Finely Tuned

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Fact: Through Christ’s vicarious death and resulting atonement, and my acceptance of his favor and Lordship, I have been freed from the penalty of both my past and my future sins.

Fact: God’s grace, provided by Christ’s death, covers sin which I recognize and those of which I am unaware.

Fact: There is nothing that I can do to either increase or diminish God’s love or grace.

I believe all of the above statements.  Their existence in my reasoning brings great peace and direction to my life and yet they raise a question.

“Why should I live an overly careful life in regards to the things that I allow into my life if these statements are true?”

Do you realize that there are people who embrace many things in their life that most fundamentally conservative Christians would see as a denial of Christian faith and yet those individuals claim an overt faith and trust in Jesus as their savior?  The discussion that Christians should live a holy life and more specifically what that life consists of is a discussion more often met with disbelief and sarcasm than with affirmation and agreement.  Entire sections of Christian book catalogs are filled with books espousing the relinquishing of antiquated habits that reportedly imprison and bind the faith of those young in the faith and suggest that for the Church to prosper it must embrace the freedoms found in a grace without restrictions.  While I don’t embrace many of the traditions that are supposed to be the earmarks of holiness within the Pentecostal movement, my fear is that like so many historical, behavioral, or doctrinal corrections we have allowed the proverbial pendulum to swing beyond balance into equally damaging yet opposite error.  Therefore, I would like to suggest a motivation for excluding things from Christian life, that while not the only reason, might certainly be one of the best.

Some of you are old enough to remember when radios and televisions didn’t have buttons for tuning but rather they had knobs.  Do you remember on both of them that there was an inner knob or ring that you used to make big changes and an outer ring that you used to really fine tune the channel?  It’s that outer or fine tuning ring that I want you to consider. 

Let’s work on the premise that now that you have accepted Jesus (the inner ring that chooses the channel) you are beginning to be used of him to reach out into the lives of others who have yet to become a Christ-follower.  In order to really be used effectively, you need more than to just be a Christian, you need to be directed by the voice of the Holy Spirit so that you will say and do the right thing at the right time so that the Gospel will have maximum impact.

Your receptivity will result in exacting obedience that will result in maximum presentation and create the possibility of maximum response.

My premise is that it may be possible to be saved and yet because of the interference that the things of the world cause in your spirit and heart, there is no way that you can effectively hear and therefore obey the Holy Spirit’s guidance as God attempts to use you to further His kingdom.  It’s the removal of these things (the outer fine tuning ring) that enables you to be an effective witness for Christ.

My best understanding of holiness means that something is without deviation.

Jesus was holy because he was not some of one thing and some of another.  Jesus was totally aligned with his father’s will.  You and I will never achieve that same degree of holiness, but we should however be willing to remove anything from our life that causes us to be less receptive to the Father’s will.  What might those things be?  Anything that routinely contradicts in form or philosophy the teachings of our Father’s Word.

There are those that say “the work has been done” in reference to our salvation.  I believe that and yet, for all those who have yet to encounter the accurate story of Jesus, there is much work yet to be done and for that work to be done well, you and I must be “finely tuned” to the voice and direction of the Holy Spirit.

That’s all the motivation I need!


Make History

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Today I read a note from Dr. George Wood the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God.  Allow me to borrow a few ideas that he shared…

In just a few weeks on November 6, 2012 we will head to the polls to once again elect a president.  Once again it seems as if much of our nation’s future depends on the outcome of this single election.   Today we face numerous crises.  Recently an angry mob in Benghazi, Libya invaded our consulate there, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens, a State Department worker, and two American Security guards.  Rioters in Cairo, Egypt, and Sana’a, Yemen, have attacked our embassies.  On the domestic front we have had 43 consecutive months with an unemployment rate above 8 percent.  As of June, over 46 million Americans were receiving food stamps.  All the while the “social wars” are alive and well, with abortion and gay marriage being particularly fierce battlegrounds, pitting biblical values against secular ones.

In election years Christians often confuse the outcome of elections with the kingdom of God.  If their candidate comes out on top they feel as if God’s will has been done and if not they feel as if the kingdom has been defeated.  While this position is certainly wrong there is however, a powerful rational behind believers taking these things very seriously and becoming involved in the political process.

In the late sixth century B.C., during a time not entirely unlike our time, God gave a word through the prophet Jeremiah that is very relevant to us today.  Jeremiah wrote …

“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”       (Jeremiah 29:7)

I believe that every Christian should without fail do two things:

First, pray.

Nothing could be more important than both expressing to God your concerns for our nation but also hearing from God concerning how you should cast your vote.  My experience has been that most people follow a political party affiliation and cast their votes based on the candidate’s affiliation.  I refuse to allow others to determine who I will vote for simply by who they nominate for their party’s candidate.   While I do not believe that in most cases there is one righteous and one evil candidate I do believe that God knows a man’s heart in a way that you and I never will.  Through the Holy Spirit’s direction God can give direction that you and I need.

Second, vote.

History is made by those who show up.  I believe if you are going to be a citizen of the United States you have a responsibility to be engaged and vote for the candidate of your choice.  If you are not going to vote then remain silent for the next four years regardless of the direction that the next president leads our nation.

While there are many more things that you might do to be involved, in my opinion nothing is more important than these two.


Long and Happy Marriage

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Some of you may be aware that earlier this week Leighanne and I celebrated our 29th anniversary!  Wow 29 years goes by in a blink!  It’s been an awesome time and I have no doubt that next to accepting Christ, marrying Leighanne was by far the most crucial decision affecting the richness that fills my life.   One of the aspects that has been sort of a surprise has been the sort of “awe” that people express when they hear that we’ve been married 29 years.  The comments usually sound something like “Wow, that’s a long time to be married.”  In retrospect I guess that it is more unusual than the norm that marriages last this long now days and so I thought that a blog about what got us this far might be in order.

By far the most influential factor in the longevity of our marriage is our relationship with the Lord, but there are lots of people who claim relationships with the Lord that end up divorcing.

There is at least one other factor that has been the glue that has held us together.  It’s not very exciting and I doubt if anyone would by a book by this title but it’s simply commitment.  Leighanne and I decided before we were married that we would NEVER divorce.  I remember us having the discussion prior to our wedding that the only thing that would separate us would be death.  I even remember the soberness with which we had the discussion.  That single factor has held us together through times that honestly weren’t any fun.

During the past 29 years there have been many times when Leigh and I weren’t happy with each other for any number of reasons.  Money, children, sex, careers, education, family, you name it we’ve argued about it.  I wish I could tell you that we always followed the biblical instruction to not let the sun go down on our anger, but more than once we’ve slept in separate beds because of some conflict.  I hear these people on Christian radio discussing how they have never raised their voice and how they always talk through their problems then go to sleep in each other’s arms.  I just laugh and wonder what planet these folks are from.  However, we always forgive, talk and resolve and we always will because of commitment.

Commitment doesn’t have any of the frills that Hollywood love has.

Commitment doesn’t make your heart skip a beat or leave you breathless, but without commitment these other aspects of love simply won’t have a chance to endure and while I love these explosions of love I have learned that the solidity and strength of real commitment is much more valuable.  We still have those moments when our hearts melt, but when those things are running out of the burning building that is our marriage, commitment is running in.


Decisions, Decisions

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More so than in several years I have been watching national television news.  It began with the Republican and Democratic national Conventions.  I tuned in to parts of each of these because I wanted to see what each of the presidential candidates had to say and I wanted to see how they would say it.  This then continued with my occasionally watching the national news, which is a new thing for me.

  • On top of the political season, which is upon us,
  • We are in the midst of many very important decisions here at the church.
  • I leave Thursday to move my mother to Alton.
  • I’m finishing up building my wife a new kitchen/dining room.
  • And my son-in-law just enlisted in the Marine Corp.

It strikes me that perhaps I am in a season of life where I could use a little extra wisdom!

Have you ever felt that way?  It feels to me that right now, every day offers the awesome potential to make a real difference in the lives of people, but only if I choose wisely.  I have prayed for years that the Lord would use me to change the world and I’m beginning to see that come to pass, but I didn’t realize when I prayed that with the possibility of great success comes the possibility for great failure and many of the decisions are simply more than my intellect can handle.

Therefore, my new daily routine includes the second chapter of Proverbs.

Read along with me…

Proverbs 2 (NIV84)

1 My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, 2 turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, 3 and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, 4 and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, 5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. 6 For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. 7 He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, 8 for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. 9 Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path. 10 For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. 11 Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you. 12 Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, 13 who leave the straight paths to walk in dark ways, 14 who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, 15 whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their ways. 16 It will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words, 17 who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God. 18 For her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead. 19 None who go to her return or attain the paths of life. 20 Thus you will walk in the ways of good men and keep to the paths of the righteous. 21 For the upright will live in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; 22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the unfaithful will be torn from it.

I especially love a couple of verses.

Verse 5 “then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”

Verses 7 & 8 “He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.”

Nothing could be more valuable than “the knowledge of God”, and what could be a better insurer of success than God guarding your course and protecting you as one of his faithful ones?

In these days of great decisions I for one am going to lean as fully as ever before on the Word of God and the Holy Spirit for guidance.  I know that I am insufficient for the tasks before me, but with equal confidence I know that he is more than enough.

Proverbs 3: 5 says

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.  (NIV84)

Today I am trusting that this will be my greatest determinate of success!


Pride is Expensive

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For those of you reading this who attend ALCC you know that this past Sunday I began a new series of sermons centered around the life of Daniel, with courage being our focus.  I’m excited to examine how God’s word can equip us to rise above the fear that seems to be abundant in today’s world.  While circumstances that produce fear abound I am truly convinced that while fear may always be a part of our lives we are intended to be courageous and act valiantly in the face of that fear.

In the preparation for this series I came across another biblical character that shows what can happen on the other end of the spectrum.  2 Chronicles tells us the story of a King that ruled Judah named Uzziah.  Uzziah had a great start and in the early years of his leadership he moved Judah away from idolatry and back towards a right relationship with God.  However, an all to common thing happened as God blessed Uzziah.

In Jerusalem he made machines, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers and the corners, to shoot arrows and great stones. And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.   2 Chronicles 26:15–16 (ESV)

In his weakness Uzziah trusted in the Lord and was made strong.  However, once gaining the throne, conquering all of the nations that threatened Judah, gaining fame and position, Uzziah grew proud as if by his own ability he accomplished these things.  Had Uzziah remained humble the length and strength of his leadership might have been legendary but due to his pride and the loss of his humility God placed leprosy upon Uzziah and he lived the rest of his life isolated and alone.

Here at ALCC we are experiencing God’s blessing with so many new people just this past week that it’s beginning to be difficult to even recognize who’s new and who’s been here a while.  Since May we have had 66 adults that have indicated that they are here to stay!  This doesn’t include the children that are in these families just the adults.  We are stretched for space in every way.  Even after creating the early service and having about 125 people move we are once again running out of space at the 10:30 service.  In many ways we are being blessed like Uzziah was, but unlike Uzziah we will not grow proud to our destruction.

The same is true on an individual level.  Do you think that your success came because you deserved it?  Was it your work or your intellect or your skill that caused you to advance?  The moment you begin to believe that you deserve the good things in your life you are moving into dangerous territory.

Everything good comes from the Lord.

Every blessing, every skill, every resource, every warmth, every comfort.  If humility and gratitude fills your heart for the blessings that surround you then you are a candidate for even greater blessing.  Start thinking that they belong to you and that you earned them and they can be gone in a blink.



We Need Some Rain

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Wow! It seems like forever since we’ve had rain here in Alton. Officially we had 2.2 inches in May, 2 inches in June but only .15 of an inch in the entire month of July. We are now officially in drought conditions. In some places the farmers are deciding to plow under their corn because the cost of harvesting will exceed the value of what they harvest. I’m sure you’ve seen the cornfields that already look ready to harvest and yet they have no ears of corn on their stalks.

That’s what drought does, it makes things look like they are all right when in fact they are very bad.

Have you ever experienced a spiritual drought?  I have.

Like natural drought it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long, slow process where every day can be just like every other day with only one thing missing, the presence of God in the form of the Holy Spirit. For me it’s often something that changes my routine. Some extra thing in my schedule, some big event on the horizon, or anything that causes me to develop a pattern that squeezes out some or all of my time with God. At first it really doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. Everything is still green and there is still fruit on the trees. But with each passing day of missing the refreshing that comes in God’s presence things dry a little more. Almost without notice things begin to get brown.  Things begin to die and the ground begins to crack open until one day you look around and everything is dead! It can happen so easily.

Over and over in the scriptures the Holy Spirit is represented by different symbols. Oil, fire, and wind are all symbols of the Holy Spirit in the scriptures, but perhaps the most common symbol of the Holy Spirit is water! Rain, dew, springs, and rivers are all used to describe the Holy Spirit. In almost all of these references there is a refreshing or strengthening that accompanies the Holy Spirit represented by water.

In John 7:38 we read:

“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ “

Not just water, but living water!

You see, something flows out of each of us every day. If we are refreshed by God’s Spirit and His word then living water flows from us and touches and refreshes everyone it contacts. God’s presence manifests itself in kindness, service, strength, forgiveness or in short the Spirit of Christ. In times of spiritual drought we still have something flowing from us but it causes pain, stagnation, and hurt. It’s our normal human state that only the refreshing touch of God overcomes. When we have extended periods without a touch from God, just like ground that has had no rain, we begin to die until eventually we bring death to everything in our life.

The good news is that droughts come to an end. Even thought it’s been a very hot dry summer here in Alton we all know that the refreshing coolness and rains of Fall are coming! Droughts don’t last forever. Unlike the natural world, you and I don’t have to wait on the rain.  It’s available anytime. Simply make some time for God’s word, worship, and His presence and you will find that it’s always raining in His presence!


Door to My Heart

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For as long as I can remember one of the things that I have loved most has been music.  The Lord has used a simple melody or a lyric hundreds of times to capture my attention and direct me towards something that He wanted to say to me.  My most moving memories of God’s presence have almost always been accompanied by some piece of music.

One of my most favorite pieces of music is not even church or worship music, but rather would be considered by most people to be modern classical.  It is by a composer named Aaron Copeland and is named Appalachian Spring.  If you heard it you would probably recognize some of the melodies as it has been used in a lot of commercials and movie soundtracks.  There are parts of it that actually make me happy.

Anyway, music is a huge part of my life.  It communicates right into my spirit.  It is for that reason that I am very careful about what I listen to.  While this might not need to be a part of your life, for me nothing conveys a message right into my spirit quicker than melodies and lyrics.  For others perhaps it’s the written word or video but for me the quickest way to get something onto me is through music.

I think that everyone has something like this that works best for them.  I believe that God created each person with this “door” into their spirit.  It’s important that you find out what that is for you and become a guardian of that doorway.  It will be a very strategic position in your life.  Whoever controls the gate into your spirit will ultimately control your spirit.  Don’t allow anything through that gate that might move you away from God.  No message, tune, image, or philosophy.

I believe that this is what Solomon was admonishing us to do when he wrote in Proverbs 2:23 “Above all else, guard your heart.  For it is the wellspring of life”.  You have to be careful what you allow to take root inside you.  If you control what gets in you can control what takes root in your spirit, mind or heart.

Let me leave you with a favorite, simple, worship chorus that not only feeds my spirit, but also makes my point.  Enjoy it!