Friday, November 29, 2013

Lessons from the Lion's Den

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Friday, November 29, 2013:  Daniel 6:1-28

As a child, I learned the story of Daniel and the lion's den.  The lesson is still clear to me today:  Nothing can stop God's Kingdom.  The power of faith in God can overcome any obstacle.  In the words of Hebrews 11:33, it can even "shut the mouths of lions."

King Darius, who rode an emotional roller coaster through this story, summarized the lesson best when he decreed:

26 I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel.  For He is the living God, and steadfast forever; His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall endure to the end.  27  He delivers and rescues, and He works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth,  who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.  Daniel 6:26-27 (NKJV)

We need to once again hear lessons from the lion's den.

Devious men sought to entrap a godly man into violating laws about public prayer.  We need to be just like Daniel.  The moment he heard the prohibition against prayer and worship, he went straight home, opened his windows, knelt down, and PRAYED (Dan. 6:10).

Forces tell us today that we cannot pray.  Severe penalties are threatened.  I do not think we should be offensive with our faith, but that is not the case usually.  The forces against faith are not satisfied with neutrality.  They seek removal of God from the public arena.

Daniel remained loyal to God despite the threatenings of evil men.  Therefore, God defended Daniel by protecting him against physical harm.  The safest place in the world is square in the middle of God's will.

In Daniel's case, technicalities of the law forced a reluctant Darius to carry out what appeared to be a death sentence.  Evil men manipulated the system trying to rid their culture of Daniel's godly influence.

We have a similar story at work today.  Arguments are made that prayer is unconstitutional. An ambivalent populace stands by watching the drama play out.  With each step, the godly influence of men and women like Daniel lessens.

What kind of lion's dens lie ahead?  I suspect that one weapon Satan seeks to wield is FINANCIAL.  It doesn't really matter.  Daniel is for today.  If we remain faithful to our god, He will sustain us.  The final book of the Bible is considered the New Testament twin of Daniel.  There we read, "And they overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death" (Rev. 12:11)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

He Rules the Nations: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Thursday, November 28, 2013:  Daniel 5:1-31

24 Then the fingers of the hand were sent from Him, and this writing was written.
25 “And this is the inscription that was written:
26 This is the interpretation of each word. MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; 27 TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; 28 PERES: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.” 29 Then Belshazzar gave the command, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a chain of gold around his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.  Daniel 5:24-29 (NKJV)

The short book of Daniel is full of dreams, visions, and divine interventions.  Of interest is the fact that it all takes place far from Jerusalem.  Israel is enslaved in Babylonian captivity.  But that doesn't limit God.

The miraculous power of God is not confined to "holy territory".  In fact, some of the greatest displays of God's power take place in pagan lands (Egypt, the Arabian wilderness, and Babylon in the Old Testament; Ephesus, Corinth, and Philippi in the New).  This is token of the heart of God.  He loves the nations.  He sends us to the nations.

God's power is most evident in places where God's covenant people encounter a pagan world.

We have a common idiom -- "the handwriting on the wall" -- that comes from a story in Daniel 5.  The phrase "handwriting on the wall" means "imminent doom" -- "a predetermined judgment is about to fall."

Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar, was thowing a huge, drunken party.  He was using golden vessels stolen from the Temple in Jerusalem in this wild orgy.  Out of nowhere, a hand appears writing strange words on the wall -- MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.

That will just about shut down any party.  Only Daniel count interpret the meaning.

MENE:  "God has numbered your days and finished it."  In other words, TIME'S UP!  You're done.
TEKEL:  "You've been weighed on the scale, and found lacking."  You flunked your test.
UPHARSIN:  "Your kingdom is about to be split between your two greatest enemies."

                                                            GAME OVER!

Why did God intervene in this pagan banquet?  Two answers are usually given:
1.  Belshazzar defiled the holy vessels taken from Jerusalem
2.  Belshazzar's pride got the best of him (like his father Nebuchadnezzar)

Both of these hold some merit, but I would suggest a third.  God rules the nations.  He raises up one nation and puts down another.  It is amazing to me that God's hand is at work even in those nations that do not know Him.

By His common grace, God has allowed nations a space to exist.  He wants all men to know Him and to go to heaven, but He also loves the world and desires that men live righteous and good lives.  When any government violates His mandate for existence, He will ultimately bring down that system.  He rules the nations.

Even though the nations do not know God, yet by His invisible grace He has allowed them to exist. If they in some way reflect God's law, He will allow them space to exist.  If they violate His law, He will warn them.  If they descend too low, He will cause that nation to pass off the pages of history.

He rules the nations.

It follows that all nations will be dealt with in similar fashion to Belshazzar and Babylon.  America included.  So, let me ask a few questions.

1.  Is God finished with America?  I trust not!  But don't get over-confident.  God COULD bring our nation down if we fail to "measure up" to His mandate.

2.  If God is weighing our nation, what is the standard?  Babylon was weighed and found lacking.  Is God measuring us?  If there is a test, we MUST find out what He wants, if we expect to continue.

3.  Is the division of our nation an evidence of God's judgment?  Babylon was divided between the Medes and the Persians.  A house divided cannot stand.

Let me conclude by making a call to prayer and meditation.  Think with me about the answers to these three questions.  Pray for God's mighty intervention.  God bless America!

10 Things You Should Be Grateful For

10 Things You Should Be Grateful For

It is Thanksgiving Day.  May God's goodness well up in your heart bring praise to Him today.

One of the reasons I believe every Christian should at least once in their life go on a mission trip is because it shows you HOW BLESSED WE ARE.

Lee Grady gives us 10 reasons to be thankful.  He starts with a story from the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

When I read about conditions in the rest of the world, two emotions rise in me.  First, I am humbly thankful that God has blessed mesomuch.  Second, I want to be part of reaching the world and being part of the solution.

To that end we commit ourselves.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Scripture Twisting, Part 2

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Tuesday, November 26, 2013:  Daniel 2:24-3:30

Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its width six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.  Daniel 3:1 (NKJV)

God gave a true, good word to King Nebuchadnezzar.  It came in the form of a dream that Daniel interpreted.  Tragically, however, Nebuchadnezzar heard only PART of the word from God.  As a result, he built a golden statue to himself.  He twisted God's Word, and in so doing set up a demonic persecution of good men (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego).

This may sound like the domain of ancient egomaniacs, but it is far more common today than you might think.  Scripture twisting is deadly business.  In the name of religion, some of the worst damage can be done.

So, what are the signs of Scripture twisting?

1.  We twist God's Word when we take only PART of God's Word and not the whole.

Nebuchadnezzar lifted the part about him being "the head of gold."  He did not go on the hear about the God-formed stone that would bring down the whole statue.  Far too often, we quote only those portions of Scripture that support our predispositions.  

We should always have a passion for "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27), not just the parts we like.

2.  We twist God's Word when we use it for self-promotion.

God's Word is not the means of self-promotion.  Nebuchadnezzar saw himself as the center rather than seeing the God of heaven on the throne.

Paul warned about those who would use "wranglings" (read "Scripture twisting").  These individuals make "godliness a means of personal gain" (I Tim. 6:5).  In a day when Christianity has at times become big business, we need to be careful that we not use Scripture to build our personal empires.

3.  We twist God's Word when we use worldly methods to "help" God.  

God's work must be done God's way.  Don't get me wrong, I believe godly use of good business practices is a good thing.  But secular, strong-arm tactics never build God's kingdom.

The end DOES NOT justify the means.  Too often, testimonies are "stretched" to make God look better.  Actually, they only glorify the human instrument and too often produce a cult of personality.    
Historically, secular leaders have used religion as a means of controlling the masses.  This is evil.  Scripture should never be used as manipulation but rather as liberation.  

Over-zealous leaders can twist truth to further the mission.  This never accomplishes the glory of God.

God spoke to Nebuchadnezzar through Daniel.  He is speaking to you today, too.  Nebuchadnezzar misapplied the truth and went down wrong paths.  Even then, God still faithfully and patiently pursued him.

Each of us should determine to hear all of what God is saying to us.  Allow Him to bring greatest glory to Himself.  Don't try to help God out by cutting corners.  Trust Him!  The result will be the greatest good and the richest blessing.  "You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free" (John 8:32)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Scripture Twisting, Part 1

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Tuesday, November 26, 2013:  Daniel 2:24-3:30

Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its width six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.  Daniel 3:1 (NKJV)

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had a mysterious dream.  He was obviously one of the eccentric despots of history -- quick to shout, "Off with their heads!"  He wanted his dream interpreted, but on top of that, he couldn't even remember the dream!

He would have wiped out all the "wisemen" of Babylon had not Daniel stepped up.  By God's gifting, Daniel disclosed to Nebuchadnezzar the dream of a huge statue depicting successive ages of human history.  The climax of the dream was a God-formed stone hurled from heaven striking the statue, bringing it down, and replacing it.

God's purpose in giving the dream was redemptive.  It is always redemptive.  That's His nature.  But, Nebuchadnezzar totally missed the point.  He hung up on one part of what God said, and proceeded to go off the deep end again.

In describing the gigantic statue, Daniel said the head made of "fine gold" was, in fact, Nebuchadnezzar himself!  Even though Daniel predicted five more kingdoms, Nebuchadnezzar didn't hear another word.  He was the head of gold!

In chapter 3, Nebuchadnezzar builds a huge golden statue to himself.  It was homage to this statue that provoked one of the most inspiring stories of Scripture: the courage of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego thrown into the fiery furnace.  That story deserves our further study another day, but I want here to point out the irony of Nebuchadnezzar's self-centeredness.

God gave a true, good word.  Nebuchadnezzar took part of it and misapplied it.  The result was an attack on those who truly love and follow God.  This is a picture of how fallen man can twist the Word of God and as a result do great damage.

Scripture twisting is deadly.  In the name of religion, much damage has been done to the church and in world history.  Nebuchadnezzar probably had Daniel's words ringing in his ears as he decreed death to all who would not bow down to his statue.  He might well have claimed divine sanction as he threw the three Hebrews into the furnace.

Nebuchadnezzar is an example to us of carnal man using Scripture to further his own ambitions.  The foundation of any true work of God is not only the truth of Scripture but also the surrender of hearts.  Self-made man can never build a God-centered ministry.

It is in this light that Jesus calls every man to lay down his life.  It is certainly not the world's way.  The first step to greatness is to deny yourself.  Amazing!

A Three-Year Discipleship Program

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Monday, November 25, 2013: Daniel 1:1-2:23

And the king appointed for them a daily provision of the king’s delicacies and of the wine which he drank, and three years of training for them, so that at the end of that time they might serve before the king.  Daniel 1:5 (NKJV)

There are two discipleship programs at work today.  One trains us to serve the earthly king of "Babylon".  The other trains us to serve God.  

One of the first things Nebuchadnezzar did after conquering Israel was to seek to recruit Israel's best young men (Dan. 1:3-4).  He set up a 3-year discipleship program.  It is interesting that Jesus did a similar thing during His earthly ministry.

One of the greatest challenges to any follower of Jesus is the balance of "in the world" while not being "of the world" (see John 17:12-14).  Every young man and woman must learn how to prosper "in Babylon" while not becoming "of Babylon."  That's the challenge that lay before Daniel and his three friends.  These four young men become a pattern for a generation totally sold out to God, while rising to high levels of influence in a pagan culture.  IN THE WORLD but not OF THE WORLD.

Nebuchadnezzar had "daily provisions" for his disciples.  These included food and drink, but also indoctrination in language and learning.  He fed them a philosophy.  This was to prepare them spirit, mind, and body to be interpreters of the times, able to discern dreams, visions, and values.

Discipleship is far more than exercise of certain processes and procedures.  It is much more than mechanical.  It is the transfer of a WORLDVIEW.  It is eating and drinking at the table of wisdom.  It is the embodiment of that which you follow.

What are you daily drinking?  What feeds your soul?  What table is the source of your strength?

This week, we in Amercia will enjoy our Thanksgiving Feast.  It is a table of abundance celebrating God's goodness to us.  Jesus also invites us to another feast.  It is the training table of discipleship.  His table will not leave us bloated and promising to diet.  It will cause us to "look better and feel healthier" (Dan. 1:15) than ever before.

Let's feast on Jesus this week!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The River of God

 One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Sunday, November 24, 2013:  Ezekiel 47:1-48:35

And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes.   Ezekiel 47:9 (NKJV)

Rivers are a big deal in Scripture.  We find a river flowing out of Eden in Genesis 2:10.  In the last chapter of the Bible, we find a river flowing from God's throne in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 22:1).  Rivers are a metaphor for all that flows from God to us.

The river of God is the Gospel.  The river of God is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  This river is God's grace that heals mankind.  It is a river of Truth that liberates.  Rejuvenation, renewal, and revival are delivered in this river.

Psalm 46:4 says, "There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God."  Jesus spoke of this river as the ministry of the Holy Spirit with His fruit, gifts, and graces that enrich the thirsty believer (John 7:37-39).

Ezekiel 47 is a vivid picture of the river of God.  Four things stand out to me.

 1.  The river PURIFIES.

Environmentalism is a big issue these days (and rightly so).  Pollution is a growing problem.  Whether it be the Deepwater Horizon or the dumping of toxic wastes, once a river or ocean is contaminated, years of expensive clean-up is necessary.

God's river works opposite to our natural experience.  All it takes is one bad dumping to pollute the pure.  But, in God's economy,  the pure CLEANS UP the unclean.

2.  There are degrees of ENGAGEMENT.

God brings Ezekiel to different levels of the river:  ankle deep, knee deep, waist deep, and over his head (47:3-5).

God beckons us all to go out into deeper water.  Jesus did this with Peter (Lk. 5:4).  His Gospel, His Truth, His Spirit, His grace -- are waters to swim in!

He will let any of us get in as deep as we desire.

3.  The river produces LIFE.

This is more than just liveliness and vitality.  It actually produces "a multitude of fish" (47:9).  If we can get into God's river, there is life-giving power in those waters.  This parallels the unusual story told in John 5 about the Pool of Bethesda.

God's river brings a boat-load of fish.  In this sense, I believe that a day of Gospel evangelism lies before us greater than any we have ever seen or heard of.

4.  Near the river are also STAGNANT WATERS.

Ezekiel 47:11 says, "But its swamps and marshes will not be healed; they will be given over to salt."  It is always amazing to me that right in the midst of a great revival can be those who die on the vine.  While many are blessed, some may stagnate.

Every great river has back-waters.  When you jump in the river, just realize that cross-currents and dead-ends can trap you.    Stay out in the middle of what God is doing.  Don't be a shore-hugger.

I want to live in the river of Truth, the river of grace, the river of God's power.  Will you join with me in diving in?  Let's find where this river is leading.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Don't Miss the Prince

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Saturday, November 23, 2013: Ezekiel 45:13-46:24

Then it shall be the prince’s part to give burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings, at the feasts, the New Moons, the Sabbaths, and at all the appointed seasons of the house of Israel. He shall prepare the sin offering, the grain offering, the burnt offering, and the peace offerings to make atonement for the house of Israel.”  Ezekiel 45:17 (NKJV)

In the last chapters of Ezekiel, an individual is often mentioned that has caused no small discussion.  That individual is called "the prince."

The Hebrew word for "prince" is nasi, meaning "leader."  It is used in the Bible to refer to the head of tribe, a leader of a town (mayor), or the head of a country (king or president).  Ezekiel prophesies to Israel that the day is coming when God will once again establish a national leader for them.  The short term fulfillment was Nehemiah.  But, it's obvious, bigger things are coming.

The last nine chapters is the most extended discussion in the entire Old Testament of the Coming Messiah.  Nineteen times the word "prince" is used.  But, this not a normal prince like "the prince of Tyre" or "the princes of Israel".  It is a singular individual who would fulfill a specific unifying, governing role in the restored nation of Israel.  He would be like David.   23 I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them—My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.  Ezekiel 34:23-24 (NKJV)

By the time Jesus came, passages like Ezekiel chapters 40-48, were taken by the Jews as a LITERAL promise.  As a result, many could not recognize the Prince when he showed up.  They expected the Coming Prince to divvy up the land allotting special physical territory for himself and reestablishing old property rights for them (Ez. 45:6-8).   Their prince would restore Old Testament sacrifices.  What they have not seen is that the Prince would BECOME the Old Testament sacrifices.

Today, Orthodox Jews and some Christians still believe these Ezekiel passages lie in the future -- perhaps in a Messianic age or in the Millennium.  In doing so, both repeat the error of the Jews in Jesus' day.  We can interpret the Scriptures in such a way that we miss the God of the Scriptures.

Instead, I invite you to receive the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7).  All the details of Ezekiel are fulfilled in our Messiah (just as the details of Leviticus and Deuteronomy).  He provides a better sacrifice, in a better temple, according to better promises (the theme of Hebrews).

Friday, November 22, 2013

To the House or to the Lord

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Friday, November 22, 2013:  Ezekiel 44:1-45:12

10 “And the Levites who went far from Me, when Israel went astray, who strayed away from Me after their idols, they shall bear their iniquity. 11 Yet they shall be ministers in My sanctuary, as gatekeepers of the house and ministers of the house; ...  13 And they shall not come near Me to minister to Me as priest, nor come near any of My holy things, nor into the Most Holy Place;  Ezekiel 44:10,11,13 (NKJV)

15 “But the priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from Me, they shall come near Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer to Me the fat and the blood,” says the Lord God. 16 “They shall enter My sanctuary, and they shall come near My table to minister to Me, and they shall keep My charge.  Ezekiel 44:15-16 (NKJV)

The great Chinese author and martyr, Watchman Nee, gave us jewels of biblical insight that have had profound effect on the Church today.  His greatest work, The Normal Christian Life, touched me early in my walk with God.  I heard the message of grace in ways that still impact me today.

Watchman Nee

One of the booklet-size works of this prolific Bible teacher was Ministering to the House or to God?   It is a study of Ezekiel 44.   He points out an interesting distinction God made within the priestly order of Ezekiel's day.  There were those who could only minister to the house, and there were others allowed to approach God Himself in the Holy Place to minister to Him.

The reasons for this distinction amount to heart issues.  The first group STRAYED (44:10) while the second group STAYED -- or "kept charge" (44:15).  The straying priests got mixed up with idols and lost their "first love."  The staying priests never lost laser focus on the throne.  As a result, there were actually two different ways to "serve" God: ministering to the house and ministering to the Lord.

The message is this: it is possible to do religious activity (minister to the house) while being far from the Lord Himself (ministering to God).

This is a fundamental question every Christian (and particularly Christian leaders) must answer.  Will I be satisfied with going through the motions or will I press into the heart of a relationship with God?

Pastors must ask, "Do I study the Bible just to get a message for Sunday?"  Or, do I dive into the Word to personally feast on God's Truth?  Is my prayer life a task or a privilege?

The priests who only ministered to the house LOOKED LIKE they were fully serving God.  They were gatekeepers, they handled furniture, they even engaged in meaningful sacrifices.  But all along they were at arms length from the presence of God.

Where would you like to be?  One last insight:  the priests who were allowed to enter God's intimate presence, had to change garments.  They had to wear linen.  They could not wear anything that made them sweat.

That's awesome!  One of the marks of true ministry is NO SWEAT.   Outer court ministry is only duty.  Inner court ministry is delight.  Which do you prefer?

A Christian Response to an Over-Sexed Culture: 5 Steps We Must Take

A Christian Response to an Over-Sexed Culture: 
5 Steps We Must Take

Perhaps you caught the news item a few years ago about the death of actor David Carradine.


He died in Thailand by asphyxiation.  Self-induced.  Hung himself. But that's not all the story.  From a Christian worldview perspective, this story is off the charts.  Weird and wacked out.  So, why would I (a Christian pastor) be writing here about this?

David Carradine

In the words of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, "when going gets weird, the weird go pro."  We are surrounded by an increasingly sexualized culture.  Those of us who are conservative and hold to traditional values are shocked at the weirdness.  Yet day by day it grows.

David Carradine did not commit suicide.  He hung himself seeking some sort of near-death sexual "whoopee do".  It was a fantasy that went too far.  This territory is major league screw-ball messed up.  But, it is far too easy for us to dismiss this as the fringe-element of "non-normal" America.  If anything should be evident, deviant is becoming mainstream.  Morality and decency (and sanity) are fading fast.

Whether it be David Carradine or Michael Douglas, Miley Cyrus or Madonna, the tenor of our day is toward what Ed Stetzer calls "The Pornification of Our Culture."  In his July 2011 Christianity Today article, he reports that the frequency of high profile celebrity scandal and exhibitionism plus the easy availability of pornography via the internet has produced a super-heated environment in which sexual addiction is passé.  The weird and vulgar have gone pro.  Patterns are being played out before our eyes to push us to the breaking of all sexual taboos.

Michael Douglas

A few weeks ago, October 25 of this year, the Life section of USA Today featured an article entitled "The New Norm in Hollywood: Hypersexed".  Authors Ann Oldenburg and Arienne Thompson reported that Hollywood has hit a new low.  In order to survive, artists now stoop to unprecedented levels of raunchiness.  It was in this vein that 21 year old Miley Cyrus jettisoned her Disney Hanna Montana image in her now infamous VMA Awards show performance this past August.  She and partner Robin Thicke advertised "twerking" to a watching world.

Miley Cyrus

We are facing a torrent of pornographic filth.  Matters that years ago would have been considered crude are now called cool.  This oversexed environment has produced a new and growing vocabulary including "twerk" and "sexting."  

Using smart phones, texting now includes explicit self-photos and videos along with a phenomenon called "phone sex."  This is not a foreign concept.  It is happening very near you right now.  There are the high profile examples such as football's Bret Favre and New York politician Anthony Weiner.  But, make no mistake, "sexting" is mainstream.  Kids and adults are taking pictures of themselves and hitting the "send" button.

Speaking of vocabulary, in the words of social commentator Tom Wolfe, a new "patois" has arisen around the "F" word.  It is filling our speech these days in the form of verb, noun, adverb, adjective, and imperative. This vulgarity seems to accompany all communication.  I have even heard an internet preacher use the "F" word in a sermon! -- for emphasis!

Witness also, the runaway success of bestselling author E.L. James.  Her trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed, has sold over 70 million copies and is still growing.  This is undiluted pornography dealing with sadomasochistic bondage by a Dominant and a Submissive!  These have stayed at the top of bestseller lists for weeks on end.  What does this say about our culture?

The tragic victims of this pagan resurgence will be our youth.  Internet pornography has now invaded not just Junior High but Elementary School.  Most adults of my generation recoil in denial. But, such credible Christian spokesmen as Josh McDowell are crying out for us to wake up.  In a message delivered to a national Christian counselors conference entitled "One Click Away", he described this flood of filth as the greatest challenge facing the Church today.

One friend declared, "Makes me want to move to Montana!"  Unfortunately, we do not have that option. While Hell belches forth its decadence, we are called to advance the Kingdom of Jesus.  I would suggest 5 steps we must take:


We need role-models of biblical purity.  There is such a melt-down in our society that the modern mantra is "I'm not perfect."  "Don't look at me!  I'm no angel."  From fear of being hypocrites, we have lowered the standards.  Purity is considered an unattainable ideal.

Years ago, Saturday Night Live comedian Dana Carvey gave us the Church Lady.  For many, biblical purity equates with her laughable narrowness.  Everyone knows her buttoned-down "cleanness" only masks a sour, judgmental interior.  She is a prudish hypocrite.

We need more role models like Tim Tebow.  Incidentally, it is almost impossible to find good role models for girls these days.  Let's produce some.


The essence of hypocrisy is role playing.  Our outward standards must be matched by inward convictions.  Those inward convictions must be based on consistency and honesty.  In reaction to a puritanical or fundamentalist past, some have rebounded in a lawless approach to life.  This has opened doors to a three-letter word that is definitely un-cool to use in our enlightened day -- SIN.

Our loss of sensitivity to sin has produced a lack of discernment.  When we lose the ability to know right from wrong, we become rudderless ships destined to crash on rocky shores.

It is time to re-examine our basic beliefs about God's standards.  It is possible to get cleaned up.  It is possible to live a life of integrity.  It is possible to break bad patterns.  Never has it been more crucial.  The operative word is REPENT.

3.  UNITE!

There is power in numbers.  One of the reasons decadence is so dominant is that nothing stands up to stop it.  There was a day when God's voice was heard through His people.  Today, church attendance is at an all-time low (despite the rise of mega-churches).  The loss of influence by the church parallels the rise of immorality in our culture.

Scripture says the keys of Kingdom advance have been placed in the hands of the Jesus-led, Spirit-empowered church.  It is not enough to simply go to a church building.  It is VITAL to be united with a body of Bible-believing, faith-filled followers of Jesus.  If we unite in His Name, no force of Hell can stand against us.


Parents particularly can no longer hide their heads in the sand.  Powerful forces are at work in our world seeking to seduce our kids.  NO ONE IS IMMUNE.

Any child (or adult for that matter) with access to the internet or to a cell phone is in danger.  In the words of Genesis 4:7, "Sin crouches at the door.  And its desire is to snare you and rule you."  I do not mean to engender paranoia.  I know we can conquer this foe.  However, when we assume that our little darlings could never do such things, we are setting ourselves up for a huge shock.

Install all needed monitoring technology to assure the devil is not sneaking into your house.


It is time to let our voices be heard.  Remember, the pro-pornography forces want to picture us as prudes who are out of step with reality.  In whatever way possible, a chorus of millions of voices needs to rise up saying, NO MORE.

Our culture has been powered by the slogan "Sex Sells."  What would happen if enough people stopped buying?  If a rape were taking place in the street in front of your house, what would you do?  Would you pull the shades and say, "That's their business, not mine."  Among other things, you would probably call the police, yell, shout, and proceed to stop the rapist.

Our culture is being raped -- in our schools -- in our living rooms on our TV's -- on our billboards -- through the devices you are now viewing.  Brave voices must be raised.  When good people do nothing, evil has open season.


David Carradine died seeking sexual thrills.  He may be a parable for our culture.  His life ended in the closet of a hotel room in a far away country.  Tragedy.

A similar fate is unfolding for countless others if a change does not come.  The final line of the Oct. 25 USA Today article comes from music industry mogul, Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds.  He says of our over-sexed culture, "I just think it's kind of a sign of pop culture and the time that we're in."  And, he adds, "You think this is bad, wait 'til 10 years from now."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

He is a Jealous God

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Tuesday, November 19, 2013:  Ezekiel 39:1-40:27

“Therefore thus says the Lord God: ‘Now I will bring back the captives of Jacob, and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for My holy name—  Ezekiel 39:25 (NKJV)

Jealousy is usually considered a bad characteristic. William Shakespeare called it "the green-eyed monster." It is an emotion laden with insecurity, selfishness, and smoldering anger.  It fears the loss of something valuable.  It envies the possessions of others more fortunate.  It seeks to control and to stifle.  It is fired by distrust.  Jealousy is born out of a deficit -- an unmet need -- a sense of deprivation.    

How then can God call Himself a JEALOUS GOD?  If jealousy is a flaw, would that not make God evil?

One example of this conundrum is the recent words of Oprah Winfrey.  She wrote in her magazine O! that in her late 20's, she heard her pastor declare, "the Lord thy God is a jealous God, the Lord thy God will punish you for your sins."*  Her misunderstanding of such a statement kick-started the long journey of doubt that led her to the New Age religion she now embraces.

If God declares Himself to be a jealous God, it is obvious that "jealousy" may not be so narrowly and negatively defined.  J.I. Packer's book Knowing God is a modern classic all believers should read.  Chapter 17 deals specifically with "The Jealous God."  There he states,

"There are two sorts of jealousy among humans, and only one of them is a vice.  Vicious jealousy is an expression of the attitude, 'I want what you've got, and I hate you because I haven't got it.'... But there is another sort of jealousy: zeal to protect a love relationship or to avenge it when broken."

He goes on to say that any husband who felt no emotion at "the intrusion of an adulterer into his home" would be devoid of moral perception that is at the essence of marriage.

God's jealousy is not His sense of competition with challengers.  It is His zeal to destroy all that would hurt His people.  It is His passion to see us most blessed.

The jealousy of God is not a flaw in Him.  It is a virtuous, relentless affection that knows that He Himself is the best "thing" that could ever happen to any of us.  It is not wrong that He should beckon us into the greatest love story of all time.  He wants us for His own.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Speaking to Dry Bones

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Monday, November 18, 2013:  Ezekiel 37:1-38:23

The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”  Ezekiel 37:1-3 (NKJV)

Ezekiel is one of the most visionary prophets.  Through his book, he gives us not just prophetic words, but visions from God.  Perhaps the most famous is "The Valley of Dry Bones" (Ez. 37:1-14).

The theme of this vision is the restoration of lost causes.  Israel, God's chosen people, were like scattered skeletons dead and dry.  The first question God asks of Ezekiel is "Son of man, can these bones live?" (37:3)

We might ask similar questions.  Can this marriage be healed?  Can a church be re-birthed?  Can a broken life be restored?

In the midst of desperation and defeat, it can be difficult to believe again.  After years of bad experience, it seems impossible for a new day to dawn.

Everything in the vision changes when Ezekiel begins to prophesy.  God, Who can do anything, required Ezekiel to begin speaking His Word.  He commanded him, "Prophesy to these bones" (37:4).

Here are a few observations:

1.  God requires that we speak His Word over our situation.  We all tend to underestimate the power of the declared Word of God.  Whether it be by anointed preaching or by personal confession, the Word of God is powerful!  (Heb. 4:12)  We don't have to understand it, be are just called to release it.

2.  God's Word rearranges our world.  When Ezekiel began speaking, he heard a noise.  It was a rattling as the bones began coming together (37:7).  When resurrection life begins to work in us, it brings change!  Whereas once we were weak, hopeless, and defeated, we become strong.  We shift into new patterns of health and wholeness.

3.  God's Word works in conjunction with His Spirit.  In a sense, Ezekiel not only spoke to the bones, he also spoke to the wind (the Spirit).  If the Word of God gives the structure, the Holy Spirit gives the life.  It is the Word and the Spirit working in conjunction that produce full impact.  It has been said, "The Word without the Spirit -- we dry up.  The Spirit without the Word -- we blow up.  The Spirit WITH  the Word -- we grow up."

God is raising up His army in our day.  It is according to Ezekiel's vision.  Despite what seems to be nothing but dry bones, yet God sees "an exceedingly great army" rising up.

Our part is to begin speaking (prophesying) His Word over our lives, our churches, our cities, our world.  There is nothing more powerful that the anointed declaration of God's eternal Word.  When we do this, we are serving as His agents of Kingdom advance.  God guarantees our success.  It is HIS success through us.  He Who has spoken will also perform it.

20/20: "Getting Clear"

Here are the notes from the message yesterday at New Life Community Church.  This was the first of a two part series entitled 20/20: the Future in Focus.  The title is "Getting Clear".  If you desire to listen to this message, you may do so by going to our website at  God bless!

20/20: the Future in Focus, Part 1                                                     Sunday, November 17, 2013
 “Getting Clear”

By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:35 (NASB)

What has God called us to do?

Love God
Love Each Other
Love the World

What does that look like?

And the Lord answered me:  “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.  For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay
.  Habakkuk 2:2-3 (ESV)

Four Points:
1.      Write it

Sir Francis Bacon:  “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.”

2.      Make it plain

3.      Without the vision, you can’t run

4.       Patience
Vision: The Future I See
The Church We Are To Be

God has called us to a vision.  We are to be a place where the lost are found.  We are to be a place where seekers can find the fullness of a vital relationship with God – a place where people find Jesus Christ.  We are to be a church of health, healing, and the advance of Christ’s Kingdom. 

I see us as being a strong regional church that represents Jesus Christ in all His glory and splendor.  We are to be a church where the Good News of Jesus Christ becomes more than just a belief or an idea.  It becomes a life-transforming power that changes thousands of residents throughout Northeast Louisiana.

I dream of a church that is both large and small – an intimate yet massive church family of individuals who are “doing life together”; displaying before the world the concrete meaning of the Kingdom of God.  It is small enough to provide the richest of human relationships in weekly gatherings of corporate worship, Bible classes, and small groups that all lead to deep bonds of personal friendship and cooperation.  It is large enough to provide safety and anonymity to seekers who come to investigate the faith.  It is large enough to provide a vast array of ministries done with excellence targeted to meet the important needs of families, individuals, and society.  I dream of a people numbering in the thousands who walk together in loving God and serving Him in the world.

We will thrive in an atmosphere of growth fired by a sense of destiny that propels people into a lifetime of mission.  I see a pathway for equipping believers to handle all of life’s challenges while also developing their unique gifts and talents in the service of God and others.

I dream of reaching the unreached – of crossing barriers to touch all cultures, all nations, and all peoples.  We are called to send out hundreds of career missionaries who are trained, nurtured, and supported to fulfill Christ’s call to make disciples of all nations.  We are to raise up a Missions Training Center that will foster a myriad of missionary activities through prayer, communication, training, and nurture.  I dream of every member of our fellowship participating in the endeavor to reach the unreached.

I see a large tract of land – perhaps 50-100 acres – on which a regional church facility can be built.  There will be a state-of-the-arts worship center seating thousands who can experience the depth and power of God-exalting worship and the life-transforming power of anointed preaching and teaching. 

We will build a magnificent Children’s Ministry Facility that includes the latest innovations aimed at impacting children with the Word of God preparing them for a lifetime of following God.  Because we minister powerfully and effectively to kids, entire families will be saved.

We will have a Student Ministry Facility that will serve as a nerve center for reaching out to youth in the entire Northeast Louisiana region with vibrant worship, powerful teaching, and radical discipleship aimed at raising up a new generation of spiritual champions to serve Christ in the world.  Our Student Ministry will serve as a hotbed igniting intense evangelistic ministry on every Jr. High and High School campus in our parish and region.  This will produce youth who are rock solid in their faith while at the same time culturally relevant and effective in their impact.

There will be a battery of classrooms and conference rooms in which the Bible is taught in its entirety.  I dream of a Seminary and Bible College in which individuals can be trained fully in the depths of biblical and theological studies in preparation for vocational ministry. 

We are called to facilitate a Prayer Center in which continual powerful concerted prayer takes place. 

There will be a Life Skills Center in which the broken, the discarded, the deprived, and the depraved can come to be tutored and mentored, helped and even housed as they are taught a new way of living.

I dream of a place where heaven and earth seem to blend.  It is a place where harmonious relationships both with God and man serve as a pattern for world transformation.  As a result, Ouachita Parish is a better place to live – because we know God deeply and represent him powerfully.
Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.  Proverbs 29:18 (ESV)

So here’s what I see the next year holding for us.
In sharing this, I know that some of you may wonder, “Is this just about numbers?”  Doesn’t God have to do the work?  In response, I will say to you that it is not simply about numbers, but numbers is the way we keep up with individual people.  Every person is a number.  It is out desire that the number of people who know Jesus increase in our area.  We are not the only ones doing this, but we are responsible for what we do.

Our top attendance in days gone by has been 216 the first year we were in this building (2009).  Then in 2010 our top Sunday was 206.  In 2011, 197.  In 2012, we had 207.  This year, our high attendance has been 206.  It is time for us to move to higher place.  This next year, we aim to have 300 in a morning worship service.  In order to do that, we must ask that you help make that happen.  If this is left to a few of us, it will never happen.  But if we all catch the vision, it not only will happen, but will be surpassed.

1.    300 IN ATTENDANCE IN 2014

The Lord told Gideon, “With these 300 men I will rescue you and give you victory …” Judges 7:7 (NLT)

Our average attendance for this year is 140.  Last year it was 132.  There is a barrier in the growth of churches.  It is the hardest barrier to break.  It is 200.  This next year we will break the 200 barrier.

And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. Acts 20:22-24 (NIV)

1.     We must SEE what God SEES.

And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem,…  Acts 20:22a (NIV)

2.     We must overcome our UNCERTAINTY.

I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.  Acts 20:22b (NIV)

3.     Expect RESISTANCE.

I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. Acts 20:23 (NIV)

4.     Gain supernatural CLARITY.

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. Acts 20:24 (NIV)

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

attributed - sir francis drake -1577

1.    300 IN ATTENDANCE IN 2014