Sunday, March 11, 2012


We all know the joy and the freedom of experiencing breakthroughs. Do you remember when you learned to tie your shoes? Or learned to count and you understood what those numbers meant? Or learned to read? Those were breakthroughs.

You experienced earlier breakthroughs; you just don’t remember them…but they were nonetheless significant. When you learned to walk? When you became potty-trained? When you learned to talk? All of those were breakthroughs that opened a world of possibilities to you that would be hidden and out-of-reach otherwise.

Today is the final day of our 40 Days of Prayer & Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough, and I want you to know how grateful that I am for you! But I trust that these 40 days are not “over and done with,” as some fellow Hardin Countians might say it. Surely these days of spiritual pursuit have opened a world of spiritual possibilities to us that would otherwise be hidden and out-of-reach. In other words, I am praying now that the car is cranked that we’ll have the courage to drive it in the direction God sends us!

I hope to see you as we gather for worship…

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Discovering that You Don't Really Want the Very Thing You've Always Wanted

At the age of 19, Kylie Bisutti achieved her dream by beating out 10,000 other contestants in the 2009 Victoria's Secret Model Search contest. But before long, Bisutti was seeing her dream in a different light, specifically the light of her growing walk with Christ. In an interview Kylie said,

“[The modeling world] is a very hard industry to be in without falling into things you don't want to do....It's a very tempting industry....Victoria's Secret was my absolutely biggest goal in life, and it was all I ever wanted career-wise....[But] I'm a Christian, and reading the Bible more, I was becoming more convicted about it....My body should only be for my husband, and it's just a sacred thing. I didn't really want to be that kind of role model for younger girls because I had a lot of younger Christian girls that were looking up to me and then thinking that it was OK for them to walk around and show their bodies in lingerie to guys. It was pretty crazy because I finally achieved my biggest dream, the dream that I always wanted, but when I finally got it, it wasn't all that I thought it would be.”

Have you considered that the things we most long for (and that we work hardest to achieve) might not be all that we think they are? Might they be little more than mirages on the landscape of our imagination? How often do we measure our thoughts and desires against the filter of our faith? How often do we honestly assess our goals and plans against God’s purposes? What a waste of time and resources to commit ourselves to achieving some goal that, in the end, contradicts the heart of God!

I’m just a fellow traveler…giving you something to chew on today.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Today’s my 45th birthday.

I’m reminded of that poetic verse by Longfellow in which he sought to remind his peers that, despite their age, they still had much to do:

For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.

I’m grateful for another’s much better than the alternative...and I still have much to do!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

"Lord, Help Me Be More Like Charlie"

Last night I finished up preaching a series of revival meetings at First Baptist Church, Centerville, TN. It was a blessed week with precious people. But I want to tell you about a 9-year old boy named Charlie.

After I finished preaching last night, I knelt in the altar to pray for God to move in the hearts of people...when I felt this soft touch on my left shoulder. Believing someone was trying to get my attention to talk, I lifted my eyes only to find a boy praying over me. I discovered that he wasn't wanting to talk to me about God; he was talking to God about me!

I didn't hear everything Charlie said, but my heart was so humbled to hear this young man praying, "...and God, thank you for bringing this man to our church to preach this week." I couldn't help but think of that old phrase, "From your lips to God's ear." I can't tell you what that prayer did for my heart.

Let me give you a couple of thoughts to ponder today. First, would you have been willing to do what Charlie did when YOU were a 9-year old? Go to the altar, lay your hand on the shoulder of the visiting evangelist, and pray for him? That was a courageous thing to do. I pray God would give me that kind of courage to do whatever He impresses upon my heart to do...and that I would act on it.

Second, might there be someone you meet today who needs your encouragement? You know the fuel that someone's encouraging words or timely prayer can put into your tank. I encourage you to be that mouthpiece of God today for someone else.

Yesterday as I was making hospital visits, I met a precious lady on the elevator. She looked at me with some recognition as I boarded, but she wasn't sure how she was supposed to know me...until her eyes fell on our church logo on my shirt. She exclaimed, "You're the pastor of Hilldale Baptist Church! I watch you every week on television!" I'm always humbled that people watch our television ministry and always blessed when they tell me what it means to their spiritual journey.

Considering that we were in a hospital, (after the small talk about our TV ministry) I asked her why she was there. She told me that her husband of 69 years had just had open heart surgery. Her heart was undoubtedly heavy. So I asked her if I could pray for him. And we bowed right there in the hospital lobby, held hands, and prayed for her husband.

When we lifted our heads, she was ecstatic and she had happy tears. She said, "This is of God!" I said, "A divine appointment, no doubt." She said, "God knew how much I needed that right now, so He put you on that elevator with me!" I smiled...and wondered to myself in shame how many times I've been so preoccupied that I missed someone like this precious lady and, thus, missed a divine appointment...and a blessing.

Keep your eyes (and heart) open today...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Time Doesn't Always Heal

I read about something that happened this past fall that resonates loud-and-clear with our 40 Days of Prayer and Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough. Back in November, Pete Richeson walked into a sheriff’s office to confess a crime he committed sixty years ago.

Richeson stole a fraternity beanie off the head of an Alabama fan at the Iron Bowl, the annual football game between in-state rivals Alabama and Auburn. In fact, Richeson and his brother went to the game planning to steal an opposing fan’s hat to keep as prideful souvenir.

“We took it back to Auburn and passed it around the dormitory at that time, and we nailed it to the wall, and it stayed there.”

Sixty years later, though, Richeson regrets what he did. But when he presented himself to the sheriff, he was told that the statute of limitations had expired and that there wasn’t much that could be done. Still, Richeson is hoping that the one he violated is still alive and that he will allow Richeson to make things right.

“It's stayed with me for over sixty years, and I would like to give it back to the man it belongs to. I'm sure he had some consequences he had to face….I must do something soon, because we’re both close to 80-years-old, and I’m hoping he’s still alive.”

Richeson’s actions are not unlike what happens to us when we intensely seek God’s holiness through prayer and fasting. God reveals sins that we’ve refused to address—perhaps secret sins, hidden sins, “forgotten” sins. And spiritual breakthrough comes when we own up to our sin, find God’s forgiveness, and seek to make right the wrong that we’ve done.

Might there be some sin that God is reminding you about? Something that you’ve yet to place under the blood of Jesus for His forgiveness? Of course, you’ll have to own up to it to deal with it…and to own up to it is to admit, “I did that.”

I’m praying for you today! Please pray for me…

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

One of the Most Controversial Statements by a Presidential Candidate?!?

On this Super Tuesday, let me reference a currently-prominent political figure (not as an endorsement but because of something he said). The Washington Post recently highlighted a 2008 quote by Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum in which he described how every stratum of our society was under Satanic attack.

Mr. Santorum said, “This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country—the United States of America.”

Interestingly, Santorum’s theological observations have become some of the most controversial comments that he’s made (and they were made four years ago). To be honest, I take issue with some of what he said in that speech, namely that American Protestantism has fallen under Satan’s influence but not the Catholic Church in America. That statement would be hard to defend. But his assertion that America is under Satanic attack is biblically and observably accurate.

I’m reminded of how great the need is in this nation for true revival and spiritual awakening when people get all bent-out-of-shape over someone suggesting that there are spiritual forces at work in this world that must be resisted. Ignorance or apathy regarding Satan’s activities is one of his greatest assets, and that’s where our nation is today. “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22) is an rightly-deserved indictment on the United States of America.

Pray for our nation to return to God. But until that happens, pray that God’s people will remain true and strong in their spiritual journeys. We have a spiritual enemy that “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Don’t let that “someone” be you…

Saturday, March 3, 2012

How NOT to Fix a Mistake

Okay, let me say first-of-all that this true story is not (supposed to be) funny. That’s my official disclaimer.

Did you hear about the pet groomer at a Petco in Hawaii who cut off part of a puppy's ear and then tried to cover it up by gluing it back on…unsuccessfully? Gladys Kapuwi said that after she retrieved her Pomerian-Maltese mix, Dodo, from her grooming session, she found that part of her pet’s ear had been cut off…and evidently the groomer had made a futile attempt to glue it back without telling Dodo’s owner. Surprise, surprise--Ms. Kapuwi is suing Petco! Wha...? Ms. Kapuwi wasn't satisfied with the groomer’s attempt to fix a mistake?

That makes me wonder how God must view our attempts to fix our mistakes instead of owning up to our sins. We mess up but we try to glue everything back so no one will notice…always unsuccessfully. Yet God has made His offer and plan for forgiveness plain in the Scriptures:

“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10).

As we continue our 40 Days of Prayer & Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough, do better than trying to “fix” your mistakes. Confess your sin to God who “is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I’m praying for you today…

Friday, March 2, 2012

Singin' and Dancin' in the Rain!

Where I live is supposed to get some bad storms today. Of course, we had a 90% chance of severe weather a couple of days ago and it proved to be a non-event. But I digress…

I know I must sound like a raving lunatic when I talk about how much I love storms, but I really do. I don’t want anybody to get hurt or for anything to get torn up…but I love a good thunderstorm. But storms get a bad rap most of the time.

“Storm-haters” complain about the inconvenience and potential of bad weather, but they never talk about the good things about storms. Thunderstorms can bring much needed moisture to areas. They often prune our trees of dead branches. They even lessen the amount of pollen in the air, making life a bit more bearable for allergy sufferers. What I’m saying is that not everything about storms is bad; sometimes storms do good (by God’s design, no doubt).

Keep in mind, though, that not all storms are the result of atmospheric disturbances. We call them “storms of life,” and they are more personal and painful than the rain and wind of thunderstorms. But the same is true of life’s storms that is true of storms in general—some storms do more good than bad. In other words, good often comes out of the bad.

A few years ago Joel Ruth discovered a (formerly) hidden treasure on the beaches of Florida, $40,000 worth of nearly 300-year-old near-mint-condition silver coins to be exact. The coins were from a Spanish treasure fleet of about a dozen ships that were destroyed by a hurricane in 1715. It took another hurricane, Hurricane Jeanne in September of 2004, to uncover the Spanish treasure.

How often do we miss the good of life’s storms? How often are we so focused on the sights and sounds of storms that we miss what God is trying to tell us as He speaks from within the storm (as opposed to in the absence of the storm)? How often has God uncovered some “treasure” but we were unwilling to look for it? As storms (hopefully) pass through Middle Tennessee today, ask God to reveal the good that He wants to accomplish through your current “life storms.”

I’m reminded of the time when Jesus’ disciples were struggling to row their boat against a storm…when they saw Jesus walking on the water! Besides the obvious miracle before them, Jesus was walking on top of the very waves that were threatening them with so much harm. I’m encouraged by that! No matter what is going on in my life today, Jesus is greater than my storm.

“Thank you, Lord, for the storms…and for the hidden treasures that you sometimes reveal through the storms. Also, thank you for the rainbow after the storm is over. May I ever be mindful that without the rain, we’d never see such unparalleled beauty. And, Father, teach me the joy of singin' and dancin' in the rain!”

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Keepin' On Keepin' On

Like many of you, I’m reading through the Bible this year. I’m almost finished with the Old Testament book of Joshua in which Joshua leads the people of Israel to claim what is rightfully theirs by the decree of the LORD. One little detail that we sometimes overlook, however, is that to possess their inheritance…they had to dispossess the inhabitants who were already there.

The tribes of Israel were promised the land of Canaan as their inheritance by the LORD. It was theirs…but not without a fight.

I’m reminded this morning of promises God has made to us as His children—promises of victory and peace and hope. But while such promises are assured, they’re not automatic. We must “fight the good fight of faith,” as the apostle Paul put it in 1 Timothy 6:12, if we’re to enjoy what is rightfully ours.

Unfortunately, perhaps we’ve taken the old hymn a bit too literally:
Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
Listening every moment to the Spirit’s call
Resting in my Savior as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.

That song (that I love as one of my favorites) is sometimes misunderstood to suggest that faith is stationary, yet faith is active! In fact, the Christian life is one battle after another.

On this first day of March, keep pressing ahead as we continue our 40 Days of Prayer & Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough. We have an enemy who opposes us, but we must resist him and dispossess his influence in and around our lives. I’m praying for you!

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12).

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day!

If you were to ask the average guy on the street how many days there are in a year, he’d probably say that there are 365. He’d be wrong. There are actually 365.25 days in a year (well, to be exact it's 365.242199 which translates into 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 let's just say that 365.25 is close enough), and that’s why we have Leap Year every four years.

From Julius Caesar to Pope Gregory, attempts were made to rectify the calendar. Eventually Leap Year was devised, and now we adjust our calendars every four years by adding an extra day in February.
Thinking about today’s date made me think of those who were born on February 29 and the joke many of them have about how old they are. (Since their birth date only comes around every four years, they joke that they’re only a quarter as old as their peers.) Still, I suppose birthdays really are extra special to Leap Year babies.
All this Leap Year talk is leading to this thought to consider: Time, as important and crucial as it is to our lives, is only temporary. It’s a creation just like most everything else. And while we must “redeem the time because the days are evil,” let us not lose sight of eternity. It’s so easy to get sidetracked by temporal things that we forget what matters most.

I'm praying for you as we continue our 40 Days of Prayer & Fasting...and part of what I'm praying is that God would reorder our priorities to embrace the things that last forever and minimize the hold that temporal things have on our lives.

Monday, February 27, 2012

"They won't listen." You sure about that?

Are you a “glass is half-full” or a “glass is half-empty” kind of person? The difference is not in what you see but in how you see it. Such perspective plays a huge role in how we view our witnessing opportunities.

As I look into Clarksville and Montgomery County, I see a community that is 86% unchurched. Almost 9-out-of-10 people in this county have no meaningful relationship with any house of worship of any faith. And it’s easy to assume, “They won’t listen.”

Look on the jail booking log sometime and you’ll see people right here in Montgomery County who’ve been arrested for domestic abuse and drug possession (often with the intent to sell) and prostitution and murder and theft and disorderly conduct. And it’s easy to assume, “They won’t listen.”

Go to public places, hang out with real people, listen to what they talk about, hear how they talk, and you might be surprised how little people think about God. So it’s easy to assume, “They won’t listen.”

But consider this—we can sit around lamenting that they won’t listen…or we can act as if they need to hear!

This reminds me of the shoe manufacturer who years ago decided to open the Congo market, so they sent two salesmen to the undeveloped territory. One salesman cabled back: “Prospect here nil. No one wears shoes.” The other salesman reported enthusiastically, “Market potential terrific! Everyone is barefooted.”

“…lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest” (John 4:35).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

...death still stinks

It's no secret that C.S. Lewis has been one of the most influential figures in my Christian life; I quote him all the time. Think on these words by Lewis on this Sunday morning...and take them with you when you gather for worship today.

"He cannot bless us unless He has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death."

Ever walked up on a dead animal in the woods? Death has a distinctive smell; and regardless of how many olfactory-associated adjectives we can use, death still stinks. Unfortunately, though, some of us have lived with the stench of death so long that we've gotten used to the smell. God, on the other hand, hasn't.

I'm praying for you as we journey with our Lord and with one another through these 40 Days of Fasting & Prayer for spiritual breakthrough...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Lord, preach to me first...before I preach to them."

Contemplating an insightful quote by Pete Scazzero this morning:
"To change people's lives deeply through the Word, the preacher's life has to be transformed first by that Word."

Saturday is like batting practice before the ballgame for a preacher. Pray for your pastor today as he surrenders himself to God's voice in preparation for "game time" tomorrow.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Complete Abandon to God in Prayer

I came across a quote some time back that convicted my heart. It was something that Catholic monk/mystic Thomas Merton wrote years ago: “What is the use of praying if at the very moment of prayer, we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer?”

I want to encourage you to abandon yourself to God when you pray. It's not the mere act of saying a prayer that is powerful but our genuine trust in God when we pray.

I'm not generally a big fan of written prayers, per se; but there's one written by Charles de Foucauld (pr. foo-koe), also known as Brother Charles of Jesus, that captures the kind of complete abandonment to God when we pray that I'm talking about:

Father, I abandon myself into Your hands.
Do with me what You will.
Whatever You do, I thank You.
I am ready for all,
I accept all.
Let only Your will be done in me, and in all Your creatures,
I ask no more than this, O Lord.

Into Your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to You with all the love of my heart,
For I love You, Lord, and so need to give myself,
To surrender myself into Your hands,
Without reserve and with boundless confidence,
For You are my Father.

I'm praying for you as we journey together through these 40 Days of Prayer and Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough...

Thursday, February 23, 2012


By now you’ve probably heard of Jeremy Lin, an Asian-American pro basketball player from Harvard who was undrafted and cut twice from NBA teams, who has been taking the pro sports world by storm lately. Until about a month ago, he was only a backup to the backup to the backup…for the New York Knicks.

After Lin outscored Kobe Bryant (Lin’s 38 points to Bryant’s 34 points) and led the Knicks to victory over the Lakers on February 10, Bryant observed, “Players playing that well don’t usually come out of nowhere. It seems like they come out of nowhere, but if you can go back and take a look, his skill level was probably there from the beginning. It probably just went unnoticed.” The buzzword in New York lately is “Linsanity!”

Jeremy Lin is also a committed Christian and wants to become a pastor someday. After games Lin quietly thanks “Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, for giving me this opportunity.” His behavior and demeanor despite incredible odds exudes humility and a Christlike spirit.

Something Lin said in a 2010 interview (long before “Linsanity!”) makes me like this guy even more. This is the attitude that every believer should have about everything, and Jeremy Lin says it best: “I’m not working hard and practicing day in and day out so that I can please other people. My audience is God….The right way to play is not for others and not for myself, but for God.”

As we continue with our 40 days of fasting and prayer for spiritual breakthrough, let’s check our motives for why we do what we do…

I’m praying for you!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What Hee Haw Can Teach Us About Holiness

At last night's PG-13 MAN CHURCH (ordinarily we encourage males of all ages to be there), we focused on the plague of pornography. Although there's nothing funny about sin's talons sunk deep into men's (and many women's) hearts, I was reminded of a skit from the old Hee Haw show that makes a great point when it comes to pornography (or any sin).

Doc Campbell is confronted by a patient who says he broke his arm in two places. The doc replies, "Well then, stay out of them places!"

That's not bad advice. We can't continually put ourselves in sin's way and not be affected by temptation. We need to take the good doc's advice and "stay out of them places."

2 Timothy 2:22--"Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Monday, February 20, 2012

My Monday Morning Musing

A Greek philosopher wanted to illustrate to his students that they must not only have knowledge but also a life changed by the truths he gave them. He said, “Sheep do not vomit up the grass to show the shepherds how much they have eaten. They inwardly digest their food so that they can outwardly produce wool and milk. Likewise, do not show theorems to the unlearned, but rather show the actions produced by the theorems after they have been digested.”

As we continue our 40 Days of Fasting & Prayer for Spiritual Breakthrough, I trust that we are allowing God to teach us some things. But let's digest what He gives us! Let's allow the Holy Spirit freedom to apply to our daily lives whatever God reveals to us. Learning something new is one thing; living it is quite another.

"Prove yourselves doers of the Word and not merely hearers who delude themselves" (James 1:22).

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Michael Crichton on Gossip...sort of, well not really but read on anyway!

Several years ago I read a book by Michael Crichton (known especially for Jurassic Park) entitled State of Fear. It’s a fictional look at a global disaster caused by eco-terrorists. In classic Crichton fashion, that book freaked me out! It might be my favorite Crichton novel.

Crichton was meticulous in his research, which is one reason that I like to read his stuff. To prepare for State of Fear, he researched global disasters. Of special interest to Crichton was what happened at Chernobyl, one of the worst man-made disasters in history. He was surprised, though, to discover that the fearful legend of Chernobyl didn’t line up with actual facts.

Crichton gave a speech in 2005 in which he shared some of what he had learned. His research shows just how powerful false information can be:

“Chernobyl was a tragic event, but nothing remotely close to the global catastrophe I imagined. About 50 people had died in Chernobyl, roughly the number of Americans that die every day in traffic accidents. I don’t mean to be gruesome, but it was a setback for me. You can’t write a novel about a global disaster in which only 50 people die….

“What I had been led to believe about Chernobyl was not merely wrong—it was astonishingly wrong….

“The initial reports in 1986 claimed 2,000 dead and an unknown number of future deaths and deformities occurring in a wide swath extending from Sweden to the Black Sea. As the years passed, the size of the disaster increased: by 2000, the BBC and New York Times estimated 15,000–30,000 dead, and so on…

“Now, to report that 15,000–30,000 people have died, when the actual number is 56, represents a big error….

“But, of course, you think, We’re talking about radiation: what about long-term consequences? Unfortunately here the media reports are even less accurate.

Pointing to a chart, he said that there were “estimates as high as 3.5 million, or 500,000 deaths, when the actual number of delayed deaths is less than 4,000. That’s the number of Americans who die of adverse drug reactions every six weeks. Again, a huge error.

“But most troubling of all, according to the U.N. report in 2005, is that ‘the largest public health problem created by the accident’ is the ‘damaging psychological impact [due] to a lack of accurate information…[manifesting] as negative self-assessments of health, belief in a shortened life expectancy, lack of initiative, and dependency on assistance from the state.’

“In other words, the greatest damage to the people of Chernobyl was caused by bad information. These people weren’t blighted by radiation so much as by terrifying but false information. We ought to ponder, for a minute, exactly what that implies. We demand strict controls on radiation because it is such a health hazard. But Chernobyl suggests that false information can be a health hazard as damaging as radiation. I am not saying radiation is not a threat. I am not saying Chernobyl was not a genuinely serious event.

“But thousands of Ukrainians who didn’t die were made invalids out of fear. They were told to be afraid. They were told they were going to die when they weren’t. They were told their children would be deformed when they weren’t. They were told they couldn’t have children when they could. They were authoritatively promised a future of cancer, deformities, pain and decay. It’s no wonder they responded as they did.”

If you’ve read my blog regularly, you know that I’ve given attention for a few days to the plight of gossip. Perhaps one of the greatest needs among believers today is to guard our tongues. Disseminating false information (or even factual information shared for the purpose of hurting someone else’s reputation) can be crippling…and has no place among Christians.

Ask God today for a “gossip audit.” Ask Him to reveal any areas in which you’ve been careless with your words (or in listening to someone else’s). Perhaps meditate on Matthew 12:34-37 and/or James 3:2-12

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Why Tell a Lie When the Truth Will Do Just as Much Damage?" HUH?

Proverbs 26:20-23
20 For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.
21 Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife.
22 The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body.
23 Like an earthen vessel overlaid with silver dross are burning lips and a wicked heart.

Gossip has been defined as “telling facts, rumors, or behind-the-scenes information about other persons, especially of an intimate or personal nature.” In other words, it’s information that may very well be true but that can damage a person’s reputation.

Jim Cymbala talks about in his book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire that “it’s not crack cocaine, government oppression, or even lack of funds” that destroys churches. “It’s gossip and slander that grieves the Holy Spirit.”

And by the way, listening to gossip is as bad as telling it. Proverbs 17:4—“An evildoer listens to wicked lips; a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.” In fact, Proverbs 20:19 goes as far as to say, “He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip.” Wow!

Let me share with you two words that will serve as helpful acronyms when it comes to gossip. First is the word “DEAF.” Think about it this way:

“Before I Listen to Gossip,” I must...
Define my boundaries
Examine my own heart
Ask uncomfortable questions
Forget what I’ve heard

Make up your mind now to be “DEAF” to gossip.

Next is the word “THINK.” Decide now, “Before I Gossip” I will ask if it is…

If what I “need” to tell doesn’t pass this litmus test, then I need to keep quiet.

Finally, the late Leonard Ravenhill said it well and his words are fitting for our 40-day emphasis on fasting and prayer for spiritual breakthrough: “We never pray for folk we gossip about, and we never gossip about the folk for whom we pray!”

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Gossip: America's Favorite Pastime?

In January of 2006, Australian scientists discovered the cause of a mysterious disease that had killed thousands of Tasmanian Devils on the island state of Tasmania. The scientists initially believed a virus caused the deaths; however, their research ultimately uncovered a rare, fatal cancer. They named it Devil Facial Tumor Disease, or DFTD.

What is strange, according to cytogeneticist Anne-Marie Pearse, is that the abnormalities in the chromosomes of the cancer cells were the same in every tumor. That means the disease began in the mouth of a single, sick devil. That individual facilitated the spread of DFTD by biting its neighbors when squabbling for food, which, according to Pearse, is a natural devil behavior: "Devils jaw-wrestle and bite each other a lot, usually in the face and around the mouth, and bits of tumor break off one devil and stick in the wounds of another."

Over the course of several years, infected devils continued to inflict deadly wounds with their mouths. Consequently, DFTD spread at an alarming rate, ultimately wiping out over 40 percent of the devil population.

A similar fate threatens the Church if its members persist in the devilish behavior of wounding their neighbors with their mouths. During these forty days of fasting and prayer for spiritual breakthrough, let us examine our own lives to see if the sin of gossip is holding back God's best from us...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fight the Good Fight of Faith!

If you're taking this prayer & fasting seriously, then my guess is you've already experienced spiritual warfare...and I don't mean mere food cravings. I mean the kind of battle where you feel like some medieval-like warrior fighting for your life against dark forces!

We came into this expecting a fight, and a fight is just what we're getting! But don't get discouraged or distracted in the battle. The stakes are too high just because the goin' gets tough. So stand strong and stay true!

Remember the words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:10-18--
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit...

By the way, sometimes we lose a battle...but that doesn't mean that we've lost the war! Keep on "fight[ing] the good fight of faith!" (1 Timothy 6:12).

May the following inspire you! [Warning: these are battle scenes from movies and may be graphic...guy-kind-of-stuff]

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

This Is Love...

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever
believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life"
(John 3:16).

"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners,
Christ died for us"
(Romans 5:8).

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we
ought to lay down our lives for our brothers"
(1 John 3:16).

"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15).

"Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves
me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him"
(John 14:21).

"Jesus replied, 'If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will
love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him'"
(John 14:23).

"This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).

"And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard
from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love"
(2 John 6).

"Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold..." (Matthew 24:12).

"But I have this against you, that you have left your first love..." (Revelation 2:4).

Be inspired on this Valentine's Day to stay true to your First True Love!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Short & Sweet

The length of my sermons comes up in conversations from time to time, and I’m usually good-natured about it. Sometimes, though, I think I’ve met the guy who told his pastor, “That sermon was certainly food for thought…but we prefer fast food.” Or how about the pastor who got up in the pulpit one Sunday morning and apologized for the Band-aid on his face? He said “I was thinking about my sermon while shaving and cut my face.” Afterward he found a note in collection plate, “Next time, think about your face and cut the sermon.”

I suppose the same discussion about length could sometimes be said about my blog posts. That’s why this one’s going to be short:

“Christian fasting, at its root, is the hunger of a homesickness for God.” -- John Piper

Saturday, February 11, 2012

I Am a Man of Unclean Lips, and I Live Among a People of Unclean Lips

As we pray and fast for spiritual breakthrough, don’t forget to pray for our nation. The United States was undeniably founded upon Judeo-Christian principles…yet we have forsaken God as a nation. We desperately need a mighty move of God in America.

Contrary to what many people think, I don’t believe such a spiritual awakening will ever be the result of elections. Who we elect is important—no doubt—and we need to vote our values. But elections don’t so much dictate the pulse of our nation as they reveal it.

Recently our president has attempted to erase the freedom of religious conscience by mandating that religious organizations had to provide “all [federally] approved forms of contraception” (including abortion-causing drugs) to their employees through their insurance coverage, even when such coverage violates their fundamental religious beliefs. Yesterday, he tweaked the mandate by saying that religious organizations could refuse to offer such coverage but the insurance companies would still have the burden to provide the contraception anyway. That sounds like a shell game to me, but…

Along those same lines, treating abortion like a simple surgical procedure and liberalizing the “morning after pill” are signs of the times and should cause believers great distress. Blurring the lines of sexuality is another problem plaguing our nation. The church has largely stuck its head in the sand and remained silent on sexual sins like fornication, adultery, and homosexuality…and we will have a hefty price to pay as a result. While our nation heartily debates redefining marriage to include homosexuals, the case for heterosexual-only marriage has been hollowed out by rampant infidelity and divorce. We need spiritual awakening!

We don’t like to admit it, but our nation’s economy largely runs on greed. I’m all for capitalism; I want you to know that. But c’mon…it doesn’t take a Harvard MBA to see that something is fundamentally wrong with our nation’s economy. It’s broken…just like our nation’s moral compass! And, while I’m here, socialism is not the answer! What’s happening in America in regard to Wall Street are knee-jerk reactions and ideological engineering that strip individuals of their dignity and incentive to reward irresponsible and reckless behavior. We need a spiritual awakening that touches every facet of our society, our economy included!

Oh that we could see a massive groundswell of repentance among God’s people that would lead to spiritual awakening across America that would return us to our spiritual roots! Isaiah’s words are on target this morning: “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…” (Isaiah 6:5). We must embrace corporate acknowledgement and repentance of sin!

Will you take time today to pray for spiritual awakening in our nation?

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Lesson Learned from a Travel-Sized Tube of Toothpaste

This week I was in Miami as a Trustee for the North American Mission Board. Before I left town I did the whole routine of buying the tiny TSA-approved toiletries, including a tiny tube of toothpaste. When I used it for the first time, I honestly thought to myself, "This is like me far too often."

First, it was puffed up like it was full of toothpaste...yet I had to squeeze it a couple of seconds before I got anything out because it was mostly just full of air. How often does God find me full of hot air and lacking substance?

Then I couldn't help but think how the only way to get anything out of a tube of toothpaste is to squeeze it. That might not sound terribly profound, but here was my thought: Do I freely give of myself or does God have to squeeze "it" out of me (whatever "it" is)?

And talking about squeezing the toothpaste out of the tube, have you ever noticed that it seems like you can always squeeze just a little bit more out even when you think the tube is empty? I know enough about myself to know that I sometimes tell God that I'm all tapped out...that there's just nothing more. Yet when God squeezes me, I realize I still have something more to give. Why can't I give my all without being forced to do so?

Before you assume that I've fallen off my rocker because I'm now hearing God speak from Crest, consider that Proverbs 6:6 tells us to look at ants for a life lesson. It's not without biblical precedent to observe truth in the context of daily life. And with our current church-wide emphasis on fasting and prayer for spiritual breakthrough, God reminded me of some things about myself that I don't really like to admit...all from a tiny tube of toothpaste.

I'm praying for you!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

I'm So Hungry!

Whenever we fast from food, the chief struggle (or at least this is true for me) is the pangs of hunger. If we're not careful, we'll forget to pray for focusing on our hunger.

When I think of Moses or Daniel or Jesus or the early Christians fasting, I can't help but believe that they were plagued with hunger like we are. But the real question is, "Were they hungry because they fasted or did they fast because they were hungry?"

"Fast because they were hungry?!? You sure you said that right?"

Herein is the key to prayer, fasting, and the power of God. What are we most hungry for when we fast? Food or God? I think that one of the values of fasting, beyond the humility that such self-denial can bring, is the discovery that "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). We discover that we need God more than we need our next meal. So, ideally, we should fast because we're hungry...hungry for God.

One of my favorite stories in the life of Jesus is found in John 4 when Jesus and His disciples had gone to Samaria. He sent His disciples on into town to buy food while He stayed behind (little did they know but Jesus had an divine appointment with a Samaritan woman at the well). When the disciples returned, they urged Jesus to eat.

Jesus replied, "I have food to eat that you do not know about" (32). Obviously the disciples were puzzled by Jesus' words, so He clarified His statement by saying, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work" (34). Those words seriously humble me. Could I honestly make such a statement? Yet fasting reminds us that we need God more than anything.

So the next time you're fasting from food and the hunger hits your hard, say (maybe even out loud?), "I'm so hungry...for God!" Be encouraged...spiritual breakthrough is coming!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Have It My Way?

So there I was on a day recently when I was fasting...sitting at a stop light...with a Burger King to my left. The smell of burgers on the grill was killing me. My insides already felt like they were gnawing their way out. I was so hungry.

When I looked to to my left, immediately my eyes fell on Burger King's famous phrase emblazoned on the side of their building for all the world to see: "Have It Your Way!" And in that instant, I knew that phrase to be true. I could have it my way.

Yet I made a vow to fast at least one day a week during these 40 Days of Fasting and Prayer, and I intend to keep my promise. While I honestly don't understand all the spiritual dynamics of fasting, I do believe that the power of fasting is undeniable. But when I saw that phrase, "Have It Your Way!" I knew that I could choose the easy way and do whatever my body craved...or I could direct that physical hunger toward my spiritual hunger for God.

Perhaps I just seriously over-spiritualized a harmless slogan...but it was a spiritually dark statement to me in that moment. I literally sensed our enemy whisper to my heart, "You don't have to do this...Jesus never commanded you to fast...[and this is the clincher] one would know if you slipped in there and ate a burger or two." I literally had this discussion in my car! "I can have it my way...but I don't want my way! I want God's way!"

We know these words from the Lord's Prayer: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). Inherent in those few words is an implied surrender of our wills to our Lord's. It's one way of saying, "I want God's way!"

May we be encouraged as we continue our "40 Days of Prayer and Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough"!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I'm Serious!

James Packer had a good insight to fasting in a book he wrote 25 years ago entitled, Your Father Loves You:

“In Scripture we see several purposes for fasting. It’s part of the discipline of self-control; it’s a way of sharing that we depend on God alone and draw all our strength and resources from him; it’s a way of focusing totally on Him when seeking his guidance and help, and of showing that you really are in earnest in your quest; it’s also, at times, an expression of sorrow and deep repentance, something that a person or community will do in order to acknowledge failure before God and seek his mercy.”

I like Packer’s statement because it essentially describes fasting as saying, “I’m serious…”

Warren Wiersbe also said something that fits our current emphasis on fasting: "Too many Christians obey God only because of pressure on the outside and not power on the inside."

May God breathe wind into your sails today!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Those Who Do Not Learn from History are Doomed to Repeat It

In 1863, President Lincoln designated April 30th as a day of national humiliation, fasting, and prayer. Here's a portion of his proclamation on that occasion:

“It is the duty of nations, as well as of men, who owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by a history that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord. The awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has grown, but we have forgotten God.”

Could the same not be said about our nation today? And have those same attitudes of affluence and independence not impacted 21st-century churches in America? Even further, do our own lives not far-too-often resemble the country that President Lincoln was describing?

As you fast during this season of prayer & fasting, think beyond your own life and your own church to envision how far God wants to reach through a people completely dependent upon Him. Might He be able to use us to change a nation?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Saturday, February 4, 2012

In Fasting, What You Give Up Is Not as Important As What You Take Up

Hey guys, this is Morgan! My dad is letting me guest blog for him today so that I can tell my story of fasting. Recently one of my best friends and I decided that we would fast from food for a day, and I have to admit that I was kind of nervous. She felt God telling her to fast and I also felt the need to do so. We decided to do it on the same day for support and so that we could be each other’s accountability partner. We did it and survived.

I learned some valuable lessons through my experience. One of the most important is that in fasting, what a person gives up is not as important as what that person takes up.

I’m being really transparent here (even at the cost of embarrassing myself)…but as I struggled through my hunger, I thought the purpose of fasting was to learn how not to be hungry when you fast. Whenever I would usually be eating, I prayed the whole time…which was odd to me because I’m not accustomed to praying for 30 minutes straight. My constant prayer during that whole period of time was that God would help me not to be hungry.

Not until I told my dad what I had been praying did I learn that fasting is not about not being hungry but about being hungry for God. I was praying for God to take away my hunger; I should have been praying for God to redirect my hunger toward Him.

I’m still new to this whole fasting thing, but I’m discovering that there’s a negative side to fasting and a positive side to fasting. Negatively, I give up something. Positively, though, I give my attention to something else (or, rather, Someone else).

I’m looking forward to next time…and I’m going to remember that fasting is not about what I give up as much as it is what I take up. And I’m taking up a prayer for God to do something amazing in my life and through His church!

P.S. Some students might think it’s hard to fast during school. No one wants to be “that kid” sitting at the table ignoring everyone, sitting there with head down and praying the whole time. What my friend and I did (and you could do also) was tell Administration what you are participating in. They were very supportive and let us go down to the gym locker room where it was quiet. Anybody can do this, not just adults!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Jesus Never Commanded Fasting

Jesus never commanded fasting. Does that surprise you? Be careful not to assume, though, that He was somehow uninterested in fasting. In fact, He assumed that His followers would fast when He said, “When you fast…”

Keep the following in mind, though. We don’t fast to score points with God or earn His favor. Fasting never changes God; it changes us. Determining to fast in itself is a step in the right direction, because it says, “I need to reprioritize my spiritual life.” The pangs of fasting are reminders to pray and that our deeper hunger must be for God. Fasting has a way of stripping away our pride by showing us how weak we really are.

I imagine the process of fasting producing a similar effect in us as someone refinishing a piece of furniture. Before the item can reach its full potential, layers of old paint or finish have to be removed. (If you’ve ever refinished an old chest, you know that there can be many layers of paint to deal with!) And how do you remove the old layers of finish? Sand paper, perhaps?

Ever felt God’s sand paper rubbing on your life? It’s not the most pleasant thing you’ll ever go through…but God never brings such discomfort into our lives without the finished product in view. We can trust Him on that! But He won’t do in us what He wants as long as we’re still covered in layers of pride and self and sinful habits and…

Even though we are journeying together across these 40 days, each of us is taking a deeply personal journey—just God and ourselves—as well. Trust God through the pain and inconvenience…trust Him that the finished work is going to be so worth it!

Matthew 6:16-18 NLT
"And when you fast, don't make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Don't Be a Hypocrite

“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18 NLT)

Fasting is an intensely private matter between an individual and God. That’s not to say, though, that a group of believers can’t collectively fast. Esther called upon her uncle Mordecai to rally their people to an absolute fast (no food or drink) for three days when Haman’s murder plot against the Jews was discovered (Esther 4:16). The church of Antioch fasted and prayed as a group before the first “official” Christian missionaries went out from among them (Acts 13:1-3). That other people know we’re fasting is not the issue. That our fasting could be an attempt to impress other people is the issue. It’s always a matter of the heart.

When Jesus spoke of fasting in the Sermon on the Mount, He was referring to a common practice among Pharisees to make themselves look unkempt on the days they were fasting. This was a subtle attempt to solicit the praise of people for their (supposed) deep devotion. And considering that the Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12), their appearance was a common sight.

Jesus said that if we practice our righteousness (whether it’s prayer, giving, or fasting) to be seen by others, then their praise is all the reward that we’ll receive. On the other hand, fasting that is private and sincere never goes unnoticed by our Heavenly Father.

Be encouraged today as you seek the Lord with prayer and fasting...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

And the Journey Begins...

Today the church I pastor, Hilldale Baptist Church, begins a 40-day challenge of prayer and fasting. As we embark upon this journey toward spiritual breakthrough, I want to spend a few days addressing a few of the basics.

I can’t help but think about how fasting is connected to prayer and the power of God in that fasting ties prayer and God’s power together. It serves like an umbilical cord between the two, a conduit through which we communicate and commune with God and He with us. If you think about it, we can talk about prayer without mentioning fasting and we can talk about the power of God without addressing fasting…but how can we talk about fasting without including prayer and the power of God?

Daniel 9:3 is a good example of the earnest appeal that fasting epitomizes in our prayers. The prophet wrote, “So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting...”

I sometimes think of fasting like the experiment I conducted as a kid with a magnifying glass, sunshine, and a leaf. Did you ever do that? The sun shines all around us, but a magnifying glass can magnify and intensify sunlight into a laser that can burn a hole in a leaf! That’s what fasting does to our prayers, if our fasting is genuine. Prayer coupled with fasting can “burn a hole” in the walls that stifle our spiritual lives…that’s spiritual breakthrough!

I encourage you to take this season of prayer and fasting seriously. Let this be a time of unusual intensity in your prayer life and pursuit of God’s holiness. Don’t rob yourself of what God wants to bring about in your life and our church.

I really believe spiritual breakthrough is coming…

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Today's as Good a Day as Any

For whatever reason, I have let my blog go by the wayside. It's not that I decided not to blog's not even that I lost interest in blogging. More than anything I just let other things in my life/schedule crowd out my blog.

But today's as good a day as any to reignite my blog!

Beginning tomorrow, February 1, through Sunday, March 11, the church I pastor ( is entering a 40-day season of prayer and fasting for spiritual breakthrough. I believe with all my heart that God has prompted me to lead our church in this unprecedent move (unprecedented for us, that is). As part of my fasting, I am "going dark" on Facebook and Twitter for those 40 days. As of midnight tonight, I will be silent and unreachable via those social media.

Fasting is a largely misunderstood and neglected discipline of the Christian faith...and perhaps it's neglected because it's misunderstood. When we generally refer to fasting, we think of abstaining from food...and for good reason. But fasting can encompass more than food. The apostle Paul urged husbands and wives, for instance, not to deprive one another of sexual intimacy "except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer" (1 Corinthians 7:5). That's a form of non-food fasting.

Fasting is more about one's heart than about self-denial or food. And with that being the case...the purpose is not to be hungry, per se, but to increase one's hunger for God. The purpose is not self-denial that leads to pride but self-denial that leads to humility. The purpose is not to focus on what we're giving up but what we're gaining. Once again, fasting is more about one's heart than about self-denial or food.

Across these 40 days I plan to blog encouragement and information that I pray will make the 40-day journey of fasting more beneficial to our church family. Perhaps the reach of these blog posts will reach beyond my particular faith family, and that'll be alright. :-)

One last thing--I'm not asking people to stop eating for 40 days. The number 40 is significant in the Scriptures, no doubt, and that's why we're doing this challenge for that length of time. But the goal is for everyone to some some way...perhaps by fasting one day a week for this whole period. Across the 40 days, I'm trusting that somebody will be fasting on each of the 40 days. I don't have to know who they are or what they're doing. Fasting is between an individual and God. Period. But we can collectively fast, and we're doing just that for the purpose of spiritual our hearts and our homes and our church.

Some have said, "Pastor, I've never fasted and I don't know that I can." Try this--fast for one meal. Spend that time in prayer and the Word. Let God speak to your heart. Let the hunger that you feel drive you into God's presence. Once you discover you can fast from one meal, try two. Then attempt fasting for a day! You can do it! When I fast, I do it as I understand that Jesus would have done it--I fast from supper, breakfast, and lunch (in that order). So I might fast from 5:00 p.m. to the same time the next day.

You can do this!

I really believe spiritual breakthrough is coming...!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

It's A Boy!

“It’s a Boy!”

Many-a-father has walked out of a delivery room and made that grand announcement, “It’s a Boy!” Personally, I’ve been equally elated to announce twice—with the delight that only a new father can display—“It’s a girl!” There’s nothing quite like that announcement of a newborn baby.

And listen, there’s an unmistakable message in those few words, “It’s a Boy!” No one thinks, “Oh, he must have lost his job”…or “They must have bought a new car”…or “The stock market must be up today.” No! Everyone knows what those words mean—a baby’s been born! It’s clearly identifiable…it’s obvious…it’s unmistakable!

This time of year, you’ll hear people throwing around lots of phrases: Merry Christmas, Merry X-mas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Season’s Greetings…and some folk argue endlessly about what the right words are. Personally, I’m not that offended when somebody says, “Happy Holidays” to me…I can still wish them whatever I want to. (And by the way, don’t ruin your witness as a believer by being rude to a sales clerk who’s just trying to do her job…and trying to keep her job by obeying her employer’s rules.)

We get all tangled up in terminology, sometimes so passionately that we lose sight of what it’s really all about. That’s why I’ll give you a good way to stay on task today and every Christmas season. Try this on for size…the next time someone wishes you “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” or even “Merry Christmas,” respond with “It’s a Boy!” and see what happens…it forces us to remember the heart of the Christmas message!

The angel told Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus” (Luke 1:31).That name, by the way, is significant because it literally means, “Jehovah saves.”

We so easily and nonchalantly wish one another “Merry Christmas”—and that’s fine—but are we really grasping the excitement and enthusiasm of Christ’s birth when we do? “It’s a Boy!” reminds us that a baby’s been born in Bethlehem, and He is the Savior for the whole world. That's what this day should be all about!

Friday, December 24, 2010

What Does "LOVE" Mean?

A group of children was asked, “What does ‘love’ mean?” Here are some of their answers:

  • Rebekah, 8, said, “When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time—even when his hands got arthritis, too. That's love.”
  • Billy, 4, said, “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.”
  • Bobby, 7, says, “Love is what's in the room at Christmas, if you stop opening presents and listen.”
  • Nikka, 6, says, “If you want to learn to love better, you should start with someone you hate.”
  • Tommy, 6, says, “Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.”
  • Cindy, 8, says, “During my piano recital, I was on a stage, and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me, and I saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. And I wasn't scared anymore.”
  • Jessica, 8, says, “You really shouldn't say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot.”

I got to thinking about asking God that same question, “What does ‘love’ mean?” and I was reminded of John 3:16“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” What a perfect verse to sum up the message of Christmas!

In all our celebrations this month, let’s not forget that the birth of Christ—the Incarnation, which is God clothing Himself in the garments of humanity—answers that question, “What does ‘love’ mean?”

There’s a poem that’s been set to music and sung by many…it’s called “Love Came Down at Christmas.” I couldn’t agree more!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

World War 1 Is Finally Over!

Well, I guess you’re glad that, as of a couple of months ago, World War 1 is finally over. I know I am!

Of course…I, like you, learned in school that it ended in 1918 or 1919…but that’s not technically true. When Germany surrendered, as part of the peace treaty, they were forced to sign a “war guilt” clause that included a pledge to pay billions of Reichsmarks in reparations. They made their final payment in October.

In the Bible—Romans 8:7—we’re told that our sin nature is at war against God. It says, “The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so.” But God initiated a peace treaty that paid the debt of our “war guilt,” a debt that we could never pay on our own if we had a million lifetimes to live.

And at the center of this peace treaty is Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and called “the Prince of Peace.” I love Isaiah 9:6 that says, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”

Now, it wasn’t just his birth that brings peace to our lives…Jesus was born, lived a sinless life, died upon the Cross as full payment for our sin, and rose from the dead to give us eternal life! But His birth set into motion His earthly life that would climax upon Calvary’s Cross…and fulfill that angelic prophecy that said, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

As Jesus hung on the Cross, He made a statement that was heard throughout all time and space. He said, “It is finished!” That’s literally an accounting term that means “Paid in full.” He made the final payment for our sin then and there.

Another thought along this line: We’ve always heard about some soldier stranded on a deserted island unaware the war has ended, still fighting the battles even though he no longer has to. That’s the way many people are living their lives today. If that's you, stop fighting. Realize that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, has signed the Peace Treaty in His own blood, providing peace to all who will receive it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Baby to the Rescue!

Did you hear about what happened to a 2-year old little girl in Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago? She and her mother were at a mall (in the food court)…and her mother says that she took her eyes off the child for just a few seconds. When she turned around, the child was gone…but then the mother saw her daughter…inside one of those toy claw machines where you pay money to operate the claw (like a crane) and try to pick up stuffed animals.

The little girl had crawled up through the chute of the toy machine. She could get in, but she couldn’t get out. And as you might guess, the mother was frantic that she could help her little girl…but the fire department soon came and, in about 15 minutes, had rescued the little girl from the predicament she had gotten herself into.

That true story makes me think of Christmas and I’ll tell you why. It’s not because they were in a mall. It’s not that the little girl wanted something that she did not have. That story reminds me of Christmas because in the much bigger picture, we (you and I) are that little girl.

The Bible says in Isaiah 59:2, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” In other words, sin has a dividing effect…separating us from God. And at the end of the day—even with all our debating about the origins of sin—sin is a choice. We choose to sin. We chose to crawl up a chute chasing cute and fuzzy fun…and entered a cage—the cage of sin—from which we could not rescue ourselves.

This is why the story of this Pennsylvania 2-year old makes me think of Christmas. What the fire department did for that little girl in rescuing her, God did for us in a manger in Bethlehem more than 20 centuries ago.

Matthew 1:21—one of my favorite verses at Christmas and all year long—“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What “2001: A Space Odyssey" Can Teach Us About Christmas

In the year after I was born, 1968, a movie came out that fascinated the world. Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick co-wrote “2001: A Space Odyssey.” I don’t really have time to discuss the details of the film, but suffice it to say that it was a futuristic look at the world…a prediction, of sorts.

Then, in 1984, a “2001: A Space Odyssey” sequel was released and it was about—among other things—humans making contact with alien life. And the year Clarke chose for this breakthrough? 2010. And here we are in December of 2010 and the closest we’ve come to making contact with alien life is the recent NASA announcement about some arsenic-based bacteria found in a California lake!

It’s actually quite humorous to read predictions made decades ago about what life would look like today. I know, based on all the hype from the mid-80s—I thought we’d all be driving flying cars by now. Futurists were predicting back then that we’d be living in floating space communities and underwater habitats by now. Japanese experts said in 1983 that by 2010 major diseases like cancer and heart disease would be conquered.

It’s easy to make such predictions…much more difficult to make them materialize.

That’s what makes the prophecies of Christ’s birth all the more amazing to me. The first one—Genesis 3:15—was given more than a thousand years before Jesus was born! Isaiah and Micah and Hosea prophesied explicit details of Jesus’ birth more than 700 years before the fact; Jeremiah 600 years. Daniel more than 500 years before Christ was born. And every single prediction—every prophecy—was fulfilled perfectly and completely…down to when and where and from what family Messiah would come!

Most of the predictions that people make today are just wishful thinking…and they would hardly qualify as “prophecy.” Prophecy is history written ahead of time…and only God can do that. I hope you'll give thought to the prophecies of Christ this Christmas and let them shape your understanding and reception of the coming of Christ!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Can You “Imagine” There’s No Christmas?

30 years ago this month, Mark Chapman fired two gun shots into the back of John Lennon outside of his apartment building in Upper West Manhattan. There’s been a good bit of talk and remembrance lately as the world reflected on his death.

Lennon, of course, was one of the Beatles…and in his early days he wrote songs like “Love, love me do” and “I want to hold your hand.” As he got older, though, his songs became a bit more serious. One such song that he wrote comes to my mind…with lyrics like these:

“Imagine there’s no Heaven. It’s easy if you try

No hell below us, Above us only sky

Imagine all the people, Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries, It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too….”

His lyrics were certainly popular (still are, in fact), but not terribly profound. Lennon believed that the world could become better and better and better until it was perfect. He believed in Utopia. So it’s kind of ironic, I suppose, that someone in the world that’s actually getting worse and worse and worse shot and killed him.

Lennon’s lyrics might have been catchy, but Jesus has never been wowed and wooed by them. Jesus spoke of heaven as a real place that He was preparing for his followers. Jesus warned of a real hell for those who choose to live and die without him.

But Jesus was born as a Babe in Bethlehem…He was called “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” God came down to us at Christmas to offer a relationship, not a religion. And whether we know it or not, we need God desperately!

Can you “imagine” there’s no Christmas?

God can’t! I can’t! And I don’t want to.

He has changed my life in dramatic ways and I don’t ever want to go back to that person that I used to be. I may not be who I ought to be (yet), but thank God I’m not who I used to be either! And I owe everything to Jesus!

*Special thanks to my friend Ron Hale for the essence of this blog post...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Real Solution for Real People with Real Problems

Last month, Bill Nye (y’know “The Science Guy”) was giving a lecture at the University of Southern California when he passed out mid-sentence…just collapsed right there on stage. At first, no one did anything…events like that have a way of shocking people into paralysis. But when the audience did react to Bill Nye, it wasn’t the kind of response that you might expect…and it wasn’t the kind of response that could offer “The Science Guy” any help.

Members of the audience, when they finally did respond, whipped out their phones and began to update statuses and Tweet about what just happened. Now, some of the students disputed portions of what got reported in the news stories…but it still raises a disturbing question: Are we so media-absorbed that we can't respond to real people right in front of us?

I’m so grateful that God, by way of a Baby born in Bethlehem, responded with a real solution for real people with real problems. The Bible doesn’t just tell us that we’ve stumbled…or that we’ve fallen…it doesn’t even say that we’re in really bad shape. You know what the Bible says about us apart from Christ? Paul wrote to the Ephesians about their lives in the B.C. days (y’know, “before Christ”) and he said, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins.”

But Jesus’ birth is God’s response to our very serious condition. And Colossians 2:13 explains what happens when we surrender our lives to Christ, “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins.”

So, how does that happen? Actually, it’s as easy as A-B-C:

A - Admit to God that you are a sinner

B – Believe in Jesus as God’s Son and that He died for your sins and rose from the dead

C – Confess Jesus as Lord of your life

Let me know how I can help you make that decision for Christ.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Human Beings Can't Walk Straight, and NPR Says So!

NPR had the most interesting story recently about why human beings cannot walk straight. They said, “Try this: Put a blindfold on someone, take them to a park or a beach or a meadow and ask them to walk for as long as they can in a straight line. Then watch what happens.”

According to this story (because I haven’t yet field-tested this theory personally, but I will), people cannot walk in a straight line if they’re blindfolded. Oftentimes they’ll walk in circles and not even realize it. Now, if you ask these people, they believe they’re walking straight…but obviously they aren’t!

Now the story said that there’s no real answer as to why we can’t walk straight, but one theory is that human beings need a focal point out in the distance in order to walk straight. Without it, our internal guidance system kicks in…but there’s something inside us that won't stay straight.

That, my friend, is a sermon illustration just waiting to be told!

A great verse that prophesied the birth of Jesus 700 years before the fact is Isaiah 9:2. It says, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.”

In John 8:12, Jesus said about Himself, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” But sadly, as John 3:19 puts it, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, God became a man in the Person of Jesus Christ in order to remove the blindfold of darkness and to provide a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood example—focal point, if you will—to follow. Our internal guidance system is broken—“…for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” So, one of the clearest, most compelling Christmas messages I could give you today would be to keep your eyes on Jesus…and follow Him!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Makes No Sense...

Did you hear about the new vacation package that the Pan Pacific Hotel in Seattle is promoting this fall? It’s called “Snuggle Up and Shop,” where you pay $255 a night to shop online from your hotel room.

So, let’s get this straight—you leave the comfort of your own home, pay hundreds of dollars for airline tickets to Seattle, pay $255 a night…so you can do something there that most of us can do from our own homes?!?

Now, in all fairness, for every night that you stay, you get a $50 Amazon gift card and a $50 In-Room dining credit (and, of course, free wi-fi Internet)…so the idea is that you get all the fun of taking a shopping vacation…without having to actually leave your hotel room to shop.

And surprisingly, at least it’s surprising to me, the hotel says that people are taking advantage of this offer! People are spending (potentially) thousands of dollars just to shop online from a hotel room!

That doesn’t make sense to me on so many levels. And while I know I’m talking about apples and oranges here and I hesitate to use that story to illustrate my point here today, that God would become a man in order to save us from ourselves and our sin makes no sense to the unbelieving heart.

And I’ll give you one big reason why—God is self-sufficient. In other words, we don’t add anything to God…His fullness is independent of us. So His willingness to create us in His own image…and to love us despite our flaws and failures… and to pursue us in order to redeem us…is hard for us to understand.

So why did He do it? The short answer to that question is “for His pleasure.” Revelation 4:11 and Colossians 1:16 both speak to creation existing for God's glory and pleasure. God is a sovereign Being, so He can do whatever He wants (like the Incarnation). God is a relational Being, so it is “for His pleasure” that He created us for fellowship. God is a merciful Being, so it gives Him pleasure to restore His image in us that has been marred by sin.

We might not understand it, but God's plan is perfect...always!