Sunday, March 26, 2017

Humility which leads to Repentance: Living a Pure & Victorious Christian Life

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Accompanying Video:

Audio Message:

"I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. 11 May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God." -Philippians 1:9-11

I hope that today, during this Lenten season and beyond that your goal is to glorify God and bring him much praise. God has made us perfect forever through Jesus Christ. The sum of his righteous life, his righteous character, and all his righteous living, including his selfless, righteous death on the cross has been imputed to you. We receive this imputed righteousness through faith alone in Jesus Christ.

You wear daily the perfect robe of righteousness which is the gift of Jesus. Essentially Jesus made a trade with us. He took my filthy torn robe, covered in the sins I’ve committed over my life, the addiction, the depravity, the immorality, the evil works, the thefts, all the lies, and all the evil and put that on for me. Someone had to deal with it. And in exchange he gave me the perfect, spotless white robe that he had rightfully earned through his perfect life.

Romans chapter 13 verse 14 says “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”

Every morning for the past few months I’ve been praying a simple prayer: Lord Jesus, I put you on as my perfect coat of righteousness.” And if I’m having a tough day or facing spiritual warfare, I also include; “And I put on the armor of God, that I may stand against every attack of the enemy.”

The truth is we have an enemy in this world. And we have to be prepared to fight him every day. Thankfully as the word says, greater is Him (Jesus) who lives in me, than he who is in the world.

I remember when I first got saved. I was amazed, stupefied really. I had gone from the blackest darkness, a sorrowful rebellious life and I’d been moved into the kingdom of God. The presence of God was with me. My thinking had been so permanently dark. And suddenly I was in the light. The joy of that was astonishing. I was so grateful to God for giving himself to me in Jesus. My life was truly fundamentally transformed.

Many things in my life changed instantly, as a necessary response to the spiritual rebirth. But there were many issues in my life at that time. I was a mess. I knew I had begun a lifelong journey of walking with Jesus, week in and week out, and I had also begun a lifelong journey of repentance.

Which is what we’re talking about today: Humility which leads us to repentance. In fact lent is all about repentance as we approach the celebration of the resurrection.

As the scriptures say, “ You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,[a]
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges[b];
he took the humble position of a slave[c]
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,[d]
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

Humility is so vital in our lives, more and more so I think as we get older and achieve accomplishments. As I begin this journey of lifelong ministry I see more and more that the single greatest danger that faces me is pride. Pride, ego. Slowly but surely over the years the danger seems to be that it could slowly start to become not about Jesus, but about the person. Slowly but surely it could become about the organization, and not the glory of God. What a terrible, dangerous thing pride is! It’s insidious in that it can take anything that is fundamentally good and pervert it to serve evil.

Time and again in the scriptures we see how pride destroys great leaders. Think of King Solomon and all he accomplished, yet all of it was undermined by pride and sexual immorality. King David, same thing, great leader, wise, humble man, yet sexuality immorality and pride damaged his ministry, and caused him to murder. The Pharisees allowed pride to blind them to the coming of their own glorious savior.

We must remain humble, no matter what we’ve accomplished, no matter how much we’ve done to serve the Lord. Because ultimately it all rests on what Jesus Christ has done to die in our place. Our works are filthy rags when compared to the eternal glory of Christ. So we rest upon Jesus, humbly, looking to his ultimate example of humility, and so we ought become increasingly willing to repent.

We’ll never repent if the ego is out of control. Why? Because how could someone so perfect and powerful and awesome be doing something wrong? Or if someone in the church came up to me, and they rebuked me for a sin in my life. “How dare they say that to me, don’t they know who I am? I’m the pastor, I’m the intern. I’m a lay leader.” Etc,etc.

So humility leads us to repentance. What is repentance? Well according to Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, which I don’t know if any of you know this, but Noah Webster the founder of the dictionary insisted that he felt called by God to write a dictionary. Amazing stuff. He calls us all to different things, right?

One of the several definitions he gives is: “Repentance is a change of mind, or a conversion from sin to God.”

And it also says: “Repentance is the relinquishment of any practice, from conviction that it has offended God.”

The idea of the repentance is always carried hand in hand with the gospel message. As Jesus said in Mark 1:15: “The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!"

A few other times this combination is used in scripture, Matthew 4:17, Luke 24:46-48, Acts 3:19, Romans 2:4, Revelation 3:3, and 2nd Corinthians 7:9-10.

So repentance is vital. Repentance is the fruit of our response to the incredible grace of God found in Jesus. We repent and believe. John the Baptist gathered the people preparing the way for the Lord, baptizing them in the baptism of repentance from dead works.

During lent it’s customary that we give up certain things in our lives, maybe it’s meat, maybe it’s candy, maybe it’s chocolate, or soda, or alcohol, or things like that. But I’d like to challenge you to go a step further: What can we give up permanently that is displeasing to the Lord in our lives?

I know in my life, I’ve been tempted to not take sin as seriously as I should. But time and again in the New Testament we’re instructed to take sin very seriously and as a just response to the grace of God, to live the most pure lives. We shouldn’t set that aside.

So let’s look at four areas of repentance, some very practical ways that we can challenge ourselves, and invite the Holy Spirit to set us free.

William Booth the founder of the Salvation Army penned this phrase in his diary: "God shall have all there is of William Booth." I hope that is your prayer as well, a total surrender to God, a total giving of yourself to the Lord, so that you may cry out to Him: God you must have all there is of me.” Let’s look at four areas where we must fight to surrender all to God.

1. Money 

Uh oh. Some of us can be real “jokers” when it comes to money. In this area, I’d like to share a blessing. I had never tithed 10% in the past. I don’t know why exactly. I think I was suspicious early on, that the church just wanted my money. But when I first got to this church a member here talked to me about tithing. He spoke very much from his own experience, not really telling me “you have to tithe!” But, “I tithed, and this is what happened in my life.”

Ten percent God asks for from us. He owns 100% of it. Yet he asks for ten from us, to donate back to his cause. He doesn’t need it. But he asks us to give it. This member of the church told me how he always tithed ten percent and in return, he received joy, and financial blessings. Ironically we think we have so little that we can’t possibly give 10%. But when we’re faithful and we do give that ten percent, it’s like God pours out blessing after blessing for honoring him. I noticed that. When I didn’t tithe, it was like I never had enough money. Yet ironically, when I did tithe that ten percent, I seemed to have more money than I knew what to do with. In the area of the tithe, God challenges us in the scriptures to “test Him.” We are told to never test God, but in this area, God invites us to test him. That’s from Malachi chapter 3 if you want to study that. Give 10% of the 100% that God gives you. You won’t regret it. I know I haven’t.

On a side note, let me tell you, every single time I repent in an area, and God grants the victory, it’s like I get a new joy in my life. I don’t feel dirty as I live my life, but I feel more pure and clean, and the sunlight of God’s presence, which is joy, becomes stronger and more perceivable to me.

We have the wrong attitude about repentance much of the time I think. It’s not a grueling drudgery; it’s actually a joyous turning to God, and growing closer to Him. It’s almost like a role playing video game, when you level up, you know your level 23 paladin, then you level up to level 24, and your stronger and have more keen abilities and strengths.

Next area. Uh oh.

2. Sex
For those of you who are married, the biggest dangers you face are pornography and the possibility of an affair. Especially for Christian leaders, these are two of Satan’s favorite weapons.

For single people like me, well, it’s a lot more tough. Welcome to the minefield, for those who are single. Our culture today, our media, magazines, billboards, television, internet, social media is utterly saturated with sex. From booze commercials to music videos to movies and just walking along a beach, it’s a constant battle with tempting images of half-clad men and women. And as Jesus said, if one lusts after a person in their heart, it’s the same as committing adultery with that person.” Additionally, even if your single and you meet someone, God’s design is for sexual intimacy to occur only after a lifetime commitment has been made.

This is such a tough area, and a tough subject. Our culture is absolutely saturated and I am 100% certain that is by design of the enemy. If the enemy can get us hooked on sexual addiction, on masturbation, or on relationship-addiction, he really has us under his thumb.

I’ve seen so many Christian leaders fall to affairs. And I can imagine how it happens. His wife is driving him nuts. And then he meets “the girl who understands.” And the chemistry between them is just electric. They become friends, and spend time together. And eventually the conversations and lunches turn to flirtations. Nothing wrong with that right? As long as it doesn’t go anywhere. And eventually the lunches become dinners, and the dinners become visiting the home. And pretty soon this leader is in the pulpit, apologizing, and resigning from the church. And he’s trying to pick up the pieces with his wife and children. I imagine the relationship appears so great at first, then after the first affair, a terrible feeling of shame comes over like a storm cloud. That’s exactly how Satan works. Bait the trap, get all the emotions going in one direction, then once the deed is done, Satan moves in as accuser, as shame, as guilt, and as darkness to condemn the person for what he just conned them into doing. He always seems to find a way to bring it out into the open too, so everyone knows about it.

Pornography, well, pornography addiction is rampant within the church. It’s ugly, and terrible for several reasons. 1, often those involved are slaves, sex trafficked persons forced to perform for the cameras. 2, pornography accustoms our minds to objectify those of the opposite sex. 3, pornography the images we see, often will remain with us for years. And they can be conjured by our mind, voluntarily or involuntarily at any moment. It is a terrible thing.

If you struggle with pornography, there are many great books, audiobooks, and ways to get over that addiction. Always start with prayer, and take action to find resources to deal with the issue. One excellent book I can recommend is “Every Man’s Battle” by Stephen Arterburn. And the Sex Addicts Anonymous big book. 

3. Addiction 

Speaking of addiction. We could talk about cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs but I think most of us understand those sorts of addictions and where to go for help. But specifically for lent, let’s talk about over-eating. It’s something our culture and society don’t talk about much. But it seems to be a big problem. Several of the leading causes of death in the United States are related directly to eating, such as heart disease (#1) and diabetes (7th) according to the CDC.

Our bodies are temples of the Lord. I’m certain that God wants us to honor him in how we eat. Something I’ve done recently is trying to cut back on my portions. I had really been fooling myself on portions. 8 eggs for breakfast? Sheesh. Now I eat 5. I cut out a lot of the meats and fatty chicken in my diet. I tried to cut about 1/4th from my portions. And I try to eat more vegetables now. Something terrible going on for me, was soda addiction. I was up to about 5 pops a day. By the grace of God, I’m now totally free of soda. And I’ve noticed, I eat less. The stuff in soda makes you hungry, I really think. And quitting soda is tough, because something in the soda is quite addicting. How can you begin to address this issue in your life, if you have an issue with it? There are lots of great ways to help overcome overeating. As always, start by praying about it every night.

I can’t. God can. So I think I’ll let God take away the problem. Not that he’ll help me, but that he’ll actually do the mighty work and complete it in me, as long as I surrender to His lordship over the area of my life.

There are so many other areas we could talk about, lying, stealing, and honoring our parents. But for the sake of time, we’ll move on to our final area for today: 

4. Selfishness
Once again, we live in a culture where it’s all about me. It’s perfectly embodied in the selfie. Take pictures of me, and put them on the internet! Me me me. What do I want? What’s on my bucket list? What can I do to please me? To pleasure me? Who do I want to be with? What do I want to be when I grow up? How can I get what I want?

Selfishness is ultimately idolatry. In ancient times they bowed down to false gods and idols made of wood and stone. Today we bow down to ourselves and our own hungers. I want what I want when I want it. Me, me, me. 

Life isn’t about me, or what I want. Life is about God, and the work he wants to do in my life. I hope your prayer everyday is: “Lord, your will be done, not mine.” And: “Lord what do you want me to do? What do you want next from me in my life?” Seek to do His will. This is a practical teaching, not a theoretical one. I’m in Escanaba, Michigan right now because I decided to follow God’s will and not my own. I know a friend who knew she was called to officership. But there was a competing hunger in her life, she wanted to go into fashion design. And she’s there right now, doing fashion design, and I can only imagine how lonely that must be, to know God’s will and to do the opposite. We’re where were suppose to be when we follow God’s will. The wisdom in that is if we chase after what we want, we’ll never be fully satisfied. Only in God’s will do I find the truest form of who I am, and the purest form of my mission in life. It’s better that way.

God must be first in our lives.

God is sovereign over our money.

God is sovereign over our sex lives.

God is sovereign over our appetites.

God is sovereign over our wants and desires.

Jesus Christ humbled himself, to die on the cross to set us free from sin. This humbling leads us to humility. And Humility leads us to repentance, and repentance leads to joy. Embrace that process this Lenten season, and challenge yourself, in the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome everything in your life that dares to hold you back, so you can become all God has designed you to be.

Additional Articles:
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  2. What will the New Universe be like?
  3. Origin, Meaning, Morality, & Destiny: An atheist and a Christian on discuss Worldview
  4. Seven Objections to the Bible and Seven Reasonable Responses
  5. Quick Fact Sheet: Four Points to Consider
  6. 10 Answers to Common Questions Raised by Skeptics
  7. Believing in the Miraculous: The Work of Jesus Christ on the Cross
  8. Can you see through the illusion?
  9. Philosophy, Science, Logic, and History: Presentations on the Truth of Christianity from Multiple Disciplines
  10. No Evidence for God?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Pray for that Schmuck

One of the best ways to get over being pissed off at someone is to pray for them.  No, I don't mean praying for them to fall into a pit of a volcano.  Or to pray for God to help them become less of a jerk.  I mean praying for them all the things you want in life.  Pray for them to have a happy life.  Pray for them to have a joyous marriage.  Pray for them to have a wonderful job.  Pray for them to have all the joys you want in life.  For especially difficult cases, like family and annoying coworkers, do this for 1-2 weeks, everyday before bed.  It's a powerful prescription.  It turns out when you pray for someone for extended periods, you can't help but begin to love them.  And yes, it's OK to love someone from a distance, who is a danger to your sanity or has been abusive in the past.  There's nothing in the Bible that says we have to return to abusers for more abuse.  But pray for them.  And love them from a distance. Because our word says "Pray for your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:44).  

The world really needs prayer today.  Our country really needs prayer. I believe in the power of prayer.  I believe it really changes everything.  God is sovereignly in charge of reality.  Yet He works through people.  Fundamentally he works through people.  In fact in every great move he's made in the world, it's always through a person.  Moses, delivering the Israelites from Egypt.  He worked through a person.  Gideon, challenging the midianites.  He showed his glory and power through His people.  Joshua, Abraham, Joseph, Debra, Paul, on and on the list goes.  Jesus Christ himself, God worked through the God-man Christ Jesus to offer blanket redemption to the world, for those who would believe.

I try to pray three times a day, like Daniel (Daniel 6:10).  I hope you do too.  I usually pray the "Our Father."  I was raised Catholic after-all, though I'm now simply a Christian follower of Jesus.  I pray the "Our Father" slowly, with emphasis in my heart and soul.  I also often make use of the serenity prayer; "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can't change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." 

I'd like to recommend the five finger pray.  It's really easy to remember, you just look at your hand.  The thumb is to pray for those who are closest to you.  Here I pray for my mom, my dad, and my sister.  And my extended family, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.  The pointer finger is to pray for your spiritual leaders.  I pray for my corps officers (pastors) here and I also pray for leadership in the Salvation Army overall.  The middle finger is to pray for government leaders, because it's your tallest finger.  I tend to pray for Congress, the courts, the president, and his cabinet.  I pray for my representatives, Sean Duffy of Wisconsin's 7th district.  He does a great job in Congress.  I even pray for Senator Ron Johnson, even though he's a bit of an establishment, big government schmuck.  But he's solid on some issues.  I pray for the representative for the yoopee here, retired general Bergman.  We'll see how he does in Congress.  Definitely I should be praying for those two nutty democrats representing Michigan, Marx and Engels, wait, oh that's right, Peters and Stabenow.  Yes, they really need prayers.  But don't we all? Next, the ring finger, you pray for the weakest of those in our society.  "The least of these."  I tend to pray for drug addicts, alcoholics, sex addicts, the abused, the abusers, the homeless, the sex trafficked, that God would open doors of escape and recovery in their lives.  I will also pray for specific people I know who are trapped in addiction.  The pinkie finger is to pray for yourself last.

I tend to pray a threefold prayer:  God grant me a healthy body, that I would honor you in how I eat, a clean mind, that I would think your thoughts, and a pure heart that seeks only to do your will.

Prayer is insanely important.  It's like breathing to the Christian.  The truth is they need the prayers, and we need the practice!  Prayer changes the world, but it also changes us.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Eulogy: A Tribute to Grandma


I’d like to share with you about the faith of Monica Steckbauer. I never knew her as Monica though, but as Grandma Steckbauer. So that’s what I’m going to refer to her as. Grandma Steckbauer was a devout Christian. We all knew that about her.

We today, tend to write that off as superstition. We think about how backwards the older generation is, with their myths and organized religion. But I’ve found, after a great deal of struggle, addiction, and almost death, that the faith Grandma Steckbauer had was not a myth, a superstition or a nice tradition, but in fact, a real, living faith, in a God who is actually real.

I was so certain that I wanted nothing to do with Christianity. It was nothing. It was less than nothing. It was bigotry. It was judgment. It was backwards. And then Jesus Christ entered my life, in a real way, and changed everything.

For Grandma Steckbauer, she knew all along. She lived her faith in Christ. She served those in need, ministered to the shut ins, faithfully attended mass, and served her family first.

Grandma Monica and her husband George were a dynamic duo, a team. I don’t think most of us truly understand just how much they loved each other. Grandma was a wife who supported George is all his ventures, with music, family, and travel. And she was a loving mother to her children.

But I think the most important thing about Grandma Monica was her faith. It’s a part of her many of us didn’t really understand. She was always inviting us to church, telling us about the saints, giving us cards and devotional pamphlets, which I would promptly toss in the garbage. Yet she continued, day in and day out, to serve as a faithful Catholic.

She was a prayer warrior for me when I was addicted to drugs. For 10 years she watched me crumble, piece by piece. She never stopped praying for me. When I would come to her house and beg her for money so I could buy more dxm, she would give it to me. When I went into her house and stole from her, she would forgive me. When I would be terribly in need, and despairing of life itself, she would pray for me.

The light was always on at grandmas house. During my earliest years, during my youth and upbringing I felt like I was constantly at her house. I cherish those memories of sitting around the table, playing cards, listening to grandpa tell jokes. And I think of the times when we’d be out at the farm. I used to look forward to that as a kid like nothing else. And we’d ride the 3 wheelers. We’d go swimming in the pond. It was a golden time.

Grandma Monica was a lover of souls. Let me tell you. Her devotion to us as a family was central. She was a servant. In fact she loved us so much that we were accustomed to knowing that we were loved, and cared for.

She encouraged me to be creative. She encouraged me to write, to paint, and to learn. She encouraged me to live a moral life. Including the timeless maxim “Eat for the hunger that’s coming.” Any of you remember that one? Oh yes. “It’s nice to be nice” Grandma used to say to me. And “It costs nothing to be polite.”

She had a way of diffusing tense situations. I recall one time when Travis and I had a serious argument at her house, she made sure neither of us left. She would grab us gently by the face and pull us into her arms until we calmed down, we’d cry, and all would be well again. She was that kind of person. Sometimes I didn’t like what a “force of nature” grandma could be. But she always meant it for the best.

Her dumplings and gravy were to die for. And her poppyseed cake was a delight. It’s the little things I think I’ll miss. That kitchen, that table in the old house, our conversations.

Things changed as the years went by, and grandpa passed away. She struggled more and more. But I think I’ll always remember that kitchen. And Grandma smiling. Her welcome, her presence.. as a place of joy. As a place where Grandma’s love provided a refuge of peace and safety from the world out there.

Her and grandpa always kept the family together. The joy of the family get togethers I’ll never forget. Her encouragement I’ll never forget. Her unconditional love I’ll never forget.

She wasn’t perfect. Grandma was not perfect. But she was a lover of souls. And ultimately her love came from Christ’s love for her.

I think it would be her dream for each of you in the family, to come to know the love of Jesus Christ. I thought it was fake. I thought it was nothing. I was wrong. Could you be wrong too?

Who is this Jesus? He is God, who came to Earth. God came on a rescue mission to Earth, to save a wayward humanity. Our sins separated us from the love of God, yet Jesus Christ came and lived a perfect life on Earth. And he willingly gave himself to suffer, and to die on the cross, as a substitute, a payment for our sins. And then he was a laid in a tomb. 3 days later, jesus Christ the God-man resurrected from the dead. And when he did that, he was saying to us today, if you believe in me, you will live forever. Though you die physically, you will be resurrected.

To me, it became clear that God is real when I considered all the harmonious complexity around me. The stars and moon at night. The wildlife, the trees, the sunrise and sunset, the plants and life about me. All of this couldn’t come about by chance. No, God is real. And His Bible, though it’s so hated by our culture today, remains His word.

Buy yourself a Bible. Read through it. Tonight ask God to reveal himself to you, if he’s really out there. I found that Jesus Christ is real. And that he still opens the door for those like me. I found a protestant church, the salvation army, where God is using me now. Protestant or Catholic, we worship the same glorious God.

Grandma knew exactly where she was going. She was going to be with Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life. Grandma’s legacy is one of faith. And if we are wise, we will pursue that as well.

I will remember Grandma Monica, but more so, I will see Grandma Monica again, in the eternal city. That is the truth. Truly truly, She lived for Christ. And that is the legacy of Grandma Monica Steckbauer.

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  5. The Great Pillars of Society: Morality & Religion
  6. The War on Principles & the Hope in our Worldview
  7. Take a Stand on Key Issues: Addiction, Abortion
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Monday, March 20, 2017

What does it mean to Repent?

Repentance is not only a change of mind, but a change in action. In repentance, we are so amazed and happy for what Jesus Christ has done for us, in giving us new life, forgiveness, and eternal hope, that we change our ways, by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

If I have books that I never returned to someone I borrowed them from, I return them. If I have movies or CDs that I burned from the internet without paying for them, I throw them away. If I have clothes that don't belong to me, I return them. If I engaged in watching pornography, I end that. If I smoke cigarettes, I quit. If I drink to excess, I limit my drinking, or quit all together. Drugs obviously, I would need to quit. If I've hurt others, I go to them and apologize and ask how I can make amends. Stolen or pirated software, delete it. Still owe money to others? Pay them back. Accounts in collections? Pay them off (a small monthly amount is fine). 

Engaging in promiscuity? Find resources to learn how to overcome that issue. Do you over-eat? Order a copy of over-eaters anonymous or other Christian counseling workbooks to address that issue. And pray through all of your repentance. It won't happen all at once, its a process over many years. But get started now. Jesus has saved us, so we are very happy to respond with behavior that shows our gratitude and respect for God.

The truth is we've all sold our souls to make ourselves number one in life. Everything can be about me, at least for a little while, but I have to sell my future down the river if I want that. it seems like an easy trade at the time, exalt myself, receive praise about my looks, about my skills, seek in life to make myself important, to show the world that I matter, that I'm a big shot. But it's a big price to pay, my very soul. But when I invert that, and deny myself, and take up my cross, and radically decide to exalt another, my God, I trade a life of luxury and selfishness for a tough life of self denial, self sacrifice, and struggle, fighting my own desire for self importance. But in the end the trade off is eternal life itself. To live forever, and know the One who designed my soul. Ultimately life is all about that, not me.