Thursday, December 18, 2008

Three Christmas Angles: The Third Angel

Augustus Creaser was a canny man. He came into power out of the civil war following the assignation of Julius Creaser, his great-uncle and adoptive father. Carefully and intentionally he laid the foundation of an Empire out of the crumbling Republic. Being a strong administrator, he conducted a census in what was to become the birth year of Mary’s Son. In Judea that meant each family went to its tribal center to register. For Joseph and his pregnant wife the long journey to Bethlehem, the home of his ancestors and King David, must have been grueling. Imagine a cold ninety mile trip over rough roads with a pregnant woman on the back of a donkey! At its end, they found the city crowded to overflowing. “No Vacancy” signs were out all over town. Finally, an inn keeper allowed the couple “space in the stable,” out among the animals. It is here that Mary delivered her Son and laid Him in His “bassinet,” a manger … a feeding trough!

This Baby was unique, of the line of kings in a human sense, since his parents were of the House of David, He was also the Son of God, the King of kings … but no one recognized Him as such or even cared. Such a birth had to be announced with fanfare. And it was, but not in the way a royal birth is usually announced. No, this was even more monumental, more exciting, more overwhelming. The heralds to this royal birth were not ordinary men but angels. The crowd they drew was not the rich and famous of Judaea but the smelly and lower class shepherds drawn in from their fields and a motley collection of townsfolk and visitors from far and wide. This crowd foretold the kind of people the King of kings would seek and find. They were all humble enough to respond to His call.

Can you imagine the absolute astonishment and fear that must have overawed the first recipients of the herald’s cry? Put yourself in their place. You are out in the fields doing your job … keeping a night watch over your flocks … sitting by the fire, gossiping with your friends, nodding off for a few winks before you went out to patrol the sleeping animal’s bed ground to be sure no predator, beast or human, was lurking about. Suddenly you are confronted with an unbelievable sight … so glorious and terrifying you fall to your knees as the blaze of glory and sound of revelation surrounded you and your friends. An angel stood right there in front of you:
…. The angel said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God's praises: Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.
Luke 2:8-14 (The Message)

When the angels were gone, what would you do? These shepherds discussed their options coolly and collectedly, right? No, they quickly decided this good news had to be shared and off they ran to Bethlehem to confirm for themselves the wonder they had been told. Of course they fond the Baby and his parents just as they had been promised. This glorious conformation set their tongues wagging all the harder and they TOLD everyone they met, all over town, what they had experienced. The town was agog with the news in no time. Human voices now heralded the coming of the King … and they still do!

Three angels! Three different audiences! Three different messages. To a young woman (little more than a girl). To a man. And to a group. Each message was a part of a whole. Each message was what was needed at the time. The first message told a loved one what the Father is doing! I Am in you! The second message told a loved one what to do. I Am with you! The third message told loved ones WHAT TO SEEK. I will save you!

Thank God we have heard Him speak to us the same message. May our voices also join the human chorus!

From all of us at Ventures for Christ, the very warmest Christmas wishes. Bullets for the Battle will not post during the Christmas/New Years Holiday (we will return January 6th). We look forward to a prosperous New Year with you, or valued readers.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Three Christmas Angles: The Second Angel

Time passed. It became apparent that Mary was “with child” (pregnant). Now, everyone knew Mary was a “good girl” but she was also a married woman and apparently she and Joseph had anticipated their wedding a little. What a shame; young people were much too impetuous these days; no respect for tradition, that is what it is, these and similar opinions must have circulated among the neighbors. The problem was, Joseph knew better! He was 100% sure the child his Mary carried was not his.

As we speculate about the character of Joseph we have two solid facts to go on: Scripture calls him a righteous man (Matthew 1:19) and he had been chosen to be the earthly father (stepfather) of the Heavenly Father’s only Son. Joseph must have loved his young wife. The fact that he did not want to disgrace her in public but was contemplating a quiet divorce shows his concern. Consider some of the thoughts that might have run through his mind:

What should he do? He took marriage seriously. It was a solemn promise that affected a family far beyond the partners to the marriage contract. There was a heritage to consider. There was honor to uphold. There was the law that must not be disgraced. On the other hand there was his sweet Mary. He had no desire to hurt her, to cause undue disgrace and punishment. But how could he complete his marriage commitment with another man in the picture? Could he accept another’s child as his own and not let resentment grow toward both the child and its mother? Above all, how could he deal with his deep pain of betrayal? How he wished the answer was simple!

It would be best, surely, to quietly divorce Mary. Then she could turn to her child’s father and they could marry and be the family they should be. It would break his heart to let her go but better to distance himself from her, her folly and the liaison she had contracted that had brought them to this point.

Mary, his good name, Mary, his responsibilities, Mary, what the village would think, Mary, what is right and what is compassionate, Mary … it made his head ache. He wouldn’t disgrace her, no, but he couldn’t stay married to her. There couldn’t be a foundation of trust between them after this. He had to do what was right in God’s sight. He must follow the law but he couldn’t make a mockery of the woman he had loved … no, did love. There had to be an end … for the good of them all, for conscience sake … yes, breaking the marriage contract was the best answer. He would do it, no matter how it hurt; this lesser hurt was preferable to the disgrace of an unfaithful wife.

So Joseph drifted off into a troubled sleep … and into his own encounter with an angel.

… God's angel spoke in (a) dream: "Joseph, son of David, don't hesitate to get married. Mary's pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God's Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—'God saves'—because he will save his people from their sins." This would bring the prophet's embryonic sermon to full term:

Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;
They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for "God is with us").

Matthew 1:20-21 (The Message)

Joseph, too, found his own encounter with a heavenly messenger persuasive. He shared his own vision with Mary and she must have been even more relieved and overjoyed! He went through with the wedding and brought his Mary home. They both knew that the child she bore was special, so very special, and Joseph determined to wait until He was born before he and this lovely wife consummated their marriage. When “his son” was born he named the baby … JESUS!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Three Christmas Angles: The First Angel

In today’s world a marriage is made when the officiating minister or clerk pronounces a man and woman husband and wife. That was not so in the first century in the land of Israel. When a woman entered into a marriage arrangement, a betrothal, she was OFFICIALLY married even before she was claimed by the bridegroom and the dowry paid to her family. In modern terms, she was married before the wedding.

Rome ruled the land that God had given Israel at the beginning of our current era (A.D.). A king, Herod Antipas, sat on the throne but he was a puppet of this distant super power. Unrest and rebellion were always just under the surface in this troubled land but the Pax Romana extended even here. People still went about their business more or less normally.

The map of the land of Israel changed several times as the Roman Empire brought the area firmly under its control. In general it was called first Judea then Palestine. At the end of the era before Christ (B.C.), a large political unit of the northern part of Judea was called Galilee. Less than ten miles from the lake of the same name was the village of Nazareth. A hill town, situated at the southern end of the Lebanon Mountains, it was home to a young woman named Mary. She was married (betrothed) to a man, Joseph, but the wedding had yet to take place. Like most other young women, Mary must have anticipated her wedding with both trepidation and delight. Things were going well until an astonishing thing happened. An angel from God, Gabriel, appeared to her and greeted her with an incredible announcement. It is hard to imagine which Mary found the most amazing … the angel or his message.

Good morning!
You're beautiful with God's beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.

She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, "Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.
He will be great,
be called 'Son of the Highest.'
The Lord God will give him
the throne of his father David;
He will rule Jacob's house forever—
no end, ever, to his kingdom."

Mary said to the angel, "But how? I've never slept with a man."
The angel answered,

The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
the power of the Highest hover over you;
Therefore, the child you bring to birth
will be called Holy, Son of God.

“And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God."

And Mary said, Yes, I see it all now:
I'm the Lord's maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me just as you say.
Then the angel left her.

Luke 1:26-38 (The Message)

Mary hurried off to her cousin’s house where she found everything just as the Angel had said. Elizabeth was expecting … and so was she! How her heart must have burned and churned with the wonder and the dread of it! There was one duty, though, that must have weighed heavily on her. Joseph must be told of her condition very soon. She must have wondered … what would he do?

Image of Nazereth from The Holy Land Book (1842) by David Roberts

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Bullet of Marriage: A Powerful Solution to Relationship Woes

Just living together evidently doesn’t free one from legal responsibilities either. The California Supreme Court famously ordered actor Lee Marvin to pay “alimony” to the woman he had lived with for six years. Couples who live together “as though married” may be asked to divide their property “as though divorcing.”

Lacking a ceremony to define the relationship, couples usually move into an apartment together without ever stating their goals. One twenty-three year old woman stated that their relationship seemed to jump between, “I’m unhappy” to, “Who gets the cat?” They were afraid to be honest because they feared rejection if real angers, fears, needs and problems were brought up!

Score another one for Jesus, folks! His plan of how a man and woman can best handle their nature and the gift of sex can’t be improved upon or escaped. Just because people … both inside and outside the church … don’t heed God’s law of love and sex doesn’t put His idea of marriage out of date.

Marriage as God intended it to be is a permanent love arrangement symbolized by a ceremony (social) and sex (spiritual). Real marriage is a commitment to the community as well as to one another. It won’t work any other way! Thousands of men and women who mock God’s intentions for marriage are finding out that you don’t have to be married to suffer!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Bullet of Marriage: More Than Living Together

Two things must be made clear about the Biblical teaching on sex and marriage. First, marriage is the general will for most men and women but many are called to a single state, equally blessed by God (I Corinthians 7:7). Second, sex is intended for pleasure and not procreation only (I Corinthians 7:2).

The Bible view of marriage is being lightly taken by millions of Americans. The militants are advocating alternate life styles of homosexuality and lesbianism as well as free (or no contract) marriages. Just “living together” has been the gospel of the “free sex” prophets since the 1960s. Marriage was “out.” Come and go was “in.” (Incidentally, true sex isn’t free … it costs!)

But the truth has reared up and slapped the “just living together” folks in the face. Today, marriage counselors and family therapists report a marked increase in their caseloads of “unmarried couples”!

One co-habiting couple having serious problems were advised to just break up, split and find someone else. To this, the distraught female member answered, “I couldn’t bear to go through a divorce, married or not!”

One counselor analyzes such couple’s difficulty by saying they experience “fear of abandonment” and “fear of closeness.” Real marriage, the symbol of a permanent love commitment, eliminates both. Real love says to each partner, “I want to know all about you and I’ll never leave you.” Or as the Scripture put it, “… and the man and his wife were both naked (total closeness and openness) and they were not ashamed (no fear of being rejected)” (Genesis 2:25).

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Bullet of Marriage: One Man and One Woman

Jesus Christ said, “A man should leave father and mother, cleave (be permanently faithful) to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. What God joins together let no man separate!” (Matthew 19:5-6).

Clearly, God’s major purpose with the sexes is for one man and one woman to become one. Two men can’t become one! Two women can’t become one! Ultimately, sex is but a symbol of “love unity” between a man and woman who have been given the capacity to create life in their own image. Homosexual or lesbian relationships can never create life.

One of the cutest expressions I’ve heard along this line is that if God had intended homosexuality to be right and to fulfill His intentions He would have put Adam and Bruce in the Garden of Eden rather than Adam and Eve!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


The following was sent to me by a friend.

Love is never wasted!

It may not be the results or the reaction which is expected …

But it is never wasted!

In fact, love that expects positive reaction or results is something less than love.

Love never makes demands …

Love only gives …

And it does not cease when there is no reciprocity.

The true lover does not require the beloved to meet any conditions.

True love is unconditional.

The perfect Lover devoted Himself to others …

And they crucified Him!

This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience – it looks for a way of being constructive.

It is not possessive: it is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance.

Love has good manners and does not pursue selfish advantage.

It is not touchy. It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it is glad with all good men when truth prevails.

Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.”
I Corinthians 13:4-8

“God commendeth His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

“… if God so loved us, we ought to love one another” (I John 4:11).

Only a person who loves can know the meaning of Thanksgiving.

The holiday is upon us and this will be my only post this week to Bullets for the Battle. All of us at Ventures for Christ wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving full of family joy, time to count your blessings and praise to the Great Giver of all things.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Bullet of Truth: Jesus IS Truth

Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, said, “Know thyself.” Jesus says, “Right on!” But the only way for a man to really know himself is to know God. Jesus added, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). Men are prisoners to their own limited information. They are victims of the invisible. In rejecting Truth they become slaves to their own ignorance. Jesus promised that if you let Him make you free, you’ll really be free (John 8:36).

God came to earth in Jesus, not primarily to get men into heaven, but to get God into men! To those who put their faith (belief, trust and will) into Christ’s hands, will be given the power to begin living like sons of God … right now! Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? In essence, that’s THE TRUTH seriously Christians are all worked up about. Not the church! Not religion! Not being good for goodness’ sake! But the fantastic experience and reality of beginning to live like Christ! There’s no other “TRUTH” on earth like it! Have you found it? It’s a “Live It … Up” discovery!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Bullet of Truth: What Truth?

The marble dedication stone on the library of my alma mater is engraved with the words, “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” As a bewildered freshman I thought to myself, “That’s really a great thought. I wonder who said it?” About a year later I ran across the statement in its full context. I was shocked. Jesus said it in John 8:31-32. I had been a Christian for less than two years, and the New Testament was very new to me. I shall never forget this wonderful discovery. Listen to the full statement: “Then Jesus spoke to some Jews who had believed in Him. If you continue in My Word, you are My true disciples, and you will know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free.” Jesus is saying that it’s not just truth but THE TRUTH about Himself that frees a man up! In other words, the truth that should matter most to man is the Truth about Jesus who walked the earth as God in the flesh … in John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, THE TRUTH and the life …”

Truth is defined as that which conforms to fact or reality. Mankind has learned the truth about many things, but Jesus says the great truth to learn, above all others, is the truth about the God/Man relationship. Man can learn the truth about how to make money, how to fix an engine, how to use electricity, how to prevent polio, etc., but it still isn’t enough truth to pull a man over his deepest needs, desires and problems. There is still a vacuum, an emptiness.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Ultimate Sacrifice

On April 14, 2004, two young Marines learned what it means to owe someone for your life. On patrol near the Syrian border with Iraq their unit, including Corporal Jason Dunham, engaged the enemy. Dunham found himself in hand-to-hand combat with an insurgent who dropped a live hand grenade. In a split-second decision the corporal covered the deadly bomb with his helmet, shielding two of his fellow Marines from its full explosive force. His brothers-in-arms lived but Jason Dunham died eight days later.

A grateful country awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor to this brave Marine for his sacrifice but it is his friends who most understand what it means to live and die sacrificially. They know that, like so many other Medal of Honor recipients who have throw their lives on hand grenades to save other, Cpl. Dunham died so that THEY might live.

In a magnificent parallel, Christians are called to throw their lives on the Devil’s hand grenades of life so that others may live. Sometimes these bombs in the Disciple’s way are minor: the Sunday morning crisis in the church nursery when not enough workers show up and someone throws him or herself over the problem by volunteering to step into the chaotic world of crying babies. Others demand the ultimate sacrifices of one’s life: the growing list of martyrs who have died for the cause of Christ reaches back to Stephen in the Book of Acts.

In my sermon, “The Biblical Patriot,” I speak of the three kingdoms we must live in as Disciples: the Kingdom Without (the Government of America), the Kingdom Above (the Government of God) and the Kingdom Within (the Government of Self). Our first priority on earth is the Kingdom Above; but that reality is given substance by how we rule the Kingdom Within. It is then we are qualified best to contribute to the Kingdom Without. The Patriot of the Kingdom who bleeds first for the will of King Jesus will bleed best as a Patriot of his or her Country! May our Lord grant that we conquer self and be His kind of patriot for both. Let’s yield to Him and do it, even though it means throwing all we have on the hand grenades that the “enemy” continually throws into our lives!

Photo Credit: Army Sgt. Osvaldo Ortiz sleeps next to the flag-draped transfer case and personal gear of his fallen friend aboard a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft bound for Dover Air Force Base, Del. Ortiz accompanied the remains from Afghanistan to Dover AFB and eventually back to the soldier's home in Puerto Rico - June 2003. Photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Rimar.

Account of Cpl. Dunham's bravery: see Veterans Today.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day 2008

Here are a few quotes that remind us of the courage and sacrifice it takes to live in freedom both of body and spirit. Let us set our hearts to live as the heroes of our nation who know that freedom is never free. Even more significantly, let us join our Master in living as He did so that in Him all men and women may be free indeed (John 8:36).

Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die. G.K. Chesterton

Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord-- for we walk by faith, not by sight … II Corinthians 5:6-7

This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave. Elmer Davis

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

Quotes from: Quote Garden and New American Standard Bible
Photo credit: USAF personnel Isaac G. L. Freeman

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Bullet of Truth: Greater Than You Ever Imagined
(Part 3 of 3)

The Master takes a dim view of His children who are timid and unbelieving about what He wants to do for them. After calming a fierce storm on the Sea of Galilee the Lord Jesus rebuked the disciples for disturbing His nap and fearing they would die (Mark 4:35-41).

Amazed, they commented to one another, “Who is this that even the winds and waves obey Him?” Their estimate of Jesus was too low! They realized through this experience that He was GREATER than they thought!

The Christian’s major obstacle to living the triumphant life remains the same. We think too little of Christ! Until we see God’s greatness we will never see our own as created in His image. Until we experience what He can do for us we will despair of Him doing anything for anyone else!

God has temporarily allows the world “to be” as it is. Jesus said, “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The master is trying to teach me that He is greater than I think. Learning that gives me the assurance that I can be greater than I am! So can you! Frankly, that rather excites me!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Today is Election Day 2008

I trust you have voted in this historic Presidential contest as well as the other offices and proposals on the ballot this fall.

I want to recall to your mind a fundamental, eternal truth about human government. Our Creator God is Sovereign, no matter the outcome of any election. The Lord will be as much in charge of His creation and recreation on November 5 as He was on November 3 no matter who wins!

Let us VOTE our conscience, may our conscience PLEASE the Father and let us PRAY for all of our leaders as well as the victor as we TRUST in the Sovereign Power of Jesus! Nothing … nothing … can stop His purposes for each of us individually as we yield to His Voice for our specific mission of Cross Discipleship.

Note: Painting is Congress Voting Independence, a depiction of the Second Continental Congress voting on the United States Declaration of Independence. Oil on canvas. Source: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, via the Library of Congress.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Bullet of Truth: Seeking Answers to Hard Questions
(Part 2 of 3)

We can “fake out” others, but the honest person can’t go on lying to himself! Not facing this reality is the source of our criticism, condemnation, hatred and despair over other people. Secretly, our own lack of discipline, unfulfilled dreams, hidden failures, repressed guilt, future anxieties, broken relationship and “floating anger,” etc., etc., destroy our optimism about the potential of our life.

Thirty, forty, fifty or sixty years on this earth have a way of slapping reality into you! You are driven to ask yourself basic questions you thought you had answered long ago! What’s really happening? Where am I going? Who am I in all this mess? Not to seriously seek answers to these questions is to commit emotional suicide!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Bullet of Truth: Who I Know I Am Matters
(Part 1 of 3)

I have hope for myself! That may appear to be an egocentric statement, but there is more truth to it than error! Even though I am keenly disappointed in some of the things I do and think … or in good things I’ve failed to do … I will not give up on myself! After all, I’m all I’ve got to work with! It’s the same with all of us!

I have concluded that the major reason folks are disillusioned about other people is the personal disillusionment they grope with about themselves! It’s impossible to have confidence and hope in others when you don’t have it in yourself.

Oh, we play a good game and act out our parts! We pretend that things are as they should be “under the circumstances.” Yet deep down there is that growing empty feeling that something is missing and life doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Bullet of Truth: Soils of the Mind Where Truth Can Grow

As we look at the story of the sower and the seed in Luke 8:4-18 we find four soils or responses to the Lord’s Truth. The first two are unproductive. Let us look now at the remaining two.

Third, there are those who do receive Christ’s message, sink down roots and firmly believe. However, they never really make a decisive decision about who they will really serve … the teaching of God or the teaching of the world. They become “spiritual schizophrenics” … too Christian to really enjoy sin and too sinful to really know the joyous greatness of God. The thorns of the world which choke out the life of the seed are everywhere. Pleasure, riches and worries can choke the true meaning of life from all who don’t keep their minds “weeded” of false ideas!

Fourth, the true hearers and doers are ones who are honest about themselves and life, set their hearts on obeying God’s voice and stick to the truth in patience. They produce spiritual fruit to thirty, sixty or one-hundred fold. These are the folks who discover “life at its best.” These are the folks who begin to “live like God on earth.” These are they who begin to understand peace, love, forgiveness, joy, meaning and triumph.

It all begins with your mind (soil)! What seed (truth) are you cultivating? Whatever ideas you plant in your mind will grow in your life!

I challenge anyone, anywhere and any time to offer me greater ideas than those offered by Jesus Christ! As He Himself so well put it, “He who has ears (capability) to hear (opportunity) let him hear (responsibility)!” Who are you really listening to for the truth of life?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Bullet of Truth: Soils of the Mind That Grow Nothing

One of our Lord’s most penetrating truths is found in Luke 8:4-18. It is called the story of the sower and the seed. The sower (Christ) sows His seed (Truth) on the soil (the mind of man). Our Lord says there will be four responses to His truth.

First, there are those who causally hear the teaching of Christ but never really take time to examine. They are distracted and over-impressed by the shallow goals and false realities of the world controlled by “the enemy” of God. No doubt our Lord had seen folks stop at the edge of the crowd while He was teaching, listen for a moment and then move on. These are the self-centered, flighty minds that never think beyond their own immediate desires.

Second, we find those who do stay to listen but their minds are poor ground for Christ’s truth because so many false and misleading ideas clutter their minds. The set of their mind is focused on the earthy, the physical, the world … on what they “hope” man can do rather than what God has promised to do. Their joy and interest in the truth of God lasts only until some greater pressure comes along and blows them in another direction. They take no time to put down roots in the soil of God’s truth and the wind of error blows them away from Christ.

These first two soils of the mind produce no plant much less a harvest. In our next post we will look at more productive soils.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Bullet of Personality: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Part Two, The Message

The power of his great voice is lost to us today, yet his message is as clear and resonant as ever. The following is a brief excerpt from one of Spurgeon’s motivational sermons, “Joseph Attacked by the Archers.” In this sermon Spurgeon recounts the struggles of the great Old Testament hero who, though often attacked by circumstances he could not control, circumstances that put him in the pathway of shame, despair and even death, kept his heart and mind fixed on his Creator. Spurgeon shows us how God used Joseph’s devotion to purity and righteousness, even in the face of impending doom, to bring glory to Himself and bring blessing to many nations. Our hope is that this excerpt will encourage you to face the archers who attack you, and will challenge you to stand firm in the battle we wage daily against the enemies of our Almighty God.

Joseph’s enemies were archers. “The archers have sorely grieved him and shot at him, and hated him; but his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob.” (Genesis 49:23-24)

Ah! friends, some now present know this verse by heart, “the archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him.” Expect it; do not think it a strange thing; all God’s people must have it. There are no royal roads to heaven – they are paths of trial and trouble; the archers will shoot at you as long as you are on this side of the flood.

“The arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the might God of Jacob.” First, notice, concerning his strength, that it was real strength. It says, “the arms of his hands,” not his hands only. You know some people can do a great deal with their hands, but then it is other fictitious power; there is no might in the arm, there is no muscle; but of Joseph it is said “the arms of his hands were made strong.” It was real potency, true muscle, real sinew, real nerve. It was not simply sleight of hand – the power of moving strength; it is not a boasted valor, a fiction, a thing of which men talk, an airy dream, an unsubstantial unreality, but it is real strength. I should not like to have a combat with one of God’s Josephs. I should find their blows very heavy. I fear a Christian’s strokes more than any other man’s for he has bone and sinew, and smites hard. Let the foes of the church expect a hard struggle if they attack an heir of life. Mightier than giants are men of the race of heaven; should they once arouse themselves to battle they could laugh at the spear and habergeon. But they are a patient generation, enduring ills without resenting them, suffering scorn without reviling the scoffer. Their triumph is to come where their enemies shall receive the vengeance due; then shall it be seen by an assembled world that the “little flock” were men of high estate, and the “offscouring of all things” were verily men of real strength and dignity. Even though the world perceive it not, the favored Joseph has real strength, not in his hands only, but in his arms – real might, real power. O ye foes of God, ye think God’s people are despicable and powerless; but know that they have true strength from the omnipotence of their Father, a might substantial and divine. Your own shall melt away, and droop and die, like the snow upon the low mountain top, when the sun shines upon it, it melted into water; but our vigor shall abide like the snow on the summit of the Alps, undiminished for ages. It is real strength.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Bullet of Personality: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Part One, The Man

“A burning and shining light has suddenly burst upon the moral world.’ Charles H. Spurgeon struck our atmosphere like a meteor – accepting Christ as his Savior at the age of 16, pastoring a significant church in London at 19, and preaching to audiences of 10,000 at the ager of 21; Spurgeon, after a mere 22 years on this earth, became the most popular preacher of his day.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born in Essex, England in 1834; 1 year after slavery in England had been abolished. His preaching and writing often reflected his fury against social injustice and prior to America’s civil war, his utter condemnation of slavery resulted in an almost total boycott of his works in the United States.

In England, however, thousands came to know Christ though his preaching. The richness of his voice rolled into his listener’s ears like the waves rolling on the shore. Yet his power never overshadowed his message of truth and crowds flocked to hear him preach for thirty years.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Bullet of Obedience: Obeying God is Always Smart

Jesus Christ didn’t “feel” like going to the cross, but He obeyed the Father and went anyway. The illustration for us is clear, obeying God whether you fell like it or not is not hypocrisy, but plain old obedience.

A woman told me recently that she couldn’t stand another woman in her office and wasn’t going to act like she lover her or even liked her. The Bible’s answer to this is that God commands love for everyone! To love when you don’t feel like loving has nothing to do with hypocrisy, but everything to do with believing God.

One of your biggest problems as finite human beings is obedience to our feelings, rather than obedience to the unfailing promises of God. Obeying God whether you feel like it or not is not hypocrisy, it’s just smart! And one more thing, it always brings gladness and peace!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Bullet of Obedience: Even Hypocrites Can Be Obedient

My dictionary defines hypocrite as a person who affects virtues or qualities he does not have. In other words, he knowingly pretends to be what he is not …or to put it another way, he thinks he is what everyone else knows he’s not. Two or three exciting things emerge from these definitions. First, it is possible to genuinely believer you are batter than you are. The Pharisees really thought they were righteous, but Jesus called them hypocrites! Secondly, I’ve never met anyone who lives up to all they say they believe; have you? All of us, if we’re truthful, have to admit our good intentions far exceed our accomplishments. Thirdly, obedience to God should be observed whether we feel like hypocrites or not. A man is not a hypocrite who goes against his feelings to be obedient to God’s commands.

This last point has tremendous implications for Christian living. I’ve had people tell me that they’re not going to pray, because they don’t feel like it and don’t want to be hypocritical about it. Likewise, I’ve heard the old excuse, “I don’t feel like going to church so I’d rather stay home than go and be a hypocrite.” Both of these statements are arguments rooted in ignorance. Hypocrisy has nothing to do with how you feel and everything to do with what you believe.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Bullet of Truth: Aim High, You Hypocrite

The guy who hits town and says his big value in life is to be the town drunk doesn’t leave much room for evaluating his hypocrisy other than the degree to which he has succeeded in becoming a good drunk (HA!). On the other hand, a man who says his big value is being like Jesus Christ is opening himself up as a tremendous target for hypocrisy. The higher one sets his goals, the more apparent is his failure if he doesn’t reach them.

This is why the church crowd’s failures loom so much larger than most other folks. Their publicly confessed target in life is to live like Jesus Christ and when they miss it, everyone knows it. It seems to me that anyone with any sense would rather aim for the moon and hit an eagle rather than aim for an eagle and hit a rock. I’d rather aim at being like Jesus and come short than try to be the town drunk and succeed. All of us need to remember this when we meet our next hypocrite, in or out of church. And by the way, there are a lot of churches in town that would love to have you join them next Sunday. There’s always room for one more hypocrite.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Bullet of Truth: Recognizing Our Hypocrisy

One of the most frequent charges leveled at Christians is that the church is full of hypocrites. As a pastor, I would agree. I would qualify as a candidate for chief hypocrite. My dictionary defines hypocrisy as pretending to be what one is not. I’m sure all of us would agree that no one is perfect (yet all of us have our times of thinking we are!) Therefore, if on one is perfect, all of us have our moments (minutes, hours, days?!) of pretense and imperfection. No one is totally what he claims to be or wants to be. Our reluctance to be honest about our failures and our attempts to cover up would classify all of us as hypocrites or pretenders.

Everyone pretends (or plays the hypocrite) in the concerns of life he values most. The woman whose passion is clothing or the man who is possessed with financial success will pretend that these values are more important than others. They will act accordingly. The real question concerning hypocrisy is not if you will be a hypocrite but what kind of hypocrite are you going to be? If pretense, imperfection and hypocrisy are inevitable in life, then we should at least strive to live our lives at the highest level of hypocrisy. This is exactly where Jesus Christ comes in with His liberation truth about sin and forgiveness.

In short, the teaching of our Lord says that man is a mess. But if he’ll admit his condition, respond to God’s love and aim for greatness, he will find increasing peace, purpose, pardon and power. Even though man’s problem of hypocrisy will continue to be with him on earth, it will be lessened if he will become a hypocrite for God rather than being a hypocrite for lesser and lower values.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Bullet of Prayer: Offering Hope to Affect Change

We Christians are most hypocritical when it comes to prayer. An old but very pointed article recently came across my desk that probes our hypocrisy. Read on …

“Ever thought of the daily newspaper as a prayer list? It’s one of the best. A daily reminder of those who most need prayer. Tragedy on the front page? Pray for those involved! Someone’s house burned … victims in critical condition in the local hospital … PRAY! Auto accident … two youths killed? Identify with their parents’ agony and pray for them in their need. You might even write them a note telling them of your prayer … or visit them, offer you love and support.

Public officials are always in the news and whatever our political convictions, we ought to pray for them … more than ever if they are in trouble! After all, praying for those in government is not optional. We are mandated by the Word of God to pray for ‘kings and all who are in high positions’ (1 Timothy 2:2).

If government is ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people,’ … the people have a profound obligation to pray. It is conceivable that a failure of government can be laid as much at the feet of prayerless citizens as to incompetent or corrupt public servants.

Assuming you believe in prayer … can you imagine what a difference it would make if all who did use the daily paper as a prayer list? Millions would be mobilized simultaneously to pray for the same needs locally, nationally, and worldwide!”

Nothing destroys hypocrisy more quickly than the power of answered prayer!!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Bullet of Prayer: The State of the World

We live in a hypocritical world. Most of us see our own lives as solutions and other people’s lives as problems. Fact is, all of us contribute to earth’s problems. Again, most of us are rarely the channel of solution.

It’s like football “fans” in the stands. They yell at the coach and “boo” the players if they do less than win. It’s idiocy! Imperfect people with imperfect knowledge demanding perfection on the field. Hypocrites!

Thursday, I will address how to change our troubled world and our hypocritical selves.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Bullet of Victory: A Life That Counts, Win or Lose
Part 3

No matter how complete your game plan or how perfect your execution … some hits, setbacks and even defeats are inevitable. We have many enemies in life and we must learn that truth is the only way to victoriously adjust to their assaults. The greatest “player” in the drama of life was the Lord Jesus. He suffered many rejections and defeats, but they were all temporary. Why? Simple! His commitment to the truth, regardless of consequences, turned them all to permanent victory!

Those of us determined to pursue the God of the Bible should take more seriously the admonition of II Corinthians 1:5, “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” The event/project type of person will never know this satisfaction from suffering that comes to the process/purpose type of folks. We are learning the great gospel promise that all walls of defeat can be turned into new stepping stones to truth! Power to you my friend!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Bullet of Victory: Teamwork, the Vital Ingredient
Part 2

A championship team must be a “cause” before it is a “project.” If our supreme purpose is to beat an opponent rather than to discover life for ourselves then we have missed the mark. So many people see life as a series of projects instead of a quest for meaning. Immature people are forever content to measure their lives by counting “activities attended.”

The mature recognizes that life on the deepest level is getting into God and people. Meaning, not success, is the true source of joy and fulfillment. Being a team is more important than winning a game if you take the long look. Being one with others (a team) reaps far more benefits than victory in a brief and fleeting athletic contest. The hooker here is that the “real team” usually wins over the “pseudo teams.”

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Bullet of Victory: Losing Can Be Valuable
Part 1

I remember a loss some time ago by one of the local football teams which served as a timely illustration of the realities of life.

The priority of life is to discover truth and not just to get your way. If we have some defeats in life our first purpose should be to discover “why” rather than moan about our weakness. Our greatest lessons about truth usually come out of our adversities rather than our victories. Ecclesiastes 7:2 puts it well, “You learn more about life from attending a funeral than from throwing a party!”

The process of life is more important than any single event. All of us will have some bad events take place in our lives, but bad events need not determine the outcome of our season or our lives. If truth is our main quest … truth about ourselves, our teammates, our world, our values, our goals … then all defeats are only temporary. Bad events can either make us bitter or make us better. It all depends on what we want to make of them. If we refuse to learn truth from our defeats then they become permanent!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Bullet of Courage: Standing Up for What is Right

What unbelievable times we live in! The changes, confusion, chaos and challenges that face Believers in Christ are overwhelming! The information glut, AIDS, the militant homosexual movement, the abuse of children and the aged, abortion, racial tension, increased hostility everywhere in America against Christianity and Judeo-Christian values, media manipulation and bias, environmental pollution, crushing burdens of debt … both individually and nationally, the glorification of evil, the growth of humanistic materialism and the rejection of absolutes, drugs, weak and corrupt leaders, a despairing youth culture, pop music with major themes of rebellion and sexuality, euthanasia, etc., etc. … need I go on? (This list was originally compiled some years ago. You may think of others to add that were not apparent when it was first composed.)

Yet my heart beats with a new fervency to demonstrate to all the Master’s gift of “the peace that passes understanding!” What insanity we see being proclaimed as wisdom! Our government keeps taxing and spending as though money is the answer to our national deterioration! People are too dense (and too blinded by the demonic) to catch the relationship between moral bankruptcy and disobedience to the principles of God!

What an opportunity for the bold in Christ to reap a harvest! No time in human history have so many millions been in darkness grasping for light! Christians will either “cover up” (try to hide from facing responsibility), “come apart” (yield to the stress, pressures and panic) or “come alive” (grasp the promises of God and give yourself a joyous surrender to His purposes)!

One verse that speaks to me greatly is Micah 7:7, “Therefore, I will look to the Lord, I will wait (pray and obey Scripture) for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.” I’m praying for a remnant of Christians to obey that verse and move us into triumphant spiritual battle!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Bullet of Obedience: The Power of Commitment

I can still remember my first day on a summer job while in college. My initial assignment by the foreman was a back-breaking, dirty, sweaty and suffocating job. I “pretended” enthusiasm while hating the thought of it! In a few days though, my appreciation for the foreman, the praise of my fellow employees, the increase in my muscle strength after vigorous “exercise” and my own self esteem of doing a hard day’s work, turned pretense into commitment. I was no longer pretending. The work was just as hard, but I had “bought in” to the reality of the responsibility.

Those who live by the “Higher Loyalty” than “feeling,” “faking it” and “pretending” always overcome them. The Master didn’t “feel” like being beaten thirty-nine times with the Roman lash, but He wasn’t a hypocrite because he allowed it.

The Savior certainly wanted to pull back from the agony of crucifixion, but you can’t say He was “faking it” when He submitted. The Redeemer certainly didn’t enjoy hanging on a cross with spikes through His limbs for six hours, but you can’t accuse Him of “pretending” just because He went through with it!

I think I’ve grown up a little since discovering the above. I’m going to will to do what’s right in spite of reluctant feelings, accusations of faking it or questions of pretending. All three of these poisonous mental concepts will gradually be destroyed by “right action.”

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Bullet of Obedience: False “Because I Don’t” Reasoning

For years I allowed a popular theological notion to impede my progress, if not often stop my obedience to Jesus Christ! I could kick myself now for my stupidity and unreflective acceptance of error! I know you’ve heard it and been victimized by it in your own life. It goes like this:

I don’t really “feel” like praying, so rather than being a hypocrite I just won’t pray! Or, I don’t like her, so why “fake it” and act like I do? Or again, if my heart is not in going to church, I just stay home rather than “pretend.”

What utter nonsense! Yet how many of us have fallen victim to such false reasoning. Are feeling, pretending and faking it reliable terms when it comes to obeying Truth? I say NO! First of all, great achievers don’t live by their feelings! You’re not faking it, if you do what’s right! I remember the time I was the only “adult” present to clean up the vomit of one of my teenage campers. I hated it, but I did it! Was that faking it?

Third, all of us have been guilty of pretending. Yet we need to remind ourselves that pretending is usually the first step in doing something we don’t like until it grows on us!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Bullet of Truth: The Goal is Goodness not Happiness

No Christian can live with meaning and power until he realistically embraces a philosophy of triumphant suffering. This doesn’t mean that we are to throw pity parties for ourselves or foolishly and passively accept a defeatist attitude. Far from it! Our obedience to the cross (Hebrews 5:8) reveals to us a glorious secret. Jesus Christ did not die primarily to make us happy but to make us good! A truly good man is destined for horrendous conflict in a basically evil world.

One of America’s foremost Christian psychologists, Dr. Larry Crabb, states the modern Christian’s most profound error, “They are frantically seeking relief from their problems rather than embracing the necessary painful change that will make them like Jesus Christ.”

I am convinced that there is a bedrock, key question that must be answered first if we are to unlock the keys to all the other questions of our lives. Here it is … we must make up our minds what kind of price we will pay and what pain we will endure to be obedient to Jesus Christ. All other issues hinge on that determination.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Bullet of Truth: Choose to Strive

As I see it, most Christians and churches today, even those who proclaim to embrace the truth of Jesus Christ, are in slavery to “Babylonian” American images and values. The true person of God is called daily to break the bonds of captivity that prohibit him/her from being God’s total man or woman.

The men I know who are serious about the Master face tremendous mountains of opposition. We find ourselves battling for our homes, our wives, our children, our jobs, our churches, our country and often feel overwhelmed in the conflict by our own inner weaknesses.

During the Civil War the great Union General Sherman stated, “The beaches of history are bleached with the bones of those who at the moment of victory sat down to rest.” Even though American culture shouts to us to pursue the life of leisure and self-centeredness, we know that call is a lie. Life on earth for the followers of the true God is a life of conflict and battle. We cannot stop sin from doing its deadly work, but we can discover our own inner peace that “passes understanding” and work in the harvest to bring others to the joy of our light.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Bullet of Destruction of Worry: Victory Over Circumstances

The majority of people who are chronic worriers make the ridiculous mistake of waiting in agony until the circumstances engulfing them change. This will never work. You must change the circumstances or change yourself to conquer the circumstances.

We will always have circumstances or, as the Latin puts it, “things that stand (stances) around (circa)!” A man is a fool to be “under” the circumstances when he can be “on top” of them. Our Lord was overwhelmed with tragic circumstances but not a single one conquered Him! He promises us the same kind of experience if our mind is not divided but set on life’s one great priority … the Kingdom of God! (Matthew 6:25-33).

Happiness is not a state of becoming. It is a state of being! You don’t acquire happiness. You assume it!! God loves me!! In Jesus Christ He offers me His kind of life. All of His riches … power, love, peace, joy, forgiveness … are mine … if I listen to Him and obey Him! The greatest discovery a person ever makes is when he begins assuming that Jesus Christ is right. Obedience to God’s commandments will revolutionize your life! His power to obey is available to anyone who asks Him. Have you ever asked Christ to be your Savior and Master? His Lordship is God’s cure for the divided mind!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Bullet of Destruction of Worry: The Divided Mind

Worry is one of … if not the … greatest illness of modern man. Anxiety is as great a stress to one’s emotional health as too much exercise is to one whose body is out of shape. For example, ask a man who is in poor physical condition to do fifty push-ups and he’ll never finish. He will also be exhausted from the eighteen or twenty he completed! Worry … physically illustrated … is life trying to do fifty push-ups a day when you can only handle twenty. Exhaustion eventually disintegrates the emotional health. Worry is a subtle and deadly killer.

The word for worry in the Greek language is merimnao, composed of two words: merizo which means “to divide” and nous which means to “mind.” Worry is having a divided mind. The mind is divided between what is real and worthwhile as opposed to that which is empty and futile. If a person give himself only to what’s worthwhile and spurned the futile, then worry would cease! (Concern would continue, but there is a vast difference between worry and concern. Jesus was concerned but never worried!) Man’s dilemma comes in knowing and wanting what is real and worthwhile. Thousands of worldly options are being peddled, but Jesus Christ states that He alone can give us the ultimate lesson in reality and value. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). “Without Me there is no going! Without Me there is no knowing! Without Me there is no living!”

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Bullet of Creative Circumstances: All for Our Good
Part 4 of 4

The Father’s love for us and His purpose to make us like Christ are clearly visible in the problems that come into our life. These practices sessions in Christlikeness take on their proper significance when seen from this perspective. In the worst circumstances there is cause for rejoicing.

James 1:2-3 tells us to “count it all joy when testing and frustrating circumstances come our way, because these testings make us mature.” Paul further adds in Romans 8:28 that “all things (circumstances) will work for our good if we keep on loving God … seeking His purpose in everything!”

All of us will be tested by various circumstances! Let’s use them creatively and become more like Christ! That’s the reason the Father has allowed them into your life!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Bullet of Creative Circumstances: Problems are Practice
Part 3 of 4

Coaches and orchestra conductors work with their players to improve their performance where it is inadequate. So it is with our Heavenly Father. In His purpose to make us great human beings like His Son, “He works us where we are weak.” He uses our blindness and the weaknesses of others to put us into circumstances that will develop our strengths, make us tough minded and grow us into “overcomers.”

If you have trouble loving people, He’ll see to it you are surrounded by unlovable people! Christ loves us even when we are unlovable. If you are exceedingly impatient, He’ll put you into a situation where you have no choice but to be agonizingly patient! We need to be as patient with others as God is with us!

A student who keeps putting things off is assigned three tests in three different courses for the same day. His laziness rebels, but, if he would discipline himself, he could do it! God loves a disciplined life … Christ learned obedience through His pressures (Hebrews 5:8).

If you are highly critical of other people, the Father will probably put you in a leadership position where other people will cut your weaknesses to pieces. We need to understand people’s problems before we ever consider criticizing them. God doesn’t criticize us because He understands!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Bullet of Creative Circumstances: God at Work!
Part 2 of 4

It is at the point of changing oneself by using the circumstances creatively and constructively that the meaning of God’s purpose for one’s life should become clear! Those of us who have embraced Jesus Christ as our authority are called upon to put negative circumstances into proper focus. The ultimate purpose God has for each of us is to recreate us like Himself. The goal of life is to become like Christ (Romans 8:29). All other values are secondary to this purpose from the mature Christian’s point of view. Most human misery is caused because people devote their years and energies to inadequate goals of existence!

Now how does God create His character in us? Simple! He continually seeks to teach us to use our problems creatively. Illustration …. A football player who is having problems learning to block isn’t assigned extra passing drills by the coach! He works on blocking. A conductor who notes that the French Horns are playing one section poorly doesn’t work them extra hard on another portion they are playing right. He works them where they are weak!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Bullet of Creative Circumstances: Recognizing the Problem
Part 1 of 4

Most of us make the frustrating and non-productive mistake of fighting our circumstances rather than using them creatively. I have know scores of people (I’ve not escaped the trap myself) who allow themselves to be depressed, discouraged and unhappy simply because of negative circumstances.

Let’s face it, we’ll never escape or change circumstances (from the Latin, “the things that stand around”). If you are surrounded by critical, negative people you have to realize that most probably they will not change to fit your ideas. Their prime purpose of existence isn’t to make you happy! Before one tries to change his circumstances he had better try to change himself! In fact, the only immediate control one has over bad circumstances is to instantly change himself by using the circumstances creatively and constructively.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Bullet of Fellowship: Look to the Perfect Head not the Imperfect Body

The non-church crowd is ridiculous in their two-faced attacks. (At least those who do criticize, some non-church folks couldn’t care less.) On the one hand, they criticize the church if we let sinners of all breeds in … cursers, drinkers, gossipers, selfish types, immoral, etc. … because we have “hypocrites” in the church then. All healing is not instantaneous. When one “joins” the church he doesn’t immediately leave all his sinful ways behind him. A boy with a broken leg isn’t healed the minute he sees a doctor or a woman with mental problems who sees a psychiatrist.

On the other hand, if the church folks try to keep “sinners” out and let only “the saints” in, they are accused of self-righteous, pious, holier-than-thou religion. All of us detest this.

What’s the answer? Truth! For the church not to welcome sinners is like a surgeon refusing to use his operating table or a lawyer refusing to see people who are in trouble or a hospital limiting its services to the well and healthy.

The church I’m a member of constantly fails to reach its goal. All other churches I know of fail with us. But we do have a goal! Jesus Christ! What’s yours?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Bullet of Fellowship: Looking for Reasons to Avoid the Church

The older and wiser (?) I get the more I appreciate King David when he prayed, “Give me understanding that I might find life!” (Psalm 119:144). One of the greatest stupidities of human existence is the destruction of one another through war, hatred, gossip, bitterness and unthoughtful, malicious criticism.

Continuous denouncements and charges against the church are excellent illustrations of man’s unloving judgment. I am always hearing the same old lines, “I’m not coming to your church because member so-and-so cusses,” or “I know Deacon Pious and he’s a hypocrite,” or “I’ll not go to your church because I know one of your members who’s having an affair, so don’t expect me to take Christianity seriously,” or still yet, “Preacher Blotz is too cocky so I’ll never listen to him!”, etc., etc.

By the non-church-goers’ standards, it would seem that no one should be in church unless they are perfect. What folks don’t seem to understand is that the church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners. The only perfect Man who ever lived was rejected by the crowds then and it would be the same if Jesus walked on earth today.

The church is nothing more than a spiritual hospital for the spiritually sick. Some folks don’t think they’re sick but in reality they are. I have known dozens of folks who refuse to see the doctor for fear he’ll find something wrong with them and put them in the hospital.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Bullet of Authenticity: Focus on the Truth not the Lable

I recall a University student who came to my office for counseling about joining our church. He said his mother was hesitant because they had always been Methodists. I told him if God was leading him to be a part of our fellowship what difference does a label make? They are all “temporary” anyway. There are no man-made labels in Heaven.

If God would lead this young man to be a part of our church, he would give up nothing of what God gave him and taught him while a Methodist. Christ measures His truth to the hearts that seek, not to the labels we possess! At the same time, “taking the label” of the church I pastored would not guarantee a deeper walk with God.

There is a dynamic woman in our town who is a happily married mother. She wears the label of Catholic and possesses a joyous, rich, contagious faith in Jesus Christ. I wish I had “twelve” of her in my own church! What an asset she would be! She puts some Baptists I know to real shame! She is a prime example that there is no power in labels. God above gives power to those who love truth.

Real disciples see to it that every touch on another human life points forward to Christ and not backward to a label of the past. The mature are not misled by labels. They also taste the true wonder of heaven a little in advance!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Bullet of Authenticity: What is in a Name?

What is God going to do about denominational labels when “the true believers” arrive in heaven? I believe the answer to that question is that He will ignore them! The reality of what we are when we stand before God (and all of us shall) will not be determined by the labels we wore on earth but by the truth that possessed us in our living.

I am not against labels … even denominational ones! They help and they are necessary. But we must see them as a place of beginning rather than a conclusion. When I was a boy I developed a dislike for the child stare, Shirley Temple. To me she was just a prissy little girl who adults bragged on too much. In my immature resentment toward her I also included the name Shirley. It became my least liked female name! Never did I dream that I would fall in love with and marry a beautiful young woman named – you guessed it – SHIRLEY!

Too many of us blame a good label for the less than good people who have impacted our lives negatively! One bad Baptist, or Catholic, or Doctor, etc., doesn’t say a thing about the other thousands … only about the one. A label is only an indication of where a person has come from and not where he or she is going. The labels of our past should have little or no power over the goals of our future.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bullet of Meaning: Content is More Important than Labels

In our last post we looked at the shorthand of labels. Today let’s dig deeper.

I know one thing for sure. A label doesn’t always guarantee contents. Pour a Dr. Pepper into a Coke bottle and it’s still Dr. Pepper! But there is a vast and enormous difference between God and Dr. Pepper! The bigger the idea, the less effective is the label. It’s a simple matter to label a thing; label a six-inch-long piece of wood that makes marks as a pencil. When you’ve said, “pencil,” you’ve said it all. It’s impossible, however, to reduce God to a label. Pour Him into a Baptist label, Methodist label, Catholic label or what have you, but you can never say it all. God is too big to label. Try to define “love” in one word! You can’t! Love is too big, too involved, too great to describe even in a book, much less a one-word label.

I’ve born a lot of religious labels in my life, but none of them has had any power. Power doesn’t come from labels but from reality. I’m sure most true believers wish they could drop their man-made labels and be known simply as Christians who love Jesus Christ. But, alas, it looks like labels are here to stay.

So, what’s the answer? Labels are only for the mature. The wise person examines the contents before he believes the label. Some Presbyterians are great Christians, other are mediocre and nauseous. Some Baptist live like Christ while others live like the devil. The real disciple will look beyond his label and make Jesus Christ the issue. It makes little difference what label you bear unless God’s lifestyle is evident in your actions. The issue is not labels but contents!

“If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Jesus said that to everybody, regardless of their labels.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Bullet of Meaning: Labels are a Shorthand to Meaning

All men and all things carry labels. The dictionary definition of a label is “something attached to show contents.” In other words, labels are attached to show truth, save time and make for better communication. But even labels have to be understood. If I asked you for your first thought when I said, “Buick,” what would it be? Buick is simply a label for a car made by General Motors in the middle to high price class. But the Buick label means something different to everyone. Most of us would think of a Buick we had owned (hardtop or station wagon, green or blue, etc.) or, perhaps, the nut who ran the stop sign last year and crunched in the side of your car (in his Buick)! The Buick label for me brings the immediate thought of the 1939 Buick in which I learned to drive in the late forties. (I guess that really dates me!)

Labels for cars, shoes, drinks, football teams, watches, etc., might tend to be confusing at times, but when one attempts labels in religion, it is a nightmare.
The labels of Methodist, Assembly of God, Baptist, Catholic, Church of Christ, Presbyterian, non-denominational, charismatic, Lutheran, Episcopalians, etc., mean very little until the contents of what a person really believes is examined. I know Presbyterians who believe like Pentecostals and Assembly of God folks who live and believe like Episcopalians. I have a friend who says, “We Methodists just believe in backsliding, but you Baptists practice it!” Frankly, I never thought I’d be a Baptist. I couldn’t stand them – or should I say, I didn’t care for the few I met who identified themselves! I attended Catholic parochial school as a child, was a member of the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church) for ten years, joined the Presbyterian Church for seven years and graduated from Southern Methodist University (a Methodist school). My mother was raised in the Church of Christ and my dad was an Episcopalian. I’ve decided I’m either thoroughly confused or have a fantastic background. (I hope it’s the latter!)

In our next post, we will dig deeper into the meaning of religious labels.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Bullet of Happiness: Total Satisfaction in Jesus

If a man is to find reality and abundance, he must limit himself to the great priorities, to the “Pearl of Great Price,” to a love that never fails, to something or someone to put his whole soul into that will not disappoint.

The world’s options are a cataract of nonsense. There is no way any of us can get in on all the fun or deviations unbelievers call “meaning.” Even the longest human life can only begin to explore the avenues of knowledge and pleasure.

The Gospel of Jesus says to work, suffer and wait now, for His kingdom will come. The philosophy of unbelief says take it all now for there is no future! We must commit ourselves to one or the other!

The Scripture declares that “When people follow their own thoughts, they walk in ways that are not good” (Isaiah 65:2).

The Father says His ways are not like our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:6). The “way out” of all the confusion and bewilderment is to choose the way of God. Jesus said, “I am the Way.” Those who strive to follow Him have found that He is really there!!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Bullet of Happiness: No Satisfaction in Things

We are living in an age of intolerable diversity. There is no way any of us can fully respond to the maddening deluge of information, commercials, inventions and “opportunities” that bombard our senses. More has been accomplished in our lifetime than all the other civilizations in history put together. Yet, frustration and boredom seem to dominate the emotions of men and women rather than contentment and excitement.

Sociologists reported a few years ago that at the beginning of the twentieth century the average American wanted seventy-two things and considered eighteen of them important. Fifty years later the want list had risen to four hundred ninety-six, of which ninety-six were considered “necessary” to happiness. Only God knows how rapidly these figures are climbing! Things we used to consider “nice to have” have become “have to have.”

Yet, with all this “getting” there is no power to enjoy. Joy comes only from God, the Father, and, when our affections are not first on Him, all else will fade to emptiness. The Scriptures tell us that preoccupation with material things will prompt God to give us “leanness of soul” (Psalm 106:15) and that He will take away our “power to enjoy” the things we possess (Ecclesiastes 5:19 and 6:1-2).

Thursday, July 03, 2008

America the Good

The founding father’s knowledge was empowered by their virtue and that of the great majority of the American people. In his presidential farewell address, George Washington, our nation’s greatest citizen, stated, “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”

Today virtue has been redefined out of existence. Thousands of mindless and self-serving Americans are seeking to blur the distinction between right and wrong. The “anything goes” philosophy produces a life where “nothing helps!”

This crisis of character in our children results from the spiritual and moral decline among our nation’s adults and the breakup of our nations’ homes. To return to the greatness and vision our forefathers, we must return to their emphasis on knowledge of truth and virtue of character.

Spiritual and moral excellence must become American’s first priority. James Madison put it this way: “We have staked the whole future of the American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future … upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

These words concerning Israel over 3,400 years ago are fit commentary for our nation’s slide from virtue: “They forgot God, ignored His counsel, gave into their cravings, and rejected His leadership. So God gave them all they wanted but sent leanness and a wasting disease to their souls” (Psalms 106:13-15)

It’s not too late! American’s moral and spiritual strength depends on the moral and spiritual strength of each individual. The choices you make can turn the tide.

Photo Credit: A Fourth of July fireworks display at the Washington Monument, 1986, taken by SSGT. Lono Kollars.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

America the Free

America, despite her weaknesses, despite her failures, stands firm as the most successful experiment of human government since the dawn of civilization. Beginning with the Declaration of Independence, establishing herself with the Constitution and securing her people with the Bill of Rights, America has provided more stability and protection for her citizens than any other competing system of government.

One of my finest international friends is Paul Pillai of India. A moral and spiritual giant, he heads one of the most effective forces for Christianity in that chaotic nation of over 400 million. Paul once told me, “What is good anywhere else in the world is better in America. What is bad in America is worse everywhere else.”

Alexis de Tocqueville’s perspective on the young American republic was stated as, “America is the place where the Christian religion has kept the greatest power over men’s souls; and nothing better demonstrates how useful and natural it is to man, since the country were it now has the widest sway is both the most enlightened and the freest.”

America owes her greatness to two essentials – knowledge and virtue. When James Madison arrived at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he carried with him a manuscript he had compiled entitled, “Of Ancient and Modern Confederacies.” It was a study of governments from the Greeks to a “modern” attempt in 1579. He had done his homework. From this framework our founding fathers hammered out a system of government, though in need of refinement and stabilization, that would amaze the world with its genius!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Bullet of Marriage: Pursuing More

My own personal feeling is that my marriage has to be toward the top 10% of those that are successful, yet, I have a continual earnestness to excel even more. My own counseling experience and the testimony of scores of colleagues betrays the bitter truth that most marriages are characterized by the tragedy of “satisfied boredom!”

Our insane, blind, misguided and flesh-oriented culture shouts continually that physical ecstasy alone is to be pursued as love’s highest goal. This is the great lie perpetrated about love and marriage. What every husband and wife hungers for most is soul and spirit ecstasy. This unbelievable adventure can only ultimately be experienced when a husband and wife are one with another and one with God. That and that alone is the climax of marriage as God intended it to be.

Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead to give every marriage on earth his resurrection power. Oh, that husbands and wives would have the courage to return to the freshness of their initial love, to feed it with the Truth of God’s Word, to be honest about one another’s needs and to yield to the power of the Holy Spirit.

That hardest mountain a man is ever called on to climb is the one of triumphant intimacy with his wife. I hope you haven’t given up the climb … I haven’t, and although I’m not at the top, the view already is spiritually intoxicating!

A marriage can be the closest thing to heaven or hell on earth. I pray for each of my dear readers now strength for the climb. God’s plan is for the husband to be the primary initiator of a deeper relationship. Most men who are faithful to do this find their wives response exceeds their highest hopes.

Indescribably exhilarating of joy, purpose and fulfillment is the prize for those who keep climbing for the top of the mountain!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Bullet of Marriage: God’s Plan

Next to knowing God, and provided that He has not given you the gift for the single life, the most thrilling and intoxicating experience on earth is God’s intention for husbands and wives.

As my knowledge of the Scripture deepens, as the years enrich my experience and as I taste more abundantly the power of the Spirit, the revelation of God’s fantastic plan for a man and woman literally blows my mind.

In Genesis 2:25 we read that Adam and Eve were naked and were not ashamed. This speaks of far more than the absence of clothing. God’s plan for husbands and wives was that they might experience a total openness, absolute honesty and soul transparency.

The explosive power of a man and wife who share a mutual vision, feed on one another’s love and who grow in soul oneness together can only be experienced and not defined.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Bullet of Communication

In our last post we examined levels five through three of John Powell’s five levels of communication. Today we look at the last two levels:

“Level Two: My Feelings or Emotions.” Now the person shares how he feels about facts, ideas and judgments. The feelings underneath these areas are revealed. If a person is to really share himself with another individual, he must get to the level of sharing his feelings.

“Level One: Complete Emotional and Personal Truthful Communication.” All deep relationships, especially marriage relationships, must be based on absolute openness and honesty. This may be difficult to achieve because it involves a risk – the risk of being rejected because of our honesty, but it is vital for relationships to grow in marriage. There will be times when this type of communication is achieved and other times when the communication is not as complete as it could be.

Jesus Christ was the greatest communicator who ever lived. No one will ever learn to communicate without putting himself or herself under the teaching and authority of the Master Communicator. The heart of the good news of Jesus Christ is that He wants to help us communicate. Great results can’t be achieved overnight, but just beginning is a delicious experience. Any marriage is repairable if the time and the tools are available. Most couples have the time but are frustrated because their tools are inadequate. It’s like trying to drive a large nail into a two-by-four with a shoe instead of a hammer! The power and the teachings of Jesus are the tools that have been most effective in healing the scores of marriages I’ve dealt with. When marriages fail, I can’t help but question, “I wonder what tools they were using?” Begin today to use God’s tool to open, honest communication to deepen your marriage. You’ll be glad you did.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Bullet of Communication

Based on my years of experience in counseling families and the comments of all the experts I’ve ever read on the subject, I would say without question that the major problem in marriage is not … repeat … is not finances, sex, children, location, vocation or health! The greatest problem and major stumbling block to joyous family living is the lack of effective communication. Marriage is an intimate relationship built on mutual understanding, but, in order to truly understand another person, you must be able to communicate with him. A husband and wife can know a great deal about each other without knowing one another.

Definition: Communication is the process that allows people to know each other, to relate to one another, and to understand the true meaning of the other person’s life.

Author John Powell lists five levels of communication in his fine book entitled, Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am.

“Level Five: Cliché Conversation.” This type of talk is very safe. We use words such as, “How are you?” “How is your family?” “Where have you been?” “I like your suit.” In this type of conversation there is no personal sharing. Each person remains safely behind his screen.

“Level Four: Reporting the Facts About Others.” In this kind of conversation we are content to tell others what someone else has said, but we offer no personal commentary on these facts. We just report the facts like the five o’clock news each day. We share gossip and little narrations, but we do not commit ourselves or share our feelings about it.

“Level Three: My Ideas and Judgments.” This is where some real communication begins. The person is willing to step out of his solitary confinement and risk telling some of his ideas and decisions. However, he is still cautious and is quick to retreat if he senses that what he is saying is not being accepted.

In our next post we will continue exploring the last two levels of communication where true openness can occur.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Grandfather Love

I want to share the following with you as Father’s Day approaches!

“With all the confessions of preachers in the news I’ve decided to do the same. Just because God created the attraction between male and female I can’t blame it on Him. I thought I was too old to fall in love again but I discovered I didn’t know my weakness.

I had always considered myself to be contentedly settled, assured and experienced. How, then, could this stranger come along and bewitch me so completely?

I never believed in love at first sight until, most unexpectedly and bewilderingly, it happened to me. From the moment I first saw her, it was as though her eyes entered my heart and pierced clear through to my soul. What else could it be but love?

She should have known that I was a happily married, contentedly middle-aged man. But she was beautiful and, oh, how she knew it … and she used that beauty to overwhelm me. I tried to ignore the feelings she stirred in me, but with each day that passed, I knew I was becoming a captive to her charm. I was under her spell completely!

She had so many enchanting moods: She was happy, sad, sweet, cute, pouty, serious, funny, and flirtatious. Each mood followed the other in dizzying succession. And each was effective … helplessly I reacted to each in exactly the manner she expected.

I tried to appear blasé about our relationship; however, that was clearly a façade, and my friends saw through it instantly. Even my wife became aware of the new object of my affections. Surprisingly, she was more tolerant about what was happening than I would have expected. She even seemed to share my excitement over this new woman in my life. This, I might add, immediately gave our marriage a whole new dimension.

Where will it all lead? It’s hard to say. I though the thrill of this new relationship would be soon gone. And yet, several years have passed since she first entered my life, and I am still helplessly smitten. Each time I see her she is more bewitching, and each time she finds a new way to claim my heart. It used to be just a shy glance or a gesture. Now she is bolder and offers me a touch with her little hand, a hug, an occasional kiss on the check. I would gladly giver her the world at such moments.

I guess it’s possible that our relationship is just a figment of my imagination, as she has never spoken to me of love. And yet, when I look at the pretty, dimpled face, when I gaze into her blue, shining eyes, I know in my hearth that she is thinking … ‘I love you Grandpa!’”

I owe the above to author Jack. D. Minzey. I don’t know him but I know he knows the heart of a grandfather!

Illustration: "The Favorite" by Georgios Iakovidis

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Bullet of Marriage: Building Something Larger (Part 3)

In every marriage both mates must go to the cross again and again for one another. Usually one mate will have to go to the cross more often because he or she is the stronger. Balance is rare! Marriage is the perfect object lesson on how Jesus Christ (the stronger) goes to the cross more often than you (the weaker) in your relationship with Him. Remember, the main object of marriage is not your happiness, but to discover the character of God!

It is the character of God alone to which humanity can look with hope. His character is that of divine love. Divine love always seeks to give itself to those in need. One of the greatest verses on marriage is Romans 15:1, “Those who are stronger should bear with those who are weak!” Thousands of marriages would still be together today if husbands and wives had believed that truth. It they had only discovered that their marriages’ first priority was to teach them about God, and not to satisfy themselves, they would have found happiness together.

If your marriage is losing its adventure perhaps you’ve missed the point of why the Father thought it up! It locks us in to loving another person like He loved us … unconditionally! Have you been to the cross for your mate lately?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Bullet of Marriage: Building Something Larger (Part 2)

The man must initiate the direction! Strong women demand greater leadership. A marriage will not conquer if the husband is passive and content only with his personal goals. God has called them to build a heritage “together!”

Recognizing this and strategizing to move in the right direction is the basic issue of the “call of God.” You start from where you are … with all past mistakes and present agonies … and don’t quit as long as you love … no matter on how many “cross experiences” you have to hang!

Your mate’s weakness is rarely, if ever, reason enough to justify your weak response. Christ responded to our weakness not by being weak (staying in Heaven or refusing to die on earth), but in strength by going to the cross!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Bullet of Marriage: Building Something Larger (Part 1)

Why are almost half of all marriages ending in divorce? Even many couples who “make it” by staying together live far below their expectations.

What destroys most partners in the absence of a mutual great passion and plan to be used by God. Their ambitions are too small! They share no great purpose beyond raising their children, affluence and pleasure. Their goals are too small to embrace reality. They fall into the trap of using one another rather than being used of God together! Powerful and romantic love cannot be built around routine activities of the flesh. Even great human achievements in medicine, science, politics, business, etc., “come to nothing” (Psalm 112:10), unless purely aimed at the glory of God!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Bullet of Love: Thoughts from Martin De Haan, Part 2

“I read the Apostle Paul as having been on both sides of life’s fence. He knew what it was to die. He knew what it was to be a victim driven to the edge of despair. Bet he also knew what it meant to be in love … in a deep and rich sense.

For Paul, it was love that made the difference. His enthusiasm for life was not merely to breathe good air, taste good meals, and watch great sunrises as if each might be his last. He knew that when he died his senses would come alive in a place far better than this. What drove Paul was what caused him to say, ‘For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain … nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith’ (Philippians 1:21, 24, 25).

Father, forgive us for wanting to live for any reason other than to love You and to live for the joy of helping those who still need our help.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Bullet of Love: Thoughts from Martin De Haan, Part 1

Authentic love … God’s kind of love … is the only great reality of human existence. Martin De Haan hit a new note for me on the difference love makes in living. I had to pass it on!

“Life, some love it. Some hate it. Others sag along like a half-filled radial with a slow leak. How can some take a deep breath and seem to smell orange, apple or gardenia blossoms, while others sigh heavily almost as if to expel the stale weight of that same breath?

Some say it’s all in the circumstances. Others say love makes the difference. There might be something to the latter. Watch someone in love. Whether 14 or 74, whether wise man of fool, someone in love is different. His eyes are alive. He is energized. Each new day is an opportunity rather than a burden.”

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Bullet of Leadership: Seek Greatness

The man who lives immersed only in his own interests, pleasures and sorrows is empty. As Cowper so well put it, “The miserable are nearly always selfish.”

Among the many things which are worse than a shortened life is the person who has become reconciled, adjusted, adapted, programmed and satisfied with failure. We must determine that the complacency and foolishness of others will not diminish our own personal passion for greatness.

A thousand deaths would be sweeter than perennial, perpetual defeat, or its close counterpart, mediocrity. God grant that each of us in these days of darkness will resolve to make them … in our homes, our church, our work, our community … our finest hour! There is no alternative it greatness!

Pictured above: President George Walker Bush visits Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day and lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. White House photo by Tina Hager. (May 2003)