Tuesday, September 30, 2008

STUCK! In A Rut!

Hey everybody!

This Thursday's Rap With Pastor Bill will focus on the "rut" that we often find ourselves stuck in. I know for me it's devotions and prayer. I have found that if I make time to pray with friends I get so much more out of it than when I pray by my self. But, I don't take the time to actually call someone and ask them to coffee for the expressed purpose of praying. When I neglect to pray the way that I know God speaks to me the best, I find myself praying half-heartedly and without much conviction.

What is the rut you find yourself in, either all the time or just from time to time? Some people find themselves stuck in a dead end relationship, stuck in a dead end job, or stuck in the past. Others struggle with self-esteem and self-worth issues, financial issues, or faith issues. These are just a few examples of the things I've helped people through in the last ten years of ministry, but I'm sure that you have other examples of just feeling like your spinning your wheels and not going anywhere. So, that's a start for this Thursday's discussion.

Let's get the discussion going early this week! You don't need to divulge deep, personal information if you don't want to, but commenting on something somewhat generic that most of us struggle with would be a great start. At the very least, comment and let me know that you at least read this note.

Thanks and we'll see ya' Thursday!

Bill

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Contest!

Jesus makes it very clear that He came to seek and save the lost and the be a doctor to the sick. He said He didn't come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. He said that the Followers, Christians, should be humble and always put others first. He said that whoever wants to become great among us must be a servant and whoever wants to be first must be a slave. I think He really knew what makes a person great, and it appears as if the standards we have for greatness in this culture really has nothing to do with greatness in the culture of Heaven. So, in the interest of my next Sunday sermon, I would like to hear from as many of you as I can who you think is great among us.

First, some rules...
1) the criteria is based on the way Jesus explained greatness in light of humility (see Matthew 20:20-28).
2) the person does not need to be widely known, but must have at least one other person you know able to affirm your claim.
3) the person be can living or dead, but had to have lived in our life-time.

Second, the prize...
The winner of this contest will receive no compensation or recognition and will remain known only unto me.

Third, respond in the comment field below this post

Thanks!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Divorce & Remarriage

Jesus is the answer for the world today!

Have you ever stopped to think about all the people who have been effected by divorce? The national statistics show that somewhere between 40% and 50% of all marriages will end in divorce. Evangelical Church statistics are some better, but not much. With numbers like that, I can imagine that you have either been through a divorce or have seen a close family member or friend go through it. Everyone I know has a been effected by this epidemic in some manner.

If you were to believe what you hear from the media, Christian and Secular, you might think that this is a new development within our own country. What if I told you that divorce is an ancient concept that has been an issue in just about every culture that has a recorded history. Even in the Old Testament of the Bible you can see that divorce was common. Moses, in the book of Deuteronomy, wrote a special amendment to the Law to allow for divorce because he wanted to make sure that the people effected by it could continue to be cared for and have a certain amount of personal rights. Even Jesus and the Apostle Paul spoke to the subject in their day over 2000 years ago. Yeah, divorce is an problem in this great country of ours, but it is not new.

I love how Jesus handles this issue. In Matthew 19, a group of pharisees wanted to trip Jesus up by exposing His thoughts on divorce. (You can read one of my last posts if you want to know the background on the whole story here.) But instead of being duped into a discussion that would have caused dissension and possibly gotten Jesus arrested or killed, He simply pointed out what the intention for marriage was in the first place. He then follows up those thoughts by making it clear that there is only one acceptable reason for a divorce. Yes, there is an exception. The exception is this: divorce is permissible when a married person has a physical relationship with someone other than their spouse. That is all that Jesus said about the matter.

Paul, on the other hand, states the same exception, but adds a second acceptable reason. He says that is if a person becomes a Christian and the other non-Christian spouse no longer wants to be married to the Christian, then the Christian would not be committing any wrong doing if the non-Christian divorces the Christian (1Cor. 7). So there you have it, although hated by God (Mal. 2), there are two acceptable reasons for divorce.

Don't misunderstand the point, divorce for any other reason than the two mentioned above is wrong. Wrongdoing is also hated by God and called sin. So, logically speaking, you could say that divorce for any reason other than the ones mentioned is sin. You could make very good cases for the right to divorce because of physical or emotional abuse, but that would be covered by the second exception stated by Paul about a Christian being married to a non-Christian. Yeah, that that is a judgment call, but think about it... If a person is going to totally ignore Biblical authority in the area of self control and continue to habitually beat someone (for whatever reason) and has been approached in the manner of Matthew 18, then the church would be obligated to take the correct measures to insure the safety of the innocent party. (As Paul states, this is my opinion and interpretation not necessarily the Lords intention, even though I think it is. Please feel free to state a different opinion or argument.) Sin is sin and must be dealt with.

Yes, people who remarry after a divorce that didn't line up with the two positions stated by Jesus and Paul have committed sin, a wrongdoing.
However, the majority of marital mix ups are about as impossible to repair as the sin of murder. Therefore the guilty party may be forgiven by God, even though he cannot make all wrongs right. Even the guilty party will not find one word in the Bible which addresses them to separate from their present companion, much less find a Biblical example of a married couple that did separate because they had been divorced and remarried. The guilty one will find that they have sinned a sin like murder in the respect that they can’t make adequate restitution to the point of undoing the wrong they have done. In other words, if a guy divorces his present wife and breaks up their home in order to get remarried to his first wife, he would be adding another wrong to the wrong already done.

If every intricate detail of every marital situation could be untangled and resolved, the fact remains that not one time did Jesus attempt to advise individuals already divorced and remarried (guilty or innocent). He never tried to untangle the intricate involvements of the past. Jesus knew, and so must the church realize and under stand, that we should never try to repair something when we know before we start that, spiritually and socially, we will likely make matters worse instead of better. That must have been the reason Jesus never attempted to tell people who were already involved in divorce and remarriage what to do to solve their problem.

Now that I have said all that, let me tell you an awesome truth. Jesus forgives sin! He always has and He always will. He is in the business of healing wounds no matter how they were inflicted. Don't forget that marriage is the picture of intimacy that God wants with His people. That is why it is so damaging for people to go through a divorce for any reason, even the ones that are acceptable in His eyes. Just like untaping wrapping paper or separating super-glued fingers, some of the effected area will remain connected to the original bond. There really is no way around the pain of separating what God put together. Dealing with the guilt and shame of divorce through acceptance of God's love and forgiveness is the only way to live in the intimacy that God wants, even for the people who have been divorced, guilty or innocent.

Jesus left the door cracked open just a little bit on divorce, just read Matthew 19:11 and 12. There He points out that not everyone can live a celibate life. Keep in mind that He said that after He pointed out that divorce was not the original plan. He knew that human hearts are hard and that without His Holy Spirit, people will commit sin against Him and other people. He knew that we all have fallen short of His glory. But He also renews a right spirit in those with contrite, sorrowful hearts willing to admit to wrongdoing. If you have been divorced, take time to confess your part and then trust that Jesus has forgiven you and no longer holds that sin against you. For those of you who have been divorced for the acceptable reasons mentioned in this article or even for any wrong reason, forgive your ex spouse. As Jesus said in Matthew 17:7, "Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!" Take the person who has hurt you off your hook and simply place them on God's hook. He has promised to deal with the people who have caused harm, you don't need to carry that burden any longer. Divorce is not an unforgivable sin, and divorced people are not "damaged goods". Come to Jesus and He will set you free, even from divorce, guilty or innocent.

Ego and God's Will

(I wrote this blog several weeks ago but didn't publish it because I thought it was a little harsh and somewhat defensive. Now, though, I feel that it needs to be published so you can see that even I struggle, from time to time time, with self esteem and clear vision. Feel free to weigh in on this post, but I'm not looking for my own ego to be stroked and I'm not probing to find out if others feel as the two people mentioned in the article do. I truly just want you to see that I am human and have feelings that get bruised as I deal with the pressures of leading Willow into the future with the Vision He has provided.)

There a very few things that make me nervous. Things usually just don't bother me. But, recently I have been accused of some pretty bad things and have been feeling a little put-out by those accusations. I wrote a blog a long time ago expressing how personal "flavors" about how a church does church is important to so many people (http://kiddsplace.blogspot.com/2007/11/what-to-do.html), so I know that there is no way to please everyone who comes to Willow with our style, format, or way of doing things. But there have been a couple of comments made lately that have shaken me up. I was told that Willow will never experience what God wants it to be and that people are not coming to Christ because of the "way" I preach. Interestingly enough, the same sentiment was repeated almost verbatim to me by a friend of the first person. Never mind that that previous Sunday, several saints came forward and gave huge amounts of themselves to Jesus as He convicted them. Never mind that just two weeks before that service, two people got saved and I am in contact with them about getting connected to a church in their own hometown. Never mind that just last week 5 people took the membership class at Willow and will become members with the approval of the next church board meeting. No, I guess I'm not following God's will for the two people who don't like the way I preach. It was very difficult to listen to such criticism because I have devoted my life to bring Jesus to everyone I meet, let alone my congregation. To think that I (or any pastor) am the sole reason people do not turn to Christ really spun into a mighty big bout of self doubt and personal crisis.

O.K., I'm over it now! I have been feeling defensive and I know that is not what God intended when He allowed me to hear such hard criticisms. I have done nothing wrong, so there is nothing to be defensive about. And if I had done something wrong, then I wouldn't have a defense anyway. But, I can tell you this; I have way more resolve now than I have ever had! I know exactly what and why God gave me a vision for North West Lansing, and for the congregation of Willow! I have been labeled "Old School" for well over 5 years now in regards to me preaching style because I don't do topical sermons and I get very excited about what the Bible says verse by verse. I'm very comfortable with that title and the exegetical way I present God's Word, emotion and all. I really don't sense God asking me to change the way I have always preached, so I'm going to be who He has made me be even at the cost of alienating other believers. Maybe God will convict me of the way I say things on the platform and maybe He won't. I will deal with what He brings to my attention and other people will have to deal with what they hear and decide if personal "flavor" is worth walking away from the place God has called to attend or even to serve.