12 Witnesses

Let these stones be a witness to what we have done here this day.

3 Steps to Breaking the Chain of Sin

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Breaking Sin's Chain

All of us deal with sin.  Some of us deal with a particular sin that cripples us or seems to dominate our struggles.  For me, it is a small hand full of sins that always seem to be nagging at me.

Here are three Biblical steps I’ve learned that have helped me grow more victorious through the years:

 Ask God for help with your sin

It’s so obvious, and yet, I observe that believers practically live as though God forgave their sin on the cross, but it’s up to them to deal with their failures in this world.  Forgiveness to be dispensed when we see God after we die.  We make a mistake when we believe that God is passive in the pursuit of our spiritual freedoms.  He has no desire to simply leave it to us to overcome what we’ve never overcome in our lives, and never will, by our own strength.

Ephesians 1:15-2:10 teach us that the immeasurable greatness of God’s power, the power that raised Christ from the physically dead, is at work in us to raise us from the spiritually dead.  We don’t have power over sin, but God has all power and intends to use it for our freedom.

The first thing we must do is go to God, be honest with ourselves about our inabilities, and throw ourselves on His mercy.  The entirety of the Gospel declares that He will answer that prayer.

Filter out what reminds you to sin

It’s not a new observation to say that our culture bombards us with temptations large and small.  Still, that doesn’t stop us from allowing things that point us toward sin to become “normal” in our lives.  It’s amazing how much we allow that we would never openly proclaim.  On a deeper level, we recognize that certain things are triggers.  How we agree to let them have prominence in our lives is another question altogether.

Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:22-24 to flee youthful lusts, but to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace.  A better picture of repentance from sin is not found in Scripture, as the command to pursue godliness in replacement of sin is passionately encouraged.

Talk to other Christians about your sin

If there was ever something widely encouraged and yet widely forsaken within the body of Christ in America, this must be it.  A rare few of us have “accountability partners” and others meet with small groups.  Most believers in the west do neither and those that do often struggle with the transparency that is necessary for these groups to be effective.

And that is for good reason.  We gossip.  Especially in the church.  All of us have either been the victim or seen a friend victimized by the rumor mill.  If we are to really see the benefit of being a part of the body when dealing with sin, we are going to have to risk betrayal in order to get to the power that is unleashed when faithful friends gather to intercede on our behalf.

James tells us in his epistle to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16 

When we are weakest, our friends can intercede and ask God for the power that we need.  When we don’t know how to pray, our Father will answer the prayers of others.  This may be the most crucial, least employed weapon against sin we have.

 

Did God call them to do that?

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God CallingWe can claim that the sun is disobedient to God because it neither rises nor sets when we expect, but that is no indictment of either the sun or of God. Our ramblings only reveal the skewed understanding, the idolatry of our hearts, that we believe God and His creation should move as we see fit.

So it is when we say that “God has not called” that person to do as they did, when no Biblical mandate against their actions exist. It is blasphemous to sit in judgment of the motives and actions of others. It screams that we are the “true” judge, whose expectations must be satisfied. There is nothing “true” about it.

The clear hemorrhage in our thinking is the elevation of our own opinions to that of Scriptural authority.  No matter how close we believe we are to God, if we seek to supplant His opinion with our own, we rebel utterly.

4 Ways to Failed Leadership

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This is a true story.

“If the Lord, Jesus Christ, came down out of Heaven to lead these people, it wouldn’t have been good enough,” the Pastor’s wife said to the Student Pastor as he was departing the church a little over a year after his celebrated arrival.

There had been meetings both large and small.  Every time it seemed like things would get worked out.  Communication would be had.  The Pastor guided almost all of them, trying to bridge the gap.  Eventually, he would give up and offer the young minister and his family a lifeline.  He played a little politics, went to the Personnel Committee, and came up with a severance package.

Despite the Pastor’s recognition that some within the Student Ministry simply were not following their leader, he had some frustration with the Student Pastor, too.  He hadn’t always been wise. Sometimes naive. Sometimes temperamental.

But the guy was under so much stress, constantly being undermined and picked apart in ways that no one could withstand.

But then he gave them so much ammunition.

Failed Leadership: A Mixed Bag

Failed leadership is always a mixed bag.  Everyone bears some blame.  Frequently, however, the failure becomes inevitable when some or all of the participants quit listening and refuse to bear any responsibility.

When everyone is still willing to work, to grow, to repent, to try… Well, frankly, leadership success is almost guaranteed, with a slight nod to the unforeseen catastrophe that no one but God could anticipate. If everyone comes to the table with humble and honest hearts, a willingness to work through what is stalling the team, and a passion for the task, how can that team be stopped?

Well a breakdown, of course.  Here are a few things that can derail the team.

Breakdowns

These can be found in either the leader or the team.

  1. A limit.  Someone decides they’ve had enough and are no longer willing to work with the other person or persons.  I have to admit that there is a time to stop, but that is when the other person is no longer trying.  You can still lovingly part ways and be gracious.  If, however, you are the one who gives up while everyone else is trying, then the fault is with you.
  2. A catastrophe.  This would include a moral collapse, but not a mistake, or even a sin repented of, such as an unkind or thoughtless word.  Be careful not to assign “moral failure” to someone who is no less righteous than yourself.
  3. Self righteousness.  Speaking of people no less righteous than yourself, there are no people less righteous than you.  We are all sinners.  All rebellious.  All unrighteous.  When we come to the table with a belief that only the other person is to blame, it is only a matter of time before the gears grind to a halt and repair becomes impossible. They will never live up to the moving standard of slippery perfection set in the mind of the self righteous.  No one can.
  4. Silence. It is not polite nor God honoring to be silent unless you can easily forgive and forget the fault of another. Since this frequently does NOT happen, bringing the issue out, in love and grace, is the only other option afforded the believer. Failure to address the issue will only lead to someone reaching their limit (see #1)

Any other ways that you can think of that would break down a team?

Four reasons to think about Eternity

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I’ve always had a bit of push back within me toward the idea of “pondering Heaven.”  It seemed to me that I had too much work to do here to allow myself to become “so eternally focused to be any earthly good.” Despite the fact that the idea of sitting on a hillside and awaiting the return of Christ has always seemed like lunacy to me, I’ve recently come to embrace the odd moment or two sitting quietly and looking forward to the time when this world is no more and I am at home with God.

The story of how I got from the one place to the other is a long one and the topic for some other time, perhaps. Suffice it to say that as my understanding of the Gospel has broadened, I see the whole picture of God’s redemption more clearly.  Included in that, of course, is the picture of ultimate redemption pointed to throughout Scripture in such images as the Garden of Eden as that which was lost, yet to be redeemed; hope for dry land from within the Ark; the land flowing with milk and honey, as promised to those delivered from slavery; Jesus’ promise that He goes to prepare a place for us; Paul’s assurance that we will see face to face what we now see dimly, as if through a clouded glass; Peter’s urging that we should walk as temporary residents of this world; and God speaking to John in the Revelation (chapter 21) the most clear picture that we will dwell with Him and He with us and all the pains of this world will be, finally, washed away.

This is just a small list of the many references to eternity throughout Scripture. If the Gospel is so full of this thought, it must benefit us to dwell on ultimate redemption once in a while.

Here are four benefits I’ve found to doing so:

1. It lends perspective. When faced with difficulties, we often blow them out of proportion.  It’s a first world habit I’m prone to indulge and, if you are reading this on your internet capable home or office computer,  or even smart phone… you are too. No matter what our problems though, Eternity face to face with Christ causes all of them fade in importance.  Even martyrs throughout the ages testified in their death that the ultimate redemption was enough to see them through.  (This requires that you are prone to find your satisfaction in Christ, of course.)

2. Perspective calms me. Frazzled by a hectic world, recognition that my citizenship is in Heaven helps me to care less about the things that I can not control and are of (come on and let’s be honest, now) lesser importance. They mean less and I worry less.

3. It strengthens my resolve. I am in this world, however, with all of its trials. Big and small, I face them all… but with the knowledge that I have a task to do, and that task has a time limit. I am not free to wait for eternity ignoring all that will spend their eternity apart from the God that promises me such fulfillment.

4. It grants me peace. I know that the God that has authored the narrative of history is not leaving loose ends.  If I can trust Him with my eternity, I can certainly trust Him with my temporality.  Is that a word? It is now. Just coined it.

 

The True Meaning of Love

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A high school classmate of mine (Bellaire, 1985), Greg Stanford, asked me to write an article on the true meaning of love.

The concept of love is such a mess in our world.  It’s hard to get a handle on it.  Teens and even pre-teens fall in and out of “love” while adults tsk tsk their seemingly frivolous relationships, talking about how “love is a commitment.” All the while we burn through divorce lawyers at an alarming rate.

We won’t get much farther in our understanding, either, until we understand that our love and inclination to love is an echo of the God who made us in His image.  When we understand what it means to Him, we will stand a chance at applying it to our world in a meaningful way.

The Bible defines love pretty clearly:

1 John 4:7-12

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [sacrifice of atonement] for our sins. 11 Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is perfected in us.

[sacrifice…] – mine, emphasis – mine

God created everything and made humanity in His image as the centerpiece of creation and we, all of us, turned away from Him. So for God, “Love” is that He pursued us and sacrificed of Himself to redeem us.  That we love God is in response to Him loving us first and demonstrating that to us.  He has wooed us with sacrificial redemption.

Sacrificial redemption. We need to apply that to our relationships and see what happens.

When we sacrifice ourselves in order to redeem others we woo them into a mutual love.  This is the image of God in us.

I know.  You were expecting me to quote 1 Corinthians 13 in discussing the meaning of love.  That passage is great at describing how true love acts.  1 John 4 describes what true love is.

But, so that you aren’t disappointed…  If we seek to redeem through self sacrifice, it should look a lot like this:

1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends.

Listening for the whisper

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A few weeks ago, following a sermon series through the book of James, I preached a sermon called “Elijah, a Man with a nature like ours” as a clarification of James’ claim that we all come from the same stuff and that God might use any of us like He used Elijah, if we were willing. The text was 1 Kings 19:9-18. If that doesn’t ring a bell, and you don’t desire to follow the link and read the Scripture, it is the story of Elijah in the cave, after the showdown with the prophets of Baal.  God told Elijah to go to the mouth of the cave, where Elijah expects to hear from the Lord.  At the mouth of the cave, there is a fierce wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but God did not speak to Elijah in any of those things. Finally, there was a still, small voice and God was in the voice.  Elijah recognized God’s presence, pulled his mantle over his head in a sign of reverence and listened.

Like us, Elijah’s problem, the one God was addressing with this parade of big, empty things, was that he was prone to take off and do something before listening to God.  In the scene before Elijah journeys to the cave, He is seen calling down fire from heaven and calling Israel to the Lord.  The people respond, reject and kill the prophets of Baal and turn to the God they had only heard did great things like this.  The main difference in the journey toward the showdown and the journey to the cave is that God had sent Elijah to former, but Elijah took the latter on himself.

Imagine a life of constant communion with God, but where God only speaks through enormous actions.  Your average day would be fraught with near misses and calamities on every side.  That’s not what God desires and the scene at the mouth of the cave was a teaching moment to Elijah.  Remember, the first words from God in Verse 10? “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  As in, who told you to do this?  Not me… Must’ve been you.

Here are 5 things that can help us to live lives that are increasingly attentive to the still, small voice.  Lives that are more powerfully used by God.

1.  Stop inundating ourselves with meaningless media.  God has to use big things to cut through the blare of white noise that are our lives.  Technology is not evil. Media is not evil.  Giving massive amounts of our time and attention to both train us to listen carefully to them, ignoring more important things, like the Holy Spirit.

2. Spend earnest time tending to our hearts.  Spiritual Disciplines, Prayer, Scripture Memory, Bible Study, and honest Introspection are necessary to the heart of the growing believer.  We don’t have to prove anything to God.  This is not a burden to carry.  If we want the joy of a deeply personal walk in connection with the Holy Spirit, though, we will pursue God.

3. Be obedient. If God speaks, don’t say no.  Why is God going to continue to speak to a heart that is periodically being hardened?  He is not going to reinforce bad behavior. If we have a point of known disobedience, we must immediately go back and make it right.  If He says go, we must go.

4. Crucify the flesh.  We are constantly tempted away from a life of obedience to God.  Victory is not dependent on us, but on Christ. Nevertheless, our acceptance of Grace is participation in the Crucifixion of the flesh and is formed in obedient cooperation when the Spirit points out what must be pruned.  “The fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faith, Gentleness, Self Control.  Against such things there is no law.  Now the one who belongs to Christ has crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we walk by the Spirit, we must follow the Spirit.  We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5:22-24.

5. Meditate.  Spend time being still and quiet.  Our world works against this at every turn.  If cutting down on media is the first step, this is the last.  This would be other side of the coin, so to speak.  I’ve learned how to do this a bit in the last year.  It is a powerful thing to still your thoughts and simply focus them on God.

A few thoughts on the busy-ness of life and our relationship with God

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I can go no further down the road of my responsibilities without stopping to spend time in prayer and meditation.  God has been faithful to me.  I must be dependent on Him.

I find that when I am not making myself depend on Him that He is making me depend on Him.  The latter is the more painful of the two that bring me to the same place.

And all things depend on Him.  He is trustworthy.  I can only live well in this life when I conform to this truth.

I waste time when I spend it on “responsibilities” to the detriment of time in prayer and meditation on God’s Word.  When the shallow consumes the eternal, there is little hope of joy or any spiritual success.

I am best able to handle everything the more I am conformed to the image of Christ.

In all things and in all ways I must pursue the image of Christ being revealed in me.

Grace: Why I am grateful for the hard Grace I’ve received

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Grace is not just the soft comfort of God loving the broken.  That is a part of Grace, but not the whole of it.  Grace is also God denying us those things that we chase that are not Him.

Grace is God pursuing us in redemption to establish that relationship with Him for which He longs and for which we were created.

But the brokenness of us is often pursuing cheap substitutes.  We crave satisfaction but are only briefly numbed by infatuation with one relationship after another, chemical distortion of drugs and alcohol, sexual exploits that mock true intimacy, money and possessions that trick us into thinking that we are valuable or important or even cared for by those around us who really just want our stuff.

But God is gracious and will, in His mercy toward us, kill that cheap thing and rip it from our clutching hands so that we will realize the shallow nature of that which we’ve worshiped.  He does it so that we will turn to Him and find what we really need.  We find what will actually satisfy and in which we will find ourselves complete.

We find Him.

I have always been moved by the love and acceptance of others.  There are many reasons why, but for now let us just say that need for approval is just the way I’m broken. It numbed me, temporarily, to the reality that I was a mess.  I felt good about myself, for a minute.

So last year I found myself in the process of having that idol crushed and torn away.  When acceptance and adoration of others is your idol, the way God kills it, at least in my case, is public contempt by others.  A year ago, I faced several public meetings where people I cared about assaulted my character, my skills and my value.

The good news is that, though some of those relationships remain wounded, others were restored and our church experienced healing, unity and peace during this year.

The best news is that in God taking from me what I should not have worshiped, He replaced it with Himself.  In that, I have found myself in the greatest time of growth and peace in my walk with Him.  I’ve never been more close to Him than I am.  I’ve never loved Him more. I’ve never been more sure of His love for me.  I’ve never needed public adulation less.

And I owe it all to the hard Grace of public ridicule.  Thank God for His Grace.

To someone considering the ministry…

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I’ve had a few people I’ve known consider going into the ministry at one point in time or another.  A few things to consider as you discern your path.

  • Obviously, be convinced God is leading you to this.  I’ve known people in ministry that God never called there, but they thought it would make a good career.  Aside from the bumps and bruises that you might avoid not being where you should be, you will actually be in the way of God’s work, since you will be attempting what you are doing on your own.
  • If you are able to lay out a plan for higher education, get an undergraduate degree in something other than theology, ministry, Christian education, etc.  You can get your theological training in Seminary afterward and then you will be very broad in your knowledge and abilities.  It might come in handy one day when you are called to a mission filed, bi-vocational ministry or even if you are fired from your church.  Hey, it happens.  A lot.
  • Tend to your personal spiritual growth.  Education is important, but it is no substitute for a deep walk with God.  Leadership of the Holy Spirit means more than your IQ ever will.
  • Develop organizational skills.  You have to be organized to lead.
  • Develop personal relationship skills.  You have to love people to lead.
  • Develop thick skin.  You will be critiqued (fairly and unfairly) when you lead.
  • Be the example.  You can’t ask others to do what you aren’t doing in giving, service, passion, discipleship, positive talk or friendship.
  • Don’t let your failures get to you.  You will make mistakes and you will not be the shining example you want to be.  Confess and do better.  This is called growth.
  • Don’t let people hold you or your family to unreasonable standards of perfection.  They aren’t the Judge. (But don’t take that whole, “Only God can judge me” thing as a license to be an idiot.)

Other thoughts?

Tulsa’s Christmas… er… Holiday Parade

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The city of Tulsa has had a “Christmas Parade” downtown for about 70 years, put on privately.  Originally it was moved to downtown to attract business, or so I’ve been told.

Last year, the organizers changed the name to the “Holiday Parade” to be more inclusive.  I don’t remember a flap about it then, but we have one now. The publicity seemed to have taken off when Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe declined to participate as a form of protest over the name change. Since then, the situation has been mentioned by Conan O’Brian, John Stewart and Bill O’Reilly.  And by a few locals who have felt compelled to address the issue.

Earlier this week, the City Council approved the parade permit amidst a torrent of discussion.  The Tulsa World carries the story here.  You might also be interested in some of the other articles, including letters to the editor concerning the situation.

While I am obviously a Christian and not a participant in anything else the organizers are trying to include… my primary concern is with the behavior of people who have reacted negatively toward the move.

More specifically, I don’t think people calling themselves Christians should sin in defense of, well, of anything, much less the defense of a parade’s name.

If you don’t agree with the parade organizers, then you are free to say so.  If you don’t want to participate, then you are free to do something else with your time.

What you are not free to do is incriminate the Name of Christ by doing what He would not.  Be careful with your words.  People are listening.  Jesus said it is not what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him, but what comes out.

Example:  I have a friend, a Christian, who works in a local business participating in the parade.  After the City Council meeting where the debate and subsequent permit approval vote was held, a woman attempting to represent Christ called the business where my friend works and berated him over this issue for ten minutes.  When he got off the phone, his coworkers told him that it was because of that kind of stuff that they didn’t want anything to do with being a Christian.

Bottom line:  Take every stand you feel you should, but do so in a way that Christ would, or have you to do so.

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