HOW DO WE HANDLE OUR “OBSESSIONS”?

Everyone has some kind of obsession.  We call them by other names like “hobbies,” “passions,”  “preoccupations,”  “preferences,”  “peculiarities,”  “proclivities,” “infatuations,” “distractions,”  “pet-peeves,” “eccentricities,” and “intense focus.” Now these terms sound much more innocent & harmless  than the term “obsession” and in themselves, I suppose, they could be. But when they cross the line into that practice or object upon which we continually fix our minds to the detriment of the “big stuff” of life and the biblical requirements of life… we are now controlled by our obsessions and not by our Lord.

I have a question. When do we cross the line with our “obsessions”?  Well,  there was a homemaker named Martha who was obsessed with the kitchen and as a result lost her opportunity to spend quality time with Jesus who was in her home (Luke 10:40-41). There was the most beautiful woman ever created named  Eve who became obsessed with the fruit of one tree when she was told it would make her smarter and more beautiful. Her obsession began to control her to the point that she became  blinded to all the other great fruit trees God had given her and her husband to enjoy. We all know the result of that obsession (introduced by Satan, by the way…troubling thought as we think about obsessions).  That obsession crossed the line to sin (Gen. 3). Then there was this  fisherman named Peter who was obsessed with fishing. We know this because when Jesus gave he and his partners a miraculous  catch of fish, he counted them… all 153 of them.  (John 21:11). This obsession turned into a flood when the going got rough in the ministry. Peter said he was going back to  his fishing business…and he did…at least for awhile (John 21:3).   Of course there was that  business man who was obsessed with making money, so much so, he had to tear down his storage facilities to make bigger ones to accommodate his wealth. Eventually,  he discovered that his earthly life was going to end and his soul was not ready for death because he had obsessed about wealth to the exclusion of his spiritual well-being.  He left behind all that stuff he was so preoccupied with and lost his soul. (Luke 12:13-21).

So how do we handle our obsessions? There is nothing wrong with loving to cook, or being passionate about fishing, or auto racing, or baseball, basketball, football  (ok, for those of you who know me – books!). But obsessions can cross the line.

Here are some suggestions that have helped me handle my own obsessions. And, just so you know, I am a work in progress on this matter.

# 1 – Pray over your obsessions. Isn’t this strategy the very one that God has given us to handle all those temptations and struggles that would pull us off course? Pray without ceasing (I Thess. 5:18)…If any man lacks wisdom let him ask of God (James 1:5). I have found that something we are not willing to pray about and bring before the Lord is probably something that should be deleted from our lives.

# 2 – Make sure CHRIST is your strongest obsession. What did Paul tell the Philippians? For to me living is Christ and dying is gain (1:21). I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (3:14). Christ should be the one person and the one “thing” that lights up the rooms of my existence down here. He is someone you should never grow tired or weary of. He is the light of the world, the water of life, the bread of life…all those things I look to my obsessions to provide for me.

# 3 – Test your “obsessions”  to determine if they are drawing you toward the will of God or pushing you away from the will of God. Is engaging in your passions making it more difficult for you to serve God, sacrifice for His service, and love others for Jesus’ sake?  Do these passions reduce your energy and desire to serve the Lord with joy? Or do your “obsessions” refresh you and renew your your spirit so you can continue with joy to offer yourself to Christ? Is your “obsession” a biblically acceptable practice or does God’s word identify it as sin? Remember John’s admonition in his epistle of I John?  Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world– the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (I John 2:15-17).

# 4 – If your “obsession” has crossed the line to sin, confess it, forsake it, and let the LORD fill that spot you reserved for your “obsession.”  Jesus is the one that really gives us the freedom and zest to live life to the full here. We do not need to be under the control of our obsessions to live well, live happily, nor live at peace down here. When our “obsessions” diminish our love for the Lord and his cause, we have crossed the line to sin.  Moses was right when he told us to “...love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deut. 6:5).

# 5 – Enjoy your “obsession” as a gift from God if you can do so under the control of the Spirit of God and with a ready willingness to lay it aside at any moment so your relationships remain God-pleasing and your service remains Christ-centered.  Go fishing, enjoy cooking, play that baseball game, get that book (yeh!) but do so in submission to the control of God’s Spirit in the process.  Be on guard with your “obsessions” as a potential enemy if not handled by the power of God. God has given us all “things richly to enjoy (I Tim. 6:17), but not to become a preoccupying and dominating power over us.  Just remember that Jeremiah warned us that our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked and only the Lord can really know them (Jer. 17:9-10). Think it thru

 

 

 

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DO WE WORK FOR TOMORROW?

Sometimes the routine of our work, the repetition of certain tasks associated with our vocational journey seems, well, non-productive.  What do I mean?

You build a house, and when the last nail is driven, deterioration sets in and you fight disintegration year after year. In my case you prepare and preach a sermon, and when the last word is spoken, people forget and a month later, not only do the people forget, but I can’t even remember what I preached on a month ago. And I do this all over again the next week and so it goes. A mom cooks a wonderful meal, spends hours lovingly in the kitchen, and in a matter of moments, especially if you have teenagers, it is all gone. And she must do it all over again. Or take the task of laundry (ok, let’s not go there). You finish that long, arduous  work project at the company, and just when you feel that sense of relief, the boss dumps a new project on you and you start all over again.  If work is seen only in light of the day to day process, we have much cause for despair.

Paul the apostle sheds some light on this matter when he tells us that our labor is not futile when it is expended for the Lord (I Cor. 15:58). Revelation 14:13 speaks of our works following us even after we are gone.  Paul tells us that the people that he invested his life and ministry in were his joy and crown (I Thess. 2:19-20).  These texts made me think about my work as a “tomorrow” thing.  Solomon understood this when he spoke of sowing your seed in Ecc.11:1-6. It is tomorrow that the fruit shows up because we all know or should know that  fruit takes some time to grow. That is why it is called fruit.  I have a favorite saying that has encouraged me many times and that is: “Don’t be discouraged. God is not done yet!” 

So how does this play out practically in our lives as servants of God? I am holding in my hand a book from my father’s library. He has been with the Lord now for over 22 years but I see his notes in the margin and sensed why that passage spoke to him and I realized, though he may not have realized it, he was working for tomorrow, not just today. I am benefiting from his work. I look around at all the “friends” in my library,  most of whom are in glory, and yet they being dead, yet speak! They worked for tomorrow too. These men left a profitable legacy for the rest of us. Their labors live on.

The impact of my life and ministry should be seen to extend beyond today. I witness to my neighbor today yet I see nothing happening. But tomorrow…will that labor of love for Jesus come to fruit? Somehow that puts a fresh perspective on what I do in the here and now.

So just maybe my work by God’s grace and design is meant to encompass tomorrow.  I have today, I don’t have tomorrow…or do I?  Think it thru

WHAT IS THE GREATEST PROOF OF THE RESURRECTION?

Professor Joad, past professor of philosophy at London University, (who was not a Christian by the way) was asked the following question: “If you could meet any person of the past and ask just one question, whom would you meet and what question would you ask?” Professor Joad answered: “I would meet Jesus Christ and ask him the most important question in all the world – Did you or did you not rise from the dead?”

The resurrection is foundational to everything we believe as Christians. Yet we do not have to prove the resurrection event itself.  There is another truth that settles for me the validity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

You see the essence of Christianity and the greatest proof of the resurrection for me is found in this one mind-boggling sentence: “JESUS CHRIST IS GOD!” If this statement is true then the resurrection is no problem at all.

When you trace the earthly journey of the Lord Jesus through the Gospels, he says and does things that only God in the flesh can do.  You cannot explain His life in any other way. Even his claims to be God ring true.  Long before you get to the event of the resurrection you have either settled in your minds that Jesus is a liar or He spoke the truth. Either He was a master magician or He actually performed all those miraculous events. Either the Bible is a truth text or a master weaving of legends and unreliable stories. Jesus said he would rise again. The same scripture that recorded those words, recorded as fact his resurrection.

If Jesus Christ is God, not just part of God, or just sent by God, or just related to God… if He was and therefore is God, then the resurrection is no big deal. You would expect it. That is a thing God would do. People who have a problem with the resurrection have a problem with Jesus being God in the flesh. You don’t have to set about to prove the fact of the resurrection if you have already settled in your soul that Jesus Christ is exactly who He said He was (and is): GOD!  C. S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity put it rather bluntly: “For Christ to have talked as he talked, lived as he lived, died as he died, he was either God or a raving lunatic.” To me that is the choice we have.

If Christ is no more than an inspired prophet and teacher who walked the paths of Israel over 2000 years ago then the resurrection becomes a sticking point and a massive problem. In the book entitled “In Search of Christianity,” one of the contributors, Colin Buchanan, past bishop of Aston, stated that, “The Jesus Christ to whom Christians respond is not the dead (though appealing) person of the past, but the Living Lord of the present. He is the same Jesus Christ who is presented to us in the Gospels.” If this statement is true, then  the resurrection is possible, believable, and in fact real!

If you reject the reliable record of the Bible, then you will always struggle with the reality of the resurrection of Christ.  One lawyer, Val Grieve, in his little book “Your Verdict on the Empty Tomb” stated as a lawyer the following legal opinion: “A lawyer, and especially a judge, is always face to face with the problem of how to evaluate evidence and distinguish the reliable from the misleading…I claim that logic must point in the direction of his resurrection on an actual day and date in our history when, if you had been there, you would have touched the living Jesus and heard him speak.”

For me the Biblical record is the reliable evidence and what it says about Christ is accurate and believable. The evidence about who Jesus is comes across in overwhelming fashion in the Bible.  So believing the resurrection is secondary to what you believe about Christ Himself. Settle that and the resurrection falls naturally into place.  Think it Thru

DO YOU HAVE A “BIBLE” MENTOR?

biblical mentorship

In our MAN -2-MAN  Bible Study Breakfasts we are learning as a group of men how important it is to “hang out” with a Bible character for a period of time. The idea is to allow that man or group of men to “mentor” us in life.  Most of the mentoring concepts today involve choosing a man or woman we know or highly respect to help advise us on our life journey.  There is nothing wrong with this whole approach. In fact I think it is practical, Biblical, and valuable. And yet, perhaps,  we have missed tapping into the best mentors the world has ever seen.

What if you could spend a week with JOB in the Old Testament and seek his advice on trials and difficulties. What if you could listen to his responses and watch his reactions and hear him pray and interact with his wife and friends? You would go with him to the funeral home, sit by his bedside when he was sick. You would peek in on a meeting at his business and hear of his financial losses. You would see him discouraged and tired. You would witness God interact with him. WOW! I know I would never forget that experience and probably would want to share that time with my friends who find themselves in similar life trials.

Or suppose you could hang out for a few weeks with King David?  You would watch in sympathy as he is hounded, pressured, and threatened by a former friend. You would hear his cries of despair, loneliness, fatigue, and triumph as he lives life and goes to work.  You would see him “blow it” on several occasions by committing adultery and murder by failing his family and children. You would then see that same family go astray and betray him. How does a man survive that kind of failure? How do you go on? Is there any hope for you? You would then observe a man’s heart  express a deep  love for the Lord and see God forgive him and restore him to usefulness. You would read some  of the most incredible stuff ever penned by man under the direction of God’s Spirit. Imagine hanging out with him for a time. Your life would be indelibly marked.

Or just imagine spending an afternoon with Samuel, or a month with Moses or Joshua, or several days with Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Isaiah and the list goes on?

Best of all, how about spending three months with Jesus in the flesh!!

Don’t forget joining a group of men for a week like the 12 disciples who lived with Jesus for three years, or the 12 spies sent into the promised land to spy it out,  or David’s mighty men who trekked with him for several years in the wilderness.

The good news is this. You can hang out with these guys (Ladies there are mentors for you to hang out with too like Ruth, Esther, Hannah, etc.). Some Biblical people that were “train wrecks” may be good for us to hang out  with too,  so we do not walk their path…people  like  Lot, Pharaoh, Korah and his clan, Queen Jezebel, King Ahab, King Jeroboam, Judas, etc).

Wayne Cordeiro in his great little book “The Divine Mentor” made this astute observation:“There is only one book in which you can meet with all the mentors specially selected by God to teach the saints. Only the Bible’s men and women are His designated divine mentors. He has put His imprimatur on them alone.”

I want to challenge you to pick a Bible mentor, let’s say for a month, and “hang out” with that guy or gal. Learn all you can about him/her.  Put yourself in their shoes, listen to their words, watch their actions and note how they related to their Creator God.  And see if your life is not hugely impacted.  May I suggest to you that is real, lasting  mentorship.  Think it Thru

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DID YOU EVER PUT A PEBBLE IN SOMEONE’S SHOE?

I am reading a great book by  Gregory Koukl entitled “Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing your Christian Convictions.” Have you ever felt the guilt or pressure of trying to the share the Gospel immediately with a co-worker, friend, or acquaintance? I know I have.  I think our motives are right because we truly want people to come to know Christ.  After all there is no other solution to the problem of sin that plagues all of us is there?  Apart from salvation in Christ alone there is no answer. Hundreds of books have been written to help us apologetically defend or advance the claims of the one true Gospel. And yet it seems like we are missing  something. Maybe where we drop the ball is in simply learning how to use what we know so that we might  share the Gospel more effectively.

Gregory Koukl in his book made this insightful statement that has been extremely helpful to me in sharing the Gospel with others. He said “I try to put a pebble in someone’s shoe.”  Now that very idea really grabbed me. He went on to demonstrate how to put a pebble in someone’s shoe  by using the “Columbo Method” in gaining an audience. In our conversations with unbelievers we can introduce “the pebble” without introducing tension early on in the dialogue.

Some of you will remember the TV series about the bumbling-appearing detective named Columbo. With his rumpled coat and stubby cigar he would enter the crime scene looking for all the world like a fish out of water. He would appear hesitant, dumb, confused, inept, and just plain at a loss as to how to proceed.  He gave the appearance of not being able to think his way out of a wet paper bag. He would poke around the crime scene, scratch his head, hesitate, and then he would make his move with these words: “I’ve got a problem. There’s something about this thing that bothers me.  Maybe you could clear it up for me. DO YOU MIND IF I ASK YOU A QUESTION?”  And there it is. “The pebble in someone’s shoe.”  The question that lingers in the mind and disturbs the thought process.  You know how aggravating, how insistent a pebble in your shoe can be?  That first question is often innocent enough, but then it leads to another question and then another. And who can forget when Columbo is about to exit the scene he would turn and say something like this: ” I’m sorry, I know I am making a pest of myself. It’s because I keep asking these questions. I can’t help myself. It’s a habit.”  And then he would ask just one more question.  Author Koukl concludes this little tactic with these instructive words for us: “The key to the Columbo tactic is to go on the offensive in an inoffensive way by using carefully selected questions to productively advance the conversation. Simply put, never make a statement, at least at first, when a question will do the job.”

As I thought about this little principle I could not help but notice that Jesus did the same thing. Remember these questions Jesus asked?

He asked the lame man the question:“Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6). He asked a certain crowd curious about John the Baptist: “What did you go out into the desert to see?” (Matthew 11:7). He asked a critical group of leaders who were bothered by his healing on the Sabbath day: “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?” (Matthew 12:11). When some confused Jesus with Satan and Satanic powers, Jesus asked: “How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man?”  (Matthew 12:29). When Jesus wanted people to think about eternal matters he asked: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). After Jesus told the story of the Samartian man who helped the wounded man on the Jericho road, he turned to the lawyer & the crowd and asked this question: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (Luke 10:36)(for further reading on this topic check out Randy Newman’s book: Questioning Evangelism).

These are but the tip of the iceberg of all the questions Jesus asked. I wonder if we should not ask the Spirit of God to help us use more questions as pebbles in a person’s shoe.  Sooner or later the person we speak to is going to have to stop and try to get that pebble out of his shoe. Then is our chance to share lovingly the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Load up on pebbles! Think it thru

 

DOES GOD EVER SUFFER?

suffering-god-1 There is a theological truth that we cannot ignore and that is this: If God cannot change then he cannot be said to ‘suffer’ as a consequence of events which happen in the world. However, because God is a Holy & Righteous God full of love and compassion, the Bible says that there are things that “grieve God’s heart” in this world. And perhaps in that sense God does suffer.

Certainly, Jesus…God in the flesh…suffered on the cross for our sins as our representative. He speaks of his death as a cup [a metaphor in context of suffering]. In Matthew 23 it implies that Christ wept when he cried out over the city of Jerusalem.  And Hebrews 4 teaches us our High Priest can sympathize with our weaknesses.  Jesus wept at Lazarus’s grave in John 11 indicating grief. Paul commands us in Ephesians 4 not to grieve the Holy Spirit. And Genesis 6 speaks of God being grieved to his heart over the corruption of the world before He sent the flood.

Because I want to know God better I have been thinking about this idea.  I am reading an interesting book entitled “The Suffering God” by Terence E. Fretheim.  Would I recommend the book? No,  for Fretheim believes in process theology  [which teaches among other things  that God is in some respects  temporal, mutable, and passible] and open theism [which is a natural outcome of process theology].  Both of  these propositions I categorically reject as false, unbiblical  and heretical. Yet the title captured my attention and some of the author’s  thoughts set me to thinking about God as one who can and does suffer.

Take for instance the anguish of God in Jeremiah 2. Jeremiah paints the picture of Israel’s rebellion against God in marital terms. We see Israel as the unfaithful wife for no reason, and then we observe God as the grieved spouse. As you read these words, they wrench your heart as you hear the anguish of God over his people’s disregard of their relationship with Him. This painful cry of God is repeated throughout the opening chapters of Jeremiah [2,3,5,13,16,17,18,19]. The implication that God is grieved and wounded over the sin of his people is unmistakable.

Let me express just a few thoughts as we think this through.

First, this is a holy God that is grieved. Especially does this come out in the Genesis 6 passage dealing with the flood judgment.  Thus, grief is always what the Godward side of judgment looks like. God’s judgment is a very personal decision mixed with  sorrow and anger that go into making the decisions that will affect the people whom He loves.  It is also a very Holy decision because God is Holy and cannot act in any other way. Yet God is never apathetic, cold or indifferent when it comes to his responses.

Second, God is not waylaid, incapacitated or made weak by His suffering. Fretheim did make an astute observation when he said: “God’s grief does not entail being emotionally overwhelmed or embittered by the barrage of rejection. Through it all, God’s faithfulness and gracious purposes remain constant and undiminished.”

Last,  we need to ask the probing question of ourselves: Have I caused God to suffer because I have grieved His Spirit and refused to listen to His word and undervalued my relationship to Him? Think it thru

 

DO YOU HAVE EXPECTATIONS?

expectations

For many people the expectations for the new administration in Washington are  pretty high. With others the expectations are not so much. In fact they would love to see failure to vindicate their own political bias regardless of what it might do to the country.
But I think there is another set of expectations for the new year that we completely overlook. What are God’s expectations for his people? Remember those familiar words in Micah 6:8? “He has told you, O Man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Micah the prophet bears a name that means :“Who is like Yahweh?” We are told he is from the little town of Moresheth which may be the same town mentioned in 1:14, Moresheth-gath. If so, Micah came from a little town not far from Jerusalem (25 miles SW of Jerusalem near the Philistine city of Gath). He lived on the edge of paganism and fought the same drift among his own people. Before we look at his famous statement in v. 8 consider what was going on here in chapter 6. Micah was moved by the spirit to emphasize God’s justice and love in disciplining the nation for their disloyalty to him. He also wanted them to understand that “God is the sovereign Lord of the earth who controls the destinies of nations, including His covenant people Israel.” The image Micah paints is one of the Sovereign God bringing His people to court in vv. 1-5 while documenting His faithfulness to them in vv. 3-5.
Then we come to verses 6-7 which seem to be the people’s reply to God. “Okay God, just what do you want? More sacrifices? How many? Do you want more money? They are not repentant. They are basically asking God what His price is. It’s like being caught for speeding. What is your attitude? Are you sorry for breaking the law or just sorry for being caught.

And then Micah tells them in verse 8 what God wants. He wants Justice and Mercy to their fellow man and Loyalty to God. This is the theme of the book.
Does this sound familiar. Love your neighbor as your self and love the Lord your God …Israel had violated both of these ideals. Because of this God could declare them guilty.

The simplicity of God’s expectations and the profound clarity and seriousness of those expectations should stop us in our tracks. How much time and attention do we give to these three practices? You see the word “require” is an active participle [qal] which represents continuous action. This is an “all the time” kind of thing. Let’s just think about these three practices in terms of today.

To do Justice: The word  “justice” in this context refers to social fairness, which is discussed in vv. 9-11. The OT knows no distinction between the secular and the sacred! All of life is sacred! We must not be prejudicial with people of other races, backgrounds, or ages. We only make distinctions where God has declared distinctions. We stand for truth and proclaim truth while loving the people to whom we are ministering. We are fair, just,  and we do what is right, no matter how uncomfortable that makes us. And we do this all the time.

To love kindness: This is the powerful covenant word hesed. It is one of the richest words in the Old Testament used no less that 250 times. It refers to God’s covenant loyalty. It reflects God’s sacrificial, no-strings-attached, kind of love. We are to dispense our love on the basis of grace not merit. Listen to Hosea 2:19 “I will commit myself to you forever; I will commit myself to you in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love, and tender compassion.” That is real loving kindness! So being a follower of this God requires that we pursue the same loyal love.

To walk humbly: This is a rare practice in our day even for believers. The term “walk” in the Bible is a metaphor of identification with someone (see Gen. 5:24; 6:9; Job 34:8; Ps. 1:1; Mal. 2:6). It is also used as a metaphor for daily living (Prov. 2:7; Gal. 5:16; Eph. 4:1; 5:8) Our identification with others and before God and our practice of daily living must be characterized by genuine, deep humility. Humility is hard for us because, like Israel in Micah’s day, we tend to see ourselves in our own light and not God’s light. When we see ourselves standing next to Jesus, humility becomes the norm. It is not hard any longer.

Perhaps this year these expectations should exceed our concerns and expectations for Washington. Think it thru