Thursday, April 30, 2015

You can't prune your family tree

“Whatever my ancestors did to you, none of them consulted me.”
             Tad Williams

  Poor Ben Affleck. Over the years he’s had a history of womanizing, as well as drug and gambling addictions. For the past decade he’s been married to Jennifer Garner and is the father of three children. Periodically, rumors surface that he’s still fighting his demons and they’re threatening his marriage. But in our politically correct world, it’s not his checkered past or current struggles that seem to bother him the most – it’s what his ancestors did – over two and a half centuries ago that make Ben blush.
  Recently, it came out that when Affleck participated in Henry Louis Gates’s PBS program Find Your Roots, and it was discovered — Gasp! — that Affleck’s roots include slave owners. According to an e-mail exchange between Gates and Sony CEO Michael Lynton, Affleck wanted to suppress this aspect of his family tree. The correspondence, found by the New York Daily News from the leaked Sony emails, shows Gates struggling to square the unprecedented request with his own editorial judgment. Gates wrote, “To do this would be a violation of PBS rules, actually, even for Batman.”
  In our Politically Correct world to have had slave owners in your family tree is something that you want cut down, burn up and ultimately seek to eradicate all of the evidence. It’s noteworthy in our distorted, upside down values world that Affleck’s personal history and issues don’t seem to bring nearly the embarrassment or motivation for a cover-up that something some ancestor he never knew did hundreds of years ago.
  As we read the pages of Scripture, we find that the Jews essentially took the same approach. They were very proud of their heritage and ancestors. After all, they were God’s chosen people. Somehow they mentally chose to cut down, burn up and eradicate from their collective memory all of the evidence of idolaters, adulterers, perverts, murderers, thieves, liars and basically any other sinful, debauched and criminal behavior from their family tree.
  This tendency to whitewash ourselves or our history is one of the reasons I’m cautious when I’m reading an autobiography or a biography written by a spouse or child. Because of the personal relationship or for their own reputation, candid honesty is often lost. Sometimes out of love, we don’t share or even choose to forget some of the dark facets of our family member’s life. Then, sometimes the opposite is true. A wounded family member exaggerates how bad a person was because they’re looking back through the eyes of their own personal pain.
  But that’s never the case with God’s Word. As we read the Bible, we find that while Scripture is never salacious, there is no expunging of the record or a cover-up. That’s because we all come from the same rotten family tree. It goes all the way back to the Garden and our first parents. That reminds us of some important truths.
  We all come from bad people, we are bad people and we have bad children. Like Ben Affleck, we often want to edit out skeletons in our family’s history. When it comes to our own shortcomings, the tendency is to gloss them over. When it comes to our children, we excuse and justify.
  But we’re not just bad by nurture, we’re bad by nature. Theologians call it “original sin.” Our ancestors, no matter how far or short of a distance from us, all had the same sin nature that we do. The evidence for it in our children is demonstrated as soon as they can exercise a personal will. A small child screaming that she wants a candy bar in the checkout line isn’t just tired or needs a nap, he’s willful and wants his way.
  Our crimes against God then are not circumstantial or environmental. We do what is wrong because it’s our nature. Even placing us back in Eden wouldn’t change that. That’s why giving people better housing, education, health care or even jobs will never bring about long term behavioral change. The wrong doing may become more educated and even “white collar” rather than gangsta style, but it will still be there. We have a heart problem, not an environmental one.  
  Evil is evil in the sight of God. Even in the Church, we like to categorize sin as big and little. Let me share just three examples.
  Alcohol/drug addiction are considered big sins among Christians, somehow though being a materialist/consumer is socially acceptable and even envied. Some believers are addicted to spending and buying – a newer house, car, furniture, clothes, gadgets, vacations, etc. There is no concept of stewardship or honoring the Lord with the finances He’s entrusted to them. They’re as addicted to spending and consuming as a heroin addict is to heroin. Don’t believe me? Challenge them to NOT spend except for necessities for the next three months. They’ll go into withdrawals.
  We would never use obscene language, somehow though complaining and criticizing is given a pass. How many of us, even as Christians who have so much to be thankful for, thank God or others? Not only do we fail to praise the God who gave it to us, we fail to thank the instruments He used like our family, friends or even brothers and sisters in our church family. So when was the last time you affirmed or encouraged someone compared to how many times you criticized or complained? To be candid, obscene language hurts the Kingdom much less than complaining or criticizing.  
  Smoking is horrible, anger just comes naturally. Smoking is not only a big sin in the church, our culture has made it one and even taxes it. Yet, holding something on fire between your lips does less damage than letting loose a volley of fire from your tongue. Christians who’d never consider smoking often have a smoking hot temper. Those closest to them are seared by their explosions, tiptoeing around them much as they would walking through a minefield.
  The bottom line of all this is that there’s not enough dirt in this world to bury all of our sinful skeletons. We’re not good or nice people. In God’s sight, sin is sin, whether it’s adultery or anger. Instead of trying to bury what can’t be buried, we need to celebrate God’s grace who in His mercy and grace paid for all our sin with His own Son’s life and pulled us out of the pit, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug” (Isaiah 51:1). And we need to share with others who hopelessly attempt to bury their skeletons and clean up the sinful corpse of their life, the true hope that only God’s grace can bring.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Hitting a grand slam for Jesus!

“Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday's success or put its failures behind and start over again. That's the way life is, with a new game every day, and that's the way baseball is." Bob Feller

  For me, baseball and Hank Aaron are nearly synonymous. It’s hard to believe it’s been over forty years, but I still remember April 8, 1974. That was the day Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record, sending his 715th career home run out of the ballpark.
  In his autobiography, I Had A Hammer, Aaron recalled that he and his wife, Billye, hosted a party after the historic game. When he got some alone time, Aaron realized the true impact of his achievement. “When I was alone and the door was shut, I got down on my knees and closed my eyes and thanked God for pulling me through…I had done something that nobody else in the world had ever done, and with it came a feeling that nobody else has ever had—not exactly, anyway. I didn’t feel a wild sense of joy. I didn’t feel like celebrating. But I probably felt closer to God at that moment than at any other in my life. I felt a deep sense of gratitude and a wonderful surge of liberation all at the same time. I also felt a stream of tears running down my face.” The Atlanta Braves weren’t a great team when I was growing up but Henry Aaron was a great player. He gave me a love for the game that’s never waned.
  Maybe that’s why a recent story about Colby Rasmus caught my attention. Rasmus played baseball for the Cardinals from 2009-2011 when he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. His story is much more important than baseball. It’s a story about life, eternal life. It’s a wonderful account of how the gospel and the power of Jesus changes lives.
  Colby Rasmus hadn’t had a great career. His tenure with the Cardinals was very rocky partly due to the fact that he never played up to the expectations people had for him and partly because he and the manager, Tony LaRussa, didn’t get along. The Houston Astros, Rasmus’ new team, faced the Cardinals in a spring training game which led to an article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. This is where it gets really good. In the interview for the article, Colby Rasmus, shared that he was at peace now because he found Jesus Christ. “I was lost for a while. I can remember (former Cardinal) Lance Berkman sitting next to me on the bench, talking about Jesus Christ and I didn’t really understand it. At the time, my family hadn’t really bought into that. Looking back, I see Albert (Pujols) and Lance and (Matt) Holliday and (Adam) Wainwright and I see this aura, this presence they had about them. I always wondered how they got that. Now I see what it’s about and it’s changed my life big-time. I focus on my family and I don’t get caught up in all that stuff like I used to. My time in St. Louis…the fans were always good to me and it tore me up a little bit when I didn’t play well, so I went through some rough times. Surrendering my life to the Lord helped me relieve those demons, so to speak.”
  Wow! Sometimes we think the famous and rich are beyond the gospel. They’re not. Colby Rasmus came to Christ the same way everyone else does. It’s the same pattern that God may have used to reach you. It’s the same pattern that God will use to reach your loved ones and friends.
  Most people come to Christ because of the influence of their friends. When talking about coming to faith in Christ, Rasmus mentions by name four guys who reached out to him, sat next to him on the bench, and cared about him as a person. The first step to influencing others for Christ starts with just being their friend. It can be talking at work or across the street. It’s just spending time with the lost, building bridges for the gospel.
  A normal Christian can be a more powerful witness than professional Pastor. The people who pointed him to Jesus were guys he worked with not a pastor, not the team chaplain. You have far more opportunity to influence someone you work with or live next door to than most pastors ever will have. I’ve said it so many times, I hope it comes back to you in your dreams – God placed you in your office, neighborhood, on a team, or in your school to be His light to people who’d never be interested in talking to a pastor. Insiders (like teammates) often have far more power to influence than outsiders (like pastors).
  A normal Christian struggling with a normal life has a super influence. As Christians, we need to be both like and unlike people who don’t follow Jesus. Rasmus’ Christian teammates shared the same job, temptations, struggles, lifestyle that he did. Your friends should look at you and realize, “You can be a Christian and be normal, have a family, be successful at work, have fun, etc…” Yet, he also said that he noticed his Christian teammates were different than him. Christians should be different in their integrity, generosity, patience, kindness, how they handle adversity, etc.
  The heat brings out the gold and others see the shine. Everyone eventually faces tough times. It’s often in those times that they’re willing to consider the gospel in a more serious way. For Rasmus, adversity came in the form of a disappointing performance on the field. For your friends it might be a broken relationship, loss of a loved one, health issues, marital struggles, depression, or a job loss. In those difficult times they’ll turn to someone to talk to. Have you built a good friendship, have you expressed your care and concern, have you proven safe and trustworthy so that in their moment of need they’ll turn to you?
  When something or someone is important to you, you naturally talk about it. Rasmus says that his teammate Lance Berkman sat on the bench with him and talked about Jesus. If Jesus is important to you, if you have a vibrant relationship with Him (not just a Sunday morning one), you’ll talk about Him because He’s always on your mind. Because we know how much Jesus loves us, we want to tell others how much Jesus loves them. Often, it’s best to put it in the context of your own life. Explain how you became a Christian and what Jesus means to you. Most people are interested in hearing your story.
  The things that are vital and make a difference take time. When it comes to the gospel, most of us are too easily discouraged. When those we care about don’t immediately respond to Christ or come to church when we invite them, we quit. As Rasmus’ story proves it takes time. Several years elapsed between his first exposure to his Christian teammates and his becoming a Christian, and that’s normal.

  Want to be a winner? Win your friends to Jesus? It’s much better than breaking some sports record. It will count for all eternity and they will be eternally grateful that you were a true friend who cared about their soul. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Disaster of Excuse Making

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn't sit for a month.”  Theodore Roosevelt

  It was one of those – Can you please repeat that again? – moments. Unfortunately, too many of us can relate to the experience of Rebecca Boyd of Adger, Alabama. Because her husband had recently been laid off, when Cinderella first came out, knowing their finances were going to be tight, she took her daughter as a last treat to see it. It was probably be the last movie she’d be able to take her daughter to for a while.
  Enter Kyesha Smith Wood. Kyesha believing that her children were more mature and better behaved than they actually were, dropped off her teenage daughter, step daughter, and son off to also see Cinderella. But throughout the movie the two girls giggled, talked loudly and were kicking Rebecca Boyd’s seat. When she turned around to ask them to stop, they just giggled at her and continued with the same behavior. Speaking to the girls after the movie, Boyd explained her situation and told the two girls that they needed to realize that their behavior affects others and they never know what other people around them are going through.
  After the movie, Kyesha Smith Wood’s son was a tattletale, a narc and a rat. I mean, can you believe that a kid would rat out someone for rude behavior? Unbelievable! Yet, isn’t that the message kids are given from toddlerhood on, “Don’t be a rat!” That needs to be qualified, with “Don’t be petty and share the trivial,” but when behavior and choices affect others, only a rat won’t do something to right a terrible wrong. When her son told his Mom how rude and obnoxious her daughters had been, she was very embarrassed. Then, she did something highly unusual, she was proactive. Kyesha used the power of Facebook for good. This is her post:
  “This is a long shot, but I'm looking for a woman that was at Tannehill Premier tonight seeing Cinderella at 7pm. I dropped my teenage daughter, step daughter, and son off at the movie. My son later told me, much to my humiliation and embarrassment, that my girls were rude and obnoxious during the movie. The woman I'm looking for addressed them and asked them to be quiet and they were disrespectful. After the movie she approached my girls and told them that her husband had been laid off and this was the last movie she would be able to take her daughter to for a while and my girls ruined that for her. If you are this woman, please message me. I can assure you that these girls are being strongly dealt with and appropriately punished. This rude, disrespectful, and awful behavior is unacceptable and they owe you an apology. My husband and I are having them write your apology letter tonight and we would like to pay for your next movie and snacks out of their allowance. Please message me if this is you. I apologize profusely for their disrespect.”
  The response from the victim, Rebecca Boyd, was just as wonderful: “The note from their mom brought me to tears and shows there is [sic] still good people in the world. I have no hard feelings towards them and I am proud of their parents. The girls are not bad...they are children. Glad they are learning a lesson. I hope if my teenagers are out and they act up...I hope someone says something to them.”
  Wow! What a breath of fresh air in our “everyone’s a victim” world. The typical parental response would have been something like, “Well, kids will be kids…” Or, “she should have known better than to sit near a bunch of kids…” “I wonder what she did to antagonize my little angels.” The end result is that no one is responsible for their behavior, and that’s deadly for society. Worse! It’s deadly for the gospel.
  It comes out early when a teacher corrects a child in school or a leader rebukes a child for the behavior in some group setting. In today’s world usually the parent/s attacks the leader who dared to correct their “angel.” They excuse or rationalize the bad behavior. If you have a “condition,” then essentially, you get a walk for anything and everything.
  Please understand, no one is saying that teachers and leaders are perfect and aren’t periodically going to make the wrong call. BUT if you attack those in authority during those early years of your child’s life, they’re going to have a tough time in their adulthood. It will handicap them in negotiating in the future with very imperfect employers who will just terminate them rather than put up with the hassle. Or, police officers who have no problem arresting them and throwing them in jail. It will affect their relationships with friends and future spouse. When nothing is their fault, they fail to learn to take personal responsibility and are unable to problem-solve which is essential to be able to have healthy relationships.
  One of the highest costs of this imbecilic victim mentality is that it makes you impotent. When it’s always someone else’s fault or powers outside of your control, then a victim mentality is empowered. What’s the point then of having ambition or seeking to achieve? Sadly, too many limp through life, emotional and social handicaps, failing to take personal responsibility.
  The greatest cost though is spiritually. If you don’t believe you’re responsible for your choices or behavior, then why would you need a Savior? You don’t need a Savior, you just need a better lawyer or therapist or even medications. You don’t need to repent of your evil behavior, you just need an environmental change. But the courts of heaven won’t give you a pass and neither will the courts of this earth.
  Even if you’re an addict, bipolar or some other condition, if you become violent and hurt someone, even if you hurt yourself, they’ll still incarcerate you. Now they may “incarcerate” in a mental health facility, but call it whatever you want, if it has locked doors and you can’t come and go as you please, it’s still “jail.”
  A victim mentality isn’t new. The first ones who copped a victim plea were Adam and Eve. They even tried to blame the Garden owner that they’d been set-up. It didn’t work for them and it won’t work for us.
  But even God can’t fix our sinful choices until we first take personal responsibility. That’s why Adam and Eve’s “Father” held them responsible for their choices. And a wise parent will follow His example and teach their children personal responsibility. Wonderfully, in the courts of heaven, 1 John 1:9 is a sure promise, If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
  Failing to take personal responsibility always leads to enslavement. Yet, God wants us to be free. Liberty begins with owning it, confessing and repenting of our wrong choices. Then, God in His loving grace can fix it. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

You're so rich, it's going to take forever to count it all

  Legendary basketball coach, Dean Smith, grew up in a small Kansas town, the son of Baptist school teachers. He only wanted to be a basketball coach. When he was a bench-warmer for Kansas, he’d closely watch Jayhawks’ legendary coach, Phog Allen, a man who learned the game from James Naismith himself. In the end, a man who grew up hoping to coach basketball ended up doing so much more.
  Dean Smith died at his home on Feb. 7, 2015. He was 83. Yet, though he was gone, he wasn’t done giving to the players that he’d coached during his 36-year career as the University of North Carolina men's basketball coach. His will designated that each of the lettered players who’d played for him during his long career be sent a $200 check after his death to “enjoy a dinner out.” In total, Dean Smith gifted $36,000 by giving each one of his 180 former lettered players $200 each.
  The Bible says that giving is better than receiving. Former University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith made sure this was the case for his former players, even after he was gone. And his final act of generosity moved his former players. Former center, Serge Zwikker, said that he teared up when he opened the letter and he’ll never cash the check. “Even after he passed, he was still all about his players,” Zwikker said.
  Because Jesus died on the cross, those who have trusted Him as their Savior, also have an inheritance. Unlike most inheritances, the One who gave us ours isn’t dead – He’s alive and will be forevermore! Today and every Sunday (not just on Easter), we celebrate that our Lord is alive. Yet, sadly, too many Christians eek out an impoverished spiritual existence, never claiming the inheritance that they have in Christ.
  Imagine for a moment that a distant relative has included you in his will. As part of the execution of that will, money is placed into a bank account for you and you’re notified of that fact. But somehow you foolishly reason, “It can't be true!” Or, you never get the notification…or worse, you forget all about it. So you never bother to write a check against that account. Although you have the inheritance, you don’t benefit from it because you lack the faith and willingness to claim it. How tragic! 
  Because Jesus died for us, we’re heirs of God the Father. As children of God, we must be aware of our spiritual inheritance and claim it by faith. As we do, we begin to experience the abundant spiritual riches God has for us as His children.
  This inheritance is both present and future. Periodically, a wealthy person will divide his inheritance into two parts for his children. He gives them some of their inheritance now and some later. For example, he may help his son start a business or help his daughter purchase a home. They will receive additional money from time to time as they demonstrate that they can handle it well. But the bulk of their estate will come later. 
  In the same way, increasing spiritual maturity and faith release increasing measures of our spiritual riches. The riches begin the moment we become Christians, yet the full riches of our relationship with God will be revealed when we’re finally Home in heaven.
  Christianity though isn’t just about heaven or after this life is over. The child of God has an inheritance that’s beyond words now, today!
  Some years ago, Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder and first president of Dallas Theological Seminary, wrote a wonderful article entitled, “The Riches of Grace in Christ Jesus – God’s 33 Precious Promises.” And even that doesn’t scratch the surface of our riches in Christ. Let me just touch on three blessings that the believer has now, in this life.
  1. We have God’s help for day to day living. Loneliness is a terrible malady of our world, yet the believer is never alone and never without God’s help. God has given us Himself to us in the person of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Admittedly, we all need help at various times. We humans are often quite helpless. We need the Lord’s comfort, peace and rest in life. We also need His grace and wisdom with raising our children, in our marriages, with our work and all of our relationships. God will help us with all of these and much more if we’ll seek Him and His guidance in His Word. We’re empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches us how to really live. His name is “Counselor” and our counselor isn’t guessing. God’s Word is always true and right. God knows what He’s talking about in His Word. The Bible is a trustworthy instruction manual and our heavenly Father is all-powerful and all-wise. Whatever it is that we must do or face in life, the Lord is willing to help us and guide us. He’s always just a prayer away.
  2. We have God’s provision for our needs. God has promised to take care of His children. David said, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread” (Psalm 37:25). Our Father has promised to take care of us, to remember us and provide for us. Of course, He only promises to provide for our needs, not necessarily our wants. The truth is that He over-abundantly blesses us and wonderfully, He even gives us the grace to learn to be content.
  3. We have confidence even facing death. One of this life’s greatest fears is death, but the Lord Jesus conquered death. Because Christ paid the penalty for our sin, for the believer, death is a shadow (Psalms 23), just an entry into the real world, heaven and eternal life. That’s why the Apostle Paul said, “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at HOME with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

  Are you afraid to face death? To face God in death? You don’t have to be, you can be part of God’s Forever Family today and an heir. Put your trust in the only One who has conquered death, Jesus Christ. Make this your best Easter ever. Trust Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior today!