Remember God While You Are Young

The writer of Ecclesiastes exhorts youth to think about God while they are young. The challenge is to really consider and remember God now before the days come when health fails. Here is how the New Living Translation puts it.
Ecclesiastes 12 New Living Translation (NLT)
1Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” 2 Remember him before the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to your old eyes, and rain clouds continually darken your sky. 3 Remember him before your legs—the guards of your house—start to tremble; and before your shoulders—the strong men—stoop. Remember him before your teeth—your few remaining servants—stop grinding; and before your eyes—the women looking through the windows—see dimly.
4 Remember him before the door to life’s opportunities is closed and the sound of work fades. Now you rise at the first chirping of the birds, but then all their sounds will grow faint.
5 Remember him before you become fearful of falling and worry about danger in the streets; before your hair turns white like an almond tree in bloom, and you drag along without energy like a dying grasshopper, and the caperberry no longer inspires sexual desire. Remember him before you near the grave, your everlasting home, when the mourners will weep at your funeral.
6 Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. 7 For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.

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My Take On the OKC Thunder’s Win Last Night

There is power when a vision creates a team that is working together. Maybe it’s just me, but when a team works together it is a wonder to behold. I could be wrong, but when I watched the Western Conference Finals of the NBA last night, it seemed that Oklahoma City was a team whose time has come. The San Antonio Spurs appeared out of sync. Starting Manu Ginobli was a sign of desperation. I think Coach Popovich pulled out all of the stops to create a winning formula. He was almost correct. If the Spurs win he is a genius. But they did not win. Why? Maybe they felt the desperation communicated by the coach.
The Thunder on the other hand played with crazy wildness. The fact that they made some impossible shots is a testament to the fact they took impossible shots. They played with courage. Or maybe they played with the same desperation as the Spurs, but the game came down to this fact. The Oklahoma City Thunder has one more spurt, one more run, one more made shot than the Spurs. In the end, one more made shot is the difference between winning and losing.
If you find yourself in a battle for your vision, what can you do? Can you pull a team together? Can you create a compelling vision—a clear mental picture of a desired outcome? Can you put together a good strategy? Can you put forth strong effort? And above all else, put together at least one more good run than your opponent? Maybe that will be enough to be a winner. We shall see what the next game holds.

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Hebrews 12: 1-3
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3 Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.
Motivation is defined as the process that initiates, guides and maintains goal-oriented behaviors. Motivation is what causes us to act, whether it is getting a glass of water to reduce thirst or reading a book to gain knowledge.
It involves the biological, emotional, social and cognitive forces that activate behavior. In everyday usage, the term motivation is frequently used to describe why a person does something.
Whatever we want to accomplish, we must have motivation. Examples: weight loss, graduation, career change, new skills. We can have the motivation we need.
Components of Motivation
There are three major components to motivation: 1) activation, 2) persistence and3) intensity. Activation involves the decision to initiate a behavior, such as taking a class.
Persistence is the continued effort toward a goal even though obstacles may exist, such as taking more courses in order to earn a degree although it requires a significant investment of time, energy and resources.
Finally, intensity can be seen in the concentration and vigor that goes into pursuing a goal. For example, one student might coast by without much effort, while another student will study regularly, participate in discussions and take advantage of research opportunities outside of class.
Extrinsic Vs. Intrinsic Motivation
Different types of motivation are frequently described as being either extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic motivations are those that arise from outside of the individual and often involve rewards such as trophies, money, social recognition or praise.
Intrinsic motivations are those that arise from within the individual, such as doing a complicated cross-word puzzle purely for the personal gratification of solving a problem.
Three key thoughts in this passage of scripture:
1. Discouragements. Verse 3. You can get weary and discouraged in your soul.
Often, a person has the desire and ambition to get something done or achieve a certain goal, but lacks the push, the initiative and the willingness to take action. This is due to lack of motivation and inner drive.
In answer—consider Jesus. Consider how he endured hostility against himself.
Motivation strengthens the ambition, increases initiative and gives direction, courage, energy and the persistence to follow one’s goals. A motivated person takes action and does whatever it needs to achieve his/her goals.
2. Distractions. You can get distracted by the stuff we carry with us. Verse 1. Weight and sins which so easily ensnare us. Tangled up by distractions and sins.
Procrastination leads to laziness, and laziness leads to lack of motivation.
Persistence, patience and not giving up despite failure and difficulties keep up the motivation to succeed.
a. Set a goal. If you have a major goal, it would be a good idea if you split it into several minor goals, each small goal leading to your major goal. In this way, you will find it easier to motivate yourself, as you will not feel overwhelmed by the size of your goal and the things you have to do, and the goal would seem more feasible and easier to accomplish.
b. Understand that finishing what you start is important. Hammer into your mind that whatever you start you have to finish. Develop the habit of going to the finish line.
c. Constantly affirm to yourself that you can and will succeed.
3. Destination. Verse 1. There is a race set before you. You can choose to run it or walk it but it is yours.
Motivation becomes strong when you have a vision, a clear mental image of what you want to achieve, and also a strong desire to materialize it. In this situation motivation awakens and pushes you forward, toward taking action and making the vision a reality.
a. Visualize your goals with happiness and joy
b. Looking unto Jesus. Verse 2. He is the author and finisher of our faith. For the joy set before him endured the cross. Despising the shame. Now sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

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Excerpt From My Sermon “Bruised But Not Broken”

Our lives are more fragile than we want to admit. There is an old saying we used to say as children, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” But words can hurt us. Words can harm us. Words can wound us. Words can stay with us long after outward bruises have healed. One ill-timed or ill-tempered word can hurt a child’s spirit. A word spoken in anger can hurt a relationship, harm a friendship, and hamper a fellowship.
We have all experienced the bruising’s of life. We have to admit that life can be a battle. Just everyday life can kick the wind out of us like a mixed martial arts kick boxer. Life can beat us up. And while we Christians confess that we are more than conquerors, we must go through battles in order to become a conqueror. The is a college in Kentucky, Simmons College of Kentucky whose motto in Latin, translates to “No Victory Without Struggle”. That’s our story. There is no victory without some fight. There is no testimony without a test. There is no message without a mess. Victories don’t come cheap.
To have overcoming faith, it has to be tried and tested in the fire of life. Overcoming faith has been tossed into the lion’s den and stayed alive all night long. Overcoming faith has been through a few scrapes, storms and situations in life and lived to tell about it.
Not only is everyday life a battle, but the Bible teaches us that there is a spiritual component to life. The Apostle Paul teaches us that we “wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual powers”. If you are experiencing the fight of your life, remember you were not made to be broken. The nature of Christ is reflected in a prophesy of Isaiah. “A bruised reed he will not break”.
Is life sucking the dream out of you? Is life taking you through some sticky situation? Here is some good news. You were not made to be broken. Don’t surrender to the break downs of life. [Next we will talk about the broken spirit.]

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Childhood Memories of Worship At Zion Baptist Church In Louisville, KY

As a young child I would stay with my maternal grandmother over some weekends. Her home church was the Zion Baptist Church of Louisville, Ky. The church was a high liturgy church. Let me describe the interior of the sanctuary. There was a deep incline from back to the front where the pulpit was. The whole interior of the sanctuary was painted a light blue. Light flooded on the east and west walls by massive stained glass windows. At the front of the sanctuary were massive murals. On the left of the pulpit was a massive mural painted on the wall depicting Jesus reaching over a cliff to rescue one little lamb from danger. On the right of the pulpit was a massive mural with Jesus leading his sheep and carrying one little lamb around his neck and over his shoulders. These murals must have been at least 30 feet high and just as wide. The church choir would sing great hymns to a loud pipe organ…Such as, “Come Thou Almighty King” or “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name”.

There I would here the great preaching of my grandfather in the ministry, the legendary Dr. D. E. King. In Louisville at that time, he was one of the big three Baptist preachers in the city. In his day, there was Dr. Frederick Sampson of the Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church (he later was called to the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan), there was Dr. G. K. Offutt of the West Chestnut Street Baptist Church and then there was Dr. D. E. King. He was somebody’s preacher. He would tell colorful stories of his pastor the late Rev. Petsy Brown. Zion had a senior choir that had a wonderful repertoire of anthems and Negro Spirituals. It was very High Church in liturgy. Every Christmas the choir would sing the Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah accompanied by members of the Louisville Symphony Orchestra. We are talking over fifty years ago. In my childlike mind, the worship at my maternal grandmother’s church was regal, royal, impressive, and majestic.


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Learning to Forgive Yourself and Others

The challenge of most of us is not the realization of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Our challenge is to become people of mercy and forgiveness. One of the hardest things of men to do is to forgive self. Forgiving ourselves is not saying that the sins we have committed are right. Forgiving ourselves means we agree with God’s Word. God’s Word tells me that God hates sin in my life. In addition to that God offers forgiveness if we will repent. When we repent, God will give us another chance.

Here is the problem for some of us. We will accept the Word of God that positionally we are forgiven. That means, we are pardoned for our sins. But emotionally, we still feel guilty. We still beat ourselves up.

The next problem we face is forgiving others. We may forgive others for what they have done to us, but walking in that forgiveness is sometimes a challenge. When we believe others have wronged us, we want to hold it against then. We want to see God get them. But walking in the power of forgiveness is not about them. It is about us. We must forgive those who trespass against us. Why, unforgiveness hinders our prayers. Unforgiveness hinders our spiritual growth. Unforgiveness hurts our witness to others. Unforgiveness hurts our ability to love and serve the Lord.

“There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

WE have to learn to take upon us, the nature of our Heavenly Father. Our Heavenly Father offers mercy to us. We must walk in mercy to others. Our heavenly Father offers forgiveness to us. We must walk in forgiveness to others. Our heavenly Father offers grace and mercy to us. We must walk in that grace and mercy with others.

God is the righteous judge. Leave the judging to God.

“Jerome, an early church father, had a dream one night in which Jesus visited him. In the dream, Jerome collected all his money and offered it to Jesus as a gift. Jesus said, “I don’t want your money.” So Jerome rounded up all his possessions and tried to give them to Jesus. Jesus responded, “I don’t want your possessions.” Jerome then turned to Christ and asked, “What can I give you? What do you want?” Jesus simply replied, “Give me your sins. That’s what I came for; I came to take away your sins.”

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Spiritual Formation for Ministers [Taken from a Presentation]

1.     What is the purpose in the practice of Spiritual Disciplines?

In Christian Spiritual Formation or Spiritual Discipline the focus is on Jesus. It is a life-long process as a believer desires to become a disciple of Jesus and become more like him. This would be possible because of the divine grace of the Gospel and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Dallas Willard writes that “spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.”

2.     Why are spiritual disciplines especially important to ministers?

Willard believes passivity to be a widespread problem in the Church (loosely summed up in his phrase “Grace is not opposed to effort {which is action}, but to earning {which is attitude}” He emphasizes the importance of deliberately choosing to be a disciple of Jesus Christ (someone being with Jesus, learning to be like Him). An important outgrowth of the choice to be identified as a disciple of Jesus is the desire to learn about activities that aid spiritual transformation into the likeness of Christ.

In this regard, being an apprentice of Jesus (someone being with Jesus, learning to be like Him), involves learning about activities that might help one grow in the fruit of the spirit, namely love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).Such activities might include spiritual exercises practiced throughout the ages such as prayer, fellowship, service, study, simplicity, chastity, solitude, fasting. Willard explains the crucial role of engaging in spiritual exercises in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives— a book that was written after In Search of Guidance: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.

For Willard, Spiritual formation can be thought of as the training that makes individuals successful in the aforementioned roles.[as Christians and as Ministers].  Although it is recognized that the heart must be right, if one is successful enough in certain outward terms, very likely no further inquiry will be made. And, if something is known to be lacking on the inside or in the private life of the worker, as is often the case among those on a Christian staff, it may well be overlooked or justified for the sake of the ministry. [We observe certain character flaws in ministers that may never be dealt with, by speaking the truth in love.]+-

How, then, are we to think about spiritual formation that is faithful to the gospel and to the nature of that eternal life which is present in Christ and given to us with him?

Let us begin with practices, overt behavior. Spiritual formation in Christ is oriented toward explicit obedience to Christ. The language of the Great Commission, in Matthew 28…

 Matthew 28:19-20 New King James Version (NKJV)

19 Go therefore[a] and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 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.[b]

… Makes it clear that our aim, our job description as Christ’s people, is to bring disciples to the point of obedience to “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Of course, this assumes that we ourselves are in obedience, having learned how to obey Christ. Though the inner dynamics are those of love for Christ, he left no doubt that the result would be the keeping of his commandments.

John 14:21 New King James Version (NKJV)

21 He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”

“Those who have my commandments and keep them, they are the ones who love me. And they who love me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love them, and will manifest myself to them” (John 14:21).

Spiritual formation in Christ is accomplished, and the Great Commission fulfilled, as the regenerate soul makes its highest intent to live in the commandments of Christ, and accordingly makes realistic plans to realize this intent by an adequate course of spiritual disciplines. Of course, no one can achieve this goal by themselves, but no one has to. God gives us others to share the pilgrimage, and we will be met by Christ in every step of the way. “Look, I am with you every instant,” is what Jesus said; and it is also what he is doing.

We must stop using the fact that we cannot earn grace (whether for justification or for sanctification) as an excuse for not energetically seeking to receive grace. Having been found by God, we then become seekers of ever fuller life in him. Grace is opposed to earning, but not to effort. The realities of Christian spiritual formation are that we will not be transformed “into his likeness” by more information, or by infusions, inspirations, or ministrations alone. Though all of these have an important place, they never suffice, and reliance upon them alone explains the now common failure of committed Christians to rise much above a certain level of decency.

At the core of the human being is will, spirit, and heart. This core is reshaped, opening out to the reshaping of the whole life, only by engagement. First, engagement is to act with Christ in his example and his commands: “If you love me, keep my commands,” he said, “and I will ask the Father to send you another Strengthener,[Comforter, Paraclete] the Spirit of truth” (John 14:15-17). The engagement must come first, followed by the Helper insofar as obedience is concerned; as we try, fail, and learn, we engage with the spiritual disciplines. We add whole-life training to trying. We recognize that religious business-as-usual, the recommended routine for a “good” church member, is not enough to meet the need of the human soul. The problem of life is too radical for that to be the solution. We enter into activities that are more suited to our actual life condition and that are adequate to transform the whole self under grace, allowing the intention to live the commands of Christ to pass from will to deed. [From desire to deed, or will to actions].

Are we seriously and realistically about the business of Christian spiritual formation as measured by unqualified love of Jesus Christ, and as specified by the ‘job description’ of the Great Commission?


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Our God Of Justice and Mercy

God’s nature includes both justice and mercy.
Psalm 103:8-9 New King James Version (NKJV) 8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. 9 He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever.
Justice without mercy makes God a whimp. Justice makes the criminal get punished for their crimes. Justice gives us a sense of fairness in the world. Justice tells us that the wicked will get their recompense one day. Justice says, God will avenge the victims of oppression, prejudice and discrimination. Our God is a God of justice.
That is why, there is a place called Hell. Hell speaks to the justice of God. God will judge the earth. Hell was made for the original sinner, the Devil and those who rebelled against God in heaven. Hell was not made for humans. But if everybody ends up in heaven anyhow, where is the justice? If my grandmomma gets into heaven she has her reward. She loved the Lord and His Church. But where is the justice if Hitler gets in too? Or what is justice if the slave trader who sold her mother gets into heaven? Or what is justice if the slave master, who beat her father, gets into heaven? Or where is the justice if the others who mistreated our slave ancestors without mercy, only because their skin was black get into heaven? Of course, we teach that heaven is for those who put their faith in Jesus Christ, but there must be justice for unrepentant people.
Justice is the prerogative of God. God is the perfect Judge. And the Bible says, God will judge the living and the dead.
But God is also, a God of mercy. The Psalmist sings of the flip side of God’s justice. Mercy is one of the benefits of Psalm 103. (Read the whole Psalm when you can.) God is merciful.

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God Gives Second Chances

I don’t know about you, but I am glad God gives second chances. Not only does God give second chances, but God gives us many chances. The God we serve is a God of Love and Mercy. The Bible is full of examples of God’s abundant Grace and Mercy. I don’t know about you, but mercy is what I need. Mercy suits my case, as the old song goes.

Moses was given another chance to lead God’s people. How many understand that Moses the great law giver was also Moses the great law breaker. Moses was a murderer and a fugitive from justice. But God gave Moses another chance. God in essence said, Moses, you cannot deliver my people with a homicide. You will deliver my people with spiritual obedience.

David, the man after God’s own heart, was a liar, adultery and a murder. He seduced a military man’s wife, while her husband was fighting for his country. Then David tried a cover up, by bringing her husband back from war to sleep with his wife. And when David couldn’t cover up his sin, The King had the man murdered during the battle, by setting him up to fight alone. But, David discovered a spiritual truth. If God’s people will repent of their sins, God is faithful and just to forgive their sins and give then another chance.

We have studied the book of Judges. Here is the story line of this Old Testament book. The People of God forsake God and His Ways. Then God allows another group of people to persecute and oppress them. They cry out to the Lord for help, and God raises up a deliverer, called a Judge. This deliverer sets the people free. They serve God for a while, and then they resort to their old sinful ways. God has to chastise them again, so they will come back to Him.

This cycle of sin, repentance, deliverance and sin again sounds like many of us today. We are like those Old Testament folks. We come to God in Jesus Christ. Then some of us slip into a pattern of sinful behavior. We are in trouble. We repent and call on the Lord for help. Here is the old cliché’. God if you would just help me this time. I promise, I will do right. God, if you can just help me this time, I promise I will go to church. God…  God delivers us. We walk straighter for a hot minute. Then we go back to our old ways.

God is a God of grace and mercy.

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Carrying Our Cross [A Lenten Meditation]

Luke 9:23-24 New Living Translation (NLT)

23 Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. 24 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.

What must Jesus mean? In order to follow Jesus, we must take up our cross daily. Taking up our cross must mean more than just the daily issues and problems of life. We all have to deal with bossy supervisors, wicked co-workers, bratty kids or fair-weather friends. We all have faced financial problems, health challenges and daily anxieties. Could this statement mean more? I want us to consider a few things.

During this Lenten season, we think about giving up something to focus on a season of preparation for Easter. Maybe this season can become meaningful if we take up a special cross by giving up something special. Naturally, non-Christians would not consider this. However, we who follow Christ can sacrifice something we love in order to focus on our journey with Christ. I remember talking to one of my daughters who gave up her cell phone for Lent. All of the specifics escape me but her point was to sacrifice something special to her.

The word sacrifice seems so insignificant to us. We use it glibly. But, as we think about our small sacrifices, let us consider the Great Sacrifice Jesus made of us. Consider His death for our sins; His payment for our sin debt and His incredible love for us. So if we really love Christ, we can give our lives to Him. If we really love Him, we will not be ashamed of Him.

The stuff we hang on to, the materialism that consumes our culture, the amount of energy we put into getting more things is baffling. I am among the transgressors. I still wrestle with more money for things I need. Yet, I hear the voice of Christ telling me the real need is to follow Him. The scriptures implore us to put Christ first and then the rest of the things we need will be taken care of. Getting to that place of trust is a walk of faith. So anyone ready for a cross? Yours is waiting for you. Mine is awaiting me. Shall we take them with us this season as we prepare ourselves for a new level of spiritual growth?

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