Monthly Archives: August 2012

Why bad things happen to good people

In my yard I have several crape myrtle trees. Every year I watch around town for when I’m supposed to prune them. It’s usually in the winter just before spring. When it’s time, I take my clippers and start cutting back on them. If there are dead branches, I cut them off at the tree. For all the others, I trim back to a few inches from where they split off. When the spring time comes, they blossom and bloom even more than the year before.

In John 15, Jesus said that God does the same to us. He said that the branches that don’t produce fruit are cut off and thrown away. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that the fruit we are to produce in our lives is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. When I read that, I began to think about the fruit in my life. Am I producing that fruit? How much of it am I producing? What do I need to do to produce it?

In the same passage in John, Jesus says that everyone who does produce fruit is then pruned so that they will produce more fruit. Ouch. So even if I am producing fruit, I am going to be pruned. Jesus wants us to produce more fruit all the time. He recognizes that the only way to produce more is to provide an opportunity for growth. That’s what pruning does. It trims us back so we can have a greater opportunity for growth.

Most of us don’t like or want to be pruned. When it happens, we ask God why are bad things happening to me when I’m doing everything right. We’ve all heard the question asked “Why do bad things happen to good people”. Well it happens to give you an opportunity to grow. If things aren’t happening in your life that are pruning you, that’s when you should be concerned.

If you aren’t being pruned throughout the seasons of your life, you need to find a way to start producing fruit. You need to take a hard look at your life and see what fruit you are producing. Chances are, it’s not the fruit listed above. If it were, you be getting pruned so that you would produce more. We all produce fruit in our lives. Our actions produce results. Our results show God, others and ourselves what’s important to us. There is a law of sowing and reaping.

If you sow time I to other’s lives, you will reap love. If you sow forgiveness, you will reap joy. If you sow understanding, you will reap peace. On the other hand if you sow selfishness, you will reap loneliness. If you sow bitterness, you will reap hate. What you do matters and will come back as fruit in your life. God wants us to produce good fruit in our lives so that others will be able to see Him through us.

God recognizes and knows that to produce more of the good fruit in your life, He will have to prune you. Yes, even if you ate a good producer, He knows that you can always produce more. Without pruning, we can only produce so much of each fruit. When He does prune us, He creates more opportunity to produce than ever before.

So why do bad things happen to good people? To give them the opportunity to grow and to produce more than ever before. If you are being pruned right now, stop and thank God instead of questioning Him. It means that He thinks you are producing good fruit and He has bigger plans for you. Trust in Him and in His plan for you. Handle the pruning with grace and look forward to the next time of harvest in your life.

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It’s Time to Reprioritize

This is a very busy time of year for most of us. School has just started back, labor day is approaching, the companies we work for are gearing up for fourth quarter and we are still trying to balance family, relationships and all of our extra curricular activities. Even with all the advancements in technology, life can still be complicated and difficult. Finding a moment of peace where we can just breathe seems impossible, but that’s what we need. We need to stop for a moment and take a breath.

While everything we’re involved in seems necessary, not everything is. I know we want to be involved in this or have our kids participate in that, but at what cost? You are driving around town, burning the candle at both ends, sacrificing too much just to feel stressed out. That is not the way to live. When did we start putting more emphasis on doing things than our own peace and health? We justify it by saying, “I’m doing it for the kids or if they can do all of that, so can I.” Quit comparing yourself to others. You aren’t them.

If this sounds like you, slow down. Determine what in your life is a priority. Cut out the things that aren’t priorities and focus on the things that are. You will find that your quality of life improves. When that happens, your relationships and everything else will get better. I heard someone say that you really can’t multitask. You can do a lot of things poorly or one thing really well. Focus on what you want to do well.

It’s also important to learn to use the word “no”. You can’t do everything you’re asked to. It’s ok to say no. Life will go on. Someone else will be able to do what you couldn’t. It doesn’t mean that what you say no to is not important or that you don’t care about it. It simply means that your plate is full and that if you take it on, something else will suffer. Jesus said that if we were faithful in the little things, He would make us faithful over many things. Learn to be faithful and good at managing what’s on your plate before accepting more. If you don’t, everything you do will suffer.

You also need to find time to relax. By the time you leave work, get the kids to their activities, get everyone fed, get home, washed up and to bed you realize you still have more to do and you haven’t even stopped yet. You can’t live like that for long periods of time without being stressed out and sacrificing the important things in life. It’s ok to slow down and to relax from time to time. You need it.

When we get too busy, we get stressed. When we get stressed, we begin to worry. God did not intend for you to endure long periods of stress or worry. When Jesus was visiting the home of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:40-42, Mary sat at His feet and listened to Him. Martha was busy making dinner, straightening the house and doing so many things. She even told Jesus to tell Mary to help her. Jesus looked at her and said, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her (NLT).”

If your life has gotten so out of control and busy that you have forgotten the one thing you should be concerned with, then it’s time to reprioritize. Your main focus in life is to follow Jesus. Everything else are just details that distract us from that one thing. Stop today and take an honest look at your life. Have you forgotten to sit at the feet of Jesus? Are you too busy or tired to give Him your time? Are you giving Him what’s left over? If so, it’s time to make a change. When you get your priorities in life, everything else falls in to place. Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need (NLT).”

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Why I’m burnt out on religion

I’ve seen first hand what the effects of religion are. I’ve seen people who are forced to follow strict guidelines or risk being shunned by their community. I’ve watched people mutilate their body in hopes of paying some kind of penance. People do a lot of unnecessary things to themselves and to others all in the name of religion. It’s very sad to see.

Religion often seeks to control others. It uses rules and regulations to force people into doing things in order to earn their way into the afterlife. By keeping people guessing about their assurance of their salvation, they can manipulate them into doing whatever they ask. People comply and the follow in the name of this or in the name of that, but really it’s in the name of whoever is trying to control them by fear.

Jesus did not come to bring fear or to control you. It’s just the opposite. II Timothy 1:7 says that God has given us a spirit of power, love and a sound mind. He gives us a spirit of power, love and a sound mind, we won’t be controlled or manipulated by religions that seek to do that. Even in Christianity there are those who seek to manipulate and control through fear.

In Galatians 5:1, it says that it was for freedom that Christ set us free. Jesus didn’t die on the cross so you could be bound by religion and the rules that come along with it. He came to bring freedom from religion. He knew that the only way to have a true follower is if it were by choice. He wants to have a relationship, not a dictatorship.

Another thing that religion does is to condemn people. Condemnation uses shame and judgement to make someone feel bad. By using condemnation, religion seeks to elevate itself by tearing down those who follow it. Those who are under condemnation can never be good enough or do enough. They can never be sure of their salvation, but they keep trying in hopes of making it when they die.

Jesus said in John 3:17 that He did not come to condemn the world, but that through Him, the world might be saved. Where religion brings condemnation, Christ brings salvation. His message was not Hell, fire and brimstone. It was love, compassion and forgiveness. He desires to spend eternity with His creation and made a way for that to happen by paying the high cost of giving His life for you.

Religion also seeks to make you conform. It wants to make you conform into its image, not God’s. It doesn’t want you to be who God made you to be, it wants you to be who they think you should be. When you lose who you are, you are more likely to blindly follow their rules. As mentioned before, Jesus wants you to be free.

He wants to take who you are, all of your successes, failures, scars and shortcomings to use them for His purpose. When you become His follower, he doesn’t make you conform. Instead He makes you transform! Romans 12:2 says that we should not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the entire renewal of your mind. This transformation starts with renewal. You get a fresh start spiritually. Jesus wants to give you a renewed hope and future.

I know what it’s like to be religious and to try to impose religion on others. Jesus didn’t do it that way and neither should we. Where religion seeks to control, condemn and conform you, Christ wants to set you free, forgive you and renew you. In fact, Christianity is the opposite of religion. It is not a set of rules and regulations as some would have you believe. It’s about having a relationship with a God that loves you more than you can comprehend. It’s about living for the One who died for you. While there are those who seek to make Christianity act like religion, that was not Jesus’ intent. He came to bring life and peace. There is freedom in Jesus.

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Why should you go to church?

Why do you go to church? Seriously. Think about why you go. Is it so you can be seen by others? Is it because it’s what you were taught to do? Maybe you go because you have kids and want them to learn the right way. Too many people use these as why they go to church. Going to church doesn’t get you into Heaven and it’s not the church’s responsibility to teach your child about Jesus. It’s yours.

Let’s change the question then. Why should you go to church? If it’s not to be seen or to teach your kids about Jesus, why go? I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t go. I just want you to think through your motives for going. If your motives are wrong, church will become a drudge to get through. When something else comes up, you’ll quickly take the other option because church is not a priority.

When church is a priority you go there each week no matter what and you expect to hear from God. I love it when I go to a service and it’s as if the entire sermon was just for me. Have you ever had that happen? Every song was written and sung for you and your situation. Every scripture read met your personal need. When it came time to pray, it was as if there was a spotlight on you and God was speaking through the preacher for you to come down and to be prayed for.

God wants us to go each time with the expectation that He will meet us there. If you don’t expect to meet Him, why go? The expectation you have for God at church will always be met. If you go expecting to sit through the ritual of a service, you will walk away empty handed. If you go expecting to hear from God, He will speak to you.

When we hear the Word of God, it builds our faith. Romans 10:17 in the Amplified Version says that faith comes by hearing what is told, and what is heard comes by the preaching of the message that came from the lips of Christ. When your faith is running low (and that happens to all of us), that is the time to go to church. Too many of us use that as an excuse not to go to church.

God’s Word is quick and powerful according to Hebrews 4:12. It doesn’t take long for it to start working in your life. If you want to live better, put God’s Word in you. What goes in will come out. If you want to think and speak differently, put in more of God’s Word. It changes us from the inside out. We shouldn’t just hear God’s Word on sunday though. We need to be consuming it all week long to combat all the other stuff that is going in our minds.

Church is also a great place for connection. We all have a need to be connected to others and what better way than to be connected with fellow believers? Hebrews 10:24,25 says we should think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. It also says we shouldn’t forsake our assembling with fellow believers. At church, we have the opportunity to connect with like minded people and challenge them to do more for God.

Connecting is about more than shaking hands with people you barely know. It’s about getting to know others and making yourself known to them. Connecting is about forming friendships and relationships that last. It’s about communicating with someone and building a relationship. We are one body and we need to be together to connect the parts so we can move and act as one.

There are many reasons to go to church. There are right reasons and wrong reasons. It’s up to you to decide why you go. It’s not enough just to go. You don’t go to a restaurant, sit down, look at the menu, watch other people eat and then leave. So why would you go to church, sit down, look at the bulletin, watch other people engage in the service and leave without getting something? It makes no sense. Go this week with purpose. Expect God to speak to you. Expect your faith to grow. Expect to meet with other believers who can help you on this journey of faith.

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Looking for Zacchaeus

I love the story of Zacchaeus. Here was a man who wasn’t as tall as everyone else. He wanted to get a glimpse of this Jesus that everyone was talking about. He couldn’t see over anyone and the crowd around Jesus was huge. He decided to run down the road where Jesus was heading and to climb up a tree so he could see over everyone. When Jesus got there, he looked up, called him by name and told him He wanted to go to his house. The people around Jesus grumbled that Jesus had gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner.

There are a lot of great things in this story that too often we read for our children, but rarely do we look into what’s actually happening. First, you have a notorious sinner trying to just get a glimpse of Jesus. He was desperately trying to see Him. How many of our friends, who are notoriously sinners, can see Jesus in our lives? Have we given them a reason to look? Zacchaeus was determined just to see Jesus and went out of his way to get in His way.

When Jesus got to where Zacchaeus was, he noticed him and called him by name. Each one of us who are Christians were called by name at some point in our lives and salvation was extended to us. We may or may not have been as notorious in our sin as Zacchaeus was, but that doesn’t matter to Him. What matters to Him is if you are willing to accept His invitation to be your guest today.

When Jesus entered the home of Zacchaeus as his guest, He changed who Zacchaeus was. Jesus didn’t demand that he change, Zacchaeus realized that he needed to change. He offered to give away half of what he had and to repay those he stole from. Jesus’ response was that salvation had come to that house. It wasn’t because he decided to give away his belongings, but because he accepted the invitation to let Jesus in. Jesus doesn’t care how bad of a sinner we are, He only cares that we invite Him in when He asks.

While Jesus was inside with Zacchaeus, the people who had been following Jesus all the while began to get upset. “Can you believe He went into the home of that sinner,” they asked each other. I find it difficult to find more than one or two instances when Jesus went to the home of someone who wasn’t a notorious sinner. Even in those times, it was interrupted by a notorious sinner that Jesus had compassion on. Jesus came for the sinner. It doesn’t matter how bad a person is or how good a person is without Him. He wants to come into your life and make it better.

Jesus didn’t care what others thought about going into the homes or hanging out with sinners. What He cared about was their soul. We are not so different than those who grumbled. When we see people trying to reach the lost differently than we would or having church somewhere without a steeple, we claim they must not be true believers. The truth is that we as the body need to reflect Christ in all we do so that when the world is looking for Jesus they can find Him, even if it means hanging out with notorious sinners. That’s what Jesus did to reach them.

Here is a prayer you can pray written by Michael Moak
Jesus, today I’m reminded of all the brokenness in our world and the broken people that continue to struggle to find true meaning and purpose in life.
However, I also realize that through Your mercy I have found complete healing and freedom from the brokenness of my our sin. So, why do I struggle so hard with giving away that which you so freely gave me?
I don’t want to be selfish or stingy with your love, grace, and mercy. Actually I want to have the spiritual courage to share my testimony with the dirtiest and most hard core sinners. So, today Lord help me to pause before judging my neighbor to consider their need for spiritual healing and hope. Bring me face to face with someone who is truly broken, no matter how uncomfortable and out of my comfort zone it could take and make me. I want to represent you to the Zacchaeus’ of this world who just need someone to recognize their broken and battered heart inside a shell of false self-confidence and pride. I ask you to give me divine opportunities today to share YOU with this broken world. Amen.

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People Matter

On the wall in the church that I attend, there is a huge banner that reads “People Matter”. When I look up at that each Sunday, I wonder how many people truly believe that. If people matter to us, then we need to look beyond ourselves and start helping others. We have to put the needs of others ahead of our own. If people truly matter, then as Christians, we need to start acting like it.

We need to start loving others and doing for them what we do for ourselves. We need to start showing them the love of Christ. We need to go out of our way to help others instead of going out of our way to avoid them. You cannot love them from afar. Jesus didn’t do it that way and neither should we.

I’ve heard it said several times that nothing spells “love” like T-I-M-E. Spending time with others not only builds relationships, it shows you care. If you are to win the lost, you are going to have to invest your time with others who need to know you care before they hear what you’re saying. How can we care about their eternity if we don’t care about who they are now? Jesus went into the homes of others to spend time with them. After he built a relationship with them, they were open to hear His message.

Another thing Jesus did to show that people matter was that He shared His knowledge with them. He went into the temple from the time he was a boy to share what He knew with everyone. He was not afraid to take his message to the streets either. He spent more time sharing with others outside of the temple than inside. Even with doing all of that, He still took time to pour Himself into those closest to Him.

We should be meeting with others regularly to share our experiences and knowledge with them. Each of us has been through situations and have a unique perspective on things. Don’t be afraid to share what you’ve learned with someone else. You should constantly be pouring yourself into someone else as well putting yourself into a position to be poured into. If you are not mentoring someone or are not being mentored, you are robbing yourself and someone else of blessings.

Jesus also showed that people mattered by using his talents and gifts for their good. Each one of us has a talent or gift that we can use for others. Using what you have been freely given to help someone else is powerful. Matthew 10:8 says, “Go and announce the Kingdom of Heaven. Heal the sick, raise the dead…Give as freely as you have received.” You may not have the gifts listed in this scripture, but you do have the gifts God has given you. Use them.

An investment of yourself, your time, your gifts or your knowledge in someone else always pays dividends. It is never a bad investment. When Jesus said, “it is more blessed to give than to receive”, He was talking about more than money. He was talking about us giving our time to others, our listening ear, our gifts, our knowledge from experiences and our resources.

Who do you know that needs your help today? What have you gone through in your life that God can use to help someone else? What gifts and talents do you possess that need to be used by God for someone else’s good? Go out today looking for someone to help. It doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process. It can be as simple as a word of encouragement. Show someone today that they matter to you and to God.

Prayer provided by Michael Moak.

Dear Lord,
Thank you for your strength today and how You always know the condition of my heart and spirit. I pray today for my unsaved loved ones and friends. I pray for those who do not confess you as the Lord of their life, nor do they honor Your word through their actions and decisions. I ask for You to reveal Yourself to them with power and purpose while overshadowing their family with Your perfect peace. Help me to be an example of Your loving grace and Your undeserved forgiveness so they might see You through my simple faith. I ask all these things in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.

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Freedom of Forgiveness

Have you ever offended someone unknowingly? I have. I’ll never forget when a husband of a friend of mine was helping me out. We were talking about something and then he stopped and looked at me. He said, ” Do you not even realize what you did to us? You’ve invited me over to help you, you’re sitting here talking like nothing’s wrong and you did…. to us.”. I was shocked and hurt at the same time. I hadn’t realized that my actions had offended because they had acted like nothing was wrong for so long.

I think he could tell from my reaction that I was unaware that I had offended them. He wrapped up what he was doing and left. I was sitting their wondering what just happened. I finally realized that I had been wrong and later went to him and her for forgiveness. How we both handled it affected our relationship from then on.

Forgiveness is something we want from others, but have trouble giving to others. None of us are perfect. That means we all mess up and at times offend or hurt someone else. I’ve done it and you’ve done it. How do we handle seeking or giving forgiveness though? Why is one so much harder than the other?

Seeking forgiveness can be difficult too. It requires that you humble yourself, admit that you made a mistake and then go to that person to admit it. It is against human nature to do that. Don’t believe me? Tell a young child to apologize to someone and watch what happens. Most kids 2 years and up have a hard time apologizing. We don’t like to admit we were wrong. Period.

Seeking forgiveness is important though. Many people, like my friend, may never tell you until the damage is irreparable. If you knowingly hurt someone, you need to go to them and ask for forgiveness. Put the ball in their court. Give them the choice to forgive you or not. It’s important that you recognize what you’ve done and that you’re truly sorry. That goes a long way towards receiving forgiveness from others.

What about when someone hurts or offends us? How quickly are we willing to forgive? We typically judge ourselves on our intentions and others on their actions. When someone comes to us for forgiveness, we need to forgive them. I say that as someone who has been cut to the bone by someone else by an unforgivable act. If we choose not to forgive, we allow ourselves to be consumed with bitterness. It affects every area of our lives. Giving forgiveness when it is least deserved offers the greatest freedom.

Forgiving someone when they don’t ask is even harder. Inside, you want them to be sorry for what they did and to have that closure that they know it was a mistake and you forgive them. Just because they don’t come knocking on your door for forgiveness doesn’t mean you don’t have to forgive. Jesus said in Matthew 18:15 that is someone offends you that you should go to them and clear it up. Yes, you should initiate it. If they listen, you have gained them back.

Life is too short to hold grudges against people. There is freedom in forgiveness. Each one of us have sinned against God and He has not held that against us. He offers forgiveness to us no matter how bad we have wronged Him. In fact, Romans 5:8 says that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He provided a model for us. Forgive others even when they don’t deserve it. We’d like to be forgiven even when we don’t deserve it. Who do you need to forgive today to get your freedom back?

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