Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How to End Conflicts

By Allen White
Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. Matthew 5:25-26

Every conflict ends in one of two directions: you either have kept a friend or created an enemy. The “friend” route can be anything from “let’s agree to disagree” and tolerate each other to “let’s forgive and forget.” The “enemy” route ranges from a quiet resentment to angry outbursts.

There is a middle road – the passive-aggressive approach, which says that “I will treat you like a friend for now, but when the time is right, you’re done.” Remember, passive-aggressives will always get you in the end.

The choice is ours. Will we pursue forgiveness or frustration? Reconciliation or resentment? Unless we intentionally decide to sever the relationship, which never makes it actually go away, the only path is forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not time consuming. Getting ourselves to a place where we are willing to forgive just might be. But, the longer we allow an unresolved conflict to hang out there, the more trouble it becomes. This is why Jesus encourages us to keep short accounts.

It’s not our job to punish someone else for their faults by withholding our forgiveness and our relationship. God is the only rightful judge who can decide such punishments (Acts 17:30-31).

Paul said not to let the sun go down on our anger (Ephesians 4:26-27). If we’ve offended someone or vice versa, the biblical timing is to resolve the issue by day’s end. If we let problems linger, then it tends to get blown out of proportion and to involve people who shouldn’t be involved.

Relationships are hard work. Unless you are completely detached and slightly in denial, there will always be friction between human beings. Any relationship that is worthwhile is high-maintenance. Auto-pilot in relationships always ends with a crash landing.

Now, rather than beating yourself up about how you should have handled things in the past, what is on your agenda to resolve today? Where do you need to make a step toward reconciliation? Don’t just “Bless their hearts.” How can you actually work to resolve it? What do you need to confess to them? What do you need to apologize for? Don’t hesitate. The time is now.

Reconciliation may or may not follow. Time will tell on that. Forgiveness is the start.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Resenting Others and Praising God

By Allen White
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24

One summer on the way to church camp, my then girlfriend passed a note to me. The note said basically, “It’s not you. It’s me. Can we just be friends?” I had wondered why she didn’t want to sit next to me on the bus. I’m very perceptive about these things.

At the next rest stop, I headed for the bathroom and, uh, donated my breakfast from that morning. I wasn’t taking it very well, even though the romance had lasted all of 30 days.

Once we got to camp, I was fully immersed in all of the activities and church services. I plunged headfirst into the deep end of the divine. Who needed a girlfriend anyway?

One evening following the service, I was kneeling at the altar in the front of the Tabernacle. The building looked more like a barn with red, yellow and orange shag carpet. But, it had a very spiritual sounding name.

I earnestly sought after God. And, God basically said to me, “Buddy, you’re wasting your time. You need to go find the girl and make things right.” You see in my quest to pursue God and leave her in the dust, I had been slinging a little mud too.

I went outside and found her. I apologized. She cussed me out. I went back to the Tabernacle to once again earnestly seek God feeling that I had done my part to make things right and having confirmation that she was not the girl for me.

How often are we at odds with others, then we think we can show up to church and get our praise on? We might sing songs. We might get a little emotional. But, in God’s ears, it’s just a bunch of noise. Our worship is coming from our lips, but not from our hearts.

If you think about it, if the light of Christ doesn’t impact the darkness of our souls, then there’s something really twisted about what we call worship. Often we treat worship like the old bath soap commercial, “Calgon, take me away.” But, before Jesus will take us away, He expects us to deal with our stuff.

In this passage, Jesus paints a scenario where we have offended someone. In Matthew 18, He teaches about handling situations when someone else offends us (Matthew 18:15). Here’s the kicker: whether we offended them or they offended us, Jesus instructs us to take the initiative toward reconciliation in both scenarios.

“But, that’s not fair,” you protest. As I’ve written before, you want better than “fair.”

Who are you at odds with right now? How is it interfering with your worship? If it’s not, then be concerned about that too. It’s time to take responsibility for your actions. It’s time to own up to your shortcomings, regardless of theirs.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Anger Management

By Allen White
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Matthew 5:21-22

The path seems very long between anger and murder. While I doubt that a murder has ever been committed without anger or rage, anger seems to only be the trailhead on that journey. After all, murder is a terrible thing. We would never do that. But, we might get angry.

Carol Tavris, in her book, Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, teaches that anger is only a present emotion. Some people think that we have this vast reservoir of anger. In order to feel better we have to open the flood gates and get our anger out. But, according to Tavris, anger is only a present emotion. To stay anger, we have to keep ourselves angry.

Much like a campfire that will soon die out when it has consumed all of its fuel, anger will also dissipate if we starve its fuel source. Staying angry is much like stoking a fire. Even when the person who angered us says something clever, we might find ourselves tempted to give them a smile. Then, we pull the smile back and remind ourselves of the detestable thing that they did and make ourselves angry once again.

The tricky part is that anger, in its root form, is an emotion. Whether it provokes a violent explosion or a quiet smoldering, anger is a reaction to our circumstances. Even, Jesus became angry at the practices of the money changers at the temple. He erupted into a rant about making His Father’s house a den of thieves and proceeded to knock over their tables (Matthew 21:12-13). Yet, Jesus was without sin (1 Peter 2:22).

The Bible says, ““In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27). The implication is that we can be angry and not sin as well. Anger happens. The question is what we intend on doing with it.

In today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was pointing out that the same sinfulness that leads to murder also involves perpetuated anger, insults, and even name calling. While angry words don’t lead to incarceration or capital punishment like murder often does, all of the sins Jesus named cause a disconnect in our relationship with God and allow an entry point for the devil’s work.

Whether our sins are unacceptable criminal acts or “acceptable” sins, it’s still sin. Sin always takes a toll on us. Sin always gets in the way of our relationship with God. Sin is always an unnatural act for a human being. It’s not who we were designed to be.

Often we excuse our “minor” sins by saying, “Well, you know, we’re just sinners saved by grace.” In his book, The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith equates that statement with a butterfly saying, “I’m just a worm with wings.”

There are plenty of things to be angry about in the world. Injustice and inhumanity are intolerable. Mistreatment can easily provoke our wrath. But, if we continue to feed our anger, then we’ve become one of them.

What are you angry about? The antidote to anger is forgiveness. It’s not letting the offender off the hook. Forgiveness is costly. Just consider the price that Jesus paid for your sin. Forgiveness is not easy, but it is necessary. Unresolved anger leads to dark, dangerous places. Forgiveness will free you. Don’t you want to be free?

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Choosing a Better God

By Allen White

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight. Luke 16:13-15

Verses like these cause a lot of people to stop reading and turn the page. They provoke guilt feelings and old Bob Dylan references – “You’re got to serve somebody” after all.

If money were merely a thing, it wouldn’t be a big deal. It would be a means to an end. Yet, Jesus recognized serving money as an alternative to serving God. It’s not merely fiscal. Money is a force. No wonder we get so up in arms about it.

Money talks. We run into trouble, when as Rick Warren says, “Our net worth determines our self-worth.” We can allow money to put a price tag on our efforts. Paychecks and commissions define who we are and what we can accomplish. It eludes us into believing that chasing after more of it will satisfy us. But, more doesn’t satisfy – only God satisfies.

Then, there are those who have money and believe that it entitles them to do what they want, to say what they want, and to control others. There is a big difference between acting god-like and being godly. There is no evil in money (1 Timothy 6:10), but are they using their affluence for influencing others for Christ (Luke 16:9)?

I know what you’re thinking – can we get off of this money thing already? But, here’s the deal – Jesus is just going to hit us up with this again in a few weeks anyway (Matthew 6:19-24).

The bottom line is this: do you have money or does money have you? What’s odd is that people who make a good living, but aren’t rich, tend to struggle with greed more than the truly wealthy. Why? We’re deceived into thinking that money will make us comfortable, secure, better looking, and more likeable. Think again.

Many people with money don’t know who their true friends are. They have to call into question every invitation from every person. “Do they want to get to know me for me or for my money?” On top of that, the more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to worry about, insure, replace.

Jesus was simply saying, “If you’re going to pick a god to serve, then choose one who can completely satisfy you, provide significance to your life, meet all of your needs, give you security, and be a pleasure to serve.” Hint here – it’s not money.

Years ago I heard a story of a man on vacation on the beach. He came upon a fisherman who was fishing from the shore. The man would fish for half of a day, sell his fish and go home. The vacationer challenged the fisherman to work a full day, so he could afford a boat.

The fisherman asked, “Why would I do that?”

The vacationer replied, “Well, if you get a boat, then you’ll catch more fish, which can help you to acquire more boats. Eventually, you will need your own warehouses, processing plant, brand, marketing, and sales force. Then, when your company has grown sufficiently, you can sell it to a multinational conglomerate and retire. Wouldn’t it be great to retire well? What will you do when you retire?”

The fisherman smiled and answered, “When I retire, I will fish for half a day from the shore, and then go home.”

The problem with running the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat. What are you pouring your life into? What are you pursuing? If you catch it, what will you do with it? What will it do with you? “Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor” (Proverbs 21:21).

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Is Your Faith on Autopilot?

By Allen White

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Matthew 23:23-24

Most of us would prefer not to know what goes on in the cockpit of a commercial airplane. We would like to assume that the pilots are capable, well-trained, alert, well-rested tea-totalers who will get us there safely. Once that cockpit door is shut, we prefer to imagine Captain Sully Sullenberger at the controls (just as Brookwood member Bob Moore did on USAir Flight 1549). Ignorance is bliss.

The failsafe of aviation is auto-pilot. I’m not a pilot. I’ve never played one on TV, but I do know that when our tray tables are in the upright and locked position, the pilot is running the show. But, between the takeoff and the landing, the plane is on autopilot. If something needs attention, the plane will alert the pilot. Otherwise, they just sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight with the rest of us.

While on autopilot, there’s time to nap or play Soduku or watch Airplane the Movie. As long as the pilot doesn’t need to ditch the plane into the Hudson, it’s blue skies all of the way.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day lived their spiritual lives on autopilot. Ten percent went to God. Ninety percent was kept for them. It was a no-brainer. The only problem is that no-brainers don’t require any thinking.

Justice, mercy and faithfulness require thought. The first time I heard Gary Haugen from the International Justice Mission talk about slavery and human trafficking in the world today, it was a bit overwhelming. It was both hard to believe and horrifying at the same time.

I wanted to retreat back into the comfort and safety of my spiritual life. I pray, read my Bible, tithe, serve God and His people. Isn’t that enough? Now, I had to think about millions of men, women and children enslaved throughout the world including the United States of America. Could I just write a check and then sit back, relax and enjoy the flight?

What would you rather not think about? When are you tempted to change the channel on your TV or in your mind? How are you seeking out the safety of autopilot? God put you and me on this planet to make a difference. What do you feel compelled to do?

It’s easy to attend church every Sunday, and then retreat to our suburban homes. There’s nothing wrong with that. Unless we’re like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan who would rather cross over to the other side of the road and not get involved. Jesus’ mission is to seek and save the lost. What could be more fulfilling than being on-mission with Jesus?

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ridiculous Does Not Equal Righteous

By Allen White
Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. Matthew 23:5-7

Insecure people need to feel they are better than others. They like to brag and show off. They like to keep others guessing simply because they like other people to think about them. They like to intrigue simply because they enjoy the attention. TMZ was made for them.

This passage is kind of funny to me, because the things that were so valued by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day really don’t make any sense to us today. Honestly, most of us wouldn’t recognize a phylactery if it hit us on the head. We don’t even know how to pronounce it.

Phylacteries came out of a literal interpretation of the Law. “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads” (Deuteronomy 11:18). An interpretation of these words would mean to “get God’s Word into your thoughts.” The religious leaders took this literally and would put slips of paper containing verses in leather boxes, and then attach them to their heads.

If God’s Word wasn’t in their head, at least it was right next door. Somehow it might seep in by osmosis. I don’t believe that this will start any new Christian trends, but I’m also never surprised.

While the religious customs in these verses aren’t meaningful to us, the question is whether we do spiritual things out of sincerity or for show. Is our motive to impress or to inspire? The problem is that by drawing attention to ourselves, we draw attention away from God. For some, our religious behavior might even put an obstacle in their path to God.

What do you try to do that lets people know you’re okay spiritually (or superior)? Do you raise your hands in worship out of routine? Do you “spontaneously” do the same thing every Sunday? Do you dress a certain way? Do you talk a different way at church than you do in other places?

What part of your reputation is necessary for you to feel okay about yourself? Do you need to blend in? Or, do you need to stand out? Do you need to do everything just right? Or, do you need to be outrageous?

God wants to entirely fulfill your life. God wants you to be secure and confident in who He has created you to be. God desires for you to have a quiet strength that doesn’t require bragging or boasting. God wants to give you the life that you’ve dreamed of. Are you willing to receive it?

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Christians are Hypocrites, and I’m a Christian.

By Allen White
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Matthew 23:1-4

None of us is actually as good as we claim to be. After all, what we believe are the things that we actually do. If I say that it’s important to exercise, yet I never exercise, I actually don’t believe what I said. If I say that it’s important to live by Christian values, yet I don’t forgive someone who offends me, then I don’t believe that either, do I?

Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean that we should abandon all attempts to try new things or to improve. It’s one thing to grow toward something. It’s quite a different thing to say that you live by a standard that you never really intend to live by. This is where the Pharisees lived.

The Pharisees had great expectations for the behavior of others. They just didn’t feel obliged to comply themselves. Their lives were focused on where the rubber meets the air, not where the rubber meets the road. They were all bark, and no bite. They didn’t practice what they preached.

The people who listened to them were ready to challenge the Pharisees to put up or shut up, but Jesus cautioned them. The Pharisees were given authority that was handed down from Moses. They were terrible examples of righteousness. Personally, they were spiritual wrecks. Their lives didn’t command much respect, but their position did.

But, how could they submit themselves to the authority of two-faced, back-biting, lying, corrupt, deceitful, no good, sons of Abraham? By not allowing the Pharisees to hinder them, they submitted to God.

You can’t control other’s bad behavior, but you can control yourself. Your job is not to right every wrong. You are not a superhero. In the midst of rampant disobedience, you can choose to obey. That’s all God wants.

If you choose to fit in with the Christian club, you can actually forfeit fitting in with God. You can follow all of the rules and still lose the game.

Where do you see hypocrisy these days? What are you tempted to do about it? Let me encourage you to give that work over to God. Let your focus remain on obeying God yourself regardless of how you feel or what others are doing.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Playing a Losing Game

By Allen White

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20

In Jesus’ day, the epitome of righteousness was the Pharisees, a Jewish sect who strictly observed the Law. In the minds of some, they were model Jews. They defined what righteous behavior should look like. They weren’t cut from a different cloth. They just played the game well.

The righteousness of the Pharisees was less about pleasing God and more about fitting into a religious culture. Their efforts weren’t applied to spiritual growth as much as policing the boundaries. A righteous person could neglect his aging parents (Mark 7:10-12), but as long as he didn’t work on the Sabbath, he was still righteous. It was more about fitting in than depending on God. When was the last time you felt completely out of place? Whether you didn’t feel cool enough, or you were awkwardly aware that your manners weren’t up to par, or you simply couldn’t add to the conversation because you didn’t even understand it. No one likes to feel out of place.

When I was 19 years old, I traveled for 36 hours to Hong Kong for a summer mission trip. While Hong Kong at the time was a British colony and shared a common language, there were many things that I didn’t understand. What I learned quickly was that I should never insult my hosts by refusing anything they offered. According to Chinese culture, they had to "save face" (their term).

I complied with everything they directed me to do. I tried everything they offered me to eat. But, when the dining began to involve pickled cow intestines at the Korean Barbecue and chicken feet with our Dim Sum, I became wise to the fact that they were just playing with me. I couldn’t call them on it or else they would lose face. But, I also didn’t have to eat with them either. McDonald’s and Denny’s were just down the street.

Human standards always fall below God’s standards. Religion is not meant to elevate people, but to control them and possibly to attempt to control God. A relationship with God allows Him to enter into our world and give us what we can never earn – faith and grace and righteousness.

There is a certain safety in religion. It has a scorecard. Grace is risky. We have immunity regardless of our performance. That’s very hard to reconcile.

Paul Young, the author of The Shack, tells this story:

A man died and went to Heaven. He soon stood before Saint Peter, who instructed him, “Here’s the deal, in order to get into Heaven you have to have 100 points based on the good things you’ve done on earth.”

The man replied, “Well, I spent the last 30 years caring for the poor, working in soup kitchens, housing and clothing the homeless.”

Peter said, “Okay, I’ll give you a point for that.”

The man was a bit astonished. Thirty years of service only amounted to one point out of 100. He said, “I served as a pastor for 25 years. I counseled the distraught. I performed weddings and funerals. I cared for the needs of my congregation.”

Peter replied, “Okay, I’ll give you another point for that.”

“Two points,” the man thought to himself. “How will I ever get in?”

Just about that time another man walked up and went straight through the pearly gates. The first man turned to Peter rather perplexed and asked, “What about him?”

Peter smirked, “Oh, he doesn’t play this game.”

Stop playing the game. Stop working hard to be someone that you’re not. Be yourself, and let God work on the rest.

Oh, and if you're interested in The Shack, I'm teaching a class called on The Theology of the Shack this summer on Thursdays at Noon. Register here: http//:www.brookwoodchurch.org/brookwooduclasses

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Is God Kind of Selfish?

By Allen White

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” Isaiah 29:13-14

Boy, a verse like that makes you want to point a finger and pound a pulpit. But, let’s take a breath and act like these words were spoken to us. Let’s read this passage again:

“The Master said: These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their hearts aren't in it. Because they act like they're worshiping me but don't mean it, I'm going to step in and shock them awake, astonish them, stand them on their ears. The wise ones who had it all figured out will be exposed as fools. The smart people who thought they knew everything will turn out to know nothing" (Isaiah 29:13-14, Msg).

God knows when we’re just playing the game. How does He know? He knows everything. He knows our thoughts and our motives. In fact, God understands more about us than we even understand about ourselves.

We might be able to fake it and look pretty good to other people, but it’s not a long-term plan. If the outside doesn’t match the inside, then eventually the whole thing breaks down. If you don’t believe that, then your train wreck is still on its way.

God is a Jealous God (Exodus 34:14). He doesn’t want you to merely serve a coping mechanism. God wants our full devotion. He will do whatever it takes for you to put Him in the center. Why? Is God selfish? Absolutely not. God wants to be in the center of your life because that’s how you were designed to live.

Notice, that God isn’t going to punish you into submission. He is going to “wow” you there. In all of these things that you wrestle with and worry about, God is trying to tell you, “I’ve got it. Don’t worry. Let me blow you away with what I can do for you.”

No one falls in love with someone who scolds them, except for the affection of a few American Idol contestants toward Simon Cowell. You love people who are affectionate and kind and thoughtful. You fall in love with people who go to crazy lengths to demonstrate their love. (Please note: this is not license for stalkers).

God understands you. He isn’t scheming about how He can punish you more so He can win your affection. That’s really kind of sick. God wants to lavish you with His great power and love. Now, you might find yourself in a terrible situation that requires God’s great power, but that doesn’t mean that He has stopped loving you.

What are you doing that your heart is just not in? How are you pretending to be better than what you are? I’m not saying that you should unleash the seething beast that lives just below the surface, but I would encourage you to take that to God and figure out why it’s there.

If you just don’t feel that you desire God these days, I’ve heard a pastor advise his church members to stay away from church services until they want to be there again. When you feel that you can truly worship, and put your head and heart into it, then come back.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Are You Hope-full or Hope-less?

By Allen White

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. Hebrews 7:18-19

The Law is weak and useless because it only leads to hopelessness. The Law defeats, while hope proclaims victory. The Law highlights error. Hope overcomes.

What has ever succeeded in your life that you felt hopeless about? Nothing. It might have succeeded to fail, but nothing positive came from it.

The goal of the Christian journey isn’t to walk with our heads down feeling defeated. That doesn’t mean that we won’t endure difficult things. At the end of every difficult thing, we will also find hope.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Romans 5:3-5, NLT).

It’s a little hard to believe that we run a better chance of gaining hope from our problems and trials than we do from following the old covenant. We can be right and feel miserable, or we can be completely accepted by God and have hope.

As Rick Warren says, “You can live a month without food. You can live three days without water. You can live a few minutes without oxygen. But, you can’t live a second without hope.”

How’s your hope? Do you find yourself hope-full or hope-less these days? I will leave you today with a blessing from Paul – “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13, NLT).

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Guilt is a Poor Motivator

By Allen White

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
Hebrews 7:11-14

The writer of Hebrews is sort of playing with his readers here. If people could live perfect lives, then the priesthood wouldn’t have been necessary. If there is no offense, then there is no redemption. If sin didn’t disrupt their relationship with God, then they didn’t need a priest to mediate for them.

The priesthood of Aaron resulted from the Law (Exodus 28). People would eventually violate the Law and needed some way to atone for their sins. If everyone obeyed the federal, state, county and municipal laws today, then courts would be unnecessary. Jails would be unnecessary. If there were no lawbreakers, there would be no prisoners. If there were no sinners, there would be no sacrifices.

When the people of Israel sinned, they paid the price with an animal sacrifice. The Law dictated that their offense should cost them something. The problem was that the redemption was external. All of the sacrifices in the world couldn’t erase their guilt and shame.

Their religious system was working as well as it could. The Law defined right behavior and the priesthood mediated for wrong behavior. But, as Andy Stanley says, “Your system is perfectly designed to achieve the result you are getting.” As long as the religiously frustrated fell short, business was booming for the priesthood. What they were doing wasn’t getting them to where they wanted to go.

The writer, then, refers to a real, but nearly mythical priest, Melchizedek. Before the Law of Moses, Abraham had paid a tithe to this priest before tithing was even dictated (Genesis 14:18-20). Melchizedek’s priesthood was apart from the Law. The point the writer makes is that Jesus, the Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15) also operates outside of the Law. Jesus wasn’t subject to the Law because He lived a perfectly sinless life and fulfilled the Law. The system wasn’t the Savior.

The only thing the Law does for any of us is point out how bad we are (Romans 3:20). For most, this doesn’t lead to a concerted effort to improve. It leads to guilt that typically gets drowned in something somewhere. But, what if our sin and guilt could be removed? What if there was a better way?

Jesus provides that better way. Even Christians live defeated lives because they are ashamed of themselves and of their behavior. Jesus didn’t die so you would be ashamed. Jesus died so you could be free.

None of us is perfect. We all have plenty of room to grow and certainly need improvement. But, God doesn’t work in our lives by reminding us of how terrible we are. God starts with how much He loves us and with His vision for our lives.

Guilt doesn’t motivate anyone toward healthy things. God knows that. That’s why God removes our guilt and shame so we can get on with who He’s called us to be.

What guilt are you carrying today? If you’ve offended someone, then apologize. If you have sinned, repent. If you think God is mad at you, think again.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

The Burdensome Safety of Rules

By Allen White

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:

“The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.

This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. Hebrews 8:7-13

The Letter to the Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians who considered returning to Judaism and the old covenant. They were a bit unnerved by their newfound freedom and were ready to return to the bondage of the Law. People often find comfort in familiar surroundings.

We are creatures of habit. We park in the same space at work almost daily. We order the same dishes in the same restaurants. We buy the same brand that we’ve used for years. Why re-decide every time? It’s just too much work.

I sit at the same table in the same coffee shop where I write these devotionals. When I came in this morning, only one person was seated in the entire place. He was sitting at my table. But, after a little prayer, he left, and my writing routine was back to normal. (To clarify – my prayer wasn’t for him to leave, though it was my secret ambition.)

Human nature tends toward rules and patterns. Rules are safe. If we never watch television, then we don’t have to avert our eyes when Victoria’s Secret commercials come on. If we never talked, we would never insult someone or tell a lie. If we never ate, then we would never over-eat. But, it’s not that simple is it?

We could choose to avoid alcohol, tobacco or desserts, but we have to eat. If we’re eating something we don’t like, it’s easy to quit. But, if we’re eating something delicious, it’s hard to refuse another helping. And, if we’re stressed out, then it’s easy to dive into a vat of Ben and Jerry’s. But, where and when did our eating interfere with our relationship with God? Where’s the line?

Rules keep things nice and neat. The problem is that life is messy. When the toothpaste doesn’t go back into the tube, sometimes the best thing we can do is to admit that we made a mess.

The old covenant or the Law specialized in pointing out our faults (Romans 3:20). The new covenant offers unconditional acceptance. The Law of Gravity says that what goes up must come down. The new covenant provides a safety net. God’s grace allows for an “oops,” but prevents a splat.

The old covenant placed a burden on people. The new covenant works from the inside out. “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10).

What’s eating at you these days? What is getting the best of you? God will “strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Ephesians 3:16).

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Truth Versus Tradition

By Allen White

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-19

We have a funny relationship with the Old Testament Law. Some of us run from it. The Law is so, uh, legalistic. Others run to it. For some, rules make things safe. For others, rules make for rebellion.

Once upon a time, the “Law” was only one command: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Adam and Eve didn’t have to worry about taking the Lord’s Name in vain or honoring their fathers and their mothers (think about it), or coveting their neighbor’s stuff (again). They just needed to eat everything else in the entire garden, except for the fruit of this one tree. That was the entire Law. Easy enough, right?

But, once Adam and Eve tasted of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, there were all kinds of options. Sin could now be nuanced from the bizarre to the mundane. The world was their oyster, and suddenly they were allergic to shellfish.

God didn’t give the Law to curtail human joy. God didn’t give the Law merely to educate us on infectious skin diseases. God gave the Law because He knew what was good and what wasn’t good for people.

People who were once free to live and enjoy all that God created had now died spiritually and were exposed to evil for the first time. People needed boundaries so they wouldn’t destroy themselves. Yes, they had knowledge, but they lacked wisdom.

The Law wasn’t the total solution. First of all, no one could keep the entire Law. No one was that good. Since perfection is impossible, the focus fell of keeping a portion of the Law that was more manageable. After all, as long as you fit into your religious culture, you’re okay, right?

The definition of devotion fell to the religious leaders of the day. They determined what should and should not be done. They knew how to work the system (Matthew 23:25), and they knew how to manipulate the loop holes (Mark 7:10-12). The Law became convenient to some and controlling to others. It was a heavy burden.

Jesus is the complete fulfillment of the Law. He is the only person to live a perfect life and never sin. The Law wasn’t a heavy burden placed upon Him. The Law was in Him. He focused on the “Shalts” and didn’t make it to the “Shalt Nots.”

The Pharisees and religious leaders didn’t approve of Jesus’ actions. After all, Jesus broke their rules – He healed on the Sabbath, He ate with sinners, He didn’t wash His hands correctly – Jesus bucked the system, but He fulfilled the Law.

The question for us is whether we’re following the Truth of God’s Word or fitting into a religious system. They aren’t the same thing.

Years ago, my home church held a business meeting to determine whether we would change the Sunday evening service time from starting at 7 pm to starting at 6 pm. It was a big deal. By unanimous consent and the will of God, the time was changed.

I would no longer be tempted by the previews of the Wonderful World of Disney or Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Now, we went to church immediately after dinner and went to bed shortly after we got home.

But, here’s the thing – when we examine Scripture, we don’t see a Sunday night service at 6 pm or 7 pm. We also don’t see a Sunday morning service. We also don’t see from Scripture that we should have four songs, three points and a poem in our services. It’s tradition. It’s not unbiblical, but it’s part of our religious system.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against church services. Believers are instructed to meet together (Hebrews 10:25). The early church met in public places and in homes (Acts 5:42). The question is – have our habits shaped our understanding of what God requires? Do we make assumptions about what the Bible says based on what we’ve always done or have always thought?

Often evangelicals look down on other churches because of their traditions, yet how many evangelical traditions have become sacred over the last hundred years without thinking whether our actions were truly biblical? When we judge others and determine that they aren’t good enough to fellowship in our circles are we reflecting Jesus? When others don’t play by our rules, do we hold on to our rules or do we reach out to them? Do we even know God’s Word well enough to gracefully live out God’s commands?

What part of your Christian walk are you struggling with these days? Is it because of sin? Is it because of someone else’s interpretation of what God expects? If you don’t know what to do, ask God. He will clue you in.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Blog Feed Issues

Dear Readers,

I apologize for devotionals that were missed or duplicated this week. Blogger, the service that I use, has had some significant problems this week. Everything looks set for next week. Cross your fingers and whisper a prayer.

Thanks for reading,

What If We Stopped Complaining?

By Allen White

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. Philippians 2:14-16

For some of us, these verses seem impossible. Grumbling and complaining might feel like breathing. Or, if it’s not a complaint, it comes out as sarcasm. Whether our snide remarks are resentful or recreational, they reflect the condition of our hearts.

Grumbling and complaining comes from the simple fact that the world is not as we think it should be. Whether our expectations are realistic or not, when our lives don’t measure up to our expectations, we grumble and complain. When our lives are less than what we think they should be, we grow resentful and sometimes angry.

The problem, according to this passage, is that grumbling and arguing are obstacles to becoming blameless and pure. The ugliness of our attitudes corrupts the purity of our souls. When we are saved, God declares us to be righteous (Romans 4:5) and purifies our hearts (Hebrews 10:21-22). Negative attitudes can pollute what God has purified.

Sometimes we excuse our attitudes, because of the world that we live in and what we have to deal with. The world is an unfair and an unjust place. Just watch the evening news – there’s plenty to be bitter about. Just look at how people treat each other – there’s plenty to resent.

Don’t you find it odd that the first century A.D. was regarded as “warped and crooked”? If that generation was warped and crooked, then what does that make our generation? They didn’t even have Lady Gaga back then.

Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians from prison. That wasn’t fair. Why wasn’t Paul bitter? Paul knew, as we know, that neither people nor evil are ultimately in charge of the universe. God is.

One day, every wrong will be righted (Revelation 19:11). One day, justice will prevail and evil will disappear (Revelation 20:10). Until that day, we must choose to trust that God loves us, He has a plan for us, and He knows what we’re dealing with. If we choose to trust rather than complain, then we “shine among them like stars in the sky.”

What are you known for these days – the light of Christ or grumbling and complaining? Complaining is really just a bad habit. There are times to bring things up. But, if the person that we’re talking to is not part of the problem or part of the solution, then it’s just grumbling and gossip.

It’s our choice to either become blameless, pure and bright or grumbling, complaining and dull. God will help us shine like stars. If we choose the other path, we’re on our own, consequences and all.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Distracted and Discouraged

By Allen White

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. Revelation 3:15-16

Jesus spoke these words to the church of Laodicea. They had become distracted by the things of this world (Revelation 3:17). Like many American Christians, they thought they were fertile soil for God’s Word to grow in, but the reality is they were more like thorny ground (Matthew 13:1-23). They were distracted by the things of this world. They were more concerned with comfort than character. They lived a faith that suited them.

Their faith was like a cup of warm milk at bedtime. Their tummies were full. Their appetites were satisfied enough to lull them to sleep. Good was the enemy of great.

Wilbur Rees wrote a poem years ago that reflects the spiritual condition of Laodicea:

“I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love [people who are different from me]
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.”

God wants each of us to live an abundant life (John 10:10), but all of that abundance is not merely for ourselves. It’s interesting that some of the most joyful people in the world have very few material possessions. Yet, people with many material things are not satisfied.

Why? Because things are meant to be used, but not loved. Only God satisfies. Only God causes us to be happy. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”

What is keeping you unhappy these days? What in your life was over-promised, yet has under-delivered? Could it be that you are relying on something or someone instead of relying on God? God can actually meet all of your needs. God wants to meet all of your needs. What is coming between you and God these days? What can you do to eliminate that from your life?

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

You Have More Influence Than You Think

By Allen White

Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:15-16

For some of us, these verses have been with us from the time we learned the song, “This Little Light of Mine.” One pastor tells the story of a child visiting their children’s ministry who had never been in church before. This child’s version of the song went “hide it under a bush, Hell no!” What he lacked in understanding, he more than made up for in zeal.

An unbeliever’s attraction to the Gospel isn’t centered on a well-crafted explanation of the message. If that was the case, then Christian television, radio, stadium events, tent meetings, websites and tweets would already have saved everyone by now. Words are only words until they're made flesh (John 1:14).

The unbeliever with the best chance of accepting Christ is the unbeliever who is surrounded by believers. The presence of believers who understand what they have in Jesus Christ is significant. Prayers are answered. The discouraged are encouraged. The lost are found.

You may be saying at this point, “Okay, I’m saved. I go to church every morning. I don’t hide the fact that I’m a Christian. But, I’m not seeing these things happen.” If that’s the case, then my guess is that you’re too busy to allow these things to happen.

For God to use you to influence another, you have to be available. Most of us simply aren’t available.

When we tell God that we are available, then we have to pay attention to what’s going on around us. When we see someone who needs help, then we actually need the time to help them. Now, you may be thinking, “Well, I don’t really have time for that.” If you’re too busy to do God’s will, then you’re too busy.

If we want God to use us, then we have to create margin in our lives to actually be used. We have to say “no” to some of the things in our lives that don’t really satisfy us anyway. We have to give others our time and attention. Our presence in the lives of others is far more significant than most of us realize.

John Maxwell says that “Leadership is influence.” Leadership is not merely a title or a trait. As Rick Warren says, “If you think you’re a leader, and you don’t have any followers, you’re only taking a walk.” Who do you have influence with?

Who will try a new restaurant because you recommended it? Who will avoid a bad movie based on your review? Who will change their view of things, either positively or negatively, based on your attitude? You have more influence than you think.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

You’re Brighter Than You Think

By Allen White

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:14

One of my favorite spots in the world is the Point Piños Lighthouse near Monterey, California. It’s one of the oldest lighthouses on the west coast and is just up the coast from Pebble Beach.

The cool thing about the lighthouse is that in addition to housing the light, it also housed the light keeper. Just imagine the million dollar view. Of course, light keepers worked at night….

In the days of light keepers, the light needed to be tended. The light keeper would turn it on, turn it off, and keep it going in-between. Today, even the Point Piños Lighthouse is automated. Retired Coast Guard supervise the tours, but the light doesn’t need anyone to run it.

The formula is simple: when it’s dark, the light shines. The light doesn’t need to work hard to shine. It just shines. It’s positioned to been seen from far off shore. It’s not on a high hill, but it’s positioned to warn ships based on the curvature of the earth.

We don’t possess the light because we are so bright. The light is the light of Christ. It originates from Him, not from us. For instance, John the Baptist (who pointed to Christ) tended the light, but didn’t produce it. “John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:8-9, NLT).

The difference between believers today and John the Baptist is that the light of Christ was with John, but the light of Christ is in us. “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Light in a dark place is obvious. It doesn’t have to jump up and down. It doesn’t have to make a lot of noise. Light simply shines.

How is your life positioned to shine the light of Christ? What is it about your life that shows you possess the light of Christ? I don’t say that as some guilt-inducing attempt to make you try harder. Your trying harder wouldn’t get you there.

We possess the light of Christ. Yet, many of us don’t really understand the significance of what we’ve been given. We pray about nothing, when we’re instructed to pray about everything (Philippians 4:6), and then we attempt to live our lives for Christ without His Power or Presence. No wonder we feel frustrated and defeated.

Ask Jesus to show you what it means to possess His Light. Then, notice how the light of Christ can affect the darkness around you.

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Are You Worth Your Salt?

By Allen White

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. Matthew 5:13

Salt has many purposes. It can melt the ice on our sidewalks, freeze our ice cream, and even preserve food. But, the most common way that we use salt is to season food.

I watch a lot of shows on the Food Network. The unfortunate thing is that none of those delectable dishes automatically appear in my kitchen during the shows. What happened to that food machine the Jetsons’ used?

In food competitions, the cardinal sin is to present unseasoned or under-seasoned food to the judges. The implication is that if the chef doesn’t know to season food, then why is he even a chef? Why is he on the show? Was he headed to the Price is Right and ended up in the Food Network studios? Even I know that you should season your food. Come on.

Salt elevates the taste of food. But, salt eaten by itself is not that great. During years of summer camp outside of Wichita, Kansas, it would get very hot and humid. Added to this, our church had a very high value on modesty. Interpretation: even though it was 110 degrees, we still couldn’t wear shorts at camp. The Solution: salt tablets.

Have you ever had a salt tablet? It’s not pleasant, even if you swallow it. Supposedly it kept us from getting sick or having a heat stroke or something. Honestly, I would have rather been part of some liberal shorts-wearing denomination, but that’s for another day.

Salt by itself is abrasive and rather disgusting. But, salt with something is great. Lindt sells chocolate bars seasoned with sea salt. Unseasoned French fries aren’t worth their salt, so to speak. No one wants to taste salt for salt’s sake, but we do want salt that will enhance the dish.

“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus said. That doesn’t mean that we come out once a year to cover the sidewalks when Greenville, SC gets half an inch of snow. Perhaps our purpose is to elevate the appeal of what God has created.

If we present our faith as salt tablets, then the response will be “Yuck!” No wonder we dislike contrived efforts at evangelism. But, what if we embraced the parts of our lives in Christ that are better than life without Christ?

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t say that Christians are better than non-Christians, because we’re not.

How is living in community with other believers better than living among non-believers? Do your friends pray for you? Do other believers point you back to Christ when you are discouraged? Does your circle “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2)? If not, the believers you hang with might not really understand what it means to belong to Christ.

How do non-believers see Christ working in you? I didn’t ask, “How do they see you working to pretend to be like Christ?” How do they see Christ’s work in you? How is your saltiness? Would others respond with “Yum” or “Yuck”?

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