Thursday, May 29, 2014

Giving God the Leftovers

Around Thanksgiving several years ago, radio commentator Paul Harvey shared a true story of a woman and her frozen Thanksgiving turkey. The Butterball Turkey Company set up a telephone hotline to answer consumer questions about preparing holiday turkeys. One woman called to inquire about cooking a turkey that had been in the bottom of her freezer for 23 years. That's right—23 years. The Butterball representative told her the turkey would probably be safe to eat if the freezer had been kept below zero for the entire 23 years. But the Butterball representative warned her that even if the turkey was safe to eat, the flavor would probably have deteriorated to such a degree that she would not recommend eating it. The caller replied, "That's what I thought. We'll give the turkey to our church."[1]

Sadly, that is the attitude of many who give to God. He gets the left overs of our time, talent and treasure. When it comes to prayer we may squeeze God into our schedule at the end of the day. After working all day there isn’t much energy or focus left, but we reason, “God understands my heart” as we doze off to sleep in the middle of an unfinished prayer. The church usually comes last on people’s priority list. That is why ministers are scrambling to find volunteers and have to beg people to work with children. Tithes and offerings are skimmed from the bottom of the barrel as well. Believe it or not, I have actually seen people make change in offering plate.  

This was also a problem in the prophet Malachi’s day as well. In a scathing little tirade tucked away the end of the Old Testament, Malachi spoke of Israel’s spiritual laziness, “But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord's table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 1:6-8).    

Did you see the problem? The people were offering God their sick and maimed animals as sacrifices. Not all that different from giving the church a 23 year old turkey. God wants our first fruits with all we have. He wants our best in everything and He wants to be our first love so we cannot offer Him our leftovers. In the Old Testament God would not accept a blemished animal for a sacrifice; so He will not accept our half-hearted offering to Him today. If God gave His best by giving us His Son, shouldn’t we reciprocate out of a heart of thanksgiving?

In the language of the Old Testament, we would say God deserves our “firstfruits.” “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine” (Pro. 3:9-10). The giving of the firsfruits made an important statement to God, “We give our first and best to you, Lord, because we recognize all good things come from you.” The firstfruit offering reminded people of God’s ownership of the harvest and placed faith in His ability to help the people raise the rest.

Giving back to God a portion of what is rightfully His is a thermometer for our faith. If we hold back the best from the Lord not only do we incur God’s judgment, but it shows that our hearts are cold toward God. On the other hand, when we give God our best He adds His blessing and true worship takes place. This is why Jesus commended the widow who gave her two mites (Mark 12:41-44). She actually gave a higher percentage of her wealth—100%--than the wealthy people who tossed their coins into the collection plate just to hear it ring.  

Augustine made a powerful observation about the nature of Christian giving and tithing when he said: "We give earth, and receive heaven. We give the temporal, and receive the eternal. We give things corruptible, and receive the immortal. Lastly we give what God has bestowed, and receive God Himself. Let us not be slothful in such a commerce as this."[2]

Somehow we never lose when we give our tithes and offerings. The Lord continually promises blessings to those who generously offer Him their support. But we don't give simply in hopes of getting. Our giving to the Lord is an act of worship, not a financial ploy. We give to Him because we love Him; and He gives to us out of His infinite love for us. When we give, we are to give cheerfully and obediently to the Lord. Giving in order to "get more" is not a biblical principle. But those who faithfully give can rejoice, knowing that as they help meet the needs of others, God will meet their needs as well.

[1] Paul Harvey daily radio broadcast (11-22-95)
[2] Augustine quoted in Turning Points, 28 August 2013, p.40. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Transformed Mind

In April 2007 a powerful 8.1 magnitude earthquake in the region of the Solomon Islands shook loose a World War II torpedo boat which had rested on the ocean floor for over 60 years. The boat's hull was intact—explosives and all. Thankfully no other ships collided into it because it was identified and an expert bomb unit was deployed to detonate the torpedoes safely.

Experts believe the PT boat is just one of many pieces of military wreckage that pepper the coastline of the islands. This piece is particularly fascinating in that it's the same variety of military craft U.S. President John F. Kennedy commanded. Jay Waura of the National Disaster Management Office said, “We were amazed by this finding, as previously this wreckage had long been sitting under the sea and rusting in peace without anyone knowing about it.”[1]

When I read this story I was reminded of what the Bible says in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Paul commands every believer not to allow the world to change them to adopt its agenda, values, norms priorities or expectations. The J.B. Phillips translation renders this verse, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you its own mold.”

Bad thoughts, wrong ideas, misconceptions and false assumptions are like dangerous wreckage lying dormant in our mind. If our minds are not transformed then these submerged hazards—ideas left over from the world’s influence—can resurface and threaten us later on. God is not interested in renewing most of your mind—not even 99% of your mind. He wants it all. He wants to pull down every remnant of your “pre-Christian” worldview and fill your mind with His word, His principles, His thoughts.

The way that we resist this brainwashing is to have our mind transformed, which in the original Greek is the word metamorphoo. From this compound word comes our word metamorphosis, which as we all learned in school is the same process whereby a caterpillar is turned into a butterfly. This word is used two other times in the NT in connection with Jesus transfiguration (Matt 17:2, Mark 9:2).

Metamorphosis denotes an inside-out change. What happens to the caterpillar in becoming a butterfly happens to our minds and then our actions follow. We are not changed by a 5-step program, behavior modification, or even attending church, but by letting the Word of God continually fill our minds. The more we marinate in the Word of God the more the things of this world are pushed out of our minds and we are conformed to God’s character and point of view.

David Jeremiah says, “The Word of God is like a dialysis machine for kidney patients that cleanses the blood of impurities. The Word of God actively working in our minds filters out the filth that we collect just by being under the world’s pressure and bombarding messages. The degree of worldliness in the church is a direct correlation to the amount of Bible reading and study that goes on by individuals in the church.”[2]  

Why do you think transformation takes place in the mind? Why do you think Paul used “mind” in this verse and not “soul” or “heart” or “will”? The reason is because you are what you think. Ideas have consequences and you behave on what you believe. Proverbs 4:23 in the TEV says, “Be careful how you think, your life is shaped by your thoughts.”

The reason why renewing the mind is so important is because all the issues of life flow outward from what we think. Thoughts become words and actions. Actions become habits. Habits become character and character becomes destiny. The mind is like a complex computer and the software that you feed into the system is what is going to come out—garbage in, garbage out.

The Gideon Bible Society has been distributing little New Testaments for years and there is no way to adequately measure the full impact of their ministry. I like to log on to their website periodically and read some of the amazing stories of transformation.

One missionary in Brazil entered a story about having his pocket picked by a thief in the market. When he arrived home the missionary discovered that little Gideon New Testament that was in his back pocket was gone. The missionary wrote, “He took something that looked like a wallet full of money only to discover, when he returned to his hiding place, that it was a copy of the New Testament.”

When the thief found that he’d stolen a Bible he threw it against the wall of his apartment. That night unable to sleep, the thief remembered the little book. He walked over to where it was and picked it up. His eyes lighted on one verse, “If any man be in Christ He is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). The drug addicted bandit spent the rest of the night reading the Bible and surrendered his heart to Christ. Today he is a Gideon and has dedicated his life to distributing the Word.[3]   

I don’t know anything that can cleanse the mind and change a sinner like the Word of God. That kind of transformation is available to each one of us, but here’s the catch. It’s up to you to program your mind with good, nourishing content. The Holy Spirit will not read the Bible to you and no one can start the transformation process except you.

[1] "Quake brings WWII PT boat up from ocean floor," Associated Press, 27 April 2007  <>
[2] David Jeremiah, Living By Faith: Romans, vol. 5 (San Diego: Turning Point, 2003), 15. 
[3] “A Stolen Opportunity,” <{AFF22AD7-8899-438D-B334-16725C4C37B4}>  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Atheist's Gaffe

Richard Dawkins is one of today’s most vociferous and militant atheists. With books like The God Delusion and The Blind Watchmaker he has tried to use his pen like a wrecking ball to knock out the foundations for faith in any “higher power”—whether it be Zeus, Allah or God. Dawkins is infamous for saying, “Somebody as intelligent as Jesus would have been an atheist if he had known what we know today.” No wonder then that Dawkins is touted as one of the ringleaders of the so-called “neo-atheism,” which is a more outspoken and belligerent brand of unbelief than what we’ve previously seen from the ivory towers of academia.    

However, in 2012 Dawkins proved the shallowness of his atheism with an embarrassing blunder. Dawkins was debating the Rev. Giles Fraser, former canon chancellor of St. Paul's Cathedral in England, on BBC Radio 4 when the evolutionary biologist was challenged by his opponent to name the full title of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life).  Keep in mind that Darwin’s book is something like the atheist’s Bible because it explains the naturalist worldview and gives the skeptic’s metanarrative for the universe.

Dawkins stammered and stuttered, “On the Origin of Species…Uh…With, oh, God, On the Origin of Species. Um . . . There is a sub-title with respect to the preservation of favored races in the struggle for life.” It was truly a humiliating moment for "the high pope of Darwinism.” Dawkins tried to quickly deflect by saying, “There are very few people who believe in the theory of evolution could get that question correct.”

As you can imagine, the media had a field day with the tongue-tied Dawkins. One op-ed piece said the mess-up “was a golden minute of radio. But as well as being hilarious, it was hugely symbolic.” Another journalist for Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported that “the atheist army is led by an embarrassingly feeble general. The arrogance and intolerance of the atheists, exemplified by Prof Dawkins, is their Achilles' heel.”[1]

I think that Dr. Ravi Zacharias had the best quip of all when he commented, “The ultimate proof of the sovereignty and the omnipotence of God is that it even takes an atheist who doesn’t believe in God, to call upon God, to remind him of the title of the book that helped him deny God.”[2]

The Bible declares that “the fool has said in his heart, ‘there is no God’” (Ps. 14:1). Furthermore, Paul explains in Romans 1:19-20, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
Whether the scientist looks down into the microscope or up into the telescope he cannot escape the intelligent design of wise Creator. The complexity of the genetic code (Ps. 139) and the precision of the universe’s laws and constants (Ps. 19) scream out to us that God’s fingerprints are everywhere on the creation. Without the predictability and regularity of an ordered cosmos the scientist cannot even do science. If we take the atheist at face value then we shouldn’t believe anything they say since they are nothing more than the result of a random process of evolution. With that being said, how can we trust their thinking process if they are nothing more than a cosmic accident?

So why does the atheist deny God? For the answer to that I will submit to you the insights of C.S. Lewis who said:

“One reason why many people find Creative Evolution so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences. When you are feeling fit and the sun is shining and you do not want to believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, it is nice to be able to think of this great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carrying you on its crest. If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life-Force, being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children. The Life-Force is a sort of tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen?”[3]

So there you have it. Man denies the existence God not because of lack of evidence, but because he really doesn’t want there to be a God to hold him morally accountable. Dawkins and others of his ilk might say otherwise, but when you get to the heart of atheism its nothing more than a smoke-screen for personal autonomy. We want our own way and will invent fairy tales to erase God from the picture. As G.K. Chesterton remarked, “The atheist cannot find God, for the same reason a thief cannot find a policeman.”  

[1]  MICHAEL GRYBOSKI, “Richard Dawkins Forgets Full Title of Darwin's Book in Debate,” The Christian Post, 15 February 2012 <> .

[2] For Zacharias comment watch this video <> 

[3] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper One, 1952) 26-27. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mama's Love

Frederick Douglass grew up as a slave in Maryland in the early nineteenth century. He escaped and became one of the century's leading abolitionists who fought to end slavery forever. He writes in his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, about being torn away from his mother's love:

“My mother and I were separated when I was but an infant—before I knew her as my mother. It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age. She was hired by a Mr. Stewart, who lived about 12 miles from my home.”

Nonetheless, young Frederick's mother several times found ways to see her son:

“She made her journeys to see me in the night, traveling the whole distance on foot, after the performance of her day's work. She was a field hand, and a whipping was the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise . . . She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone.”

How amazing is the power of a mother's love. Frederick Douglass' mother worked all day long in the scorching heat of the tobacco fields, and then, when her body was crying for rest, she walked 12 miles in the dark to see her son. After comforting him and holding him as he fell asleep, she had to walk another 12 miles back. She gave up a night's sleep. She risked getting a severe whipping if she was caught, or if she got home late. But nothing could keep this mother from her son.[1]

The heart of a mother is like a rare jewel. They love their children during the worst and best of times. Their devotion and quiet service is manifested by the way they turn a house into a home. Of course they build their homes by cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, and putting Band-Aids on scrapes. Chances are they will be the first one up in the morning or the last one down at night. Mothers juggle so many things at once; yet it’s amazing how they can always give a little bit more.

This scripture seems to be written just for mothers:

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." Philippians 2:1-4

There never would have been an Isaac without a Sarah, a Moses without a Jochebed, a Samuel without a Hannah, a John without an Elizabeth, a Timothy without a Eunice, or a John Mark without a Mary. These men were the men they were, in great part, because of the mothers they had. The hidden secret of that winning combination? Mother with child—just that simple.

And so, mothers, don't ever forget the permanence of your imprint. The kids may seem ungrateful, they may act irresponsible, they may even ignore your reminders and forget your advice these days. But believe this: they cannot erase your influence.

Mothers make up a crucial part of our lives. So whether it is a Hallmark card, dinner out, hug, or a kiss on the cheek, we should show we care. It is so important to give our love to these dedicated women in our lives and not take them for granted.

A familiar mother’s day poem written in the early 1900’s sums up mothers best:

M is for the Many things she gave me,
O means only that she's growing Old.
T is for the Tears she shed to save me,
H is for her Heart of purest gold.
E is for her Eyes with love light shining,
R means Right and Right she'll always be.

Put them all together, they spell MOTHER.
A word that means the world to me.

[1] Kevin Miller, “Fredrick Douglass’ Mother’s Daily Sacrifice,” Preaching Today, April 2002 <> 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Prayer for America

Today is the national day of prayer. I assume that if you are a Bible believing, Jesus-follower you often pray for our nation and its leaders, not just today but periodically as the Holy Spirit leads you. Whether you agree with our government our not, Romans 13 commands us to be good citizens, subject to the state's authority (so long as we are not called to violate God's higher law). While there is much going on in Washington DC that I find repulsive and contrary to my faith, the least I can do is pray for our leaders to meet the King of Kings. For until Christ rules in the hearts of men, then any form of government will be nothing more than sinful men rotating seats every few years. Moreover, I know that there will be no perfect form of government until Jesus--the Prince of Peace--returns and makes the lion to lay down with the lamb (Psalm 2, Isaiah 11).
I don't normally do this, but I decided to write a prayer of repentance for our nation today. If you are participating in the national day of prayer and you want to pray this prayer with me you are free to borrow, adapt, share, etc. Despite the mess America is in, I still believe this is a great nation and that its not too late to see our hearts turned back to God.
Heavenly Father,

Etched in nickel and copper our coinage bears the phrase “In God we trust.” We cross our hearts when we pledge allegiance to the flag and end with “…one nation under God.” The documents which framed this nation have your name written on them. Many of our national monuments have your words chiseled in stone. Yet over the decades America has turned its back on you and we do not live up to the high and lofty principles that we preach.

The courts and judges have legalized what you call evil. Over the years we have killed more unborn babies than the gas chambers of Auschwitz and we called it pro-choice. The universities and colleges have stamped out our need for you with man-made philosophy. As a result we have concluded that mankind is random collection of atoms hurdling through space with no purpose or meaning. Why should be surprised that our children act like beasts when we have told them that’s what they really are—trousered apes. The political leaders do not serve the people, but have corrupted every system of government. Our banks and financial sector have fallen victim to greed and now we are buried in billions of dollars of debt. You told us to not to put your hope in riches that are so uncertain and now as people lose their jobs, homes and retirements they have nowhere else to turn.

You called homosexuality an abomination, but we have shrugged our shoulders and thought “As long as they aren’t hurting anyone else we should let them have their alternative lifestyle.” You told us to beware of sexual immorality, but now we have it pumped into our homes at the speed of light and we gladly pay a monthly service fee for it. Even the church has become a shadow of its former glory. Christians are so busy and distracted with chasing after worldly pleasures that we make clever excuses for not being there when the doors are open. We don’t love your Word as much as we love the newest i-gadget. Meanwhile, our brothers and sisters around the world are dying in the streets for their faith and we don’t have the courage to talk to our neighbor about Jesus. The family is going extinct and fathers are shirking their responsibilities. God we are utterly destitute morally and utterly bankrupt spiritually.

Lord, you gave us ample time to turn back from our wicked ways. When the Twin Towers collapsed we should have got the message that we are not invincible, but we soon forgot the pain of 9/11. When Katrina nearly wiped an entire city of the map we should have taken notice. When the economy crumbled and people lost their jobs we should have listened to the warning call you were giving.
God we have sinned against you and now we are paying for it. The foundation of our nation is being eroded from under our own feet and we are to blame. Our freedom is gradually being taken away because of ignorance and apathy. God break our hearts once again. Drive this nation to its knees by any means necessary so that we will repent of our sins before it’s too late. Take us to the foot of the Cross where we must plead the blood of Jesus Christ. Restore our families back to loving homes, our courts to bastions of justice and our schools to places of truth.

Your Word says, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” God, that is our desperate cry today. If you were totally just and gave what we deserved then we end up in a mushroom cloud. But Lord you are patient and you take no pleasure in the death of the wicked. You spared wicked Nineveh and caused a great revival in that land. We are no different. America needs the mighty wind of your Spirit to blow across this country—from Pennsylvania Avenue to Santa Monica Boulevard, from the White House to my house.

But it begins in the hearts of the people who are called by your name. We cannot see revival abroad, until the church gets right with you. God convict us of our sins, callousness and spiritual lethargy. Free us from the things which so easily entangle us and prevent us from loving you with all our hearts. Prosperity is a blessing and a curse. If you have to take material things from us to shock us into reality then let it be so.

Lord we know you can do miracles. You led slaves out of slavery, built temples out of ruins, turned
stormy waves into a glassy pond and water into sweet wine. This chaos awaits your order to be imposed upon it. Let America return to be the shining light on the hill that it once was. Family by family, may our civilization be turned back to You and Your errorless Word.

Jesus we anxiously await the Rapture to free us from the tyranny of this world, but we also realize that every day you terry is another chance to see someone be saved. Until the day you return for the church, or we are called home by way of death, may we be found busy working for you, sowing the Gospel seed and raising our families to fear You. Amen.