Monday, February 15, 2010

What is the History of the Church?

"I grew up having to go to church every single week..." Not everyone goes to church.  In fact, thousands upon thousands of people who claim to be Christians don't go at all!  "I just don't understand that," says Johnson Bowie of http://www.fusion.org/.   It's the new year and now and there are many people back in church.  Johnson challenges those who are back with the question; Why are you back?  Do we even know what the church is?   Do we understand its value?  Maybe we need to be reintroduced to this thing we call church.  Despite the stained glass windows, the bad music, the hypocritical failures of pastors and the judgement of active church-goers,  the church is still defined in the Bible as the "bride of Christ"!  So, let's get to know this bride.  Let's get a better understanding of who she is!!   Jesus says we have to be founded on the rock, we have to know why we do what we do and why we should count church as important.  Starting this journey, Johnson begins by digging into why and how the church was created. 

"On this day..it was a day like any other day, but it ended being one of the biggest proclamations that's ever been uttered on the face of the earth..."  Everything had changed.  Jesus gathered up his disciples and travelled to Cesara Philippi  It was a horrible place for Christians because of the worship of Baal and travels "in and out of Hell".  When Jesus and his "posse" came in, we see his question in Matthew 16, "Who do people say that the Son of man is (in other words, who do people say that I am)?."  They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "But what about you?" He asked. "Who do you say I am?"  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."  Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then He warned his disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Christ.

This was the first time that we see the belief in Jesus as Christ.  Jesus declared Peter as the Rock.  He says that the growth of the belief of Him as the Son of God would be unshakable.  It would create the church.  For those who say that Jesus never created the church but rather man did, that's simply not true!  Right here in scripture, we see Jesus Himself say, "On this rock, I will build my church."   This is the first time these words were ever said.  It's the first time the word "church" was used in the Bible.  The Son of God was going to build the foundation of the church on the proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah.  From here, the story of Jesus progresses.  Jesus is betrayed, He is crucified, He is buried and He rises from the grave. 
In Acts 1:8, after Jesus had risen, He appears to the disciples and says, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  After saying this, Jesus ascends into heaven and angels appear.  Later, in Acts 2, we see 120 people gathered.  It is the first time we have seen any resemblance of church.  They are in the "Upper Room"  and the Holy Spirit sweeps through the place.  People are baptized.  The festival of Pentacost was going on outside and they hear the commotion in this upper room and gather there.  So Peter stands and gives the first sermon.  Amazingly, 3000 people end up getting saved!!  It was here that the church was born, again, on the belief that Jesus Christ was the Messiah.

Acts 2:42-47 says, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."  At the end, it doesn't say that people were saved and sent away.  God added to their number daily.  It wasn't lame prayer and passive attendence.  There was enthusiasm and wondrous signs.  It was an incredible time, but all of these leaders were about to experience persecution. 

Did you ever hear the story about Stephen?  He was a leader in the church and was giving a sermon.  A man named Saul was in the audience and he started picking up stones and throwing them at Stephen.  The crowd joined in and Stephen became the first martyr for Christ.  When this happened, those in the church became fearful and the church (not a building) scattered.  Although it was a horrible event, it served the purpose of spreading the church.  People left and took the gospel with them.  In His masterful plan, God later physically appeared to Saul, the rock thrower, and told Saul his name would now be Paul.  Paul went on to become one of the greatest writers of the Bible, completing 2/3's of the New Testament.  He also went on to plant many other churches. 

Over time, there became this pocket of churches throughtout the land and, inevitably, conflict arose.  We see this in the Bible when the Jewish widows were being taken care of before the Gentile widows and it became a point of contention.  The question became, "What do we do with Gentiles or people who 'aren't really part' of the historical Jewish faith?"  It was but one question of many as the church began to experience growing pains.  Drawing from something he heard from a man named Cornelius, Peter addresses the widow problem in Acts 10:34-35.  Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right."

In the first century A.D., the Ecumenical Council was formed.  This was a council which gathered all of the church leaders together so that they would have unity of the spirit.  One of the big questions was, what do we do about the Gentiles?  People would ask, "What do I need to do to be saved?"  And if you were a guy, when do we have to, you know..."snip, snip?"  Whoa!!  (Funny part of Johnson' message)  So what did they need to do?  How could they get to the heart of the faith and still hold true to it while making all these rules and steps of the faith?   As a result of the Ecumenical Council's efforts, the first agreement, post-Jesus, was reached, which decided how to basically run the church. 

It was progress, but then persecution of Christians began spreading in many areas and it even became illegal to believe in Jesus in some places.  Christians were arrested and tortured.  In 64 A.D., a huge fire had broken out in Rome during the time of Nero and, somehow, Christians were blamed for starting the fire.  So, first Jews had hated Christians and now Rome hated them.  There were reports that Nero dipped Christians in hot wax.  As a result, some Christians began meeting in homes and cattacombs to avoid being detected.  Around this time, "James the Just" was appointed head of the church in Jerusalem.  He was the brother of Jesus and even he was stoned and crucified.  Meanwhile, Peter and Paul were trying to convert Rome because it was key.  "If they could convert Rome, they could convert the world."  A famous apologist named Tertullian wrote, "but if you are near Italy, you are near Rome...What a happy church that is on which the Apostle poured out their whole doctrine with their blood...where Peter had a passion like the Lord."  This is a 1900 year old statement, but it was a building block for the faith.

The "Apostolic fathers" Clement, Polycarp and Ingatius were church leaders who wrote pieces of what is now Catholic Bible.  Pope Clement I was a actually a disciple of Peter and succeeded Peter.  Somewhere along the way, Pope Clement became too powerful and was banished to prison. It is said when he went to prison, he brought peace to the fighting there.  In fact, many of those prisoners were spiritually saved.  But because Clement had influence even in the prison, he was taken, tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea. 

Polycarp was a disciple of John.  When he came to power, heresy immediately started creeping in.  So Polycarp had the strong conviction of truth and started saying "Nope, that's not what John said..."  He stood up for what he knew was the truth of Jesus.  Polycarp refused to burn incense to the emperor of Rome as a deity and he said, "80 and 6 years I have served the Father.  How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior?  Bring forth what thou will"  and they burned him allive.  This to was a building block and testimony of faith.



Igantius was the third Apostolic father and also a disciple of John.  They imprisoned him in Antioch and he was sent to Rome.  On his way to obvious torture, he wrote six letters encouraging other believers and telling the church to keep growing.  He was fed to the lions.  "Defend the faith..." was the central message from his letters.  He charged them to protect the Word and stand up for the truth of Jesus. 

These three men defended the faith until the end.  There lives helped make sure that the church was still sitting on the proclamation of Jesus was the Son of God and Christ as our Savior.  Tertullian also said, "Blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church"  Although it seemed like people getting killed for the faith knocked the church back, it actually caused the church to grow!! These men believed what Jesus said in  John 12:24,  "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."  There are so many of men who have died; men who preferred to give their lives than to sacrifice their faith.  All through this persecution, the Messianic Jews thought Christ was the fullfillment of Jewish faith, but because Jesus had changed everything, it was unclear to them how they were to run the "new church".  Were they simply to abandon all their traditions? 

Ad 85 was the Council of Jamnia.  It was a Jewish Council that said anyone who believed in Jesus as the Messiah was a heretic.  This drove a wedge between the Christians and the Jews.  A few other things started happening like having "church" on Sundays rather than the traditional Saturdays.  More church fathers came into leadership and differences in the faith of the Jews became more and more apparent.  Then, we read about this guy named Irenaeus who lived in the 100's.  He was a disciple of Polycarp. He defended the faith against the Knostics and the pollution that tried to come into the church.  He wrote a book called "Against Heresies", which presented arguments about the same stuff we fight today in the church!!

Tertullian came in later.  This was the guy with all the good quotes and the guy who actually coined the term "the Trinity" which by the way, is not a term we find in the Bible.  Justin Martyr later came and wrote the first christian apologetics.  This is 1900 years ago!  He was writing things that said "Okay, here is how you refute their refutes."  He was talking about nonbelievers and how to defend the faith!

Then in 312, this humongous thing happened in favor of the church.  Emporer Constantine was converted.  He was first an official and later, Emporer.  So Christianity, through Constantine, was legalized.  After this is when churches and the buildings of worship started popping up everywhere.  As the churches boomed, Emporer Constantine called the first Council the church had since the Council of Jerusalem.  It was called the Council of Nycea, where all church leaders would come together.  It's purpose was to again establish unity.  One of the results for these meetings was "The Nycean Creed". This was 1700 years ago and many of us know that same creed today!  It was a unity of faith mission statement.  At the end of this creed, though, was a statement that would later create more conflict.  Although its intent was honorable in defending the faith, it condemned whoever tried to come into the church and tried to change what was already established in the belief system.  These people would be condemned by the church and this was stated in the creed. 

The church started losing focus as we crept into the Dark Ages.  It became political and started seeking power.  It became more and more about money and some leaders started standing up against this to get the church back on focus.  These men pointed us back to Acts 2:42.  John Chrysostom was a catholic priest who was very unpopular with rich people because he loved poor people.  He wrote "Do you wish to honor the body of Christ?  Do not ignore Him when he is naked.  Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect Him outside where He is cold and ill-clad  He who said, 'This is my body' is the same who said, 'You saw me hungry and gave me no food and whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also unto me.'  What good is it if your Christ's table (communion) is overloaded with gold and chalises when your brother is dying of hunger?  Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left, you may adorn the altar as well."  Chrysostom ended up being banished and his last words were, "Glory be to God for all things."

Then there was this guy named Augustine of Hippo.  Sixteen hundred years ago, he comes up with this thing that was in stark contrast to what the Catholics believed.  It was what was visible in church and what was invisible in church.  Generally speaking, Catholics believed in the visible church.  They seemed to believe that what you see in church is what you get in heaven.  He called the church a "mixed body".  He said that not everyone in church was going to heaven.  He pointed out that there were sheep and wolves in the church.  It was another step in pointing out a personal relationship with Jesus.  Augustine was careful to point out that people were coming to church one way aned living another.  He was pulling the focus back to Jesus.
In 1054 there was this thing called the "Great Schism".  It was a break between the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church.  It created a Greek group and a Latin group.  Thomas Aquinas, said to be the greatest theologian ever, came onto the scene and said (remember, this was 800 years ago), "With regard to heretics, two points must be observed.  One on their own side; the other on the side of the church.  On their own side, there is the sin which they deserve, not only to be separated from the church by excommunication but also to be severed from the  world by death.  For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul  than to forge money which supports tempural life, wherefore, if forgers of money and other evildoers are forthwith condemed to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics as soon as they are convicted of heresy to be, not only excommunicated but even be put to death.  On the part of the church however, there is mercy,  which looks to the conversion of the wanderer.  Wherefore She condemns not at once, but after the first and second admonition, as the Apostle directs.  After that, if he is still yet stubborn, the church no longer hopes for his conversion, looks to the salvation others by excommunicating him and separating him from the church and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunals."  Aquinas was intent on drawing lines in defending and preserving the faith.

St. Francis of Assisi. ("He was a sissy," kids Johnson)  This was a guy who took a vow of poverty.  He was trying to embody the life of Christ.  He wanted to let go of all else so he could reach those who needed the Gospel the most.  The story has it that he was a wealthy, influential guy playing sports and was popular.  People asked him when he was going to get married and he said he was going to marry to a much fairer bride than all of theirs; the bride of poverty.  His life was about reaching people.  So, he goes to this mission trip to Egypt and he runs into this sultan and challenges him to a contest of fire.  The sultan was absolutly taken back by this man willing to go out on such faith.  St. Francis said he would step into fire, but if he survived, the sultan would have to convert to Christianity.  The sultan responded by saying that just because he was willing to do this, he could preach the gospel to his people.  The sultan had given St.Francis entrance into Egypt!

Then, there was this thing that happened on April 18, 1521.  It was called the "Ninety-Five Thesis".  There are very few things were more important.  This monk named Martin Luther takes these 95 complaints against the Catholic Church and nails them to the door of the church.  Attached to these, he makes these statements,  " I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter and made of him jailer and hangman of my poor soul."  The people above him tried to give him more stuff to do and keep him busy.  But he saw that the church was adding all these things to the cross.  For instance, you could pay for your sins and pay for higher positions in the church.  He stood back and criticized them.  Predictably, they excommunicated him and even tried to kill him.  The new group formed by Martin Luther called themselves Evangelicals because they were returning to the gospel (Although this was known as the Protestan Reformation). At that time, the Catholic church motto was  "Always the same".  It can be understood why they wanted their belief to remain the same, but the problem was the church it drifted off focus.  Stability in that, but the motto of the reformation was "the church reformed always being reformed according to the Word of God".

Alongside Luther came Huldrych Zwingli.  He was a priest who began rejecting icons in the church.  The church had heros and martyrs like Mary, St. Peter and St. Clement, but Zwingli begged the question, "Why shouldn't we just worship Jesus?   The church fired back and leaned on what had become a misplaced motto; "always the same".   Zwingli aslo asked why priests shouldn't marry and why communion wasn't actually the physical body of Jesus, but rather the symbolic body of Jesus. 

In 1536, John Calvin comes along with Calvinism and predestination.  This is when the Presbyterian church pops up.  In 1545, a counter reformation to the Ninety Five Thesis emerged and the Catholic church defended their position saying their central message was still about Jesus.  Back and forth movements then went on for a time.  Back in America, the faith of the Protestant church continued developing.  Puritans come and the faith keeps growing. 

In 1962, Pope John Paul, at a Vatican Council, made a really cool statement.  This was significant to Johnson. " In the study in Revelation, east and west have followed different methods and have developed differently  their understanding and confession of God's truth.  It is hardly surprising, then, if from time to time, one tradition has come nearer to a full appreciation of some aspects of the mystery of revelation than the other or has expressed it to better advantage.  In such cases these various theologicial expressions are to be considered often as mutually complementary rather than conflicting.  Where the authentic theological traditions of the eastern church are concerned, we must recognizse the admirable  way in which they have their roots and holy scripture and how they are nurtured and give life to the liturgy.  They derive their strength too from the living tradition of the  apostles and from works of the fathers and spiritual writers of the eastern churches.  Thus, they promote the right ordering of the christian life and indeed pave the way to a full vision of christian truth."  This message was to churches who had been at war for 900 years or so!  At the end of the day, he was saying, "we know that you love Jesus".  

John Calvin , when Geneva was crashing down around him, used to call it the "Second Jerusalem" because of how christianity was blossoming.  He said, "I know what I believe and what I've taught you to believe,   but I need you to go and join the Lutheran church.  His "Calvinism" was not in agreement with the Lutheran church, but he knew that it was still about the message of Jesus as the Son of God.  It was still about unity.  This was a man who was credited by some of the hard line denominations, yet he still knew it was about the true church of being followers of Christ.  As it says in Ephesians 4:3-5; "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism."


If it is built on Jesus, it is part of the body.  The history of the chruch is about men and women who are willing to lay down their lives for the faith.  Too many times, we come and see churches bickering and going back and forth, but it ignores the fact that the church has been built on the blood of the martyrs, by christians used as human candles, by believers who were eaten by lions, burned at the stake, or sunk by an anchor to the bottom of the ocean.  Don't take it forgranted.

"My prayer for you is that you would be unified."  Johnson calls everyone to stand and and to cite the Apostles' creed (part of the Nicean Creed from 1300 years ago).  It is a statement of unity in the church.  This creed we heard so many times if we grew up in the church means so much more when we understand better its history. 

"I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified dead and buried, and the third day He rose from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence, He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

C'mon...Why is Debt So Bad?

This whole thing we call life is all about God; the man Jesus. Beginning his series, "Cha-Ching", Johnson Bowie picks up on this thought in Isaiah 26:8, "Yea, in the way of (Your) judgments, O Lord, have we waited for You; the desire of our soul is to Your name, and to the remembrance of You."

It's not about us! The stars scream out His name. If we don't glorify Him, the rocks will cry out. The Bible says that the earth, the animals, the sea and the mountains are all about God. Every breath, step and direction of our being has to be about Him. If we can just start falling in line with this and begin thinking about Him, we can transform our lives to reflect His glory.

In I Chronicles 28, the writer talks about God's great power; His shining greatness and strength and how everything in heaven and earth belongs to Him. He rules over all. Power and strength are in His Hands. It is our desire that everything we do would scream out the fame of our God.

So, how can we take this amazing truth and desire and then trim the whole idea down to one thing called money? How can we spend or give our money to glorify God? We are all in this game together as Christians joining together in an effort to do something greater than ourselves. What better time is there to talk about money than when times are getting tough? Gas prices have soared, home prices are plummeting and jobs are being lost.

Jesus talked about money more than anything else. Money defines our lives. We go in to work, log our time and then we get paid for the amount of time we've worked. We trade our life and our time for our money, right? So, when we spend our money, we are spending our life!! So, if we are making poor spending decisions, we are poorly spending our life! "If you buy a cup of Starbucks and you make minimum wage, that's 30 minutes of your life you just bought!" So, if money reflects our lives and our lives are to glorify God, how does that translate to how we spend our money?

II Corinthians 5 says, "And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again." How can we live for Christ in every decision we make?

I Timothy 6:6-10 says, "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."


Contentment with a burger and a t-shirt is tough to accept, but money is NOT the root of all evil. The LOVE of money is the root of all evil. It's what our heart's intention is when we go after money that counts. Money is intoxicating. It is an opiate that addicts as easily and as completely as alcohol or narcotics. It's power to change us is close to that of Jesus Christ. Men trade their lives for it. Women trade their bodies for it. Families will trade their families for it. People will trade their church for it. Nations are ruled by it and destroyed by it. Most crimes are motivated by it. Most people are brought under it's control. A person who can maste the rule of money is the person who is completely mastered by the rule of God.

Money is a great slave, but a terrible master. Money is a great thing to have under you; a horrible thing to have over you. The best way to not have money be a god in your life is to not have it. Just give it away. The other side of this truth is that we can't give money away if we don't have it. We can't bless people with IOU's!! The reason so many of us don't have money is because we are giving it to the man; the credit card man. We do this because of all the bad decisions we've made in the past.

"I was at a leadership conference last year and Dave Ramsey was there...He's the Christian financial guru...with a daily radio show...'Total Money Makeover' is in the book store...He stands up and says...'STOP PREACHING ON TITHING'...it's like he had stood the golden cow up...but then he said...Stop talking about tithing unless you are willing to talk more about getting out of debt."

How many of us would love to be able to give or contribute to people's lives, but we can't!! Wouldn't you love to pay someone's way on a mission trip or just pay for someone's gas or to pay a single mother's electricity bill for a month? But we are chained by our debt! If we could tame money in our lives, we could live for the glory of God. Maybe if we could get out of debt, we could go when God actually says, "GO".

Malachi 3 says we rob God if we aren't tithing. In not so many words, God actually says we are cursed financially if we don't tythe. Most people WANT to tithe, but simply can't. But let's move beyond tithing and focusing on debt so that we could actually tithe 20%, not 10%, if we wanted to do so.

Why do we think that if we just had more money, we could tithe? There's a reason why people who win the lottery end up broke again. Money cannot change our spending habits. Many mulitmillionairres are more stressed about money that we are. Most of us just need to get out of debt. What would our lives look like if we could? This is our goal. We could worship God so much easier if we didn't have to honor our debts.

The national debt for the U.S. is now (at the time of this message) $9,357,639,867,792!!! The national debt grows by $4.7 billion a day. If you add these numbers up, our share is $31,000 apiece. So, a family of 5 would have to pay $150,000 to pay their share of the debt! But if you gave the government more money, they would just spend more money.

We pay taxes to the government and the pays $406 billion every year in interest. The total debt of our nation, including every person and every business is $53 trillion dollars. That's $175,000 per person. The average person will make $1.4 million dollars in their lifetime. But we spend 1/2 to 2/3's of every dollar we make in our life time paying for debt. The average American family has $9,300 in debt.  The average college graduate already has $19,000 in debt. Most of them will still be paying on this debt when their kids go to college.


Every year, more people declare bankruptcy than graduate from college.

We are so messed up! Did you know they even put VISA cards on the new barbie dolls? Johnson went to UGA (University of Georgia) and the first thing most people would go to would be to the free UGA t-shirt table once you register for a VISA card. We don't think we'll use it at first or that we'll only use it for emergencies, but then, before we realize it, we've run up our debt. Johnson did some math to illustrate the really good experience of a $1,000 cruise to Cancun. Minimum payment is on $15 a month! But it takes you 15 years to pay the card off with minimum payments. That's an expensive t-shirt (to get the card in the first place)! Then, when you start dating, it really gets bad. The debt monkey starts to turn into King Kong. "I'm sick of seeing the richest generation of all time being debt ridden...Can we possibly break free from this to make the name and fame of Jesus Christ spread?"

Proverbs 22:7 says, "The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is servant to the lender." If we are truly servants to Jesus Christ, how can we stay in debt?  What typically happens is, we get married as DINKs (double income, no kids), we buy our cars, we buy the house, we buy the furniture and then....she gets pregnant. "How are we going to do this?" The knife in back of this generation the fact that other people raise our children because wive's have to work to pay off debt. How can we possibly be a nation that glorifies God?  We've traded off raising the next generation because we made stupid decisions in our youth.  This robs God of His glory.  Don't trade your kids and your future for the present.

Johnson read an article online called "Moms' New Battle: The Food Price Bulge."  In there is a quote from a mother who says, "We are a typical middle income family.  If we did not carry foolish debt, we would be okay.  But with our debt burden combined with paying for two children in daycare, there's nothing left over at the end of the month."  This sums up the life of so many people!  Another 20 something girl says, "It is a life which is insult to injury.  I want to get married and I want to have a family.  But what if I want to have a child and take time off while he's an infant.  Will I be able to do that with all this debt that I have to make payments on?"  Do we really want to be the guy driving a fancy car with thousands of dollars we owe on it and have to work instead of raising our kids?   Eventually, we even have to pay someone to take care of them!  Where do we draw the line?  If this whole world is about glorifying God, where do we stop?!?

Deuteronomy 28 talks about the curses listed out in the Bible if you don't do what God tells us to do.  It talks about the curse of the "foreigner" who lends to us.  The foreigner becomes the dog and we become the tail.  "If you're wise, fine.  But if you're not you will be the place where poop comes out."   How many of us feel like our life is in the tail?  Some of us are living this "tail life" because we haven't chosen to stay out of debt and to emphatically glorify the name of God.  Why is the whole debt thing bad?  It keeps you chained up to money.  Most of us have desire to give.  We want to bless people but we can't.  Be free from debt so you can live for God.  What if God called you tonight and wanted you to go to Germany for missions?  Could you go?  What about next month?  Next year?  Next ten years?  Could you? 


We have to get out of debt to go, to live and to give.  The government, right now, is outgiving the church.  This is wrong.  We are called to be the light in the darkness, not the government!  We want to be a people who can show the world that God loves them. 

Johnson is 28.  If by some miracle, he makes it to be 80 or 90, that means he has 60 or so years left.  What happens after that?  He's dead!!  "But what if I want a big TV?"  What if we started spending our lives today on things that glorify God?  How can we start making money a "God thing"?  Get out of debt to give to a kid, to take someone out to lunch to tell them about Christ, to give to the struggling mom or to bless someone.  It is not about you.  It's about God. Let's be these people.  How do we do this?  Next week, Johnson talks about this.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I've Got Things to Do; Why Would I Need Margin in My Life?

"Let's open up your Bibles to Luke 10...How many of you would say that you occasionally or always feel stressed?  How many people feel financial tension?  How many of you would say I wish I had more time to spend with my self of my family?"  Craig Groeschel of lifechurch.tv opens his series "Margin" with a message on the need for margin.  We live in a culture that pushes us to the limits.  Buy more.  Do more.  Accomplish more.   Conquer more.  Most of us are living at an unbiblical and unsustainable pace. Its insane what "normal" is today.  Even our kids will go out four or five nights a week doing their activities and we call that normal!  Our schedules are stressing us and our kids out!  Virtually everyone has little margin for error in the main areas of life.  Andy Stanley taught a series a called "Take It to the Limit" where he defined margin. 

Margin is the amount available beyond what is necessary. Andy Stanley

Margin is the difference between what you have and what you need. Craig Groeschel

How does margin lay out in life?  There's money left over at the end of the month.  It's leaving a few minutes early to be early for a meeting.  Margin is leaving more distance between you and temptation.  Margin is having the emotional capacity to deal with struggle.  Margin could be having 3 or 4 nights a week with nothing on your schedule.  Margin could be having extra time or money to invest or give to ministries.  Margin could be having time to reflect, think and meditate.  Margin could mean having significant time with God meditating on His Word  Simply put, margin is what most of us do not have.  "I am convinced that the best things in life happen in margin," says Craig.

Luke 10:38-42 is a great story about two different woman who dealt differently on the subject of margin.  As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.

It's interesting.  We have two women with the exact same opportunity.  Despite what she may have had to do, Mary took an opportunity to sit at Jesus' (the son of God's) feet.  But Martha created things to do.  She chose to be busy and to find things to do that were a distraction from Jesus. She may have been distracted by good things to do, but she was distracted from the best things. 

If Satan cannot make us really, really bad, he'll make us really, really busy.  Unknown

Recently, Craig went on a "staycation" or a vacation where he stayed home.  On the first day, Craig thought of things he needed to do at the church.  So, he went into his home office and began working.  "Bukie", his youngest son, came into his office and asked Craig if he would wrestle.  Craig dismissed Bukie, but then God whispered, "Bukie is not the distraction Craig, your work is." 


In verse 40, Martha asks Jesus is he doesn't care that her sister has left her with all the work.  The irony here is that Martha was absolutely convinced that she was doing the right thing!  Don't many of us believe the same?  We believe we have to live this way.  Business is success and more is right.  Everyone is doing it, right?  But broad is the road and wide is the path to distruction.  Small is the gate and narrow is the road to life and very few people find it. 

"Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world", says Paul.  "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind."  Then you'll be able to test and prove what the will of God is.  If minor changes could have made a difference we would have done that a long time ago.  What we are talking about in this message are large, life changing habits.  Production mindsets miss the moments.  "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."  Choose what is right and it will never be taken away from you. 

What happens when we have no margin? 

1)  As margin decreases, your stress increases.  When you're running late, stress increases.  It makes you say bad things on the way in church.  You can't enjoy the worship sometimes and you might have ill will to those you think are to blame.  Financial margin is a big one.  When something breaks, you have no room to fix it. 

2) Your relational intimacy decreases.  Your mind runs, but you are disconnected.  Recently, Craig's family went out to eat and they saw four people together but ALL FOUR people were on their phones twitter and emailing.  "Quit playing with your little twitter!"  Relational intimacy decreases not only with others but with God.  "I used to be close, but I just got BUSY (Too busy for people and too busy for God)." 

Why is it that so many of us live marginless lives? Why do people not downsize?  Most of us do not wholly trust God.  We don't have enough faith to believe that God is really on the throne.  We think that we are working to get something.  Most of us make more money than we ever have, but we are more stressed and more unhappy.  Why?  Because of idolatry! We are eleveating good things to be supreme things.  We gotta have the bigger house, a nicer car, a promotion...  We gotta be at the meeing so they will think more of us. We gotta have our kids involved in the best programs because, God forbid, we spend spiritual time with them when they "could be better flute players."

In the next few weeks, Craig says that he and those listening are going to have a "come to Jesus meeting".  He is going to challenge his listeners and push them.  Sadly, most people will not change, but some of you will begin to live, not according to the patterns of this world, but according to the rhythms of God's grace.  You will not give too much time to things that do not last.  Matthew 11:28-29 says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."   Let that sink in...rest for your souls...peace...assurance...tranquility.  Rest for your souls... Sometimes people go on vacation and then they have to recover from all the things they did on their vacation!  Some peole think, if nothing is on their schedule, they are insignificant.  This is insane!  Men think they have to make more, conquer more and achieve more.  It's idolatry.  Psalm 46:10 says this; "Be still and know that I am God."


One of Craig's counselors once said, "Take 5 minutes a day and do nothing."  So, this week, your assignment is to do nothing every day for 5 minutes.  Don't do anything. Don't think about anything.  Don't pray.  Just be.  It is the first significant step in creating margin.  The coming series outline for "Margin" is:

Week 1.  Why
Week 2. Scheduling margin. 
Week 3.  Financial margin
Week 4. Moral Margin
 
We are gong to stop finding meaning in the things of this world and start finding meaning in the things of God. 
Isaiah 58:11 says; "The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame."

 You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Isaiah 58:11

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How Are We as Christians to Combat Fear?


In order for us to really press forward in our life for God's Purposes, we've got to get free of our fear. Johnson Bowie, at http://www.fusionatl.org/p/12081/Default.aspx, continues his "Know Fear" series, titled "I Ain't Afraid of No Ghosts" by saying that we have to know the stuff that spiritually comes against us. In order for God to set us free, we have to ask God to expose us. Until we know who God is, we will continue to put the approval of man in front of Him. If we know what God says about us (He smiles when He thinks of us and He rejoices over us when we sleep), then we can step boldly into life. (picture labeled for reuse on flickr)

Last year, Johnson went skydiving at a Fusion event. The crazy thing about that is, Johnson was wildly afraid of heights. But he was determined to conquer his fear. In a funny tale about the episode, Johnson talks about the details leading up to the jump, his experience as he jumped and then the slow descent with the parachute. He was connected to a guide, which which made him feel safe, "but then he did one of the top ten stupidest things in my life." The guide reaches back and starts undoing buckles which absolutely freaks Johnson out. Even though Johnson was terrified as the parachute straps loosened, things obviously turned out okay. Johnson says he was not so much afraid of the height, it was fear of what was on the other side of the height, i.e. the fall and the hit after the height. Likewise, it's not so much a fear of the dark, but it's about what's in the dark.

What Johnson is talking about today is a fear of the supernatural. Are angels or demons normal? Is speaking in tongues natural? We're talking about the reality is that there is another dimension. God is with us despite the fact that we can't see Him. The supernatural events happen when the spiritual realm steps into the physical. Demons, weegie boards, bodily possessions, Satan and angels are all real. This isn't just a fluffy world. There are nearly 300 references in the Bible about angels. In Ephesians 6:12, it addresses this hidden world; "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (picture labeled for reuse at http://www.gallery.mobile9.com/)



Johnson personally experienced this when he was involved in a healing service and six guys couldn't lift a 100-pound unconcious woman who seemed possessed!  When we encounter stuff like this, it scares us because we don't understand it, but the Bible gives us guidance. In Isaiah 14:12, it describes the story of Satan. Lucifer was an angel who wanted all the power of heaven. He attacked the armies of God, but was cast down. Lucifer is but a fallen angel. He is not the mini-me of God. In Revelation 12:9, it again talks about the great dragon cast from heaven. The word demon is a scary word; much scarier than "fallen angel". But if you hear the words fallen angel, it gives you the perspective that Satan has been defeated and we have God on our side. One of the keys to conquering our fears is to demystify the supernatural. Demons and devils were created and, at their core, they want to be worshipped. If we give them fear, we are effectively worshipping them.
 
Have you ever been in a service and someone stands up and screams?  It's because they are trying to pull the attention off Jesus. When we give Satan a foothold in our lives, they hold on to it and torment us with it. "Something inside of me says, 'no'...I will not worship Satan. I will worship Christ." Most of the time, as Christians, fearful things get worse in our lives because of our new power as believers. There's power in the name of Jesus and, when we start talking about Him, the entire world seems to come down on us! There are strongholds everywhere. "When I decided to do this series on Fear, I came down with the flu and Jeremiah, my son, started having nightmares..." Johnson says, "Oh, it's on now, man. You're going in the room of my kid?" When leaders step into their positions at Fusion, there are so many blessings, but at the same time, they get a ton of resistance.
 
New level, new devil.
Johnson Bowie
 
But we are armed and dangerous!  Colossians 2 talks about how we were dead to the sin of the enemy and Jesus went down to satan's domain, took the keys and gave him the Tyson one-two punch. We need to know that God created hell for the demons, not for people. They are going to burn in an everlasting fire, but some of the world actually chooses to go the route of the devil!  Demons are encouraged by this and they are trying to deceive us to burn with them. We need to encounter demons with the knowledge that they are already a defeated foe. Revelation 20:10 retells the fate of Satan.
 
Who then, can be against us? God is omnipresent. He's everywhere. "He's inside your earball." Satan is NOT omnipresent. "He's in Antartica somewhere." God is all-powerful. Satan is finite as a creation. God is everlasting, while we know the fate of Satan. Big God. Little devil (go to your high voice when you say "little devil"). God even assigns His angels to us. When we think about angels, though, we have a huge misperception. "So cute little naked baby angel...thank you for coming off your cloud...play me a song on your harp...But that's not what angels are!...Angels are stinkin' kickbutt warriors." We have these amazing warrior angels assigned to each of us!
 
Genesis 3:24 is the first description of the cherubim (angel). Seraphim have six wings and are covered with eyeballs! "What!! They don't have pictures of those on the front of Guidepost!" The archangel Michael, single-handedly defeated thousands of demons. In Revelation 2, there will be 4 angels on each corner of the earth to hold back the winds. Why is it that whenever people in the Bible encounter angels, the first thing they say is, "Fear not."?  These are unbelievable creatures!


 
Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.  What we have to grasp is that we, as his followers, have the power of God already in us. In Exodus, Moses comes to the edge of the Red Sea as they are running from the Egyptians. Moses calls on God, but God tells Moses that he already has the power and to use his staff! We can't call the angels down ourselves, but we have authority here. Multiple times, Johnson describes times when he was just minding his own business and this super lustful dream comes or this gory, bloody dream comes or he is scared by an experience. In the dream, he is stuttering trying to say, "Jesus". When he finally says it, everything leaves. There is no power in anything we say alone, but there is power in the name of Jesus. Phillipians 2 says that the name of Jesus is above the name of any other to the glory of God the Father.
 
It is Easter coming up (when Johnson delivered this message) on Sunday, "but I think so many of us are stuck on Friday." Something changed Johnson and the way he thinks about his life. "If you really want to find out about what God says about your power and authority, go through Ephesians a couple of times." God exalted Jesus to the highest place. In Ephesians it says that we are seated with Jesus in Heavenly places!! We are armed and dangerous and we don't even know it! Think about that! We are seated with Christ in the Heavenly realms. Luke 10:19 & John 14:12 tell us about our authority. Isn't it crazy that Jesus actually expected us to do what He did; even greater works!! It's because we are seated with Him. James 4:7 tells us to resist that devil and he will flee from us. Oft times, we only remember the "flee from you" part. But we must resist the devil.
 
One morning, Johnson was coming into a very dark church at night. "The only light I had was the demonic exit signs; you know what I mean?" Here he was, preaching about fear, and he was afraid. Then a little voice in him says, "I called you to flee from temptation, not to flee from the enemy. Johnson had a change of heart; "Armed and dangerous, baby...seated with Christ" Years ago, Johnson had this dream where he is on a mountain top. The wind is blowing and lightning is around him. On the other side of the mountain, there is this huge warlock who is about to fight him. Toe to toe, Johnson remembers how he had just been reading Elijah, so he screams "Fire of God!!" and this tornado comes down and scoops up the warlock.
 
"Stop asking God to rescue you when He gave you the authority." Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. "I'll give you a double cheese burger promise." Step into who God called you to be!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What Are Some Basic Biblical Financial Principles?


As a guest of Lifechurch.tv, Dave Ramsey gives a 3-part series online. After a standing ovation, Dave graciously says how amazing it is to see the changes that are being made in peoples' lives. "Money's fun...if you got some." But most people aren't doing so well. If you've made big time mistakes with money, that makes you over 12! It's easy to fall over in this money thing."

"When I went broke and had to start completely over, I thought I was the only one...I have a PhD in D-U-M-B." When Dave got married, he and his wife had little money. But he went into Real Estate and made a small fortune. "It didn't fix our problems, it just made us more of what we truly were." During a banking crisis, Dave's loans were called on him by the bank. Over the next several years, he and his wife lost everything.

The number one cause of divorce in America today is money. "Sharon would have divorced me, but she didn't have the money...we hit bottom...I was on one of these news stations and...they asked me how I bounced back...'Dude, when you fall that far, you don't bounce. It's more of a splat.'" Dave met God "on the way up" before his downfall, but he got to know God on the way down. Some guy told Dave that the Bible had a lot of things to say about money. After studying the concepts by experts on the subject, Dave found that there are really easy principles that are really hard to implement. Most of the problems with money are strictly behavorial. "The biggest problem I had with money was this guy that I shave with... the guy in the mirror."

Dave recommends 5 things to change our financial lives. "Now, it's gonna take a while." There are no instant fixes, though. It, like most great character changes, is a long process.

1. GET OUT OF DEBT. Debt=Risk. "I've found that 100% of homes in foreclosure were mortgaged." In the Bible it says that the debtor is slave to the lender. "Slaves don't have choices." When we have debt, our money goes straight out to the auto loan and mortgage. "Some students have taken so long to pay off their loans that they think it is a pet." Dave has been around thousands of families who are less than blessed with credit cards. Get plastic surgery. Get rid of all practice of debt. Get the plasectomy. "What if you didn't have a car payment? Did you know the average car payment in America is $478 over 84 months? If you take $478 and invest that in a decent growth stock mutual fund from age 30 to age 70, you'll have $5.6 million dollars. Hope you like the car!!!!"

You're trapped by buying stuff you don't need with money you don't have to impress people you don't really like. 
Dave Ramsey

We have to make a decision in our lives. We have to draw a line in the sand. But it turns out that if God wants you to do something, He will send you the money. Quit whining about what you want! The people we are trying to impress think you are dumb if they know what you are doing with your money. McDonald's did a study and found that we spend 47% more with a credit card than with cash!

2. ACT YOUR WAGE. "A foolish man devours all he has." This is a Biblical quote. The Bible says you are a BIBLE FOOL if you spend everything you make. We have to live within our means. This leads to another scripture; "Godliness with contentment is great gain." This is probably one of the greatest lessons in money that you can learn.

3. GET ON A BUDGET. If you managed money for a corporation called "You Inc." the way that you manage your finances, would you fire you? Those that manage well get to do more. Corporations do not promote those doing poor jobs. "When my son is 16 behind the wheel, he is incompetent!...Do you think that I am going to give him a Viper?...No, I am going to give him a '92 Chevette...because I'm a loving father."

Jesus once said, "For which of you building a tower does not first count the cost?  Does he, rather, build a tower and then find he doesn't have enough money to do so?  Would he not then be a fool?"  If God is going to give us $10 million dollars, we've got to act like we can manage it.

4. LEARN TO SAVE MONEY. You can't outearn stupidity. Save! Save! a) Save for a rainy day. Seventy eight percent of us will have an unexpected financial event in our life time. Be ready. Life is coming. "It's kind of cool when life comes up and you are ok." Murphy's law passes the wise by. b) Save for purchases with cash. If you save money, you can c) Invest money.

5. GIVE. "This is the most fun thing you can do with money!" Tything is different, but giving is a fun, fun thing. Someone who works for Dave has a ministry where she and her husband will pray and go find people that God puts before them who need money. One time, they left a $400 dollar tip for a pregnant woman in Waffle House. "Poor people can't do that."

None of these things make sense unless we do all of them. God has a plan for us and He is saying to us that, if we live this way, we can win. He wants us to live at a level we've never lived before. He's got a game plan for our money. It works every single time! Does it work without bumps in the road? No, but being a servant has bumps in the road too. Be encouraged by the poor people who discourage you.

Become an awesome, abundant giver. That is when you know you've made it. Live like no one else so you can live like no one else.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

How Do We Define Ourselves?

Guest Speaker Steve Saccone titles his message for Mosaic, "Fresh Start on Destiny".   We just finished a decade, which is kind of cool.  Television shows talk about all the special events that reflect on this decade and everything that happened in it.  There are so many things that change in any given decade and there always defining moments that identify or mark this time.  The same is true for our lives, good or bad.  Many of us have God encounters where our lives expand and we feel spiritually close.  But on the other hand, many times in our lives we have times where God seems nonexsitent.  It is so hard during these times to deal with this.  In both of these type of defining moments, in some ways, we can get paralyzed. 



Today, Steve reviews what happend in the story of Moses.  When we hear a story like Moses', we might think, "Well, what do I have in common with a guy who delivered a nation from slavery or from a guy who saw a buring bush?...This is a guy who parted the Red Sea and lived a couple of thousand years ago."  What do we have in common?  Moses had failures and stumbles even while he was still keeping his eyes on God .. Clearly, this was a guy who experienced the ups and downs of God.  Moses' life can be divided into 4 seasons.  Along the way, he learned to reconcile each seasoon and he pushed through.   

In the Book of Philippians 1:6, Moses believed in this verse.  he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  So, when we read this, we can learn to have more faith that God is at work for what he wants to do through us. 

Moses got off to   a rough start.  He was born as a Hebrew, but he was placed in slavery by the Egyptians. Exodus 1 says, "Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. 'Look,' he said to his people, 'the Israelites have become much too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.'  So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly."  This was the world Moses was born into .  And then you see in verse 22, "Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: 'Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.'

Then in chapter two, "Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. (photo from http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/)
 
Now imagine being Moses' mother and you hid your child for three months, but you can no longer hide him because he is crying, so you put him on the river!  Imagine going through the same emotions with your child and being in this situation.    

"Then Pharaoh's daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the river bank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. "This is one of the Hebrew babies," she said. Then his sister asked Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?"
'Yes, go,' she answered. And the girl went and got the baby's mother. Pharaoh's daughter said to her, 'Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you." So the woman took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh's daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, "I drew him out of the water."

So, Pharoah's daughter finds the baby and, instead of killing him, she takes him as her own.  When you think of Moses, he was born of a people who believed in One God, but he was raised in the house of "many gods".  Born to a slave, but raised by an Egyptian prince.  What an identity crisis!  If there wasa anyone who would have a crisis of faith, it would be Moses.  I would imagin that Moses frequently asked where God was.  But when we read the story, we see that God was at work all through Moses' life.  Sometimes in our own lives, defining moments that are in the negative camp leave us wondering where God is and we sometimes let the negative side of the circumstances derail us in our faith.  But what God wants us to know is His hand is at work in our lives whether we feel His presences or not. 

As Moses grew older, he began to make his own decisions and as his second season of life began, but it aslo didn't begin very well. He was about 40 years old and saw an Egyptian beating a slave.  He then killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.  Later, he saw two Hebrew slaves fighting and when he went to break up the fight, they asked how he could be their judge after he himself had killed.  Moses thought nobody knew!  It's not like the Internet existed back then which could spread the word quickly, but word had indeed gotten around amd Moses was now afraid for his life. How did Moses react?  How did he respond?  He ran like many people do!  They hide.  As in our own lives, Moses hid.  But we don't need to run from life, rather we need to run too God.  We don't have to earn our way back to God.  He extends Grace to us. 

A week ago, Steve and his family went to Chicago for the holidays and he was reminded of the notion of God's grace.  As they walked onto the plane, he noticed looks he was getting from the other passengers because he was bringing on board his one year old son, Hudson.  People were anxious because they knew a young child usually cries.  Steve worked his way towards the back of the plane and sat where a woman sighed so loud her dread was obvious.  Inevitably, his son started crying and 30 minutes went by without a break.  Sherry, his wife, was apologetic, but the woman next to them was stiff and almost not acknowleding their pardons at all.  We live in a world like this, don't we?  People don't give us grace.  God is not like this.  In the world, if you don't benefit people, they don't give you grace, but God does.  Our world has made it tough for us to swallow the concept that God wants us to come to Him! 


In Chapter three, the beginning of Moses' third 40 year period, now 80 or so, "Moses was tending the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.  When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, 'Moses! Moses!' And Moses said, 'Here I am.'  'Do not come any closer,' God said. 'Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.' Then he said, 'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.' At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The Lord said, 'I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.  So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.  So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.'

Wait a minute, did you see what happened?  This was Moses who was a murderer!  But God appears before him in a burning bush.  Imagine Moses hearing that God had chosen him.  Moses was thinking, "hold on, I don't know if you have the right guy.   People may have questioned themselves if Moses was the right guy, but he was.  Have you experienced times when you were judged by someone based on one of your worst moments?  Isn't that painful?  It drives us to define ourselves by our worst moments.  We become paralyzed and unable to be courageous for the Kingdom because the shame that others won't let us forget.  Thank God, He sees us at our best.  Thank God, He sees us for what we can be in Him.  God has a plan and He will be faithful to complete it.  He wants us to take part. 

Moses tells God that he is not the right man, but God says he is and that His people will celebrate in worship on this same mountain where they are.  Then Moses asks who he shall say has sent him to free the Israelites and God says, ''This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'  God also said to Moses, 'Say to the Israelites, 'The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.'  This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.'"

These men God named are the heros of the faith and God basically says Moses is to tell the people that He is the doorway of deliverence and freedom; the pathway to peace and the roadway to life and joy.  Like Moses, our instinctive reaction is to think we are not capable and we fall from our call. But God can finish a great work in us! 

As we get to the end of Moses third 40 year period, we get to an interesting time in his life. The last chapter of Deuteronomy talks about Moses climbing Mt. Nebo and how God shows Moses all of the land that He delivered the Israelites.  It was on this mountain top with God that Moses died and was buried in an unknown place.  He was 120 when God called him to climb a mile high mountain.  Was this a metaphor of his life?  There were many mountains he had to climb.  God was with him at every climb as he led his people to freedom.  God showed up.  Somewhere along the way, Moses learned to trust Him.  What else strikes Scott is that God buried Moses. God was there in the beginning and He was there in the end.  Who goes to a funeral when someone dies?  Friends and family go, right?  God seems to say here that He is a friend of Moses.  God is a friend of ours, too.  He wants to walk with us and share life with us.

So if there are 3 things to take from this message, they would be:

1) God doesn't want us to be define ourselves by our worst moments. 
2) If we do our part, God will do His.
3) God wants to send us out of our Egypt.  That place where you can bring others to freedom.  God wil give you strength.

There will never be any one like you.  The last three versus in Deuteronomy talk about how there was no one ever again like Moses.  There is no one quite like you either.  You cannot be the best version of someone else.  You have to be you and trust that God is bringing out the best for our lives.  God will not ask us why we were not like David or Moses.  He will want us to be what we were ordained to be in ourselves.  Will we?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Why Do I Need Religion When We Have Technology?

As one of the guests at the forums of http://www.ted.com/, Billy Graham speaks on technology and faith. "As a clergyman, you can imagine how out of place I feel.  I feel like a fish out of water:"  Billy was preaching in San Jose several months ago and a friend of his brought several CEO's and leaders from Silicaon Valley to have breakfast with him.  He was fascinated by their conversation. It was an eye-opening experience talking about where our world is going through technology and science.   

"Some of you may be wondering why they have a speaker fromt he field of religion."  Some years ago, Billy was on an elevator in Philadelphia at a conference.  On the elevator, this fellow told another that he had heard that Billy Graham was staying at the hotel.  The other man said, "Yeah, he's right there."  So the man turned around, looked Billy Graham up and down, and said, "Man what an anticlimax!".  After some laughs, Billy says, " I hope that you won't feel that these few moments with me is an anti-climax after all these talks you've heard".

Billy was on an airplane in the East some years ago and the man sitting across the aisle was the founder of the Belk stores and mayor of Charlotee, NC; John Belk.  And there was a drunk man on the plane near the two.  He was obnoxious, yelling and pinching the stewardess every time she walked by.  This was making everybody upset.  Finally, John Belk said, "Do you know who's sitting here?  Billy Graham!"  The drunk responded, "You don't say."  Turning to Billy, he said, "Put her there", while holding out his hand. "Your sermons have certainly helped me."  Billy thought to himself, "I suppose that's true with thousands of people". 

Speaking to a group of men who have been peering into the future, Billy says that he would like to live in that age and see what is going to be, but he knows he likely won't be around because he is 80 years old.  "...and I know that my time is brief... I have Phlebitis in both leges... I also have Parkinson's disease...and some other problems that I won't talk about".  Billy points out that this is not the first time we have had a technological revolution.  We've had others and there's one he addresses.  In one generation, the nation of Israel had a tremendous and dramatic change that made them a great power in the Near East.  A man named David came to the throne.  He took power and King David became one of the great leaders of his time.  He had the favor of God with him.  He was a brilliant poet, philosopher soldier and writer.

About two centuries earlier, the Hittites had discovered the secrets of smelting and of processing iron.  Slowly, that skill spread, but they wouldn't allow the Israelites to have the technology.  But King David changed all that and introduced the iron age to Israel.  The Bible says David laid up great stores of iron.  Now, instead of crude tools of sticks and stones, Israel had iron plows, cycles, hoes and military weapons.  In the couse of one generation, Israel was completely changed.  This was much like the microchip of our generation. But despite the advancements, David found that there were many problems that technology could not solve. He saw that there were three problems that still remained and those problems are still with us today.  His question, which is the same as ours is, "How do we solve these three problems?"

The first problem is human evil.  How do we solve it?  Over and over again, you hear about it what is said to be the greatest book in the Bible; Psalms.  David says, "He restoreth my soul."  Have you ever thought about what a contradiction we are?  On one hand, we can push the frontiers of technology. We go to the bottom of the sea and we see into the galaxies, but on the other hand, somthing is wrong.  Our soldiers are ready to go to war with Iraq.  Why do we have these wars and revolutions?  We can't get along with other people.  Racism, injustice and violence sweeps our world.  Even the most sophisticated of us cannot break this.  How do we change man so that he doesn't lie and cheat and so that our newpapers aren't filled with it?

The Bible says that it is within us because we are separated from our Creator.  We need to have our souls restored and only God can do this.  Jesus said, "Out of the heart comes evil thoughts...murders, sexual immorality".  The British philosopher Bertrand Russell was not a religious man, but he said, "It's in our hearts that evil lies and it's from our hearts that evil must be plucked out."  Albert Einstein, when Billy was speaking at Princeton, said he didn't have a Doctorate's degree becauese no one was qualified to give him one.  But he once said, "It's easier to denature plutonium than to denature the spirit of man".  Many of us have pondered that. 

You've seen people take beneficial technological advances and twist them into something corruptive.  Brilliant people construct viruses to take down whole computer systems.  The Oklahoma City bombing was simple technololgy horribly used.  The problem is not technology.  It's the persons using it.  David said that he knew the depths of his own soul and he couldn't free himself from committing murder and adultery.  But David repented and sought God's forgiveness saying God could restore him. 


The Bible says we are more that a body and a mind.  It says we have a soul; a soul that yearns for God. Your soul is that part of you that yearns for meaning in life.  Our yearning is really a yearning for God.  Billy has spoken at many universities such as Cambridge, Oxford, Yale and Harvard.  At these universities, without fail, he has always gets questions like; Where did I come from?  Why am I here? and What was I brought here for?  Thomas Edison once said, "When you see everything that happens in world of science and in the working of the universe, you cannot deny that there's a captain on the bridge."

Once at a White House dinner, Billy sat beside Mrs. Gorbachov.  Billy had been to Russia several times under Communist rule and he knew the Russian ambassador.  So, beforehand, he went to the ambassador and asked what he should talk to Mrs. Gorbachov about.  "Talk to her about religion!" was his answer.  So, he and Mrs. Gorbachov did.  Afterwords, she said "You know, I'm an atheist, but I know there's something up there higher than we are."

The second problem Kind David knew we could not solve is human suffering. Writing the oldest book in the world was Job, who wrote, "man is troubled and the sparks fly upward."  In a few months, Billy will be 80.  He is currently going to the medical clinics to treat his aging body.  He actually hasn't spoken in several months before this talk because as he's gotten older, he has gotten rusty thinking.  At this talk, where he usually would ad lib, he now uses a podium and a script.  Even among the TED attendees, you see aging bodies.  In the most advanced society in the world, we have poverty, families that self destruct, friends who betray us and worries that bear down on us.  Why do we suffer?  It's an age old question.  Yet David said he would turn to God.  "The Lord is my shepherd."


The final problem we have is death.  Many commentators have said that death is the forbidden subject of our generation.  Most people  live as if they are never going to die.  Technology projects the myth of control over our mortality.  We see celebrities on screen like Marilyn Monroe. On the screen, she looks so wonderful that many kids think she is still alive!  But death is inevitable.

Last year, Billy  spoke to a joint session of Congress.  They were meeting in the Statue Room.  Roughly, 300 people attended.  Billy told them, "There is one thing we all have in common, Repulicans or Democrats;  we are all going to die... We have that in common with all of the great men pictured on these walls."  It's often difficult for young people to understand that.  The ancient writer of Ecclesiastes said, "There is every activity under Heaven.  There is a time to be born and a time to die." 

Billy has been at the bedside of famous people who were in the agonizing final moments of life.  He has talked to them when they were scared to death  Yet , only a few years earlier, death never crossed their minds.  He talked to woman who's dad was a famous doctor.  Her dad never thought about death or believed there was a God.  But on his deathbed, he asked for the chaplin and finally began thinking about the inevitable. Is there a God?  A few years ago, a student asked Billy the question, "What is the greatest surprise in your life?"  Billy answered, "The greatest surprise is the brevity of life.  It passes so fast!"

Wernher von Braun, in the aftermath of World War II, concluded that "science and religion are not antagonists.  On the contrary, they are sisters."  He even put it on a personal basis as Billy knew him very well.  Dr. von Brahn said "Speaking for myself, I can only say that the grandeur of the cosmos serves only to confirm a belief in the certainty of a creator....In our search to know God, I've come to believe that the life of Jesus Christ should be the focus of our efforts and inspirations.  The reality of this life and His resurrection is the hope of mankind!" 

Billy has spoken in 105 countries and he was invited one day to speak with Chancellor Adanauer, who was sort of the founder of modern Germany.  He asked if Billy believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He then told Billy he would write a book on the why Jesus rose and why it is important to believe that when he eventually was to leave office.  In one of his plays, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn depicts a man dying.  The man says to those around his bed, "The moments when it is terrible to feel regret is when one is dying."  So how should we live to avoid this?

Blaise Pascal, the architect of modern civilization, a brilliant scientist and mathematician and the man believed to be the found of the Probability Theory and creator of the first model of a computer (now with a computer language named after him.), was astounded at the phenomenon we are talking about.  People can achieve extraordinary heights in science, the arts and human enterprise, yet they are also filled with hypocracy, anger and self-hatred.  Pascal saw us as a remarkable mix of genius and self delusion. 


On November 23, 1654, Pascal had a profound religious experience.  He  wrote in his journal, "I submit my self absolutely to Jesus Christ, my redeemer.  A French historian wrote, two centuries later, "Seldom has so mighty an intellect submitted to the authority of Jesus Christ."  Pascal believed that the love of Jesus Christ could bring us back into harmony and He could forgive our sins.  It was Pascal who penned the well-known words "the heart has its reasons which reason knows not of."  Equally well-known were his words, "if you bet on God and open yourself to His love, you lose nothing even if you are wrong, but if instead you bet that there is no God, then you can  lose it all in this life and the life to come."  To Pascal, science paled in comparison to God and Pascal was ready to face God when he died at the age of 39.

King David died at the age of 70 and said, "Even though I walk theough the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me."  This was David's answer to the three dilemmas and it can be your answer too.  When Billy was 17 growing up on a farm with all the responsibilities of the farm.  Trying to keep up with studies and chores at the same time, he didn't make good grades until college.  One day, he came face-to-face with Christ, who said, "I am the way, the truth and the life."  Jesus was a liar, He was insane or He was what He claimed to be and Billy had to make the decision of what he would believe.  Billy chose to believe by faith.  His heart was changed and now he is ready when he is called to go before the presence of God.