Monday, December 16, 2013

For Crying Out Loud, Act Like a Toilet!

Today I found myself overly frustrated with a toilet that wouldn't flush properly. "For crying out loud, act like a toilet!" I shouted at the clogged-up porcelain bowl. I must confess: I get frustrated when things don't operate the way they are intended.

Then I thought of how a similar chastisement could be given to me sometimes: "Act like a Christian!" As a believer in Christ, I don't always operate exactly the way I should.

The Apostle Paul wrote these words in Ephesians 4:1: "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called." In Colossians 1:10 we read, "...walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God." This is our job as children of God, redeemed by His blood, empowered by His Holy Spirit.

So today I want to fulfill my purpose and act as I am supposed to act. How about you?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Is Anyone Paying Attention?

As a blogger and author, I have written tons of materials and put them "out there" for the world to see.

Sometimes I wonder…does anyone really read my stuff? Am I doing any good? Does anyone even notice me? Sometimes I feel like I'm shouting into a vast, dark space, and hearing nothing but the sound of my own voice. I fear that nobody is paying attention to me, and my words are being treated as…well…insignificant. If nobody is reading the stuff I've written, they aren't getting any benefit from what I've communicated.

I was praying about this yesterday, and the Lord graciously turned it into a life-lesson for me. He reminded me that He has written a Book for me to read, so I can better understand Him and all He wants for me. Am I paying attention to what He's written?

How are we doing in this area? Are we listening to God through reading His Word and following the leading of His Holy Spirit? Or are we essentially ignoring Him and going about our daily lives, completely unaffected by what He has communicated to us?

I suspect we can all do a little better in this area. Let's start today.

God's blessings to you,
Brian Whitaker

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Making MY Name Known?

Over the last three years I have been reading about how to "market" myself as an author and blogger. In a way, this concept makes perfect sense: if people don't know who I am, they will likely not read my blogs or buy the books/plays/music I've written. I'm told that if I want my message to get "out there," I have to work hard to market myself online. Yes, I have a website, a Twitter account, multiple blogs, several Facebook pages, and a LinkedIn profile.

I must admit that marketing doesn't come naturally to me. So I sometimes lie awake at night wondering how I can make my name more well-known across the internet.

But then I think about my primary purpose as a Christian and as a pastor. Is it really important to make MY name known? Or should I just point to Christ and make HIS name known?

Here's my resolution. I will do what I can to let people know about what I've written. But my primary energy will be spent on making CHRIST well-known. It's up to Him whether anyone else will ever know my name.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dandelions, Scribbles, and Love

Our children have always enjoyed giving gifts to their mother and me. When they were very young, they proudly gave us pieces of paper filled with scribbles; we lovingly displayed these scribbles on the refrigerator for all to enjoy.

Our youngest daughter is now five, and most recently she has taken great delight in presenting bouquets of dandelions to my wife. She proudly arranges the yellow flowers in a little vase and presents them with joy.

It is age-appropriate for a five-year-old to show her love for her parents by giving them dandelions and scribbled pictures. As her parents, we receive these gifts of love with pleasure.

As children grow, their expressions of love grow as well. Our older children, ages 11 and 13, no longer give us dandelions or scribbles. They express their love through hugs, gifts, kind deeds, and thoughtful words. If our older children were to present dandelions as expressions of love, my wife and I might wonder if they were showing genuine love or just playing a game.

We know that our children will continue to mature in their expressions of love as they grow older. As always, the love they show will be gratefully received by their parents.

This makes me think about the way I show my love to my Heavenly Father. When I was very young in faith, God was delighted with my scribbles and dandelions - various childlike gifts of love and faith. My early steps of obedience brought Him glory. My elementary worship delighted His heart. My little coins in the offering basket honored Him. He patiently listened to my simple prayers.

But now that I've grown in faith and in the knowledge of Him over many years, I ask myself: have my expressions of love matured as well?

Fellow Christian, I pose the same question to you.

"For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Christmas in May?

Let's celebrate Christmas this Mothers' Day weekend. I will offer one of my Christmas e-books for FREE, May 9-13! Check back here tomorrow for details!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Mothers' Day Giveaway

Soon to come: a giveaway for Mothers' Day weekend. Look for more details later this week!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Always Saved?

A friend of mine posed a good question about salvation: "Can a person who has been truly 'born again' lose (or throw away) their salvation?"

I do not believe that someone who is truly saved can walk away from Christ. If God is the one who did all the work (Ephesians 2:8-9), how can we UNDO that work?

In John 10:27-30, we read about how Jesus Christ holds His sheep in His hands, and how God the Father holds His sheep in His hands. God holds on to us, not the other way around.

In Ephesians 1 we have some wonderful teaching about what God has done in bringing us into a relationship with Him. The whole chapter is helpful to read, but I would especially point to verses 11-14.

In Philippians 1:6 we read about how the Lord will be faithful to complete what He started in us. In Romans 8:38-39, we read that nothing "will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Still, we have a very sticky problem whenever we see someone who has seemed to walk faithfully with Christ for a long time, but now is not living at all for Him. What do we do with that?

Let me turn the coin over and show the other side for a moment. Yes, the Lord holds us firmly in His hand. But as Christians we also have a responsibility to follow the Lord in daily obedience.

In John 14:15, we read Jesus' words: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." He repeats and expands this teaching just a few verses later, in John 14:21-24. If we love the Lord, then obedience to Him will come naturally. And it is by our obedience that we show we truly love the Lord, as we read clearly in 1 John 5:3.

We have a duty as His disciples to take up our cross DAILY and follow Him (Luke 9:23) and to abide in Christ (John 15:1-17).

If we have been truly saved, then God holds on to us, and we are always His. But if a person can comfortably walk away from the Lord and not feel the convicting work of His Holy Spirit drawing him or her back, then I doubt that person has ever been truly saved. (Even Judas appeared to be a good follower of Jesus for more than three years, but Jesus said that Judas never truly belonged to Him.)

If someone has walked in long-term disobedience to Christ, I would take them back to the Cross. Whether they belong to Jesus but got involved in a sinful pattern, or they never belonged to Jesus in the first place - the Cross is still the place to go when anyone is ready to repent. And God is faithful to forgive (see 1 John 1:9)!

Monday, February 18, 2013

The "C" Word

In 2011 I traveled to South Sudan to work with some dear friends who are church leaders there. As part of our training sessions, we wanted to help the church leaders understand and fulfill their biblical roles as elders in their churches.

Along with one of my team members, I carefully went through the Bible passages about elders. We were assisted by one of the best translators. But after almost an hour of teaching, I realized that the men in the room were not really getting it. I saw blank stares and shuffling feet. Almost nobody was taking notes anymore.

I prayed, and the Lord helped me understand the problem. All morning we had been using the word "elder." The men in the room understood this to mean "tribal elder" (chief) or "village elder" (older man in the village that is considered wise because of his age). So the men in the room - none of which were tribal elders or village elders - didn't realize that these Bible passages applied to them!

Communication - the "C" word. I love it and I hate it. I am a communicator by vocation. Most of the time I communicate fairly well. But occasionally I manage to communicate something so poorly that I end up conveying the opposite of what I actually mean. Sometimes I write, then edit, then edit again - only to have someone else help me realize that my words have obscured the message instead of clarifying it.

In stark contrast, the Lord has communicated Himself clearly and faithfully to us in His Word - the Bible. Even more, He has given us - as believers in Christ - His Holy Spirit, who guides us in understanding His Word.

We read these words of Jesus in John 16:13: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…." God didn't just give us His Word and then leave us on our own to understand it. He gave us the Holy Spirit to help us understand and apply what He wrote in His Word!

Thank you, Lord! You are an awesome Communicator!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Four Things We Learn from Being Sick

I absolutely hate being sick. I hate feeling unproductive. I hate feeling weak, miserable, and generally "icky" (that's a highly technical medical term).

For whatever reason, God has chosen to leave difficult things like sickness in this world, even though He could easily end all sickness. So what might be His good purposes in allowing sickness to continue? I can think of four things I have learned from times of sickness.

1) When I am weak, He is strong. In my pride I may think I can do it all by myself. Sickness reminds me that my own strength has limits. This means I need to rely even more on God, who has no limits to His strength. The Apostle Paul explained this lesson in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

2) Rest is a good thing. Our tendency is to drive ourselves 24/7. I have a hard time going to bed at night because I still see so much that needs to be done. I'm not very good at consistently taking a Sabbath, either. But God designed us for rest, and commanded us to observe the Sabbath. God designed us for work and also for rest; we harm ourselves if we neglect either of these.

3) This world is not my home. When I am sick, I cease to be comfortable in this temporary body on this temporal earth. I begin to look past the temporal to the eternal: for me as a Christian, that means eternity in heaven, where there is no more sickness (see Revelation 21:4). Being sick jolts me out of my comfort zone and I begin to long for heaven, my real home.

4) Sin has widespread consequences. I'm not saying that I get sick because of my own sin, but in general terms, sickness is in this world because of sin and its global consequences. Sin is serious, and when we see this, it helps us be more determined to say "No" to sin. We are all touched by the worldwide effects of sin, including sickness, pain, and ultimately physical death. Again, this helps us long even more for heaven and the end of the power and presence of sin. We have a glorious future ahead of us when we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ, who conquered sin and death (see 1 Corinthians 15:53-57).

When I am sick, I try to focus on wonderful truths like these. I encourage you to do the same.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Happy New Day!

I don't get excited about New Year's Day. I don't make New Year's resolutions. That's because, with the Lord, every day is a "New Day." Every New Day offers a fresh start.

We read in Lamentations 3:22-23: "The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."

We read in 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Every day holds new opportunities to choose against sin and choose for God. Every day is a New Day.

* If I didn't spend enough time with my kids yesterday - today is a New Day!
* If I didn't love my wife very well yesterday - today is a New Day!
* If I blew my chance to share the gospel with someone yesterday - today is a New Day!
* If I trashed my diet and ate a bunch of junk yesterday - today is a New Day!

"One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:12-13).

Happy New Day!

Monday, January 7, 2013

His Story

He faced an unplanned pregnancy. The woman he was going to marry was now expecting a child. This was not in his plans.

He was shocked. He was scared. He worried about what people would think.

He considered all his options, but he didn't really like any of his alternatives. He finally decided to do the most loving thing he could: he would just leave quietly. Indeed, this would have been a life-altering decision. Really, no matter what he did, it would affect his life (and her life) forever, but this one option seemed to be the the most reasonable choice with the least painful consequences.

Then an angel appeared to him. "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (See Luke 1:18-25.)

Have you ever thought about the Christmas story from Joseph's perspective? Have you considered the tremendous courage he had to exercise in following God's plan for his life? As a skilled worker in a small town, Joseph would have been known by nearly everyone. But nobody would believe the truth about a miraculous conception and two angelic appearances, so (as far as we know) he did not tell anyone. He simply had to press forward with following God's will, knowing only a tiny portion of the larger story you and I can read in the Bible now.

I am thankful for many people in the Bible who endured hard times and found God's faithfulness helping them through. Noah, Abraham, David, Ruth, Esther, Joseph, Mary, Simon Peter, Saul/Paul - and most of all, Jesus Christ. As I read about God's faithfulness in their lives, I am encouraged to trust Him in all of my daily circumstances too.

Hebrews 12:3 reminds us of Christ's example: "Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted."