Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Debt is a term that many of us are painfully well acquainted with. Debt is that guest that enters into our lives hat soon can become a permanent yet unwanted part of our family. So many of us are so entangled with it that we fear we will never be released.

If we feel this way, we are not alone. Consider these facts:
· The average family in credit card debt carries a balance of $4000 on several cards from month to month
· In the year ended June 30, 2004 there were 1,599,986 personal bankruptcy filings.
· The average household has 10 credit cards and the average interest rate is 18.9 %
· Americans paid out approximately $65 billion in interest last year alone.

Debt has become a way of life for many people. When faced with a large purchase many of us do not ask the question “can I afford it?”, but ask “can I afford the payments?”

Sometimes debt takes us by surprise. Imagine the shock Yahaya Wahab of Malaysia felt when he opened his phone bill a while back.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - A Malaysian man said he nearly fainted when he received a $218 trillion phone bill and was ordered to pay up within 10 days or face prosecution, a newspaper reported Monday. Yahaya Wahab said he disconnected his late father's phone line in January after he died and settled the $23 bill, the New Straits Times reported. But Telekom Malaysia later sent him a $218 trillion bill for recent telephone calls along with orders to settle within 10 days or face legal proceedings, the newspaper reported. It wasn't clear whether the bill was a mistake, or if Yahaya's father's phone line was used illegally after his death."If the company wants to seek legal action as mentioned in the letter, I'm ready to face it," the paper quoted Yahaya as saying. "In fact, I can't wait to face it," he said.

I don’t know if any of you have $218 trillion lying around anywhere, but I would never be able to pay such a debt. Our sin is much like that phone bill. We were created as perfect people in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve sinned and separated us from God. When we tried throughout history to make atonement for our sin through sacrifice to God, it was like making a minimum interest only payment on a $218 trillion dollar debt. We were getting nowhere fast.

God decided that the only way to help us was to forgive our debt completely. Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice, the embodiment of forgiveness for our debt. As the old Hymn goes, Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.

This week, my prayer is that you realize the magnitude of our debt that has been forgiven. Jesus paid the price for something he did not do, and that we could not possibly afford. When the sinful woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, He told this story that embodies the significance of His sacrifice.

"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled." "You have judged correctly," Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." (Luke 7:36-47 NIV)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ticket Trouble

As I have said in the past, I haven’t always been a pastor. Just like many of you reading this, I have done my share of things I wish I hadn’t. Looking back now, I see how incredibly disobedient to God I was, and at the same time, realize how fortunate I was to have a Heavenly father watching out for me.

My inability to comply with traffic laws was one of those areas of disobedience. I am no stranger to being pulled over by the police. I have had speeding tickets, fender-bender tickets and parking tickets. However, I have to tell you that I have now learned better, and I now drive much slower. If you see me speeding, you know there is a very good reason.

At one time, however, it was a series of parking tickets that got me into trouble. I had some very good friends who attended Clemson University. In fact, I met my wonderful wife through these friends. Being able to park right outside of an apartment building in Clemson is nearly impossible. You almost have to park in a handicap space to even get close.

I did not go to Clemson, so I thought it would be just fine to park in the handicap space. The first time I got a ticket, I just ripped it up and threw it away. I thought “They are just campus police; they won’t find me since I am not a student.” Furthermore, I was driving demonstrator cars from my dad’s car dealership. I drove a different car very frequently, so I thought that would make it harder for them to catch me.

Ticket after ticket came to be placed on my windshield, and one after the other I threw them away. Finally, I started to leave one day, and could not find my car. It was not where it was earlier! I went to the campus police station to inquire about it. They told me that they did indeed have my car and they would gladly turn it over to me when I paid the $375.00 fine that had mounted from my unpaid parking tickets. Of course, I had to come up with the money, and pay it.

I thought I had outsmarted the police. I thought I had gotten away with my crime. The Clemson police finally made me pay for my insolence.

We tend to be like that with God. We think that because other people do not see our sinfulness, God cannot either. We may not confess to believing that way, but our actions tell a different story. What do you do when nobody is looking that God doesn’t approve of? Would you do it if others knew? I rest my case.

Some of us are also like the lady in Calumet, Michigan, who got a parking ticket back in September of 1976, and sent the money to pay for it just last week. The ticket, a $20 bill and a note arrived at police headquarters last month in a plain white envelope with no return address. The note read: "I always had good intentions of paying it. I put it aside and every once in a while I would come across it and say 'Someday I'm going to pay it.' Now I think it's time." We always think we have more time to atone for our wrongs.

Wouldn’t it be easier if we just admitted to wrongdoings; to others and to God, before we are caught? Why do we think we can continue forever in disobedience to God with no punishment?
The Israelites had that kind of mentality. They thought they could just go forever worshipping other gods and denying the one who created them. They paid no attention to the prophets who told them to repent or risk God’s wrath. They thought He wouldn’t, or thought He couldn’t, carry out the promised punishment. However, in 586 B.C., not only was Jerusalem conquered by the Babylonians, but it was leveled and God’s temple was destroyed.

Many of us today have the idea that God isn’t there anymore. We think maybe He will not punish us for our insolence. We think we have gotten away with it and there will be no punishment, no judgment, and no hell. But one day, we will find our car that we parked illegally, is no longer in the place where we left it, and we will need to pay the price for our sin. Doesn’t it seem like a better idea to stop being so arrogant, pray to God, ask for forgiveness, and stop doing the things that displease God now, rather than pay the terrible price for disobedience before His throne later? Just confess your sinfulness to Him, ask Him to show you what needs to be corrected, correct it, and He will be faithful to forgive and reward you with life forever with Him.

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Sheepdog

When I was in seminary I was labeled as somewhat of a rebel. This was mainly because I challenged some of the thinking that was taught there. Don’t get me wrong, I never questioned the authority of the Bible, or the existence of God. I simply questioned some of the teachings in some less Biblically based classes like Church Administration.

Prior to entering seminary I had some experience in automobile sales. I had been trained by the best car salesperson in the business; my dad. He wouldn’t even let me step foot on the sales lot until I had completed a two week one-on-one, personal training, at home, with him. My job during the day, while he was at work, was to watch training and motivational videos. Then when he got home, we ate supper and went to the upstairs bonus room to talk about what I had learned that day and role play.

I tell you this because it was during this, and in the ongoing training I received in the car business, that I learned basic business practices. I knew what the latest business growth models were, and how to apply them. When I got to seminary, I realized that the models for church growth were simply “renamed” business growth models. I spoke up and asked many times, “Whatever happened to just lifting Christ up for all to see? He said if we do that then He will draw all to Him.”

I believe we should always lift up Jesus Christ first. It’s not our job to grow the church. It’s His. We work for Him. He calls the shots. Not us.

One of the other things that I chose to fight in that class was the idea of being a shepherd. The instructor continued to refer to us as the shepherd of the flock. While I realize this is common terminology in reference to the pastor, I believe we are much less than shepherds. Jesus is the Great Shepherd. As pastors, we are just sheepdogs. The flock is His. We are not worthy to even be guarding them. We are just doing the hard, dirty work of a sheepdog.

We do what the Shepherd tells us. We try our best to corral the flock. If one goes astray, we try to rescue it. We live with the flock, eat with the flock, and spend our whole day and night with the flock. We are one of them, except for our calling.

Pastors, you are very important to the work of the Master. However, you are not in charge. We are only sheepdogs to God’s flock. Do your work obediently and faithfully.

I have a special concern for you church leaders. I know what it's like to be a leader, in on Christ's sufferings as well as the coming glory. Here's my concern: that you care for God's flock with all the diligence of a shepherd. Not because you have to, but because you want to please God. Not calculating what you can get out of it, but acting spontaneously. Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way. When God, who is the best shepherd of all, comes out in the open with his rule, he'll see that you've done it right and commend you lavishly. (1Peter 5:1-5 The Message)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Are you a Knut?

Do you sometimes struggle to do what is right? Of course you do. We all do. Sometimes it seems easy to make the right choices. At other times, it is much easier to do what is sinful. We all know the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” However, how may of us truly do this day in and day out?

You are not alone in this. Every person who has ever lived, has wrestled with sinfulness. Even Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert. He passed the test, but He would not have been fully human had He not been at least tempted to take the Devil’s deal. We are certainly not better than Christ; therefore, we are also tempted by the lies of Satan.

Why do we do this? Our sinful nature inclines us to wander away from God. It all started in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve disobeyed for the first time. Since then, it is in our nature to shun God’s ways for our own self-satisfying desires. The only hope for reconciliation with God is the salvation offered to us by Christ.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can take the man out of Edgefield, but you can’t take Edgefield out of the man?” (Well, maybe you didn’t hear it quite that way, but you get the idea.) It is true that left to our own devices, we will always regress to our evil ways.

I read a story recently about a polar bear named Knut that is a resident of the Berlin Zoo. He was born in captivity, abandoned by his mother and raised by the zookeepers. He was a gentle bear, but eventually grew to weigh over 300 pounds. Several weeks ago, Knut made headlines again, because he decided that the carp in the moat that surrounded him would make a tasty snack. He ate ten of them in front of a group of zoo visitors. An article by Aaron Hotfelder read:

Knut, the once-cute celebrity polar bear turned vicious killer, is at the center of a controversy over his brutal slaughter of ten carp at the Berlin Zoo. The massive polar bear, who has lived at the zoo since birth, apparently fished the carp out of the moat surrounding him and ripped them to shreds in front of several disgusted zoo patrons.

What exactly did they expect? As at least one journalist put it so well, “Umm...HE'S A POLAR BEAR!" Just because they put him in a zoo, feed him and love him, does not change the fact that bears like fish! Put fish in a moat around a polar bear and his nature is to eat them unless you can change the nature of a bear.

Unless something can change our nature from sinful to righteous we are always going to flounder. (Pardon the pun.) Fortunately for us, there is a life changing power that can change us. The love of Jesus Christ has made a way for us to make that change by surrendering our lives to Him. Only God, who created us, can change our nature, and He did it by dying for us. Because He died and rose again to defeat death, we can have a new heart, a new life, and a new nature through Jesus Christ.

For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am made out of flesh, sold into sin's power. For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is the sin that lives in me(Romans 7:14-20 HCS)

Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20 NKJV)