Looks Can Be Decieving!

wolf ramThe average person does not function according to reality, but rather according to their perception of reality. Let me show you what I am talking about. Suppose that one day you are walking alone in the woods and suddenly you find yourself face-to-face with a bear! Most likely, your first and immediate response would be to quickly put as much distance between you and the “bear” as possible! However, you later discover that what you encountered was not actually a bear, but rather an actor impersonating a bear in a bear suit! At that point, you would probably feel a little foolish. However, the point is; you did not respond to reality, you responded to your perception of reality and your perception became your reality! Looks can be deceiving!

Most people are too preoccupied with images and perceptions! I have found in my experiences, that often many of the people who appear to be wealthy are not and some of the people who don’t appear to be wealthy actually are! Because of low self-esteem, many people will go to extreme measures to present an “appearance” of wealth! (The young people call this; “perpetrating”) The tragic irony is that often it takes less effort (but more discipline) obtain real wealth than it does to put on a façade! Don’t judge a book by its cover; looks can be deceiving!

That is what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Do not judge according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment!” He knew that looks can be deceiving and that what you see is not always what you get! Many of the people that you may look up to; the ones that you think, “got it going on,” are actually struggling just like you are! It just looks like they have it together! The point of this word to you, my friend, is that you must learn to live your life by faith (in God) and not by sight! Stop living your life according to what it looks like! Many times, it may look like you are not going to make it! But that doesn’t necessarily mean that defeat is your reality: It just looks that way! However, if you respond according to how it looks, you make what “it just looks like” your reality! No matter how it looks, have faith and don’t give up! Remember; looks can be and many times are deceiving!

When Praises Go Up, Blessings Come Down. . . .Really?

arms of praiseAs a pastor, I teach the congregation I serve to be critical. Now mind you; I didn’t say that I teach them to criticize, I said I teach them to be critical! Critical in the sense of not repeating whatever they hear just because “everybody” is saying it! Or even singing a song because all the popular choirs are singing it! Critical in the sense of really analyzing and correctly processing what they hear. I teach them to be like the Bereans were in the days of the Apostle Paul. The Bible says in Acts 17:10-11: “The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (ESV) As Paul preached and reasoned with the Bereans from the Scriptures, they didn’t just take Paul’s word for it; they searched the Scriptures daily themselves, to see if what Paul was preaching was actually true. There are a lot of sayings and practices that are being said and done in and around the church today that are simply not biblical! Some are not only not biblical, some are even anti-biblical! Yet, many say and practice these things simply because they uncritically take someone else’s word for the validity of the act or saying.

There is one such saying that I have heard that really makes my spiritual liver quiver! I cringed whenever I hear someone say: “Praise the Lord everybody! Because, when praises go up; blessings come down!”  After I have analyzed the statement and the implications of it, I hope to convince all who read this post that this statement really has no place in the mouths of believers! First of all, the statement sounds like a bribe or a business transaction. It gives one the impression that no matter how unrighteous a person may be; God will send a blessing down to them if they would just simply praise him! But God cannot be manipulated into blessing by praise! By the way, praise is empty and vain if it is just coming from the lips and not from the heart! Our praise is also empty and vain if we are not living in submission and obedience to God’s revealed will! That is what is meant by the requirement that in true worship, one must worship God in spirit and in truth.

Secondly, not only is the idea of praises going up in order for God to send blessings down indicative of a vain attempt to manipulate God, it is also biblical nonsense! If you were to do a search on all of the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated in both the Old Testament and the New Testament as the word; “praise” or some word equivalent to the concept of praise, you would discover that there is not a single recorded instance in the Bible when anyone praised God with the intention of being blessed because of their praise! What you will discover is that people in the Bible didn’t praise God to try to get something from him, but rather they praised God for what he had already done for them! In others words, they didn’t praise God to be blessed; they praised God because he had already blessed them! In the Bible, they didn’t praise to get something from God; they praised because they had (already) gotten something from God! In the Bible, praise was not a tool to get; but rather it was a response of thanksgiving for what God had already given. In the Bible, people didn’t praise God to get blessed; they praised God because they were (already) blessed!

So, if it’s not biblical or not even sensible, where did it come from and why do people keep saying it? It came from the lyrics of a song and people (even preachers) keep saying it because they don’t really think about what they are saying! They heard someone, who they felt wouldn’t lead them wrong, say it. And because that person said it, they took it to be “Gospel Truth!” But it is not! It cheapens God by portraying him as being so praise-starved that he would gladly send down blessings to whoever sends praises up to him no matter whether they are real Christians or not. It always gives a false picture of the purpose of praise. Praise is not a tool to “get” but rather it is the proper response of gratitude for what God has given.

Majoring on the Minors

majoring
Did you know that most people major on minors and minor on majors? In other words, most people invest their time, talents, treasures, and energy on things that have really little or no lasting consequence or value! While, at the same time, the things that really do have a lasting consequence or value receive little or no expenditure of time, talent, finance, or energy!

Most people spend more time and effort planning their wedding, the wedding reception and the honeymoon than they do in planning their marriage! Some couples spend so much on the wedding, the reception and the honeymoon, that it would have been wiser had they kept the rice that was thrown for dinner!

Most people will spend nearly fifty thousand dollars or more to provide an education for their children that will last a lifetime. But, these same people will not spend any time on Sunday morning to take their children to a Sunday School that cost them practically nothing financially! By the way, the Sunday School education will last for an eternity! In fact, what is learned in Sunday School could very well determine where the child will spend eternity!

Most people spend money to purchase the “appearance of wealth” rather than properly investing money to achieve real wealth! Most people work for money, as opposed to making money work for them! Most people spend their entire lifetime, trying to make a living, only to discover in the end that they failed to make a life!

Most people have no problems paying an extraordinary large salary to a lawyer who might tell a lie to get them out of legal trouble, or to a doctor who, they have to tell where it hurts before he can diagnose their illness. These same people have a problem paying a decent salary to a Pastor who will tell them the Gospel truth and watch over their very souls!

Even in the church, many times we are majoring on minors and minoring on majors! We major on “church-work” (choirs, boards and auxiliaries) but we minor on the “work of the church!” (evangelism, witnessing and ministry). Some preachers major on preaching a sermon that sounds good (having a sweet “whoop” or a catchy title) but minor on sermons that are doctrinally sound!

Perhaps we would do well to remember the words of Jesus of Nazareth, when he asked: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” What is your perspective on life? How are you spending your time, talent, treasures, and energy? Are you spending your time, talents, treasure and energy on things that really matter or are you majoring on minors and minoring on majors?

The “New” Common Sense

the man in the tree sawingWhen I was a little boy growing up, my mother and father would always tell me: “Son! Be sure to use good common sense!” They taught me that good common sense was just looking at a situation and then using good sound judgment in dealing with the situation. Another term they used was; “mother wit,” which was just natural intelligence.

But, as I look around the world today and observe the actions and decisions of governments and people, I am discovering that common sense is not so common anymore! Perhaps this might be because we have lost the common agreement of what is right and what is wrong. What is happening today reminds me of a passage in the Bible that describes the period of the Judges. Judges 17:6 says: “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” This verse describes the chaotic conditions that existed in Israel when there was no centralized government.

Well, our problem today is not a lack of centralized government, but rather a lack of centralized morality. With the death of absolutes, everyone’s opinion has been elevated from the status of just an opinion to that of individualized truth. This is reflected in statements like: “It may be true for you, but that doesn’t mean that it is true for me!” And with the rise of this “individualized truth” comes the moral chaos caused by everyone doing, not that which is right, but that which is right in their own eyes!

But for order to prevail in any society, there must be agreed upon “common truths” that are not subject to change by the opinions of the courts or a majority vote of the people! In order to live in a just and humane society, common sense must prevail! When we allow our individualized opinions to have as much weight as time-tested and God-ordained truth, we are headed for chaos and disaster! If we continue to flirt with the dominance of “individualized truth,” what is to stop one individual from deciding that for him, the “red” light of the traffic sign means the same thing as the “green” light does for other people? I know that analogy sounds far-fetched and ridiculous. But it is no more ridiculous than some of the current nonsense that is prevalent in our society today!

Common Sense Headstone

But maybe I stand corrected! Perhaps it is not that common sense is not so common anymore, but more precisely; common sense, as my mother and father defined it, is not so common anymore! Because when we look at the word “common,” it denotes what the majority of people hold as valid truth. If that be the case, then what is common sense today is what my mother and father would have called: “nonsense!” Therefore, in many cases, the old nonsense is the new common sense!

It Tolls for All of Us!

In 1623 the English poet, John Donne wrote:

“No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thy friend’s

Or of thine own were:

Any man’s death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.”

me_Johns

The message of this poem is this: No single person is absolutely independent of all other persons! Every person is a part of the whole! Therefore, whatever happens to one has an effect on everyone else! I am a firm believer in this philosophy! The God I read about in the Bible is a God of purpose. Everything God did and everything God does was and is driven by purpose. Purpose pre-dated creation! God did not create and then found purpose; purpose was the reason for the creation! Therefore, the fact that you and I are here at this present time is proof that God has a purpose for our lives! Our births were not accidents, nor were they from unplanned incidents! (Those incidents may have been unplanned by our parents, but they didn’t catch God by surprise!) Our life has purpose!

Now, the reason I am so concerned about your life and your purpose is because your life and your purpose have a direct bearing upon my life! You see, your purpose is not just about you and my purpose is not just about me! Our purpose is about each other and others! Therefore, it is important to me that you become the you that God created you to be and it is important to you that I become the me God created me to be! I’ve been saying this to my church family for years and now I want to share it with you: I am convinced that the answers to many of the world’s ills are, even now, locked up in the mind of some young man or woman who have no idea of their purpose! And since they have no idea of their purpose; they are not fulfilling their purpose and we all are suffering as a consequence!

In Christian circles, we place a tremendous amount of effort in getting people “saved” so they might go to Heaven when they die. But salvation is about more than just a ticket to the Heavenly Banquet or a Free Pass from Hell! Salvation is also about being “saved from” a life of uselessness and being “saved to” the God-purposed life! Just as any creation cannot know the “why” of its existence without insight from the one who created it; we cannot know our purpose apart from the revelation that comes from a relationship with the One who created us with purpose in mind.

Consider this simplified illustration: Let’s supposed that it was God’s purpose for a certain young man to ultimately be a pharmaceutical chemist who would develop a drug to cure a debilitating illness that God knew you and several other people would have in the prime of your life. However, this young man never made it to college or med-school because he got involved in illegal activities and was sent to prison or killed. So, as time goes on, you develop disease that he was born to develop the drug to cure. But because he missed his purpose; you will suffer and perhaps even die pre-maturely! Now this may sound a little too simple and far-fetched to you, but have you thought about how much life would be different if Abraham Lincoln had never won the presidency? What if Adolf Hitler or Mussolini had been converted to Christianity? What if Martin Luther King, Jr., had decided that just being a local pastor was all he was supposed to do? Just as the decisions and lives of these men affect us even years after they are no longer alive, so do our decisions and lives impact the lives of people around us today and for years to come!

That is the real tragedy of the young gang-banger or the innocent victim getting killed in the streets! It was never God’s intention or God’s purpose for him to be a gang-banger or for the innocent victim to die an early death! Their deaths are not just tragic for their families and the people who knew and loved them; their deaths are tragic for all of us! We will never know “who or what they were meant to be!” We will never benefit from the gift (purpose) they were born to give! They may have been born to be the doctor to perfect a life-saving medical procedure. But because they didn’t fulfill their purpose and died much too early; others will also die pre-mature and unnecessary deaths!

Yes! It’s true what the poet said; “Any (in fact, every) man’s death diminishes me because I am involved with mankind!” Therefore when I hear of young people killing one another and killing innocent victims, I cry! I cry, not only for their families and friends, I cry for you and me! I cry because we all suffer because of their deaths! We all suffer because of their incarceration in the prison system! We all suffer because of the destruction of their potential! Their purpose, which was given to benefit the rest of us, has been aborted! Therefore, when we hear of any person’s death; we should never send to know for whom the bell tolls, because it tolls for all of us!

State Farm Internet Theology

state farm picHey! Have you seen that State Farm commercial where this guy is diagramming an accident with his State Farm pocket agent app on his smartphone? His neighbor comes up as he’s doing that and after he tells her what all he can do with the app, she says that she thought State Farm didn’t have an app that could do all that! The guy asks her where did she hear that. She replies that she heard it on the Internet and then she says: “You know they can’t put anything on the Internet that isn’t true!” The guy asks her where she heard that, to which she replies: “On the Internet!” Then she says. “Look! Here comes my date! I met him on the Internet! He’s a French model!” At that point a young man walks up who looks like he’s from I don’t know where and says without an ounce of a French accent: “Bonjour!” That commercial is a hoot!

Well, just like the lady in the commercial, there are many people today who get their theology from the Internet, because after all, they can’t put anything in the Internet that isn’t true, right? But the Internet is not the only source of their misguided theologies, they also use as sources of their knowledge of God, gospel songs and videos! The tragedy of this situation is that in many cases, the thoughts about God they read and see on the Internet and hear even in gospel songs are often really not sound biblical truth at all!

Whatever happened to learning about God and God’s word at church in Sunday School and Bible Class? Perhaps we would do well to quit relying solely upon others to do our thinking for us, especially in regard to theology, and study the Scriptures for ourselves! No matter who the preacher or teacher is, don’t just take their word for it! Be like the Bereans in Paul’s day. The Bible says: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11 NIV) Now, I realize that even now, you are reading this on the Internet! So you know I’m telling the truth right? Because I wouldn’t put anything on the Internet if it wasn’t true! Right? No! Don’t even just take my word for it; find out for yourself! After all, I too could be a French model! Bonjour!

Is Change Really Difficult?

change cattipillarI’ve always heard and I once believed that change is really hard, but actually it is not! Change occurs all round us every day, with or without our consent! In fact, I heard someone say that the only thing constant is change! You say that you can’t change or that change is difficult? God forbid that it should happen, but consider these scenarios: Scenario #1: You are driving down the street and suddenly your car is broad-sided by another vehicle that failed to stop for the traffic light or the stop sign. You are seriously injured and maybe one of the occupants in your car dies! In a moment, in the blinking of an eye, your life has changed forever! Scenario #2: You’ve tried and tried, but you can’t bring yourself to stop smoking. However, when you go in for your annual physical, your doctor informs you that you are in the preliminary stages of lung cancer. However, there is a 90% chance that if you stopped smoking now, the cancer would never develop fully. Would you find it really difficult to change if your life depended on it?

In both of the afore-mentioned scenarios the impetus for change came from an outside source and it was forced: change happened! It didn’t take long for it to happen and in the first case, it was instant! But why is it that we can change and will more readily accept the necessity for change when it is forced upon us? Why can’t we just change simply because there is a need or a benefit to change?

I want to suggest that change is really not that difficult! It’s not the change that’s difficult; it’s the idea, the preparation, the getting ready to change that’s difficult! And that wouldn’t be difficult if we would just change our attitude towards change! We don’t like change because change forces us to confront the unfamiliar. Change forces us out of our “comfort zone” which, in many cases is just another word for “rut,” which is nothing more than a grave with no ends! Change is going to occur! You can’t stop it! So wouldn’t it be better? Wouldn’t you have more control and more power in your life if you initiated the change? Wouldn’t it be better for you to happen to change than for change to happen to you?

Take a look around! Take a look within! And then, take the initiative: Make the changes instead of allowing the changes to make you!