Cause and Effect

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.'” (John 9:1-3)

By Scott Armstrong

I am not a scientist, but I do remember a few things from my physics class in high school.  I recall that the Law of Cause and Effect is very important.  In chemistry, when I mixed chemical A with chemical B (cause), there was a small explosion (effect).  Cool! When we are sick, we take medicine (cause) so that we will feel better (effect).  The Law of Cause and Effect is all around us, and it helps our crazy world make sense.

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So we should not be surprised when we want to boil everything spiritual down to simple cause and effect.  You’ve heard it before: if you trust in God, he will make you rich with houses and cars and lots of money.  On the other side, if a Christian develops cancer (effect), there has to be some spiritual cause, right? She lacks faith.  Or maybe she has been secretly sinning (gasp!)!

In Jesus’ day, people took this law even further. In John 9, Jesus and his disciples pass a blind man on the road.  He obviously was blind because of his own sin—or even his parents’ sin, correct (v.2)? That makes more sense—if people only suffer or experience difficulties in life because of the stupid things they do, that fits our idea of what is just and right.  He or his family has sinned (cause).  Therefore, this man is blind (effect).

Jesus blows that theory out of the water.  Neither he nor his parents have done anything wrong. This man was born blind so that people could see God work in his life (v.3)!  There was a divine purpose even in this man’s inability to see.

I wonder if we view the hardships in our life the same way. Sure, many times we bring bad things upon ourselves as a result of our stupid decisions or because of sin in our lives.  But sometimes bad things happen to good people simply so that God’s work may be displayed in their lives.  We do not always understand it.  In fact, sometimes those around us will react with disbelief or shock (see the rest of chapter 9).  But God has a plan.  I don’t know about you, but that makes the darkness of the moment seem a whole lot more manageable. He will be with us and work in us until his purpose is displayed in our life. 

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong.  

5 Steps That Help Church Leaders Stay out of Trouble

By Dan Reiland

No one ever starts out in ministry expecting to mess up, fail or quit.

We all begin with great vision, enthusiasm, and dreams of changing the world for good.

So what goes wrong?

Why do good and godly leaders (church staff and volunteer) end up crashing in ministry, and end up out of ministry?

The answer to that question is obviously complicated, but essentially, we fail to anticipate and prepare for tough times and rough seasons in ministry.

This is not intended to create paranoia. There is no need to live in fear or burn energy with needless worry. Leadership is never risk-free. But we can know that pressure, temptation and mistakes will come. We can be smart and anticipate. We can stay close to God and remain strong.

There’s an old boxing adage that says: It’s the punch you don’t see coming that knocks you out. That is so true.

My friend Carey Nieuwhof wrote a fantastic new book titled: “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” It’s such a great book. The title says it all.

Intentionality is the key.

I remember my ordination service well. It truly was a sacred moment. The message, the commitment, and the prayer over me at the end, all marked me. One memory after the ceremony still makes me smile.

The District Superintendent, who I love and respect, came up to me at the reception to pass on a few words of wisdom and encouragement. He said, “Dan, God has given you ability and opportunity, I want you to promise me that you’ll try really hard not to mess up.” That was it! I wasn’t sure how to respond at the moment. I wondered if he said that to everyone, or just me. But all these years later, I see the wisdom. We have to be intentional, or we will mess up.

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I want to offer some safeguards here that will be helpful to you as they have been to me over many years in ministry. These five steps will help you be intentional.

5 steps that will help keep you and your team out of trouble:

1) Recognize that it could happen to you.

Leaders in the highest risk category are those who believe it can’t happen to them. They operate with a huge and dangerous blind spot.

The truth is that any of us can crash out of ministry. Again, no paranoia intended – just reality. None of us are above messing up big time. And rarely is it the case of jumping straight into a moral breakdown or ethical breach of character. It starts slowly and innocently. Catch it early.

The enemy works overtime to tempt you. Don’t take that lightly.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23

This is great wisdom and advice.

2) Don’t flirt.

We all know better than to play with fire. When we’re careless fire wins, and we get burned. Flirting is like playing with fire, the flames mesmerize and draw you in. Then before you know it, the situation gets too hot, and you become toast.

Flirting is not just about inappropriate behavior with the opposite sex. In fact, for some leaders flirting with power, fame, and fortune is a much greater temptation.

The option to not flirt is yours. It’s a choice. Don’t see how close you can dance to the edge. Flirting is never worth it. At best it’s a hollow experience, at worst, well, we all know the stories.

3) Know your weakness.

We all have a weak spot where we are most vulnerable. When it comes to desserts, my weakness is chocolate chip cookies. They are so good; it’s hard to eat just one!

The sugar in too many cookies can do damage, but nothing like what happens in leadership when our vulnerability remains unknown or left unguarded.

When pressure is high, and resistance is low, trouble is near. Here’s a common situation, you work long hours in ministry and get tired. Over-tired leads to exhaustion. That leaves the door wide open to your weakest spot.

When you know your vulnerability, you can be smart, guard your heart and stay strong. You’ll be much more prepared because you’ll see it coming.

4) Work in an environment that’s healthy enough to share truth.

Nothing beats a healthy and productive environment where you can tell the truth without repercussion. No leader can successfully carry their responsibilities, handle the pressure, and solve problems alone.

Churches and especially leadership teams are designed to operate in community, not independently. Simply put, we need each other. When faced with temptation, insecurities, fears, and doubt we need to have a safe place to talk. An open and honest conversation can help prevent most dangerous situations before they go too far.

Who can you talk with that is smart, strong and cares about you?

5) Stay honest before God.

It’s not like we can hide what’s going on from God. But we miss out on so much of God’s help when we pretend like we can handle it ourselves.

Talk to God. Stay close to Him. Be honest about your struggles. The Holy Spirit brings wisdom and power, take advantage of it. We all make mistakes, but there is no need to allow a temptation to turn into a pattern that can cost your ministry.

When you name the problem, sin or temptation, you remove much of its power. When you also resist it, with God’s help, you can overcome it.

This article was originally published at: Danreiland.com.

What do You do With The Robber?

Dr. Donald M. Joy writes in his book, The Holy Spirit and You, about sin being a thief.  His analogy equates the principle of sin to an armed robber in one’s home, an outlaw in the heart.  This is not far-fetched: John 10:10 tells us “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”

Imagine yourself arriving home late one evening and discovering that an invader was inside your home and holding your child at gunpoint. As you wait in fear outside your home, you have to make a decision.  You must do something. But what?

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Should you simply ignore the problem and hope the criminal would decide to do no harm, quietly exit your home and go away?

Should you slowly enter your home, careful not to frighten the outlaw, and try to negotiate with him? Perhaps he would promise to steal only one item per day if you let him live in your home!

Or, maybe, you should rush into your home, tackle the would-be robber, throw him to the floor and hold him down so he could not use his gun. But then would you sit on him day after day suppressing his evil intent until one day you grew fatigued and he overpowered you?

As Dr. Joy clearly explains, in your own strength you cannot destroy the intruder.  The only real solution is to call for help from someone who has the authority and ability to remove the thief.

Are you catching the parallels? Many of us minimize the destructive capabilities of sin. But it steals our joy, kills our relationships, and destroys our lives.  If we ignore it, the problem grows worse.  Negotiating with it leads us astray as well (remember Adam, Eve, and the serpent?).  Trying to restrain it under our own power leaves us worn out and ultimately defeated.  Is this not the description of many Christians’ sad existence?!

The only way to remove the intruder is to call on a higher, more powerful authority.  Dr. Joy finishes his reflection exclaiming: “Hallelujah! God has made provision in Christ to cleanse our hearts from all sin!”  Hallelujah, indeed!

So, what are you waiting for? The robber has been present long enough!

“What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25)

 

Taking Forgiveness For Granted

By Scott Armstrong

“Come, let us return to the LordHe has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds” (Hosea 6:1).

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(Read Hosea 5:15 – 6:6)

This passage records a conversation between God and his people.  The Lord starts in 5:15 by longing that his rebellious children will seek him.  Israel responds in 6:1-3 in what seems like genuine repentance.  And then God seemingly goes berserk in 6:4-6.  Why does he respond by “cutting them in pieces,” “killing them,” and “flashing lightning upon them” (v.5)? Does any of that make sense?

Let’s look closer.  Israel is treating forgiveness as a given.  God was always so forgiving before; why wouldn’t he be now? “Sure, we’ve sinned, but he’ll still heal us” (v.1).  “Two or three days of good sacrifices and he’ll come around” (v.2).  They take his forgiveness for granted so much that they actually act like they can sin during the night, ask forgiveness, and as surely as the sun will come up the next day (v.3), God will forgive them.

Be careful here.  That kind of attitude is fake and God knows it.  Their love is like the morning dew on the grass that disappears by noon on a hot day (v.4).  The point is clear.  Fake repentance is sickening to God.  He will not forgive those hearts.

In fact, God does not have to forgive anybody.  He longs to; he desires to (Hosea 11:8-9).  But sin is serious.  I think nothing makes God madder than when his own people sin and then ask forgiveness only to cover their bases.  My old youth pastor used to call it “fire insurance”—just lifting up a quick prayer to make sure you’re still going to heaven and not hell.  There is no changed heart and certainly no changed life.  “God will forgive me; I’m going to do what I want and get forgiven later.”

Read these verses again.  Then read 1 John 1:9. The messages are not contradictory.  If we genuinely confess our sins with all our heart, he will forgive us.  Bank on it.  But true confession does not include mouthing a prayer without any plans to change our actions.    

Is there sin in your life and, if so, how do you view it? According to our Lord, it is physically sickening (Rev. 3:16).  He calls us to be holy—a work that only he can do.  What he needs from us is a heart completely turned toward him.  Examine yourself.  Is today the day for genuine repentance?

Ain’t No Difference

By Scott Armstrong

“For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:22b-26 NKJV).”

(Read Romans 3:22-31)

The verses we just read give us some pretty bad news.  We’ve all sinned.  Not one of us is good enough for God.  As The Message says, “We’re all in the same sinking boat,” and that means all of us.  As one country preacher puts it, “There just ain’t no diff’rence.”

Wait a second. No difference? That means the most awful murderer and the kindest, most generous person to ever live share the same destiny if it’s up to us and our own righteousness.

Let’s pretend there is a ladder stretching from humanity on Earth to God in the heavens.  If we piled up all the bad and good things we ever did where would the criminal be? The bottom rung, maybe? Where would Mother Teresa or Billy Graham be—people who have served Christ faithfully and changed the world through their ministries? Let’s put them on rung four or five. And you and I are somewhere in between. With just a few hundred more good works we can maybe reach God, right?

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There’s only one problem. The ladder has a million rungs. If it’s up to us to reach God by our own righteousness, we’re all hopeless. Even though in our eyes there may be a difference between us and others, in God’s eyes, we’re all at the bottom of the ladder. There just ain’t no diff’rence.

But the bad news is followed by really good news. It’s not up to us. It’s up to God.  Through his grace He can change our lives and we can spend eternity with Him.  The Message translates verses 23-24 this way, “Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners…and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity…He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where He always wanted us to be. And He did it by means of Jesus Christ.”

So what? How does this affect the way we live? Well, we live overwhelmed at His grace, constantly thanking Him for saving us. And we also live humbly.  If we’re all sinners in need of a Savior, there is no room for bragging or thinking we’re better than anyone else (v. 27). God makes the difference.  Do you need more thankfulness or, perhaps, humility in your life? Is there someone in your life who needs to hear the good news that God makes all the difference? How can you show Christ to them today?

Jesus in the E.R.

Por Scott Armstrong

“On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners'” Matthew 9:12-13 NIV.

(Read Matthew 9:9-13)

I have to admit.  The Emergency Room is not my favorite place in the world.  There is need all around you.  Children coughing, tired parents, twisted ankles, even some serious emergencies that waver between life and death.

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What would happen if a completely healthy man walked into the E.R. and demanded to be treated? All the sick people in the waiting room are miserably biding their time until they can be seen.  The hospital rooms are full with injured people in the middle of operations and treatments and care.  And one guy decides he is more important than anybody and has to immediately be seen by a doctor.  No reason, really.  He just wants the attention.

Does it sound ridiculous? It should.  And yet, many Christians—maybe you and I—spend our time focusing on all the healthy people while failing to recognize we’re in the middle of the Emergency Room.

I love the simple passage we read today.  Matthew is writing about his own calling.  He doesn’t spend a long time describing the scene, but you can tell Matthew remembers it well.  He remembers the things said about him, his friends, his Lord.  That day was the day that transformed Matthew.  He went from sick to healthy in a span of hours.  And now his mission is to tell the world that the Doctor has come with a cure.  That’s why he’s writing this in the first place.

If we have come to Christ and have a relationship with him, we are—at least according to these verses—healthy.  Sure, we all need to grow.  Not one of us has outgrown our need for Jesus.  But part of our responsibility after being healed is to leave the hospital and bring more sick people to the Doctor!  The day Matthew met the Doctor he was bringing others to him.  Years later he wrote the words that we just read because he wanted all to know that Jesus spent his entire life—and awful death—saving sinners.

The question is: are you doing the same? Are you really convinced that people are going to hell without Christ? You have been given the cure.  What are you doing to spread that cure to those who are dying without it?

Compassion for the Lost

Rev. Ken Childress

Isaiah chapter 6, verse 8: “I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, here am I! Send me.”

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Is it possible, after we have been baptized with the Holy Spirit, to be satisfied with what we see? What made Jesus weep over Jerusalem? He had a heart of compassion. There are sin-sick souls everywhere. We need a baptism of love that goes to the bottom of the disease. We need to cry to God until He brings us up to the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

Jesus told a parable about “a certain man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves” (Luke 10:30). Who among those who passed by and saw his predicament was his neighbor? The one who had mercy on him and helped him (vv. 36-37). Are we awake to the great fact that God has given us eternal life? With the power God has put at our disposal, how can we rest as we look out upon our neighbors? How we have sinned against God? How we lack this spirit of compassion! Do we weep as we look out upon the unsaved? If not, we are not full of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was moved with compassion. Are you?

We have not yet grasped the plight of the unsaved. Since my seminary days, I have had several friends who went to the mission field, I have a little less dim idea of what it meant that God so loved the world that He GAVE Jesus (John 3:16). God gave Jesus. What does that mean? COMPASSION. “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). If you have no power, you have not repented. You are thinking, “That’s hard language.” It is truth.

Who is your brother’s keeper? (See Genesis 4:9). Who is the son and heir? (See Galatians 4:7). Are you salted? (See Matthew 5:13). Do you have a pure life? Don’t be fooled; don’t live in a false position. The world wants to know how to be saved, and power is at our disposal. Will we meet the conditions? God says, “If you will, I will.” God will do it.

Daniel knew the time in which he was living; he responded to God, and a nation was saved. Nehemiah met God’s conditions for his time, and the city was rebuilt. God has made the conditions. He will pour out His Spirit on His people.

If we do not go on, we will have it to face. It may be up to us to bring the Gospel to the nations and our city. We can win the world for Jesus. We can turn the tap on. What is the condition? It is unconditional surrender. “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” Zech. 4:6). Holiness opens the windows of heaven. The Spirit of God will be poured out without measure, until the people say, “What must we do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).

With the baptism of the Holy Spirit comes a demolishing of the whole man and a compassion for the world we live in.