Monthly Archives: May 2012

Lusting Like an Atheist

This will be a  PG-13 reading.

The lure of lust in part is its secrecy. You can do it right inside your head and no one will know the difference. You might even physically act on it and never get caught – so you think.

But it’s still lust and it is still wrong because Jesus said so (Matt. 5:27-30).

You have probably heard someone say: “It’s only wrong if you get caught.”

Wrong!

There is something terribly and tragically short-sighted with this naive statement.

It’s blatantly atheistic.

“If we had…….., would God not find this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart.” Ps. 44:20-21

“They eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.” Pr. 15:3

There is no such thing as secrecy because God is here, there and everywhere (Psalms 139: 7-12). There’s no place to hide. When a person sits down at a computer and desires and acts on the body of a woman/man that doesn’t belong to him/her, God is there and He sees.

If you are a Christian then you are indwelt by the Spirit of the living God. Which is probably why you are so miserable when you do sin.

Would you lust and act on it if someone else were in the room watching you? Why then do you lust, because God is always in the room.

This is how delusional sin makes us. Not only does it make us do things against God and others, but it makes us act like atheists. It makes us do things as though God were not in our heads and in the  room.

If you really thought Jesus was in the room would you covet, hate, conspire, lust and masturbate, cheat, steal, etc?

He is in the room and you can’t kick Him out because He owns it all and He owns you.

So the next time your flesh urges you to lust and you cave because no one will know, remember, God is there and He knows.

So don’t sin against God and act like an atheist. Let God’s presence motivate you to fight sin.

And if you fail, confess your sins, because He is faithful and just to forgive them (1 John 1:9).

A List of Paul’s Mistreatment in Acts

In preparation for this Sunday I went back through Acts taking note of all the recorded times that Paul was opposed, maligned, beaten, stoned, driven out or plotted against. Here’s the list with a textual reference, a brief description and the city he was in.

“For I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Jesus in Acts 9:16

  1. 9:23-25 – 1st Plot to kill Paul – lowered through a wall in basket in Damascus.
  2. 9:29-30 – 2nd Plot to kill Paul – sent to Caesarea from Jerusalem.
  3. 13:45 – Paul is contradicted/maligned in Pisidian Antioch.
  4. 13:50 – Paul and Barnabas were persecuted and drove out by Jews in Pisidian Antioch
  5. 14:2; 5 – The Jews embitter minds of Gentiles against Paul and attempted to stone Paul in Iconium.
  6. 14:19 – Paul is stoned and left for dead in Lystra.
  7. 16:16-24 – Paul and Silas were beaten with many blows and thrown into the inner prison in Philippi.
  8. 17:5-10 – Paul is forced out of Thessalonica.
  9. 17:13-14 – Paul is forced out of Berea
  10. 18:12 – Paul is brought before the judgment seat by Jews in Corinth but charges dismissed.
  11. 19:23-41 – No small disturbance arises concerning the Way in Ephesus when Christianity began to cause job loss for idol makers of Artemis.
  12. 21:27-40 –  Paul is beat with the intent to murder in Jerusalem.
  13. 21:33-36 – Paul is seized by the Romans in Jerusalem. Paul remains under arrest for the remainder of the book of Acts.
  14. 23:2 – Paul is struck in the mouth as commanded by the High Priest – Jerusalem.
  15. 23:12-22 – A plot is formed by forty Jews to conspire with the Jewish leadership to assassinate Paul – Jerusalem. To avoid this attempt on Paul’s life, Paul was moved to Caesarea.
  16. 25:1-5 – There’s an attempt by the Jews to have Paul brought back to Jerusalem in order to ambush and kill him.
  17. 27:42 – The Roman Soldiers plan to kill the prisoners from the ship that was run aground, including Paul, but the centurion prevents it. Paul, with 275 persons is ship-wrecked on Malta on their way to Rome.

What We’ve Lost and Gained by Adopting

We talked about adopting for years and we wanted to adopt before I got really old. I didn’t want a teenager in the house after 60. So we prayed and we decided to go for it. I thought surely we wouldn’t be chosen for months, but God had other plans and we received a call within the week about meeting a birth mom who was considering adoption. We met the birth mom and her mom in November in Tulsa, and now we have a precious little baby girl living with us, as we wait to legally make her ours permanently.

So trying to wrap my mind around everything, Lacey and I discussed in a recent car ride what we have gained and what we have lost in the process of adopting Bella Faith. Here’s what we came up with:

What We’ve Lost

  • We’ve lost sleep. Bella is a good sleeper but she seems to like to be awake at inconvenient times, namely when Lacey and I should be sleeping. Thanks to my wife who absorbs most of the sleep loss.
  • We’ve lost money and will spend money. Adoptions cost money. Little people cost money. Formula and diapers don’t last long. Also, I suppose I should start saving for the prom and the wedding – according to my wife.
  • We’ve lost future income. By agreeing to use the adoption agency we used, we also agreed that Lacey would stay home and not take a job outside the home until Bella turns five-years-old. This means a few financial goals of mine will have to wait.
  • We’ve lost weight.  Well, Lacey has.
  • Lacey has lost the car war. Now you know why we have a “swagger wagon.” Lacey gave up her car pride to adopt little Bella.
  • We’ve lost privacy. Adoption requires that we tell a person who does a “home study”, almost everything about our lives. Additionally, we have opened up our lives to a whole other family.
  • We’ve lost the completion of potty training and bath time. Luke and Elijah can now brush their own teeth, wipe their own behinds and bathe themselves. Now we are starting over.

What We’ve Gained

What we’ve lost begs the question whether adoption is worth it. Is it worth the loss and trouble? See what you think?

  • We’ve gained a daughter. Children are blessing from the Lord.
  • We’ve gained a disciple to be made. Jesus said for us to make disciples and that responsibility starts in the home. Bella will get a heavy dose of the whole gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • We’ve gained more family. Faith, Bella’s birth mom has become like a sister to us. We love her and want what is best for her. Because this is an open adoption we have gained lots of new family who will continue to be a part of Bella’s life.
  • We’ve gained the testimony of being pro-life. We have for a long time defended the right to life for the unborn, but doing something about it gives us credibility because we have become a part of the solution.
  • We’ve gained the experience of being blessed by our church family. The prayer, encouragement and monetary support have been overwhelming. We truly have been loved by those who have supported us.
  • We’ve gained the joy of a newborn. Yes, she poops a lot and wakes up at inconvenient times, but I love to look at her – even when she does nothing but lay there. I see her and I see the glory of God in creation. I see intricate detail and someone that is fearfully and wonderfully made, and my heart fills with joy.
  • We’ve gained important life lessons for our two sons. What an opportunity to teach our sons about making sacrifices for others. What an opportunity to teach them respect for little girls and to learn to protect their little sister. What a lesson on sharing with someone our life.
  • We’ve gained the opportunity to make it hard on suitors. I’m really looking forward to this, and I want myself and my sons to set such an example of what a gospel-centered man should be, that Bella will have great expectations for the man who seeks to win her heart and make a covenant to her before God.
  • We’ve gained a deeper understanding of what Jesus has done for us (Romans 8:14-16; Galatians 4:4-6). We have been adopted through Jesus Christ and I see this adoption teaching us about this for years to come. What is the gospel and what must I do to be saved, and therefore adopted by God through Jesus?

Much more could be said in both categories, but you tell me; is it worth it? In this world there will be loss and trouble (John 16:33), but Jesus has modeled for us that we are to embrace the loss for that which cannot be taken away. Sometimes to lose is to gain (Matthew 16:24-28) and I don’t think in the grand scheme of things, we have lost a thing.

Meeting Budget; What’s Working In Churches?

Here is a part of church ministry that I don’t like dealing with but I think about often: The church budget.

A pastor-mentor of mine once gave a helpful word of advice to me when I first became a pastor. He said, “You do have to think about attendance and budget numbers, but don’t think about it too much.”

I wish that I never thought about it at all. I hope and trust there will be no money in heaven since the love of it is the root of all sorts of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).

But I do need to think about money because it does matter and it matters to God; for where your treasure is there your heart will be also (Matt. 6:21). Almost every person in the world uses money, and what we do with our money matters because it reveals something about where we find out joy and where we put our trust.

Church budgets matter because they reveal something about the hearts of people who come to our churches. We should not focus merely on the bottom line of the church budget. Meeting budget cannot be the chief motivation, but when a budget is not met because only 27% of people get close to a tithe, it almost certainly says something about the devotion of those who claim to follow Jesus. So meeting the budget should not be a primary goal, rather the goal should be helping people trust God with their money and one of the ways people trust God with their money is by giving a sacrificial portion the body of Christ for ministry to the church family and the world.

I say all of this to qualify what I am about to report. In all things, the motivation must be the glory of God in Christ, by teaching people to joyfully submit to the word of God. Money is for Jesus, not just to meet a budget. Though we do hope to meet budget. This though is a bi-product of submitted lives.

I recently was watching a webinar on www.givingrocket.com  that talked about what churches do to successfully meet budget.

There was a survey of 1,078 churches. These churches included small churches, larges churches, rural churches, urban churches, etc. What they found was that 14% of churches exceed budget, 39% meet budget and 47% are under budget.

They then focused on the habits of the 14% that made them successful at meeting budget. Here’s the top-five strategies of churches that met budget.

  1. They accept automatic reoccurring donations. 67% of churches surveyed did this.
  2. They offered online giving. 63% of churches survey did this.
  3. They offered personal finance ministry.
  4. They used a giving kiosk that enabled them to give and set up reoccurring donations. Only 11% of churches did this.
  5. They communicated with donors at least quarterly by letter and giving contribution statement.

Interestingly enough, out of the 12 strategies, preaching on money was said to be the least important. That’s hard to believe because people can’t do what they don’t know, but it is interesting. (You can retrieve this report with more information by clicking on the link above.)

Again, this scares me because as a pastor I don’t want to meet budget if people are not being changed by God. But I do think this again exposes that churches have not been good at keeping up with the changing times. You will notice that three out of the five recommendations have a clear electronic component. Take number four for instance, how many people actually carry a checkbook or cash with them anymore? Some people simply don’t give because of lack of discipline/intention.

What is a healthy balance between churches helping people love God with their money and being up to speed with a changing world to help people give? I’m still sifting through that myself, but I don’t want to just meet church budget, I want people to trust God with their money.

Did Paul Disobey The Spirit in Acts 21:4?

In Acts 21:4 Luke writes: “After looking up the disciples, we stayed there (Tyre) seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.”

Since the disciples in Tyre “kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem”, is Paul disobeying the Spirit, or is there another option?

If we isolated this text from the rest of Acts we might conclude that others were led by the Spirit to forbid Paul from going to Jerusalem. But if we concluded that Paul was disobedient to the Spirit from the one text, we most assuredly would be wrong.

Distinguished New Testament Scholar, F.F. Bruce, writes about verse four in his commentary on Acts: “It should not be concluded that this determination to go on was disobedience to the guidance of the Spirit of God; it was under constraint of that Spirit that he was bound for Jerusalem with such determination.”

I agree with Bruce and the reason we are right is because the rest of Acts agrees with us. Or should I say, we agree with the rest of Acts. Several other verses in Acts help clarify the meaning.

  • Acts 9:16 – “For I will show him (Paul) how much he must  suffer for My Name’s Sake.” Paul did at times flee from suffering (Acts 9:25), but suffering was a part of God’s will for Paul.
  • Acts 19:21 – “Now after these things finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”  Paul is being led by the Spirit.
  • Acts 20:22-23 – “And now, behold, bound (captive) by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not know what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city saying that bonds and afflictions await me.” Paul is captive to the Spirit and the Spirit warns him of what is to come.

A few rules of interpretation apply here that we would do well to follow.

  1. We should let scripture interpret scripture when we are uncertain about a particular verse.
  2. If we find several verses that inform our understanding, it is better to go with the majority than with the one text that seems to say something the rest don’t.
  3. If we have several verses that are clear we should let the clear verses interpret the verse in question, understanding that the English translation/interpretation might not be giving us the intended meaning.

If Paul were disobeying the instruction of the Spirit of God that was made known through the disciples at Tyre, then why is it clear that on his way to Tyre that the Spirit is leading Paul toward this suffering that God has chosen for him? Paul is ready to die in Jerusalem for Jesus (21:13). To be ready to die for Jesus is to follow Jesus, whom the Spirit testifies about  (John 16:14; Mark 8:34-38; Philippians 1:21-26).

In summary, given the rest of the biblical evidence it is best to understand Acts 21:4 as a verse that affirms what the Spirit is telling Paul to do and what Paul will face. But the disciples at Tyre who the Spirit is affirming this through, out of concern for Paul, don’t want him to go. This is a natural human reaction that is echoed a few verses later in Acts 21:12. Also, remember that Peter rejected Jesus’ words when he told the disciples He must go to Jerusalem and suffer and rise on the third day (Matthew 16:21-23). Jesus was not as gentle as Paul (Acts 21:13) when he said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan, you are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” Paul, like his Master, “set his face to go Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

It is a natural human tendency to want to protect people from trouble, but sometimes we might be protecting them from the will of God, which includes trouble.

“Kids These Days!”

If you have made it this far make sure you read the whole blog lest you think I am completely heartless and just haven’t lived long enough. As best I can, I acknowledge that I have a lot to learn, but some of the best learning is preparedness.

I was at my son’s Y Soccer game this past week and I crossed paths with a lady who said to no one specific, but herself I suppose, “Kids  these days!” I have no idea what she was referring to or if she meant me to hear her, but heard her loud and clear I did. I don’t even know if she was talking about her own children, but the statement was lodged in my mind, stuck like gum on hot pavement.

I’ll be the first to say a lot has changed since I was a boy. Children are different because they live in a different time and have different stuff and face different challenges and temptations. Things have changed and people are changing, and when we look at children and teenagers we see a lot that is unrecognizable compared to our own upbringing. But is it right to say: “Kids these days!”?

I’m waiting for someone to say: “Parents these days!”

The reality is that children sleep in the beds that are made for them because that is all they have ever known. Formative environment cannot be underestimated. Of course it is true that children will eventually start making their own beds and they will have to accept responsibility for their decisions. And sometimes despite the best efforts of parents, children still make devastating and painful choices. This problem is as old as the world (Genesis 4 – Cain and Abel). But we can’t ignore that if there is a trajectory or cultural, consistent tendency among children to be disrespectful or spoiled, then can we do anything but conclude that we don’t have kid problem but a parenting problem? And by the way, really the root problem is a sin problem, but even then, who holds the primary responsibility for addressing that problem?

When I see either of my two sons acting up or out, especially in public, I sometimes get frustrated and even embarrassed, but if I stop to think about what I am witnessing, I often see microcosms of my own flawed tendencies. If I stop to honestly ask why they do what they do, I almost always see myself in them. As an adult I can manage and mask my shortcomings, but children are not so experienced at this craft and in the process I get exposed. This can be painful and yet healthy. We need to be exposed and children do it well.

So here’s the application. Parents have to take responsibility for the fact that their children are reflections of their own lives – good and bad. It’s the nature of all of life. Close and personal proximity leads to the transmission of habits, character, beliefs, etc. I am culpable for what my children believe and how they behave. I share in the responsibility for the people my children are and  will become.

Here’s the rub though. Despite our best efforts to train up a child in the way they should go, they might still crash their lives and hurt others in the process. I would think though that this would only motivate a parent more. This possibility ought to make us want to live Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and heed the warning of  Psalm 78 with all our might. It ought to make us pray with great consistency. It ought to make us examine ourselves and our children to see if what we are doing in moderation is leading to dangerous excess in the lives of those we say we love so very much. Parenting ought to drive us to cherish the gospel and live to righteousness because of the gospel (1 Peter 2:24).

We can’t ignore our influence and shirk our responsibility. The reality is that a lot of the reason our kids are the way that they are is because they are our kids and we have passed on to them what we value and the way we live. Every person will give an account to God for their actions. The Bible says as much over and over, but that means also that every parent will give an account for their child’s life-long foundation and direction. In God’s strength, I hope every Christ-following parent will live like that is true.