25 August 2012

The Courage to Live

In January of 2000 Li de xian was ready when the police officers of the Chinese Republic came for him. This was the 8th time he had been detained in the last three months. He went quietly without a fuss and no resistance. He said good-bye to his wife and walked calmly out the door with the officers.

As Li walked, he began thinking about his last arrests by the Chinese Government…the time police beat him until he vomited blood because of the broken ribs he suffered at the guards’ hands. 

China believed that Li was a notorious criminal, a desperate outlaw. So what was Li’s crime? He was the pastor of a church in Yongming village in Canton China. He led Bible studies on Tuesday for about 600 people. This made him one of China’s most wanted criminals. Despite the brutal treatment at the hands of the government Li refused to give up or quit! He said, “I will preach the Gospel until I die!”

Can you imagine what would happen if Christians displayed that same kind of courageous passion in the way we approach life? What if, after studying the life of Jesus in church, we would go out and live with His passion the rest of the week? What if we made it our life-goal to really be like Him, our never-ending passion, our one target. Can you envision the amazing transformation that would occur in our homes, our communities, our churches?
True Christianity is NOT for wimps! We should put a sign up over our church door that says, “No Wimps Allowed!” Being a follower of Jesus is not for the faint-hearted, the lukewarm, the halfhearted, non-committal, occasional church-goer! Fulfilling Christianity is for the passionate.  The man who is not afraid to say, “Yes…I believe in Jesus and I will dedicate my every waking hour to His purpose—no matter what the cost!”

I am challenging you to step up, to grab life by the horns and hold on for dear life because this ride is going be wild!

I promise you that the Christianity I’m describing is, not nor will it ever, be safe! I want you to grow into the barbarian warrior Christ saved you to be. Why in the world would you want to play it safe when a world of your friends and family are dying and splitting hell wide open?  Christianity, as God planned it, is NOT safe.

Yes, in America we have more freedom than those Christians in China or Iraq, but we are blind if we don’t recognize that in our country people are becoming more and more hostile toward Christianity! In America, we are guaranteed freedom of expression by our Constitution, but Christian expression is looked down upon by most. (by even some Christians).

Am I trying to stir up a mighty army of militants to strike back at the injustices? NO! But we must all be aware that in our  lifetimes, the oppression will increase.

What is more difficult—to die for Christ or to live for Christ?

I hope that if I were faced with the option of dying for Jesus or denying Jesus that I would choose death, but the truth of the matter is this, we are faced with an even more vital decision every single day.  Every time we roll out of bed in the morning are we willing to LIVE for Jesus today? Or will I deny Him by my actions, attitudes, words?

I understand that living a life of passion is easier said than done.  I certainly have NOT arrived. It costs a lot more than we like to admit. Everything we are, everything we have, minute by minute, hour after hour, day by day. Choosing this life daily is DANGEROUS and DIFFICULT!

Mark 10: 21-22 “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

The same demand Jesus made of the rich young ruler is the same demand He makes of you and I today! Do we have the courage to live for Him?

That means we give up ALL rights to anything we are or own and place it in His hands. We have the guts to live out our day to bring Him pleasure and say No to the world.  We give up our dreams to trust in His dreams for us. One of my favorite Christian artists, Jeff Johnson penned a song which epitomizes this point entitled, “Ruin My Life.” 

We need to take a long hard look at everything we call our own—whether it be something you can touch or our hopes and dreams. Then we must ask ourselves: “Are we willing to give these to God, regardless of the cost? Will we trust God’s plans for these things—even if it leads to dangerous territory?

Passionate Christianity is not for Wimps! It could cause your death—it definitely costs you your life.

Do you have what it takes? Do you have the guts to give your all to Jesus?

18 August 2012

What do You Want on Your Tombstone?


One morning in 1888, Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, awoke to read his own obituary. The obituary was printed as a result of a simple journalistic error. You see, it was Alfred's brother that had died and the reporter carelessly reported the death of the wrong brother. Any man would be disturbed under the circumstances, but to Alfred the shock was overwhelming because he saw himself as the world saw him. The "Dynamite King," the great industrialist who had made an immense fortune from explosives. This, as far as the general public was concerned, was the entire purpose of Alfred's life.

None of his true intentions to break down the barriers that separated men and ideas for peace were recognized or given serious consideration. He was simply a merchant of death. And for that alone he would be remembered.

As he read the obituary with horror, he resolved to make clear to the world the true meaning and purpose of his life. This could be done through the final disposition of his fortune. His last will and testament--an endowment of five annual prizes for outstanding contributions in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace (the sixth category of economics was added later)--would be the expression of his life's ideals and ultimately would be why we would remember him. The result was the most valuable of prizes given to those who had done the most for the cause of world peace. It is called today the "Nobel Peace Prize."

Matthew 16:26
"What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?"

Men, let's face it many of us are afraid of death.  It's one of the top 3 phobias in our world.  People have sought to extend their lives longer since the dawn of time.  People have searched for medicines that would prolong their lives.  Magellan (and hundreds more) searched for years for the famed Fountain of Youth.

Why are so many people afraid to die?  I think part of it has to do with a fear of the unknown - a fear of what's next.  As Christians, we know what's next.  But, I think this fear is also driven by a feeling of un-accomplishment.  We gauge success in America by accomplishment, and people feel a driving need to do something worth remembering.  We want to leave a legacy.

I was having lunch with a friend of mine who is an insurance agent.  I asked him which type of insurance had more claims, which one did they pay more money to? He stated "life insurance. It's the only policy that when written we know with 100% certainty will be paid." After thinking about that for a minute I realized he was right, everyone one of us will someday die.

So what will be written about you on your gravestone - one simple phrase - that sums up all your years?

HAD A VERY COOL CAR
LOOKED GREAT IN A BATHING SUIT
MADE A TON OF MONEY

Or would you prefer something more like this?

HIS LIFE TOUCHED MANY FOR GOOD
HE BROUGHT JOY TO ALL HE MET
WELL DONE, GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT

I'd love to be remembered  the way God described David:  as a "man after God's own heart."  Or maybe the way people remembered John the Baptist: "He may not have performed any miracles, but he told the truth about Jesus."

The Bible tells us of another legacy:  Matthew 6:19-20 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.

What lasts?  Faith lasts. The following are a couple of lines from a poem written by a missionary named C.T. Studd titled “One Life to Live.”

"Only one life, 'twil soon be passed
Only what's done for Christ will last."

I think that's true.  So, if what counts is what's done for Christ, what have you done in your lives that will last?  Do you remember the story Jesus told about the Master who went away and left some of his servants in charge of his house (Matthew 25:14-30)?  When he came back, how did he act with the servants who took what he left them and used them to further the master's business?  They were praised: "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Think about that - that's what I want God to say to me when I meet him in heaven.  Notice he didn't say successful servant, or rich servant, or popular servant…faithful.  His tombstone would tell us that he might not have been brilliant or important, but he was faithful.  That is what God praises.

What about the servant who wasted what he was given?  He got kicked out of the house.  Look at your lives, men…with what God has given you, which servant would you be?  Have you made the most with what God has given you to further his business?  Or have you wasted it?

How will you be remembered?  As a man who chased after Jesus with his life, or a church-goer who showed up for the trips, the retreats, and the fun stuff?  A man who loved God and truly loved people, or someone who treated God like he was a dusty book he could pull off the shelf twice a week and then put it away when he wanted?

I want to be remembered for passion! For Faith!  As a hero to my family.  Our world doesn't need any more tycoons or snobs or success stories…we need heroes.  Not athletes or movie stars…this generation needs heroic men standing up for Christ.

But, to be remembered as a hero, we need to live as a hero.

How you are remembered has nothing to do with what you have or what you did, but what you were.  And it has nothing to do with lofty plans or future goals - we don't get to write our tombstone.  Those who really knew us…they get to decide what is chiseled into the granite.  How you live your life now will determine that, because your family will write what they remember.  Be a hero - be about your Master's business.

What do you want on your tombstone?

12 August 2012

I Have a Secret (I Like Porn)

Traditional Eskimos were savvy in their methods to kill wolves. The Eskimo would take a very sharp, two-edged blade, and dip the blade into the blood of smaller game.  Left out in the cold, the blood would freeze onto the blade becoming a blood popsicle. The Eskimo would re-dip and freeze the blade, repeating this process several times.  He would, then, carefully secure the blade into the ground; during the night hours a wolf would come, smell the blood, and lick it.

As the unsuspecting wolf would begin to lick the tasty frozen blood from the secured blade, his tongue would start to become numb.  The more he licked, the numbness increased.  The unsuspecting animal would lick away the outer layers of blood, eventually slicing its tongue on the razor-sharp blade.  The wolf's sliced tongue would go unnoticed because of the numbness, so he, also, would begin to bleed through his tongue onto the blade. The taste of warm blood would excite him, and he would lick faster and faster and faster and faster, until finally, his tongue was shredded and he would go off and bleed to death.

That is a very good picture of what pornography and lust will do to you.  It numbs you, and in the excitement, you continue to participate until it leaves you seriously wounded and bleeding, potentially leading even to death.

Matthew 5:27, 'Do not commit adultery.  'But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.'

King David was walking around on his rooftop one evening. While he was walking and thinking on whatever kings think about during those late hours, scripture says "from the roof he saw a young woman bathing."  It was this seemingly innocent incident that would lead to so many ruined lives.  As we read in 2 Samuel, we know David sends Joab to learn who the woman was, and that Joab reports back that the woman is "Bathsheba, Uriah's wife."

That's the end of it right? Bathsheba is married so David would leave her alone. But he doesn't. Instead he sends for her, they have sex, she gets pregnant. David, then, sends for Uriah to provide the perfect opportunity for him to sleep with his wife Bathsheeba to hide David's sin, but, Uriah doesn't.  So David sends Uriah back to the battle with a note that says to put him on the front lines. With that note King David signs Uriah's death warrant. Now. David is not only an adulterer but also a liar and a murderer. All this... from what started as one quick glance. What could it hurt, right?

I don't know where you were when you were first exposed to an impurity, but I know if you think about it you will remember in detail.  You may have been at a friend's house and found his dad's stash of magazines. Maybe you've seen Cinemax late at night (Skinemax I think is a better name), or have viewed images while on the internet, but, at sometime, you have been exposed.

Here I am thirty-something years later, and, to this day, I can reach into my mind and pull up those exact images if I just simply try.  They've been burned onto the hard drive of my mind.

Once you have been exposed, your mind receives an injury in the same way a computer hard drive is damaged by a virus. The files are corrupted and the computer no longer functions as it once did. You no longer look at women the same way, and you begin to view them as objects to fulfill your sexual desires. While there is a rush of gratification, there are also feelings of guilt and shame which eventually lead to rationalizing and justifying your actions.

Right now you're asking "How do I break this cycle? How do I take control?" First, understand that you have received a mental injury and we need to protect that injury. And, like all injuries, if its not dealt with, it will become infected.  Using the same strategies you implement to protect your computer with antivirus and firewalls to prevent attacks, we need to do the same with our minds.

How do you break this cycle?
  • Retrain your eyes to look away from every impure thing.  You may be saying "what is wrong with looking?" Go back to King David... 
  • Capture every thought and make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor 10:5). What does that look like? What might you have to do?  You may have to stop what you are doing and call a friend.  Say, “Hey, pray for me.  I’m having a thought again.”  You might pick up your Bible and start reading the Bible. You might turn off your TV or unplug it, or get up and go for a walk, or read a book, but you have to stop what you are doing and replace those sinful thoughts.
  • Whenever sexual temptation comes around, we are going to run for our lives.  King Solomon, speaking of the adulterous woman said, “Keep a path far from her.  Don’t even go near the door of her house.”
How do we control it?
  • Destroy your stash whatever that stash is. 
  • Insure accountability while traveling. You may need to call ahead and ask them to unprogram adult channels or even remove the TV from your room. 
  • Protect your internet usage.  Every click you make can be emailed to a friend, a pastor, or even your spouse; www.xxxchurch.com offers free software to you that will monitor your online usage.  I recommend it wholeheartedly. 
  • Avoid dangerous places. I don't know what this may be for you personally, but you know.
We are protecting the wounds, and as you protect the wound from further injury or infection, God will heal your mind.  Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  By the healing of your mind...  By the changing of your mind...

You are not changed by conforming in your own strength.  You are changed by the transforming power of God. 

05 August 2012

I Have a Secret (I'm a _______.)

Nicknames.  We have all had a nickname at one time or another throughout our lives.  If you've never had a nickname, chances are you probably named a few of your friends or co-workers in your life.  Nicknames, whether good or bad, are always associated with something we've done, said, or someone's perception of a physical attribute. For example; for those who state the obvious, we call them "Captain Obvious."  If someone is clumsy, we call them "Grace."  If you did something that is considered dumb you might hear  "Einstein" echoed in the background.

When I was growing up, a good friend of mine, Brian, had red hair and freckles. He earned the standard nickname "Red."  At first Brian didn't like it, but as time went on he became used to it and didn't seem to mind when we called him that.  As we grew, we introduced him as, "This is Brian, but we call him Red" until we eventually introduced him to anyone new as just "Red".

I ran into Brian a couple of years ago for the first time in several years.   I remember shaking his hand and saying, "It's good to see you Brian, how have you been?" We spent a few moments getting caught up on life, families, and jobs.

As I reflected on that chance meeting, I smiled at how Brian had  become "Red" and, through time, simply was Brian again.  It seemed completely natural, however, as I went over it in my mind.  It was as if the nickname "Red" was something he simply outgrew.

2 Sam 12:22-23
While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.  But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.

This was David's response observed by those around him after his child with Bathsheeba died.  He mourned, cried, fasted, and prayed until the child died.  David understood that there was nothing he could do to change the past, so didn't see the reason to continue to act that way.

Through living our daily lives and making mistakes along the way, we may end up with a few new nicknames.  There is difference, though, between the nicknames we receive as adults and the ones we were given as kids:  adults seem to hold on to these identifying names and seldom let go.  If you drink excessively, you're an "alcoholic," if you have an affair, you're a "cheater," if caught lying you're a "liar," and the list goes on.

As I talk to men, church leaders, and co-workers, what I've discovered is that many carry those identifying names around with them like shameful scarlet letters. Where does this shame come from? How did we get here?  It's a game your spiritual enemy Satan loves to play.

There is no greater tool that your enemy can use against you than "Discouragement."  If he can discourage you from doing something good by bringing up a shameful experience from your past, he will. Through repeatedly doing this to us, we begin to associate the sin with who we are and allow ourselves to be identified by that sin.

Because of something that happened, whether it was something we said, did, or others said or did against us, we feel this deep sense of separation from God or even separation from others which can lead to a very, very real sense of desperation:  “I’ll never get over this.  My life will never be the way it could have been or should have been.."

How do we break free from this prison of torment?

2 Cor 10:3-4
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.

We have the power to demolish strongholds, to break out of the bondage of deception and the wrong beliefs.

2 Cor 10:5
We demolish these arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.  We take captive every thought and we make it obedient to Christ.

In following this scripture, we are not to believe the lies of the evil one.  The evil one wants us to believe we are what we did, or what someone did to us, or what we are...and we cannot change!  The truth is, you are not what you did.  You are not what someone did to you.  We are who God says we are, we are fearfully and wonderfully made in His image. (Psalm 139:14)
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