Sunday, May 29, 2011

Finding Your Place

Do you remember being a kid and having someone ask you what you wanted to be when you grew up? Do you remember your answer? We could all probably list any number of different things that we once wanted to be. A little boy might say that he wants to be a fireman or an astronaut. A young girl might say that she wants to be a ballerina or a doctor. All of us dreamed of being something exciting and significant. We wanted to make a difference and be a part of something that mattered. Nobody really ever dreamed of being average. We had big dreams for ourselves and the sky was the limit.

As followers of the Lord, we also aspire to great things. Many of us want to take the gospel to the nations and see multitudes meet the Lord. We read the stories of Peter, Ruth, Corrie Ten Boom, Noah, Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others and we want to have an impact like they did. Some want to write a song that touches millions and some want to start an orphanage in a remote African village. We all want to be a part of something significant and meaningful. None of us wants to live our lives in mediocrity and die one day never having tapped into the potential God put on our lives.

Having these great desires is the easy part, but most of us struggle with where to start. I have personally dealt with this, and I have observed many that desired to make a difference, but never really knew how to get going. Many of us have wasted precious time not doing anything because we weren't sure what to do. We believe the Lord has given us all an individual purpose and destiny. We know that we are unique and that nobody can do what we are called to do quite like we can. But again, how do we start?

One one hand, this is a very complex question, because everybody's path is going to be unique and individual. However, on the other hand, I believe the answer to this question is simple because, even though we have individual purposes, our general purpose is the same. We are called by the Lord to know Him, become like Him and do the works He did. We won't all do these works the exact same way someone else will, but our general purpose is to do what Jesus did. To make it simple and practical, we are called to do what Jesus would do if He were in our shoes. There was a movement several years ago called "WWJD," which stood for "What Would Jesus Do?" Millions of people wore bracelets, T-shirts and had bumper stickers that said "WWJD?" These items don't seem to be as common anymore, but this is a question that we need to ask ourselves all over again.

What would Jesus do? What would He do if He lived in your neighborhood? What would He do if He worked where you work? What would He do if He drove the same streets you drive or ate at your favorite restaurant? What would Jesus do if He were in our place? Jesus is obviously not here in the same way he was 2,000 years ago, but if He were, I believe He would do today just what He did then. Let us examine some of His own words and see what He did. Near the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus said:

God's Spirit is upon Me; He's chosen Me to preach the message of good news to the poor, sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, "This is God's year to act!" (Luke 4:18-19, The Message).

That is how Jesus defined His earthly ministry, and these same acts are what we are called to do today. We are His representatives in our individual spheres of influence. What would He do if He were in our place today? All it takes is a brief study of His earthly life to see that He would be down the street helping the elderly widow trim her hedges. He would take a bag of school supplies to the single mother who can't afford to buy them for her children. He would prepare a meal for the homeless family that lives under the bridge just outside of town. These are the places we would find Him. He might be volunteering His time at a battered women's shelter, helping a young man with his math homework at an inner city after-school program or maybe organizing a clothing drive to help those left destitute by the recent tornadoes.

When Jesus was here in the natural, He had very little time for the self-righteous and the legalistic. Instead, He regularly withdrew to spend time with His Father, trained and taught His disciples and then He would be somewhere getting His hands dirty. He lived His life in sacrifice for other people, and in doing so, He fulfilled His purpose. How do you and I find our places? We look around in our spheres of influence, and then we get involved. There is an old saying that it is easier to steer a moving ship then it is to start one moving initially. Whatever our individual purposes and destinies are, we can be sure the Lord will lead us into them as we begin to do what He would do if He were in our shoes. I came across this video clip recently. I was really inspired by it, and I think it will inspire you, too. This is Bono, the lead singer of U2, accepting an award from the NAACP. He really has some great things to say. Check it out and then let's you and I get involved.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jerry Clower's Rule of Thumb

I know many of you are familiar with Jerry Clower, but for the sake of those who may not be, let me briefly tell you about him. Before his death several years ago, Jerry Clower was best known as a southern comedian. He is well known for telling funny stories about 'coon hunting, bird dogs, life on a farm and other aspects that were common to his life growing up in Mississippi. What many people don't know about Jerry is that he was also a devout Christian, and I have talked to some who knew Jerry personally who told me that he was a genuinely Christlike person who had a true walk with the Lord. I have always admired him for his humor, but over the past couple of years, I have come to really respect Jerry for his faith and Christian perspective.

I recently heard a talk he gave to a group of people some years ago explaining some important principles to consider when making decisions. He shared that he had often been asked in his travels how to tell the difference between right and wrong. As a response he put together what he called his "rule of thumb" that will help people decide between right and wrong when making tough decisions. There are four principles that make up this rule of thumb, and it would do us all good to bear these in mind. The first principle in Jerry's rule of thumb is: do you need someone to make you feel better about what you're deciding to do? He shared a story about himself as a young man getting ready for a date. He walked out of his room and asked him mom if his shirt was dirty, and his mom offered a very appropriate piece of advice in return. She said "Son, if you have to ask, then it's dirty."

There is a lot of wisdom in that statement. The second principle is do you have to argue with yourself about doing what you have decided to do? The third principle is very similar: do you feel uneasy doing it? As Christians, our spirits are in constant communication with the Holy Spirit. He speaks to us very frequently, but rarely does it shake the chandelier. I know in my personal experience, there have been many times I wanted to do something, but it just didn't sit right with me. Deep inside the voice of the Lord was saying that it was wrong, but I really wanted to do it. I would ask around for advice and wait for someone to tell me that it was OK. Just like Mr. Clower, I was wearing a dirty shirt and I wanted mamma to tell me that it was OK. If we know in our heart that something is not right, and we have to ask someone else about it just to make ourselves feel better, we're wearing a dirty shirt and we need to take it off and put on a different one.

When we feel uneasy about something, many times that is the Lord letting us know that it is not something He has for us. That sounds simple enough, but how many times do we ignore His promptings and do it anyway? How many times do we really know better, so we keep quiet about what we are doing? If we have to keep something secret, it is most likely something we should not be doing. If we have to keep a certain relationship secret, it is probably not a healthy relationship to have. If we don't want anyone to find out what we have hidden under the bed, then we shouldn't have it. The enemy hides in darkness, but the Lord dwells in light. If we are having to hide something, chances are it is more in line with the enemy's plans for us than the Lord's. Let's be sure to walk in the light.

The final principle in Jerry Clower's rule of thumb is the Bible tells us to give thanks in all things, so if you cannot genuinely be thankful to the Lord for providing this thing for you to do, you probably should not be doing it. The Bible verse Mr. Clower was probably talking about is I Thessalonians 5:18, which says:

In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

The Lord wants us to be thankful in every situation. This isn't always easy, and it probably doesn't come naturally for most of us. There are some situations where the Lord puts us and we really wish we were not there. These are times when we have to choose to be thankful trusting that He is working everything for our good. Then there are situations that we get ourselves into, and because deep inside we know better, we cannot honestly be thankful to the Lord in the midst of it and fully commit ourselves to it. If that is the case, we are doing something we should probably not be doing.

To summarize Jerry Clower's rule of thumb, let me leave you with Jerry's own words. This is a brief transcript of him recounting a talk he gave a group college students several years ago:

What is right or wrong? Do you ask other people? Do you argue with yourself? Do you feel uneasy when you do it? Can you give thanks and say "Lord, I thank you for providing this for me?" If you can't, you better watch out - you're fixing to mess up!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Two-Fold Battle

I believe living the Christian life is the greatest life one could ever live. It is a life of grace, peace, mercy and provision, and at the same time, it is a life of challenges, trials and battles. We all love the grace, peace, mercy and provision part, but we don't always enjoy the challenges, trials and battles part. I personally wish we could have the former and never have to deal with the latter, but I have come to realize that it does not work that way! :)

However, in spite of the trying times we all encounter, the Lord is good. He never allows us to be tested beyond what we are able to bear, and His grace, peace, mercy and provision don't go away when the trials and battles begin. It may seem to us at the time that they are nowhere to be found, but they are actually there to help guide us through the challenging times. It is also through such seasons that the door can be open to experiencing more of them in our lives.

Several years ago an idea began to circulate around our local area that, as Christians, we were never supposed to experience any spiritual warfare. The individuals who were teaching this based their theory on the fact that Jesus had accomplished everything on the cross, so for us to be involved in spiritual warfare is actually pride. Now, this sounds good, and it might even sound a little bit like wisdom. However, this teaching is in direct contradiction to what the Bible teaches. It does sound nice to hear, and I was surprised at some of the people that got carried away by this deception, but it is just that: a deception.

Many of the New Testament writers and Jesus, Himself, talked about the battles that we would encounter in our Christian life. We need to be aware of this and be aware that we will be faced with them our entire lives. We will have times in between battles when things are relatively calm, but the battles will continue. We need to expect this and develop the appropriate response to these times of warfare. It is important for us to understand the nature of these battles.

It is true that Jesus accomplished everything on the cross. As a matter of fact, in His final moment, He said "It is finished." (John 19:30). When He said this, He was stating that He had completed the work He came to earth to do. He had lived His life purely and without sin and made it possible for mankind to be reconciled to God. He had dismantled darkness and rendered the enemy helpless. Even death itself began to turn back when Jesus victoriously completed His mission. With all this being the case, how can there still be warfare? It truly is finished. Jesus knows this, even the enemy is aware of this, but there is warfare because we are not always aware of it. Our battle is to walk in the reality of Jesus' victory as the enemy tries to convince us that he is still winning.

Our battles in the Christian life are really two-fold. As we grow in our walk with the Lord, we are constantly taking ground back from the enemy. Again, in reality, he doesn't really have any ground because Jesus has already won the ultimate victory, but we are taking ground on a personal level. We are taking ground in our minds, our emotions and in our families and other relationships. We are taking ground as we begin to see ourselves, our lives and those around us from the Lord's eternal perspective. It is as His perspective begins to replace ours that we begin to become truly victorious, just as He is. This is the first part of our battle.

The second part of our battle is to keep the ground that we have taken. We gain a certain measure of victory when we take ground, but the enemy will never rest in his attempt to take it back. Our victory becomes final when we keep the ground we take. A recovering alcoholic is walking in victory every day he doesn't have a drink, and his victory becomes more sure as he remains sober and keeps that ground. This principle applies in every area of our lives. It could be an addiction like drug use, pornography or an eating disorder. These battles are also waged on the emotional level as many are fighting to overcome anger, depression or even suicidal tendencies. It doesn't matter what the battle is, we have to continue to take ground with each day that passes, and the important thing is that we keep the ground that we take.

As we walk with the Lord, our ultimate goals are to know Him, become like Him and fulfill the purpose He has for us. As we fight these battles, take ground in our personal lives and keep that ground, we are becoming more and more like Jesus. Let's keep fighting and plant that flag in the ground. We are going higher up and further in!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Why the World Will NOT End on May 21, 2011

If you have been following the news, you have probably heard that there is a group of people who believe the world is going to end in less than a week. They have made international headlines talking about everything from a major earthquake to a nuclear disaster that will end human life on May 21, 2011. Some from the group have varying opinions about what exactly will take place and how, but they all agree on the date and that something apocalyptic is going to happen that will usher in the judgement day. While I believe many of these people are well meaning and are legitimately trying to warn the rest of us to prepare for the end, I do not believe their prediction and I want to emphatically state that the world will NOT end on May 21, 2011.

These people, many of them Christians, believe they have discovered a secret code in the Bible that identifies this particular date as the end. Some have even spent their life's savings producing literature and other means of communication to help spread the word. I do not want to criticize or pass judgement on this group, but their predictions have sparked fear in some, aroused curiosity in others and bred confusion in the hearts of many who have sought to understand this. In this post, I want to try to clarify some of what the Bible teaches about the end and hopefully shed some light on what we can expect going forward. While it is important to understand that the end of the world is not going to be next week, it is equally crucial to understand that it is coming and we do need to be ready.

The Bible is a remarkable book that was inspired by the Lord and has much to say about the end of the world. There have been many others that have claimed to have unlocked a secret code in the Bible that reveals details about the end. I do not want to discredit this idea, because some of these codes might be real. However, the Lord will never reveal a secret message that contradicts what He has shown us plainly in the Bible. In Mark 13:32, Jesus plainly stated:

. . . no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son Himself. Only the Father knows (NLT).

Again, I do not want to criticize these that claim to have this information, but we need to keep in perspective that this belief is in direct contradiction to the words of Jesus. The Father alone knows the exact time of the end, and that's OK. You and I don't need this information. Rather than knowing exactly when the end will come, it is far more important that we know how to prepare ourselves for when it does happen.

Whether the actual end is next year, fifty years from now or even longer, you and I could leave this earth and meet the Lord at any time. Hebrews 9:27 tells us:

And it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgement (NKJV).

Whenever our time on this earth ends, we will meet the Lord as individuals. For many that will happen long before this earth's last day. For this reason, we need to keep ourselves constantly ready. How do we do this? What do we need to do now to ensure that we are ready when we reach the end of our time on earth?

The Bible tells us that we were all created by God and placed on this earth to live with Him in a personal relationship. That relationship was damaged when sin entered the world, and now every person is born with a tendency to sin. Because of this, when we are born, our relationship with God is still damaged. Jesus, Who is God's Son, came to earth and lived as a man to make it possible for our relationship with the Lord to be restored. The way we prepare for the end is to be sure that our personal relationship with Him has been restored. If our time on earth ends before our relationship is restored, then we aren't ready.

Since it was sin that damaged our relationship, the sin has to be taken away for our relationship with God to be restored. When I say sin, I mean things that we do that cause division between the Lord and us - things that are not acceptable to Him. Because we are born with a nature that will gravitate toward sin, there is nothing we can do in our own strength to change this. That's why Jesus came. The Bible tells us in Romans 6:23 that the price that we owe for sin is to die, but that salvation is the free gift of God. Jesus died that death in our place and made it possible for us to experience salvation. Probably the most popular scripture in western culture is John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (NKJV).

The Lord loves us so much that He paid the price to make everlasting life available to us. If you want to have your relationship with the Lord restored, you have to acknowledge that apart from Him you are a sinner, that you can't change that by yourself and you need a Saviour. Then ask Jesus to be your Saviour and Lord and restore you to the relationship with the Father that He intended.

If you do this, the Bible says in II Corinthians 5:17 that you become a new creation. You were born a person with a sinful nature, but that nature has been replaced with the divine nature of Jesus. Also, your relationship with God has been restored, and you can spend the rest of your life growing closer to Him. Best of all, this prepares you to spend eternity with the Lord once your life on this earth ends.

Let me say again that this world is not going to end on May 21, 2011. Nobody is ever going to be able to predict the actual day or the time of the end, but we do know from the Bible that the end will come and that day is drawing closer. We do need to be prepared, and there could be nothing worse than getting to the end and then realizing we have waited too long. The Bible tells us that today is the day of salvation (see II Corinthians 6:2) and that no one is promised tomorrow (see 4:14). Jesus said that no one could come to the Jesus unless the Father first draws them (see John 6:44). While reading this today, if you have felt the Father drawing you, then today can be the day that your relationship with God is restored and you become ready for the end. If you have never talked to God, or if you are not sure how to start, let me tell you that talking to Him is as simple as talking to me. In this post, I have shown from the Bible how to receive the Lord's free gift of salvation. If you have felt His drawing today, then today is your day of salvation.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How to Create an Emergency Food Supply

Well, my blog has taken a direction that I never really foresaw it going, but I have stumbled upon a subject that I believe is worth some attention. If you have followed my past two posts, you know I recently had a dream that I believe was from the Lord and deals with the current economic situation facing the world. I am not an economist, but I do know that much of the financial pressure that is so common today has been brought upon us by greed and financial mismanagement. I do not want to condemn anyone (or myself) for mistakes of the past, but I do believe the Lord is preparing a generation who will choose to do things differently than has been done my many people up to this point.

I believe one of the primary changes we have to make to be a part of this generation has to do with how we handle our surplus. There is much we could say about properly managing our surplus money and time, but the purpose of this post is to discuss one aspect of properly managing our surplus food. As I mentioned in my last post, just a generation or so ago, in some parts of our nation, it was the common practice to have enough food on hand to last for several months. In a very short period of time, this practice has been almost totally lost, but it is one that I believe we badly need to rediscover. Today most of us are able to go to the grocery store whenever we need something, and we don't have enough food on hand to last more than a week or two. That has worked for us so far, but what would happen if the grocery stores were without food for a period of time? If we remain as dependent upon them as we have been, we could very well find ourselves without food at some point.

I believe every person should make it standard operating procedure to have a supply of food on hand that would last for a few months. Now, I know what many of you are thinking: "Yeah, yeah. I've heard all this before and I've stored up food, only to have it spoil because I never had to use it." However, I am not just suggesting that every person or every family have an "emergency supply" tucked away in the corner of the garage waiting for a rainy day. What I am suggesting is a lifestyle change that will enable us to have a constant supply of food in our home that will not be stored long enough to spoil, and it will be there just in case we ever need it.

The way we do this is simple, and very economical. The first step is to make a list of the foods that we eat on a regular basis. Then determine which of these foods can be stored for about a month without spoiling. After this we need to pick a spot in our home to store our surplus. This might be some shelves in the garage, a spare room in the basement or maybe even an empty bedroom closet that we convert into an extra pantry. Once we know what foods we want to store and have a place ready to store them, we are ready to start building our supply. Let's say that you regularly eat green peas, oatmeal and tomato soup. The next time you go to the grocery store, pick up a few extra cans of those items and store them in your surplus food area. After a few months of just picking up a few extra items each visit to the store, you will have a pretty good supply. After that, when you go grocery shopping and bring your groceries home, don't put those particular items in your kitchen pantry. Instead, put them in your surplus storage area. Always rotate your stock and replenish your kitchen pantry with the oldest items from your surplus storage.

By doing this, you will have a supply of food in your home at all times that never spoils. It is always fresh and will be there in the event of an emergency. Again, this is very simple to do and there is very little cost at one time. I would like to think that we will never really need an emergency supply, but our world is changing. I think the people who lived through Hurricane Katrina, the recent tornados in the midwest or one of the many recent earthquakes across the globe would tell us that we need to take this idea seriously. It could be that we will never need it, but as a friend of mine recently told me: "I'd rather be a year early than a day late when it comes to being prepared."

What I have shared in this post is what my family is doing. We currently have enough food on hand to last us for a few months. It is in constant rotation, so it never spoils. I want to learn the best way to do this and get to the place that I have enough food to last for a year and be able to share with my neighbors. I'm not suggesting that my way is the best way, and there are probably many people who are doing this much better than I described. You may get started and find a better way, but I think the important thing is to start. By posting this I hope I have inspired some of you to start thinking along these lines and take the first steps. Again, I hope we never need it, but then again . . . we may.