George Barna, the Christian polling expert and best selling author of many books, including “Revolution, The Habits of Highly Effective Churches” and “The Second Coming of the Church,” has often been highly critical of evangelical, Bible-believing churches. He criticizes them not because he doesn’t share their doctrinal position, but because he does share it. He recently wrote: “The challenge to church leaders is to stop pandering for popularity and set the bar higher. People only live up to the expectations set for them. When the dominant expectations are that people show up, play nicely together and keep the system going, the potential for having the kinds of life-changing experiences that characterized the early Church are limited, at best.” He went on to say, “There has never been a time when American society was in more dire need of the Christian Church to provide a pathway to a better future. Given the voluminous stream of moral challenges, and the rampant spiritual hunger that defines our culture today, this should be the heyday for biblical ministry. As things stand now, we have become content with placating sinners and filling auditoriums as the marks of spiritual health.”
The criticism is appropriate and well put. This is not the time for Christians to be sitting around congratulating one another because we have found a way to fill our church buildings. Our society is decaying from within and so many of our citizens, even the non-religious, are looking for a more meaningful life. That is what we have committed ourselves to do at CCF, to provide the direction to a life of meaning and purpose—becoming everything God has called us to become. But we can only offer the direction and give opportunities. The congregation has to act and step out and embrace that disciplined, godly lifestyle the Lord has called all of us to live. If we don’t step out and step up to other levels in our Christian walks we will only be adding our names to that long list of churches that are “fiddling while Rome burns.” Do you want to make your life count for something that will outlast it? Do you want to hear God say “Well done, good and faithful servant” when your life is over? Then it is time to get ready to perform as we raise the bar. Take the time to get in a small group, step out to lead, build relationships, and minister to those around you who need you. Only that kind of response to our decaying society can justify our continuing existence as a church family.
Life is full of both opportunities and challenges. That is one way to see it. Another way is to see life is as a series of problems interspersed with fun and pleasure and rest. The thinking goes that if we can just get through the next problem, get the frustration to stop, or solve the issue that plagues us, then we have a better chance of experiencing what we want, which is fun and rest.
But, more and more I am seeing this approach as completely wrong. We all face storms and waves and scary moments. We all face things that we are unsure of. What will the future hold? How will we find provision? What does God have in store for us? If we see these questions as things to be solved so we can get to the life we always wanted, we miss what God wants to show us in the moment, namely Himself.
What if the beauty is found in the midst of the storm? What if God’s best for us is not getting us to a place of rest and relaxation but in actually training us to enter the battle and find Him there with the love and hope that we need? With Himself? Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life, in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” No matter the storm, if we are in God’s presence, there is joy and beauty. Sometimes, we find God in the midst of the crashing waves and the storm. Sometimes the beauty that we seek is hidden in the midst of the trial that we are trying to escape or just get through instead of in what we perceive to be the pleasure and satisfaction that we seek out of life.
God’s way is better. God is sovereign. He is committed to our sanctification and to us being conformed to the image of Christ. He is also committed to us treasuring Him above all things and learning to worship Him in everything. He is committed to revealing His beauty and worth to us. But, He is also often hidden beyond the obvious. He sometimes calls us to seek Him in places that we would not expect Him to be. I pray that you will seek and find God this summer and that you would seek Him with all your heart. And find Him.
C. S. Lewis once said: “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a wonderful idea, until he has something to forgive.” The Bible speaks often about forgiveness and the writers understand that we are often conflicted about this issue. That is one of the reasons their teaching is usually coupled with a statement like “...even as God has forgiven us through His Son.” Jesus went even further and in that model petition we refer to as “The Lord’s Prayer,” he follows it by saying…”But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Mathew 6:15).
An excellent survey was conducted based upon what people say when they are sorry, and also what they like to hear when they are apologized to. They gave five basic answers:
1. I am sorry - most common and the most disliked. Has no depth, lacks sincerity but is better than the usual silence.
2. Sorry, I was wrong - second most disliked - admits guilt but offers no chance for interaction.
3. Sorry, I'm wrong, can I make amends? - a middle of the road answer, welcome to most.
4. Sorry, I'm wrong, can I make amends?, do you forgive me? 2nd most popular answer for obvious reasons.
5. Sorry, I'm wrong, can I make amends?, do you forgive me?, can you tell me how to avoid doing this to you again? Least common, but #1 favorite, because it gives both parties the best chance to resolve any issue.
If we could all be so bold as to go to a level 5 "I'm sorry", just imagine how many grudges out there would be out looking for someone else to carry them going forward!
There was a young woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. So as she was getting her things “in order,” she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes.
She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what Scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. Everything was in order and the preacher was preparing to leave when the young woman suddenly remembered something very important to her.
“There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly. “What’s that?” came the preacher’s reply.“This is very important,” the young woman continued. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”
The preacher stood looking at the young woman, not knowing quite what to say.“That surprises you, doesn’t it?” the young woman asked.“Well, to be honest, I’m puzzled by the request,” said the preacher.
In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork.’ It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was coming ... like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance! So, when people come to see me in that casket with a fork in my hand I want them to wonder “What’s with the fork?”. Then I want you to tell them: “Keep your fork ... the best is yet to come.”
The preacher’s eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the young woman goodbye. He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the young woman had a better grasp of heaven than he did. She had a better grasp of what heaven would be like than many people twice her age, with twice as much experience and knowledge. She KNEW that something better was coming.
At the funeral people were walking by the young woman’s casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing and the fork placed in her right hand. Over and over, the preacher heard the question “What’s with the fork?” And over and over he smiled.
During his message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the young woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and about what it symbolized to her. The preacher told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either. He was right. So the next time you reach down for your fork, let it remind you ever so gently, that the best is yet to come!
On April 13, 1888, a man named Alfred woke up early one morning in Paris. While eating breakfast, he began to read the newspaper and was astonished to discover his own obituary on page 3. Naturally, it was a mistake, for in fact it was Alfred’s brother Ludwig who had died.
As a result of this error, Alfred was afforded a rare opportunity—a chance to see how he would be remembered, And he didn’t like what he saw. As David Zacks writes: “Alfred was shocked to see himself portrayed as the Merchant of Death, the man responsible for escalating the arms race. Even though he had made high-powered explosives much easier to use and was proud of how this power had been unleashed to mine precious minerals and to build roads, railways, and canals,” the obituary portrayed him as a ‘monster’ whose discovery had boosted the bloody art of war from bullets and bayonets to long-range explosives in less than 24 years.” Stunned, but propelled into action, Alfred hatched a shrewd plan. Determined to change his current image and future legacy, he used his time and profits from the explosives to create an annual prize for peace. Today, few of us connect the creator of that prize to “the art of killing.” And that, my friends, is what Alfred Nobel intended.
If you died today, what would your legacy be?
How would you be described physically? Would anyone mention a specific habit or addiction in connection with your life?
Whether today, next month, or years from now, your legacy will one day be set in stone. What will we say you did? Who will we say you were? What difference will we celebrate that you made?
Your legacy is what you make it. And the most important part of your life….begins now.
Adapted from an article by Andy Andrews
A young lady on a cruise ship kept glancing at a handsome young man. He couldn’t help but notice. Finally, he worked up the courage to approach her. “Pardon me,” he said with a gentle smile. “It may be my imagination, but I couldn’t help but notice that you keep looking in my direction. Is there something wrong?” She blushed for a moment then replied, “Oh no, it’s just that I can’t help noticing how much you resemble my first husband.” The young man looked puzzled and asked, “How many times have you been married?” She gave a mysterious smile and replied, “Oh, I haven’t been….yet.” That’s faith!
The Bible is full of stories of ordinary people who possessed extraordinary faith, like the heroes in this Sunday’s message from the book of Daniel. Many of them were people so ordinary that there would be nothing else to distinguish them were we to meet them today. But something inside of them shouted “You can trust God!” And they did. And we have been profiting from their accomplishments for over 2,000 years. Faith is a dynamic, forward looking relationship with God. It is not a psychological tool. It is not faith in faith. Its object is the Lord of the Universe, a Being so willing to respond to us that He promised “Everything is possible for him who believes” (Mark 9:23). He also said, “According to your faith will it be done unto you” (Matthew 9:29). That strongly implies that the means to accomplish great things in life is laid squarely upon our shoulders. We hold the key that unlocks the Treasure House of Heaven. But what amazes me about the Bible’s teaching concerning faith is that this key is not for the few, the fit, and the fortunate. The promise is universal. It is a challenge God issues to every son and daughter in every generation.
No age has needed great men and women of faith more than the one we are presently living in. William Carey, who labored tirelessly for God in India 200 years ago, said it like this: “Attempt great things for God’; expect great things from God.” That is the secret of a life of great spiritual achievement--the confidence that God can do anything, the courage to ask Him, and the trust to expect an answer.
Most of us who read the Apostle Paul’s words about doing good to those who are our enemies and blessing those who persecute us admit that this is a wonderful way to live. Then, most of us go out and act just like everyone else—as if those words were never really meant to be taken seriously. All about us we see special interest groups waging war with the other side. When we see a righteous cause worth fighting for we Christians assemble a mob and do the same thing. We seem to have bought into the philosophy that if we don’t practice some form of coercion, then our rights will be trampled too.
Somewhere amid the placard waving, shouting, and nose to nose confrontations, I think we have given up our most effective weapons. Why is it Paul said those strange words about “If your enemy is hungry feed him...for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head”? (Actually, he was quoting one of Solomon’s proverbs, written 900 years earlier.) We seem to think he is teaching a do-nothing response so our enemies can push us aside and go ahead with their evil. What he is really showing us is how to neutralize the violence directed at us. “Violence unreturned is a spent force” wrote Dietrich Bonnhoeffer, a German Christian pastor who experienced Nazi violence first hand and was eventually executed by them. When we wave our placards and stand nose to nose with our opponents, we are only confirming their stereotypes of us. We must continue to press for righteousness in every area of life. But, we must do so the way Scripture teaches, with “gentleness and reverence” and a “spirit of power, love and a sound mind.” That kind of response has always confounded the opposition. If God is truly with us, we should expect it to continue to do so.
One of my favorite scenes from the Old Testament is the one coming up in a couple of weeks in our Sermon Series from the book of Daniel, about the king who was so proud of a great image he had made of himself that he commanded everyone in the kingdom to bow down and worship it or they would be thrown into a furnace of fire. Among those in his kingdom were Jewish exiles, all of whom obeyed the king out of fear for their lives….except for three men. We even know their names: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They refused to obey the king’s order because they had made a prior commitment to worship and serve God only. They said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:17)
Where do people like that come from? It wasn’t the times that produced them, because these were the terrible days of exile when people felt far from God. It wasn’t peer pressure, for what Jewish friends they had were all compromising their faith out of fear for their own safety. There is no way of explaining the conduct of those three men except to say they had a genuine relationship with God that was totally apart from every other force around them.
Is it possible to live like that today? Or must we resign ourselves never to rise any higher than our environment allows us? You may remember that man in Charles Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities” who worked for many years as a shoemaker in prison. Later in life, whenever he ran into problems, he went up into a little dark room in the attic and made shoes. Under stress, something like that often happens to us. We temporarily misplace our faith and go back to acting as if we had never heard the gospel before. We do this even though we know that faith is our greatest asset.
Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego we need people who will stand tall during stressful circumstances and proclaim “You do what you want, but here is where I stand.” Not only is it possible to live like that, but the times demand it. Our children must see it in us. Our friends and neighbors will be greatly impacted by it. Our biggest need in the church is for people of principle; people who have answered the call to discipleship; people who cannot be bought or compromised. Will you be one of those?
We have seen the consequences all too often: over one million abortions each year, “drive-by” shootings occurring in every major city, and the suicide and assisted-suicide bills making their way through state legislatures. From the beginning of life all the way through to a convenient and planned exit we are witnessing a drastic change in the basic ways in which our culture perceives life. If it is true, as we have often been taught, that “ideas have consequences,” what are the ideas that have produced these sorry consequences? The answer isn’t difficult to figure out: “life is cheap,” accompanied by “life is an accident,” also followed by “life is purposeless.” To those of us who grew up in homes and institutions of faith it seems incredible that such ideas could have become so accepted by so many in such a short time. But this change hasn’t occurred overnight. It proceeded step by step following our rejection of the biggest idea of all: “Life is the gift of a loving God.” Once we turn our backs on “the God factor” everything begins to fall apart. That is the testimony of Scripture from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. We cannot ignore God and escape the natural and unwelcome consequences that must follow . Unfortunately, we are dealing with a society that has never read Genesis, Revelation or anything in between. But God’s people should have, and if our nation is to escape the awful fate of Old Testament Israel, then we must be active and not passive in seeking to avert the final consequences which must surely come upon our culture of disbelief.
Let me suggest some things each of us needs to do:
1. Pray for your country. Don’t just complain about the way things are. Pray for your leaders (both Democrats and Republicans).
2. Support leaders who recognize that the real issues before us are spiritual, moral and ethical. Don’t fall for the old lie that a person’s private life and values have nothing to do with his or her qualifications for leadership.
3. Commit your personal private life and values to God. Let your Christian faith determine what you say and do in public. Become vulnerable in your open witness for God and trust that He will honor your openness. Remember, He has done it many, many times to many people before you came along.
In short, it is time to replace the popular ideas with some older ideas that have been tried and tested. Only then will you notice some different consequences.
We all remember the story of "Doubting Thomas." He, like so many others today, said, "Unless I see it, touch it, and experience it, it isn't real!" He was, of course, referring to the resurrection of Jesus. Without the resurrection of Jesus the "Good News" of the Gospel falls flat on its face. As the Apostle Paul put it, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." (I Corinthians 15:14).
But that was before he actually saw the risen Christ. What happened to him? Doubting Thomas does not stay a doubter. When he sees the risen Jesus, all that Jesus had taught over the years now clicks in, and to his death Thomas is an outspoken advocate for his Lord.
Early Christian writers tells us that he preached in ancient Babylon, near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, where Iraq is today. He traveled to Persia, present-day Iran, and continued to win disciples to the Christian faith.
Then he sailed south to Malabar on the west coast of India in 52 AD. He preaches, establishes churches, and wins to Christ high caste Brahmins, as well as others. When the Portuguese land in India in the early 1600s, they find a group of Christians there — the Mar Thoma Church--established through Thomas' preaching a millennium and a half before.
Finally, Thomas travels to the east coast of India, preaching relentlessly. He is killed near Mylapore about 72 AD, near present-day Madras. Tradition tells us that he is thrown into a pit, then pierced through with a spear thrown by a Brahmin.
He who had so fervently proclaimed his unbelief carried the Christian message of love and forgiveness to the ends of the earth in his own generation.
Thomas would speak to doubters today, to those of us who have seen our hopes and dreams destroyed. Doubting Thomas would tell his story of how Jesus' life had intercepted his own. He would tell us of his fears and his doubts. And then, with a radiant, joyful face, Thomas, Apostle to India, would recount his joy at seeing and knowing the risen Jesus himself. "My Lord and my God!" he would say, as the entire direction of his life is changed forever.
Thomas was consistent enough to act on what he believed, and it took him to the ends of the earth. How far will your faith take you?
- Adapted from “Joyful Heart” Ministries
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship