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3/8/18

Out of the Closet...I'm PRO-CHOICE(S)

Hope that title kind of got you. Please, let me explain. Much bothers me about the world we live in...especially in our nation these days. Here are some of the choices we face:

*Are you a Trump supporter or a Trump hater?
*Do you support the 2nd Amendment or are you for gun control?
*Do you support Colin Kaepernick and the kneelers or do you support our troops and love our country and its anthem?
*Do you believe Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter?
*Do you support Gay rights or do you believe homosexuality is a sin?

Let's face it, you and I both know I could go on and on and on ad infinitum...ad nausium. We're posed with choices, but usually only two to choose from. Both seem to be the most extreme versions of any argument. In fact, that's what our nation has become...a nation of two choices juxtaposed at two very opposite extremes. We find solace in asking, "Which extreme do you identify with? Are you one of us or one of them. Can we be friends or not?"

Seriously? Is that the best we can do? Step up to the culture counter (not the counter-culture...but, maybe more on that later) and choose? We only have two choices to choose from...two extremes diametrically opposed to one another? Oh, and you have to choose one of these. It will define you. Your choice will assign you to a ethical/political/moral camp and define who you can associate with henceforth. We've limited most things to simply two extreme choices because that's about as many as we can handle, and anyway, it's so much easier than actually thinking things through and actually having dialogue with people who happen to think differently than we do.

Here's my take: IT'S MENTAL AND SPIRITUAL SLOTH. It's indicative of the rational laziness of our generation and our society. I wish I could say the the Church is different, but it's not. We, too, have allowed Fox or CNN or whoever to do most of our thinking for us. What a pathetic state of affairs.

Let me illustrate. My answers to each of the questions highlighted above are a resounding YES. You read it right...EMPHATICALLY YES!

But, how can that be? Those choices cancel out each other. You can't be both. That's not possible. Of course it is.

* I support the things President Trump is trying to do to protect our borders, cut our taxes, protect religious liberty and, most of all, I respect the office of the President as duly elected by the voters of this nation. And, to anyone who is ignorant enough to say, "He's not my president", pick one...either you're a citizen of these United States or he's not your president. You can't have it both ways. That's the AMERICAN WAY.
* At the same time I also hate the dignity that has been has been removed from the office of the presidency, think someone should shut down his twitter account and I wish he would act presidential. And did I mention his misogyny? Look it up... It's pretty embarrassing.

* I strongly support the 2nd Amendment and the right to own guns. I also believe that common sense dictates we do something, if possible, to make it harder for the mentally ill to get them in their hands and for semi-automatic guns to be made into fully automatic. Yes, that calls for legislation that the NRA doesn't like. I know, if you ever buck the NRA you're a liberal...or maybe just someone who can think for themselves. What does that make me?

* I love our troops, our veterans and our country. Does that mean that I believe all is well and that all Americans are treated equally despite the color of their skin? Of course not! The percentage of black Americans incarcerated in America is unsupportable. Do I agree with the tactics Mr. Kaepernick has chosen to draw attention to that fact? No. But, what drove him to take a stand and do something? His Christian faith. Maybe you missed that fact. Maybe you don't like it. That tatted up guy?! Yes, that guy who's all tatted up...with scripture verses. His tactics, I disdain. His cause, count me in.

* I believe all lives matter. Seriously? When did we get to the point where we have to pick a color to depict which lives matter most? Has it really come to this. May God have mercy on us.

* I absolutely believe every person has rights. Don't you? Seriously, I'm talking to you. Don't you? Jesus was pretty straightforward when he talked about God's love for people. I believe you and I will never lock eyes with another human being on this earth for whom Jesus did not die and who God does not love. Oh, and like God I hate sin. It's choosing less than God's best. Somehow, God manages to hate sin and love sinners. Jesus exemplified it. And God's greatest goal for my life is to make me more like Jesus.

MY POINT? God has given us great minds and great hearts and His inerrant Word... so, why do we ditch all that for some over-simplified extremes that don't require thought, don't require reflection, don't require even a simple "What would Jesus do?"

There was a time of civility in America. There was a time of discourse. There was a time when hatred and division were reserved for the extremists. But, apparently, we have become a nation of extremists...even those of us who haven't realized it yet.

So, here's my answer to the question "Are you THIS or THAT? You've gotta choose one. So, which are you?" My answer is I refuse to choose. I refute and rebut your THIS or THAT. There is only one simple choice in my life...and that is to be a FOLLOWER OF JESUS CHRIST. After that, it's never as simple again. He calls us to live holy and love without limits, to be more concerned with those that are most unlike us than those who are carbon copies of ourselves and care for the "least of these" rather than the "best of these".

Therefore, I just demand more choices. Sometimes things are simple. Sometimes they come in black and white and are easy.  But, mostly, they're more complex. Jesus didn't come to make life simple. In fact, He came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. To move us out of our preset comfort zones where we just fall in lock-step with the masses. It requires more of us. It requires us to have the mind of Christ and to use it accordingly.

*Slow down.
*Engage your brain. (This may be a new experience for some.) 
*Determine to be more aligned with following Christ than any movement or person or party. 
*Apply the Word of God liberally (Yep, I used the "L" word.)
*Listen more than you speak. 
*And, above all, demand more than two choices. It will revolutionize your life.

11/15/17

I Gave In and Went...For Her...

This past weekend I went to a marriage conference. OK, so that's not my idea of a good time. Don't misunderstand me, I love my wife. I even want to have a better marriage. But, sitting in a hotel ballroom for three days is not my idea of a good time. It's one of those..."I know this is a good thing... I know this is a needed thing... I know I will be better off for doing it... I know, I know, I know... I'm doing it... just don't ask me to get excited about it. It's the weekend. It's a 4-hour ride. It's expensive (conference, hotel, meals, gas, books I KNOW my wife is destined to buy) AND, could it be a better college football weekend. Finally, good games. (Played while I'm in a hotel ballroom). UGH...

But, I said, "Sure, let's go" (fake smile required). And, we did. She's worth it, right? The 4-hour drive, honestly, seemed like 6. Then, we finally got there. I think more of Dallas is under construction that Houston. (is that even possible?) But, we got there and went to check in. (Dramatic pause) Thirty minutes later it was completely confirmed that they had NO RESERVATION ANYWHERE under our names. "But, don't worry folks...we have a room for you. No more King rooms...they're all sold out. (Yes, by people who actually made REAL reservations) But, we can put you in a room with 2 double beds." Of course you can. Nothing screams Marriage Weekend and getting really close like each of us having our own bed! This is going great. I have an excellent attitude. (read with sarcasm AND the fake smile) This is going to accomplish everything we'd hoped! (additional sarcasm).

It's not like I'd never been to one of these things. The conference we attended was A WEEKEND TO REMEMBER. (When we heard we had "no room in the inn" I turned to Susan and said, "OK, this is definitely going to be a weekend to remember") We'd attended one before, so, I pretty much got this stuff down anyway. (Never mind that was about 25 years ago... I got it...We're good... I'm pretty sure if the presenter comes down with something, I can jump right in and not skip a beat... and, with more comic relief!)

FIRST SESSION: After putting our things away in our room and choosing which bed each of us would sleep in, (I kind of felt like an old episode of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo in "I Love Lucy"), we attended the first session. Mostly introductory stuff. Bald guy. I like him. Relatively painless. Then a break and heading into the first REAL session (Where you actually learn stuff). Guess what? Another bald guy. He's from Tennessee. From the accent, kind of sounds like the hills of Tennessee...deep in the hills of Tennessee. Possibly married to his first cousin...but, otherwise, a good guy. He will keep my interest. Played football at East Carolina. Football stories have got me. This should be painless. I got this.

He was rolling along, talking about marriage and listing all the things that cause marriages to fail. This could be good preaching material for future use. I should take notes. Someone will need this stuff. We're cruising now.

Then, he said something, and my ears perked up. Threat #2: Our culture's pattern
     *Our culture's pattern is a 50/50 PERFORMANCE relationship.
     *Acceptance is based on performance.
     *Giving is based on MERIT...affection is given when one feels it is deserved.
     *Motivation is based on how one FEELS.
     *Our culture's pattern is destined to SELF-DESTRUCT because of...
          ...my tendency to focus on weaknesses in my spouse.
          ...my disappointment in my spouse, which paralyzes my performance.

OK, I could write on and on, but this bald guy who I thought I liked a few minutes earlier had just read my mail. I was busted. (Is this new material... or did it take me the last 25 years to get to the point of actually being honest with myself? Probably the latter.) Suddenly, I wasn't thinking about the room reservation or the personalized beds or the ballroom or the football I'd be missing. I sunk in my chair a little. I wiped the smirk off my face (and the egg) and listened like I meant it.

THE RESULT OF THREAT #2: ISOLATION
I don't think either of us had a name for it...we just knew there was something missing. We'd signed up for this 37 years ago. We were still signed up for this. But, to be honest, neither of us thought it was what we'd signed up for. It definitely wasn't BAD. I talk with people about BAD all the time. The problem wasn't that it was BAD. It was more that it just wasn't GREAT. I signed up for GREAT. So did Susan. But, we agreed to for BETTER or for WORSE. So, what was this?


Back to the conference...this is one of those conferences that actually wants you to do something with the stuff they give you. (What?) They gave us assignments after every session. So, that night we did what we were told to do. One of those questions we asked each other was, "Circle and share the threat that has had the biggest impact on your marriage". My answer: Our Culture's Pattern. Let me break it down for you like I did for Susan. Bottom Line: I have loved my wife...CONDITIONALLY.  My love goes up when she gets a reservation at the hotel with a King-size bed. Down when we have no reservation (and there are 10 people in line behind us trying to check-in and wondering why these people can't get their stuff straight). It goes up when she loses 10 lbs, down when she gains 10 lbs, it goes up when she calls the plumber like I asked her to and down when she says, "Aw shoot, I meant to do that". The love is always there...but the volume is very, very volatile.

I may not be good, but I am dangerously honest. "I love you conditionally. That's our problem. I'm our problem. I want to make you the problem, or at least part of it...you know, 50/50... but, you're not. I am the problem and my problem is my love fluctuates from day to day. Actually, from hour to hour would be more precise.

And the result is a very, very slow... almost undetectable... drift. No one can notice it. No one can put their finger on it. No one knows when it started or how it started or why it started... but it did. It's like laying in an inner tube just off the shore, just, apparently, bobbing along going nowhere. Until you look... and you can't see the shore... and you're bewildered as to how you got here. So, is the drift of marriage. Undetectable. Unnoticed. Almost non-existent...till you do notice it one day and have no clue where you are or how you got there.

Here's my take-away: If, in marriage, you are not moving closer to one another, then you are moving further apart from one another. Period. The end of that journey is what, ultimately, destroys every marriage that fails...ISOLATION. 

I went to a Marriage Conference. I went smiling on the outside and kicking and screaming a little bit on the inside... but I was open just enough for God to speak and me to hear. And He spoke. And I heard. I called her today and asked, "Were you at home when I left? I was in a hurry. Did I forget to kiss you goodbye?" She said, "No, I was walking when you left."

 I don't know how many more years we'll both be around, but I do know 2 things. We'll be married. And, I will try with God's help to just love her...100%... Period... NO CONDITIONS. I wanna drift in her direction.

9/14/17

Make God Smile

In the very last book of the Bible, we’re told something unbelievably intimate about who we are and why we exist.

“You are worthy, O Lord our God,
to receive glory and honor and power.
For you created all things,
and they exist because you created what you pleased.”
Revelation 4:11 (NLT)

We exist to please God. Did you catch that? We have the capability of pleasing God. We were planned for God’s pleasure. You exist for His glory, His honor, His purpose and His delight. Bringing enjoyment to God, living for His pleasure, is the first and foremost purpose of your life.

The Bible has a word it uses to express how we bring pleasure to God. It’s the word WORSHIP. But, worship is one of the most misunderstood words in the English language…especially in the Church.
Worship comes from two words: Worth and ship. When and what we worship, we literally attribute worth to something. Worship is an expression of how much something or someone is worth to us. When we worship God, we are assigning worth to Him in our eyes and our hearts.

But, when we think of worship, we immediately think of singing. Singing to God is definitely one way of worshipping Him, but it’s definitely not the only way.

Let me share with you 3 truths about worship:

1.    Worship is anything that makes God SMILE.
“The Lord is pleased only with those who worship him and trust his love.”   Psalm 147:11 (CEV)
“Smile on me, your servant; teach me the right way to live" Psalm 119:135 (CEV) 
The key word here is “anything”. Anything that you do to and for the Lord is considered worship and makes Him smile. 
Paul even puts it this way, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NLT)

2.    Worship is not part of your life, it IS your life.
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him." Romans 12:1 (MSG)

3.    Worship becomes our sole PURPOSE to exist.
“Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it.” Ephesians 5:10 (MSG)    

When Jesus becomes the center of your life, life gets a lot easier. Just figure out what will please Jesus and do it! Period! It takes out all of the guesswork.  Why don’t you think of what would please Jesus right now? Yep, right now. Got it? OK, now do it! Go ahead…do it! There you go…you just worshipped God. Can you see it? God’s smiling.


Sweet!

9/13/17

Life is All About Showing Up

In the book of Acts, Jesus has resurrected from the dead and now is leaving this world to return to his home in Heaven. Right after that, the Holy Spirit comes and Peter stands up and preaches his first sermon…and his best. That day, 3,000 people choose to follow Jesus.
So, what do you do with 3,000 new Christ followers? Well, you have to help them grow in their faith. So, here’s what they did. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42
They devoted themselves to 4 things. Three of those things were done in small groups that collected in homes.
  1. They fellowshipped.  That word fellowship comes from Greek word koinonia. It simply means to share. They spent time with one another to the point that they trusted each other enough to share their lives with each other.
  2. They ate. Interesting thing, food. When you share a meal with others, you tend to share more than just food.
  3. They prayed. We’ve talked about how important that is. I trust you’re doing that already.
    (The fourth thing they did was done at the temple, where they all gathered together…kind of like on Sundays when we gather for church.)
  4. They were taught God’s Word by their leaders. It’s important to read God’s Word for yourself, but it’s also important to have someone to teach it to you. That’s what I and the other pastor’s of our church do every Sunday. Being devoted to gathering on Sunday to be taught God’s Word is imperative for growing in your faith.
Listen to what the writer to the Hebrews says, “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do, but spurring each other on…” Hebrews 10:25 (MSG)
Here’s the Tom Allen translation: “If you’re really serious about growing in your faith, you won’t show up and be fed God’s Word on Sundays when it’s convenient, but out of a commitment you’ve made to grow in your faith. One that simply requires showing up so that you can be filled up with God’s Word.”
I guess I’ll see you Sunday....

Can We Talk?

Years ago, I met with a couple who were on the verge of divorce. Obviously, I wanted to do everything possible to help save their marriage. The first time we met, I spent several hours with them and gave them a homework assignment. It was obvious to me that these were two strangers simply living under the same roof. My assignment to them was to have a “Marriage Staff Meeting”. In most any business, staff meetings are weekly occurrence. You just can’t run a business without communication and getting “on the same page”. So, what would make anyone think you can run a marriage and a family without good lines of communication?

One week later, they returned and I asked about their assignment. They simply said they couldn’t find the time. They couldn’t find one hour to communicate with one another, even though their marriage hung in the balance. I knew they were done. Not because it was irreparable, but because they weren’t willing to even try.

Every healthy relationship requires healthy, intimate, meaningful communication. That not only goes for marriage relationships, but for our relationship with our Heavenly Father as well. God wants to talk with us. He wants to hear everything on our hearts…our dreams, our fears, our doubts, our stresses, our successes and our failures. He wants to hear it all. He even wants to hear our questions. He doesn’t just allow us to ask help from Him, He asks us to ask! In fact, He even tells us that sometimes “we don’t have because we don’t ask” (James 4:2). He tells us to not just come to into the throne room of the King of the Universe…He tells us to “come boldly before His throne” (Hebrews 4:16).

The Bible has a word for when we talk to God. He calls is prayer. Jesus didn’t say, ”If you pray”…instead, He said, “When you pray”. It’s an expectation that if we love Him and know he loves us, that we’ll want to communicate with Him. We’ll understand that it’s absolutely essential that we talk…because, every healthy relationship requires healthy communication.

You may be saying, “But, I don’t know how to pray”. Well, actually, you do. You know how to have a conversation. So, just have one with God.  If you have a problem with the fact that this is a little different because you can’t see Him or hear him audibly…then I’ll give you three suggestions.
  1. If you like, put a chair and think of Jesus sitting right there…because He is…and talk to him as if He’s right there in the room with you.
  2. Tell Him exactly what’s on your heart. There’s nothing “off-limits”. Everything you tell Him, He already knows anyway! But, He loves it when you trust Him enough to tell Him.
  3. Find a place where you can pray out loud. I find that really helps me concentrate and keep my mind on Him and me and our conversation.

Here’s the most important thing about prayer… JUST DO IT! The best way to develop a great prayer life is to start. And, the best time to start is today. How about right now?

9/11/17

The Greatest Love Letter Ever Written

I’m not sure what your father is or was like, but play along with me for just a moment. What if you found out that your dad had spent most of his life writing a letter to you. Actually, a series of letters. Enough letters to make a BOOK!

In these letters, these love letters to you, you shared his heart with you. He wrote everything you could ever want to know about him…what he loved, what he hated, what he loved best about you, unbelievably wise advice for you that would serve you for the rest of your life for every occasion. He told you about the prices he had paid for you throughout your life, and even before, that you never knew about. He’d write how to be a great man/woman in this world, how to have a great marriage, how to be a great parent, a great employee, a great boss. He’d share with you how to be financially responsible and wise with money. He would tell you how to leave a permanent mark on this world. He’d warn you of traps that awaited you and how to avoid them. I could go on and on…because he went on and on. I’m certain that it would be a treasury for life. A series of love letters written to you, the one he loved.

So, what would you do with something like that? Would you just put it away for safe- keeping? Would you display it in a case to call people’s attention to it?  Would you just frame it up high to just show everyone the pride you have in knowing someone loved you that much to write such a thing, just for you? I would hope not. I would hope you would devour it… reading it again and again and again. I’d hope you would memorize parts of it to remember in tough times to remind yourself of the help and hope your father had provided for you.

OK, no more imagining. The fact is, you do have a Father who loves you that much and who did exactly what I just talked about. He wrote you a series of LOVE LETTERS that covered everything. We call it the BIBLE….God’s Word…God’s love letters to his kids…US.

So, do you want to know God…because He really wants you to know Him? If so, the first way is to read His love letters to you. Every day of your life, you need to read something He has to say to you.
You’re probably asking where do I start? There’s really not a right place or a wrong place to start. However, let me make a suggestion to get you going. I might start in the book of John. It tells us about Jesus…who he was, what he came to earth for and why he is so important in our lives. 

If you’re reading this, then you have some kind of smart device or computer. Personally, that’s the place I like to read God’s Word. I use the YouVersion Bible App. It has more reading plans than one can imagine. Whether you want to read through the Bible or you want a 4-week plan on what God’s Word has to say about any subject, you can find it there. 

Here’s the link to the YouVersion Bible App. I hope you download it. I hope you start using it daily. Whatever you choose to do, please read God’s Word daily. It’s one of the main ways you get to KNOW HIM.

God's Best,

Tom

6/29/17

TITHING...So Many Questions

You want some questions asked? Just bring up the subject of TITHING! It seems like everyone has both a question and an opinion...and they're willing to share both. OK, so let me take a crack at answering some of the most often asked questions as best and as biblically as I can.

Q: Wasn't tithing under the Law, and aren't we freed from the Law and now under Grace. Therefore, shouldn't tithing be a thing of the past?


A: Yes, tithing was a commandment under the Law. But, does that mean it should go away? Let's look at a few other commandments that were under the Law and see if you feel the same way about them? You shall not murder. You shall not steal. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not lie. I guess I'd have to answer your question with one of my own. Do you think those are things of the past and should go away as well? Probably not. At least, I hope not.


The Law was set up as man's means of acquiring his "rightness" before God, but basically served as a means to prove to each of us our inability to earn our own "rightness" or salvation. Jesus' intention was never to do away with the "moral law" that God gave as a way of life. He simply fulfilled it because we couldn't. He never said, "OK, now feel free to commit adultery. Grace has made it OK!". Quite the contrary. In fact, let's look at Jesus' opinions of the Law now that we are under Grace.


Here's what Jesus said about the Law now that we're under Grace...“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment." (Matthew 5:21) He actually said that under Grace he was raising the bar, not lowering it.


One more time...“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:28)


Man kept the Law to try to earn his own salvation. Under Grace we obey out of a heart of gratitude for what God has done for us. I guess if anything is different, we should be willing to GIVE MORE!


Q: Do I tithe on the gross or on the net?


A: Pastors love this question. The answer I hear most often is "Do you want to be blessed on the gross or on the net?" Sounds great. Can't find it anywhere in scripture...but it sounds great.


I think the problem here is that we're missing the point. God's not looking for us to get the right amount nearly as much as he's wanting us to have a right heart. 


Bottom Line: I don't know the answer. I haven't found anything in scripture that absolutely answers the question unequivocally. So, being a simple guy, I look for the simplest solution. I MOVE. THE. DECIMAL. If I make $200, I give $20. If I make $5000, I give $500. Sometimes I round up. Sometimes I give 12%. My wife recently decided she'd give 15%.  Why? She just has a generous heart. And, that's all God is looking for. You figure it out and let me know. But, show me in the scripture.


Q    Why should my tithe go to the local church? Why shouldn't it go to other ministries? Isn't it all God's Kingdom? 


A: The best answer is because that's where scripture says it should go.  In the Old Testament it was the Temple or the local Synagogue.  In the New Testament, it was the local church.  Paul tells the believers that he appreciated them supporting his ministry, but he also tells them to bring their gifts to God when they gather on the first day of the week (Sunday) (1 Cor. 16:2). Jesus talked about people supporting His ministry as well, but always told them to give God what was God's and even exemplified it by taking his tithes to the Temple (Luke 8:1-3, Matthew 22:21-22).

The bible talks about tithes (which go to the local church) and offerings (that are above and beyond the tithe and support other great work that's done in Jesus' name). This one's not hard to answer. It's pretty clear-cut in scripture. It kind of goes along with the next question. 

Q: Can I designate where I want my tithe to go?

A: Do you get to designate where your neighbor's money goes? Do you get to designate where your friend's money goes? How about your boss...do you get to designate where his money goes? You probably answered "no" to all. That give you two reasons why you cannot designate where your tithe goes.

1. God is your boss.
2. You only get to designate where money goes if it's yours. The tithe isn't yours.  Get your stinking hands off of His money!

Q: Do I need to go into debt to tithe?

A: No.

Q: Let me answer one more that no one asked, but I think they should have. What should my motivation be to tithe?

A: First, let me tell you what it shouldn't be...GUILT. The mother of Guilt is Fear, and Fear is never, ever, ever supposed to be what controls or motivates the believer. We walk by FAITH, not by FEAR.

What should motivate us to tithe is a heart of gratitude, a longing to obey the one we call our Lord. (By the way, how do you call anyone Master and ever tell Him "NO" to ANYTHING? It's physically impossible. Might want to check who's REALLY Lord of your life.), a unquestioning sense of trust, and an overwhelming desire to have what only God can provide for you above and beyond anything you could ever provide for yourself. 

Got more questions? Bring them on!  I love questions.  Hope these answers helped.