Friday, January 03, 2014

What Do Dick and Sam Know That We Are Choosing To Deny?

Every week before Christmas I find myself scurrying around doing last minute shopping for gifts.  I do not like to shop!  Most of my shopping is done online, but every once in a while I have to begrudgingly visit a local store.  By the time I have reached the store, I have thoroughly researched the product I am going to purchase.  I prefer to rush into the store, quickly grab the product, pay for it, and rush out the door.  In my last visit to a store I realized that my plan of attack for shopping is now nearly impossible.

A Dick’s Sporting Goods Store just recently opened in Tallahassee.  This might not be big news in your city, but in Tallahassee it is pretty big news.  I went into Dick’s the other day to purchase a new bat and they were all locked up.  I had to do something I hate to do while in a store.  I had to ask for help.  After tracking down an employee who kindly unlocked the bats, I discovered that the bats have a sophisticated electronic shackle bracket on them.  These shackle brackets do not allow you to get a precise feel of the weight of the bat. 

In a state of shock, I asked the following question, “Do people really steal these bats from the store?”  The Dick’s employee, while nodding his head, gave me an emphatic “yes”!  I mean I couldn’t help but thinking of a new joke: Is that a bat in your pocket or are you just…you can fill in the rest!  Dick’s knows something that we are choosing to deny!

While taking a family excursion to Walmart during a rare weekend off from ballgames, I found myself lured from the men’s grooming section to the video section by my boys.  Once we arrived at the video game section, the begging began.  Before I purchase a video game for my boys, I want to read the back of the container to ascertain the content of the material in the game.  However, in this case, I could not get my hands on the video game.  Do you know why?  You guessed it!  The new video games in Walmart are all locked up.  Sam Walton knows something that we are choosing to deny!

What do Dick and Sam know that we are choosing to deny?

Dick and Sam lock up their products because they know men and women are sinful.  They have experienced firsthand that people will do anything to get what they want.  Yes, even stick a bat down their pants.  Dick and Sam do not trust in the goodness of people.

Admitting we are sinful and that certain behavior is wrong is becoming less and less popular today.  It seems the more we trust in our own goodness the more our society is slipping into decadence.  It also seems that the more we remove Christ from Christmas the more we forget why He came to earth.  Jesus was born to die on a cross to save us from our sins!

Matthew 1:18-21 says, “18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

I’ll never forget when I first received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  It was immediately after I had the revelation that I was a sinner.  Up to that point, I always thought I was a good guy. I lied, fornicated, stole, cheated, coveted, and committed many other sins, but somehow thought I was a good guy. Of course, I compared myself to people like Hitler, Ted Bundy and others like them.  Everything changed when I compared myself to Jesus Christ.  The revelation of my sinfulness caused me to get down on my knees, with tears streaming down my face, and ask God for forgiveness.  After this confession, sins that once held me in bondage where conquered by the new found freedom I had in Jesus Christ.  Just like a good ballgame, I could now enjoy life because the boundaries lines were clearly defined.  Jesus saved me from my sins! 

There have been two recent incidents that have gained national media attention that prove we need to once again clearly define sin.  The first is the sexual assault charge on Jameis Winston, and the second is the controversy over Phil Robertson’s comments about homosexuality.  These are classic examples of when a society refuses to define immoral behavior as sin people get hurt, find themselves in situations they should not be in, fight over what they think is right and wrong, stay in bondage to conduct that is contrary to God’s will, and put locks on products people shop for at local retail stores.

I am an alumnus of Florida State University and have enjoyed the success of the FSU football team this year.  I am so proud of the job Coach Fisher has done in leading us back to the National Championship game.  That is no easy task!  Jameis Winston is an amazing talent and had one of the best years in college football history.  I believe that young man has an amazing destiny and future ahead of him.

Jameis Winston says he did nothing wrong.  I do not believe he sexually assaulted the young lady.  I believe two people willingly put themselves in a situation they should not have been in.  When a man’s semen is found in a lady’s underwear who is not his wife, that is sin.  According to the world’s standards of today, Jameis did not do anything wrong.  According to God’s standard, Jameis did commit a sin.  Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”  I just wish both Jameis and the young lady would admit they were wrong for putting themselves in that situation.  In might not be politically correct, but it sure would be refreshing.  Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper,
but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”  Their admission of sin and humility could be a great lesson for others tempted in a similar situation, and young kids (like my three boys) on how to better steward the body God gave them.

Phil Robertson was ridiculed and fired for comments he made about homosexuality.  I think he could have used more wisdom on how he communicated his beliefs about this issue.  His comments stirred a national debate on the right of free speech.  I believe the bigger issue is our ability to agree on what is righteous behavior.  Before I write further about homosexuality, I want my readers to know that I agree with Pastor Perry Noble when he wrote in a recent blog the following 3 comments (I added #4):

There are people in this world who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and who really do deal with same sex attraction.  If I could personally sit down with everyone who would categorize themselves in one of those ways I would communicate three things to them.  

#1 - I am SORRY for the way you have been treated by the church and by people who claim to be followers of Christ.  There is no excuse for those who hold up signs that say "God hates fags" or who use insensitive phrases such as "that's so gay."  The way many of you have been treated is detestable to me, but even more than that, I believe it is detestable to Jesus--and I sincerely ask for your forgiveness.   

#2 - You matter to God!  He loves you, created you in His image and has AMAZING plans for your life...and His plans are always so much greater than our plans.  

#3 - You matter to me!  

#4 – According to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, homosexual behavior is sin.

I (Ron Miller, Jr.) have spent hours with people who identify themselves as gay in order to let them know they matter to me.  I have also asked them to help me better understand how to communicate what I truly felt needed to be said about God’s Word concerning the topic of homosexuality.  I have asked them to try to understand that just because I believe the Bible is correct in identifying homosexual behavior as sin, doesn’t mean I don’t care about them.  In fact, I try to convince them that a caring person tells you what you need to hear (speaks the truth in love), not what you want to hear.  I believe we can even disagree on this topic and still be friends.

I believe homosexuality is immoral behavior because God describes it as sin in the Holy Bible.  1 Corinthians 6:7- says, “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

We get confused and deceived about what is right behavior when we don’t glorify God and give thanks to Him.  Romans 1:21-32 says, “ For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

Tough and challenging words… I know.  It was similar passages of Scripture like this that awakened me to my sin and led me to repentance.  You might make a choice to not believe what the Bible says about sin, but please don’t act like the Bible doesn’t say it.  I think it is just as wrong to get mad at people who believe what the Bible says and quote it.  At least they have something outside of their own beliefs and feelings to base their decisions upon.

Proverbs 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people.” 

The problem with our nation today is the same problem every nation in history has had to deal with since Adam and Eve disobeyed God.  The problem is sin!  We can deal with our problem of sin by arguing and fighting with one another while justifying our position to sin more.  We can deal with our problem of sin by refusing to admit we did anything wrong.  We can deal with the problem of sin by putting locks on our products.  Dick and Sam seem to know what we are choosing to deny.

None of these solutions will solve the problem of sin.  There is only One who can solve the problem of sin by saving us and setting us free from our sins.  His name is Jesus Christ, and who He is and what He has done is the reason we celebrate Christmas, and enter the New Year with hope!  I think Dick and Sam just might agree!

Happy New Year!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Should Men and Women Live Together and Have Sex Before Marriage?

I made a big mistake the other night before going to bed.  I pushed my Twitter app on my phone and began reading the tweets.  I came across a tweet from AndreaTantaros that read: "Tonight on @FNTheFive – Should men and women live together before marriage?  One study says yes.  One says no. What say you?  We’ll debate it."

After reading Andrea’s tweet, I was reminded of the fact that I am currently doing pre-marital counseling sessions with four different couples, and have recently counseled people struggling with the issue of divorce.  In fact, I had just finished a pre-marital counseling session a few hours before reading Tantaros’ tweet.

As the Senior Pastor of Every Nation Tallahassee church, I have seen firsthand the consequences of decisions made between two people in regards to relationships.  When couples do it right, they reap the blessings and benefits of a great marriage.  When couples do it wrong, they reap the pain and destruction of a broken marriage.  I have celebrated with joy as couples have made the right decisions in marriage, and I have wept with sorrow as couples have made the wrong decisions.

A buddy of mine asked me to marry him and his fiancé about three years ago.  He been previously been married twice, and at the time was cohabitating with his fiancé.  In love, I spoke the truth to him about how he was setting himself up for marriage failure once again.  I told him that I would not marry them unless they were willing to make the necessary changes in their relationship.  He agreed that they needed to change and put God first in their relationship, and said he was willing to repent and make the adjustments.  We ended lunch and planned to meet again after he talked with his fiancé about our conversation and the need to make the changes in their relationship.

During our next meeting, he informed me that his fiancé was not willing to make the changes.  I told him I would not marry them while they continued to live in sin, and I asked him what he planned to do about their relationship.  Unfortunately, he told me he planned to move forward with the marriage, and he would find somebody else to officiate their wedding ceremony.  He informed me that he understood my position and thanked me for my time.  I told him that I loved him and was deeply concerned about the future of their relationship.  I reminded him that his personal experience in marriage, and the statistics were against them staying married.  Practicing sex before marriage and cohabiting are not ways to establish a strong foundation of love, trust and respect in a marriage.

Recently, I bumped into my buddy, and I asked him how he was doing in his marriage.  He said, “You called it…we are no longer married because she left me about a year ago.” My heart broke for my friend as I told him I was sorry to hear that news.

In one of my recent pre-marital counseling sessions, I discovered that the couple was having sex before marriage.  In love, I challenged them to abstain from sex until marriage, and encouraged them to lay the proper foundations in a marriage that will be built to last.  I recently received a text from the husband that read: “We abstained till the wedding Pastor Ron. Good job applying the pressure.”  I responded back by texting: “I love you and I am proud of you both…more importantly God was obeyed and honored!”

So, when I read the tweet from Andrea Tantaros, I could not miss the opportunity to create my top ten list of why people should not live together or have sex before marriage.  I did not go to bed until 4:17am.  Beware of reading tweets before going to bed!

After 20 years of doing relationship, pre-marital and marriage counseling, these are my top 10 reasons men and women shouldn't live together or have sex before marriage:

1. It proves obedience to God's will and invites God's blessings into your marriage by honoring Him, your spouse, your parents, your families and your friends. (Deuteronomy 28:1-14)

2. It teaches you to serve one another, and builds a foundation of friendship, trust and respect in the relationship that promotes love and faithfulness while decreasing the potential of divorce. (Ephesians 5:21-33, Proverbs 5:7-23)

3. It begins to properly establish the roles and responses of a husband and wife, and fosters better communication that facilitates understanding and the development of conflict resolution skills that are vital components in a healthy marriage. (Ephesians 5:21-33)

4. It keeps marriage a special and holy covenant while giving you something to look forward to on your wedding day! (Hebrews 13:4)

5. It lays the foundations for an eternal bond while reinforcing and upholding the meaning and significance of the wedding vows, ceremony and the sanctity of marriage. For example: "You may now kiss the bride!" (Mark 10:1-12)

6. It produces freedom and demonstrates the patience of true love by making you sacrifice and practice the discipline of self-control as you learn to love through God's Spirit instead of the desires of the flesh. Love and self-control are the bookends of the fruit of God's Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Galatians 5:13-26) 

7. It keeps the motives of your heart pure by eliminating the deception of fornication and a man saying: "I love you" to get sex, and a woman engaging in sex for love. (1 Corinthians 6:8-20)

8. Sex is the act of consummation in a marriage covenant, and virginity is your greatest gift you can give only one time to another person. Your spouse on your wedding day is the only appropriate person and time to give away this most precious gift! There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: (Ecclesiastes 3:1, Matthew 1:18-25)

9. It is a powerful witness to people of God's love and purpose in bringing two people together, and the best way to mirror God's image in a world that has too many broken marriages. (Genesis 1:27-28, Malachi 2:10-16)

10. It is a neat story to tell your children and grandchildren one day, and a great way to leave a Godly legacy in your family! (Psalm78:1-10)

Too many broken marriages in America are proof that living together, and having sex before marriage, are not wise decisions for couples who desire a marriage without divorce.  America has tried this way of living and has discovered the pitfalls.  Why not try it God's way and see if it works?  I did, and I am happy to say that I will have been married for 17 years in December!

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. (Hebrews 13:4)

What say you?

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Big Things Happen in Small Groups!

What do a former IBM executive, a business icon, an American cultural anthropologist, and the Lord Jesus Christ all have in common?  You guessed it!  They all know that big things happen in small groups!

Former IBM executive and business mentor Steve Evans knows building relationships in small group meetings is a key to success in the marketplace.  Hey says, “It’s all about connection I tell people—it’s all about networking.  You’re not going to make this next step by sitting at home and looking at the Internet.  The only way you’re going to get engaged and sharpen up your resume is to start networking.  The worst thing you can do is sit at home in front of that computer.  You’ll never find anything.  People find careers, they find changes in jobs, they find opportunities by knowing people, by sitting down and having lunch with people.”
Hebrews 10:24-25 reminds us that meeting together is an activity we should not neglect.  It says, “24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Reading John D. Rockefeller’s biography, Titan, I was struck by his daily luncheon habits. Each day, without fail, he’d sit down with his key people, have lunch, and talk.  At first, the meetings included only Rockefeller and the four co-founders of Standard Oil.  But as decades wore on and the company grew, the meetings came to include Rockefeller’s nine directors.  And yes, they continued to meet daily.

Consciously or not, Rockefeller understood that the word company meant “to share bread.”  He knew that by gathering his top lieutenants and advisors each day for a meal, their personal and professional relationships would be strengthened.  Fortified for another day, each could go out and do his share to conquer the oil industry or Wall Street or whatever the current target might have been.  Did it matter that the meetings occurred daily?  I’m confident Rockefeller would say an emphatic “Yes!”  (Verne Harnish, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits)

In Acts 2:42-47 we get a picture of what life was like for the early church.  Notice how frequently they met in the temple courts and in their homes.  42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  Acts 2:42-47

Jesus told His disciples to go and make disciples.  He expected them to do what they had seen Him do.  Paul told Timothy to take what he learned from Paul and teach to others who would teach others (2 Timothy 2:2).  Paul expected his disciple to make disciples.  No one had the option of just being a believer in Jesus.  All Christians should be disciples and all Christians should make disciples.  The best way to start making disciples is to follow the example of Jesus by selecting a small group of potential disciples.  Jesus’ small group of disciples would go on to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6)!  Big things happen in small groups!

1 Corinthians 4:20 says, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.”

We share and show the love of Christ.  The gospel of Jesus Christ requires both proclamation and demonstration.  Both matter!  God’s people are called to live for Jesus’ kingdom mission.  The church is called to “make disciples” while also “teaching them to observe everything” Jesus commanded us (Matthew 28:19-20), leading all believers to lead kingdom-shaped lives.  This is done best in small group ministry.

How to expand the ministry by starting a small group:

1.     Include two or three others believers from your church who desire to make disciples by reaching the lost.
2.     Intercede for your lost friends, family and acquaintances.
3.     Invite friends, family and acquaintances to your church and small groups.

Ed Stetzer, President of Lifeway Research believes his small group is the most significant ministry activity he does for Christ during the week.  In his book Subversive Kingdom, he writes, “The way we (Lifeway Research) make our “biggest” difference is by thinking small, helping pockets and handfuls of Christian groups in churches all over the nation and world seek to live on a kingdom mission.  When I go home from work, I enjoy being part of one of those (small) groups in my own neighborhood.  Though I largely spend my day writing, doing research, or traveling to speak, I believe the closest thing I do for kingdom effort is what I do on Sunday night, leading a small group in my neighborhood, ministering and being in community with those who live around me, spending time with five or six families in close, intimate discussion about the things of God.” 

I’ll conclude with a quote from American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead.  While studying humans and their works she observed firsthand the power of a small group of people meeting together for a common purpose.  She said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Big things happen in small groups!  Are you in a small group?