Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"4 Changes For Knowing God in an Ungodly Culture," pt 1

I once worked with a man who was being used by God on the outside to help with our youth group, but little did we know he was living a life of deep sinfulness and immorality at the same time. Fortunately, God protected us by not letting him get too close to our kids. Unfortunately, this man is in prison today because he did not change.
A friend of my friend, who was a pastor, and the best man at my friend’s wedding was being used by God to draw thousands of people to his church every weekend, and the church exploded with growth, but he too was taken away for sin he committed.
Another man, who was being used by God to lead God’s people in worship and lead hundreds of teenagers to Christ, suddenly had some skeletons that came out of the closet, and this man was asked to resign and his ministry ruined because of stealing.
Let me clarify: I know many pastors and ministry leaders between here, Chicago, and Dallas, and by far most I have met are Godly men and women, serving the Lord faithfully, and in their private lives they are passionate as well as in their public lives.
But some of you can identify with the 3 men I mentioned earlier, can’t you?
According to the May 2009 American Religious Identification Survey by Trinity College in Hartford, CT, “America is less Christian than it was 20 years ago, and Christianity is not losing out to other religions, but primarily to a rejection of religion altogether . . . 75% of the Americans surveyed called themselves Christians . . . in 1990, the figure was 86%. William Donahue, president of the Catholic League said he thinks a radical shift towards individualism over the last quarter-century has a lot to do it. ‘The three most dreaded words are thou shalt not,’ he told Lou Dobbs. "Notice they are not atheists -- they are saying I don't want to be told what to do with my life." At the same time there has been an increase in the number of people expressing no religious affiliation. President Obama and Mitt Romney have addressed “those of no faith,” as a religious group.

According to a gallop poll of 1,500 Americans 18 and older in the Pennsylvania region in 2010,the responses indicated

“I believe that the God of the Bible is one in essence, but distinct in person—Father, Son and Holy Spirit” 75%
“I am willing to risk everything that is important in my life for Jesus Christ” 52%
“I believe the Bible has decisive authority over everything I say and do” 49%
“I believe that nothing I have done or do can earn my salvation” 48%
Less than half believe in salvation by faith alone through God's grace alone!
“I take unpopular stands when my faith dictates” 42%
“I have inner contentment when things go wrong” 35%
“I regularly study the Bible to find direction for my life” 28%
A little more than 25% regularly study the Bible! If this sample reflects the rest of the culture, there is a lack of influence of the Bible in the culture.
“I control my tongue” 22%

Christians, we need to take God seriously and live a godly lifestyle. Even if God is using you, you must change any ungodly ways and confess sin, or you may share our hero's fate.

Today we see Samson, a man who God had a plan for and gave strength to, but who lived immorally, and God no longer used.
Today I want to tell you 4 C’s to change your ungodly lifestyle, a.k.a. “SIN”. These are important, and it might save your life to listen.

In Judges 13, the Angel of the Lord came to Samson’s parents, Manoah and his wife, and told them they would have a son, who was to be a Nazarite and would begin to deliver God’s people from the Philistines (Judges 13:5).
When Samson grew up, he wanted to marry a foreign wife. This was against God’s law, because Deuteronomy 7:1–3 says, “you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.”
What does God say about this in Judges 14? In verse 4 we’re told (READ IT)

1) Change your lifestyle, before God changes it for you
If you don’t live for God, sometimes God will cause problems so you will start to live for Him.
When God’s people accept an ungodly culture, sometimes God causes dissension between His people and unbelievers in order to free His people from them.
Also, later in Notice the story of the donkey jawbone battle: Judges 15:11 (READ IT), where the Judahites came out against Samson with 3,000 men, but didn’t care about being oppressed by the Philistines. They were comfortable with the ungodly culture they were living in!
It means if you’re living an ungodly lifestyle, and know Christ, today you need to ask His forgiveness and change. If you won’t change, God might come to you like He did to Samson, and open up a hurtful situation so that you will have to change.
It means God is in the business of stirring things up! Why? Because Christians constantly drift towards a lifestyle of comfortable camouflage.
We’re like in the movie Avatar, where Jake Sully goes into the culture of the Na’vi people in order to find out what they’re like to exploit their weakness, and turns into one of them.
Do you know what Jesus said about people who claim to know Him and don’t? Listen to His own words in Matthew 10:
32 “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.
33 “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.
34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
37 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.
38 “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
39 “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.
A doctor or nurse must sometimes re break a bone in order to set it and help it mend, or slash the Achilles heels of a newborn baby who is born with clubbed feet. All of this is short term pain for long term gain.
We are in a culture going farther and farther from God.
Are you following God or the culture? Are you knowingly sinning? Are there more problems than normal? Change it! Pray and confess the sin, and ask God to help solve whatever needs fixing.
Continue with me as we watch Samson.

Along the way to the Timnite girl, Samson killed a lion, later took honey from the lion, and made up a riddle with it for the guests of his wedding feast to guess. It was against the Nazarite vow to touch a dead body, so Samson broke his vow. In addition to marrying an idol worshipper, Samson broke his Nazarite vow. God used Samson to defeat the Philistines by a) beating up 30 men and stealing their clothes when his riddle was solved; b) tying 300 foxes’ tails together in pairs, with a torch in each of the 150 pairs. Burning down shocks, standing gran, vineyards, and olive groves (huge financial loss); c) killing 1,000 Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone. But God wasn’t happy with Samson’s immorality.
2) Confess your sin, while God is patient
When God doesn’t punish you for sin, and still uses you, it isn’t because He thinks your sin is okay. It’s because He’s giving you a chance to repent.
God’s patience is not the same as God’s forgiveness
Later, Samson will get the consequences he has earned for choosing to disobey God. For now, while God uses him, Samson has opportunity to confess sin and change his lifestyle.
This means for us that God is patient with you, waiting for your confession and repentance of sin, sometimes even while He uses you.
Simile: It’s like a fisherman who arrives on the dock and gets his gear ready, and then realizes his pole is cracked and broken. He’ll use it one last time if he can, but unless it can be fixed, he throws it aside.
It’s like getting dressed in the morning, and half way through the day you realize you have a big hole in your pants. You have no time to go all the way back home and change, so you use those pants the rest of the day but never again unless they are fixed.
God will use you even if you stray into sin, but only for a time. Don’t think He’s silent or patient just because He doesn’t care. He is waiting for you to change, and unless you get fixed, He might throw you aside too!
Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”
If all of you took this seriously, and set the rest of your week this week by this principle, God would be glorified in your marriage, fellowship with others, at work, at school, and people would see your change!
Just as a farmer plants and waits patiently for the crop to grow, so God lets you come today on Sunday morning, hear how you need to confess sin, and will give you a window of time to change. But eventually, the planter of the Word of God will come back, and gather his crops. Jesus talked about this in a parable, saying how he will wait until the harvest, but then its too late. The weeds and the wheat will be gathered together, and the weeds will be cast out and the wheat brought in.
God wants to use all of us, but He won’t use a broken tool for very long. Please get on your knees and bow to Him, and open your hands and offer to Him everything good and bad, and let Him change you.
This is the scariest prayer you could pray today, from Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Did God use Samson? Yes. Did Samson repent? No

After Samson beat up the 30 men and used the torched foxes to destroy the agricultural economy of southern Palestine, he defeated a group of Philistines, and then killed 1,000 men with a donkey jawbone.
The summary in Judges 15:20 that is given before the end of his life, is disturbing. Normally that summary would happen at the end of the Judge’s life, but with Samson, it tells us at this point his life is basically over.
Samson was no longer useful to God
(A) Don’t let it ever be said of you. Please make this your goal, that your obituary won’t come out until AFTER you die.
Proverbs 10:30, says “the righteous will never be shaken, but the wicked will not dwell in the land.”
Proverbs 11:8, says “the righteous is delivered from trouble, but the wicked takes his place.”
(A) Are you abusing God’s patience by living in sin? Lying? Cheating? Gossipping and slandering others? Confess it. John 8:32 says, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus, who said "I am the way, the truth, and the life," offers Himself posthumously yet more alive than ever before, to all who believe He died and rose again to pay for your sin. Will you trust Him?
Christian, will you change your ways that are ungodly? Will you confess the sin that God is being patient about?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Knowing God: Jephthah, "God Accepts Unwanted People"

If you look at my 7th grade year book, you will see that I had a crush on a girl named Jennifer. It was a big crush. I wanted her to be my girlfriend. Yet, no matter how much I tried, asking her, writing letters, and other ways to woo her, she rejected me. She never gave me the chance. Although I prayed to God for Him to show her the light, I was outcast, rejected, and it hurt.
I’ll come back to this story at the end of the sermon, because there’s more to it.
Today many people feel rejected.
Sharry Langburt wrote in AOL Personal articles, on how young people are feeling rejected because of their premarital flings.
This isn't supposed to happen to nice Christian girls, but pre-marital hook-ups are happening everywhere. According to a study conducted by Barna, half of Americans in their twenties and thirties find no fault with pre-marital sex, while two-third believe that unmarried cohabitation is morally acceptable.
But when it comes to sexual flings, it seems that women still suffer more regret than their male counterparts. A survey conducted by researchers at Durham University in the United Kingdom showed that 80 percent of men and only 54 percent of women reported feeling good after a hookup; men also feel more confident and sexually satisfied afterward, and are more likely to brag to friends about it. And how many times have you felt rejection, even if it wasn’t like this?

Has someone you loved more than a jr high crush shoved you away? Pushed you aside? Become apathetic towards you? Hurt you on purpose, and left you alone? Do you feel like trash, tied up and taken out and told “Good riddance!” If you feel like this, you are like Jephthah.
Jephthah was born of Gilead and a prostitute, as opposed to Gilead and his wife, and in Judges 11 we’re told that Jephthah was rejected (READ IT)
He probably felt like he would never amount to anything good, and he gathered a group of men around himself that thought the same.

Today I’ll show you four truths about how God feels about outcasts—2 Do’s, and 2 Don’ts.

Judges 10:6 is where the author of Judges takes his paintbrush to color the landscape for our story, telling us once again that Israel “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” If you remember the cycle of the Judges, what usually happened was that they did evil like this, then God punished them by handing them over to another nation, then He raised up a Judge to deliver them, then they had peace until that Judge died. This time, though, when the Ammonites oppressed them, they cried out to God, and in verses 13-14, says, “No!” (READ IT)
He says, “Let the false gods you worship save you!”
They plead again with God, and in verse 16, God “could bear Israel’s misery no longer.”

It was in this environment of worshipping false gods, that Jephthah was
The first truth of how God deals with your rejection is that God accepts unwanted people. So Look for God.
Look at verses 6-11, (READ IT). While Jephthah thought his family, and God’s people, and possibly God Himself had thrown him out as garbage, God was waiting to use him. It means that if you have been rejected because your parents didn’t want you, your spouse abused you, your friends left you, your ethnicity, your height, your weight, or whatever—God accepts you when no one else does! You are important to God. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!
So Look for it! Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest!”
Dumbo, an elephant born with gigantic ears, made fun of, laughed at, kicked out of the circus, homeless—and one day discovers he has a gift that his ears are wings and he can fly.
Clarification: God accepts you, but don’t confuse the acceptance of a Holy God with the cheap acceptance of relativism. God accepts you while also making you get your life right with Christ. To the alcoholic, God accepts you and at the same time will not use you until you stop getting drunk and repent of that behavior. To the person practicing homosexual behavior, God loves you, but will not use you until you repent and stop practicing that behavior. So what are you waiting for? Remove those obstacles and look for God.
Jephthah discovered one day that God had a plan for him, and gifts that God could use!

Which brings me to the Second truth—God not only accepts unwanted people, but He has a plan to use your unique gifts! At the proper time, God used Jephthah. What were his gifts? He was a valiant warrior (11:1), good at persuasion (convincing the Gileadites to make him leader with a vow at Mizpah, and his letter to the King of the Ammonites), and he was a strong leader. God needed him at this point in time, and God used him.
The letter was written to communicate 1) the land was justly conquered, 2) if the Ammonites had really wanted it, why did they wait 300 years to try and take it back, and 3) verse 27, “I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the Lord, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites.”
If you are rejected, then God accepts you, and wants to use you and the gifts and talents He has given you. God used Jephthah to free His people from the Ammonites, (READ 11:29, 32-33)
He not only pushed them away from Gilead, but devastated 20 of their towns. He was on fire! A valiant warrior!
Is it your time to shine?
April 20, 1999, Cassie Bernall, high school student in Columbine Colorado, had no idea the impact she would have on thousands of others by standing up for her faith. When looking down the barrel of a loaded gun, she was asked if she believed in God, and said, “Yes.” She had searched for acceptance, and found it in Jesus Christ, and her testimony of faith has been used by God so that, according to, since 1999, hundreds of thousands of people have heard her testimony through the speaking ministry of her parents, Brad and Misty.
What should you do? God has a plan for you! He wants to use you, and if you would give yourself 100% to Christ, surrendering and dying to yourself, and letting Jesus live through you, your best gifts will become better, the ugliness of your heart will fade, and you will be used by God!

There are 2 more truths. #3, is found in Jephthah’s very costly, rash mistake, where he makes a vow. (READ 11:30-31, 34-35)

#3, When God gives success, Don’t try to control it. Many times, God will grant you blessings, wealth, victory, broken relationship renewed, children when you had been infertile, and whatever you do, don’t tarnish God’s blessings with your fingerprints!
God will use you in great ways, and do not have the ego and pride to say afterwards, “I’ll make a deal, God. I scratched your back, so you scratch mine.”
Jephthah was at the edge of battle, having successfully convinced the Gileadites to have him as head, and having successfully provoked the King of Ammon to fight, and thought he could successfully wager with God. He wanted credit for the victory—in line with pagan, Canaanite practices.
The most tragic thing of it all, is that breaking a vow with a deity meant falling under the wrath of that deity for life, and he had made a vow to turn the first thing coming out of his door into a burnt offering! Jephthah had to fulfill his vow, even when his daughter was the first to come out of his house, greeting him as the women traditionally greeted the men coming home from battle. His one and only daughter!
IMAGE: It’s like taking a dirty rag from the garage and using it to wipe off gold flatware before you set the table—makes it worse!
like one of my child’s Bibles, and we bought this Bible and still read to the child from it, but the child has added pictures to the picture Bible. So Jesus is accompanied by a mouse on his shoulder, or Moses has rabbit ears. Don’t do that! Jephthah was like dancing with the stars, and his partner led him one way, and he suddenly decided he would lead the dance, and paid for it!
Isn’t it just like you and me? Before you’re so hard on Jephthah, think about how last week you tried to control a conversation so that you could look good, or how you performed well recently and bathed in the accompanying applause!
Because of evidence on both sides, the jury is still out as to whether or not Jephthah’s daughter was burned alive and cut to pieces as a burnt offering, or symbolically sacrificed and lived the rest of her life as a maiden. I believe, because God gave Jephthah victory over the Ephraimites later, that Jephthah did not murder his daughter and use her for a burnt offering to God. God would not have accepted that. Either way, Jepthah lost any hope of offspring.
Don’t try to control God’s success.

So look for God because He accepts the rejected; Look for how you can be used by God because God has a plan for the rejected, Don’t control it when God grants you success, and finally . . .

The Fourth truth about how God accepts the rejected starts with a Don’t:
Don’t be an Ephraimite. That’s right, an Ephraimite. Not a tick or microscopic parasite, but a tribe of Israel who became jealous to the point of causing civil war. What was their jealousy based on? 12:1 (READ IT)
Put this down for the fourth point as well: If you are the least of these, and want to be used for God, expect to be criticized by the Pharisees!
If Jesus was criticized, so will you be! If God can’t please everyone, there is no sense in trying to do what God can’t do!
Jephthah was confronted with this, and God nearly wiped out the Ephraimites!
If you are the kind of person who has thoughts of envy when someone else succeeds, you might be an Ephraimite!
After spending the summer in Mexico for my missions internship, I came back and was on a high. I was so happy that God had used our team to reach so many people, and we were praising God. Then I discovered it. The knife in my back. One of my teammates on that trip had been so nice to me in person, but written a terrible report about me in one of the areas of leadership, and it hurt. I went to that person right away and asked them about it (with emotion), and it changed our relationship. That person should have said something to me, but never did. That person, in fact, hadn’t fulfilled the requirements of the missions intern, but I gave them a glowing report, and while we were working and doing extra evangelism, they flirted with someone they had a romantic interest in. I had been attacked by an Ephraimite! We have since made up and are friends, and a couple times have talked about it.
If you can’t bring yourself to compliment someone else, you might be an Ephraimite.
If you are mad because God used that person, and you don’t feel good about yourself, so you demonize them behind their back, you might be an Ephraimite.
If you like to sit off to the side and wait to burst peoples’ bubbles, you might be an Ephraimite.
If you have to have a problem to fix, or have to make things better, or are always criticizing others, you might be an Ephraimite.
If you can’t explain why you’re mad at someone, and admit that God is using that person, then, you might be an Ephraimite.
If you frequently talk badly about someone, or have an enemy in the church, you might be an Ephraimite.
Every pastor, youth pastor, staff person, leader in the church has faced the spirit of Ephraim and it is Satanic! If you are being used to discourage God’s people who He is using, you need to stop. Today! Or you will end up like an Ephraimite, and I won’t be able to help you.

After all I said, are you still feeling rejected? Unusable? God has a plan for you, and gifts in your hands, if you will say to Him today, “I’m Yours, Lord. Use Me.”

The story with Jennifer in 7th grade was not the end. Though I was rejected by her, and for a while didn’t understand it, and was hurt, it was because a few years later God had Emily for me. God had a plan for me while I was rejected, and He has the same thing for you. What are you going to do about it?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

What does Revival look like?

I'm taking a different approach to this entry, and instead of writing a manuscript of a sermon, I wanted to update the few faithful who read this on what God is doing in Darlington.

Three months ago the pastors of the community of churches in Darlington began meeting once a week to pray. Our focus, that lost people come to know Jesus Christ and turn their lives around. We had a clergy meeting, as we have every month, and in January at our meeting we all expressed how nothing was changing, and we wanted to reach our community. We decided to start praying together, and began to see things happen. At our church, an elderly man and a teen came forward two weeks apart and prayed to trust in Christ. Then at another church, the week after Easter, ten people came forward to trust in Christ. Then at our after school program, eight kids prayed to receive Christ, and we're still following up with them to verify the commitment, but at least three of those kids are for sure.

It hasn't been all good. At the same time we have been praying each week together, and everyday on our own, we have seen the enemy work to discourage, cause division, and defend a claim to the souls of those who are blinded to the good news of Jesus. People with addiction problems and physical or mental chronic illnesses have seen those problems flaring up, but then we pray. God has also been faithful to deal redemptively with each of those problems as they surface, and without going into detail, there is a noticable difference in the amount of problems as well as salvations, for now.

More people are coming to faith in Christ, and our efforts to disciple need reinforcing. We are still meeting to pray, and hopeful to see more and more come to Jesus and follow Him.

Because of this, I was attending a conference by RHMA, and the sessions on revival, studying four historical revivals in America, Wales, England (if there is a difference between England and Wales--maybe that shows cultural unawareness of a Midwest American) and India. The common themes--they all started with lay people getting together to pray for God to forgive and cause salvation.

So we have asked people to pray, and you, would you pray for God to be glorified through unchurched, unbelieving people coming to know Him? If you read this, I don't have the answers to How a revival should start, nor do I think we've seen the peak of what God plans on doing in SW Wisconsin. I would imagine there are other places where God is doing similar things (it would be great to know where). I believe you can trust that God wants revival in America more than anyone and if His people humble themselves and pray, and call on His Name, and confess our sin, and turn away from idols (power, money, and ourselves, most of all), and ask Him to change hearts, the unbelievers will come to Him and never stray. He will forgive.

One other thing--these ecumenical prayer meetings each week are unheard of in terms of unity and acceptance without compromise, and none of us boasts of a large congregation, or of being famous authors, or having TV or radio ministries. If numbers are a pastor or a church's goal, those may be for the Kingdom of God, or they may be idols (pray about it). Whether you are large or small, reviving hearts of the nation for God can happen if we pray, and it is far more important than numbers of people who are unwilling to follow Jesus with more than their mouths. (No, I'm not just a pouting rural pastor who wishes he had more numbers. I've had the numbers, and you have to make them count before you count them.)
Or, if you don't want revival, then don't pray. Market, gimmick, sell, organize committees for each problem, and you can have the church that (fill in your name)______ built, and when you die, it will too.
In closing, I learned at the conference I mentioned above that most churches in America are growing by transfer growth--swapping members like sports teams. Then Sunday attendance is flouted as a sign of growth, while the community around the church has not changed eternal status, and wonders "is that what Jesus called you to do?" People see caterpillars entering the cocoon each Sunday--lots of them sometimes, but never see butterflies coming out. Make the goal to glorify God, and ask Him to redeem more who will worship Him in spirit and in truth, and make it a goal to make disciples, not just to attract a crowd.

These are the days of revival, and it is just in the very beginning. What will you do? Will you pray? Pray daily for God to be glorified through people receiving His grace, believing in faith that Jesus died on the cross and rose again, and that by placing their faith in Him they have eternal life. Jesus said in John 17:3, "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom You have sent." Jesus said HE would build HIS church. Let's ask Him to do it.