Friday, December 12, 2008

Exercise Faith, Not Fear

“Have faith in God," Jesus answered. "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:22-24, NIV)

Tough economic times build character. It causes Christians to balance faith with wisdom, without falling into fear. Christians must understand that a massive component of the message of Christmas is the message to “fear not.” It is human nature to fall into the fear trap. I know God, and He is capable of handling the world’s economy. In fact, I believe God is helping all of us more clearly understand the weakness of the god of materialism.

With that said, God expects us to use wisdom in managing his ministries. As leaders, we need to be talking to those closest to us and seeking broad input of wisdom and experience. If you are a pastor or CEO of a nonprofit, talk to your Trustees, finance teams, etc. and have a clear knowledge of the state of your ministry. Make sure your organization has covered the practical necessities.

Know your credit rating. If it is weak, look for ways to strengthen it. If it is strong, you can benefit from this with negotiating interest rates on loans and credit cards.

Give priority to paying bills on time. Develop a list of every vendor that charges a late fee and make sure these vendors are paid on time to avoid late fees. These fees add up and create an unnecessary expense for nonprofit ministries. Consider paying online, as this can also reduce cost and ensures quicker receipt of payments to avoid late fees.

Practice good debt management. Having unnecessary lines of credit with high limits can cause you to pay higher interest rates. Look for places to reduce expenses and debt.

Evaluate all operating procedures. Ask the hard questions. Is this a necessity? Is this a negotiable agreement (contract)? Is this the most efficient method? Is there a better more cost efficient way to accomplish the same goal?

If your ministry invoices members/clients, look for ways to streamline your invoices (even pledges). Most invoices can be sent electronically. If you invoice for services, offer a small percentage discount for early payment.

As contracts come up for renewals, take 3-5 bids and negotiate hard for the services you need at the smallest cost. Be willing to consider competitors of your current vendors and let them know you are seeking other bids; tell them up front that they must continue to earn your business. One word of caution, make sure you have all vendors bidding on the same apple. Some vendors use a technique of offering a slightly different bid based on one or two items they feel to be superior to their competitors, thus justifying a higher bid. You do your homework, determine the spec sheet, and have all vendors bidding on the exact same bid. Recently, I negotiated a $70,000 savings for an organization on a project using this method.

Collection is essential to your success. Whether you are talking about an offering plate or about collecting accounts, you must be able to keep the cash flowing.

Do not stand around like a deer in the headlights waiting for the economy to run you over. Lead in faith, be proactive, and soar with the eagles!

Prayer: “Lord, help me to avoid the fear trap. Help me to keep my eyes firmly upon you and to keep clearly focused on the mission and purpose of the ministry you have given me to lead. Help me to lead responsibly in faith, not through fear. Amen.”

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Economic Meltdown is Not an Obstacle

“I can do all things through Christ which strengthen me.” (Philippians 4:13, KJV)

The economy continues to worsen. The same government officers who created the mess are now trying to fix it. Like calling the arson that set the fire to help put out the fire, our elected leaders are throwing everything they can think up at resolving the meltdown. The price of the global bailout is now at $8.5 trillion in commitments by the U.S. and other governments. Many financial experts expect the final bill worldwide will be between $20 and $40 trillion, and even the experts don’t know if the bailouts will work.

The reality is that Pastors and leaders of nonprofit Christian ministries must recognize the economic meltdown. Simply to ignore it and go on as if nothing is happening will surely bring problems for your ministry.

Having a “can do” attitude and convinced that with Christ we can do all, I believe this is a time to move forward with determination and optimism. Yet, I am at my core a realist. So, how do we recognize the economic meltdown and move forward with determination and optimism?

First, keep your long-term goals in sight, but impose strategies in the short-term that will strengthen ties and deepen relationships with your constituents. This is not a time to alienate any of your supporters. Find ways to thank them for believing in the mission and purpose of your ministry.

Second, keep in mind that since 1967, philanthropic giving has steadily increased, although slower during economic slowdowns. So don’t panic. You do not have immediately to begin to slash your budget, but you do have to stay on top of your cash flow trends.

Finally, view this as an opportunity of character building. While we cannot control the economy, we can control how we react to the recession. Keep you chin up. Keep your friends close. Accept that these are challenging times, but be positive and confident. Be a good listener, but tell the positives of giving. Remember that with Jesus, we can do all things.

Prayer: “Jesus, help me to view the economic meltdown as a chance for you to build my character, and not as an obstacle to the mission you have given me. Help me to stay positive and focused on the long-term goals of the vision.”

Friday, December 5, 2008

God's Test of Leadership

“So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (First Corinthians 4:1-2NIV)

The global financial meltdown will impact every church and nonprofit Christian ministry. This downturn is deeper and more widespread than most adults have experienced in their lifetime. Ministries that make wise decisions will weather the storm, but ministries with weak boards and Pastors or CEOs may not. I urge every pastor, CEO, and board to be proactive. The “deer in the headlight” approach will not work.

The Bible teaches us that the steward or guardian must one day give an account of his ministry. Pastors and leaders of nonprofits are not only accountable to the donors and recipients of the ministry, but each is ultimately accountable to God. Therefore, I feel led of God to share with you what God has shared with me from His Word related to the current economic downturn. If churches and nonprofit Christian ministries are to survive the recession, the Pastor or CEO must begin to take steps. The deer in the headlight approach will surely spell doom. All indicators point to donations lessening over the weeks and months ahead, and churches and nonprofits will need to make quick budget cuts.

However, not everything is negative, and the Seminary leadership and I want to help you know how to weather this global economic storm. Over the coming months, we will see some nonprofits fail while others thrive, and the same will be true with churches. I hope to share with you a greater understanding of financial management to help ease the pain. The key to continuing a worthwhile and thriving ministry is leadership. If you are a pastor or CEO, or a trustee of a nonprofit ministry, you are God’s guardian for that ministry and you will give an account to Him of your faithfulness.

Prayer: "Lord, help me to understand the meaning of being a true guardian of all you have entrusted to me, and give me the wisdom and courage to lead all you have entrusted to me through this global economic storm. Amen."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

God Prepares Work for Us in Advance

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV).

Today, I witnessed a group of saved men doing good works. These men came to New Life Theological Seminary and worked a long hard day of painting, carpentering, and doing general repairs. These men did not come and work because they had to in order to be saved; they did it because they were already saved through faith in Jesus Christ.

You see, when Jesus saves us, he creates us anew to do good works, works that God prepared in advance for us to do. These men of varying ages came to our Seminary, having only heard of the work we are doing, but knowing very little about us. They knew we were doing God's will, and they knew we had a need. They may not have known that God had chosen them for this task in advance!

The work we do is not a means of earning our salvation. We are saved through faith because of what Jesus Christ has already done on our behalf. Out of deep heartfelt gratitude for this wonderful gift we have received, we desire to give to God out of a heart filled with appreciation and admiration. When a person is truly saved and living daily in a strong personal relationship with Jesus Christ, he will look for work to do in the Kingdom of God. He will do it for little or no recognition, appreciation, or pay. A man in a personal relationship with Jesus will do this because he feels that he has already been blessed more than he can ever repay.

Do you know what good work God has prepared in advance for you to do today? Remember, you are God's worker, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, so whatever God has prepared for you to do, do it.

Prayer: “Lord, I thank you for saving me. Reveal to me the good work you have prepared for me and grant me the wisdom and fortitude to do it. Amen.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"God, help me to stand for godliness."

“See, it was I who created the blacksmith, who fans the coals into flame and forges a weapon fit for its work. And it was I who created the destroyer to create havoc; no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,” declared the Lord (Isaiah 54:16-18).

On November 4, 2008, the United States of American elected its first Black President, a man of blended heritage and ethnic diversity. Many celebrate this event and consider it historic and while I suppose it is, history will eventually be written and the legacy of this presidency will emerge. I am prone to vote my religious convictions over temporal worldly cares, so I did not vote for the man who will now serve us as President. I am equally disappointed that individuals who are solid believers lost their seats in the Congress and local races. So what is it that I must do? As a Christian, I must pray for the men and women elected, that they will seek God and allow Him to guide them in the offices into which they will soon be sworn.

I know that God has made this nation the home of the gospel; and when the evil has risen against this nation, God has protected her. We should both rejoice for repeated deliverances and pray for future deliverances, but let us kept firmly in mind that God created our enemies. Satan is a creation of God and although Satan rebelled against God, he can level no weapon against us individually or collectively that God does not allow. Often God grants civilization the desires of its heart, even if that desire is not godly.

It is my prayer today, that God will grant us more and more a hatred of all that is evil and that God will hasten the day of expelling evil. Until then, believe the promise of God that, "no weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper." Until then, work to overcome false doctrines and to extend the Divine truth. Until then, take comfort that God is still on His throne and nothing can happen to you that God does not allow, and if he allows an event, there is a lesson He wants you to learn through it. What is the lesson that God is teaching us? First, I believe God is trying to teach us that if we want the pleasures of this world, God will give them to us. Second, I believe God is trying to teach us that if believers seek the temporal pleasures rather than the everlasting joys, then all humanity will bear the outcomes.

Prayer is out of our schools, abortion occurs in record numbers, and alcohol kills thousands every week in this country, because believers do not stand up. This election has not fixed the brokenness of our government, and it will not be fixed until believers stand for God in our lives and in our voting.

Prayer: “God, help me to stand for godliness. Amen.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An Orderly Ship

“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (I Corinthians 14:33, NIV)

Show me a church with confusion and chaos, and I will show you a pastor with little or no administrative skills and with no clear vision from God for his people.

Perhaps Robert Welch sums it up best in Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry. He writes, “When we ‘do church,’ we are to do it in a proper and fitting manner. There should be order, not chaos. There should be sensibility, not insensitivity. There should be consistency, not discord. There should be guidance, not irresponsibility” (p. 3).

God is a God of order and when we work within that order we have peace. When churches are not in order, Satan is the clear winner. Churches with disorder have a high membership turnover, are unusually busy, and accomplishments come at a high price.

Think of a church as a sailing vessel transporting cargo through life. The church administrator in larger churches, or assigned leader in smaller churches, is the navigator. He holds the rudder and through skill and experience guides the ship through troubled waters. Yet, the navigator does not take the ship where he wants to go; he takes his directive from the captain (pastor) of the ship. Likewise, the captain (pastor) takes his orders from a superior authority (God) who tells the captain the overall strategic plan of the ship in the larger fleet. The captain (pastor) consults with other officers on the ship (Trustees, Elders, and Deacons) and directs the navigator. The navigator (administrator) moves the rudder to take the ship on the course needed to carry out the objectives set out before him.

The pastor receives sailing orders from God through the Holy Spirit and Scriptures. The pastor consults with others in the leadership of the church and then directs certain individuals whom the Holy Spirit has empowered to carry out the mission and objectives of the church. All are not navigators (administrators), but each has unique responsibilities in meeting the goals set before the church. Pastors make a colossal mistake when they fail to entrust the steering of the vessel to the gifted, skilled, and experienced administrator.

Some pastors are taking their congregations for a ride and the whole congregation is feverously working, but never reaching God’s destination. If you find yourself on such a ship, you need to begin asking God what He wants you to do about it. It is sad to spend one’s precious life in busyness on the ship and fail God’s larger plan, only to arrive in eternity to face the consequences of being part of a ship that was not in the right location doing the right action during the spiritual battle. God is a God of order.

Prayer: God, help my church be a place of order by helping me be willing to following the policies and procedures developed too aid the church in God’s work. Help me have a willingness to follow all rules, policies, and procedures even when it is difficult. Help me to see that this is what you expect of me and if I love you and your church, I will be impose self-discipline and practice order as your Word teaches me. Amen.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Learning to Worship

“I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1, NIV)

Have you ever noticed in worship that we sing about God (testify) and not to God in true worship? I was thirty-three years old and pastor of a seven-hundred member church when God stepped in to show me that I did not know how to worship Him. We would sing, “God is so good. God is so good. God is so good. He’s so good to me.” We did all the right stuff. We had the prelude and the postlude, the pastoral prayer, meditation music, hymns, solos, drama, etc. The problem is that we were performers on a stage. You see, worship is what you and I do that excites God’s heart; it is not the well fitting of all the bits and pieces of a well choreographed service.

When God convicted me of the lack of true worship, I learned to imagine God on His throne, surrounded by the twenty-four elders with Jesus on His right side, as people of every language, tribe, and nation bowed in worship (see Revelation 7:9-14). I could then join in the mass chorus and sing, “YOU are so good. YOU are so good. YOU are so good. YOU’RE so good to me.”

The focus was a shift from talking and singing about God, to talking and singing to God. A deeper more personal relationship was formed with God as we talked and fellowshipped. My goal shifted, as a pastor and worship leader, to helping others learn to see God “high and exalted” and to truly worship Him.

What about you, when you join in corporate worship, do you sing to God? Do you talk to God? Or are you testifying to others about the goodness of God?

Prayer: “Lord, teach me to worship. Enroll me in your school, and teach my by your Spirit. Help me to learn anew what pleases and excites you. Amen.”

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Uncertain Times

“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35, KJV).

In these last few weeks, many have panicked as the stock market has fluctuated up and down and major banks and financial entities have merged or gone under. Investments and savings accumulated during high earning years to provide a safety net in the latter years – gone, or at least greatly diminished.

Without question, these are perilous financial times for our country and serve as a reminder to us that heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of God will always stand. In His Word, he tells us to "Trust in the Lord with all our hearts, lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths" (Proverbs 3:5-6, KJV).

The truth is that any of us, given the right set of circumstances, could loose every earthly possession in a relatively short period. When loss comes, be it financial, health, or death of family, peace comes through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and through family and friends. Nothing else really matters. Therefore, during these perilous times, stay anchored to Jesus, family, and friends and you will come through all right. Grow these relationships.

Today’s Prayer Thought: “Lord, help me to learn the lessons of life as I, along with those around me, experience these perilous times. Help me to acclaim to the world that my faith is not in man and the things of this world, but in my personal relationship with you. Amen.”

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Walking through a Minefield

"Lead me, O Lord, in Thy righteousness because of mine enemies." - Psalms 5:8

The hate of the world against the people of Christ seems to grow more severe each year that the Lord tarries; and as this occurs, pastors tolerant more worldliness in the church. Participating on a church committee, board, or ministry becomes more like a stroll through a minefield. Your health, sanity, and well-being are a gamble and your success is less likely with each step you take. The result is people jumping from ministry to ministry, increasing of prejudice and racial division in the church, and the weakening of the church, as sin abounds.

Carnal Christians stand out in most every church, proudly displaying their carnality, wearing tee shirts to acclaim this week’s worldliness – politics, secularism, humorous cliché. To accomplish their worldly agenda, the carnal Christian will magnify the most trivial offence in the mature follower of Jesus and attack them at will to further their worldly agenda. Rather than regret this, let us use it as a challenge to walk in greater obedience to our God. Since so many are watching for us to stumble, give up, or quit, let this become our motive to carefully walking before God.

If we, the more matured in the faith, behave carelessly because of the more carnal among us, the world will soon see it, and our enemies will use our careless act to exaggerate and emblazon their zeal of slander. They will shout with excitement. “See how the man of God acts, see what he did! He’s a hypocrite!" It is the more mature believer who tries to right the wrong, for the lesser believer does not care for the Kingdom as much as his or her personal agenda. The carnal believer is willing to damage the cause of Christ, and insult His name in order to obtain his or her personal agenda.

The cross of Christ is in itself an offence to the world. The cross is a “stumbling block” to the Jew. It is “foolishness” to the Greek. When you and I are attacked and embarrassed, let us not add offence. As I have grown older and hopefully wiser and more spiritually mature, my prayer has become, “Lord, please do not let me be an embarrassment to you.”

Our adversaries will misrepresent our best deeds and point the finger at our motives in order to attempt to derail our actions and deter our goals. In our technological advanced world of cameras and recorders, we must always be on guard. Enemies disguise themselves as friends. The espionage is everywhere. Our relationship must be real and we must be the real thing. “Lead me, O Lord, in Thy righteousness because of my enemies.”

“Lord, lead me according to They righteousness, and in keeping with your objectives for my life on earth. Lead me this day, lest my enemies trip me up. Lead me this day, that I not embarrass you. Amen”

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Where's Your Heart

“Hear this, all you people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world; Both low and high, rich and poor, together, My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.” (Psalm 49:1-3, KJV)

The coffee is good this morning, but God’s Word is bitter sweet. The Lord reminds us of the vanity of riches. God reminds us in Psalm 49 that wealth cannot purchase the salvation of a man’s soul and that in time death strips the riches away and leaves them to another. Verse 20 sums up the chapter with these words, “Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.

When I read passages like this in God’s word, I am reminded of the need to “leave a legacy.” There is no sin in accumulated wealth, if the wealth is used correctly. There is great wisdom in leaving ones wealth to a worthy charity. I believe that every born again believer should remember a church or Christian school in their Will. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 6:20-21 “…lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, and where thieves do not break though nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

When you and I leave part or all of our estate to the cause of Christ by leaving it to a church or Christian school, we provide a tremendous testimony to others of our love for Christ. Susan and I have chosen to remember New Life Theological Seminary in our Will, because we want to make sure that men and women continue to be equipped to shape the world for Christ. Even when we are dead and buried, even when our memory has faded from the living, our work will continue through others who are being trained.

God is telling us that we spend our life accumulating wealth, to various degrees of success, but the person who uses that accumulation of wealth wisely is the person with understanding. With one-third of the residents within this State dying without a Will, I can only assume they had no understanding of God’s teaching of the good steward.

When your life is over, the coffee is no longer brewed and the cups are discarded, will you still be having an impact for Jesus? What one does with his or her accumulated wealth at their death, tells family and friends where their heart was truly at during their life. Christians should take serious their Lord’s full teaching on Stewardship. Let me hear your thoughts, I would love to discuss the issue with you.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Taking In Strangers

"Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you...I was a stranger and you took me in...." (Matthew 25:34-35).

The greatest mistake minority churches make is that of trying to teach culture as a part of faith. This is a struggle within the African-American Church, as well as most ethnic churches founded within American in the last few decades. It is not that teaching culture is wrong, but the church is not the place for teaching culture. Culture is like politics in the church, it is divisive and exclusive. The most sincere Christians flinch in church when culture is promoted. Church is for discipleship and worship, not a place to teach culture and divisiveness.

Can you imagine an Anglo-American Church promoting the KKK, teaching white culture classes, and promoting the white race? Such a church would bring protest from various cultural groups, religious and political, to protest at its fronts doors, and rightly so. An African-American man shared a thought some months back that has stuck in my mind. He said, "Any organization that promotes a single race is a 'racist' organization." I believe he is right and I believe this applies to every Church.

There are many dangers single race churches face. When a church promotes a single race, even its own, it both proclaims itself as racist and becomes a breeding ground for racism. Churches need to example for the world an openness for all races and cultures; it is a part of what Scripture teaches as "agape - love." Jesus exampled "agape - love" which simply means, "no matter what you have done to me, I want the best for your." I long to see pastors lead the charge on taking a stand against nonfaith issues that divide our churches. Churches that promote culture offend.

Blended cultural families are not welcome in such churches, and in our culture of interracial and cross-cultural marriage, cross-racial and cross-cultural adoption, and high diversity in the workplace, churches insistent on teaching culture have either plateau or are declining. I remember well an African-American woman, Christy, who joined a previous church I served. She shared that after she married an Anglo-American, they were not welcome in her church, and they were not welcome in his church, but they found our church and felt loved and accepted.

Increasingly, pastors of these congregations are seen as bigots and racists within the mass population of their cities, country, and world. Pastors, evangelist, and missionaries with a "God-heart" will not allow such brazen racism to be a part of their ministry. Church is not for teaching culture (nor politics), but if your church touches on culture (or politics), it should be to celebrate it; churches that celebrate culture must be sure to celebrate all cultures represented in their church and community. Jesus said, ‘I was a stranger...” Chances are good that if you are reading this Blog, you are a Gentile. To accept Jesus means you must accept someone of a different race and ethnicity.

Well that’s my coffee for today. I welcome your comments and look forward to hearing from you on this issue.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Satan Hinders God's Work

"For we wanted to come to you – certainly I, Paul, did, again and again- but Satan stopped us." (First Thessalonians 2:18, NIV)

Since the Garden of Eden, in which goodness came into conflict with evil, it has been an ongoing spiritual experience that Satan hinders us. As a Seminary President, I see it every semester as new students face testing beyond anything they have ever experienced. It seems that as they step out to start Seminary, Satan becomes determined to stop them. From all points of the compass, all along the line of battle, in the front line and in the rear, at daybreak and in the midnight hour, Satan hinders Christians. If we labor in the field, he seeks to break the tools with which we work; if we build the wall, he labors to cast down the stones; if we serve God in suffering or in conflict— everywhere Satan hinders us. He hinders us when we are first coming to Jesus Christ, and he hinders us every time we move to greater obedience to Christ. Satan is not overly concerned as long as we sit idle in our small boat, but when we raise the sails to catch the wind of the Holy Spirit, Satan releases the demons of hell against us, to hinder us from growing more obedient and more faithful to Christ.

Paul and his companions desired to return to Thessalonica on several occasions because of the intense longing they felt for their brethren. The care and feeding of new Christians was not just an obligation those missionaries felt toward God; it was something they longed with all their hearts to be able to do, because of the love of Christ, in spite of the personal danger that faced them in Thessalonica.

Perhaps you are thing that God, or perhaps other people, were responsible for hindering Paul? To help us understand, we have to look at Paul's motive. His motivation for returning to Thessalonica was to provide further spiritual help for the young converts. Therefore, his motive is clearly the will of God and therefore any hindrance becomes opposition to the will of God. Regardless of who was involved on the human level, the ultimate leader of this kind of opposition is Satan. "Whenever the ungodly cause us trouble, they are fighting under the banner of Satan, and are his instruments for harassing us," (John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, p. 351). God permitted Satan to hinder Paul, but God is no more responsible for it than God is for any sin which His creatures commit and which He permits.

Satan is sure to hinder us when we are earnest in prayer. Satan checks our importunity, and weakens our faith in order that, if possible, we may miss God’s blessing. Satan is vigilant in obstructing Christian effort. There is never a revival of our faith without a revival of his opposition. As soon as Ezra and Nehemiah begin to labor, Sanballat and Tobiah begin to hinder them. We should not be alarmed that Satan hinders us, for it is a proof that we are on the Lord's side, and are doing the Lord's work, and in His strength, we shall win the victory, and triumph over our adversary.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Ungratefulness leads to Prejudice

“Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him — and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well" (Luke 17:11-19, NIV).

This story is an enlightening story of Jesus healing ten men of a terrible disease. Jesus gave each man a clean bill of health. Nine appear ungrateful with only one returning to thank Jesus. The one person who returned to thank Jesus, throwing himself at Jesus’ feet, was the only person who was not a Jew in the whole bunch.

Nine Jews were willing to hang with this foreigner, a Samaritan, in sickness, but as soon as health was restored old prejudices returned. There is a lesson we can learn in this story that is often overlooked. Sickness humbles us, makes us less than whole, and we are then able to mingle with others we see as less than us. Christians need humility to cross racial, cultural, and social divides; and, Christians need humility to worship Jesus Christ, as pictured by the Samaritan. Pride is the trait that prevents Christians from associating with other cultures, races, and social group, and it prevents true worship of our Lord. Pride is a terrible sin. You will recall that God cast Lucifer out of heaven because of pride in the life of Lucifer, don’t let that same pride keep you out of heaven.

Ingratitude is not the cause of prejudices, but rather the result. Any Christian can excuse their prejudice by whatever excuse is acceptable, but excuses still reveals ingratitude and interferes with worship of Christ. Therefore, the next time you hear someone making an excuse for their church being a single race church because of music, style, or tradition, challenge their gratitude. Gratitude will bring a healed Samaritan to the feet of a Jewish Messiah in worship. This is a good, because in Scripture everyone is either a Jew or a Gentile.

Pour another cup of coffee, take a sip, and meditate on this with the Lord. Ask Jesus if there is a lack of gratitude in your heart. When thankfulness feels your being, prejudice will flee.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Grace or Race?

One of the wonderful gifts of being President of a Seminary is that I have the opportunity to worship in many different churches. As I go from church to church, it is an observation that churches are more segregated than any group except perhaps the KKK or the Black Panthers. Very few churches have ever glimpsed what John the Revelator saw and wrote. “I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9, NIV).

It seems overly obvious that God, in his perfection, will return when heaven is complete. God, it seems to me, will not overcrowd heaven, nor leave the streets vacant. In His sense of completeness and creativity, God will ensure that heaven is perfect. According to John, this perfection calls for the assembly of worshippers from every nation, tribe, people, and language. Any way you address this scene, the worshippers are multi-cultural, multi-racial, and multi-lingual. This is God's idea of perfect worship!

Yet, the church continues to mirror the comic's equivalence of inbreeding hillbillies, keeping the faith in the family of brothers and sisters, and an occasional cousin. When it comes to the twenty-first century church, it seems to be more about race than about grace. This unbiblical teaching crosses cultural and racial lines and has steered the church along a path of segregation, although God calls the church to lead the way to racial unity. Congregations are often so proud of their heritage and accomplishments that they put forth no effort to reach other races or cultures. Other congregations seem content to gather in their stained glass buildings for moments of racial respite from the world. Still other congregations, while bound together by language, divide themselves by nationality or social status.

Kingdom people will look beyond race, culture, and social standing and create an atmosphere within the church that invites guest from all arenas of life. Kingdom people certainly wish to worship with God's children who are unlike them, people of a different culture, a different language, and a different nation. It is important to God, therefore it should be important to His church, and it should be important to every believer within the Christian Faith. Each of us must assist the church in moving beyond its prejudice and racism, and embrace true agape love.

Not only is coffee better with God, it is better when consumed with people of different experience and backgrounds who love the Lord. So let us get with God's program and willingly assist our churches to be more like heaven.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Question from God

“…Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor. And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” (Matthew 13:57-58, NIV).

The Greek word translated “honor” is a negative particle meaning unhonored or positively dishonored. It is translated despised, without honor, or less honorable. Since Jesus experienced this, surely the rest of us will also experience it, if we are walking in obedience to God.

My first real experience with dishonor came when I resigned a near eight-hundred member church to do a church plant. A pastor told me that I would suffer a loss of prestige. He was right! Pastors I considered my friends and colleagues were no longer available for lunch, I was no longer invited to “think tanks” and other meetings within the denomination, and I quickly became isolated from my clergy colleagues. I again experienced this from my denomination four years ago when I decided to accept a part-time staff position in an African-American church of a slightly different denomination (I am Southern Baptist and the church is General Baptist). This move to bridge racial mistrust and build racial harmony caused my dear denomination to even freeze my retirement account. They are holding onto the money until I retire, but will not even let me write a personal check to add to my retirement account; punishment for betraying my denomination, even if I am walking in obedience to God.

Ministries can also be without “honor.” I see this as President of a nondenominational Seminary weekly. Even though we are solid theologically and hold the beliefs of most area churches, we are often shunned because we are not “denominational.” Small-minded Christians have a problem reaching across denominational lines to do Kingdom work. I tell you my friends, that God’s Pastors will give an account to God for their failure to reach across denominational, cultural, and racial lines to do Kingdom work. As for me, I decided years ago to serve Christ in the corner of the “vineyard” assigned to me by the Master Viticulturist and not worry about the honor of humankind. I look around me in the Charlotte metropolitan area and I see many ministries that are doing Kingdom work and they deserve our respect, honor, and donations.

I bring people to the Seminary and show them around, introduce them to students and faculty, and ask them two questions. The first question is “Do you believe God is at work here?” I have never had a pastor or laity to tell me that they did not believe God was at work in New Life Theological Seminary. I agree, I see God working every day, building bridges of trust among various races and cultures, and preparing leaders that shape the world. The second question I ask is, “Knowing that God is at work here, and having seen and experienced it firsthand, will you help support the mission and purpose of this ministry and lead your church to do the same?” It is amazing the responses I get.

So today, as I sip my healthy cup of coffee, with God, He wants me to ask you this one question, “How can you know where I am working and not join me in the Kingdom work I am doing?”

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Change or Exchange?

I cannot recall ever having a “bad” cup of coffee as the sun slowly climbs its way up across the horizon, but Scripture always enhances the wonderful flavor of a hot cup of brew.

Today's thought comes from Romans 21-27, NIV: “… although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.

In this passage, we see humankind given, from the beginning, a twofold revelation of God "in them" and "unto them" (conscience and creation). Therefore, society did not begin with ignorance and gradually work its way up to intelligence; it began with awe-inspiring revelation of the power and wisdom of God, but then gradually turned away from this knowledge.

As the human race turns away from God, it stopped glorifying Him. Societal thinking became more and more vain and foolish, as leaders and followers turn truth to lies. Indifference leads to ingratitude and results in ignorance. People bow before politically correct immoral philosophers and honor their words above the Word of God. This blind ignorance leads to greater poverty and helpless dependence on government. Government is man's invention and is it is foolish reasoning to believe that government will serve the little people; government creates larger bureaucracy for its own sake.

Leaders changed the truth of God and the populaces follow. This word "changed" should really read, "exchanged." Society should always be aware of politicians spouting “change.” Replacing God's truth with Satan's lie is change. What is Satan's lie? Worshiping the creature and not the Creator; worshiping the man instead of God; worshiping things instead of Christ. Satan tempted Christ to do this (Matthew 4:8-11). Note that in Romans 1:18, the Gentiles "held down the truth," and now they "exchange the truth" for a lie! The truth believed and obeyed sets us free (John 8:31-32); the truth rejected and disobeyed makes us slaves. People most against slavery should hold most firmly to those leaders who hold most firmly to God's truth. Our ancestors never envisioned Christians leaving their faith outside the polling booth.

When people with a clear knowledge of God reject the knowledge of God and His judgment against sin, they reach the lowest level of their downward fall; they eventually stop even wanting to have knowledge of God! Remember, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'" (Psalm 14:1, NKJV).

God would have each of us as Christians to weigh carefully the words and life of any politician wanting our vote. Christians must be careful not to allow talk of change to take our world further down the path of Satan's lie. Meditate on this and let God's Word simmer in your mind as you sip another cup of coffee.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Without Christ

“I am the vine, you are the branches; He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit; for without me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5)

Beware of the church termite that eats through the church, always busy, but not abiding in the Word of God and not building up the body of Christ. Church termites believe everything is about the physical building and the accomplishments of the past. Termites do not understand that the church is not about the building and that to be Christian is not about being busy. Being Christian is about being in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a branch abiding in the Vine.

There are three ways to be a useless branch, possibly more, but three that come readily to mind. First, you can refuse to listen to Christ. This is epidemic within the church, as people claiming to be Christian do not remain in the Word of God or in a constant dialogue with God. That's right; I said "dialogue." Pray is not about us telling God what He needs to do for you, it is about having an honest conversation between God and you. As a teenager, I made a call on a friend's kitchen telephone. Beside the phone, posted on the wall, was a little saying I have never forgotten. It read, “If man was meant to talk more than he was meant to listen, God would have given him two mouths and only one ear.”

Second, branches can give lip service to Jesus, but not actual service. We have many in our pulpits today that talk the talk but do not walk the walk. Jesus exampled what it means to be a shepherd by walking the walk. We need Pastors that will walk the walk.

Third, branches can be useless by accepting Christ and then abandoning Him. May I be so bold as to suggest that if you are not bearing a good crop of the fruits of the spirit, you have likely abandoned Him. Beware of the Viticulturist who walks the vineyard with His pruning shears in hand – snip.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

God Prunes our Lives

Pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee and meditate with me on the second half of verse two. It reads, “….while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful (John 15:2b, NIV).

Jesus gives three parables concerning vineyards and you can find all three in the New Testament book of Matthew (20:1-16, 21:28-32, and 21:33-46). In relating himself to the vine, Jesus made the vine a sacred Christian symbol with His teaching in John 15:1-17, from where our devotional thought is taking today. This is one of those beautiful passages that, the more you meditate on it, the more it unveils deeper spiritual truths.

Viticulturists protect the quality of the fruit by the pruning (cutting off or from) of branches. Using a small sickle-shaped knife called a pruning hook; the caretaker cuts away unfruitful and dead branches and gathers them for burning. He then carefully prunes the healthy branches to make them even more fruitful. By reducing the number and size of the branches, more nourishment can flow from the vine to the remaining healthy branches enlarging the fruit and ensuring a larger harvest. In addition to pruning, the viticulturist protects the vineyard from foxes, wide hogs, and a host of other wild menacing animals. Towels were often erected in vineyards for the caretaker to keep watch over the vineyard.

God is our Sovereign Viticulturist ever keeping a watchful eye from His throne-tower to protect us from every wild demonic beast that would harm us. Scripture teaches us that Satan seeks to kill, steal, and destroy. He “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (First Peter 5:8b, NIV). Jesus said in John 10:10 that Satan “comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (NIV). Sometimes the damaged branches have to be cut off from the vine for the sake of the vine; but more often than not, the damaged branches are carefully tended back to health. Likewise, God is sometimes forced to remove a damaged branch, but more times than not, God will carefully mend us back to health.

The real thrust of the second half of verse two is that God prunes the lives of Christians. Christians who are fruit bearing believers are painfully pruned by the Master’s shears. He prunes away the parts of our braches that would cause the fruit to be less than perfect. This is a painful process for the branch. As we are being pruned, we may feel that the Caretaker is not treating us right. We may complain and ask “Why me?” It is hard to trust the Caretaker when He holds the pruning shears and we are being clipped and snipped. It is hard to trust Him when our smaller branches are being cut away and the pain is real. Yet, God has our best interest in mind and the fruit He produces through us will be all the larger and sweeter, because God cares enough to prune our lives for the betterment of His kingdom and ourselves.

So enjoy the flavor of the coffee and ask God to help you bring forth a larger and sweater fruit, for His glory and honor, then anticipate the pruning.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Our Union with Christ

“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit…." (John 15:2a, NIV)

Growing up on a farm in western North Carolina, we had a Concord grape vine in our backyard that was vibrate and strong. I can remember to this day the mingle smell of the grapes drifting through the open window as I sipped coffee with God and family at the kitchen table. Our grapevine, although vibrate, was minimum to those cultivated in the Holy Land to this day. While healthy, our grapevine was a fragile plant and it was easy to break off branches. While in the Holy land a few years back, the grapevines I witnessed were hefty and robust. They were next to impossible to break off a mature branch without injuring the vine itself. As a spiritual branch in union with the Vine, our unification with Christ is:
1. a living union (nutrients from the Vine flow through us that we may bear fruit);
2. a loving union (our union is relational and allows us to enjoy the Vine), and
3. a lasting union (the union provides eternal security - we need not be afraid).

Biblical images of Christ and the believer emphasize this central idea of union and communion:
1. the body and its members (1 Corinthians 12),
2. the bride and the Bridegroom (Ephesians 5:25-33),
3. the sheep and the Shepherd (John 10).
Scripture reminds us that a limb or organ detached from the human body will die. Scripture reminds us that a wedding creates a union, but it takes daily love and devotion to establish and maintain the marriage. Scripture teaches that the shepherd brings the sheep into the flock, but the sheep must obediently follow the shepherd in order to have protection and provision.

Sometimes we forget our place. We need to acknowledge that just as the branch is pathetic and of no use without the vine, we are pathetic and useless without the Vine, Jesus Christ. It is our unification and communion with Christ through the Spirit that makes possible the bearing of the fruit. What is the fruit that we are each to bear? This fruit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV). This fruit should grow in the life of every believer and be evident in our lifestyle.

The sooner believers discover that we are but branches, the better we will relate to the Lord, and the sooner we will recognize our own weakness and confess our complete need for His supreme strength. Because God is omnipotent, He will use all yielding branches to produce vast quantities and qualities of fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) for His kingdom. God will snip off from the Vine and cast away all branches not producing these fruits, so that the nutrients flowing through the Vine are not be wasted on unyielding parasites. In closing, ask yourself this one question: “Why should God not snip me off the Vine and cast me aside?”

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Stay Connected

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener (John 15:1)

In Scripture, there are actually three different vines found: past, present, and future. The past vine was the nation of Israel (see Psalm 80:8-19; Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 2:21; Ezekiel 19:10-14; and Hosea 10:1). In an act of wonderful grace, God "transplanted" Israel into Canaan and gave the nation every possible benefit. If ever a nation had everything it needed to succeed, it was Israel. Still, like American, the vine produced wild grapes! Instead of practicing justice, it practiced oppression; instead of producing righteousness, it produced unrighteousness and cries of distress from the victims. When God's own Son came to the vineyard, he was cast out and killed (Matthew 21:33-46). While the past is history and we cannot change it; but God would have us learn from it.

There is also a future vine described in Revelation 14:14-20, it is the vine of the earth. This is a warning from God regarding the Gentile world system. Ungodly nations are ripening for God's judgment. The unsaved depend on this world for their sustenance and satisfaction, while believers depend on Jesus Christ. Believers are not surprised by “Earth Day” and all the hype over “global warming” made by those who trust in the vine of the earth. The "vine of the earth" is going to be cut down and destroyed when Jesus Christ returns. Real “global warming” will occur when the earth is consumed with fire (Second Peter 3:7-10, Revelation 8:5-7; 16:8).

The present Vine is our Lord Jesus Christ and, of course, the vine includes the branches. He is the "true Vine," that is, "the original of which all other vines are a copy." As Christians, we do not live on substitutes! The symbolism of the Vine and branches is similar to that of the Head and the body we have a living relationship to Christ and belong to Him. We are by nature barren and dry, except in so far as we have been engrafted into Christ, and draw from him a power which is new, and which does not proceed from ourselves. A solid understanding of the vine helps us understand that:
1. we have no power for doing good except that power come from God through Christ; without the nutrients flowing through the Vine to us, we have no strength to produce.
2. we have a root in Christ and are pruned and dressed by our Heavenly Father; because the pruning and tending is painful, we should focus on the Father’s loving hands that provide the care we need.
3. our Heavenly Father removes unfruitful branches and cast them into the fire to be burned; we are to be productive Kingdom Citizens out of love and gratitude to the Father and the Vine.
4. we do not have the nature of the Vine, until we are grafted into the Vine; it is the graft that allows the nutrients of the Vine to sustain us
5. while we as the branch may be grafted into the Vine, receive our nourishment through the Vine, and are a part of the Vine, the branch never becomes the Vine.

Access to God is through the Vine – Jesus Christ. Stay connected to Christ!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Need a Rock?

Nothing goes better with a great cup of coffee than the Word of God. Coffee with God helps me focus on the needs of the day and allows me to set priorities. Coffee and Scripture are two anchors in my life. As enjoyable as the smell of coffee brewing in the morning, or the first sip flowing down my throat in the morning, the closeness and readiness of God to commune with me is even sweeter.

Life's disappointments are many and sometimes the challenges seem more than I can accept. Yet, God, through His Word, comforts and consoles me, giving me strength to go on another day. Do you ever feel that evil and chaos surround you, and that you are being attacked spiritually, mentally, and physically? When you feel this way, are your friends swift to come and give support to you?

I use to know a vacuum cleaner salesman who would often say, “Humans are funny creatures.” I use to believe he was one of the funniest, but as I age, I see more truth in his cliché. People are quick to offer words of comfort to console you, but extremely slow to truly offer a happy hand. Tell a friend that you are struggling to make your house payment, and he will tell you he understands your struggle. At the same time that he is trying to console you, he is hoping that you do not notice his wallet is thicker than usual, and he is praying you do not ask him for a loan.

Nahum records that “The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; moreover, he knows them that trust in him” (Nahum 1:7). In your struggles, do not dwell on self-pity, but rather rejoice that God is good. Part of God's goodness is that He is unchanging. He is our Rock. We can anchor our lives to Him and find security in our stormy seas. Remember, God knows all who trust in him; this is one thing you and I cannot fake. Either we trust God, or we trust in our ability and possessions. As a young man, I believed I could do anything I wanted to do, but now as an older and wiser man, I understand that it is only in and through Christ that I achieve anything.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Churches and Nonprofits are under Attack!

“Remember, O Lord … look, and see our disgrace. Our inheritance has been turned over to aliens, our homes to foreigners….We must buy the water we drink….Slaves rule over us, and there is none to free us from their hands. We get our bread at the risk of our lives….Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning. The crown has fallen from our head. Woe to us, for we have sinned!” (Lamentations 5:1-16, NIV)

Federal and State governments have found a new entity to attack; it is the faith-based nonprofit community. The Supreme Court has upheld that local governments, unless restricted by state law, can condemn, take private property, and sell it to developers to increase the tax base for the good of the masses, ignoring personal property rights. Churches beware. This means that if North Carolina legislators change state law, churches in North Carolina (as in some other states) could have its property condemned and sold for commercial development to increase the city and county tax base.

Even the continual rise in the minimum wage is hurts faith-based nonprofits, not as much as those on minimum wage (but that is another Blog). Local governments have been unfriendly toward Christian ministries for some time. However, in recent years it is becoming more so as local governments look to line their coffers with gold and silver, while taking our precious freedoms from us. In our city, like countless others across our nation, local ordinances and fees are pulling ever-increasing revenues from the nonprofit sector, decreasing it’s capacity to relieve human suffering. The two faith-based nonprofits that I am most involved with pay a combined total of just over $2,400 yearly for a local storm water fee. If the average is $1,200 yearly for the 3,000 churches in the county, that’s $3,600,000 annually taken from churches, not to mention the hundreds of other faith and ministry based nonprofits in the county. How many meals could this provide for the 2,700 hundred homeless children and the 2,300 homeless adults in our county?

As governments have become increasingly unfriendly to nonprofits, churches and faith-based ministries continue moving outside the inner city. As this happens, cities are becoming more corrupt, crime rates rise, and the influence of faith-based ministries are erased from the urban landscape.

Now faith-based ministries face another growing threat. In growing numbers, Christian denominations are becoming less friendly toward faith-based ministries, even their own churches. Historic denominations are allowing the love of money to guide their decisions. Last week, as I viewed a local newspaper, The Rhino Times, I saw an ad that reminded me of this point. Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina, a 100-year old congregation is fighting to save their land and building from being sold by their denomination to a developer for condominiums. The advertisement placed by the church starts with the caption, “Build Christians, not Condominiums.” Oh how the great has fallen!

What is the solution? Christians need to run for public offices to serve others and bring an end to this dangerous trend of government intrusion on faith-based ministry. Christians also need to vote. Christians need to use their full understanding of God Word, His leadership revealed through prayer, and a desire to protect our historical freedom of faith and make their voice heard. So pour another cup of coffee and seek God in this ever-globalizing world. What does God want you to do to help restore His work in our cities?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Trust verses Betrayal

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV).

It is hard to trust God in one’s daily walk. Can you imagine all that was contained in Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is impossible fully to understand the mind of Christ as he fulfilled the Father’s will. Perhaps Spurgeon said it best, “There are seasons when the brightness of our Father's smile is eclipsed by clouds and darkness; but let us remember that God never does really forsake us. It is only a seeming forsaking with us, but in Christ's case it was a real forsaking.”

In our case, our cry is often dictated by unbelief; when, like Christ, we have been betrayed by the trust placed in another, whether person or entity, and been blindsided by actions contrary to promises and prior dealings. The spoken promises of human beings mean less and less to me as years pass by, and I find myself growing more accepting and trusting of even the unrevealed promises of God. Like with Christ, betrayal does not come from the pit of hell as much as the want for, and the greedy love of, money. As the religious establishment of Jesus’ day bought His betrayal for silver, money still rules religious establishments, lost in its self-serving power struggles, with only a fainthearted prayer for saintly appearances. Trust placed in these entities so created to help others in the endeavor of advancing the Kingdom is a misguided trust, a truth I sometimes forget.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, soul, and might. Do not lean on understanding picked up from misguided trust in the words of men and women who say they want to help you fulfill God’s vision. There is a spiritual struggle that goes on, and it does appear there may be a Judas in each of us, if, and when, Satan’s temptation comes on us at our weakest point with our strongest desire. Is this not the lesson Peter learned? Is this not the lesson we must each learn? Is this not why the Bible cautions us to take heed lest we fall?

Today, as I have my coffee with God, I find Him asking questions that make me uncomfortable. Since my cup is almost empty, and I attempt to avoid that which makes me upcomfortable, I will end on this question: What is your price of betrayal? Be careful now, for the test is coming.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

True Fellowship

God and I have been discussing how people define that word “fellowship” differently, but we need to see it biblically. Like an aging tire on your car, it may be losing its true impression, becoming threadbare. So let us see if we can take a few steps to rescue the word “fellowship. After all, we want a high-quality biblical word like fellowship to stay in circulation as long as possible.

The word “fellowship” means "to have in common." However, proper Christian fellowship is a lot deeper than sharing coffee over a blog, or even in person. In most churches "fellowship" is no more than acquaintanceship or friendship. You see, a person cannot have fellowship with another person unless they have something in common. For true Christian fellowship to occur, each person engaging in the fellowship must be a born-again spiritual Christian. Unless a person has trusted Christ as his or her Savior, that person cannot know anything of "the fellowship of the Gospel." According to Romans Chapter 8, an unsaved or carnal person cannot experience this fellowship. In Philippians 2:1, Paul writes about fellowshipping “with of the Spirit," because when a person is born again he receives the gift of the Spirit (Rom 8:9). There is also "the fellowship of His sufferings" (Philippians 3:10).

So, true Christian fellowship is much more than a church dinner. It is far more than having one’s name on a church roll or being present at a meeting. Many Christians want the church dinners, but how often do you hear church members asking for wanting to fellowship with the Spirit or experience the “fellowship” of the sufferings of Christ?

It is possible for a person to be close to others physically and still be miles away from them spiritually. One of the sources of Christian joy is this fellowship that believers have in Jesus Christ. Paul was in Rome, his friends were miles away in Philippi, but their spiritual fellowship was real and satisfying. When you have the single mind, you will not complain about circumstances because you know that difficult circumstances will result in strengthening the fellowship of the Gospel. It is the fellowship of the Gospel that is important. So, get another cup of coffee and join me in this fellowship of the Gospel.

Monday, March 31, 2008

A Hypocritical Cup of Coffee

This morning I stopped by a convenience store and grabbed a quick cup of coffee, at least that is what they called it. It is far from the quality of bean and brew my taste buds desire. I guess that with age I have come to desire the finer better quality blend.

This hypocritical cup of coffee and an email from a “deacon” this morning, took my mind to Romans 8 – the focus of my time with God this morning. Many Christians are like convenient store coffee, low quality of a worldly blend, called by the name and having just enough resemblance to the quality God desires for us. God says, “the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7).

This morning’s cup of coffee looks about the same as high quality coffee; the cup is bright and festive, and the design is certainly marketable (even containing a “Satisfaction Pledge). Worldly Christians usually have the appearance of the real deal, are usually personable and well liked, and usually contain their own form of a “satisfaction pledge.” However, the one essential difference is that they do not have the mind of Christ. As a worldly or carnal Christian (I prefer the term church member), these people do not have the best interest of the Church at heart. Carnal Christians are more concerned about their own personal desires, then about caring for the body of Christ. These people do more harm to the body of Christ the unsaved people (Romans uses the term natural man) of the world. A carnal Christian will work against his or her pastor and church staff, are concerned about title and position, and thinks only of “self.”

Because the worldly Christians appearance is so much like the real deal, it is sometimes difficult to know the carnal from the spiritual Christian; however, at the time of the harvest, the wheat and tares will be separated. For God teaches us in Romans 8:14 that “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”

Take inventory of your life and ask Jesus to reveal to you if you are the real deal? Read Romans 8:1-18. If Jesus reveals that you are a carnal Christian, then yield self fully to Christ and allow Christ to crucify self. Tell Jesus you want Him to be primarily in your life and that you want to die to every worldly desire. If God reveals that you are a spiritual Christian, thank Him and humbly ask Him to keep you near the cross.

Let me hear what God says to you from Romans 8:1-18. Well, that’s this cup of coffee!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Is Your Pastor Preaching Bad Theology?

“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit” (Romans, 8:5, KJV). How I do enjoy fresh brewed coffee and Romans!

I read a thesis some years ago dealing with the consequences of bad theology taught in churches and the long-term effect of that bad theology on listeners. Today’s headlines convey stories ranging from radical Islamic terrorist to bigoted Christian preachers propagating hate and prejudice through the world. We know the consequences, but people do not speak of it, for it is not politically correct. Seventy years ago, the major population group in America’s prisons was young white males. Today, prison population is overwhelming young black males. I believe both are clearly connected to bad theology taught in churches.

Year’s ago, white churches spouted a white elitism where even pastors were often members of the local Ku Klux Klan. The result was more white males following their visible high profile pastor (the pastor is still the most important and influential person in the life of many youth) and carried that theology into action. Today, many African-American churches preach prejudice, justifying it by their history, and the results are young men and women with a disrespect of societal norms and a growing prison population. This is not unlike the bad theology spewed in the Islamic faith that breeds terrorism.

Ministers of the Gospel of Christ must understand that while we must speak out against injustice, we are to remain focused on the “things of the Spirit.” A white staff member in a local area African-American church that is growing in diversity recently told me that the church was shouting a promotional video and one of the members had a T-shirt promoting a presidential candidate. The pastor would not allow the promo to air. He did not want to give the idea that the church was promoting a particular candidate. This pastor understood the difference between the “things of the flesh” and “the things of the Spirit.”

For those of us that teach and preach, God holds us accountable for the bad theology we speak forth, and we bear responsibility to our congregations to teach them the things of the Spirit and not to lead them astray through fleshly theology. When we start defining theology (liberation, feminist, etc), it has left the true realm of theology and started expounding “fleshly” views, thus bad theology. So let's keep theology in the realm of the good, and not mix it with politices and personal prejudices.

Well, my cup is getting empty and I need a refill; why don't you get a fresh cup too, and let me hear your thoughts on the matter.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Are your prayers not being answered?

Have you ever felt that God was not answering your prayers? In Psalm 66:18 David writes “If I regard iniquity in m heart, the Lord will not hear me” (KJV). I translate it this way, “If I allow evil, sin, or injustice in my life, the Lord will not hear my prayers.” If Christians want God to answer their prayers, God must first hear their prayers. This means that Christians must learn how truly to repent of the evil, sins, and injustice in their lives. I have found that most Christians do not know how to repent. Repentance has five steps.

First, you must acknowledge that you are wrong. You must acknowledge that you have actually been disobedient in what God desires for you. More often than not, this has to do with our thoughts and motives. Remember, God is always more concerned about the motive than the act, the opposite is true with humankind. Second, you must acknowledge that you are sorry, sorry for what you have done, not that you have been caught. Most people today are only sorry that they have been found out, and it would do us all well to remember that the Bible teaches that every Christian will one day be known as God know each heart. Third, you must ask for forgiveness. You must actually say, “Lord, I was wrong. Lord, I am sorry. Lord, forgives me.” Unfortunately, this is where most Christians stop, but you should always move on to steps four and five. The fourth step is that you must ask for cleansing. When my sons were growing up, I would occasionally find their rooms cluttered. They would usually acknowledge that they were wrong, tell me they were sorry, and ask for my forgiveness. However, the room was still cluttered and in need of being cleaned. This is how it is with repentance. The first three steps do not clean our lives. This is why you must move on to the fifth step, you must ask for empowerment. My boys usually need my help in cleaning their rooms. They needed a “power” that they did not possess. Sometimes it was equipment like a vacuum, or cleaning supplies they could not afford, and other times my sons needed my physical strength to move the furniture. They need power that could only come from the father. Likewise, Christians need power greater than their own, power from the Father.

So, if you find your prayers are not being answered, and you believe it is because your sin has closed God's ears to your prayers, look inward…..
….. as you find sin, tell God you are wrong.
….. tell God you are sorry.
….. ask God to forgive you.
….. ask God to cleanse you.
….. ask God to empower you.
As you fully repent, going through all five steps, you will find you life transforming and God hearing your prayers once again. AS you are cleansed and empowered, you will break the vicious circle of sin in your life.

That's my thoughts for today; I would live to hear yours. My coffee cup is empty, and I must go to get another cup. Life is always better when you enjoy a cup of coffee with God!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Looking for Strangers?

As I sit here this morning with a fresh cup of coffee (Hazelnut Cream), God and I are talking about “strangers.” No, we aren’t gossiping about strange people with strange behaviors, but rather dialoguing about strangers. You may recall that Jesus spoke about strangers in Matthew 25. As a Christian, I want to hear Jesus say, “I was a stranger, and you took me in” (Matthew 25:35c). Knowing that we sometimes entertain angels unaware and more often Christ unaware, I simply want to know what a stranger looks like so I can meet this expectation. With one hundred people groups in our city, it sure would be nice if I you and I knew what a stranger looked like so we could take them in and please Christ.

Hebrews 13:2 teaches us to “to entertain strangers for his sake.” Scripture is full of references about “strangers.” We are to show strangers love and hospitality, providing room for them in our hearts and even in our homes. God says there is a common love that we as Christians owe to all people, but there is a special love owed to our brothers and sisters in Christ who are of the “household of faith.” After all, Christians are a strange and peculiar people. This special “agape” love is a generous love that causes believers of wealth, even limited wealth, to give generously to brothers and sisters in need. In fact, this special love demands that we are to seek our opportunity to show mercy.

As a seminary President, I see students struggle to prepare to serve God in area churches. Some of these students come as strangers to our country, leaving behind family and friends, to study to preach and teach the wonderful Gospel of Christ. Many students live in poverty and a few are even classified as homeless. As I travel throughout Charlotte among some of the most blessed people on our planet, my heart breaks for these men and women who need basic necessities of life as they prepare to be tomorrow’s leaders in our churches. If you want to please Jesus and you are wondering what “strangers” look like, email me at and I will show you a “stranger” that is a believer, and explain how you can adopt a student and help them prepare to serve in our Lord’s Kingdom, or how you can give to the Christian Vocation Scholarship that helps to support most of our “strangers” as they are equipped to change the world for all eternity!

Remember, life is better if you take time to have Coffee with God!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Stop Just Smelling the Coffee

Coffee with God is one of life's joys. My wife does not drink coffee, but enjoys the smell of coffee brewing early in the mornings. Last week she gave me a new coffee maker that is supposed to provide a better tasting coffee. I wonder what brand of coffee maker God has up in heaven.

Nothing goes with a fresh brewed cup of coffee any better than a Psalm. Today's Psalm speaks volumes to today's Christians. David writes. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” I do not dispute God, and I understand that unity within the body is good and pleasant, but boy-oh-boy is it rare. When Christians move beyond being benchwarmers and get involved in the decision-making and leadership roles of the church, they seem to become adversarial. People with personal agenda's and personal issues become willing to destroy the local congregation of believers in order to get their own way, or just to do it their own way.

Recently, I said to a Christian, “I do not believe you love your pastor or your church. If you did, you would not work against your pastor, and you would get with the program of your church.” Church members get upset if they are told to follow the rules and guidelines established for the betterment of the whole congregation, believing that their “work” or “faithfulness” somehow” means they can by-pass the established guidelines. People, who love their church, do everything within their ability to follow the rules and guidelines. Therefore, from here on when you see someone disrespecting your pastor or failing to follow the established rules of their church, tell them to get with the program or get a new church, because you love your Lord, your pastor, and your church and their ungodliness is damaging the unity. It's time for Christians to stop just smelling the coffee, get a big hot cup and enjoy your relationship with God. Coffee smellers never enjoy the taste, or perhaps just don't like the taste. I suppose the enjoyment of coffee is a lot like our relationship with God. You have to develop the taste for it.

That is today's brew! I need another cup.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

With Faith Comes Responsibility

The acceptance of Faith in Christ brings a huge responsibility. First Timothy 1:9-10 reminds us that the Law is provided for the evil doers, not for the righteous. As I sit here at my desk, cup of coffee in hand, God and I discuss what Timothy is saying and I weigh His communication against the news of this day.

God says that we as Christians have a very big responsibility. Just as He has provided us salvation through Jesus Christ, He has also provided us sound doctrine and the Gospel through great men and women of faith. This sound doctrine and the Gospel was committed to the Apostle’s trust, and then to Paul’s trust, all the way through Christendom to us. As Christians, we are to carry sound doctrine and the Gospel message throughout the world, to all peoples, as we run the race of life.

Does this have an effect on current news, yes! It means that as you and I go into the ballot booth to vote, we must take our faith with us. As we look at the candidates, we must consider who best represents this sound doctrine of our Faith. It is not about who is electable, but who is most sound in the doctrines of our Faith. What has a person gained, if he gains the office and loses his soul? I must vote for the person of sound doctrine and who has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, even if the world considers that person as unelectable. What have you and I gained if we elect a person to office who does not have sound doctrine? America get’s what America deserves, and Christians over the past fifty years have done a very poor job at shouldering the responsibility of carrying the touch of sound doctrine on our leg of the race of life. So God and I challenge you to take up the touch and run the race with sound doctrine.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Trying to go to Heaven with prejudice of heart.

Good Morning God. This sure is a great cup of coffee. I was just remembering when I received a letter of thanks from the Grand Cyclops of the KKK. He was thanking me for working with the white youth of the community. For near twenty years now, God, I have worked with people of all races and cultures and have a real heart for multicultural ministry. My good friend, Rev. Dennis Hall, once asked me what event transformed my life. You know God, as I reflected on his question, I came to realize that this is what you do in the life of every Christian.

God, it appears to me that this is exactly what John is addressing in First John 2:9-11. I am theologically convinced that if the Church is to ever win this world for you that it must first seek forgiveness for the prejudice that separates it so severely on Sunday mornings, lest the multitudes of churchgoers miss heaven altogether. Our churches are not only segregated by race, culture, and traditions, they are divided by denominational blindness. God, I am reminded of the Presbyterian Church down the street that refused to participate with a Baptist church I served as pastor. One of the elders told me that they would only participate with three other Presbyterian churches, and that they sure would not participate with a Baptist church. God, I am convinced that if we have a personal relationship with you son Jesus, that You will convict us of all prejudice in our lives, and lead us to seek your forgiveness and repentance. Prejudice knows no racial boundaries and no race or culture has a monopoly on it, but it is of this world and not of God. America’s churches have proven this by the development of denominational prejudice.What do you think, God, am I on target? Can a believer in Jesus have prejudice in his or her heart and get into Heaven?

Get yourself a cup of coffee and share your thoughts.