Thursday, March 26, 2009

“We don’t need water” - Assuming God’s Great Grace

I happened to be present when a husband and wife were discussing where to locate their first garden in many years. The wife wanted it closer to the well so it would be easy to water. The husband had other thoughts; “we don’t need water” he proclaimed with a sense of superiority and disdain.

I am a product of these black land prairies of Western Minnesota. The soil runs deep and dark and it’s good soil. We raise sugar beets, edible peas, sweet corn, edible beans, corn wheat, oats, alfalfa and soybeans among other things. God has been good to us. Not only has He given us great land, but has usually given us abundant rain also. God has been good to Southwest and West Central Minnesota but we have a major league chip on our shoulder. It is this, we expect God to give us rain. God has always given us rain and he always will; it is a prevalent attitude on the prairie. As a matter of fact, in some ways we feel “God owes us.” Forgive us, Lord.

Why were the husband and wife planning their first garden in years? It is because they anticipate economic hard times. Recently on the news I heard that vegetable seed sales are up 20-30% across the nation. If we are expecting hard times, we’d better be on our face asking God for forgiveness rather than arrogantly assuming God will “give us rain, as usual.” In times past, God has taught nations a thing or two by not sending rain. It is dangerous when we assume “He wouldn’t dare do it to us.”

In Job 37:5-13 it says: “God's voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding. 6 He says to the snow, 'Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, 'Be a mighty downpour.' 7 So that all men he has made may know his work, he stops every man from his labor. 8 The animals take cover; they remain in their dens. 9 The tempest comes out from its chamber, the cold from the driving winds. 10 The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen. 11 He loads the clouds with moisture; he scatters his lightning through them. 12 At his direction they swirl around over the face of the whole earth to do whatever he commands them. 13 He brings the clouds to punish men, or to water his earth and show his love.”

Notice what God says in verse 11 through 13. God controls the direction of storms “to do whatever He commands them”!! He brings clouds to punish men and to water His earth and show His love.

God has been and IS good to us (He has shown us His love) but when we assume He will always send the rain, we can be in trouble. What arrogance on our part to assume God owes us anything. God help us. May we always be grateful for all things great and small. Amen

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hiding behind our “glittering images”

I’m pigeon toed. I remember when I was young my Mom said to me, “Quit walking pigeon toed.” I guess she hadn’t noticed before. That night in bed I wondered why my Mom would think I would walk pigeon toed on purpose. She may not have noticed, but my brother and sisters and the kids at school had noticed for quite awhile.

I’m 61 years old and I’m still pigeon toed. I am also overweight; I have thin graying hair among other things. My question is this: What do people see when they see us? Do they see all our physical flaws or do they see our smile: Do they make assessment of our spirit and heart?

Today in our culture we go to great lengths to preserve the perceived “glittering image” of ourselves. We color our hair, wear body shapers, and get “uplift” surgeries for a number of different things in order to preserve our diminishing “glittering image”.

When we protect our “glittering image” what else might we be hiding? Self-deception is a cruel master. We may want to look good to impress others but in the process do we impress or deceive ourselves? When we practice self-deception, our conscience beckons us to be real, we squirm uncomfortably in our glittering wrappings hoping to impress one more time.

I think the kids I grew up with who are still my friends don’t even notice that I’m pigeon toed. We accept one another with all our flaws included. Should anyone think less of us because we have some physical flaw? I think not but some people do notice these things.

“Glittering images” can become dangerous when we need them to get through each day. We become tired when we run from one meeting, one relationship to another with the continual need to impress or even deceive. I do not advocate being a complete lout who never combs his hair or cleans up but some men and women have become very rich helping other people keep up their glittering images but how much “glittering” is enough? This current and upcoming recession may answer these questions for us. When the money is all gone and we can no longer impress with all the “glittering”, the decision will have been made for us.

I’m glad God is not impressed with “glittering images.” In Samuel – choice of David as King (I Samuel 16:7: "But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

I Cor. 1:26-31: "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."]

The good news is this—God’s in the transformation business. He is the expert on personal makeovers. Paul says in I Timothy 1:15-17: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 17Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

I may not be what I should be but praise God I’m not what I once was. God uses the willing, not the qualified. God alone transforms; I still walk pigeon toed and God doesn’t care how I walk as long as I walk with him.

If your spirit is suffering today, if you feel stupid, foolish, weak, lowly and despised, lift up your head. God uses forgiven people like you and me to change the world and through us displays His unlimited patience. Oh, thank you, Jesus, thank you. Amen.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wake up American church… or is it too late

In a week with a church shooting in Marysville, Illinois killing 3 people; a shooting rampage in three small Alabama towns killing 12; we stand and scratch our heads and ask why.

This week Michael Spencer wrote an article in The Christian Science Monitor entitled” The Coming Evangelical Collapse,” it says in part:
“The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.”

“We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures.”
(And may I add, not just young people but most Christians are in the same predicament. )

I ask, “Is the evangelical church going to collapse or is it already gone? ”

In Ezekiel 34 God addresses shepherds (church pastors and leaders—elders, deacons, board members, youth leaders, etc.) and sheep (us or them depending on your perspective). God accused the leaders of the following in Ezekiel 34:1-16:

1) Taking care of themselves not the flock (v.2)
2) Not strengthening the weak (v.4)
3) Not healing the sick (v.4)
4) Not binding up the injured (v.4)
5) Not bringing back the strays (those who left the church for whatever reason) (v.4)
6) Not searching for the lost (v.4)
7) Ruling harshly and brutally (v.4)

Because of Shepherds lack of Godly leadership, the sheep (God’s disciples) have “become food for wild animals;” the world has consumed them and used them and threw them away like last week’s magazine. The sheep were scattered and no one bothered to get off their duff and search for them (1960-2009).

The Shepherds (v. 8) cared for themselves rather than “my flock” (VIP parking and a sense of privilege and exaltation exhibited in some of our leaders). The Lord says, “I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock.” The consequences for the shepherds (v.10): They will be removed from tending the flock and they won’t be able to feed themselves. As I see it, the Lord is through playing games with us pastors and church leaders. God forgive us and help us. Amen

The Lord does not need our help; He chooses to use us. If we do not lead, He will do the following (according to Ezekiel 34)
1) Search for the lost Himself (v. 11)
2) He will look after them (v. 11)
3) “I will rescue them” (v.12)
4) “I will bring them in” (v.13)
5) “I will gather them” (v.13)
6) “I will pasture them” (feed us physically and spiritually) (v.13)
7) He will tend His people (He will do what he promised) v.14
8) He will again search for the lost (v.16)
9) He will bring back the strays (He will go into the world and find the lost, lonely, abused, and forgotten)
10) “I will bind up the injured” v. 16 (the drug user, the abused, the old, the young, the lost sheep)
11) God will strengthen the weak (v.16)

BUT “The sleek” (the slick and creepy ) “and the strong, I will destroy” - v.16 (His words, not mine).
Wake up American Church. Wake up.
And He ends v. 16 with this, “I shepherd the flock with justice.”
Thank you, Jesus; come quickly Lord Jesus. Save us from sin. Amen

Ezekiel 34:1-16: 1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.
7 " 'Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD : 8 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9 therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD : 10 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.
11 " 'For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The McNuggets-less Woman

I thought it was a joke. The headline on my computer news block said, “Woman calls 911 three times when told McDonalds was out of McNuggets.” It was no joke; this actually happened.

The McDonalds was out of McNuggets so it offered her an alternative and she said she didn’t want a McDouble—whatever that is.

If we as a nation need to call 911 when we can’t get our McNuggets, I don’t want to be around when the food shelves go empty or raging inflation drives food prices so high the average person will not be able to afford the food.

In our business we are beginning to see our customers (clients and/or tenants) getting into problems. Rent collections are becoming harder. As I see it, hard times are ahead and we are losing our head. Not only “the McNuggets-less woman” but others are reeling and bounding off the wall. We live in a society with an entitlement mentality whether it is McNuggets or not paying my home mortgage.

A close associate told me that five houses on his street in suburban Minneapolis are in foreclosure. Some people are not paying their home mortgage because they hear of other people essentially being bailed out. One party made a deal with the bank to pay $1200 less a month than they were currently paying (after not paying their mortgage for seven months). In addition, they were told they could stay living in the house. What a deal! The associate told me, “I must be stupid for paying my mortgage on time.” The attitude of entitlement says, if someone else gets a perceived free ride so should I. What has happened to our integrity?

Listen, the God of the ages will honor honesty and integrity and doing our best to fulfill our obligations. Don’t become disheartened because your neighbor’s financial malfeasance (the doing of an act which a person ought not to do; evil conduct; an illegal deed) “seems” to be working in his favor for now. Yes, times have changed but God’s laws are eternal and reign supreme and do not change.

Matthew 22:36-40: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Deuteronomy 30:5, 19-20: “He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers.” “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

1 John 2:4-6: "The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”

Walk on in Christ Jesus, brothers and sisters; walk on in Christ Jesus. Amen