Distractions

Read 1 Kings 20:35-43

It took me a couple times reading this passage, plus reading some commentaries to really understand how it applies to life today. But I finally got it. Read the passage closely. The prophet here is setting a trap, like Nathan did with David regarding Uriah, hoping to ensnare him with his own words.

The set up is simple: the prophet tells Ahab a story about being put in charge of a prisoner. If he failed to watch the prisoner fully, and the prisoner escaped, the prophet would have to replace the man or pay a fee that would be so high, he would never be able to pay it.

With the trap set, Ahab falls right into it, telling the disguised prophet that he must take the prisoners place. The prophet reveals himself, and Ahab runs off depressed and angry.  To truly grasp why this is such an important section of scripture, go back and read the portion before this passage and you will see that Ahab had the chance to follow God’s instructions, but did not.  Ahab become distracted by the men who came to beg for mercy.  The prophet used his ruse to show that he was distracted while guarding his prisoner, and did not accomplish his assigned task.

This is where we, as Christians, come in. We have remain constant in the task which Jesus has given us. We can not become distracted by those who wish to pulled us away from Jesus. Ahab took his eyes away from God’s mission for him. He allowed for societal pressures to pull his focus off of God. And we do the same. It does not matter if it is personal relationships with others, entertainment, family issues or personal issues, we must not allow our world to influence our relationship with Jesus. We must remain diligent in keeping on task for God.

But what is the task God has given you? While we are all called to go out and make disciples of all the world, we are each given different gifts to accomplish this. I hear people around me say things like “God really did not give me any gifts, I am just ordinary.”  When you say this, you are saying that God did not create you with a purpose, that He made you simply to exist and nothing more. Is this what you really want to be saying to people?  Instead, you should be asking God to help you find your gift. Then, begin to train yourself to use that gift whenever the occasion arises.

Remaining faithful to God’s instructions is the number priority we should have in life. But what happens if we fall away? If we fail to follow through on the instructions He has given us? We can once again take a look at how Ahab responded.

1 Kings 20:43

So the king of Israel went to his house sullen and displeased, and came to Samaria.

Instead of repenting from disobeying God’s instructions, Ahab became mad. He essentially went into his palace and pouted. Does this sound familiar? Do you take this approach too? How many times have you played the If I can’t have it my way, I will just go home card with God. This attitude is not a healthy one for spiritual growth. And don’t take my word for it, go right to the source:

1 Kings 21:25

But there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the Lord.

I don’t know about you, but to me, that is not exactly what I would want to be known for. It seems that today’s society would use that passage as a badge of honor. Everywhere we turn, we are being asked to chip away at our morals and beliefs more and more. We are asked to step away from God’s Will for us, and instead become more like the world.

Ahab did just that. He let one little misstep away from God build into another, then another, then another. And eventually he had fallen so far away from God that he could not even see Him. Notice what I said there. Ahab could not see God, it was not the other way around. God is always right there when we look for Him, but we have to be willing to look and listen. Ahab lost this willingness. Have you?

I’m Saved, Now What?

The modern church does one thing very well, and that is brag about the number of baptisms it does on a weekly basis. We see pictures of churches setting up pools in their parking lots, and “dunking” hundreds or even thousands of people on a weekend. We see the numbers flash across the big digital displays about how many people “came to know Christ” on any given Sunday. The list goes on and on. But the one thing we never hear about is what happens to those people after the baptism. We never hear the plan these churches have to help strengthen those new in Christ. And the reason is because there is no plan. It is all about the flash and spectacle of the baptism, and then just push them aside for the next group of dunkees.

So to those out there who may be asking “Ok, I am saved, now what?”, I want to give you a little help, because I was fortunate enough to be become a member of a church who does not believe in the dunk them and leave them strategy. If you feel like you are wandering, wanting to know Jesus more, but have no idea how to, let me guide you a bit (which some help from a discipleship notebook I have been going through).

The first step is to pray. And not just a recited prayer written in a book somewhere. Have a discussion with God in a private, quite place. Tell Him your fears, your sins and your dreams. Let Him know what is in your heart. Let Him HEAR you say why you need Him. A prayer spoken out loud to God does not carry any more weight with Him than one said silently, but it will help you unburden yourself to God.  If you do this from your heart, you will feel better. Think about your attitude change when you tell a good friend something you have been hiding from them.  Now think about how much greater that change will be when you tell your Creator what is troubling your heart and what you are thankful for.

Pray is not a one and done activity. It is an ongoing communication with God throughout your day. You should set aside time each day to seclude yourself to be alone with God, but this is not the only time you should speak to Him. I find myself all throughout my day asking God for guidance, thanking Him for His blessings and asking  forgiveness. Do not fall into the “this is my time to pray” trap so many do. Pray whenever you want to take something to God, not just when it is time to run down your prayer list or prayer chain.

Once you become in Christ, it is time to seriously invest in a proper bible. Many will say “but I have the bible app on my phone / tablet and will just use it”. That’s great, I have that too, and use it every day. But that app will not substitute sitting down with God’s Word in front of you, alone from all distractions, and studying. You know what else your phone or tablet has on it? It has your email, your Facebook, your Twitter and all other distractions the world can throw at you. Turn the phone off, put it away, and pick up a notebook and your own bible and start to read the Word of God distraction free. I would also recommend a solid bible dictionary (I use a Smith’s).  As you start studying the bible, you are going to find yourself wondering “what is that?” or “who is this person”.  Write it down and go back and look it up when you finish reading. This is what is means to study the bible as opposed to simply reading it. The stronger you become in God’s Word, and the more you start to understand it, the more powerful and focused your prayer life will become.

So you are now praying and studying the bible with vigor, but still feel like you are not getting that full connection with God? That is because you are only halfway there. Like most everything here on earth, you need a support system in place to help you. And for Christians, that support system comes from fellow believers. Find a bible teaching church and become active and involved. Showing up on Sunday mornings for an hour and maybe Wednesday evenings is not being active and involved.  (You can see many other posts and videos from me on this subject). You need to dig in and ask questions. When you come across something in your daily reading you don’t understand or need clarification on, go to your pastor or a deacon and ask. That is what they are there for. If you find you are not getting a solid bible foundation in your pastor’s messages, then it is time to start looking for a different place to fellowship. Even Jesus quoted scripture when we spoke to the masses. Fellowship with other believers is vital to helping you grow in your relationship with Christ.

Finally, it is time to go out and tell others about this wonder gift of salvation God has given to all who believe in His Son.  This is the call to every single one of us in Christ. This is also where almost every one of use falls staggeringly short. If you are new in Christ, you may be scared or feel like you do not have the knowledge to be able to speak with someone about God. Let me share this little passage of scripture with you to show you that you are not alone:

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” … Then Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”
So the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.” (Exodus 3:11, 4:10-11 NKJV)

Two times Moses, the writer of the first five books of God’s Word and the leader of the Israelites, tells God “send someone else, I am not capable of doing what you want.” But look at God’s response “I will be your mouth and teach you what to say.” That same guidance and power is with every single person in Christ today, all we have to do it ask God to guide us. Pray to God to make known to you the chances you have to give His salvation message, and pray for the heart and the head to carry out His will.

Pray, study, fellowship and evangelize. If you are new in Christ, those are the four foundational pillars to grow from.  Rejoice in the grace of God, and immerse yourself in His Glory.

Are You Ready?

Think about how many times a day you ask this question, or something similar. “Kids, are you ready for school?” “Is that report ready?” your boss may ask. “Is dinner ready?” “Is my dry cleaning ready to be picked up?” Over and over again, we ask it in one form or another. 

But the most important “are you ready?” is never one we think about. Are you ready to meet God? Are you ready for eternity? Are you ready to go create disciples in the world? 

The above scripture passge lets us know that there are only two types of people in God’s eyes: those who produce good fruit (words / works for Him and His kingdom) and those who produce bad fruit (words / works for Satan and the world). There is no gray area or fence sitting here. So you need to ask yourself, are you ready to face God and answer for the fruit you have produced while here on earth? Are you ready to say yes, I have been a good and faithful servant, doing all I could let people know about His kingdom, about repentance and about salvation through Christ. 

It is a simple question with a complex answer. Because I don’t think any of us would be willing to say there are ready. Because all of us know there is more we can do to help move God’s Kingdom forward here on earth. We know there are many missed opportunities every day to tell someone about Jesus’s blood and love. But we don’t. We don’t because we are too busy getting ready for the things of the world, and don’t take the time to produce the good fruit we are called to produce. 

Emotions like anger, jealous and doubt creep into our minds and make us stay quiet about God. We make excuses like “I don’t have the money to do this” (one I am ashamed to admit I have used many times in the past) when in our hearts we know we don’t need a dime to tell someone about Jesus. We get our feelings hurt when we are told no by our church (once again, no problem admitting this one as well) when upon reflection we realize that no was the right answer at the time. 

Are you ready does not mean do you have the money, resources or man power to do something for Jesus. Are you ready means do you have the spirit inside you to say yes God, use me anyway you want to use me on this earth for Your good works. 

Making yourself ready to do God’s work is the first step. God will provide the tools you need to produce His fruit, you just need to be ready to accept them. 

Concentrate On The Good

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Philippians 4:8 NKJV)

Those who have heard my testimony know this is the verse that changed the course of my life. While most will tell a new Christian or someone who wants to begin to study God’s Word to start in the book of John, my mom urged me to read the 4 middle epistles of Paul (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians). I took her advice, and when I stumbled on the above passage of scripture, it was like a great big CLICK. I came to realize that in order for me to begin to grow closer to God, I had to begin to purify my mind from all the garbage I was spent years putting into it.

This occurred three years ago today. I, like many others, can tell you exactly when I turned my life over to Christ. It was as I sat in a jail cell, completely guilty of what I had been charged with, and not knowing when I would be getting out. As I went through those four letters Paul had sent out to the churches thousands of years earlier, I began to realize how long and how far I had run from God. It was not just the turning away from church as soon as I could get out of my parent’s home. It was the complete lack of any conscience of what I should be doing with my life versus what I was doing with it. I had made a mess of everything I came into contact with, and as I sat in that cell, not knowing if anyone who I had I abandoned and burned would ever speak to me again, I realized that it didn’t matter. Because the only thing that did matter to me in that moment 3 years ago today was how can I make it up to God.

I know now this is not the proper way to come to God, but when you don’t have the biblical knowledge of what is the proper way, you will seek out the human nature way. And we all want to “make it up to” people we hurt. So every day for the 4 months I served, I would dissect parts of the bible, looking for how to make up all the lost time I had not given God. Slowly, I realized that it was not the past that mattered, but what I did in the moments I had left on this earth. And almost every day (and still to this day), I would go back to Philippians 4:8.

What do you spend your time on? What do you use your thoughts for? That is what this passage is speaking to. It is not speaking of money or possessions, which in the scheme of God’s plan for our lives comes second. Paul is telling us with these words that the biggest way we can glorify God is to use our minds and our time for Him. We are stewards of everything we have on this earth. This does not just mean the material things, but also what we spend our thoughts and time on.

I bring this up because I see so many of my social media friends putting their time and thoughts into nothing but negativity. A large chunk of it has to do with politics, but that is not everything. Whenever I speak to young adults (which is where a majority of my ministry focus lies) I always encourage them to go through their social media sites and ask themselves “is there anything on here that I would be ashamed of if Jesus saw it?”  This is a tough question to answer when you have your love for the newest Drake song plastered all over your Twitter page.

Go back and read Philippians 4:8 again. Does everything you do, both in your online AND offline life fit into this passage? If not, how will you start to make the changes in your life to bring it in line with this verse?

When speaking of this passage, I sometimes will use the metaphor of food. I love to eat, and what I eat would not fall on the healthy side. Buffets, burgers, steaks, pasta are my go to foods. I know it is bad for me, I know it causes me to gain weight and I know I shouldn’t do it, and it is one of the things I pray about often. When I eat healthier, I feel better, have more energy and actually normally can get more done in a day. And for about a week, I will be strong. Then the call of the Big Mac happens, and I am right back to my old ways.

The same is true with our thought diet. The more sinful TV, movies, music and online content we put into our minds, the less room for what is holy and righteous we have.  Every time I sit and watch a movie I know that is against God, I feel just yucky and I ask myself “why did I do that instead of picking up the bible and read?” Everytime I see a new disc from a band I used to love, I think “man, I would love to buy it” but then I remember Philippians 4:8 and know that it will not be good for my mind diet.

I urge you all to start concentrating on the good and holy. Look for feed your mind with thoughts and words that will help you shine for God to those around you. Break out from the crowd and start saying no to the things you know you God would not want you to be watching or listening too, because remember, you are not hiding anything from Him.

Perseverance

There is no lying, I went to bed last night completely discouraged. You see, for about a year now, I have been trying to start some type of live Christian music series in my small little home town. My church has been behind my mission, and the board and members have done everything they can when I have asked for help. The groups I am bringing in come in with smiles on their faces, thankful they have a place to play. Every single artist that has performed on stage has done so with a performance worthy of Madison Square Garden. The problem: no one sees it. No matter what I try, what marketing I do, and how much I beg and plead for people to come to the shows, show night after show night, I am sitting in an empty church with a few close friends enjoying a private performance of these incredibly talented artists.

So as I crawled into bed last night, I could not help but think: why am I doing this to myself? Why do I get my hopes up that “this time it will be different”? Why do I play the “well, this church will send their teens out for this one for sure” game? I was basically wallowing around in a dirty pin of self-pity. Because the questions should not be “why do I”. The focus should not be placed on my success or failure at each event, I should not be sitting back waiting for the “wow, Patrick did a great job” pat on the back.

The only thing that should matter to me is “did the Word of God get delivered at the show? Did someone who is struggling with something in their life find any help through the Gospel by hearing what came from that stage?” The devil wants us to fall into the self-pity pit. Satan loves it when we start questioning why we are doing something for God, because when we do start asking the “why” question, normally that means we are about to give up doing God’s work. We say things like “it’s too hard” or “my time is better spent doing something else” or “my money can be used on something that actually will succeed.” Whenever we think or even say things like this, we are placing the worldly view of success ahead of God’s path for our lives. We are seeking self-satisfaction from others as opposed to thinking about how much God has blessed us by giving us the chance to share His word with even one person.

Feeling a little beat up and tired this morning, I rolled out of bed, not discouraged, but determined. Determined not to let the devil get a foothold in my thinking. Determined to continue to pour my time, effort and (what little I actually have lol) funds into these shows. Because I live in an area which is simply ravaged by heroin, prostitution and alcohol abuse. And if only one person stumbles into church on a night of a show and hears the message of salvation, then the time, effort and money is the best investment I could have every made.

If you are feeling like your ministry is not going anywhere, do not give up. Continue to push through those feelings of self doubt and pity, and just wait to see what is on the other side as God shows just what faith in Him can do.

Take The Media Blinders Off

While the taking of any life is appalling, what I discovered to be just as disturbing is the media and online coverage of the shooting.  Is it at all possible for there to be a more biased and slanted topic for the mainstream press to cover than homosexuals? If you are against anything that is gay, you are instantly a radical homophobe who hates. Here is a news flash: this act of terror was carried out by a Muslim extremist, not a Christian. Christians seek to bring those around us into a loving relationship with Christ. We do not threaten and berate those who do not share our same views. Christianity is not a religion which calls for the beheading of anyone who does not agree with what they say. Christianity is not a religion which calls for a woman to be stoned because she was raped and then convicted of having an affair outside of her marriage. Christianity is not a religion which calls for someone to be thrown off a roof simply for admitting they have same sex feelings.

You know which religion does call for all those things? Islam. The same religion which our coward of a President refused to acknowledge was the one behind the attacks. The same religion which the government at every turn bends over backwards to accommodate while at the same time making sure they do everything to strip away every right a Christian has to practice our peaceful religion.

We live in a society in which the government has slowly eroded away every single right we have to freely exercise our Christian faith while doing everything it can to make sure every other faith is catered too. And the media plays right along with the government. If you think I am overreacting, go back and look at how the Orlando story was covered. Anywhere on Yahoo or NBC, ABC or CBS do you see Muslim or Islam? Nope, but you do see much talk about the Christian right and gun control (of which I am partially in favor of, much to the dislike of some of my close friends).

You hear much talk about there being a religion of peace. And there absolutely is: Christianity. It is a peace that comes from within, that helps settle you when you are restless and helps calm you when acts like what happened over the weekend occur. I pray for the families of those victims of this act of Islamic terror. I pray that they come to find peace in Jesus, and I pray that those innocents killed in the shootings had a relationship with our Savior.

But I also pray for those who are living any sinful lifestyle.  I pray that you recognize your need for repentance. Pointing out someone’s sin and showing them how they can move to rid their lives of it is not hate or bigotry, it is the strongest act of love anyone can do for another. Caring for someone’s eternal soul is more important than not offending people while here on earth.

Matthew 5: 11-12

“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Jesus knew we would be persecuted and ridiculed while we preach His Word. He knew that society had no desire to hear what we would have to say. Not one thing He did while He was here on earth was for the approval of society. But everything He did was for the love of mankind.

Influential Christians?

Disturbing is the only word I can use. I came across an article today in which Time magazine listed the 10 most influential “Christians” of 2016. Now, I put that word in quotes, because while it is hard to truly tell the heart of anyone (I use the most extreme example I can when talking about how you never know if someone is saved or not by telling people Hitler could be in heaven and Billy Graham could be headed for hell), I think someone who is labeled a Christian should at least show some signs of leading a life which helps spread God’s Word. I am not going to go through the entire list, but I think it a couple of names will make you see where Time is coming from here.

Included on the list are Nicki Minaj and Kendrick Lamar. It would appear tweeting out John 3:16 in 2011 is all it takes for the magazine to consider Minaj a Christian. And there is a quote from Kendrick Lamar that is pretty solid:

“Lord God, I come to you a sinner, and I humbly repent for my sins. I believe that Jesus is Lord. I believe that you raised Him from the dead. I will ask that Jesus will come into my life and be my Lord and Savior. I receive Jesus to take control of my life that I may live for Him from this day forth. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for saving me with your precious blood. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

But when you actually look at the lyrics of Lamar’s songs, you will see where the mixed messages come from (they are so filth ridden, I will not even attempt to put them in this blog, but I am sure a quick google search will show you what I am talking about). This is not a case of me not liking the style of music these performers record. It is a case of watered down Christianity which is so prevalent with actors and musicians. Where is the witnessing? Where is the declaration of their love for God from the stage in front of the thousands of people they see every night? If Time wanted to include a pop star on this list, why not Justin Bieber, who time and time again in interviews has declared his love of Christ, and videos have surfaced of him doing this from the stage as well.

Also on the list are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Now, first let us put politics aside, because I do not care if your name has an R or a D after it, when you proclaim this statement “I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power” you cannot be placed on a list of influential Christians. Before I tell you who said that, let me add this one “To find faith themselves that I think there are many different ways of exercising your faith.” The first one is from President Obama, the second one from Clinton. Both indicate that there are multiple paths to eternal life, which is completely and totally against the bedrock foundation of Christianity. And also notice that Mr. Obama never says God, but a “higher power”. Proclaiming the Holy Father whenever it is possible is our core mission as Christians. But these two (as well as Trump, Rubio and Cruz) play fast and loose with their Christianity to suit the polls. That is not a model of Christianity anyone should be following.

And this brings me to the last name of concern on this list, Bruce Jenner (I refuse to use the made up name the media has given him). Here is his statement in regards to his faith: “”‘I would sit in church and always wonder, “In God’s eyes, how does he see me?’ Maybe this is my cause in life.”

Let that statement sink in for a second. He is actually calling into question how God created him. He is saying he thinks God made a mistake. Let me tell you right now, God does not make mistakes. The Lord places us from birth as a male or a female, and it is not our job to change that. It is a flat out insult for any bible following Christian to include anyone who challenges the Creator.

Now, why did Time included people like those above on their list? Quite obviously it is to sell magazines, which is fine because they are a business, and have every right to do this. But it is also our right, and our duty as followers of Jesus, to let Time know how disappointed we are they chose not to include those in the faith community who are making a true impact on society. People like Franklin Graham and Charles Stanley, whose whole lives are devoted to showing those around them the true path to God.

This list proves only one thing: the watered down Christianity that is alive and thriving in this country will not be going away anytime soon. It is time we turn to the bible for our answers and not to the so called influential Christians.