Why so sad?

We’ve heard a lot about the terrorist organization known as ISIS over the past year or so. This savage group of radical Muslims has made it their mission to persecute and savagely murder anyone who doesn’t agree with their ideals and follow their laws. This includes Christians.

I’m not going to get into what I personally think about ISIS and the persecution of Christians. That isn’t this post.

What I want to talk about, is what I see when I am confronted with this violent barbarianism on my television, in my reading, or on the Internet.

In particular, I want to focus on the picture I have branded in my memory, the mass beheadings of Ethiopian Christians in Libya, which occurred several months ago.

See Video: ISIS executes 21 Egyptian Copts in Libya

The thing that has perplexed me the most is not the grotesqueness of what I know is about to happen to these men, or the disgust I have that the world is just standing by and allowing this to happen, or the many other things that are floating through my mind, even now, as I look at this picture again.

The thing that gets me is this…..

Where are the tears?

When I see this image, and all of the images that I have seen before and after this shot, I see no fear. I see none of these victims sobbing or begging for mercy or even praying.

They actually look stoic!

And I wonder….

WHY?

What do they understand that I don’t understand? What do they have that we, American Christians, don’t have?

Why are WE so scared?

As Americans, we are terrified of the thought of dying! Even we Christians, when the chips are down, fear death immensely.

So maybe the question
we should be asking is NOT what do they have that we don’t but instead, what do WE have that they DO NOT?

A lot of things come to mind…

  • Peppermint latte’s
  • Theme parks
  • Prom
  • Mutual funds
  • Playoff games
  • iWatches
  • Ikea
  • Vacation rentals in the Outer Banks
  • Running water
  • Electricity
  • 911…..

The list could go on forever!

  • Maybe those guys who are getting their heads sliced off actually get it, where we just claim that we do!
    (We talk a good game)
  • Maybe they realize this life is just a rehearsal for what is yet to come!
  • Maybe they realize they are only seconds away from meeting Jesus, and spending eternity with Him, and to them, this prospect is an invitation they have only dreamed about! Something that they yearn for!
  • Maybe they’ve accepted this world is jacked up and death is just as much a part of life, as breathing is, and it is not something to be feared!
  •  Maybe they truly believe their greatest mission in this life is to disciple others, and they realize that if you want others to truly believe what you teach, they must see that you truly believe it as well!
  • Maybe to them, church is not a place that has a cafe where they can purchase coffee and snacks, or an online gift shop where they can purchase t-shirts and water bottles sporting their favorite church’s logo!
  • Maybe to them, church is the body of Christ spreading the love of Christ at the expense of themselves!

Then I realized….

I still don’t get it!

  • Even though I talk like I get it
  • Even though I honestly feel I understand it
  • Even though I know I should get it or I seem to get it
  • Even though I love God
  • I’m not there!

I think if we were honest with each other, most of us would confess that we’re not there.

I want to see my daughters grow up!

I want to make sure my wife will be taken care of!

I still have things on my “bucket list” I want to check-off!

I am NOT at the place where if I knew that today was THE day, I would be OK with it.

I still think I should have more control, not only of this life, but what happens after this life.

Even though I know my reward after my death is an eternity spent in the company of my loving Jesus, which is AMAZING, I am still holding on tightly to this world.

1 John 2:15-17 tells us very clearly:
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.

We can say all day long we believe this, but our actions speak louder than words. We often try to justify death to others. We say things like “everything happens for a reason”, and “it was just his time to go”. We say these things to try to ease the pain that comes from losing a loved one. But we also say these things to try to make sense of something we can’t control.

And here’s the thing,
we cannot control when we will meet death.

We try to pray it away.

We try to speak it away.

We try to heal it away.

But inevitably…. it comes.

Why do we pray it doesn’t come? Why do we BEG God to prolong the inevitable for us? It’s because we’re not ready to go. We’re stuck in this world.

In Daniel 3:17-18, three guys are about to be executed by the king, for not bowing down to a statue he created. In essence, they are being persecuted for not worshiping something other than the one true God (that’s a whole other blog post).

This is their response:
If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

Did you see what happened there???? Did you miss it????

They fully believe God can deliver them, but then they say the word “IF“!!!

IF He doesn’t!!

WHAT!?

IF HE DOESN’T?

Why would He NOT?

  • Doesn’t He love them?
  • Doesn’t He want to protect them?
  • Doesn’t He want to save them?
  • Doesn’t He want them to live forever?

What if I told you that God is not the Genie from Aladdin?

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What if I told you the God of the universe may not be up in Heaven just pacing back and forth wondering when you will need Him to perform a miracle to prove He is God?

What if these three guys realized God is a good God, even when they are facing death?

What if these three guys weren’t holding on so tightly to this world, they were just as ready to go meet God NOW, as they would be LATER?

That’s what I see when I look at the faces of the ISIS victims in the photo above.

  • I see the faces of men who aren’t afraid of death.
  • I see the faces of men who aren’t wrapped too tightly in this life or this world.
  • I see the faces of men who believe what they have preached.
  • I see the faces of men who have absolutely no doubt about what they believe.

In Romans 8:35-37, The apostle Paul tries to explain to us that Christ loves us, even as we experience life, and death:
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”)  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

I’m going to be honest….

I want to be real with you….

I want to get to the point in my life, that I have the faith these men have.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not there yet, although I know I should be.

I’m praying I get there.

I’m praying to become the person who would profess Christ’s love for this world with my dying last breath, instead of wasting it by begging God for more time.

I’m praying what I have learned and what I preach to others will soon become what I demonstrate. I pray to be released from the fear of death.

What would this world look like if it were full of Christians who weren’t fearful?

Do you think that God really expects us to not fear death?

 

 

 

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Screaming at God

Yesterday at church, my pastor decided to do a Q&A instead of an actual organized message. Every once in a while he gets the urge to do this and to me, it really demonstrates his leadership and teaching abilities.

During this service you can send a text message about any spiritual or Biblical question that you may have, which may or may not be picked as one to be answered by our pastor on the spot.

Yesterday, someone asked a question that peaked my interest and made me sad all at the same time. The question was

“During rough times is it OK to yell at God and be angry with him?”

The question was handled appropriately by my pastor, who has the most genuine heart for God and for people, that I have ever seen in any other spiritual leader that I have ever met. In a nutshell, his answer was one that reflected his reverence and love of God.

My pastor, Rob Shepherd, said that yelling at God shouldn’t be your goal. God is deserving of our respect and our honor at all times. However, if you are experiencing an unbearable hardship, and you end up yelling at God, He is big enough to handle your emotions. He isn’t going to love you any less. But you should have a relationship with God in which you can respectfully approach Him in any situation.

(Check Rob’s blog out by clicking here. It is enlightening, entertaining, and educational.)

Here is what I think:

God is worthy of our praise at all times, even in the face of death and destruction, heartbreak and anguish.

Does that mean we will never be angry? Of course not. As my pastor pointed out during our last series, anger is an emotion that was given to us by God. But, as he also pointed out, even in our anger, we must not sin.

I want to unpack this question a little more. I really feel that what we as Christ followers have come to believe about having a relationship with God, is He is our “pal” or our “partner-in-crime”.

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I think this is where we as Christ followers have missed the boat. I know we believe we have “a friend in Jesus”, but I think the use of the word “friend” here means we have somewhere we can always go to seek a God who has a listening ear and who cares for us, just as a human friend should.

I think that if in your anger, you want to yell at God, then you can’t possibly understand just how deep and wide His love for you is.

If you want to yell at God, then maybe you don’t really have a relationship with Him to begin with.

I want to start with the human element of a loving relationship. I love my wife, Karen.

I absolutely love her.

I love her on days when things are great. I love her on days when things could be a whole lot better. I love her when she is doing everything she can to make me happy. And, I love her when she is putting herself first, even though it might be inconvenient for me.

I think God desires that kind of relationship with us. I think in the story of Hosea and Gomer, God demonstrates a love that is unimaginable for us as humans. In order to get through this blog without having to set aside the rest of your day, I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version.

Hosea is a prophet of God to the Israelites. The Israelites are stuck in this cycle of worshiping God, and then setting Him on the back-burner. This is heart-breaking to God. He so desperately wishes to have a relationship with His people. In the story, He tells Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer (I know. Sexy name right?). Gomer betrays Hosea’s love over and over again. They have children together. Hosea treats Gomer well. But Gomer continues to sleep with other men. She continuously leaves Hosea’s home to have relationships with others. Hosea always pursues her. With love and honor, Hosea brings her back home over and over and over.

This is a love that is unfathomable for modern day Americans. Hosea married a woman who he was told to marry, but loved her regardless of her actions. As Americans, we choose who we want to marry, even doing so, at times, knowing the other person can’t be trusted, isn’t faithful, or is not also in love with us. At the first sign of turbulence, we have the attorneys on speed-dial. We get divorced in a heartbeat.

The story of Hosea is a story of how obsessed God is with having a relationship with the very humans that He created. Imagine this: when you have a child, you absolutely love that child. No matter what your child does you always want to have a relationship with your child. Even when others see the worst in your child, you see the best. This is how Jesus feels about us!

In his book Pursued, Jud Wilhite says, “The gospel of Hosea is this: no matter what we do, no matter how sinful we are, God pursues us, romances us, stalks us, and stakes us out in a radical grace based on himself. When we run away from him, God still pursues us. He comes after us. He calls us. And even when we are full of pain and hurt, he can still find us and heal us.”

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Because of my love for my wife, I would NEVER yell at her if I was hurt or if something went wrong in my life. I have a relationship with her. I have that relationship when things are great. I have that relationship when things aren’t so great. If I experience a loss, I know I will be comforted by her as I cry on her shoulder. If something amazing happens, I know she will celebrate it with me. She is the very best human friend that I have.

I feel the same way about Jesus. I know that He loves me and only wants the best for me. I have a relationship with Him. I talk to Him about what I am experiencing in my life. When something bad happens, I don’t yell at Him, I go to cry on His shoulder. He is the great-comforter. When something amazing happens, I go to Him with a thankful heart. I realize that every good thing that happens to me is a gift from God (James 1:17).

I have an amazing relationship with Jesus because He is important to me.

My wife is important to me. For this reason, I spend time with her. I have conversations with her. I show her affection. When she blesses me in some way, I give her the credit for it and tell her how much she means to me. I don’t relegate my conversations with my wife to whatever time I have after I prioritize hanging out with friends, spending time on Facebook, and taking part in other self-centered activities. If I were to treat her this way, I would expect her not to be as caring and loving to me as she is. She loves me, and expects me to love her back in return. She expects me to place a higher value in my relationship with her, than I do in any of my other human relationships.

God expects the same thing. He desires a relationship with us. He desires to spend time with us. He desires to hold our hands along this journey of life. He desires for us to seek His will for our lives in prayer. He desires for us to desire Him and to desire getting to know Him by reading and learning. He desires to have as much importance in our lives as our friends do, as social media does, as our families do, as our hobbies do, as CrossFit does (just throwing that in there because we all know someone who is fanatical about CrossFit).

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What we learn in Hosea is that even though we don’t seek that fanatical relationship with Jesus that we should, He still seeks it from us. He is right there…..

Waiting….

Knocking on the door (Revelation 3:20).

Before we start thinking that we have the right to “yell at God” and blame Him for our troubles or our hurt, why don’t we do a self-audit and think about how much of a priority we place on our relationship with Him BEFORE the hurt or pain comes?

He wants us to talk to Him about our struggles and our pain and our selfishness and our hurt and our bad choices. He is still the same Jesus that He was in the gospels. The reason many of us don’t have the relationship with Christ that we want to have, is because of the boundaries WE have set on Him, not the other way around. There is nothing that you can do to make God not want a relationship with you. He is GOD.

In the book Beautiful Outlaw, John Eldredge provokes us to “open the door”. He goes on to say, “Invite Christ into the whole ugly mess. Jesus doesn’t shy away from getting down in the muck of this world. There isn’t anything you can show him he hasn’t seen before. It’s not like he’s going to be shocked. Or angry. Or disappointed. Jesus loves to come; just open the door to him”.

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If you don’t already have a real relationship with God, (which I think is the case for a lot of us self-professed Christ followers), then why on Earth do you think you have the right or the authority to yell at the God of this universe out of anger?

If I didn’t have a relationship with my wife, and she were just any other random person on the street who I treated no better or worse than anyone else, I would expect to be slapped or beat-up if I decided that I would start yelling at her out of anger.

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The thing is, when you truly realize who God is, and you truly realize how much…you can’t even realize how much He loves you (which is incomprehensible to us as humans), then you wouldn’t want to yell at Him out of anger. You would want to run to Him.

You wouldn’t expect to use God as a way to get special favors or special treatment. When you have a relationship with God (and when I have that same relationship with God), instead of going to him and saying “why me?”, you will go to him and say “why not me?” Why am I any better than anyone else in this world? Why should Jesus have to bear the pain of the cross because of me, but I shouldn’t experience any pain? Why should I not suffer the consequences of my own actions? Why should life (and death) not happen to me and the people who I care about, but to everyone else?

Instead of yelling at God out of anger, you will want to RUN to Him for His love and for His comfort and His mercy.

In his book It’s Not About Me, Max Lucado says, “when our deepest desire is not the things of God, or a favor from God, but God himself, we cross a threshold.”

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When we stop putting God in a box.

When we stop being a Christ follower only in our “free” time or only on Sundays.

When we stop expecting God to just make everything easier for us.

When we stop relegating God to only “certain” parts of our lives that we are comfortable with.

Then we will understand just how much He pursues us.

When we lean on God in the hard times and the easy times.

When we worship Him just as much when there is little as we do when there is plenty.

When we realize God has a love for us that surpasses any love we have for any other human being, including our spouses or children.

Then we will understand, even in our anger, God is still a good God.

Then we will understand, even in our hurt, God loves us and cares for us.

Then we will understand, even when it seems as though the world is collapsing on top of us, God is our safe harbor.

Who would ever want to yell at a God that they have such a beautiful relationship with?

If you don’t feel that way, maybe you need to start working on your relationship with God right now.

He is standing at the door knocking. All you have to do is let Him in.

 

This Ain’t No Hobby!

 

The last few weeks, I’ve been thinkingReligion about how to
write this post so it doesn’t seem as though I’m pointing fingers. I really don’t intend to do that (except maybe at myself). But it has come up in some way or another at least four or five times over the past few weeks through my daily Bible reading, my daughter’s morning devotional reading, other blogs, or church service.

I think the church, as a whole (meaning me and you and our spiritual leaders, etc.), has become far too much of a cheering section for Christ.

Hear me out.

I think Christians have become socially motivated to attend church. It has become the holy_huddle_t_shirts-r4ea8d36cb9a1436bb28fa94817e5c90e_804gs_324place where we can see the people that we like. We get some great entertainment. We can have a snack. We can also hear a sermon that may be motivational or encouraging (which are both great things) but not too convicting. We don’t want to convict people too much because then we sound legalistic and people will stop showing up. And the church really really wants people to show up! A LOT of people. That’s how we can tell whether we are doing Gods work or not. Because He doesn’t make his expectations clear enough for us in the Bible. So we sing some songs, listen to a good sermon, hob-nob with our besties, and then go back to where we came from both literally and figuratively.

We leave the church building, of course. But I think that many of us also leave the Christian life that we portray for a few hours on Sunday. We go back to doing what we always did, talking how we always talked, treating our spouses and children like we always treated them, spending our money like everyone else, coveting the things of this world, sleeping with who we want to sleep with, lying like we always did, gossiping like we get paid for it, and so many other things.

We extol “LIFE CHANGE” at church like it really flows from our buildings like a virus.

We post about it on social media!

We market it!

We preach about it!

We talk about it!

We proclaim it from the mountain tops!

But honestly, I would have to say from my experience and observation, a lot of what we call “life change” is really just “Sunday routine change”. 

I hate to go all Old Testament, but raising your hand as an emotional response to a powerful message is NOT life change. It is a step in the right direction, but if you are doing the same thing next week that you did last week (before raising your hand), then your life has not been changed.

Life change is intentional.

Life change comes from the heart.

Life change comes from worship.

Life change comes from obedience.

Life change comes from submission.

Life change comes from a want to be one with Christ.

Life change comes from dying to the old self.

Life change doesn’t come from raising a hand or from repeating a simple prayer after the preacher.

I think we as Christians, other than the t-shirts we may wear, or the bumper stickers we may put on our cars, really don’t look or act any different from the rest of the world on Monday through Saturday. I think this is why a lot of people either don’t take us seriously when we talk about God, or they just see us as hypocrites. Why would they get out of bed early on Sunday when they can sleep-in and still live the same lifestyle. That’s what they see when they look at us.

If we’re running up our credit cards on needless material things, if we’re talking disrespectfully about our spouses, if we’re giving another driver the finger; if we’re going to the club and being provocative, if we’re not honoring our supervisors and our religious leaders, if we’re only using the scriptures when they are convenient for us, then we’re not motivating anyone else to seek a relationship with our God.

There has to be something different. 

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We can’t just be a cheering section or a social club.

God doesn’t need that. He is the Creator! We are the created!

We can’t just invite others to church so we can fill up the seats and call our jobs done.

It’s not about numbers on Sunday. It’s about how you live for the rest of the week. 

God isn’t in the numbers game.

John 6 is the perfect example of what I am trying to say. You can read it by clicking here.

In this chapter, Jesus has fed the multitudes of people that came to see him teach. He performed a miracle in their presence. He fed thousands of people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. After everyone went to bed, Jesus dipped out. He walked across the sea to another town. When everyone woke up the next morning, they were hungry and they realized that Jesus was gone, so they got into some boats and went to find him. When they find Jesus they start to ask Him about when He arrived there. In verse 26, Jesus makes an incredible statement. Jesus was never one to sugar-coat things. Knowing their hearts, Jesus tells them, you only came so I would feed you again!

Not because of the teaching.

Not because of the miracle.

Not because of the life change.

Not because you want to go all-in for Christ.

He then goes on to tell them what they should be looking for. Jesus says,

“Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you.”

Eternal life… Much more important than food and material things. Much more important than tomorrow life!

Let that sink in…

Being a Christ follower is not a hobby!

Don’t call yourself a Christ follower because of what you hope to get out of the deal. Love that is one-directional is not love at all! It’s abuse.

Call yourself a Christ follower when you are ready to spend all of your energy seeking eternal life.

Then you will be different. Others around you will want to experience what they’ve seen you experience. You will never be the same when you decide to follow Christ 24/7, 365.

God is about QUALITY, not QUANTITY!

He doesn’t need a cheering section. He does not need a fan club. He is not impressed with your t-shirt or your bumper sticker, or the amount of church invites that you can dole out.

He wants your heart….. Completely.

He is worth it!

In the book Not a Fan, Kyle Idleman says:

In Revelation 3, Jesus says to the Christians in Laodicea, ‘You are neither hot or cold but because you are lukewarm – I’m about to spit you out of my mouth.’ Jesus doesn’t say, ‘Everything in moderation’; He says you can’t be my follower if you don’t give up everything. His invitation is an all or nothing invitation.

Jesus has defined the relationship He wants with you. He is not interested in enthusiastic admirers who practice everything in moderation and don’t get carried away. He wants completely committed followers. 

Christians cannot change the world until we change our lives. We have to change our hearts.

We have to stop trying to blend-in with the world.

We need to stand out with our boldness and with our ridiculous love.

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What is it that you need to do or stop doing in order to follow Jesus more completely?

 

 

It’s Only a Game

I’m a Carolina Panthers fan! It’s no secret.

Oh, and by the way, I’ve ALWAYS been a Carolina Panthers fan. I’m not one of those “bandwagon” fans who aren’t fans any more after about 9:00 last night. I was born and raised in Charlotte, NC. I was only a teenager when Charlotte was awarded the franchise. There was an electric feeling throughout town. I would never call the Steelers or the Broncos my favorite teams again.

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I don’t have any Panthers apparel. I don’t own a jersey. I would love to. I just have other things that are financially more important.

You can’t tell that I’m a die-hard fan by the way I dress.

But when I’m around people and football comes up, I very clearly describe my love for the team. People who know me, know that I love Carolina.

 

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Last night was rough! The Panthers have been to the Super Bowl twice now…

And twice they’ve lost!

And if that weren’t bad enough, humanity was subjected to the travesty of Puppy Monkey Baby!

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You can NOT un-see this!

I won’t go into my critique of the game because that’s not the point of this post.

Last night as I watched the game I was frustrated at what was going on, on the field. Among other issues, the Panthers were just playing bad football.

I felt like they were letting me down.

A few friends of mine were blowing up my Facebook tagging me in pro-Broncos memes and such. My Pastor even sent me a text message after the game telling me that he was sorry for me because he knows how much I love the Panthers (In the area where I live, the Panthers aren’t “the team”).6835d7e00005dd777b74b8a90c14dc8e-600x256x1

He may have just been wanting to check on me in case he had to talk me off the edge of a bridge or something? I’m not sure, but the point is that everyone is aware that I absolutely love that team. I loved them when they were horrible. I loved them this year, when they were on fire. I’m going to love them next year.

As I sat watching the game last night, I thought about who my identity is wrapped up in. I promise that I’m not trying to pull a Jesus-juke on you, but to me, this is an important question that I need to answer every single morning when I wake up and get out of bed.

The Panthers are a sports team. I love them…. They let me down. But regardless of the game or the sports team, whether they win a game or lose it, the outcome won’t bring me eternal salvation.

It’s only a game!

I started to think of all of the people whom I’ve ever come into contact with who know that Rob Self is a Panthers fan, and I wondered to myself, do they also realize

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If someone were to ask me about what I believe, would I be as forthcoming about my love of Jesus as I am about my devotion to the Carolina Panthers? What would I say to a random stranger if I saw them hurting and in need of prayer? Would I have the courage to profess God’s love and mercy over them?

I know some Christians who won’t even pray in front of other Christians who believe the same thing they believe. I don’t want to be that person.

Once, years ago when I was a police officer, I had gone to a barber shop to get my hair cut. I had driven my police car there. It was a brand new car.

As I was leaving the barber shop this attractive, petite, young woman (probably 31- or 32-years-old at most) and her two children approached me. I was accustomed to people wanting to threaten their children with the “that police man is going to get you if you don’t act right” speech, so that’s what I fully expected (by the way, if you have ever said that to your children, STOP IT! please don’t ever say that again. That’s just horrible) Instead, in her sweet, soft voice, this stranger asked if I had just gotten that police car and I replied that I had (I was proud to get a brand new car). She then asked if I believed in Jesus and I very kindly told her that I did NOT (at the time). She told me that she and her children wanted to pray over me and my car and asked if I had two or three minutes to spare. Of course, as I was now representing the locality for which I was employed, I told her sure I had two or three minutes to speak to her. She actually went into the convenience store that was next door and came back out about 30 seconds later with a small bottle of vegetable oil that she had just purchased. She walked around my car and anointed all four tires and all four door handles. She then walked back up to me, placed her hand on my shoulder (still standing outside in front of the barber shop), and spoke the gentlest and sweetest prayer of safety that I have ever heard over me and my vehicle. She ended the prayer by asking God to move into my life. She wasn’t rude. She didn’t judge me when I told her that I didn’t believe in Jesus. She didn’t even try to change my mind. She left it up to God, then she walked away. I’ve never seen her again. I don’t even know her name.

Last night as I was watching the Super Bowl, I thought about her for only a second. I thought, do I have that kind of courage and identity in Christ? Could I do THAT?

I mean, I get crazy over a football game. Sometimes in a public restaurant or in front of people who I don’t even know.

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But like my lack of a Panthers jersey, I don’t wear any t-shirts or other clothing advertising for God or my church either. I don’t want to market for a church. I’ve done that. I don’t want to do it again.

So how do people know that I’m a Christ follower?

How do people know that I love Jesus more than I love the Carolina Panthers?

Do I display my love for Christ in the way that I carry myself?

Do I show it in the way that I treat strangers?

Do others who observe me interacting with my wife and daughters see the love of Jesus in my actions?

If someone were to walk up to me at a grocery store and suggest that something is different about me (which has happened), do I tell them about how much Jesus loves them, and about his ridiculous grace? Do I explain to them there is nothing they have ever done that they can’t be forgiven for?

NOTHING!

Do I explain to them they can be saved from death, Hell, and the grave while standing right there in the produce aisle?

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Or, do I invite them to my church first? Or, tell them about how awesome my pastor is first? Or, do I give them an invite card first? And then call my part “done?”

Is what I just suggested way too far out there?

I absolutely LOVE my church, and I LOVE my pastor, and I want people to come to my church. But when I get the opportunity to grow God’s Kingdom or spread God’s love, I want people to see it in ME. I want my appreciation for what God has done for me to just bubble over.

I don’t want to have to defer the message of God’s love to someone else for the sake of marketing.

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What if this person walks away and I’ve missed my chance? What if I’m the last person who could have ever told them about how much God loves them, but instead I told them that if they wanted to find out, they would have to wait until Sunday, and hear about it from my pastor?

What if they don’t live until Sunday?

I’ve lived a life in the past which makes me not worthy of God’s love or His grace. I don’t deserve to spend ten seconds in heaven. Let alone ETERNITY! I don’t deserve the salvation that I’ve received. That’s not me being charismatic, that’s me being honest.

But God loves me so much. I have so much to be thankful for. I owe so much to my Heavenly Father. I have no doubts that I absolutely WILL be spending eternity in heaven… with Jesus!

I put a lot of faith into a football team. I will again next season. But this team couldn’t even overcome another football team when it was crunch-time.

John 16:33 says that Jesus has OVERCOME THE WORLD!

This scripture tells us that we are going to have many upsets in this life. Things will be difficult. Things won’t always be easy. Our favorite sports team will eventually lose.

But TAKE HEART, we have a head coach who absolutely CAN NOT and WILL NOT lose!

Why are we so quick to talk to people about our losing sports teams, but not so quick to tell them about the winning love of Christ? Why do we leave it up to someone else to be concerned about other people’s souls?

Eternity is a long time…. It’s like…..

FOREVER!

I don’t want to see anyone not make it to heaven. The Carolina Panthers aren’t going to get me there. My church isn’t going to get me there. My pastor, though I love him, isn’t going to get me there. My wife, my parents, my children, nor my friends are going to get me there!

Eternity is the Super Bowl. This life is only the practice field.

My mission here on Earth is so much more than just a game.

When people look at me, what do they see?

I pray they see the love of Christ. 

I pray they see a person fully devoted to winning people over for the Heavenly mission. 

I hope they see a person who isn’t judgmental, or rude, or manipulative when it comes to introducing them to Jesus…. 

I hope they see care and concern and passion.

That’s something that I need to be working on daily.

The stakes are too high to lose.

When people look at you, what do they see?

 

 

Hey Fellas!

This one is for the guys…. Ladies, you are free to read and pass it along if you’d like.

Here’s a little story about my life as a child:

When I was growing up, my mom was the spiritual leader of my family. I grew up in a home with two much older brothers and one younger sister. We lived with our mom and our dad (for most of my young life, anyway). My mom was Pentecostal-Holiness. To this day I still have no clue exactly what that means. I can just remember that God was all about rules, everybody was going to Hell, and grace was something that I never heard about.

My dad was NOT a Christ follower. Not by any stretch of the imagination. So most Sundays we attended church with only our mom. My dad did other things.

Even though it was never said out loud, I hated church (I’m pretty sure that my siblings did as well). There was no amount of love for God that my  mom could demonstrate, that wasn’t quickly diminished by my dad’s demonstration of his love for other things. Needless to say, when we were old enough, my siblings and I all decided that following Jesus was not for us. For me, it stayed that way for over 15 years.

I still see this a lot today. Men…… DADS, deciding that getting in a round of golf is more important than joining their families in worship. Catching a few fish is more important than being the spiritual head of the family. Staying home and sleeping in is more important than teaching your children to be dedicated to Christ. There are many other things that take precedence, these are just a few examples.

In short, love of SELF is visibly demonstrated as being more important than love of CHRIST.

Your children are watching!

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I can’t speak for every child who watched their dad put themselves before Christ as their mom struggled to teach them Christ-like values and morals. I can only speak for myself. I made a lot of unwise choices as a teenager and young adult. I can’t say for sure that I would not have made the same choices if my dad had been the spiritual head of our family, but I feel like I probably wouldn’t have.

Ephesians 6:4 tells FATHERS to raise their children in the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.

Why are we making our children’s mothers do our job while we care only about ourSELF??

Dads it’s time to step up to the plate! YOU should be praying for and WITH your children. YOU should be teaching them God’s commandments. YOU should be loving their mother in the way of Christ so that they know what a healthy relationship looks like. YOU should be reading the scriptures with them.

YOU, dad, should be a Godly example to your children in a world that is a sex-frenzied, credit-based, immediate-gratification rewarding promoter of the here and now type of SELF-love that tells us that there is no God! Or, if there is a God, golf is more important! Or fishing is more important! Or mowing the lawn is more important!

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 makes it very clear that we are to teach and discuss God’s word with our children. Why are we leaving this to chance?

Proverbs 22:6 tells us that if we teach our children when they are young, then they will not depart from that teaching when they are grown.

I think that Christian men need to step up. I think it’s time for us to be the men that our children need and deserve us to be. It’s a huge responsibility, and a huge honor!

To all my brothers who carry out God’s instructions in these areas, I appreciate you. Keep the faith. One day your efforts will be rewarded.

My family already prays circles around my nine-year-old daughter and my ten-month-old daughter. I pray that I am raising them correctly, and by God’s word. I pray that they honor God and honor themselves in everything that they ever do. We also pray circles around their future husbands, that even NOW these men are being raised by a mother and FATHER who teach them love, and respect, and honor that is Christ-like and Christ-centered.

One day they will be women. Then it will be too late for me to teach them.

I hope that if you have sons, you see the importance of this. I hope that if you have daughters, you take this concern seriously. They will learn who they are to be by either YOU or by this world. There isn’t any SELF-serving mission that outweighs the importance of this one.

To all of my sisters who are doing this on your own, I’m praying for you. I know it’s not easy. Please don’t fall into the trap of being okay with a man who doesn’t value a relationship with Christ. If you’re already in that relationship, pray for them daily. Don’t ever stop.

If you know someone who should be leading their family spiritually, but hasn’t decided to take this task as seriously as they should, talk to them, pray for them. It’s time for our dads to be Christian role models.

Your children are watching. What are they seeing?

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How can the church help dads become more active spiritual leaders?

How important are Godly men in the life of a child?

 

 

 

 

 

Pushback

I’ve been talking about the importance of tithing for the past few weeks. I’ve taken this much time because I honestly feel that it’s THAT important for the spiritual development of every Christ follower. This is especially true in the world of American consumerism.

Next week I will start talking about some other issues, so if you’re not following or liking my blog right now because it’s “all about money”, maybe you’ll get something out of it starting next week!

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But before that, I want to spend a few minutes talking about all of the pushback that I hear from people when it comes to tithing.

The best definition that I can find for “pushback” is: opposition or resistance to a plan.

So what is the “plan” that we’re pushing-back at? I believe that it started with The Great Commission.

What is The Great Commission, you ask?

The Great Commission can be found in the book of Matthew. You can read it here.

When Jesus returned to visit His disciples after His resurrection from death, He told them that they were to spread Christianity (although it wasn’t called that yet).

They were to teach people how to follow Christ.

And those new Christ followers were to teach others.

And this cycle should continue until you and I become Christ followers, and until every single person on Earth has learned of Christ.

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Well, reaching people all over the world happens to take money.

Money is a man-made institution. So this teaching of Christ and reaching of people must be financed.

Who else is going to finance this mission? The government? People who don’t know or don’t follow Christ?

OF COURSE NOT!

You and I are to finance this mission. How do we do that? Through our tithe to our local church.

In talking about tithing, and giving to the church in general, in any of my sociology, psychology, and world religions classes at school, the number one pushback that I hear from people who identify as Christians is:

“I don’t like the way that the church spends my money”

Then why are you attending that church???? If you don’t trust them with your money, how on Earth do you trust them with your spiritual growth? How do you trust them to teach your children about the love of Christ?

Here’s the thing, once you submit your tithe to a “Kingdom-minded” church, it shouldn’t concern you what they’re spending it on. There should be no doubt that they are spending it on “Kingdom-minded” projects. When I say “Kingdom-minded” I mean a church that is focused on expanding God’s kingdom, not their own. If you attend a church that you don’t trust with your money, that’s a good indication that you are either attending the wrong church, or you are attending that church for the wrong reason.

It’s easy to figure out what the priorities are at your church. Whatever those priorities are is where they are spending most of the money.

If your church supports several mission trips per year, and teaches about missions a great deal, that’s probably where they are spending a large portion of money.

If your church is charity-minded, or runs a homeless shelter, or a large food pantry, then this is probably a priority for their money.

If your church has 200 different classes for it’s members to attend, ranging from calligraphy to Zumba, this is probably where your church is spending a large portion of it’s money.

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If your church is known for the show, and prioritizes lights, sound, smoke, special effects, videos, and talent, then that’s what they are spending money on.

If your church is t-shirt, or billboard oriented, that’s where their money is going.

Whatever your church prioritizes is what they spend money on.

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Can a church support a combination of any of these and still be doing God’s work? I absolutely believe that they can! Are they reaching people for God? I have no doubt.

The point is, if what the church is spending money on doesn’t align with your beliefs or your vision of The Great Commission, then you are going to the wrong church. It’s time for a change.

It is the responsibility of every Christ follower to fund the church financially. That means you and me. There is no exception to the scriptures when it comes to tithing. There is no:

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse so there can be stage props and Sunday School for my people to enjoy with their coffee and cookies, unless you don’t trust the storehouse with your money, then you’re good, you can opt-out.” -2 Rob 6:3

Here’s the thing, I believe that tithing is a form of worship, just as I’ve said many times. Worship comes from obedience and honor. I am honored to worship God with my money.

Part of my worship of God is my willingness and obedience to separate myself from that 10% and offer it to God through the church. My worship is not demonstrated in the way that the church spends it. 

Stop making excuses why you can’t or shouldn’t tithe!

“I can’t afford to tithe”

If you can afford to spend money on junk food, you can afford to tithe.

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Dunkin’ Donuts brought in almost 800 million dollars in 2014!

Not sophisticated enough for you?

Starbucks revenue in 2015 was 19.16 BILLION DOLLARS!

EVEN WITH THE SATAN CUP!!!

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It’s clear that we absolutely can afford the things that are important to us.

There is so much else that I would like to say about this. There is so much more that I believe about this subject. What it boils down to is that if it’s not in your heart to tithe, then don’t. If you have reasons not to tithe, or why it shouldn’t be 10%, then don’t tithe. If you don’t pray, then don’t tithe. If you aren’t a Christ follower and don’t feel like you want to be one, then don’t tithe. If there is some little voice inside rejecting this as being truth, don’t tithe.

I don’t want you to tithe out of guilt or out of shame. I don’t want you to tithe with the expectation that God will return your money to you multiplied. If any of these apply to you, I want you to take the time to seek God and to develop a relationship with Him. I want you to build a relationship with Him that makes you want to worship Him with every single aspect of your life. When you develop a love like that, when your whole heart belongs to God, not just the non-financial portion, you will find joy in giving your tithe. You won’t miss it. Believe me, Karen and I haven’t.

Until then, the church will be happy to use whatever money you will give to them. As I mentioned before, bills have to be paid, the Kingdom has to be funded, people have to be reached. The church will still use your talents. The time that you spend fulfilling the mission of the church is greatly appreciated. When you are truly ready to submit to Christ, and truly ready to give it all for Him, tithing will come easily and naturally.

What other reasons do Christ followers use to not tithe?

How to perfect your swing, and your faith

This past summer I took some golf lessons from a PGA certified instructor.

They were pretty hardcore!

I’ve been playing golf off and on for over 23 years. But I had never taken any real lessons. So, although I could pick the correct club for each swing, and I could keep the cart on the path, and I could dress like a pro, I hadn’t progressed in my game…. ever. I wanted to change that. So my wife and daughters bought me a lessons package for Father’s Day. I was excited to take my game to the next level!

Those lessons were brutal! I had to un-learn everything that I had learned over the past 23 years of trying to golf. I had been watching and emulating how other people played. I had taken advice. I had driven a thousand balls on the practice range. I had even read a few books. But my game was still mediocre at best.

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My new coach had his work cut out for him. He taught me how to swing a golf club again, starting from square one. I wanted to go out and start dusting balls with my driver but I probably hit about 200 balls only about 30 yards for the first two lessons. My coach told me the same things over and over and over. I felt like I was doing what he was telling me, but inside I was resisting because I’d been doing this for so long, there was no way that I could be completely wrong.

Finally, out of my frustration after hearing the same thing come out of my coach’s mouth for about the 64th time, I made a wise remark at him along the lines of “you make this sound so easy!” He instantly responded, “Rob, it’s simple, not easy. If it were easy then everyone would be great at it. It’s not easy. But it is simple, you just have to stop resisting.”

Wow! Isn’t that the same with this tithing thing? I’ve been spending money for years. I’m a pro at how to spend money. I watch what everyone else does. I try to be like them. I’ve asked for advice. I’ve even read a few books. But taking that first step to begin tithing was H-A-R-D!

Other Christ followers made it sound easy. And I really wanted to tithe. I wanted to take my faith in God to the next level, and I knew that tithing would do that for me (and it has). But it irritated me to hear people talk about it like it is so easy. It isn’t easy. I’m a grown man! I got bills and stuff!

So let me tell you this…. Tithing is NOT easy when you start…. But it is simple. It really is. And as you get used to it, and you take control of your money, and you discipline yourself, it gets easier. I promise.

So let’s take some practical steps to get started, because I want us all to fund our church and our God’s Kingdom. And I want us all to experience the faith, and the worship, and the peace of mind that comes with obedience.

  1. Begin by praying and asking God to give you the courage to put His work first in all things…. ALL things.
  2. Figure out just how much 10% of your income is.
  3. Create a budget. You can find some great budgeting tools on the internet. Microsoft Excel also has some really decent searchable budget templates. You have to start telling every single dollar where to go. If you don’t tell your money where to go, it will end up going everywhere but the places that it should be going. And at the end of the month, you won’t have a clue where it all went. I know budgeting is dull and boring, but once you start making progress, budgeting is rejuvenating. It shows you exactly how much progress you’re making so you can celebrate the wins.
  4. The first thing on your budget to be paid should be your tithe. That goes to your home church.
  5. Figure out what needs to be cut so that your tithe takes priority.
  6. Figure out the difference between your “wants” and your “needs”. Prioritize the “needs” and start trimming the “wants” until you are more financially stable.
  7. You have to get out of debt! I know that it sounds easy…. It’s not…. But it is simple. You will never be able to fully focus on Christ as long as the devil has got you stressed out about your finances. My wife and I completed the Financial Peace University class by Dave Ramsey this past fall…. GAME CHANGER! I would recommend this program to anyone who isn’t debt-free. Check to see if your church sponsors a Financial Peace University class. Click HERE for more information.
  8. Start an extra savings account for the big items that you know are going to show up. My wife and I have an online savings account that isn’t tied to our regular bank. We make regular deposits into this account each payday so we will have money available when it’s time to pay personal property taxes, or get oil changes, or get new tires, or buy Christmas presents. We know that these expenses are on the horizon and we refuse to continue to finance things that we should be purchasing with cash.
  9. Get rid of car loans. You really don’t have to have that new vehicle. I know that it looks nice. I know it’s really impressive to the thousands of people that you drive by every day that you will never talk to. I know that you couldn’t possibly be driving around in something less than amazing when you can finance amazing TODAY! Then you can make monthly payments at 20%-30% interest for 4 to 6 years, just so you can get another new car because this one is too old.

My wife and I have two hoopties! But we don’t have any car payments!

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They’re not really that bad… I just had to.

But seriously, if one of our cars were to break down, we would probably just sell it to a salvage yard and go buy another hooptie with cash. These cars get us everywhere that your amazing, beautiful, very classy, and very financed car gets you. Except mine gets me there with no loan payment, very low insurance premiums, ultra-low personal property taxes, and not a care in the world about someone running their shopping cart into the side of it. That’s a whole lot of extra money and peace of mind that I have that you probably don’t. Believe me, we were just like you not even a year ago. Then something clicked and we decided we weren’t living like that any more. And we never will again. You can do it too!

There are many other things you can do to honor God with your money. These are just a few steps to start out with.

Here’s the thing. If you look at your budget and realize that there are things that you are just not willing to cut in order to tithe, pray about it some more. Worship has to come from your heart. Don’t do this out of guilt. If you do it out of guilt you will resent God for it and it will damage your relationship with Him. You will never see the benefit of your obedience like that. Pray that God helps you feel His love more strongly. Pray that the things that you love more than Him will eventually let go of your heart. Name them out loud, cable TV, fishing tackle, Tupperware. Whatever it is. Be honest with God. Tell Him that you want to be obedient and you want to worship Him with all that you are and all that you have, but you’re just not there yet. Ask Him to help you.

He loves you. He desires a relationship with you that isn’t forced or coerced.

The spiritual maturity that I’ve gained since I decided to start tithing cannot be described. I want that for you as well.

One last shameless plug:

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Why do you think that it’s so hard to take the first step to tithing?