Sometimes the Truth is Hard

I think they are mad at me. They would probably tell people how unkind and mean I was with my words. I am sure they chalk it up to another unkind Christian who likes to make people feel bad.

What had I done to be labeled as a bully Christian?

I told them the truth.

I tried to speak the truth in love. I wanted them to change the way they were living. I wanted them to know that I cared about their eternal soul. Instead, my words were lost because they did not affirm the life they were living. They wanted approval above the truth.

The writers of the scripture pull no punches. They tell us that we are sinners and all our righteousness is as filthy rags. The prophets spoke directly to the people of God about their idolatry. Jesus confronted the religious leaders in their hypocrisy. He called them whitewashed tombs. Sometimes the truth is hard to swallow, but it is necessary to live in reality instead of the world created by our own imagination.

Imagine going to a doctor, and he finds cancer in your body. Do you want him to tell you the truth, even though it will be hard to handle? Do you want him to give you proper treatment even if it hurts for a time? Or do you want him to be a nice guy and avoid the truth? Do you want him to affirm your lifestyle and act like everything is okay? Do you want the truth, or should he avoid it to make you feel good?

I am not saying he needs to be a jerk any more than I need to be one. There is such a thing as tact and decorum. We still need to understand that the truth does not always seem kind.

Honestly, I am okay if they hate me. I have nothing for which to apologize. I spoke the truth to the best of my ability, and I hope and pray they hear my heart behind the words. I dream that one day they will thank me for what I said. Until that day comes, I will continue to speak the truth where it needs to be said, and I hope you will do the same to me.

Building A Reservoir of Hope

One day life will get ugly. The beauty of spring will be lost in the coldness of winter. Someone you love will pass into eternity. Relationships will crumble. You might even face life with guilt and remorse that seems greater than you can bear. When life gets complicated, hope seems hard to find. Let me challenge you today to begin storing up hope for the future.

1. Find Stories & Passages of Hope in the Bible.
The Bible has two ways in which we can see hope. We can watch the characters in the stories endure difficulties and come out better on the other side. Joseph, Job, Moses, Mary, Paul and especially Jesus are narratives that see people overcome all kinds of obstacles. The other way we see hope is found in individual passages. Genesis 50:20, Jeremiah 29:11, and Romans 8:28 are good places to start. God has given us his word, and it is filled with stories and promises of hope.

2. Track God’s Answers to Your Prayers.
One of the best ways to build hope into the future is by looking at the blessings of the past. I continually encourage people to write their prayers and then later to list an answer to those requests. I am amazed at how many times God has gotten me through a difficult situation, but it is easy to forget that when times are hard. If you are not the type of person to write things down, then I would encourage you to spend time in reflection regularly. Lately, I have learned to ride in the vehicle with the radio off when I am alone. It gives me time to pray, think and recall all that God has done for me.

3. Develop Strong Christian Relationships.
Over and over I watch people tell me that they can worship God without a Church family. Then the dark days come, and they tell me how alone they feel. God gave us a community of people who can help us when life gets tough. I especially encourage you to develop a handful of deep relationships with people where you can share your heart without regret. All of us need friends throughout our journey of faith. We need people where we can open our soul and let all of the ugly out. The life of faith has dark valleys, but a friend can help light the way.

4. Notice God’s Blessings Today.
A few years ago, I started doing something that has been extremely helpful to me. I decided to begin every private prayer with a time of thanksgiving for what happened the day before this one. I give a few minutes a day to noticing all the good things in my life that God has given me. This was especially important for me because I can be a pessimistic cynic by nature. Seeing the negative things in life comes much more naturally to me. When times get tough, we can easily slide down a hole of darkness create by our own thinking. See the positive that is in your life today.

I realize that none of these suggestions may seem like they are that significant today. You may smile and say how simple this sounds. But please hear me, a day is coming when you will feel like giving up on God and possibly on yourself. These four things are the batteries that will bring back the light when all seems dark.

The Day I Took My Faith Seriously

I had an uncle named Charlie who was a Baptist minister most of his life. He seemed like a nice guy whenever we were together at family gatherings. My most vivid memories of those times together were of his discussions about religion with my father. They shared many facets of their beliefs, and they both seemed to enjoy the conversations. Some moments were a little tense when the topics of which they didn’t agree came up. For example, he believed the King James Version was the only proper English translation of the Bible. For the most part, as far as I can remember, their discussion was enlightening and encouraging.

At one of our family holidays, I can distinctly remember uncle Charlie talking with my dad about the Christian life. I was starting to have an interest in all matters of faith, and so I listened in on their conversation. This time he spoke about what he called “the second work of grace.” Later I would find out that he borrowed the phrase from the great leader John Wesley. Wesley and my uncle taught that there are two forms of grace. One is saving grace. That one-time moment in which we accept Jesus death on the cross as our place of salvation. Second grace came in the form of life transformation. This could happen instantaneously or over a long period of time. The basic concept is that there are two critical days in the lives of all believers. First is the day they are saved and the second is the day they decide to take it seriously.

While I am not sure you can prove any of this by scripture, I do comprehend it from an experiential nature. My personal story contains both elements. When I was only eight years old, I made Jesus my Savior. At the age of 21, I decided to surrender all my life to God’s will. I was sitting on my parent’s couch in their living room when I told God, “Do with me whatever you want.” That led to a summer mission trip and finally into located ministry.

Through the years I have seen this story repeated in the lives of other people. Many of them came to faith before the age of 18. When they attended college, their religion took a back seat. Then one day they found themselves married or living as a new parent and the call of the Lord came to them again. They returned to their roots, and a second time God’s grace did a work in their life.

Much of my ministry has been walking people toward one of these two moments in their faith. I hope and pray everyone accepts Jesus as their Lord and Savior. My other prayer is that people will take their faith seriously. I teach and preach, push and pull people toward a life wholly surrendered to God. I do not want people to know the history of the phrase “a second work of grace,” what I want is for them to experience it dramatically.

Jesus is looking for fully devoted followers. His grace is big enough to bring you him and has enough power to transform your life – but only if you let him.

What You Missed at Worship Yesterday

One of the modern views of faith is that it is an individual endeavor. We think we can do it all alone. People tell me, “I am just as close to God at the lake as I am in worship.” While this is true in general, something is missing when you are not a part of worship.

Yesterday while I was sitting in the program I started a short list of some of the blessings I received while I was a part of worship.

1. I Spent Time With Other Believers. While I am often focused on the overall program and usually do not have too much time to talk, yesterday was the exception. I was able to visit with people and talk about their lives, our journey of faith, our children, and a host of other topics. It felt good to hear all that God is doing and to know I am not alone in my faith.

2. I Sang My Praise with People Who Love Jesus. I am a music lover. I have it playing all the time in my vehicle, in my office, and on my phone. Honestly, when I am by myself, especially in my car, I enjoy singing my favorite song. (The song “Only Jesus” is my current tune of choice). But yesterday I was able to sing with people who are new to the faith and those who have been believers for longer than I have been alive. In fact, the songs on Sunday were mostly old hymns that have been around for hundreds of years. At one point I stopped singing and listened to the people of God vocalize their feelings about God.

3. I Prayed for the Hurting. One of my most significant issues in life is finding enough time to pray. There are so many needs and so little time. In worship, we stopped for a few minutes to pray and ask God to intercede in our world. It is a powerful moment of faith.

4. I Communed with God. For a short time, I was reminded of Jesus work on the cross. I physically connected to his death through the bread and the cup. There is nothing in the entire world like that moment. It is the highest point of worship because it touches on the amazing love Jesus poured out on the cross.

5. I Shared the Bible. As a preacher, I do not get the privilege of learning on Sunday morning. My experience with God’s eternal truth came through the week as I prepared to speak. Yesterday I was able to share all that God has been teaching me through the week and a lifetime of Christian leadership. Each Sunday I get to use my gifts alongside other people so that everyone has a chance to learn a little more about God.

I do believe that you can connect with God outside of Sunday morning, but I also understand that what we do as we gather is unique. You cannot enjoy all that the life of faith has to offer without regularly connecting with God and his children in a special way. To me every week God offers us the chance to have family time. We congregate with one another so that we might grow together for this God we serve. I am thankful for everyone who was there with me, and I hope you will join us next Sunday.

I am looking forward to it already.

Weekend Reading

This past week I have read several great articles. Here are some of the best. Enjoy.

8 REASONS YOU NEED TO THANK GOD FOR YOUR JOB TODAY – originally posted on Labor Day.

Four Lies That Keep Us from Church

You Can’t Love Jesus Without Loving His Church




Let Jesus Take That Burden from You

The Christian faith acknowledges that life is a complex web of actions, thoughts, and emotions. Jesus often focuses our attention on what is happening in our mind as much as in the things we do. The pages of the New Testament give us a glimpse into the human psyche long before anyone ever talked about such things. As a result, Jesus is interested in releasing us of the spiritual burdens we carry inside. Here are a few of the things that weigh heavy on your soul that you can lay at the foot of the cross.

1. You can let go of your guilt and shame.
All of us have done things of which we are not proud. We have said things we wish we could take back. We have done things we wish we could do again. Some events haunt our quiet moments. Jesus offers us total forgiveness. You can let go of your sins and stop carrying them on your soul. No amount of self-inflicted bad feelings will change the past; you need to move on with your life.

2. You can give up what others think about you.
Many people I meet have been carrying the painful words spoken to them by someone they love or respect. That person may have told you that you were a worthless failure who would never amount to anything. They are wrong. You heavenly father created you. He molded you in your mother’s womb and uniquely gifted you at birth. When you walked away from him, he went to the cross to win you back. You are his special child no matter what anyone has told you.

3. You can embrace unconditional love.
Every human being has a natural desire to be loved. We want someone to believe in us, to encourage us and to stand beside us in good times and bad. We need an unconditional love that goes beyond nice feelings when everything is great. Jesus offers us his love. Even when God feels distant and life is hard, he is molding you like a loving potter does to his precious creation. You are loved, and nothing can take that away from you.

Many people go into the weekend with joy and excitement. They have a list of things to do that they hope will bring them joy. They do that to avoid feeling the hurt they have been carrying inside. Other people dread the weekend knowing the amount of pain that their time alone will bring into their soul. Wherever you find yourself I want you to know that you can lay your burdens down before Jesus. He is here to forgive, encourage and love you. God cares not just about what you do, but how you feel. Don’t carry your pain another day.

Five Christians Who Make Ministry More Difficult

The Church is a collection of wonderfully unique people who Lord has brought together in Jesus. I love the Church. This odd group of people makes life fun and interesting as we journey together in faith. There is so much good that happens when we connect ourselves to other believers in a Church community.

The flip side of this is also true. Sometimes being a part of a community is a pain. All Christians have flaws. We are sinners who are saved by grace and are slowly being transformed into the image of Christ. On this journey of transformation we have flaws, make mistakes and do things that are quite frankly, ungodly. While I understand the need for growth in everyone who calls Jesus their Savior, there are a few people who not only resist their change into Christlikeness but make ministry more difficult. I am not writing this to be judgmental of other believers. Instead, I hope to open our eyes to ways we might be hurting the Church and the name of Jesus.

1. The Angry Christian –
The Bible acknowledges that anger is a struggle for everyone. Quite often people have been hurt, and now they are the ones who are hurting others. They usually do not see the pain of their explosive anger, and occasional outburst can be to the family of God. Many times I have been called upon to clean up the mess one angry Christian has caused and often it is like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube.

2. The Carnal Christian –
The struggle with the lust of the flesh is powerful and dramatic. It does untold damages to the name of Jesus across the world. This one does the most destruction when it comes from a Christian leader, no matter what position they hold. Anytime I start talking to a non-Christian, I know they can name several cases of fallen leaders who keep them from listening to me talk about Jesus.

3. The Uneducated Christian –
I do not mean this in a mean-spirited way, but some believers are very uneducated. They have not read their Bible or done any study on the things of God. They parrot something they heard on talk radio, Christian TV or some preacher say. Quite often I have to spend my time trying to explain the truth to some unsuspecting person after they have been with an uneducated Christian. Social media has made this problem worse as poor teaching can now spread like wildfire.

4. The Unforgiving Christian –
Once again a life of faith pushes us to change our perspective on the world. If we have been forgiven of all our sins by Christ, then we are called to forgive others. This is true even if it needs to happen over and over. Some people resist this teaching. It is hard to tell someone about the forgiveness we have in Jesus when someone they know refuses to forgive them.

5. The Half-Hearted Christian –
In the book of Revelation Jesus calls these people lukewarm. They are neither hot nor cold in their faith. Usually, they can cite a conversion experience that happened to them while they were in school. They know they are saved but don’t take their faith too seriously. I mean, they do not want to be seen as some fanatic. As a result, they paint a picture that a believer is just like every other person in the world and faith is of no real value other than some moral instruction. It is hard to convince someone that being a believer can be a life filled with joy and adventure when every Christian they know is no different from them.

Much of my ministry has been made significantly more difficult because of the impact of other Christians on the world.

I share this with you for two reasons. One, a group of you will know exactly what I am talking about and I want you to know you are not alone in this struggle. Two, I wish that every one of us would take a long look in the mirror and see if these people are us. I know I have been one or two of them in my life. Through the grace of God I have been forgiven and transformed, and I pray the same will happen for you.

The Lost People of God

My professor made a passing comment over 25 years ago that I have not been able to shake. It was a class on the book of Matthew, and we reached chapter 10. In this chapter, Jesus is sending out his 12 disciples on a mission to preach about the kingdom of God. As he sends them out, he tells them to go to “the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 10:6).” It is a phrase that Jesus will use to describe his ministry in Matthew 15:24.

The wise and learned professor paused and said something like, “That is a powerful phrase, to imagine the people of God being lost.” At that moment the tone of his voice changed, and the look on his face expressed that this was a painful and real issue in his mind.

After all these years I have continued to think of that one scene in my college class. Through the years I have developed a level of curiosity in this statement by Jesus. The first part is easy to understand. Sheep get lost. That is why the story in Luke 15 of the good shepherd is simple to connect with in a meaningful way. We all make mistakes and get lost on our journey of life if only for a few minutes.

The second part of the statement by Jesus is this unexpected finish. Israel is a title given to the Jewish nation. These people believed and followed the Old Testament as their guide for life and practice. They were a group who supposedly had their life rooted in following God. And yet, Jesus calls them lost.

Is it possible for people who claim to follow God really to be lost and in need of salvation?

The hard answer that Jesus gives us is, “yes.”

One of the primary reasons this phrase by Jesus is so troublesome is because the possibility seems to exist today still. People are living in every community that could be called the “lost sheep of the Church.” These are people who have a general belief in God and yet deny it with their life. Craig Groeschel calls them “practical atheists.”

It is possible to stay close to God physically and yet wander away from him spiritually. Our bodies are in the right places at the right time while our soul is distant. We can praise him with our lips while our hearts are far from him (Matthew 15:8).

A true believer must live in a continual state of self-analysis. Do our actions line up with what we say we believe? Is our heart seeking the things of God above all else?

My professor was right. It is a thought that makes me cringe. To think that people who claim to know God and his son are really lost. It is this thought that pushes my faith to be more than mere words every day. Hopefully, it scares you a little too. I hope this idea puts enough fear into you that you will live a life of total devotion and no one will never call you lost, especially Jesus.

Boring Information You Need to Know

For a moment, I admit it; I was bored. They kept repeating the same information that I am sure everyone knew already. People fidgeted. Some people mocked the speaker. I felt bad. I did appreciate that over the years they have tried to make it go a little faster and have sometimes added in humor. I knew why they were saying it, but it seemed to have little to no effect on my life right now.

Still, the flight attendant gave her safety speech before the plane took off.

What did you think I was writing about? Did you think about the Church? Honestly, I am a preacher, and I often feel this way. I keep repeating some information that people already know, and even if they don’t know it, they might not find it useful.

Through the years I have realized that some valuable information can be boring. There is no correlation between excitement and importance. The flight attendants speech seems like a waste of time until you are in an emergency. The preacher’s words might not mean much until that phone call from the police officer. Suddenly things that appeared boring are now your link to life.

Each day I plug away reading my Bible and trying to learn more about God. Some of what I read touches my soul in a way that only God can do. Other passages bore me to the point of sleep. Most days I need to remind myself that truth is significant no matter how I feel about it. At this moment I might not need to know what God has to say, but there will come a day, and I will be ready. How about you?