Discernment


Recently I counseled someone who had become rather melancholy about church, worship, and just the whole image of modern day ministry. The smorgasbord of appeals being made from an array of sources makes choosing a church (even Christ) very difficult, and has caused some to be discouraged to the point of disinterest.

The Bible says such a period would emerge. Paul told his colleague and friend there would come a time when people would not endure sound doctrine (2 Tim 4:3), and even said some would eventually abandon the faith (1 Tim 4:1). With the deluge of preachers and self-proclaimed prophets afoot in cyberspace and the world today, it is becoming more and more difficult to know exactly what and who to believe. A lot of stuff out there may sound good, but so much is neither good nor sound.

Is there an actual litmus test for determining legitimacy in ministry? How can one know what and who to believe? Or even know who is real? Our Lord said clearly without regard for personality, charisma, gifts, degrees, apparent success, and the like, there is one sure tell sign. He said, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13:35, NIV) Succinctly, amidst all the hype and pseudo-energy that characterizes a lot of contemporary preaching, the love of God must and will be unmistakably clear to help confirm if a message and messenger is truly real. The power of God’s love is still able to woo sinners unto repentance if we would simply trust Him.

Remember our childhood days? While we could hardly afford a bicycle, most kids were enamored by the speed and sound a motor cycle made. Too dangerous and expensive for most of us, we remained content to ride our bikes, but would make an inexpensive modification to its operation to enhance our experience. We would simply take a playing card (any card) from a deck of cards, and a clothes pin from where mom would hang the laundry, and clip the card onto the frame of the bike so it would flap against the spokes. Remarkably, it created for us a noise that gave the sense we were riding a motorized cycle. There was only one problem. While it made a lot of noise, it actually had no power.

Chew on that, my brothers and sisters. Please don’t be guilty of the same. Be encouraged!

Having lived in the Midwest over twenty years, something completely unexpected happened to me a couple of Wednesdays ago that I will never forget. I was exiting my office door onto the wrought iron stair case that leads down to our church’s parking. Wednesday night’s Bible study had just ended and I was collecting my gear—my brief case, clutch, keys, a bottle of distilled water, etc.—and had donned my coat to enter into the smoky gray dusk of the night.

Just as I opened the door to walk out, I stepped onto the landing—an approximate four-foot square iron bottom deck—and recognized something soft (rather spongy) as I stepped out. In my mind, I curiously wondered if it was a sponge, a carelessly discarded food item, or something else I needed to remove. As I looked down in the darkness, I was alarmed to find an 18-inch garter snake uncoiling from under my foot. I jumped back into my office and screamed, “It’s a snake!” Our associate minister was behind me and he was equally surprised at the discovery. Others in the inner office heard the commotion and yelled in disbelief saying, “You’re lying?” Incredibly, I had to report to them it was true. We were all startled and amazed!

The small visitor has negotiated the rail adjacent to the 10 wrought iron steps that rise upward to my private entrance. When I took my weight off of it, it quickly moved away to escape and instinctively curled its tail around one of the rails on the stair case floor. It soon dropped in fear down onto the asphalt parking lot floor. My associate minister and I ran down the steps to the ground and made certain we carefully disposed of it. It was a most harrowing experience.

Upon leaving the church and reflecting over the night’s surprise turn-of-events, I heard (in my spirit) a clear message from God He wanted me to gain. I considered it so critical (and especially at this juncture in Christian history with all that’s going on), that I wanted to share it with others (even you). The message is this: “That old serpent (the devil) is not just trying to gain access into the church through any ordinary door. No, he is especially seeking to get in through the office of the pastor.”

My word of warning to every pastor, every teacher, and every servant in every capacity in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ is this: “Beware! Watch out! Do not be ignorant of his schemes (see 2 Corinthians 2:11), and take heed. Whatever else you do, don’t let him in!”

My prayers are with you all!

Here we go again! It should be no surprise that another Christian scandal has made it to the headlines and piqued the interest of believers everywhere, the viewing world, and especially the media. Although the truth is yet to be discovered, rumors continue to mount and many have already drawn conclusions on the innocence and guilt of the accused. The devil just doesn’t play fair, does he? It is most sad!

Let me be clear! Christ’s church is no stranger to controversy; and Christians and Christian leaders are never exempt from these routine and riotous hazards of the faith. Regrettably, some of these are self-imposed and the results of ones’ own undoing. Many are not! Throughout history God’s people have been under the microscope of constant judgment and incessant criticism. In fact, Jesus said, “…the kingdom suffers violence and violent men take it by force.” (See Matthew 11:12, NASB). As believers we will never escape satanic attack and the inequitable demonic strategies employed to destroy God’s work and our witness. What, then, are Christians supposed to do? How are we to respond when these tragic and unavoidable black-eyes occur? And believe me, this is undeniably a huge “black-eye!” Let’s see!

First of all, whenever a brother or a sister has been charged or is accused of a thing—a crime, an offense (a sin), an indiscretion, a fault, etc.,—as sad as it may be, don’t be surprised. In Revelation 12:10, our adversary is called “the accuser of the brethren.” Satan is still the “father of lies, the master of disguise, and the author of confusion.” These are the indisputable facts, and there’s no way around them!

Secondly, don’t judge. Any rash conclusions reached or quick judgments made about anyone who is accused is both premature as well as immature. “All the facts” need to be weighed! And even further, it is not our right or responsibility to ever reach a hasty “verdict” without giving those facts due consideration. Yes, believers will eventually judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3), but these will surely be based on facts!

Thirdly, remember grace. Were it not for the grace (goodness) of God, any of us could be under attack (under seize, or even under fire) at any given moment. That means while you may not be on the witness stand or public display (today), you don’t have to be guilty of anything for the enemy to accuse you of something. We are ALL guilty of something(s), and it is only God’s grace that keeps ALL of us out of the lime-light and the public line-of-fire. Thank God for His grace and always be sure to extend the same to others who may be struggling or are presently under attack!

Fourthly (and most of all), PRAY! The fallout associated with these terrible misfortunes is incalculable. We should immediately begin to intercede and pray. Consider for a moment those who are directly affected:

(a) The accused—undoubtedly a human being with feelings, family, friends, some form of fortune, failures, faults, and flaws. It cannot be easy for anyone accused (whether innocent or guilty).
(b) The accusers—no doubt, there are some issues within the hearts and minds of anyone who would pursue a legal (and public) course of action to resolve an apparent personal problem or difficulty. The Bible is clear on the way believers are to resolve offenses and settle differences.
(c) The world of believers—whenever scandalous matters are aired before the world for open debate and public consumption it sadly damages the image of the church and the strength of every believer’s witness. There is absolutely no way around it!
(d) The unbelieving world—these (unsaved sinners) don’t need another excuse for failing to choose Jesus Christ as their portion. When you take a look at it, it’s a no-win situation and we all lose; and the only way to combat these kinds of heinous assaults is to engage the most formidable weapon in our arsenal and at our disposal—prayer!

Fifthly (and lastly), trust God to work it out! God alone is judge, and we should trust Him and His power to work it all out for all of our good and more especially for His glory. It is still true whatever the enemy may mean against us for evil, God can (and will) work it out for our good! Trust Him!

Be encouraged, my brothers and sisters. This certainly won’t be the last attack (or perhaps fall) of a believer or man or woman of God. When it’s all said and done, God will still be God, He is still good, He will still be great, He yet remains gracious, and He will always be greatly to be praised!

Peter’s experience with Jesus in Luke 5 teaches us some valuable lessons about fishing and failing. Perhaps (like Peter) your gift is failing you (at the moment), and not yielding the kind of results you feel (or even know) it should or could produce. Ponder these thoughts as you pray further about your situation:

1. Just because you have failed doesn’t make you a failure.
2. It may not be a fault as much as it is fate.
3. The problem may not be with your casting; it could just be your catching.
4. If the fish are not where you are, then perhaps you should go where they are.
5. Your failure can become favor, when you let Christ into your crisis.

I know these are brief and to-the-point, but I trust they will cause you to re-think your circumstance and feel better about your difficulty as you anticipate “catching some fish” with and for our Lord Jesus Christ.

After you have finished making the necessary repairs and critical re-adjustments, get back into the boat and do what you need to do. Remember, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again!

God bless you as you do!

We have been negotiating a study on the subject of more effective prayer, and I recently offered a challenge to our church to join me as their days begin by kneeling (or bowing down) to pray. The challenge is to participate in this sacred engagement in advance of other conversations, the turning on of a television or radio, or any such human (even electronic) transmission of information we may normally experience. Let God be the first Person you seek, and let your conversation with Him be the first you engage every day for the rest of your life.

Some have asked, “Is kneeling really necessary?” Maybe not! But, have you ever thought about the many things for which we are so readily willing to kneel? We kneel to pick up things we have dropped, to find a coin under a table, to retrieve a shoe that’s too far under the bed, or to see if we can locate a pen or a pill. We will kneel to hook up a computer, to change a tire or the oil in our cars, to tie up our shoe laces, to rest from standing, and a host of other things. The one thing about each of these instances is when so doing, we kneel because we have to. If we don’t, we may not recover the thing we hope to find. On the other hand, even though God does not demand of us to kneel when we pray, it should be our joy to approach Him from our knees as a simple gesture of grateful humility before a great God—the Supreme Power of the Universe. There is none like Him!

I’m extending this challenge and invitation to all of my readers to encourage you to begin your day in prayer with others of us as we kneel before God in prayer. We may or may not be able to do it at the exact same point, but we can certainly start our days in the same position—and that is, on our knees before and in humble submission to our Most High God.

Many have already discovered newfound power, a different kind of acumen, and a spiritual awareness and a capacity that enables ones to be a blessing to a lot of people in a lot of different ways.

So join me (and others) in prayer each morning on your knees. You’re going to feel so much better! God does not want us to kneel before Him because we have to; God would much rather we kneel because we want to!

Let me know how it’s going! Thanks!

Correct doctrine is essential for every believer’s health and witness. Unfortunately (at times), a given people’s methodology—the way they do things—gets in the way of the clear message of the gospel, and becomes more of a hindrance to effective ministry than a help. Our adversary—the devil—has successfully complicated the matter of faith along these noticeably skewed lines (denominationalism). In fact, a closer look at the spelling of the word “denomination,” clearly reveals it resembles the word “demonization” (or of the devil). In my view, denominationalism has been for too long a confusing weapon used to divide the body of Christ than a creative witness to show its diversity.

Some churches today are even deleting their group’s label from the marquis in an effort to more effectively champion the simple gospel of Jesus. Wisely, they yet hold true to those core values that lay the foundation for their persuasion. Their strategy is to present Christ without prejudice or any particular predisposition that publishing a denominational brand may create.

A man just called me as he was driving in the Dallas area approaching an entrance ramp to get onto I-635. An unsettling spiritual concern prompted his call, and after offering my view, I asked him the question, “How many lanes are there on the interstate in front of you?” He replied, “Six!” I asked further, “What kind of vehicle are you in?” He told me the make and model of the one he was driving. Finally, I said to him, “It really does not matter what vehicle you drive, or which of those six lanes you choose, as long as you’re heading in the right direction.” He said kindly, “Man, thanks; I got it!”

Some churches are liturgical, others are loud. Some worshipers are shouters, while others are clearly solemn. Some atmospheres are rather reticent; still others lean toward a more open response. When it’s all said and done, the critical issues for encouraging a nurturing faith and an effective witness are this: (1) the ministry must be Christocentric—that is, Christ is at the center; and (2) YOU (personally) must be heading in the right direction. If these two things are clearly the case, by the grace of God, you should do just fine.

Make sure you’re on-the-right-road, dear friends, and enjoy the ride!

The other day the control panel in my car sounded and revealed the specific (visual) message, “Check Brake Linings.” Right on cue, my technician discovered it was time for the front rotors and pads to be replaced. I must say I yet marvel at the miracle of technology. Daily we are blown away with newer advances and even more modern measures designed to enhance the quality of our lives. With the creation of telematics—the transmission of data communications between systems and devices—manufacturers can monitor safety, security, and provide information services for consumers where ever they may be via remote control. From a centralized location these observe speed, tire pressure, oil life, brake systems, fluid levels, plus engine and transmission performance. Too, they offer remote access, crash assistance, and can provide turn-by-turn navigation when one needs directions, among other things. Without question, these advances are simply ingenious!

One should not ignore the great possibility that God has allowed humans to make such remarkable technological advances to reveal as well the “High” tech Genius with which we—human beings—have been similarly made (by God). Some continue to complain about knowing God’s will and finding life’s purpose, and without ever realizing a unique monitoring system which allows for the transmission of critical information between us and God. This spiritual system is called faith. It enables proper communication between humanity and God so we can readily experience His safety, security, and the information services He readily provides. Once the faith journey begins, God is appreciably more able to monitor speed and direction, give valuable insight and information, and provide His safety and security no matter what circumstances in life we face. In fact, God mysteriously employs distinct spiritual alarms—like an inner disturb or the absence of peace, restlessness, sleeplessness, uneasiness about decisions, adamant burdens, and more, to let us know something may be wrong or also the best course of action in a given dilemma. These given sacred signals alert at God-directed moments to apprise us of things to which we otherwise may not respond.

What’s the point? By faith, you should enter into a more meaningful relationship with God and begin to pay closer attention to your control panel (your spirit). Learn to recognize the spiritual prompts that alert when things are not right or may be headed contrary to the divine will. If you will keep looking, listening, and learning, God will plainly show you areas where crucial changes need to be made and what you can do to enjoy a better quality of life. Discover how God’s system is far more advanced than humankind’s. Human systems are located miles away from their consumers; but God is “…a very present help in the time of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) Human-made systems afford access from a remote location; but God is only a prayer away; and He said if you will come near Him (get close), He will in turn come near to you (see James 4:8). Don’t ever think God would allow a human-made system to exceed the genius with which He has already created us. The Psalmist has clearly stated we have been “…fearfully and wonderfully made…” (139:14)

Become more spiritual today! Do it now? It will surely enhance the quality of your life! I promise you!

How long do I have to go through this? When will my “ship come in?” Will trouble ever cease? When is it going to be my turn? Will my dreams come true? Will things ever get better? These are the universal and unrelenting concerns of so many true believers. They pray, they fast, they seek the loving intercession of others, even labor before the Lord for hours on end; and yet it seems like nothing happens. Things don’t improve or get any different, and the waiting is wearisome to endure. Here’s a real question for you? What if change doesn’t come or things don’t get better? And what if they get worse? Plainly frustrated by waiting, what is one supposed to do? How does one manage in the meantime and beyond this likely possibility?

If God does not discernibly change things for you or improve your circumstances to your delight, and obviously you can’t change them, here are some options:

1. You can start by changing YOU. There’s no need to keep beating-your-head-up-against-the-wall in frustration and disappointment. Arriving at this crucial growth position does not mean you’re happy with or appreciate your situation; instead it means you are learning to accept it. It doesn’t mean you like it; it just means you have decided to live WITH and “to live” IN SPITE of it. Sometimes things just won’t change. “It-is-what-it-is,” and there is nothing we can do to fix it. Don’t become bitter! Get better! Try hard to work on you!

2. Get involved in some area of kingdom service. One of the best ways to avoid depression and overcome the tendency to be overwhelmed by your own plight is to find eager (helpful and encouraging) involvement in another’s struggle. Ask God to reveal to you His opportunities where you can be a real and meaningful blessing to someone else who may be having a hard time. Trust me! You won’t have to look long, you won’t have to look hard, and you certainly won’t have to look far!

3. Listen and learn from both. Someone asked me recently from where I find all my stories? I told them I actually don’t have stories; all I have are experiences. And from these experiences, I am able to joyfully discover stories. How then does that happen? All I do is take the time to reflect on my experiences and process them from every possible angle. When they have “marinated” for a while, I seek God about the lesson He wants me to gain in every one of them. Some believers see life as full of obstacles; I try to see life’s obstacles as learning opportunities. Don’t miss the lesson you are supposed to learn; and don’t rest until you find it. It’s in there!

You can actually turn your negative experiences into positive energy! You can move from frustration to favor. Just ask God to help you, and before you know it you will have stumbled upon a new joy that will give you the strength you need to go on!

Confident He will still help you through it, I remain…

A few weeks ago I went to celebrate with a colleague at his 50th birthday event. We graduated from seminary together and have been friends for over a quarter of a century. This was no routine birthday party. It was a true celebration of his life after having survived major heart surgery in 2006. An aneurism on one of his heart valves had to be repaired which caused him to undergo a nine hour operation.

In commemorating this special time, he dared to think-outside–the-box and brought in the famous Dramatics all the way from his home town of Detroit, Michigan. Let me tell you, it was off-the-chain! They sang and did their “old school” twists and turns, and blew us away with a timeless genre of music that yet endures. Friends (near and far) along with members of his congregation showed up in a non-traditional setting and enjoyed some really good music and had a really great time. The next night we went to watch the Colts play the Ravens in the play-offs. The Colts, of course, won 20-3.

The entire weekend was liberating (to say the least) for me. Historically, I have been quite stoic and sought to conceal that “other side of me” which surfaces every now and then in my Christian journey. I discovered some valuable lessons and thought I’d share a few.

1. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a really good time.

2. We (believers) should always—at all times—have balance and exercise Christian moderation.

3. When done with dignity and good taste, you can do it without guilt or having any regrets.

Some may feel this composition crosses-the-line and may be a bit on-the-edge; because they feel there is no place for secular socializing as believers. Let me remind you, Jesus had no problem with a party. As a matter of fact, while we know He attended a wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, few of us highlight the fact He stayed for the “after set.” The wedding was over and our Lord and Savior remained for the ensuing reception. In fact, He stayed so long until the host’s wine supply ran out. No problem for Christ! He simply made some new (more) wine; and it was so good many commented it was better than the first batch.

Here is a final observation. If exercising your Christian liberty becomes a problem for others’ maturity, then don’t exercise your liberty. Conversely, if your Christian maturity is bothered by another’s liberty, you may want to take a look at your maturity. Decency and orderliness are always appropriate!

Believers can’t afford to become “party animals,” but there’s nothing wrong with having a good time. Enjoy your life!

Great interest has been generated over Steve Harvey’s plainly transparent and particularly moving interview on TBN of late. The many responses to his very emotional display range from positive compliments to overt criticism. Central in the debate is one single unarticulated, but still apparent dichotomy. Can one be emotionally pained, and yet not be spiritually changed? Common today in many an organized church is the uninhibited freedom to be securely open and emotionally expressive. However, does an animated display of a person’s emotions certify one’s spirituality and validate one’s legitimate faith? We need to explore this further.

Paul boldly distinguishes worldly grief from Godly grief in his commentary to the Corinthians in Chapter 7. His second epistle notes several distinct characteristics of Godly sorrow or grief. Godly grief is clearly different because:

1. It begins with clear conviction—the acknowledgment of wrong (9a)
2. It includes genuine regret—sorrow for one’s sinful behavior (9b)
3. It brings about repentance—an obvious change of life’s course(10a)
4. It leads to salvation—deliverance from one’s sinful ways (10b)
5. It leaves no regrets—void of any sense of enduring guilt (10c)
6. It is confirmed by conversion—a new commitment to the things of God (11)
7. It also encourages others—provides needed strength to the church (13)

If the Apostle is right, then it is clear that any expression of mournful emotions that is absent of these qualities should be regarded as suspect. The acid test of true Godly remorse reveals a clear transformative result. If a redemptive change does not emerge from one’s sorrow, the Bible indicates such grief ends only in death (see vs. 10).

Think about it. When is the last time you observed a genuinely penitent sinner consumed by indisputable remorse for their errant ways? If you haven’t seen it in a while, this could mean we are guilty of welcoming many a person to join-the-church, but few sinners to repentance. I pray this is not true!

The church of Jesus Christ is God’s center for corrective change. You see, change without correction falls tragically short. You don’t agree? Then, the next time you have a flat on your automobile, simply take the flat tire off and move it to a place where an inflated tire already sits. You will have change, but you will not have correction. The Lord wants us to experience change with correction. Jesus can help you!

Remember this! God loves each of us just as we are; however, He loves us too much to let us stay that way!

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