Posts Tagged ‘God’

Anyone with an iPhone or Android has undoubtedly downloaded the game “Temple Run.” It is a fascinating, yet simple time-killer that has assassinated countless hours of productivity. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got yourself getting sucked in to the addictive nature of the game. However, while sacrificing hours on the altar of “Temple Run” trying (unsuccessfully) to beat my 5 year old’s top score, I realized that “Temple Run” also holds several spiritual truths that mirror the message of the gospel and the life of a believer. Since there are four gospels, here are four spiritual truths I found in “The Gospel According to Temple Run.”1. You’ve got to run for your life.

“Lord, I’m runnin’ tryna make 100!”

In “Temple Run”, the explorer is constantly being pursued by “demonic monkeys” who are waiting for him to make one false step. The moment the explorer stumbles, the monkeys pounce on him to “eat up his flesh.” In the same way, our enemy, the devil, is constantly sending his demonic forces on assignment to chase, harass, and attempt to destroy the believer. However, just like the explorer, we must keep running. We can’t afford to stumble. Every time we stumble we allow the enemy to gain ground on us. The interesting thing is that the demonic monkeys are not fast enough to catch the explorer on their own, they need his help. They need him to stumble in order for him to catch up. The enemy can’t catch you if you don’t allow him! That’s why he puts obstacles in your way. You’ve got to jump, slide and turn on the road to your destiny. It reminds me of the old song of the church that says, “Lord, I’m runnin’ tryna make 100 because 99 1/2 won’t do!” Keep running for your life!

2.  Don’t forget the coins.

The explorer can’t be so busy focusing on the demonic monkeys behind him that he misses out on the coins in front of him. Throughout the obstacle course there are yellow, red and blue coins. These coins represent the treasure of God’s word. They also represent opportunities; they can be used to purchase upgrades and aids to help the explorer on his journey. Likewise, every day, God blesses us with opportunities designed to aid us on our journey. However, if we are too busy looking at what’s chasing our back, we’ll miss out on the blessing that’s staring us right in the face. One interesting thing to note about the demonic monkeys in “Temple Run” is that for most of the game you can’t even see them. They are so far behind the explorer that they disappear off the screen. God doesn’t want you looking at what’s behind you. He wants you to focus on the opportunities that are ahead of you. The Apostle Paul says, “Forgetting those things which are behind…I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14). Don’t forget the coins!

3. Make sure you power up.

Force-Field of Favor

Throughout the maze of “Temple Run” several “power-ups” appear. The explorer has to leap to get them.  These represent the power of the Holy Spirit that is available to every believer. We just have to leap up and grab it. The Holy Spirit is our Paraclete. He is our Comforter and our Helper. He is like the Christian’s “power-up.” There are several power-ups in “Temple Run”, but my favorite is the magnet. When the explorer gets the magnet, he doesn’t have to maneuver to collect the coins…the coins come to him. That sounds a whole lot like the favor of God. When you have God’s favor, you don’t have to try to force your way into situations; God will make them come to you! The Bible says that God surrounds us with favor, like a shield (Psalm 5:12). In other words, He puts a magnetic force field of favor around us that just attracts the blessings, but you can only get it if you power up.

4. The objective is to survive.

There is no tricky secret or hidden motivation for the explorer in “Temple Run.” His only goal is to stay ahead of the demonic monkeys behind him and watch out for the obstacles in front of him. The goal is to stay alive – to survive. Similarly, our goal as believers is to keep surviving. Even though our situations may look bleak, we continue to survive. As Ezekiel prophesied to the dry bones in the valley, we must encourage ourselves to live. Proverbs says that death and life are in the power of our tongue. Therefore, we must learn to speak life. You must tell yourself, “I will not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord!”

While there are at least four similarities between “Temple Run” and the life of a Christ-follower, there is one stark difference. The game has no end. The explorer can just keep running and running until he either gets tired and gives up or is eaten or killed in the game. He has to keep running, never being allowed to get any rest or peace. However, for the child of God, we are promised both rest and peace. God grants us opportunities to rest and even commands us to do so, and one day we will look forward to the ultimate peace of eternal life. Another difference is that, in the game, the explorer is running away from the temple. Of course, in our Christian journey, we must run TO the temple. So make sure you make that “temple run” this weekend and #Go2Church!

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We hear it all the time, “Pastor you really preached this morning. That was a GREAT sermon!” But, was it really a great sermon? How can we tell? Many times people make statements like this because the message addressed an issue they were currently dealing with. That’s one of the great blessings of the Word of God – it is living and it touches us right where we live. However, that leaves a great deal of subjectivity when it comes to analyzing the merits of the transmission of the message. Quite honestly, it is entirely possible to have a great message and a terrible sermon. The sermon is the vehicle the preacher uses to transport the message God has given to him or her, and the preacher must be careful not to allow the vehicle to get in the way of the message.

One of the opportunities the Lord has blessed me with is to serve as an adjunct professor at Carolina Christian College, where I teach courses in the field of homiletics. Homiletics is the art and science of preaching. Preaching is an art form. God uses all of who He created us to be in the preaching process. That’s why you will never find two sermons that are exactly the same – because there are no two people who are exactly the same. However, while preaching is an art, it is also a science. In other words, there is (or at least should be) some methodology to the preaching process.

It is extremely important for the preacher to engage in the process of regularly evaluating his or her sermon…because the congregation already is! For every person who says, “Great sermon, pastor” there are five who walk by thinking that it was the worst thing they ever heard. That should not discourage the preacher, but should inspire him or her to continually strive to improve and develop his or her craft. Preaching is a life-long call, and it involves a life-long process. Any preacher who is not seeking to improve his or her ministry is doing the congregation (and ultimately, the call) a disservice.

When it comes to evaluating the sermon, there are six key elements that form a rubric from the acrostic: PREACH.

Punctuality

One of the most important elements of a sermon is time. Great sermon content can be easily overshadowed by poor time-management. When it comes to time-management, err on the side of caution. Oftentimes, less is more. Of all the thousands of sermons I’ve heard or have preached I can count on one hand (with fingers to spare) the times I’ve heard someone complain that the sermon was too short. As the old adage goes, “The mind can only absorb what the behind can endure.” People in the audience no longer want to suffer through hour-long sermons of preachers proving how smart they are and how much they’ve studied. You don’t have to preach the whole Bible in one sermon. The good thing about Sundays is that they come every week. Save a little for the next one.

Relevance

As stated earlier, people are moved by the message when it speaks to where they are. The goal of preaching is  contemporizing timeless truths and make them relevant to the audience of today. This does not in any way involve changing the timeless truths, but it does involve packaging them in such a way that the audience can understand. It is, in essence, what Jesus did. Jesus used parables as a way of packaging the principles of the Kingdom so His audience could grasp them and apply them to their context. A perfectly constructed sermon that lacks relevance is merely a lecture. Preaching must connect with the audience.

Exegesis

Exegesis simply means exploring and interpreting the text. Far too many sermons have no biblical foundation. The Bible remains the road map for every good sermon. If the preacher does not follow the map, the audience is bound to get lost. Preachers must stay true to the biblical text if their message is to maintain any substance. The role of the preacher is not to preach his or her opinion but to preach God’s opinion, and God’s opinion is found in His Word. I’m very leery of preachers who consistently ignore the Word or just read it as a formality at the beginning of the sermon and spend the entire sermon talking about everything but that scripture. Good preaching is biblical preaching.

Appearance

You may be wondering what appearance has to do with a good sermon. The reality is that people see you before the hear you, and your appearance can either help or hinder the sermon. You never want your suit to get more attention than your sermon. Don’t be too flashy, and certainly don’t be too shabby. Your appearance must be appropriate for your audience. Also, for God’s sake, please use an iron. It’s hard for your audience to hear you talk about “a church without spot or wrinkle” when your clothes are full of them! Watch your appearance…because the congregation is.

Clarity

The greatest sermon has no effect if people don’t understand it. Sermons must be CLEAR in order for people to HEAR. Some preachers treat sermons like doctoral theses, but sermons are designed to reach the “least of these.” Like my pastor, Bishop Alfred Owens, always taught me, “We must always remember that we are feeding sheep…not giraffes.” The goal is not to be high and lofty in our preaching, but to preach with clarity and simplicity so the sheep can graze on the Word.

HEAT!

Preaching must be done with passion! This is not a matter of style, but it is a matter of conviction. The preacher must preach like he or she believes the message…or no one else will. When we preach with conviction…the message is convicting. The purpose of preaching is to produce a change. When we bring the heat, we are stirring the congregation toward positive change. Listless preaching leads to lifeless congregations. Preach with passion, and God’s power will manifest!

The greatest sermon ever preached is undoubtedly Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” as recorded in Matthew 5 – 7. It is the largest collection of red letters in the entire Bible. (In many Bibles, the direct words of Jesus are written in red.) In this sermon, Jesus begins by telling us a collection of statements about blessings and what it takes to be blessed. These statements are collectively referred to as “The Beatitudes.”

However, while Jesus begins his sermon talking about blessings, He ends it basically talking about cursings. It’s clear Jesus didn’t attend any seminars on preaching. He would have realized that His homiletic structure leaves much to be desired. Any preacher worth his salt knows you’re supposed to END with the blessings! Didn’t Jesus know that He was supposed to leave the people on a high note so they could shout, dance and praise so they would be ready to give more in the offering? *tongue planted firmly in cheek*

In any event, Jesus ends His sermon with a warning. He says in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” It’s from this warning that we derive the colloquialism “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” The message is clear: “Watch out for people who pretend to be harmless sheep when they’re really ravenous wolves.” The worst part of this warning is that Jesus is not telling us to watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing at our jobs, at school, or even in our families. He says we are to watch out for them in the Church! He says “Beware of false prophets.”

Sadly, today we don’t only have to worry about wolves simply infiltrating the ranks of the prophets. There are many who have also invaded our pulpits and call themselves pastors. I call them “Wolves in SHEPHERD’S Clothing.” It’s one thing when you can’t trust the sheep beside you, but how dangerous is it when you can’t trust the shepherd in front of you? Wolves in shepherd’s clothing don’t PRAY for the sheep…they PREY on the sheep. Wolves in shepherd’s clothing believe that the sheep exist to serve them, when the exact opposite is true. Wolves in shepherd’s clothing can preach with INTENSITY, but they have no INTEGRITY. They have CHARISMA, but no CHARACTER. We must beware the wolves in shepherd’s clothing!

The word beware simply means to “BE AWARE.” In other words, we must learn how to identify the wolves in shepherd’s clothing. How do we do that, when the express reason the wolves put on the shepherd’s clothing is to disguise themselves from detection? Jesus gives us the answer in Matthew 7. He says, “You will know them by their fruits” (v. 16) and “by their fruits you will know them” (v. 20). Focus on the fruit. There are four particular fruits that help us identify wolves in shepherd’s clothing.

Appearance

Now, I know you’re thinking, “How can I identify a wolf in shepherd’s clothing by his or her appearance when they are in disguise?” The reality is that no matter how great a wolf is at disguising himself, if you watch him or her long enough and closely enough, they will eventually show their true colors. There isn’t enough wool in the world to cover up all their fur. So look for the fur. Wool is soft and comfortable. Fur is rough and prickly. If a pastor is ALWAYS in a bad mood and treats people like they’re his or her servants instead of the other way around, it’s a good chance he or she is a wolf in shepherd’s clothing.

Aroma

Wolves have a distinctive scent. A wolf smells very differently than a sheep or a shepherd. While they may be able to “pull the wool over your eyes” wolves cannot hide their scent. Even if they pass the eye test, they can’t pass the smell test. Wolves in shepherd’s clothing usually carry an aroma of arrogance. They usually try to huff and puff and blow stuff down. Shepherds serve the sheep. Wolves try to subjugate the sheep. Shepherds should carry the fragrance of humility…not the aroma of arrogance.

Appetite

Wolves have a ravenous appetite. They are never satisfied; never content. They always want more. One of the ways to identify a wolf in shepherd’s clothing is by his or her appetite. If they’re “hungry like a wolf” chances are it’s because they ARE a wolf. This is the taste test.  You can tell a lot about a person by their tastes. What are they attracted to? If they desire things of the world more than the things of God, perhaps that pastor is merely a wolf in shepherd’s clothing. This is not to suggest that a pastor must be perfect – for none of us are. We all make mistakes. The difference is that a wolf in shepherd’s clothing has developed a lifestyle around his or her illicit appetites. We must beware.

Articulation

The final test for wolves in shepherd’s clothing is the ear test. No matter how cunning and smooth of tongue a wolf is, eventually he or she will let out a howl. If we listen to many of the sermons preached in pulpits around the world, there’s a whole lot of howling going on. We must learn to listen for it. Jesus said that the sheep follow the shepherd because they know his voice and will not follow the voice of a stranger. Listen out for strange voices from the pulpit, and if it doesn’t sound like Christ or His Word…DO NOT FOLLOW!

These are just a few of the ways we can identify wolves in shepherd’s clothing: appearance, aroma, appetite and articulation. The key is that once we are aware of wolves in shepherd’s clothing, we must not allow them to continue to devour the sheep. True shepherds must not allow wolves into their pulpits – even if they can preach well and raise big offerings. If we don’t protect the sheep in our fold, the Master will hold us accountable. We also must protect the wolves from themselves. We must remember that even a wolf in shepherd’s clothing is not out of reach of God’s grace. Jesus ends His sermon with a warning for the wolves. He says, “Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name?’…And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me.'”

I guess we need to tell the wolves that they need to BEWARE.

“My marriage is on the rocks!” That’s one of the first statements I hear from the many couples I counsel who are having marital problems. Or they may say that they’re going through a rocky period in their relationship. Whatever the terminology, the point is that things have gone from bad to worse, and they can’t even remember what good felt like. It’s at this point that I remind them that instead of throwing rocks at each other we must work together to build our marriage on The ROCK. This is no easy task, but whoever said that marriage would be easy?

There could be no better example of marriage than the first one. Adam and Eve had the perfect relationship. They were LITERALLY made for each other. They had a mansion with no mortgage (and it came with a beautiful Garden). Adam had a great job and because they had no bills, Eve was able to stay at home and take care of the house. They didn’t have any kids yet, but they had tons of pets to keep them company, and perhaps best of all, they had no nosey in-laws trying to get in their business :-).

Despite all of this, one day trouble came knocking at their door. Their marriage faced its first real test. It doesn’t matter how great your marriage is, one day it will be tested. Adam lost his cushy job in management and had to start working in the field (literally), Eve got pregnant and had to deal with the pain of childbirth (not to mention the mood swings of pregnancy), and they got evicted from their beautiful home. Talk about a test! And to make matters worse, when Adam had a chance to stand up and take responsibility for his mistakes, he blamed everything on Eve!

Most marriages would not have survived all this turmoil. In fact, many don’t survive much less than this. Yet, Adam and Eve stayed together and built quite a little family (they’re called The Human Race – ever heard of ’em?). I wonder what kept them together? How did their marriage survive? Adam could have asked God to put him to sleep and make him another wife, after he all he did have a few “spare ribs” (BADUM-CHING – LOL). Eve could have left and moved back in with her mother…oh wait, she couldn’t…but she could have decided she didn’t want to stay with a man who blamed her for everything and decided to go her separate way, effectively ending the human race. The entire world was riding on their marriage! Thankfully for you and me, they decided to stick it out and stay together.

The secret, I believe, is that from the beginning, Adam and Eve were not alone in their marriage. Their marriage was built on The ROCK. No, I’m not talking about that wrestler-turned-actor who’s always inviting people to smell whatever he’s cooking. I’m talking about “The ROCK of Ages.” The only reason Adam and Eve’s marriage survived is that their marriage was not only built on their relationship with each other, but also on their relationship with God. When the world is counting on your marriage to survive, you better have more than your mutual love because as one singer so eloquently put it, “Love don’t pay the rent.”

Adam and Eve had The ROCK to run to when their marriage was on the rocks. The first thing The ROCK did is He covered them. Genesis 3:21 says, “Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them” (NKJV). They were naked and ashamed, and God clothed them. He covered their nakedness, their hurt, their anger, and their pain. Perhaps the reason our relationships are so rocky is because we’ve got uncovered wounds. Any health professional will tell you that if you have a wound, you’ve got to cover it before it gets infected. Many of us are walking around in our marriages with uncovered wounds that have become infected with the spirit of bitterness. Now the infection has spread to all parts of our marriage, and what started out as a fairy tale has now become a horror show.

If that’s the story of your marriage, the good news is that if you don’t like what you are seeing, you have the power to change the channel. Don’t settle for a marriage on the rocks when you can have a marriage on The ROCK. Of course this begins by putting God first in your life and in your marriage, but there are also a few practical steps we can take to make our marriage ROCK.

1. Repent to your spouse for all you’ve done wrong.

Repent of the wrong you have done to your spouse in the past. You cannot move forward in your marriage if you don’t deal with the stuff in your past. Otherwise, it will keep popping up at the most inopportune time, and a discussion about who left the dirty dishes in the sink last night will turn into a full-blown argument over all the dirty things you’ve done over the years. I’m not saying that you should go back and cut open every old scar, but I am suggesting that you should recognize that there are scars and acknowledge your part in putting them there. This is one area we should NOT take our cue from Adam and Eve. When turmoil hit, they both shifted the blame and failed to take responsibility for their actions. Repent for your past so you can move on to your future. This is something that BOTH parties should do. Even though one person may have done the most wrong, no spouse is blameless. Focus on what YOU have done wrong and repent for that.

2. Overcome the spirit of bitterness.

We overcome bitterness through forgiveness. Repentance and forgiveness are not an “If/Then” proposition.  One is not a pre-condition for the other. They are both unconditional expressions of unconditional love. If you want to put your marriage on the ROCK you must remove all conditions. In other words, you cannot say, “I will only forgive my spouse after they repent.” You are called to forgive your spouse whether or not they repent and ask for forgiveness. The first statement Jesus made from the cross in Luke 23:34 was “Father forgive them.” They never asked for forgiveness. In fact, He forgave them while they were still crucifying Him! Marriage is not a give and  take; it is a GIVE and FORGIVE. You give your best…and forgive your spouse’s worst.

3. Consider your spouse’s needs.

As you move forward with your marriage on The ROCK, your spouse’s needs must become your priority. That means you must be mindful of him or her before you do anything. Most “rocky” relationships are the result of selfishness on the part of one or both spouses. Marriage is the process of two becoming one. You cannot become one if you’re always looking out for number one. Marriage is a sacrifice…that’s why it begins at an altar! Consider your spouse’s needs, and do everything in your power to meet them.

4. Keep repeating steps 1-3.

Building your marriage on The ROCK is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight…it happens over time. You have to constantly work on improving your marriage. It’s like the bottle of shampoo that comes with the instructions: Wash, Rinse, Repeat. You can’t just do it one time and think your work is done. As a matter of fact, your work has just begun. You have a lot of work to do to build your marriage on The ROCK. The good news is you have a lot of time to do it. After all, marriage is meant to last a lifetime!

What’s wrong with marriage? Clearly there must be SOMETHING wrong with it. All we hear on the radio or see on TV are negative images and portrayals of marriage. Referring to a recent interview where Oprah Winfrey said that she’s “not the marrying kind,” the Tom Joyner Morning Show crew went on a long diatribe about how marriage just does not work. Nevermind the fact that marriage has been around for as long as, well as long as humans have been around. Apparently, it’s working for some people. I guess the more appropriate question would be, “What’s RIGHT about marriage?”

In my humble opinion, there are at least three things that help make a marriage “right.”

1. The RIGHT person

Many marriages fail because many people fail to marry the right person. Far too often we are attracted to a person’s SUPERFICIAL qualities instead of their SACRIFICIAL qualities. When someone is superficial, they’re main priority is themselves. When someone is sacrificial, they put others ahead of themselves. It is extremely difficult – almost impossible – to make a marriage right when the person is wrong.

Even worse than marrying the wrong person is BEING the wrong person. You can’t expect your marriage to be right if you’re not. In fact, I’ve discovered that the easiest way to improve a marriage is to improve yourself. You can’t change your mate, but you can change yourself. The right marriage starts with the right person, and that person is you!

2. The RIGHT time

Finding the right person cannot compensate for marrying at the right time. Many marriages don’t survive because the couple married “out of season.” There is a time and place for everything. We must make sure the time is right…or things will go all wrong. The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing. When you find the right person (and have become the right person) make sure that it’s the right time. Timing is everything!

3. The RIGHT reasons

Marriage is wrong when it happens for the wrong reasons. And we must recognize that the wrong reasons often seem right at first glance. It may seem right to get married so you can have “legal” sex, but sex is not a right reason to get married. Sex was made for marriage, but marriage was not made for sex. If you only marry someone because he or she is SEX-Y, when the sex is gone all you’re left with is Y?

Marriage is right, but it has to be with the right person, at the right time, and for the right reasons. Many people jumped into a marriage that wasn’t RIGHT…that’s why they LEFT! Even if your marriage started off wrong, you have the power to make it right. You are the right person, now is the right time, and your happiness is the right reason for you to make your marriage right.