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?

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What are you doing with your resources?

(Please note, this post is not meant to single out any one church or organization my area. If you are a local pastor or leader, it is not a direct attack on you, but on the American church as a collective group)

What I want to talk about today is a question we as Christians will be faced with then we stand before God. It is a question what we should all be keeping in mind as we go about our lives.

“What have you done with the tools I have given you to advance My Kingdom?”

For a lot of people this is a scary question. Because when we look at how we use our time and resources, I think we can all agree that we are not using them to the best of God’s Kingdom. Most of us prefer to sit back and complain about what it happening around us instead of stepping up and trying to make a change.

I live in an area of the country that is just ravaged by drugs, heroin in particular (last stat I saw had my area as the #3 per capita in heroin us in the entire country). This drug brings with it prostitution (sex slavery) as well as rampant alcoholism.  Yet most churches in my area simply sit back and watch this epidemic spread more and more without want to take any action. Yes, it is on every prayer list (and do not mistake me, prayer SHOULD be the first step in any decision we make) but normally that is as far as it goes.

It comes down to this simple fact: most churches today have an inside out model instead of an outside in model. They want to cater to everyone inside their church walls, and not worry about those outside the walls.  Yes this stings to hear if you are a church leader, but seriously examine how much sincere and true outreach do you do?  What is the ratio of resources your devote to discipleship in the church versus outreach beyond your walls.

And I am not talking about missionaries outside of your area. I am speaking about right in your community.  Once again, do not misunderstand me, I am in no way saying local churches should not support overseas missions. But we should not be doing so at the expense of outreach right outside our front door.  “What did you do with the resources I gave you?” This should be the question on your mind as you go about making decisions on where to put your time and money. It is not about YOU or your church getting praise and glory. It is about bringing people to Christ through any means you have at your disposal.

The battle of traditional versus contemporary, praise and worship versus hymns, chairs versus pews  and all the other mundane arguments that occur in the modern church today take away from the most important function of the church: to bring people into God’s family.  And this goes to any organization who profess to have a mission of bringing people closer to God. As soon as you start putting limitations on how you are going to deliver God’s Word, you instantly lose your stated goal.

Jesus did not say “go out and preach only the King James bible using only hymns and piano”.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV)

Notice there is no mention at all of the teaching method. It simply says go and teach. People learn and people come to Christ in different ways, and we need to stop focusing on the “how” they are coming to know The Lord and instead begin focusing on the “if” they are coming to know God. Just because you might not like a certain type of music, or a certain style of preaching, does not mean the person who is sitting next to you who is not saved will not be able to connect with it.

We live in a society so worried about offending people that we have let this attitude invade our churches. No longer are different styles of worship allowed. We have put a dividing line in place, saying this is how we worship in this building and if you don’t like it, there is the door.  We have shut our minds off to any possibility that someone may be drawn to Christ in a different way than we are teaching, so we keep on doing the same things over and over and over, and then complain that it is not working.

I have heard people say “well, people will be drawn through the doors of a church when God calls them”. Well if that is the case, why even do any form of outreach at all? Why bother witnessing to anyone?  This statement always makes me laugh. Our job as Christians is to lead a life that helps people see Christ through us, and then make every effort to lead those around us to Christ. This does not mean only those we are comfortable with. This does not mean only those who walk through our church doors.

We are to get outside of our church walls, into our communities, and let me people know about the love of Christ. We are NOT to simply sit on our churches and wait for them to come to us.

The biggest and most valuable resource we all have the equal supply of is our time.  It costs no money to lead a Jesus led life. It cost no money to tell someone about God’s plan for salvation. It costs no money for any of us to go out into the world and tell others about Jesus.

What is does cost us is time. Time away from Netflix, Facebook and Instagram. It makes us focus on what is important, and causes us to make to difficult decisions in how we best allocate the resource of time. If you were to stand before God right now, and have to answer “Did you do your best with the resources I provided you”, how would you answer?

Uninteded Priorities

This is going to kind of piggyback off the post from Sunday.  I have been thinking the past couple days about the message you send with the priorities you have in your life. Most the time, it is in an unintentional message. It is simple decisions you make every day that when looked out from the worldly point of view, show that you value things of the world over things of God.

So what exactly is it I am talking about here? Let me give you an example. Most churches across this country have the same schedule. Sunday morning services (a combination of Sunday school/worship service). Then you will have a Sunday evening service and a mid-week services (normally Wednesday night).  The most attended service is normally always the Sunday morning worship, which makes me ask one question: where is everyone during Sunday school, Sunday evening service and Wednesday evening service?

Now, the answers are going to be something like this:

  1. I can’t get up early enough to make it to Sunday school.
  2. My household is so hectic, I can’t get everyone ready in time to make it to Sunday school.
  3. Sundays are the only time off we all have as a family, so we need to take the time in the evening to do family things.
  4. I am just so tired by the time Sunday evenings roll around, I can’t get motivated to go back to church.
  5. I or my kids have (insert any workout or sports practice) on Wednesday evenings, and just don’t think it is fair to them to not have them participate.

I am sure there are some others that I am forgetting here, but those will be the main ones. These are very common and not outlandish reasons to not attend the services outside of the main Sunday evening worship service. Most would look at this list and say there is nothing really wrong. But I am here to tell you that this list is one of the major reason the church, families, and even the country is in the shape we are in today.

Let me rephrase the question of why are people only attending Sunday morning worship. Instead of asking why do people not come, put it this way: what do you have going on in your life that is more important than worshipping God? See, when you put it this way, it suddenly becomes a much more uncomfortable discussion. Because now you have to look at the unintended consequences of your actions. Not just for yourself, but also for those around you and your children. Everytime you say “I am not going to church because of….” you are telling people “I am placing this activity over celebrating God.” You are making all around you know where your priorities lie.

Now, if you think I am being a little over dramatic here, simply using this to shock people, let me make it clear I am not. I could not be more serious. You are placing it out to everyone who sees your actions that it is ok to put God second in your life as long as YOU are comfortable. As long as YOU need that extra hour of sleep, or need to be a little tougher on your children, or have to tell your teens they will not be able to do the activity they want too, YOUR life will be less hectic and more comfortable.

But by doing this, you are also letting your kids, your teens, and those around you not in Christ that it is ok to put worldly things over Godly things. It is ok to place activities that are temporary over that which is preparing you and them for the eternal. People around me hear me speak everyday about the importance of putting God first in everything you do.

There are many other forms of unintended priorities in our daily life. From the movies we watch to the companies we support, every choice and action we take shows the world around us what we prioritize. So urge you all to stop for a moment, and think about the small choices you are making and thinking about the unintended priorities they are showing your family, your friends and all you come into contact with on a daily basis.

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.

The Impossible Is Where God Starts

One of my favorite Christian speakers to listen to is Christine Caine. She is someone who will tell you over and over again that she has no business being in the position she is in today. Her backstory is an incredible journey of someone who struggled with abuse and came out as a beacon of light for all those she comes into contact with. And one of her favorite things to say when speaking about how she formed the A21 End It movement is “Impossible is where God starts”. 
I always appreciated this statement, but never really put it into action until recently. I am part of a ministry in my area who is trying to make our small community a better place by reaching the younger generation. And for about 8 months now, it seems to be 1 step forward and 40 steps back. There are such a large number of issues we are dealing with on what seems a weekly basis, there are times I simply think “this is impossible, we are just wasting our time here, and nothing we can do here is going to make a difference.” There are times when I think the churches don’t want us, the community does not want us and at times I even feel completely not needed within in the organization itself. 

Then I remember the impossible is where God starts. I remember the words of Jesus in John 16:33

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. 

We are told right there to expect tribulations in our life, but if we put our faith in Christ, we will find peace. Reading this passage of scripture this week helped me refocus on what is truly important. The little things which our ministry is facing are challenging, without question. But in the end, it is not for our glory we are doing these things, but for His glory. When your priority shifts and refocuses on God, so does your attitude and your drive to do the work. 

No longer am I a slave to the fear of failure or rejection by the community. We will succeed in our mission of spreading the Gospel here, because the impossible is where God starts. 

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.