Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Devotion on Repentance

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Matthew 3:2, NIV

Pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee and let’s get serious about repentance.

When John the Baptist preached repentance he was not trying to create fear in the listener, but rather faith.  You see, repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of God wonderful grace.  It is the sincere turning away from sin and toward God in faith.  Some people teach that repentance is turning around, making a one hundred eighty degree change, but if a person is headed in the wrong direction a one hundred eighty degree turn does not guarantee that they are now going in the right direct.

In reality, there are five steps to repentance.  Chances are pretty good that your pastor doesn’t fully understand repentance, so there is no wonder congregates are confused.  The first step is the acknowledgement of being wrong and they must occur in chronological order.  To repent, I must understand what I did was wrong and acknowledge that “I am wrong.”  This may be the hardest step of repentance for the sinful nature of man does not want to acknowledge wrong, and will try everything to justify his actions.  Second, I must acknowledge to God that “I am sorry.”  This is another difficult step, as human nature desires to blame others for our failures.  Once we are ready to acknowledge to God that we are wrong and that we are sorry, we can then take the third step and ask God to “Please forgive me.”  Forgiveness only occurs when we acknowledge that we are wrong, exhibiting a sense of remorse, and ask for it.  If we fail in any of these three orderly steps, forgiveness cannot take place.  Many people think this is the end of “repentance” but this is only three of the five steps.  Repentance includes two more crucial steps to complete this surgical spiritual procedure.  The fourth step is crucial, “Father, cleanse me.”  Once forgiven, while admirable, cleansing has not taken place.  We must ask for the cleansing of God as David did when he prayer “Cleanse me with hyssop that I may be whiter than snow.”  The fifth step is equally important, “Father, empower me.”  Often we continue to commit the same sins over and over because we lack the power to stop.  Why do we lack the power?  We lack the power because we do not ask God for it.

When my children were teenagers it was often a battle to get them to keep their rooms clean even though they knew it was a parental commandment.  Likewise, we know God’s commandments and rules, but like my sons, we do not always follow them.  Now suppose one of my sons came to me and said, “Father, I am wrong.  I know I am supposed to keep my room clean, but I did not.  I am wrong.  Please forgive me.”  As a father, I would be pleased that my son had taken the initiative and acknowledged that he had failed to be obedient and to even ask for forgiveness, and of course I would forgive him.  But, would my forgiveness make his room miraculously clean?  Of course not, his room would still be dirty, and so it is with our lives.  My son would still need to take certain actions to clean his room and he would need the help of the father to empower him to clean the room.  As a parent, I would need to “empower” my son by providing the cleaning supplies, vacuum, etc., but he would still need to do some hard work.

When we ask God to forgive us, we often have to make amends for our sins.  This takes the power of God in us.  I call it “Christ-in-you-ity” and “Christ-in-me-ity.”  If we fail to take the last two steps, we will be forgiven, but we will still be living in the filth of our sins and too weak and powerless to overcome them during future temptations.  So now that you know, what are you going to do?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Why Do You Go To Church?

“But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.” Matthew 23:5-7, KJV

The coffee is fresh out of the pot and an added pack of Splenda makes it taste extra sweet this morning. A hot cup of coffee is an added blessing as I read, study, and reflect on God’s Word. This being Sunday makes the reading of the twenty-second and twenty-third chapters of Matthews especially meaningful. Today, people will gather in churches of thousands of denominations, large and small, all around the world. Why?

No doubt most will go out of habit, others to visit with friends, and still others to show off some new digital gadget or trendy outfit. Preachers are no different. Many of them will stand to preach today because it is their “job” to do so, others to be seen or to impress the listener with his knowledge, still others for the verbal rewards of the title – “pastor.” Are you going to church today? Why? Is it to be seen of men? Is it the coffee and donuts? Is it to meet some inward need, a spiritual search, or a longing for a deeper relationship with Jesus? Why do you go to church? Is it the music, a desire to worship, or to gain a deeper insight into life? There are many good solid reasons to go to church, but why are you going? What are your motives and desires?

I would really like to know why you go, so please share your comments with me and the rest of the readers.  If you do not go to church, I would like to know that too!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Distance from the Means of Grace

“And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also” (Matthew 2:8).

Get yourself a fresh cup of coffee and turn to Matthew 2:1-8. Yes, this is the Christmas story, but today’s devotion is not about so much the birth of Christ, as an often missed lesson of human nature. The Magians (more commonly called wise men) traveled a long way to better understand Jesus and to worship Him. There is a lesson here that is often over looked. The Magi did not live as close to Bethlehem as Herod did, but they exerted a greater effort to know Jesus. Often those of us with the greatest opportunity to know Christ, to truly know Him, take Him for granted. The Bible goes unread, because we own a copy and can read it anytime. We don’t think much about missing worship at our church; after all, we can go anytime. And often the local worship experience is summed up more in complaints and criticisms of the event than worship of Jesus. Contrast this to people in many third world countries who walk miles to experience corporate worship, stand for hours under a tree, and are excited for the opportunity to hear the Word.

The fact is that people who live the furthermost distance (distance is not always miles) from the means of grace often apply the greater diligence, and learn to discern and understand the most of Christ and his salvation. It is like the pastor’s child who grows up in a Christian home with parents who love them, pray for them, and teach them the truths of God, and yet the child does not take advantage of this blessing. Or the child in the home of a Christian scholar who has hundred of reference and Christian books, but the child never seeks to read and learn from the books.

Take a sip of that tasty coffee and meditate for a few moments on these questions. What opportunities do I take for granted? Am I more like Herod or the Magians? What am I going to do different as a result of this devotion?

Prayer: “Lord, please help me to be aware of all the many means of knowing you more. Help me not to talk them for granted, but to take advantage of them and learn more of you through them. Help me not to take corporate worship and Christian fellowship for granted, but rather to participate in and benefit from all that is available. Amen”

If you feel led, leave me a post and let me know your thoughts!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Promote Positive Prejudice in the Church

"The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness….But now, O our God, what can we say after this? For we have disregarded the commands you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: 'The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other. Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at anytime, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance” (Ezra 9:1-2, 10-12, NIV).

Now pour you a fresh cup of coffee and let's get serious about being prejudice. As I have often said, prejudice may be either positive or negative. Negative prejudice leads to discrimination, and discrimination leads to racism. Discrimination is evident in three categories: individual, legal, and institutional. Since sinful individuals form a legal institution called the church, all three categories join to form one very large and sinful super highway for discrimination to flow. This negative prejudice leads an ongoing practice of discrimination and racism within the church in total contradiction to the teaching of Scripture. Racism is a belief that race is the most important determinant of human traits and capacities, that racial differences produce an inherent superiority or inferiority of a particular racial group, and that these racial characteristics determine their respective cultures. This racism leads the institutional church to seek members, employees, and vendors of like race.

If you have ever sat in a church committee or board meeting and heard someone say that the church should find a vendor or an employee of a particular race or ethnicity, you have experienced individual discrimination and racism. If you did not speak up and confront the sinful individual discrimination, you participated in institutional discrimination and racism. But, you might ask, doesn’t God teach us in His word that Christians are to keep ourselves separated by race and ethnicity? Is it not correct for White people to worship together, Hispanic people to worship together and Black people to worship together, and so forth? Is this not what God told Ezra?

Notice what God really said to Ezra. God called for Israel to practice a positive Godly prejudice that the Church needs to practice today. God said his people had not “kept themselves separate from the neighboring…detestable practices.” The issue is that the people of God had mingled and married outside of their faith. Scripture does not teach that it is wrong for a Christian Black woman to mingle with or marry a Christian White man, or a Christian Hispanic man to mingle with or marry a Christian White female. It is wrong for a believer of any race to mingle in the ungodly practices of or to marry a nonbeliever of any race, even if it is the same race! The church today places more emphasis on men and women marrying within the same race than within the same faith. Believers are to be prejudice against mingling in sinful behavior and marrying those who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We are to be prejudice against mingling with the detestable practices of the nonbelievers.

I know this is hard to hear in a “politically correct” society, but the Church must emphasis the positive prejudices. It must teach its members to refuse to mingle with the politically correct sins of our culture. Even if it is politically correct to call sin an alternative life choice, if it is an abomination to God, we must prejudice ourselves against it. Christians must live as Christ lived, and not as the world would have us live.

Prayer: "Lord, I ask you to help me guard against all negative prejudice, but hold to those positive prejudices. Lord, help me to guard against all discrimination that stems out of prejudice by loving others as you loved them. Help me Lord, to always want the best for others, regardless of what they have done to me. Amen.”

Monday, May 10, 2010

Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism in the Church

"Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples" [Rom 15:11, NIV].

As I sip my coffee this morning, I am convinced more than ever that God desires for people of all races to worship him in corporate worship together. Yet churches of every race and nationality, throughout our nation, remain in and continue to drown in their own sin of prejudice and discrimination. There is little doubt why denominations are in decline and churches are closing; God has withheld his presence due to this glaring sin to which the church closes its eyes and hides its ostrich-like head in the sand, refusing to acknowledge and address its sin of prejudice, discrimination, and racism.

Prejudice is a predetermined belief toward a group of people or a single person because of race, social class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disability, political beliefs, religious conviction, vocation, or personal or physical characteristics (such as obesity), and it is alive and well in the modern Church. Prejudice often leads to thoughtless assumptions and the occasional remarks. It is what causes persons to think that all fat people are lazy, lawyers are liars, and blonds are stupid. This prejudice has no factual basis for its predetermined belief, but then it is not about facts, it is simply about sin.

Prejudice can be negative or positive and comes in three forms: cognitive, affective, and conative. These three types of prejudice are interrelated, but all need not be present in a particular individual. Someone may believe that a particular group possesses low levels of intelligence, but harbor no ill feeling towards that group. Another group may be disliked because of intense competition for jobs, but still recognize no differences between groups; exhibited in recent history by the Mexican workers taking certain jobs previously held by Black workers in the United States .

Negative prejudice can lead to discrimination, a thought, behavior, or action with allusion to unequal treatment of people because they are members of a specific category. Discrimination rears its ugly head in three categories: individual, legal, and institutional. As with prejudice, the three kinds of discrimination are interrelated and may be found to varying degrees in society and its individual members. Since churches are made up of imperfect people, it stands to reason that the Church possesses negative prejudice and carries out various forms of discrimination. The problem is not that individuals harboring prejudice and discrimination enter the Church, but that the Church is comfortable with allowing both negative prejudice and discrimination to nest within the institution.

Negative prejudice leads to racism, a belief that race is the most important determinant of human traits and capacities, that racial differences produce an inherent superiority or inferiority of a particular racial group, and that these racial characteristics determine their respective cultures. This racism leads the institutional church to seek members, employees and vendors of like race. On an individual level, this same racism leads people to choose doctors, lawyers, etc. based on race alone. How can a prejudice racist people gather in a building and sing praises to God?

Prayer: “Lord, I admit to you all my prejudices, discrimination, and racism. I admit them all to you Lord and acknowledge to you that I have been wrong. I am sorry. I ask that you forgive me. I beg you to cleanse me and make me whiter than snow. I ask you to empower me, that I not fall back into prejudice, discrimination, or racism, and that you empower me to change the church. Amen.”