Encouragement

Passions

Have you ever lost your cool?

Or in a moment of weakness, have you ever made a decision you regretted?

If we’re to be honest, life is full of regrets. We regret the sins of our past, our bad decisions, the things that bring us shame and even the things no one knows about.

I think to a large degree this is one reason why many people skip church. Life can become one big guilt trip, and hearing a sermon about sin and impure motivations in the heart can compound that guilt.

Guilt is universal. The late Dr. J. Vernon McGee once said that he has never been the preacher, husband or father he thought he should be. A man who spent his life teaching millions of people through the Bible felt like he didn’t measure up.

And then there’s the Apostle Paul, who said in Acts 14:15, “ We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God.”

The like passions Paul experienced are the same ones Dr. McGee experienced, which are the same passions you and I experience. It’s the sin nature. It’s temptation. And all too often, we fall before it.

Yet Christianity goes beyond defining the problem of sin and temptation. Christianity teaches us about God’s grace, forgiveness and redemption from that sin and temptation.

Notice how Paul, in Acts 14:15 exhorted the people to turn from their sin to God. Obviously to please God, we must believe in Him and trust Jesus Christ as Savior. That involves the confession that sin is evil and the decision that we no longer want a part in it.

Yet, our passions pull us back in. At this point we truly see how awesome the grace of God is, because even though we continue to struggle and fall, God continually forgives us. He loves us in spite of our weaknesses and failures.

When I read Dr. McGee’s statement that he falls short, and when I read Paul’s statements about his shortcomings, and when James mentions Elijah’s passions in James 5, I am reminded that I am not alone. You are not alone. We all struggle with sin, and come short of the glory of God.

But God be praised, He loves us anyway.

Don’t let sin and shame keep you out of the Lord’s presence. He already knows all about it. Come on in, and let Him love you through it.

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The Opposition

The people who had moved into the land were tolerant of the Israelites who returned to rebuild Jerusalem, but once construction began on the Temple, conflict broke out.

In this message, we evaluate why the people of the land opposed the construction of the Temple, and how that correlates to Satan’s opposition to our daily lives today. This chapter illustrates how Satan actively opposes you and tries to sabotage you as you try to live out God’s purpose for your life.

…because you never know…

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And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

-Acts 10:28

Thomas Ryman was no good.

The owner of several saloons and riverboats, he made a living off of others’ sin. He built a financial empire selling liquor, gambling and sin. However, 1885 saw a Spiritual revival break out across the South, and the mass conversion of Southern sinners to Christianity put a dent into Ryman’s business.

So when the man spearheading the revival, Evangelist Samuel Porter Jones, came to Nashville to preach, Ryman decided to attend the revival. Ryman’s plan was simple. Preserve saloon business by disrupting the revival, stopping Jones from preaching.

Ryman’s plan of disrupt, interrupt and corrupt beautifully backfired. Instead of stopping the revival, Ryman wound up converting to Christianity.

So moved by the preaching of Jones, Ryman decided to build a church, a tabernacle, so that all of Nashville could hear Jones preach. The structure, located on 5th Avenue North, would be called the Union Gospel Tabernacle.

Jones went on to hold several revivals in that building, and church services were held every Sunday. Of all the memorable sermons preached at the Union Gospel Tabernacle, none were so pivotal as the one Jones preached on December 23, 1904, as he eulogized Ryman, a man saved under his preaching who invested the equivalent of $2.7 million in today’s currency to build the place where so many would hear the Gospel.

At that funeral, Jones recommended that the Union Gospel Tabernacle be renamed to honor his most benevolent convert, thus the tabernacle was renamed the “Ryman Auditorium.” Yes, that Ryman Auditorium, known across the South as the “Mother Church of Country Music,” home of the Grand Ole Opry, a thrice-weekly country music radio performance broadcast live on WSM 650 AM which ends every performance with a Gospel song.

The Ryman Auditorium, the “Mother Church of Country Music,” was actually a church at one time, hence the stained-glass windows and the wooden pews. The church closed in 1935, but not before thousands heard the Gospel and thousands were saved, all because God allowed one sinner to amass a fortune, before reaching him with the Gospel so that he would use that fortune to reach thousands more for Christ.

Those who knew Ryman before his conversion would probably say, “he ain’t no good,” and understandably so. Prior to his conversion, Ryman was so committed to profiting off of sin that he endeavored to stop the preaching of the Gospel to stay in business.

The preachers of Nashville probably thought he was a lost cause. The righteous of Nashville probably thought he was the worst man to have ever lived. However, God knew the plans that He had for Ryman, and “when the fullness of time had come,” God sent Jones to Nashville to hold a revival, leading to Ryman’s conversion, and the subsequent conversion of multitudes.

You never know what God has planned for others, therefore the Bible tells us not to judge.

In Acts 10, Peter was praying on the rooftop patio of Simon the Tanner when he received a vision of a sheet being lowered from heaven containing every animal that the Jews considered unclean to eat (pigs, catfish, crawdads, lobster, etc). An angel then told Peter, “Rise, kill and eat,” to which Peter said, “Not so, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”

The angel then responded, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”

Later, Peter tells Cornelius that God taught him never to call any man common or unclean. The lesson Peter learned is that while the man before us may live a sinful life, it may very well be that God will soon reach him with the Gospel. And if God knows the man will receive Christ as his Savior, he’s as good as saved already.

In fact, it may be, as in the case of Peter, that God is calling us to reach that man.

So with this in mind, let’s remember a few things. (1) Do not disdain the lost around you. Love them and share the Lord with them. You may see them be converted and go on to do great things for God. (2) Following the example of Thomas Ryman, let’s glorify God by doing what we can to make sure that others hear the preaching of the Gospel. (3) Don’t give up on that wayward loved one who so far has refused to repent. If God can reach a man like Ryman, He can reach anyone.

Praise God for redeeming us and those around us to a lively hope. May God bless you today.

The Art of Redemption

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Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:

-Colossians 1:12-14

Redemption.

For some, it means validation. For others, it means to be set free. For others, it is the chance to go back and correct a wrong, or to try again after a failure and achieve success.

Redemption.

While these elements can accompany the Biblical meaning of redemption, true redemption goes much further. When the Bible tells us that God redeemed us through Jesus Christ, it tells us that he did more than validate us, set us free, or give us a second chance.

Biblical redemption carries with it the meaning of restoration.

In Old Testament times, slavery was a practice used to settle debt. If a man was in debt without any hope of being able to repay it, he could be sold into slavery. In order to make this dark practice more humane, and in order to teach us about salvation, God wrote into His law several provisions that would free slaves, one of which was redemption.

If a man were sold into slavery for, say, $50,000, and his brother learned that he had been sold into slavery, his brother could go to his master and buy his brother back. The slave master was obligated to sell the slave back to his family at the price he paid, without collecting a profit.

That process was known as “redemption.” The man would return home, a free man, no longer a slave. He would be reunited with his family and be able to farm his land and work his vocation. He was redeemed. He was restored.

Notice that the redeemed man did not become a slave to his brother who had purchased his freedom. Notice also that the man no longer owed the debt. He was completely free, and his life was restored. What an amazing feeling that must have been.

Scripture teaches us that, just like Old Testament slaves were redeemed by their families, God has redeemed us.

Just as that man in the Old Testament was sold into slavery, owing a debt he could not repay, we begin life as slaves to sin, owing a debt we cannot repay. Just as the brother of that man in the Old Testament purchased his brother out of slavery, Christ purchased us from sin, paying our sin-debt by giving His life on the cross.

And just as that man in the Old Testament was reunited with his family and set free, Christ has restored our lives and set us free. Restoration. Without it, there is no true redemption. Freedom. Without that, there is no redemption, for if you have not been freed, you have not been redeemed. You’ve merely been sold.

Therefore, when Christ redeems us, He has made us free indeed! Then, He begins the process of restoring our lives by transforming us into the persons He intended on being.

This concept is illustrated in countless ways in scripture. The redemption Christ offers us teaches us a few things.

First, we should accept the redemption. A man in the Old Testament who was set free could choose to remain a slave. Or, he could take his freedom and return to his family. Have you accepted the redemption offered by Jesus Christ? Have you turned from your sins and trusted Him for salvation? Or do you cling to your sins and trust your servitude?

Secondly, the Biblical concept of redemption rules out the notion that any works are necessary to achieve salvation. The Old Testament slave who was redeemed by his brother owed his brother nothing for his redemption. Nothing. Obviously, he should have been grateful and expressed his gratitude, but as a matter of obligation, owed his brother nothing.

When Christ redeems us, we owe Him nothing for our redemption. Obviously, we should be grateful and express that gratitude in obedience and service, but we have no contractual obligation to Christ in exchange for our redemption. This means that any religion that teaches that one has to live holy, be baptized, speak in tongues, be a faithful church member or give tithes in order to enter Heaven has no understanding of true redemption.

Any religion that teaches that salvation can be lost does not understand redemption.

When Christ redeems you, He sets you free, and you have eternal peace and security from Him that cannot be revoked. Learn to rest in that assurance, and serve the Lord with gladness and not fear.

And finally, this redemption teaches us about how much God loves us, and how priceless we are to Him. A man in the Old Testament would have to love his brother very much to make the financial sacrifice to redeem him from slavery. God loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son to redeem us from the slavery of sin.

The world may have rejected you. Others criticize and judge you. You may feel like society has marginalized you and cast you out of the gates of the city. However, God loves you, sees the things which make you unique, gave His Son to redeem you, and has a place for you at His table. Will you turn to Him?

God paid the price for your redemption. That redemption becomes effective when you trust Jesus Christ as your Savior.

May God bless you today.

The Altar (Ezra 3)

It is significant that when the people began to rebuild the Temple in Ezra 3, they began with the building of the altar, because it was the altar that symbolized their redemption and peace with God.

In “The Altar,” we discuss how the altar symbolized redemption, what that entailed, and how we should respond.

Spring Training

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Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

-1 Corinthians 9:24-25

It’s almost time for those four glorious words to be said, “Pitchers and catchers report.”

I’m not going to lie. I enjoy watching baseball, whether it’s Major League on TV, or at the local city park where my kids have played little league. It’s America’s pastime. Time to relax and enjoy a soda and popcorn.

That is, of course, unless you’re a player. Then baseball season brings with it the rigorous schedule of spring training, physical training, practice, and a long 162-game schedule.

Regardless of the stereotypes of the pudgy ballplayer who earns his pay by knocking a ball over a fence, the modern game of baseball is a highly athletic event. Outfielders need the speed and endurance to chase down high-flying fly-balls that are more commonly being knocked into the outfield.

Infielders need the agility and athleticism to snatch line drives out of the air and make the throw to first. Batters need the quickness to run the bases, stretching singles to doubles, and doubles to triples.

The physical strength, speed and stamina it takes to compete in baseball today is developed through intense physical workouts, not just during spring training, but during the season, and especially the off-season.

Through intense workouts, athletes push themselves to their physical limit. One they hit that limit, they rest, then push themselves to the limit again to see if any progress has been made. The process is painful, trying, tiring and can be discouraging at times, especially if the athlete’s physical shape is not progressing as fast as he thinks it should be.

The athlete does not necessarily enjoy the training process, but he values it, because he knows after all the laps have been run, the weights lifted, the stairs climbed and the balls thrown, he will be a better ballplayer.

He endures the pain, because he values the transformation taking place within him.

In 1 Corinthians 9, the Apostle Paul likens our Spiritual transformation to sports training. Speaking to the church in Corinth in verses 24-25, Paul writes, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.”

In those verses, Paul writes how an athlete trains hard, striving for the mastery of his race, being temperate in his consumption and diligent in his work. He endures much in order to run his race well, so that he can win a crown, which is a temporary thing. Likewise, athletes today work to win victories that will soon be forgotten.

On the other hand, Spiritual victories are eternal. Therefore, Paul instructs us to train and run well, that we may obtain an incorruptible crown, a crown of righteousness, that the Lord will give us when we finish our race. So, how do we train and strive for the mastery? That’s the good news! God is the ultimate personal trainer.

You see, you don’t go through Spiritual training and transformation alone. You don’t initiate it. You don’t “make it happen.” You only “submit to it and trust God through it.”

Romans 5:2-5 speaks to this:

we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

These verses can be summed up by saying, “We glory in troubles because those troubles build our endurance, which builds our experience, which builds our hope, which reassures us knowing that God will not leave us ashamed.”

We glory in tribulation, just as the athlete values physical training, because we know it makes us stronger.

Therefore, when hard times hit, pray. Pray that God delivers you and resolves the issue. However, if that does not happen, trust the Lord to go through that tribulation with you, because scripture teaches that He will use that tribulation to build you up, and not tear you down.

And just as that athlete trains hard, hoping that coach will put play him on game day, know that God is building you up to play a vital part in his overall plan.

May God bless you with peace and understanding today.

Making it big

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For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth.

-Zechariah 4:10

In today’s age, bigger is better.

College and high school grads entering the workforce flock to the big cities, not only because wages are higher there, but also for the amenities the cities offer. A house in the suburbs that provides a small-safe neighborhood within a short drive of the city’s amenities?

Bleh! Today’s young professionals are actually moving into the inner cities, drawn to the theaters, night life, professional sporting events and concerts.

Then, there are the restaurants, pubs and coffee shops.

Cities draw today’s youth because they are big, and offer a wide array of entertainment options. However, it’s not only the size of the city that draws the young professional, but also the chance that the young professional can himself become big.

One trend today is that the professional will select a city, and then seek employment based on where he wants to live, as opposed to the previous tradition of finding employment then moving to the city where that opportunity exists.

Such as resulted in the rapid growth of Austin, San Antonio, Nashville, Atlanta, Washington DC, and even some cities once considered rust belt relics like Cincinnati and Detroit. It’s why, despite the crowds and cost of living, New York and LA are magnets, and Charlotte, NC continues to draw NASCAR hopefuls.

These cities draw young professionals, because in addition to the amenities they offer, they also become a potential springboard to national acclaim. If you’re a newly graduated CPA who dreams of being a musician, you go to Austin or Nashville.

If you want to make it as a TV journalist, you head to Atlanta. Perhaps you have just graduated law school but want to make it as an R&B producer? Atlanta or LA.

If computers are your thing, Austin or San Jose.

Young professionals flock to these areas because they want to make it big, which means national notoriety or acclaim, if not financial success. Today’s youth have stars in their eyes, programmed by endless messages of how special they are. To the young worker today, moving to the suburbs, accruing a retirement account, raising a family and enjoying career success amounts to failure.

To be a success, one has to make an impact. To be success, you have to revolutionize your industry, invent the next iPhone or Facebook, and everyone has to know your name. That, today, is success. Being “big” is the goal. Financial success and security is secondary.

Yet, it is in the small towns and suburbs where the greatest generation, the generation whose selfless sacrifices laid the foundation for the prosperity we enjoy today, raised up generations, providing them with a stable home, a solid foundation, and the tools to succeed in life. The greatness of 21st Century America can be traced back to the parents of the Baby Boomer generation who forewent being “big” in order to create a better life for the next generation.

Big is exciting. Big is seductive. Big offers adventure. But God never called us to be big.

In Zechariah 4:10, The Lord said, “ For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth.”

Those words came after the foundation of the Temple was laid in Ezra 3. The people of Jerusalem, having been in captivity for 70 years, were freed to return home and rebuild the Temple. After constructing the altar, they began work on the Temple, laying the foundation first.

When the people of the city saw the foundation, some cheered the progress, while others wept, seeing its small size, and remembering the glory of the former Temple. However, those mourning the new Temple’s small size missed a key point. The very construction of a Temple was proof that God’s hand was moving.

That new Temple would usher in a new era for Jerusalem, and set the stage for the coming of Christ. God promised in Zechariah that Zerubbabel laid the foundation, and that he would finish the Temple, and by that all would know that God was with them.

The Spirit of God was moving, and God would accomplish great things. Those great things would come through the construction of the “small” Temple.

It’s understandable that the people of Ezra’s day would want a big, elaborate Temple. It’s understandable today that people want to make a huge impact to improve their world.

Still, let’s not forget the power of small things. Let’s not forget how God can move in great ways through the selfless acts of fathers, mothers, neighbors, and friends, living in small towns, suburbs, working thankless jobs, while attending small churches.

In Zechariah 4:10, God said, “Who hath despised the day of small things?” One modern translation of this verse says “Who dares to despise the day of small things?”

You are not wasting your life if you are doing what God wants you to do.

Consider Your Ways (Haggai 1)

Haggai’s prophetic ministry took place after the Babylonian Captivity of the nation of Israel was coming to a close. People began to trickle back to Jerusalem, having secured enough provision for the journey home.

As Jerusalem slowly began to be repopulated, the people began rebuilding their homes, businesses and streets, all while the Temple remained in ruins. Seeing his house remain ruined while everyone else’s was being rebuilt prompted the Lord to say, “Consider your ways.”

In calling the people to consider their ways, God called them to consider their priorities, their worship, and their faith. The lesson is as relevant to us today as it was in Haggai’s day. We all need to consider our ways, to make sure our priorities are in line, that our worship honors God, and that our faith is in tact.

The above-posted episode of The Point will bless you with encouragement.

Why happiness is so elusive…

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Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. 3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

-James 4:2-3

John D. Rockefeller built a fortune through his company, Standard Oil. Seeing a need for a reliable brand of kerosene that would not explode into flames as kerosene often did in the 1800s, Rockefeller set out to develop a safe way to refine the liquid fuel from oil, and then brand it so that anyone buying it would know they bought a safe product. Hence the name, “Standard.” As in, “This product lives up to our standards of safety,” and burns bright enough to illuminate our homes and offices to our standard. It elevated our standard of living.

Rockefeller’s shrewd business skills and ability to leverage service, money and volume built his empire. He built strategic partnerships with railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, eliminated competitors through hostile takeover and stock purchases, and never quit working to expand his empire.

To this day, the name “Rockefeller” is synonymous with wealth. Unlike many who inherit wealth, Rockefeller built his from nothing. Today, his family still benefits from his decisions.

Yet, when asked, “How much money is enough,” Rockefeller replied, “Just a little bit more.”

At the height of his wealth and power, Rockefeller basically owned America. Yet, even at the height of his wealth and power, Rockefeller neither found happiness nor peace. At least, he didn’t find it in his wealth and power.

The fundamental fact of life is that, if you can’t be happy where you are, with what you have, then having more will not make you happy.

That’s why James 4:2-3 says:

Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. 3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

James addressed discontentment among early Christians by pointing out two things. (1) They didn’t engage God in prayer about their needs and wants, and (2) their motivation was suspect.

The first situation addressed here is discontentment. The Christians to whom James wrote were not happy. They desired things that they could not have. They wanted more. They struggled for more, yet they failed. The harder they pressed, the harder the world pressed back.

The first reason those who read James experienced this torment dealt with their worldly attitudes. They wanted, and fought to have, but failed to obtain, because they didn’t ask God. They neither asked God for the blessings they sought, neither did they ask for God’s permission and direction.

These Christians lived a carnal, worldly existence. In doing so, they excluded God from their day-to-day lives. That’s an important detail to remember. When we live in the carnal, day-to-day world, without seeking God through prayer, Bible reading and meditation (deep thoughts on the scriptures), we are excluding God from our day-to-day lives.

These Christians, having excluded God from their lives, received no blessing from God. Why would He bless and reward His children who avoid His presence.

James then addressed another problem. Those who had approached God in prayer about their desires did so with impure motives.

Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

Those who had gone to the Lord in prayer to request specific blessings did so for the sole reason of pleasing their flesh. They wanted that which they could consume, not that which they could use to bless God and others.

A good example of this would be the man who prays for the new convertible, the beach house, or for the winning lottery numbers.

So, while they did follow Biblical directives to pray, their hearts were not right. Instead of having a heart for God and His people, they were selfish. Therefore, their prayers went unanswered.

That brings us to a very pointed question. “What’s my motivation?” Are we self-focused, or focused on others? Do we see others? Or do we only see ourselves?

Happiness is defined as confidence and security. Do you feel confident that the Lord will do great things in your life? And are you secure, knowing that He will provide, protect and care for you? If so, then you are happy, whether you feel joyful or not. If you do not feel confident and secure, it might be because you are searching for confidence and security in the wrong things. At that point, nothing will provide happiness for you, regardless of how much of that nothing you have.

As for John D. Rockefeller, you might be surprised that amassing wealth and making money wasn’t his primary motivator, as he is quoted as saying, “I had no ambition to make a fortune; mere moneymaking has never been my goal. I had an ambition to build.”

The Blessing and the Call

The book of Ezra records the efforts of the first two groups of exiles returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. They were ordered by King Cyrus to take on the reconstruction project.

In looking at the proclamation issued by Cyrus in chapter 1, we see how God blesses us and expects us to use our blessings to further His Kingdom. We also see how God works through the situations in our lives to transform us and reach others with the Gospel. We learn how blessed it is to be used in God’s overall plan.

Furthermore, we see the need for God to spark a revival in our land by stirring the souls of many and calling them into His service.  This is the first part of a 10-part series entitled, “We Build,” being taught on our radio show, The Point, and Sunday mornings at Life Point Baptist Church.