impressed by the discussion it has spurred in my church)

Let the Gospel affect your life today.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Word From the Lesser Rays

My Dad is one of two boys in his family.  Dad's branch of the Rays is the Greater Rays and then there are the Lesser Rays and despite being lesser the Lesser Rays are still pretty awesome because they are Rays.

Both of the Ray boys became pastors and both have sons that are pastoring as well.  Below are the links to the websites of the churches that two of the Lesser Rays pastor.

Please take time to listen to one of the sermons from my Uncle Bob and my cousin Nate today.

Bob Ray at East Madison Baptist Church in Madison, Wisconsin.

Nate Ray at Jacob's Well in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Sin Keeps Me From Being Me

When sin entered the world everything was corrupted.  Sin had and has a cosmic entropic effect.  That is, sin has caused all things to move toward disorder.  Nothing is as it should be, everything has deteriorated from its original state.  This is stated in Second Law of Thermodynamics and we see all of creation following this.  Stars collapse, mountains erode and living organisms die.

I argue, from Biblical reasoning, that sin makes us less human, not more human.  Here's where I get this.  Humans were designed to be immortal and perfect and since the introduction of sin to the cosmos we are not.  Sin, therefore, makes us less like the original design for humanity, not more.  Therefore, sin makes us less human, not more.

Often we say as Alexander Pope did "To err is human..." and that is true because of sin.  But "To err is human"  is not true if you talking about the original design of humans.  To be perfectly made in the image of God and to perfectly reflect that image is human.

When I get to Heaven and am glorified and reunited with my body I will be the most Matt I've ever been.  I won't cease to be Matt, no I will be more fully Matt than I am now.  My Mattness, if you will, will be 100%.  Sin keeps me from being me.

Take Jesus in Luke 4 as an example.  Jesus was fully God and fully human, yet did not ever sin.  In Luke 4 He resisted sinning as the Devil tempted Him in the desert.  Was that the fully God or fully human part that resisted the Devil's tempting?  Yes.  It was Jesus who was fully God and fully man.  Jesus wasn't less of a man because He didn't sin.  Actually, I would argue that it is the opposite; Jesus was more human than I because He didn't sin.  Jesus lived exactly as humans were designed to live, save for the fact that He offered Himself to be killed.

Humanity is limited in comparison to God.  When we are glorified we will not be infinite in knowledge, unlimited in power, able to be all places at once or sovereign over all creation, only God will fit that description.  We will be humans in human bodies but we will not sin.  I don't know exactly what it will look like to be glorified into my originally designed full humanity, but I know it won't involve sin.

So, the next time the Devil tries to trick you into thinking that God is keeping you from sinning because God hates to see you be your authentic self, don't believe him.  God desires to renew us.  He desires to bring us back to our factory settings permanently.  Sin keeps me from being me.  God is bent on making me new again.

Resist sin and be yourself today.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Reflections on Psalm 51

I'm reading through the Book of Psalms again and my psalm today is Psalm 51.  This is a psalm of David written after the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery and murder.  I want to highlight a few of the lines of this amazing psalm of confession and a plea for mercy.

"Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from sin." Psalm 51:1

I love how David begins his plea for mercy because it is so Gospel.  David pleas for God to have mercy NOT because of David's goodness or David's being super sorry or David's future promises of good deeds but because of God's character.  Our only hope for forgiveness is God's unfailing love and compassion.  We see these two attributes of God very clearly in Jesus' death on the cross for our sins.

"Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight."  Psalm 5:1:4a

What on earth does David mean?  Against only God has he sinned?  Didn't he have Uriah killed after he impregnated Uriah's wife?  I think David sinned against Uriah.  And what about Bathsheba who had little to no choice about whether or not to sleep with King David?  Didn't David sin against her?

This line of the psalm does not mean that our sins don't hurt other people.  Sin always has consequences that affect others because we do not live in a vacuum.  What this line highlights is that every sin is directly against God.  Every single sin is a directly rebellious act against God.  In fact, every single sin directly hurt Jesus as He took every single one upon Himself at the cross.

"Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."  Psalm 51:10-12

Christians of a certain age have a Keith Green song stuck in their head right now (some of you will get this and some will click on the link and wonder who that bearded man is).

I love these verses because, again, they are so Gospel.  The only hope we have of obtaining a pure heart is God creating one.  Ezekiel 36:26 says that God will give us a new heart and a new spirit.  We are inherently sinful, from conception says Psalm 51:5, and we need a renewed heart and spirit.  When we are convicted of sin, like David was, we are powerfully reminded of that fact.  The Gospel promises what David cried out for.

Those of us who have already been justified by God can related to these verses as well.  How many of us have wanted the joy of our salvation to be restored.  When we are convicted of sin we are reminded of how we want and need that fervor for God like we had at conversion.  We're reminded that we need to remember the joy of our salvation to push forward toward sanctification.

"You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise."  Psalm 51:16-17

Did God command sacrifices?  Yes.  Was David saying that God didn't want sacrifices and offerings?  No.  What David is highlighting here is that outward actions are not what God is after.  In the psalm prior, Psalm 50, God said that He had no need for sacrifices or offerings because all the animals and all the wealth of the world is His already.  Rather, God is looking for us to be truly sorry for our sin.  He wants for us the "sorrow that leads to repentance" (2 Corinthians 2:10).  What is happening inside us is what God is after.  He wants to renew us from the inside out.

So, take time to read Psalm 51 and do your own confessing and thank God that He offers full forgiveness to us through Jesus Christ today.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sunday Worship

Today I got to worship with my church family at Grace Baptist in Waverly.  I was struck by a few things.  Of course the message was great but the first thing that struck me was that there was an older woman from a nursing home who couldn't stop telling me how much she loved being at church today.  She was so excited to be in discipleship class before church and during service she just looked like someone that had her gas tank filled.

The other part of the worship that I really enjoyed were these songs.  Take time to worship with them today.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

State Wrestling

Tonight is the championship round of the traditional Iowa State Wrestling Tournament.  This is a big deal in the state of Iowa.  The tickets for tonight have long been sold out and many will listen to the event on the radio (on the station I work for of course) and/or watch it on TV.  Wrestling is a big deal in Iowa, it is something Iowa is proud to be the best in.

So, let me tell you a story about a great wrestling match in the Bible.

"That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.  After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.  So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.  When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.  Then the man said, 'Let me go, for it is daybreak.'

But Jacob replied, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.'

The man asked him, 'What is your name?'

'Jacob,' he answered.

The the man said, 'Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.'

Jacob said, 'Please tell me your name.'

But he replied, 'Why do you ask my name?'  Then he blessed him there.

So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, 'It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.'

The sun rose above him as he passed Paniel, and he was limping because of his hip."  Genesis 32:22-31

I will not write about this story.  Instead I encourage you to listen to my pastor's sermon on this passage because he did a great job of explaining it.  Follow this link and listen to the November 8, 2015 sermon today.

Photo courtesy of Radio Iowa

Friday, February 19, 2016

Monty Williams' Faith

NBA assistant coach Monty Williams faced a horrific tragedy Tuesday.  His wife was hit head on by another vehicle that was going WAY over the speed limit and the crash killed her.  She was only 44 years old and they have five children together.

On Thursday Monty Williams, the former head coach of the Pelicans and current Thunder assistant coach, spoke at his wife's memorial service.  What he had to say was perfect.  His eulogy has been viewed millions of times because of the rock-solid faith that Monty shared.

When Christians have faith in the face of suffering the world takes notice.  There are few endorsements of the power of God that are more effective than clinging to faith in suffering.  Few things other than the peace that passes understanding to make the world take notice.  I would never ever wish this type of suffering on anyone, yet I wish this type of faith on everyone.

What Monty Williams said is viral.  It may be here today and gone tomorrow because of our short attention span, but it is here today and it is the Gospel that is going viral.  The sovereignty and goodness of God was a topic on ESPN today.

I want to share Mr. Williams' eulogy and a reaction of it from one of the many debate-type shows on ESPN.  I encourage you to watch both today.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Who is Your Samaritan?

"But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'

In reply Jesus said: 'A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers.  They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.  Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you many have.'

'Which of the three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?'

The expert in the law replied, 'The one who had mercy on him.'

Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise.'" Luke 10:29-37

Often when we read this story we ask ourselves which man are we: the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan?  This is a great question to ask.  It's Jesus' point that we should have mercy on everyone with whom we come in contact.  But I think there is another fantastic question to ask ourselves when reading this parable.

Who are my Samaritans?

See, the Parable of the Good Samaritan was genius because of who the Samaritans were to the man asking the question and to the audience listening to the answer.  The Jews hated the Samaritans.  There is a long history to this hatred, but the short answer is that the Jews felt that the Samaritans were inferior, racial half-breeds.  Jesus shocked the crowd by having a Samaritan be the hero of the story instead of the priest or Levite.

I heard pastor Douglas Wilson say the situation likened to a black man being the hero in this story as it was being told to a group of white Mississippians in 1950.

So, who are your Samaritans?

Who does God want you to humanized?  Who would you be shocked to see as the hero of this parable?  Would it be an illegal Mexican immigrant?  A democrat?  A Syrian?  A hillbilly?  A transexual?

God wants to tear down our prejudices.  He wants us to start seeing people as people.  In fact, He wants us to start seeing people as people capable of being the best neighbor in our time of need.  So yes, this parable asks us to show mercy to those in need, but it also begs us to check our own prejudices.  So, ask who your Samaritan is and turn that group into a neighbor instead today.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Feeling Mortal

One of the most humbling things in life is remembering our mortality.  I've recently been reminded of my mortality (don't worry I haven't been given a death sentence or anything) and I think it's been good.

We will all die.  As my grandpa says "It's not 'if' it's 'when'."

When we forget our mortality we get proud very quickly.  When we go through life never realizing that we are just a vapor compared to the age of the earth and that is just a vapor compared to the eternal nature (in both directions) of God.  Remembering our mortality helps us grasp reality.

"As a father has compassion on His children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him;
for He knows how we are formed,
He remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD's love is with those who fear Him."  Psalm 103:13-17a

King David, the writer of this psalm, remembered his mortality and so should we.  We must remember that we are always frail beings on the edge of existence.  I'm not looking to scare you, but we are all close to death much of the time.  We take for granted that we'll live to see old age, and we just might do that but we fool ourselves if we think a long life is guaranteed.  That being said, even a long life is short in the perspective of eternity.

So, you and I are mortal beings but what does that mean for us?

I think first and foremost this means that we must get right with God A.S.A.P.  I could die today and so could you and after this life a next life remains and that life is eternal.  After we die we will live eternally in either Heaven or Hell.  So, we must get right with God first because that is of eternal importance for us mortals.  The good news, or in Greek the Gospel, is that God wants to make peace with us and He wants to offer us eternal life in Heaven and He asks for nothing in return.  That's a great deal if there ever was one.

The next thing our mortality means for us is that we should be right with people.  You never know when your last time to make up with someone is.  You never know when your last time to say, "I love you" is.  A grudge will seem stupid and insignificant on your deathbed.  A missed "I love you" will seem very significant on your deathbed.

Finally, being mortal means we have to make the most of every day.  Never assume you'll have tomorrow.  Never assume you won't have tomorrow either.  So, be wise and plan for many tomorrows but we don't assume that you'll get tomorrow.  This makes us long range planners who get as much joy out of today as we can.  We aren't fools that shout "Y.O.L.O." before our next idiotic moment, but we aren't fun-haters who only think about fun in retirement.  Mortals should live like they're dying and like they'll have future needs.

So, remember that you're mortal.  We are here today and gone tomorrow in the grand scheme of things.  Most importantly remember that God has everlasting love for mortals.  Accept His love for you today.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Is It About Comfort?

I was asked today about a certain big named preacher today.  This preacher promises prosperity and success through positive thinking and following God's commands.  Now positive thinking is a powerful tool for success.  In basketball if you envision the shot going in before your free throw attempt you will have more success than if you are fantasizing about missing the big shot; it's somewhat of a self-fulling prophesy.  If you follow God's commands you will live life in a way that God has designed it to work and you will likely flourish more than if you did the alternative.  That all being said, I told the person that I thought this big named preacher, while not entirely bad, misleads people into thinking Christianity is a means for personal success, prosperity and comfort.

The question I'm always left asking is some variation of this: "Where did the Christians in Nigeria mess up to have Boko Haram get in the way of their comfort and success?  Where did the Christians in Iraq go wrong that instead of prosperity they have persecution and poverty?"

God's ways are best for human flourishing and having a positive outlook on life may benefit you in life, but Christianity is not necessarily about comfort in the here and now.  Let me show you a couple of passages to highlight this.

"You have made us a reproach to our neighbors,
the scorn and derision of those around us.
You have made us a byword among the nations;
the peoples shake their heads at us.
My disgrace is before me all day long,
and my face is covered with shame
at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me,
because of the enemy, who is bent of revenge.

All this happened to us,
though we had not forgotten you
or been false to your covenant.
Our hearts have not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path."  Psalm 44:13-18 (I could have used the entire psalm.)

From Hebrews 11, known as the Faith Hall of Fame.

"Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.  Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.  They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.  They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated... the world was not worthy of them.  They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground."  Hebrews 11:35b-38

"In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."  John 16:33b

The words above were from Jesus to His eleven remaining disciples and ten of them were murdered for the faith and John was banished to an island.

If the Gospel of Jesus is about living our best life now you would think these verses to be a little peculiar.  But if the Gospel of Jesus is about something better than our best life now then we see evidence of that all over the Bible.  So, next time you hear a sermon that sounds like prosperity here and now rather than about treasures laid up in Heaven, try to remember that the Gospel is for more than suburban America.  The Gospel also belongs to our brothers and sisters being slaughtered in Indonesia.

Prosperity, success and comfort here and now would be nice and I hope God gives you that.  However, the eternal joys of Heaven far surpass any level of comfort my ninety years in this life can offer.  Ponder and pursue the greater joy today.

Monday, February 15, 2016

You Are Rich

"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life."  1 Timothy 6:17:19

If you are reading this on the internet the passage above probably is full of commandments for you.  You and I are so rich.  As I type this on our laptop not our desktop or our tablet, I have just finished a great lunch in a two story house that I own and later today I will be driving my own car on paved roads to do a job that will pay me more money like the money I have in my bank account or my wallet.  Am I in the American upper-class economically?  No.  But I am filthy rich, so rich that at times it keeps me from having to trust God.  In fact, if you make more than $34,000 a year you are in the top 1% of the world's richest people.  I make in two weeks roughly what the global median salary is for a year.  That means, without my wife's contributions (and she makes more than I do), I make at least 26 times what half of the world makes.

So, I, and likely you, must listen to Paul's words to Timothy.  We must take these words to heart and not pass them on to the top 1% in America only.  We too often read warnings to the rich and think of those in Beverly Hills.  No, this warning is very applicable to me right here in Waverly, Iowa.

I must not be arrogant or put my hope in wealth.  It's very easy to put my hope in my health insurance or savings account, my hope must be in God.  I must not concern myself with laying up treasures here on earth.  My time on this present earth is very brief compared to the eternity on the New Earth.

So, what must I do instead?

1) Enjoy God's provisions.  Wealth is not bad necessarily.  I can enjoy the gifts that God has given me.  Not hoard them, but enjoy them.  Not be chiefly concerned with keeping them, but with enjoying them.

2) I must be generous.  I believe that any abundance that God has given us is meant to be shared.  I'm to be rich in good deeds, generous and willing to share.  A Christian is a steward of God's things, so I must use God's things as our generous God would have me.  I must see my stuff as an opportunity to serve.  For instance, I got a snowblower through a trade this year and I've had fun a couple of times using it to snow-blow the neighbors drive, if I think my stuff is just for me I've missed the point.

3) We must invest in lasting things.  Paul says that I should do the things in #2 so that I might invest in my eternal life, the life to come.  In fact, when I am generous, willing to share and use my resources to do good Paul would say that I am most enjoying life.

So, fellow rich people we must listen to warnings and instructions that God has for those of us with wealth.  We must enjoy God's things, not hoard them.  We must live lives characterized by giving.  Finally, we must spend our lives investing in what really matters most.  To quote from Spider-Man, "With great power comes great responsibility."  What are you doing for good as a member of the world's wealthiest today?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine's Day Worship and the Burger That Got Away

This Valentine's Day was spent in worship.  We had a great worship this morning from the songs to the prayers and the sermon.  I'm sharing a few worship songs that I loved from this morning's service.  I also encourage you to read John 15:1-17 which was our sermon passage.

But first I want to share what I missed out on today.  I had plans to drive Christine to the hamlet of Gunder, IA (population 27) to take her to the Irish Shanty the home of the Gunderburger.  She has a rain check on this date, but I wanted to show you the massiveness of the Gunderburger we missed out on today due to the snowstorm that we're getting today.

Here are the two songs that I loved worshipping to today.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

To Divorced Christians

"I hate divorce, says the LORD God of Israel..." Malachi 2:15

"Haven't you read... 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'?  So they are no longer two, but one.  Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.'

'Why then,' they asked, 'did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?'

Jesus replied, 'Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.  But it was not this way from the beginning."  Matthew 19:4-8

Divorce is not God's design and therefore it is sin.  Marriages were designed to last.  But divorced Christians are everywhere.  My parents are divorced and they are Christians.  I am a child of divorce so I know much of the pain divorce causes both to children and to the people divorcing.  On the eve of Valentine's Day I want to say a few things to divorced Christians.

1) God Still Loves You
I shouldn't even have to say this, but many divorced Christians need to hear it.  God still loves you.  Divorce was never God's design but not loving you is not an option for God.  Too many divorced Christians have heard tongues of wrath when God extends grace.  God will always love you.

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."  Romans 8:38-39

Add to the list in the above passage divorce.  God will not give up on you.  You have been divorced from your spouse but God will never divorce you.

2) You're Not Out of God's Plan
God is sovereign and omniscient.  Your divorce did not rock God's world.  At no point was He bamboozled by this situation.  Your divorce did not cause God to go to Plan B; there is no Plan B.  Will divorce change your life forever?  Yes.  Will it foil God's plan to fit you for Heaven?  Absolutely not!  Don't let anyone tell you that you spoiled God's plan.  Divorce is not good, but God is.

3) Honor Your Children's Mother/Father
 If children were involved in your divorce then you will always have some sort of relationship with your ex-spouse.  Honor your ex-spouse in front of your children especially, even when your ex doesn't deserve it.  Honor them when you think about custody, don't be selfish because your ex and your kids don't need that.  God's grace and love are showered on us in ways we never have and never will deserve, can't you show an ounce of that to your ex-spouse?  As a child of divorce I will tell you that this is very important.  My parents didn't/don't do this perfectly, but they make honorable efforts to do so.  Don't demonize the mother or father of your children.  If you and your ex-spouse are Christians you will both spend eternity in Heaven honoring one another perfectly, so practice that now.

4) Show Your Kids Jesus
All Christian parents should have this as a major goal.  Divorce does not disqualify you from doing this.  My Mom and Dad both do an excellent job of this.  Divorce doesn't make you a horrible person.  Show your kids Jesus by the way you interact with your ex-spouse.  Show your kids Jesus by the way you interact with them.  Be extraordinarily patient when they're angry with the situation.  If you are dating again do it in the same way you want your children to date.  If you are remarried live your new marriage centered on Christ and strive with all you have to make it last.  Divorce is not the best for your kids, but it doesn't have to be the worst either.

Divorced Christians, the bottom line is that God still loves you; I'm sorry if anyone in the Church has communicated otherwise.

Christians that are currently married, divorce hurts a lot.  Divorce hurts a number of parties and is not the design.  Remember that you are not superior to your divorced brothers and sisters in Christ.  Also, cherish your marriage and fight for it today.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Are You a Bigot?

It seems today that many Christians are called bigots for their beliefs.  If you are a Christian you may be wondering if indeed you are a bigot.  You might be one.  I've met many Christians that I would label as bigots and many more that I would not.

Are you a bigot?

Catholic theologian and apologist G. K. Chesterton once said this: "A bigot is not the one who thinks he is right.  Every sane man or woman thinks they're right.  The bigot is the one who cannot understand how the other person came to be wrong."

By that definition a Christian does not have to be a bigot necessarily but could definitely be a bigot.  Christians, we must believe that we are right if we believe the claims of the Bible.  Christianity requires that we believe extraordinary claims that others will deny and dislike.  When Jesus said in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."  Jesus made a very clear statement that many could consider bigoted if you believe it, but simply believing that such a truth is knowable, attainable and right does not make it bigoted.

Christians, we believe in absolute truths that I call capital "T" Truth.  These are Truths that are not relative like what the best flavor of ice cream is, these are absolute Truths.  We can believe and profess these Truths without being a bigot and we can do so while being bigots in society.

Many Christians are bigoted with Biblical truth because they believe they are smarter for knowing the Truth.  These Christians think that someone is an idiot for not believing Jesus.  They believe that a muslim is a moron or a Hindu is stupid for believing that faith and not Jesus.  This simply isn't true and the Bible never says this.  You aren't a Christian because you are smarter or more moral than anyone else.  You are a Christian because God came to you and gave you the ability to believe the Gospel.  Faith in Jesus is a miracle each and every time.  I have a brilliant friend who is Hindu, he is a very upstanding, moral, successful lawyer.  I am not a Christian because I am smarter or better than him.  The Apostle Paul had the same I.Q. when he was named Saul and was killing Christians as when he was history's greatest recorded evangelist for Christ.

When we act superior because we know a Truth we act bigoted.  When we never consider how someone came to believe as they do we are bigoted.  You don't have to believe as they believe, but you should assume in most cases that they didn't come to believe as they do because they are stupid.  Bigots assume all who think other than they do are stupid.  Remember, Einstein wasn't a Christian.

Christians, simply believing in and knowing a Truth does not make us bigoted.  Often we are told by society to have a more open mind.

G. K. Chesterton famously said: "Merely having an open mind is nothing.  The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid."

It is purposeless to have an open mind in a search for Truth if Truth doesn't exist.  It is foolishness to have an open mind and when we find Truth to not latch onto it.  No one finds the lost remote control and continues to look in other places for it out of fairness to the couch cushions.  Having an open mind is good, but having a perpetually open mind is self-defeating and no one practically does it.  Everyone in the world wants you to have an open mind until you come to agree with them, then they want you to close in on that idea.

So, Christians examine yourself.  Are you a bigot?  It is perfectly possible that you are one.  We must believe the Truths we find, but we must refrain from being bigots because of those Truths.  Simply believing contrary to the World does not make you a bigot, in many cases we will believe counterculturally.  But if you have no understanding or compassion for those who disagree with you a bigot you may be.

Be a firm believer in Truth but don't be a bigot today.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Just Like Riding a Bike

Imagine this.

A father gets his young son a brand new bike.  The father teaches the boy how to ride it, he explains the rules of riding the bike yet gives the boy plenty of freedom to enjoy himself with the bike.

As the boy rides the bike on the sidewalk near their house the father watches from the kitchen window with great delight, soaking in the image of joy on his son's face.  That is until the boy turns off the sidewalk, hops over the curb and goes directly into a busy street.  At this point the father bolts out the door shouting and running after his son who is fortunately unhurt by the incident.  The father hugs his son and then sternly explains that the boy has lost his bike riding privileges for awhile.  The father loves his son too much not to discipline him for directly disobeying him and getting into a dangerous situation.

The boy, however, understands only that his father restricts his use of the bike.  Dad is such a killjoy.

We're like this with our Heavenly Father.

God gives us good gifts like sex, leisure, friendship, wine, and fulfilling work.  He means for us to enjoy His gifts.  Our Heavenly Father is honored when we enjoy His gifts much like the father in the story was delighted when his son properly enjoyed the bike.  But too often we've taken these gifts and used them incorrectly.  We've become promiscuous or lazy or people-users or drunkards or workaholics.  We spoil the good gifts of God by not using them correctly and then think God is a killjoy when He disciplines us for our own good.

The bottom line is that we want many of the gifts God gives but we don't want to be treated as children.  Until the inheritance comes around that is or until the un-responsibly used gift blows up in our face; then it's "Dear Heavenly Father, please..."

It's a lot like riding a bike, maybe not as simple as the analogy seems but very similar.  God gives us many good gifts and He delights in us getting pleasure from them when we use them as they're designed to function.  God wants us to honor Him through the enjoyment of His gifts but He does not want to see us get hurt, though sometimes out of love He, like the good Father He is, lets us see the consequences of our actions in order to teach us.

So, we thank God for His good gifts.  We enjoy His good gifts to the max, but we make sure to follow the instruction manual.

Enjoy one of God's gifts given to you today.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lent Challenge 2016

Today is Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of the Christian season known as Lent.  Since 2011 I have added the discipline of daily blogging from Ash Wednesday to Easter.  This discipline has grown me year after year.  It has made me focus on seeing something from God worth sharing every day.

This year I considered not doing this discipline.

I have been more spiritually dry recently than I have been in a long time.  I'm not exactly sure why, though I have some theories, but I just feel half full.  I attempt to write as a spiritual discipline once a week but over the last several weeks that has been difficult.  So, this year I strongly considered not writing daily during Lent like I have for the last five years.

That being said, this year I will continue this discipline.

I have often given the advice that when we feel dry we should not stop pursuing God but we should push harder.  I've told others that the best way to be hungry for God is to go where the food smells good.  So, I'll listen to myself.  I know that God has grown me every Lenten season.  I know that after the month and a half of Lent I'm tempted to blog daily all year long because I'm overflowing with things of God worth sharing.  So, in my dryness I'm going to the place that has been so good to me.  Now, prior to today I have redoubled on some of the other habits and disciplines that I know will help, but I hope that this Lent Challenge will help as well.

Keep me faithful to this discipline during Lent.  I may write a lot or I may write a little, but please help keep me faithful to this.

Also, I challenge you to do something for Lent.  Perhaps give something up in the more classic observance of Lent or add a discipline (even if it's a discipline you think you should already be doing like praying before bed or reading from the Bible daily).  I believe that God will honor your efforts in seeking Him; He does say seek and ye shall find.

Happy Ash Wednesday.  Thank you for being a part of my Lent Challenge and I encourage you to observe Lent as well beginning today.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

When Trusting is Difficult

There seems to be a lot of suffering in my world lately.  Not so much me personally, though there is that for sure, but everywhere around me I am very aware of suffering.  Today a woman dear to my entire hometown died, I talked with a friend struggling though a very difficult family situation, I prayed for someone who prays over and over that their atheist family members trust Jesus with no answer yet.  I see it and you do, too; suffering is all around us.

So, what do we do when life is hard?  What do we do when we read the promises of God and our experiences don't match up?  This is where many of us are.  We read one thing and experience another.

So, what do we do?  Do we abandon the faith?  I say certainly not.  But what do we do when trusting is difficult?

Currently I'm reading through the book of Psalms again.  I love the psalms because they force me to wrestle with the questions above and they provide answers.  I'll provide a few answers to what we do when trusting is difficult, these answers come from some of the psalms I've read recently.

1) We take our complaints directly to God.

This is one of the best things about Christianity.  Our God will not smite us for our struggles to believe.  God wants us to bear our hearts to Him when life is good and bad, hard and smooth.

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent." Psalm 22:1-2

We can complain right to God when we feel abandoned, even Jesus prayed this psalm.

2) We persist in our prayers to God.

Don't ever give up hope.  Too many times we give up hope in hard times.  When you're having a difficult time trusting that is the last time to stop praying.

"Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart have multiplied;
free me from my anguish.
Look upon my affliction and distress
and take away all my sins."  Psalm 25:16-18

Keep on asking God for help even when the troubles of your heart seem to multiply rather than vanish.

3) We preach to our own soul.

Sometimes when we we're having a difficult time trusting we know the right answer but are having a hard time believing it.  Like, we know God is good but we aren't experiencing it currently so we struggle to trust that.  There are times when you need to preach to yourself.  To preach means to proclaim or herald something, so proclaim the truth to yourself when trusting is difficult.  Proclaim something like this:

"Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
O LORD, you preserve both man and beast.
How priceless is your unfailing love!" Psalm 36:5-7a


"We wait in hope for the LORD;
He is our help and our shield.
In Him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust His holy name.
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD,
even as we put our hope in you."  Psalm 33:20-22

Christians will have times when trusting is difficult, but we must hold on.  We must continue to trust even in the face of death, disease and disfunction.  We have to hold on to the promises of God, but that doesn't mean that we can't feel the pain of the experience.  So, if you're having a difficult time trusting take your complaints directly to God, persist in your prayers to God and preach to your own soul today.