Rule Makers & Breakers

Jonah 1:4, “But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.”

Most of you know the story of Jonah. The guy who was swallowed by the big fish and lived in its belly for 3 days. He got there because the Lord asked him to go one place but he wanted to go another. And knowing he was disobeying God, he set out to “flee from Him.” It seems crazy  for someone to attempt to run away from God – the Creator of the Universe, the omnipotent King of all kings, the Great I am. Is there anywhere we could go that He wouldn’t see us? Find us? Reach us? When we read the story of Jonah, we almost laugh at his stupidity; yet, even now, some of us are just like him.

Unsuspectingly, some of us justify our actions, even though we know they are in opposition to God’s word. We disguise sin as cultural norms, political correctness, and claim the God of today is not the God of yesterday. The world is a different place, we assert. I often wonder if Jonah was thinking the same thing. He probably felt he knew more about the people of his time than God; after all, he was in the here and now!

A young man came to my office many months ago. He wanted to get married. “Could I do the ceremony for him?” I knew he and his girlfriend had been living together for several years and I asked him about it.

“We have,” he said almost proudly. “We bought a house together and after 2 1/2 years we think its time to take the next steps.”

“The next steps?” I repeated. “You’ve never taken the first step.”

In order for me to marry him, I told him he would have to move out, live apart, abstain from intimate relations, and do it God’s way.

“Oh,” he smiled, “Pastor, nobody waits until marriage anymore.”

We’ve become a society of rule makers and rule breakers. If it doesn’t meet our agenda, we find some possible way around it. We lawyer it down; read between the lines; and make our own precedent. When I think about it, there is a little bit of Jonah in all of us.

Take God seriously. If there is something in your life you need to change, don’t wait another minute. Bring it to God in prayer. Make it right, before you, like Jonah, end up in the belly of a fish.

God Happened

My grandmother used to say, “when things do not go as we planned, they do.”

Has your life ever taken a turn that left you stupefied – standing in the road in utter shock as to how things could possibly turned out this way? I can imagine it is how the disciples must have felt as they saw Jesus being arrested, beaten, and crucified. He was the miracle worker! He was their King! Had they misinterpreted His actions that much? Had others been right about Him? Was He not who they thought He was?

Sometimes we make a decision we believe is from God. We’ve gone to Him in prayer. We’ve studied His word. We feel assured He is with us. Suddenly, out of nowhere, it turns bad and we don’t understand. Were we that off-base? Is God really who we thought He is?

I am a big believer in “the BIGGER picture.” While we may feel we are the ones going through the fire, God knows different. Maybe He is sparing us from something far more tragic than the supposed failure before us. Maybe He is preparing for something much better than we imagined. Maybe what we see as failure is a stepping stone to a greater purpose.

Jeremiah 29:11 reads, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”

Those are not just words to make us feel better.

In the South, we often greet people, “How are ya?” Everyone knows it isn’t literal. No one would ever stop and say, “Well, my bursitis is flaring up and my septic tank overflowed and flooded the basement.” The response is, “I’m good, you?” And when we depart from one another we add, “Come see me!” No one would ever say, “OK. When? How ’bout Friday night?” The response is, “We’ll do!”

When God says He knows the plans He has for you, He means it! When He says He will prosper you and not harm you, He means it!

The next time your plans don’t fall into place as you expected, praise God for it! He is either preventing you from something painful down the road, setting you up for something much better, or using the process as a step-up to something you’ve never even thought. God is our hope for the future.

When you ask, “What happened?” Know this, God happened. And I’m so grateful He did.

Your Stuff

Luke 12:16-20, “And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’”

What will happen to your ‘stuff’ when you die? Have you ever really thought about it? The baseball card collection? Your clothes? Tools? Books? Cars? Ski Boots? Will your ‘things’ be what your family treasures about you or will they be tossed away? I have attended the death-bed of many people and not once has anyone whispered in the minutes before leaving earth, “Oh I wish I had stored up more belongings!”

Jesus told a parable about a very rich man who had stored up so much food that he had to tear down his barns and build bigger ones just to manage it all. God calls him a fool. A fool! There are not many times in the Bible that we hear God call someone a fool. This scripture makes me sit up and take note. I do not want God to call me a fool; do you?

There are items in our garages, in our closets, in our pantries, in our freezers that can be a blessing to other people. We tend to hoard our things as if they will benefit us later. God calls us to help one another. Think about it; there are cold people living on the streets, and some of us have more coats in our closets than we could wear in three seasons.

Think about sharing some things you do not use by blessing others with it. Now more than ever, we have to become people aware of one another. We have to put aside our selfish, individualistic natures and start thinking about the community of God’s Kingdom. That may mean we need to view stuff and others differently.

The Key to Success

Winston Churchill said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. It is so hard to keep a positive attitude in the midst of failure. None of us like to fail. We are judged based upon our performance. We are applauded when we win. We are paid when we are successful in our jobs.”

How do you view success and failure? Is it based on money? Gold medals? Status? Power?

Proverbs 29:18 reads, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

God knows the importance of goals. He knows that as human beings we need to have plans and desires to strive to be better people. Sometimes though, it is our failures that make us the people God wants us to be. How we handle failure is more important to God; in fact, how we handle failure may be our success.

Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, and an incredibly intelligent man stated, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” We need to understand sometimes when our plans do not work out the way we wanted, it brings us closer to where God wants us.

Oral Roberts, an evangelist, used to open his sermons with, “Something good is going to happen to you today!”

All of us have expectations and when those are not met we feel weary and disappointed. But God tells us in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

If we do not give up… the key to success…the answer…

Nelson Mandela said, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.”

Do not give up. See what the world deems as failure as your step up to what God has for you next. Rely on Him when you feel weary and know that He will deliver in His time.

Mighty God!

When I was a kid, I loved super heroes. The capes, the brightly colored masks, the emblem on the chest, all made me long to be a Superman, Spiderman, or Batman. How cool would it be to run into a telephone booth and emerge a hero! I used to play that I was a super hero; that is until my cape got caught in a tree in front of my friends. It took months to get rid of the stigma.

Do you know God is our super hero? Mighty God! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? Mighty God conquered death, saved the world, and continues to actively provide for us protecting us from harm. He is our super hero, Mighty God! And He is real, not some figment of the imagination.

It was easy to believe in super heroes as a child. Now that I am an adult, I realize those cartoon characters were just that, characters created from the amazing imagination of someone to entertain children and even adults. But what of God? Some don’t really believe He can do what He says He can do. Some believe in Him but don’t necessarily believe in what He can and will do.

Is He Mighty? Is He in control? Did He conquer death? Can He defeat Satan?

The answer is YES! And more…

As Paul wrote in Romans 1:17, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.'”

Today, bind yourself to our Mighty God. Say to Him, “I am Yours. Save me!”  “I am Yours. Deliver me!”

Strong and Free

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance  to a land that’s free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer. ”

God Bless America,
Land that I  love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home.

Through military rebellion, civil uproar, treason, and heroism, nations come into being. Although the start of our nation encompassed all these, it began with the courage of five men: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston, led by a southerner, Thomas Jefferson, in drafting a document called the Declaration of Independence. It was about standing up against King George III; it was about declaring independence from oppression; it was about freedom. The president of the Congress, John Hancock, was the first to sign the document. 56 men signed their names to declare the independence of this country. It was a risk; and yet, it was taken. And together, they did not fail.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –“

It isn’t about picnics or boat rides or sunny beaches. It isn’t about parades or fireworks or games. Today is about the sacrifices made by those before us and those presently to give you and me freedom. It is about the blessings of God and His watchful eye over the United States.

Take time today to remember why we celebrate the 4th of July. Take time today to glorify the one God this nation is under. Take time to reflect on the troops stationed all over the world protecting us. Then consider your part in keeping the United States great.

Happy Independence Day! Happy Birthday to the United States of America! May God continue to bless her and keep her strong and free.

One of the Greatest Testimonies

Acts 16:25, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas meet a woman who is a fortune-teller. She is following them around as they are preaching and continues to echo, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” After several days of this, Paul and Silas turn to her and command the demons in the name of Jesus Christ to leave her. Fortune Telling provided money for her owners, and those owners are angry that Paul and Silas have removed this ability from her.

The owners take Paul and Silas to the Magistrate and have them arrested. The crowds join in the attack against these men, and Paul and Silas are beaten within an inch of their lives and thrown into jail. The worst of criminals (those most dangerous to society) are held in stocks. Paul and Silas’ feet are anchored down in stocks, a very painful process. Also, they are heavily guarded.

It is fascinating to read what Paul and Silas do. First, imagine what you would do. Maybe you would demand a lawyer or protest that the treatment you had received was unlawful. Possibly, you would cry out to God in agony and defeat.  I can hear it now, “I am preaching your word, Lord! Get me out of this mess!” But the scriptures tell us that Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.  You guessed it; the other prisoners were listening.

Who is watching you? Who is listening to you? Maybe it is a co-worker or a neighbor. Maybe it is your son or daughter. Maybe it is your brother or sister. Maybe it is a complete stranger. How we respond to adversity is one of the greatest testimonies we can offer to God; it can also be the most damaging when we respond incorrectly.

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you are an instrument for God. He will come to your rescue. He will deliver you. Remember Paul and Silas the next time you are faced with less than ideal circumstances. Allow God to use your struggles to witness to others.