Tuesday, December 8, 2015

I Met The Good Samaritan Today...

If you grew up in church, then it is probably one of those stories that you heard many times.  The story of the Good Samaritan.  Have you have forgotten?  Well, let me refresh your memory.  In Luke chapter 10, Jesus tells a story about a man who was beaten, robbed, and left beside the road for dead.  People passed by, but for whatever reason (some of them for "religious reasons") none stopped to render aid to the beaten man.  Until one person, a Samaritan (who were not liked by the Israelites), stopped... rendered aid, and then took the man to an inn where he could recover, and paid for that as well.  Awesome story of compassion and Godly behavior.
Fast forward to today.  On my way to work, I was sitting at a VERY busy intersection, when my car just shut down.  Gas gauge said I still had 1/8 of a tank, but try as I may... the engine would not start.  I sat there with my flashers on, people honking...getting frustrated because I was holding up traffic.  I prayed, but it just would not start.  About 10 yards in front of me was a turn-in to an office building.  Oddly enough, I checked my mirror and there was no traffic in the lane next to me.  I got out and began to push my car by myself.  I just wanted to get it out of that traffic.  People just watched as I did it.  I did okay until I got turned into the parking lot.  I was able to barely get it out of traffic, but due to the incline of the parking lot, I could not push any further.  Cue police officer #1 that drove right past me... didn't stop.  I had several people drive around me in the parking lot (people, aka men strong enough to help) but only glanced at me because of the annoyance of having to get by my car.  Even had another Constable drive by without stopping to check on me.  (Please note:  This has not been my normal experience with the police in Austin...  they are usually top-notch.  I believe God was allowing that to happen to teach me the following...)

Then, out of nowhere, a man in a small car pulls up.  He pulls past me and into a parking space, but I can tell he's coming to help.  Now, I want to preface this next part...  If you know me at all, you know that I am not a racist person in the least, so I do not want this to come off as a slight to this man whatsoever.  The man who stopped to help was a very pleasant African-American man.  Given all of the race issues that have been going on in the country lately, I would not have blamed him for passing up some random white dude on the side of the road.  However, he chose to ignore all that nonsense and come to the aid of someone in need.  We were able to get it far enough into the parking lot that I could wait for some assistance from one of the guys at work (big thank you to John Alvis!).  He was on his way to an appointment, so I assured him I was taken care of, thanked him profusely, and he went on to his appointment.

I did not get his name.  I cannot send him a "thank you" card.  However, God spoke to me through that man today.  That man, like the actual Samaritan in the Bible story, looked past any perceptions of me, and came to my aid.  Today, I met the Good Samaritan in the flesh.  I do not know whether he is a follower of Christ, or not... but he was an answer to prayers, and the encouragement from the Lord that I needed in that situation.

God has challenged me with this.  Do I do enough to help those in need?  Am I willing to change my schedule, or get out of my comfort zone to be Jesus to people in my every day life?  God continues to show me that this is the reason for the church... it's not about buildings, numbers, or social media... it's about being the hands and feet of Jesus to people... One At A Time.  How can God use you like this today?

And yes...  I did fill my car up with gas immediately... ;)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Simple Poem

Lord I need your help today
for trials and stress have come my way

Though all around me falls apart
Your peace and kindness still my heart

To wait on You may seem absurd
But Your voice will guide me, through Your Word

I ask for peace only you can give
So You are shown by the way I live

And though it seems I have no choice
I choose to listen to Your voice

The sea may rage and toil and toss
But I know the power of the Cross

You’ve hidden me inside Your care
The hope of Jesus is mine to share

I pray that others may come to know
The healing power that you bestow.

                                  --Steve Cloud

Sunday, November 15, 2015

People May Give Up On You... but God Never Will.

It has been a while since I talked about my struggle with depression and anxiety.  I try not to talk about it too much, as I do not want to be completely defined by it.  However, to ignore the problem, or act as if it does not exist would not be beneficial in the on-going healing that needs to take place in my life, and presumably, the lives of some of you that are reading this.

Since being officially diagnosed with anxiety and depression a couple of years ago, I have learned a lot about myself.  Through the aid of a Godly counselor, I have been able to see that this has been a long-term thing that I have dealt with in some way for most of my life.  Growing up, I did not fully understand that it was actually something definable... I just thought it was a part of life.  I mean, doesn't everybody struggle with bouts of extreme loneliness, intense apprehension/anxiety, even to the point that it makes you feel physically ill?  Sarcasm aside, I had simply tried to shove the problem into a corner, pretend I was okay, etc.  As I have talked about before, that only lasts for so long.  Eventually, the dam will break, and we have to face this condition head-on.

Over the past couple of years, I have tried to figure out the best form of treatment that actually works for me.  Obviously, trying to get good sleep, eating right, and exercise play a part in that, but one of the hardest things to do was to take some form of medication to try and curb the effects of it all.  Some meds made me feel weird, not like myself, or had other strange side effects.  After trying a couple of different meds, I decided (with the help of my doctor) to try and take a specific medication only in instances where I felt severe bouts of anxiety coming on.  This tool helped me as my counselor and I explored how I processed things, and how I could learn to deal with what life brings with it.  Obviously a slow process, but I could certainly see some improvement overall, especially during that first year.

During the second year, I have faced some serious set-backs in several key areas.  You see, my depression is triggered by situational stresses that come my way.  I can usually see them coming, but sometimes life situations can blind side you.  I have talked about the death of my friend David last year, due to cancer.  Very difficult, as Dave was a guy that believed in me, and reminded me of it often.  He was a BIG proponent of me sharing my story, as he thought it would be helpful to many out there.  I pray he was right, and I believe that he was.  I have had many conversations with people in person, and on the web about anxiety and depression, and I am always in awe of how God could use some simple words on a blog page to help people.  

One of my greatest fears in talking about and dealing with my anxiety/depression is that people will treat me differently, or give up on me because it is such a complex, long-term healing process.  I think that is why so many that struggle with this condition try to keep it under wraps.  The look in some people's eyes when they find out, the casual avoidance of anything related to the subject, etc., are all things that I would rather avoid.  I understand why people feel this way, but as believers in Christ, I just assume that there will be a deeper level of understanding among fellow Christians when it comes to this topic.  Sadly, that is not always the case.

Over this past year, I had two key people give up and walk away from me.  I cannot begin to tell you the pain and sense of loss this has brought about in my life.  Both sent me into a spiral of emotions that I simply could not crawl out of.  I gained a bit of weight, became much more prone to depression, and began to feel myself crawling back into the shell that I had crawled out of 2 years ago.  One person (a pastor) was simply tired of dealing with it all.  Sad, but true.  I have admittedly been a bit of an internal wreck over the summer months, but managed to keep most of it below the surface... until recently.

Due to some life circumstances and knowing that my job would soon be ending in Austin, my stress level has been through the roof over the past 6 months.  One Friday morning, about three weeks ago, I dropped my daughter off at the high school and headed back home.  I could feel it coming on, but thought I could control it, given a bit of time.  However, once I got home, a massive wave of anxiety, uncertainty, and fear swept over me.  It was the first full-on anxiety attack I had experienced in 2 years.  It lasted for a short while that day, and Amy and I decided that it was time to go back to meet with our family doctor.

I called the doctor that morning, and rarely can I ever get into see our doctor on a Friday.  Oddly enough, he had an opening that afternoon, and I went to see him.  I told him about where I was, and he suggested a few things.  We talked it over, and decided to try some regular, every day-type medication.  As much as I had resisted taking meds everyday, I decided to give it a go.  That was about 3 weeks ago.  Praise the Lord, it has helped out quite a bit.  While still a struggle, the medication helps even out my emotions, and really helps me relax... which is something I had almost forgotten how to do.  So thankful for Godly doctors, and medications that work!

I will say that there has been a positive side to this struggle, though.  These days of struggle often drive me to my knees in prayer.  When your strength is gone, the power of God is the only thing you have to rely upon.  But the greatest thing is that in my time spent crying out to God, He has helped me focus my prayer attention away from myself, and begin to pray for others that are also in the midst of struggles...  They are struggling with their marriage, with money, with their job, with rebellious children, etc.  My time spent awake in the middle of the night is often filled with the names and faces of brothers and sisters in turmoil.  In fact Amy and I probably pray together now more than ever. She and my girls have been amazing. 

In the midst of it all, I can still hear the Lord telling me that He will never leave me or forsake me.  That promise is one that I stand on frequently, and pray for others, as well.  Right now, there is much uncertainty in my future.  I do not know what God is up to, but He continually reminds me that I need to just let go, and let Him lead... even when it doesn't make sense.  I can confidently say that the Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer.  People may give up on us, but God never does.  That, my friends, makes life worth living!

I share all of this, as I want others to know that they are not alone, especially during dark times in life.  I don't want you to pity me in any way.  I pray that each of you reading this will experience the love and grace that Jesus offers.  He really means it when He says that he will not leave us or forsake us!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Man, A Movie, And a Million People... The Story Behind Holy Cross Movie Ministries

So you tell me that you do not see how God could ever you to share the message of Jesus with the world.  You do not have the ability to speak in front of people, you're too busy, you're too old?  If you will allow me a few minutes, I would like to share a story with you about a good friend of mine named Dub Hays.

I spent many years ministering at First Baptist Church of Clovis, NM.  One of our members, an older gentleman that went by the name "Dub" (his actual name is William), was a very faithful member.  In fact, he loved Bible study so much that he often went to an early service at another church before coming to our service each Sunday.  I always found that amazing.  I did not know him well, but always enjoyed talking with him at church.  He was a friendly, hard working man that I assumed had spent his life in, and around Clovis.  After all, you do not just move to a place like Clovis when you are 70 years old...  you had to have ties there.

One day, Dub came into my office at the church.  I could tell something was on his mind, so as we sat down to talk, I had no idea what to expect.  Dub began to share his story with me.  He had spent most of his adult life moving all over the world, in mining operations, construction jobs, and more.  Had made a lot of money, lost it all and re-started... over and over in a seemingly endless cycle. I was amazed to hear the places he had been!

He then began to tell me about his time in the country of Liberia, during the 1990's.  Liberia has been a very unstable country for many years, but Dub lived there and ran a diamond mining operation.  He was there when a brutal revolution started during the 90's.  He told me of his capture by rebel forces, and that he assumed he would be killed.  To his surprise, the rebels released him... due to the fact that he had treated many of them fairly when they worked for his mining operation.  Two Catholic nuns were able to get Dub out of the country, after which he returned to the USA.  In the years following his return home, he gave his life to Jesus.  God began to turn his heart away from his own wants and needs, and focus it on others.  His life truly began to change.

His eyes began to fill with tears as he shared with me that he knew God was calling him to go back to Liberia to tell the people there about Jesus.  However, Dub did not know exactly how to do that.  For starters, Dub was not young.  He was in his late 60's (I'm guessing here, didn't ask) when he came to see me.  He also was not a public speaker, nor did he have any formal training to teach.  However, he did have an idea...

That year, the movie "The Passion of the Christ" had been released in theaters, and was a powerful picture of what Jesus had done for us.  What if he could somehow show that movie to the people there?  Could he partner with local pastors in Liberia to show this movie?  What would that look like?  Keep in mind that the places he was talking about were deep in the bush, and many did not have much electricity.  VERY poor and destitute areas, for sure.

He came to me because he knew of my knowledge and "expertise" in sound/video systems.  During that meeting, a plan began to take shape.  What if we built a system that was portable, and could easily be set up to play this movie in any location?  We designed a system with a 9 x 12 ft. screen, sound system, and projector that could be packed up and transported in 3 Jeep-type vehicles, and run off of a generator.  We ordered the components, and tested the system at a couple of in-town events just to work out any kinks before Dub headed overseas.  Then, he packed it all up, along with 3 old SUVs, cases of Bibles, clothing, and small toys (which was nearly all donated by local churches) in a shipping container, and headed for Liberia.

During his first months in Liberia, I heard from Dub when he could find internet access, and once in a great while, he would call me.  He, along with a group of Liberians, showed the movie over 50 times.  Once, Dub sent me a picture of over 3000 men, women, and children STANDING IN THE RAIN to watch the movie.  During that first trip, just over 20,000 people prayed to receive Christ!  Dub stayed until his money ran out, and then he came back to New Mexico.

Upon his return, we met and talked about changes that we could make in the movie system, local church follow-up in Liberia, and much more.  This became a familiar routine as Dub came home to work, save money, and gather support from local churches so that he could go back.  His passion for the people there is amazing!

Over the past 10 years, Dub has been back to Liberia three more times since that first trip, and is now gearing up for his fifth trip.  He has battled malaria, equipment problems due to unstable electricity, vehicle malfunctions, financial issues, you name it!  However, he has shipped 10 full-sized shipping containers of clothing, Bibles, vehicles (because he nearly wears them out each time), toys and more to give to the people that he ministers to.  His ministry has now shown "The Passion of the Christ" 409 times to over 1,000,000 people, most of whom live deep within the jungles and back-country in Liberia.  Over 61,000 adults have prayed to receive Christ (each of their names have been recorded by hand for follow-up) and well over 60,000 children.  Here is a picture of Dub with some of those kids.

Dub is now gearing up for his fifth trip to Liberia.  Ebola is still a problem there, but he still feels very strongly that God wants him to go back.  Please pray for Dub, and his ministry that he calls "Holy Cross Movie Ministries."  If you would like to know a bit more about the ministry, their website is:  

Dub still shakes his head in disbelief about how the whole thing has unfolded.  God took a man that was willing to be obedient, and allowed him to be a part of some amazing ministry.  How is God asking you to be obedient?  God may be calling you to another place, or He may be calling you to be His hands and feet right where you live.  Will you be obedient?

Here is a picture of the convoy in one of Dub's latest trips.  It has grown a bit since that first trip!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Abandoning of Youth/Children in Ministry

I recently read an article about the changing viewpoints of young Christians in America, and the effect that it is beginning to have on churches across the country.  It is one of the best written, and insightful articles on the current state of young adults in the American church.  Here is a link to that article:

The problems that we are facing as church leaders are many, but I believe that there is one key issue here that is at the heart of it all.  That is the Abandoning of Youth and Children in ministry.

Now, some of you may be scratching your heads thinking, "We invest a ton of money in our youth/kids programs, and have large facilities and staff dedicated to running it all...  I guess we can be exempted from this discussion?"  Absolutely not...  And I might add that this could be the very heart of the problem.

Churches in America, especially churches in the southern part of the United States, have fallen into the "If you build it, they will come" trap.  Don't believe me?  Drive around and look at the churches near you.  Multi-million dollar facilities that could easily double as a university theater department, mega-complexes with gyms, workout facilities, ball fields, laser and LED light shows, smoke machines, and the list goes on.  We employ (meaning pay) people to play instruments, run lighting/sound, and set up the vast technical a/v show that has become our weekly worship service.  We run sports leagues in our churches, even schools and daycare centers.  We do all of this under the banner of what we call "Ministry" and then sit back and wonder why things are as they are described in the above mentioned article.

You see, the problem is not simply doing all of the things I just mentioned.  There is nothing wrong with having a nice building, running programs, or even having a nice A/V presentation.  To really see the issues here, you have to look a bit deeper.

The problem is that we as churches have been working so hard to become all things to all people that we have let the church become a product.  We advertise it, tweak it, and try to sell it in the same way that advertising agencies and soap companies try to sell us shampoo.  Nearly every time I purchase a bottle of shampoo, the label has been changed, and the term "New Look" is printed on a banner at the top.  Why is that?  It is because marketing gurus have decided that we humans are too dumb to realize that we like a product for what it is, and that our buying decisions are solely dependent on what we see at the moment of purchase.  Sadly, we in church leadership have taken the same approach to how we lead churches.  Constant updating of websites to be more current, constant changes in programming and even in the worship service each week.  Spending the vast majority of the man-hours of church employees to produce a 1 or 2 hour production each week that we title a "Worship Service."  Friends, this is simply NOT working.

In our quest to be the next Willow Creek, Saddleback, or North Point, it is entirely possible that we have put the methods before the ministry.  Don't believe me?  Sit down with a group of teenagers or children and begin to ask them basic questions about doctrine, theology, or the Bible.  You will be surprised by the answers that you get.  Our children have grown up without something that many of us Gen-Xers did not...  a solid Biblical foundation.

THIS is where the abandoning of Youth/Children's Ministry has occurred.  We may have large numbers in the seats, enrolled in programs, and wearing our t-shirts, but we have failed at the very thing that Jesus tasked us with in Matthew 28:19-20

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to open everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

We have become so focused on the "how," that we have forgotten the "why" in ministry.  We are supposed to be forming disciples (or followers) of Jesus, which should be vastly more important than acquiring followers on social media.

Fellow pastors and lay-leaders, we need to take a hard look at the way we do ministry.  Are we investing in the lives of of young people in order to help them become grounded in the Christian faith, or are we just wanting to be the largest group in town?  Are the people in our churches growing deep in their relationship with the Lord, or just checking off the church box each week?  Changes probably need to be made in how we all do ministry.

We can no longer afford to be castle builders...  We need to be Kingdom builders.  It is time to get back to teaching our children and youth the Bible, and what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  We then need to teach them how to help others grow in their faith.  Paul talks about this in 2 Timothy 2:2,

 "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others."

Studies have shown that most people that choose to follow Christ do so before they turn 18.  Instead of throwing money and activities at our young people, we need to invest in quality leaders that will guide them into mature faith and knowledge of the Scripture.  Programs are fine, facilities are fine, but if we do not show them how to keep "The Main Thing... The Main Thing," then we are abandoning our responsibility to our younger generations.  May God make a change in us all!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Great Unknown

Recently, we were with our youth ministry at youth camp out in east Texas.  On a couple of nights, the worship band played a song that I hear a lot... In fact, to say that the song "Oceans (Where My Feet May Fall)" is well known would be an understatement.  Beautiful melodies, soaring vocals and powerful music make this song easy to sing, and easy to get swept up in.  However, I believe it is the lyrics of "Oceans" that strike a chord with so many.  Here's the first two verses:

Verse 1
     You call me out upon the waters
     The great unknown where feet may fail
     And there I find You in the mystery
     In oceans deep
     My faith will stand

     Verse 2:

     Your grace abounds in deepest waters
     Your sovereign hand
     Will be my guide
     Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
     You've never failed and You won't start now

The imagery of this song is very strong.  Even if you have not personally experienced the power and size of an ocean, pictures like the one above bring life to these words.  When we embark on this life journey of following Jesus, we find that God has indeed called each of us to a task that can seem as vast and daunting as an ocean.  Still don't get the picture?  Watch a couple episodes of "Deadliest Catch" and you'll understand just how unrelenting and dangerous the ocean can be.  

Life, particularly in vocational ministry, can feel like sailing on the open seas.  It can be thrilling, epically rewarding, and amazing.  However, this life also has more than it's fair share of storms to weather.  Like the picture above, the wave that is about to hit you is the one that holds your attention.  Sometimes the waves are small, but more often than not, you can find yourself being rocked, blasted, and tossed about.  Fear is an obvious companion of storms.  Fear of being left alone, fear of failure, fear of being overtaken by life that seems to be unrelenting.  Even if you know that storms always have an end, it is hard to remember that fact when you are in a fight for your life... trying to desperately keep your head above water.  The chorus of "Oceans" is such a good reminder of where my thoughts really need to be:

    So I will call upon Your name
     And keep my eyes above the waves

     When oceans rise
     My soul will rest in Your embrace
     For I am Yours and You are mine

I have been in ministry long enough to encounter many storms.  I am currently in a storm right now that feels like it has more power than I could ever hope to overcome.  The oceans rise, the world reels back and forth, and the very ground under my feet feels unstable.  However, I have to remember to keep my eyes focused on the One that has the power over even the waves of the actual ocean.  This story in Matthew is exactly what I'm talking about:

"Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”  He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.  The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”" -- Matthew 8:24-27

As followers of Jesus, we have to look towards where He is leading us, not just where we are at this present moment.  We must remember that Jesus is not surprised when we are thrust into an emergency, health crisis, impossibly hard church situation, time of depression, loss of friends, etc.  He is right there with us in the midst of it all, whispering to us in the chaos, and shouting to us in the silence... "I've got you...  I'll never leave or forsake you..."  We must call upon His name, we must rest in His presence...  And we must stay at the wheel of our ship, even when we feel like we are out of control, or entering treacherous and uncharted waters.  We are reminded of this in Hebrews 12:1b-2:

"Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne." 

"Oceans" adds these words towards the end of the song:
   Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
     Let me walk upon the waters
     Wherever You would call me
     Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
     And my faith will be made stronger
     In the presence of my Savior
     Oh, Jesus, you're my God!
I know many of you are in the midst of storms right now.  Many of our ministry friends are in the fight of their lives right now.  I personally believe that Satan is in an all out war on churches right now, and is doing his best to destroy all that the Lord has planned for us.  I also know that this is not just a problem that ministers deal with.  Storms affect us all.  If you are in the midst of a storm, I pray that you will truly be able to pray for God to strengthen your faith, and take you to new heights in your relationship with Christ as you battle the storms.  May you find rest, comfort, and strength through Jesus.  Keep your feet about you... you are not alone.  May God lead us as we forge ahead into the great unknown!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Stop Apologizing for Who You Are... Unless You NEED To.

I sit and listen as the news, social media, and Christians talk about how our world is "Going to Hell," and that our world will "never be the same."  I read the stories about the supreme court, capital hill, disrespect of people/flags/rights, and horrific news about people being sold for sexual purposes/body parts/political gain, and the list goes on.  Even as a minister of the Gospel, I find myself in dismay and shock at the way things are going.  I cry out to God, and He brings passages of Scripture like this to us:

"Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."  -- Matthew 24:1-14 (NIV)
God is not surprised at the condition of the world.  In fact, the term "Going to Hell" is a perfect description of a world that does not know the amazing love and grace of Christ.  The descriptions we see of hell in the Bible are terrible, but in my opinion, the absolute worst part of hell will be the complete absence of God there.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control will be horribly absent.  There will be no hope.  

It is in these dire times that people are naturally looking for someone to lead them out of the smoke and devastation around them.  Of course, I'm speaking figuratively here, as there may not really be visible devastation, but it does not take long to see it all around us (remember the first paragraph?).  Followers of Christ, it is our time to STAND on the TRUTH of the Word of God!  We MUST live out our faith in very visible ways.   We need to REFLECT a true image of who Christ is, without distorting His image with our own preferences.

Now, please do not misunderstand me here.  I am NOT saying that we need to start a bunch of new boycotts, alienate people, or all move to the same place so that we can live without having to "deal" with the sin of this world.  In the passage above, we see that it is going to get HARDER to live on this planet, and even TOUGHER for people that are living for Jesus Christ.  We already see false prophets that distort the name of Jesus, and love seems to be growing cold everywhere.  Everywhere BUT in the nature of Jesus.  We need to be the hands and feet of our Savior.

In the days to come, it will become easy to get lazy, and just "go with the flow."  That is the nature of the culture that we live in.  This has been a temptation since Bible times, but we see in these words from Jesus that we need to be on task all the time, because we do not know when the return of Christ will happen.  Jesus says the following in Mattew 24:

"42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."  -- Matthew 24:42-51 (NIV)

As a follower of Christ, which of these two servants describes your life?  In our culture in America, it's pretty easy to forget about our mission, and get really comfortable and selfish.  Sure, we still identify with Christian "issues" and do not mind lobbing insults on social media towards groups that do not fit with our own tastes and preferences (yes, I'm guilty of this too).  Could it be that this type of virtual "lip service" is what we are using to cover up the fact that we have let our spiritual lives in Christ fall to pieces?  Not only are we seeing a warped and distorted view of ourselves, but in turn we are presenting a warped and distorted view of Jesus to the world around us.

This is not a note to bash anyone... it is a reminder that we should NEVER apologize for being followers of Jesus.  The gut check for us as Christians is that we need to make sure that the Jesus we show the world is authentic, and in line with the whole of Scripture.  We need to make sure that we have not clouded His name with our sinful nature.  It happens to all of us, and THAT is the time that we should apologize... to God first, and to those that we may have not shown the love of Christ by our own actions and words.  Be who God CREATED you to be... never be ashamed of who you are...  Remember these words the One that we serve:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." -- Matthew 5:14 - 16 (NIV)

May we be the ones that God uses to change lives in an eternal way...  God can handle it all...

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Mighty Warrior Who Saves

Are you dismayed by what has been going on in the world in the past few weeks?  Are you hurting due to some type of personal loss, or maybe dealing with feelings of sadness and loneliness?  I have personally spoken with many in the past few days about very intense situations that they are dealing with.  These situations range from personal issues to job/church issues.  It can be very easy to feel isolated and alone during these times in our lives.  Even as ministers, Satan likes to dupe us into believing that we are completely alone at times.  These verses, along with the rest of Psalms 34 are an amazing reminder that we are not alone.  In fact, it is in our most isolated and lonely moments that the nearness of Jesus can be felt.  Take a look at this scripture:

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil to blot out their name from the earth.  The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  -- Psalms 34:15-18 NIV

God is with us... He does not leave our side.  I have to remind myself of that every day, even though I know it to be true.  He will fight our battles for us, if we are just willing to lay down our weapons and rely on him.  It may seem difficult (sometimes impossible) to do, but we must look to God during these intense times of our lives.  We are reminded of this in 1 Peter 5:

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” – 1 Peter 5:6-7 NIV

There are battles we cannot possible win on our own...  There are days when we cannot possibly make it without someone to pull us through...   This is when the Lord, our Mighty Warrior steps in on our behalf.  Like He was doing during the time of Zephaniah, He may be doing some refining and changing of us, His people.  Some of the hurt in our lives can be caused by our own sinful nature.  God may be using the situations that you are facing to smooth off some rough edges.  Just remember this verse during those times of refinement:

"The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.  He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” -- Zephaniah 3:17 NIV