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Can God bring good out of bad?

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009 Posted in essentials, Pastor's corner, sermons | 3 Comments »

Tonight I am speaking in Orange County on the topic of suffering. This will be the second part of my message on the topic.

I am going to deal with the question, can God bring good out of bad? I believe the answer is “Yes!”

Look, suffering is inevitable. No one gets a free pass. The fact of the matter is that you are either coming out of a storm or headed into another. It’s just a matter of time.

In this life, the only way to avoid suffering is to die.

What you want to do is get ready now, so you will have a proper biblical foundation and can properly process and react as these challenges come into your life.

Prepare ahead of time

As Randy Alcorn says in his book If God is Good, “Most of us don’t give focused thought to evil and suffering until we experience them. This forces us to formulate perspective on the fly, at a time when our thinking is muddled and we’re exhausted and consumed by pressing issues. People who have ‘been there’ will attest that it’s far better to think through suffering in advance.”

In other words, be prepared ahead of time!

Avoiding storms

Paul reminds us that we are to “Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts, and make you wise. Use his words to teach and counsel each other” (Colossians 3:16).

But we would rather not do that, because the topic of suffering is difficult and uncomfortable.

Suffering is one of those things we all want to avoid if at all possible. If you are flying and you see a storm, you try to fly around it, not into it.

But here’s the reality—sometimes you simply cannot do that. Your life can be going reasonably well one moment, and then it changes in a flash.

That certainly happened for our family.

Good things out of suffering?

Here is one of the “good things” that come out of crisis and suffering. You turn to God with a dependence like you have never had before, like a child running to their mom or dad and burying their face in their shoulder.

And you know what? God is there waiting for you with the strength, peace, and love you need. Not necessarily with all the answers you may want, but He is there.

One of the things you “treasure” in suffering is knowing God’s presence as you do. Your faith begins to grow stronger.

Use it or lose it!

Faith does not grow through ease and comfort. It grows through challenge, conflict, and difficulty.

Faith is like a muscle in that it gets stronger through use, not neglect. If you do not use your muscle, it can atrophy.

We have a choice in life—use it or lose it!

The Bible reminds us, “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (James 1:2-4 THE MESSAGE).

Some thoughts on ministering to people who are suffering

Monday, October 5th, 2009 Posted in encouragement, essentials, family, Pastor's corner, sermons | 10 Comments »

It has been said that if you preach to suffering people, you will never lack for an audience.

Over the years, I have taught extensively on the topics of suffering and evil. I am happy to say that what I have taught in the past is true. Though my understanding of suffering has deepened of late, I still quote the same Scriptures and rely on the same truths.

When I was called on to minister to a person who found out they were going to die, or who had lost a loved one, I would try to be as compassionate as I could be. Having two close friends whose children have died, I felt I had come as close to that flame as one could without personally experiencing it.

But now, I realize I was not even close. I had no idea what it was like. I see it differently now.

Suffering is messy

Randy Alcorn, in his excellent new book If God Is Good, talked with Joni Eareckson Tada. Reflecting on 40 years in a wheelchair, she said to him, “I’ve learned that suffering is messier than I once thought.”

That is so true.

Sometimes, when people come with their “Gospel Guns” loaded for bear to “help us,” they actually instead hurt us instead. It’s not what they say that is necessarily wrong (though sometimes it is). More often, it’s in the way they say it. They’re just a bit too quick on the draw.

Time to get on with our lives?

Since our son went to heaven, I have spoken with many, many people who have also had loved ones die, especially children. What they have told me was, “Thank you for being honest about it all.” Many have told me that it gives them hope.

I never asked for, nor did I desire, a ministry to people who had lost loved ones, but I have it now. I will do what I can do, though it will never be enough.

One lady wrote me and told me that my book Hope for Hurting Hearts, written in the aftermath of my son’s death, “saved her life” (her words not mine). But really, I am just a fellow-sufferer on this road of pain, pointing you to the One who I depend on each and every day–Jesus Christ.

Here is what I would say to you who have lost a loved one or if you are ministering to someone who has had someone close to them die.

Be patient.

Do not say to them, “It’s time to get on with your life!” That is like salt in a wound.

If someone is not able to “get on with their lives”  too quickly, as people think they should, they feel like they are spiritually deficient or weak.

Listen, you are simply human! Your depth of sorrow and loss is simply an indication of the depth of your love.

There is a place for deep sorrow

When David’s son Absalom died, David wept and said,  “I wish it had been me instead of him!” (2 Samuel 18:33), even though Absalom was a wicked son in many ways. When Steven was stoned to death, “godly men wept over him” (Acts 8:2).

You cannot rush this process nor should you. As Scripture says, “There is a time to weep, and and a time to laugh. There is a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

These things take time and lots of it.

Weep more, speak less

Coming back to the way that I try to minister to someone who has lost a loved one, I still quote Scripture, but not quite in the same way. I say it with more tenderness, understanding, and compassion.

I don’t have to “muster that up” because I feel what they are feeling, in a way.

I listen more, and say less. Scripture reminds us, “Let every man be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:19).

I am not suggesting that you not try to minister in word to someone who is hurting, but try to show compassion. Don’t be flippant.

As Scripture says, “Weep with those weep” (Romans 12:15). Sometimes that is the most effective thing you can do.

Eyes wide open

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 Posted in essentials, Pastor's corner, sermons | 2 Comments »

Tonight, I am speaking in Orange County, California, on the topic of suffering. We will deal with the oft-asked question, “How can a God of love allow suffering?”

I hope you can join us. I will preach the same message this coming Sunday at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, where it will also be webcast.

Now, back to our topic for this week–discipleship.

Jesus said that we are to go into all the world and make disciples. But before I can make one, I have to first be certain that I am one myself.
After all, it takes one to make one.

We have been looking at the requirements of Discipleship from Luke 14. So far, we have discovered that . . .

  1. The disciple must love God more then anyone or anything else (Luke 14:26).
  2. The disciple must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus (Luke 14:27).

Now, for the third thing . . .

We must count the cost

Luke 14:28-30 tells us: “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it–lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.'”

Being a true follower of Jesus Christ is not easy.

If you are a spiritual baby, then just go home to Mommy! But if you want to be a real man or woman of God and you want your life to matter, then come on!

It costs to follow Jesus

This passage is a reminder that the Christian life is not a playground but a battleground!

I won’t lie to you. It costs to follow Jesus, especially in this day and age. If you are a true Christian, you will be branded as intolerent, narrow-minded, a fanatic, Bible-thumper, and a Jesus Freak.

Jesus told us this would happen. He said that if they hated Him, they would hate us too (John 15:18). But He also promised us that He would bless those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:10).

Impulse purchases

This is why Jesus tells us we must count the cost to follow Him.

There are people who will make impulse purchases. Thats why they offer you free credit cards, even though you do not qualify. They are banking on the fact that you will tempted to buy something now, and then spend the rest of your life paying off the high interest charges.

Many people get married before counting the cost, rushing through without really getting to know each other. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Keep your eyes wide open before marriage and half shut after.”

In the same way, some will make commitments to follow Jesus without counting the cost.

It’s more than worth the cost, but don’t make an impulsive commitment to do this. Don’t follow Jesus just because your friends do. Count the cost and make your own commitment.

Yes, it costs to follow Jesus. But you know what? It costs a whole lot more not to.

Whatever you give up to follow Him will be more than made up to you. It’s God’s trade-in deal.

Jesus said, “Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land–whatever–because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land–but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first” (Mark 10:29-31 THE MESSAGE).

The paradox of the cross

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009 Posted in essentials, Pastor's corner, sermons | 6 Comments »

Jesus said that if we are to truly be His disciple we are to “take up our cross daily and follow Him” (Luke 9:23). But what does that mean?

To understand that, we need to understand the meaning of the cross in that time and culture.

The cross has lost most of its original meaning today. It is shrouded in religiousness and mystery. It has become many things, from a religious icon to fashion element.

When we see the cross today, it is a symbol of faith, particularly the Christian faith.

But in the time when Jesus made that statement, He had not yet died on the cross. So, in its original context, the cross was a symbol of death.

In fact, it was the symbol of a very cruel death. The Romans reserved it for the worst criminals. It was a form of torture and humiliation, ultimately leading to a long and painful death.

A radical symbol

Why would He use the cross to illustrate what it meant to follow Him?

Jesus intentionally used a gruesome symbol to get the people’s attention. He did this to say that following Him was not “child’s play.” It is not a game and it is not easy. In fact, it will cost you to follow Him as a disciple.

But, on the other hand, it will cost you more not to follow Him.

What is the cross we are to bear?

What does it mean to “bear the cross” today?

Often, we hear people say that they have a “cross” to bear. They will say, “My cross is my parents!” Their parents would probably say, “Our cross is our children!”

They identify whatever problem or obstacle they have as their “cross to bear.” But that is not what the cross means.

To bear the cross is to die to self

The cross symbolizes one thing: dying to self.

It really is a paradox: by “dying to self,” or “losing your self,” you “find yourself.” Through death, you find real life.

What does it mean to “die to self?” So much could be said, but allow me to give you a few practical examples of how this would work in day-to-day living.

  • To bear the cross means forgiving, instead of harboring that grudge.
  • It means resisting that temptation to do what everybody else does.
  • It means not having sex before marriage, and being faithful to your spouse after.
  • It means putting down the remote control and picking up your Bible.
  • It means praying when you would rather be sleeping.
  • It means “swallowing your pride” and telling someone about Jesus.
  • It means doing what God wants you to do, instead of what you want to do.

Now let me ask you, “Are you dying to yourself and taking up the cross?”

The fact is, when we do this, we experience joy and overflowing life!

Paul summed it up well when he wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Get a life?

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009 Posted in essentials, Pastor's corner, sermons | 4 Comments »

We have all heard the expression, “You need to get a life!”

Well, Jesus would put it another way. He would, in effect say, “You need to lose your life if you want to find it!”

I am talking about the topic of discipleship in my blog this week. So far, we’ve already seen that the disciple must love God more than anyone or anything else.

Here is the second requirement of being disciple.

2. The disciple must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus.

Luke 14:27 says, “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”

Elsewhere in Luke’s Gospel, He says, “If anyone desires to come after Me [that is, if anyone would be His disciple], let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

God’s trade-in plan

I know this can sound pretty unappealing. You imagine yourself living in this miserable, sacrificial, unhappy condition.

But the fact of the matter is that nothing could be further from the truth. Note that Jesus says, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it!”

Think of it as “God’s trade-in plan.”

I’m trying to find myself!

There are people today who say they are trying to find themselves. BTW, I cannot stand that expression.

One makes that statement usually before doing something really selfish, like walking out on a marriage.

They might say, “You are no longer meeting my needs. I am unhappy, so I am going to leave you because I need to find myself!”

Could anything be more cliché, and wrong?

In essence, Jesus says, “You want to find yourself? Then lose yourself.”

Do you want to find life, purpose, and personal happiness? Then say, “Lord, here is my life, my plans, my aspirations, my dreams, as well as my weaknesses, shortcomings, and sins. I believe that Your plans are better than mine in the long run.”

But what does it mean to “take up our cross and follow Him?” This is explained in Luke 13:33: “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”

Literally, this means: “You must surrender your claim to, or say goodbye to.”

That does not mean that to live as a disciple of Jesus one has to take a vow of poverty and give every possession away. Jesus meant that we are to surrender our claim to our possessions. In other words, we are not to be possessed by possessions.

Our obsession

It’s fine to have clothes, a car, a house, and a career. It’s fine to have friends, hobbies, and interests.

But the true cisciple should not be obsessed with these things. The only obsession a disciple should have is for Jesus Christ. He must be the most important pursuit in our lives. He must be more important than our career or our personal happiness.

The fact is we will find the personal happiness we want not by seeking it, but by seeking Him. Why don’t you do that today?

More on what it means to take up the cross tomorrow.

What is a disciple?

Monday, September 28th, 2009 Posted in essentials, Pastor's corner, sermons | 6 Comments »

I thought I would recap a few things from my message on discipleship this last Sunday, in case you missed it.

In the Great Commission, Jesus told us all to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. But what does that mean to make disciples? And more to the point, what exactly is a disciple?

As I have stated before, every disciple is a Christian, but not every Christian is necessarily a disciple. So, before I can make disciples, I have to be sure that I myself am one, because it takes one to make one.

In Luke 14, Jesus laid out His requirements for discipleship. Let’s look at one of them here.

1. The disciple must love Jesus more than anyone or anything else.

Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26).

I know that statement sounds shocking to us today. We ask, “Is Jesus really asking me to hate my family members to follow Him?”

In the light of the New Testament, we see that Jesus was not demanding an unqualified hatred. He could not command us to honor our fathers and mothers and then also demand that we hate them.

He could not command husbands to love their wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her, and then advise them to hate them. He could not tell His followers to love their enemies and hate them at the same time.

The fact is that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and love one another as Christ has loved us. That is what Scripture teaches.

How can I hate and love at the same time?

So what gives with this statement about hating father, mother, wife, children, etc.?

Jesus was using the method of sharp contrasts, essentially saying that your love for God must be so strong, so intense, that all other loves would be like hatred in comparison.

Another way to say it would be, “If you want to really be My disciple, and live your Christian life to its fullest, you must love Me more than anyone or anything else!”

Again, more than anything or anyone else. You must love God more than your career or your possessions. You must love God more than your friends. You must love God even more than your family!

You might say, “My marriage is the most important thing in my life! My wife/husband is my No. 1 priority!”

As noble as that sounds, it is the wrong No. 1 priority. Marriage is important, but it should not be the most important thing in your life.

Jesus should be.

The fact is that when you make Jesus the center of your life, you will be a better spouse.

Others might say, “Our children are the center of our life!” Listen, Jesus should be the center of your life! In fact, if you want to ruin your children, make them the center of your life.

The best thing we can do for our children is to show them how to make Jesus the Center of their lives because He is the center of yours.

That’s what a disciple does. More on this tomorrow.

Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ?

Thursday, September 24th, 2009 Posted in essentials, Pastor's corner, sermons | 3 Comments »

That question is the topic of my message tonight in Orange County.

It is my belief that every disciple is a believer, but not every believer is necessarily a disciple.

So what exactly is a disciple of Jesus? We will look at that together this Thursday and also Sunday at Harvest.

Time to grow up

The reason we need to know about discipleship is because Jesus told us to “go into all the world and make disciples . . . ” (Matthew 28:19).

But how can I make one if I am not one myself? It takes one to make one. It’s called “growing up” spiritually.

The Christian life is more than simply praying a prayer and getting “fire insurance.” It’s following Him, not only as your Savior but also as your Lord.

He wants to not only be your friend, but also your God. And some don’t seem to see that.

No prolonged infancies

Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 that God gave us pastors, teachers, and evangelists to help us mature and be equipped for the work of ministry. As one translation puts it:

“No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything” (Ephesians 4:14-15 THE MESSAGE).

I like that term “No prolonged infancies.”

Some believers are “stunted in their growth.” Well, it’s time to grow up!

We will look at that together.

The power of forgiveness

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009 Posted in encouragement, essentials, Pastor's corner, sermons | 9 Comments »

We must learn to forgive others.

Why? Because as flawed people, we will hurt one another, be it intentional or unintentional.

Husbands will offend wives, and wives will offend husbands. Parents will hurt their children, and children will hurt their parents. Family members will offend one another.

That is why we must learn to forgive.

Jesus said, “So if you are standing before the altar in the Temple, offering a sacrifice to God, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there beside the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23–24 NLT).

Taking the hand of your enemy

In my last post, I began to tell the story of Corrie Ten Boom. Incidentally, I recommend that you read her amazing autobiography, The Hiding Place. Her story was also made into a movie of the same name by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

After surviving the Nazi concentration camp at Ravensbrück, Corrie traveled the world, ministering to people.

She tells this story in The Hiding Place:

It was a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbrück. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there–the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”

His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.

An example to follow

Corrie Ten Boom gave us an example to follow. The example of forgiving people, whether we feel they deserve it or not.

One final thought. When you forgive a person, you set a prisoner free . . . yourself!


Monday, September 21st, 2009 Posted in encouragement, essentials, Pastor's corner, sermons | 8 Comments »

We have all heard of various oxymorons that are commonly used. For instance . . .

  • Freezer burn
  • Jumbo shrimp
  • “Found missing”
  • Deafening silence
  • Genuine imitation

These are all self-contradicting terms. I have a new one to add to the list . . .

Unforgiving Christian

If you are a true Christian, then you must forgive others. Forgiven people must be forgiving people.

That’s because, as fatally flawed people, we are going to sin. We are going to hurt one another, whether it be intentional or unintentional.

Husbands will offend wives, and wives will offend husbands. Parents will hurt their children, and children will hurt their parents. Family members will offend one another.

Why should we forgive?

We might ask, “What if the person who has hurt does not deserve forgiveness?”

My response would be, did you deserve to be forgiven by God? The answer is no.

Therefore, since God has so graciously forgiven you, you should in turn forgive others. The Bible tells us, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

A real-life example

You may have heard of Corrie Ten Boom. She tells her amazing story in the book, The Hiding Place.

During World War II, Corrie, along with her elderly father and sister Betsy, were sent to concentration camps by the Nazis for hiding Jewish people in their home. Corrie’s father rightly believed that the Jews were God’s chosen people and that, as a Christian family, they should do what they could to help them as the extermination of Jews began throughout Germany.

The Gestapo became aware of the Ten Boom family’s activities and told them to turn over the Jews they were hiding and stop offering sanctutary to them or else risk being sent to the concentration camps. The Ten Booms refused, and they were all arrested.

Corrie’s father and sister both died while incarcerated. But Corrie was released because of a “clerical error,” which was really God’s providence. She went on to live a long life traveling the world as a self-described “tramp for the Lord,” telling people that there was no pit so deep that God was not deeper still.

She also spoke on the topic of forgiveness, for she had to forgive the cruel men who took the lives of her father and sister.

Tomorrow, I will share with you an amazing story about the time when Corrie came face-to-face with one of her Nazi captors who extended his hand to her in friendship.

What would you do if you were in her shoes? What she did was an example of what we all ought to be–forgiving Christians.

When God says “Go!”

Thursday, September 17th, 2009 Posted in encouragement, essentials, OC, Pastor's corner, sermons | 2 Comments »

This Sunday at Harvest in Riverside I am speaking on the topic of prayer. This is the final part of our three-part message called “Secrets of Spiritual Growth,” which is part of our larger series Essentials.

We will explore the second half of The Lord’s Prayer. We looked at the first half last Sunday.

One thing we saw together in our last message was how important God’s will and timing is.

One person put it this way:

If the request is wrong, God says, “No.”
If the timing is wrong, God says, “Slow.”
If you are wrong,  God says, “Grow.”
But if the request is right, the timing is right, and you are right, God says, “Go!”

So how can we see God say “Go” and “Yes” more often? Are there secrets to answered prayer?

I believe the answer to that is yes, and we will discover them tonight in Scripture.

I am speaking in NYC!

Dont forget, I am speaking in New York City this coming Saturday for a spiritual growth conference. For more information on that, click here.