shutterstock_118404541 copyI find it fascinating that of the 41,173 verses in the Bible, one-half of one verse is given to the atheist. Of the 774,746 words in the Bible, eleven words are given to the atheist. But big things do come in small packages, and in a short statement in Psalm 14:1, we learn some great truths about the reality of God. The Bible says, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’

Here we have what the atheist says about God–“There is no God.” Then we have what God says about the atheist–“fool.” Almost as if he does not waste his breath, God just simply mutters “fool.”

This world is full of brilliant fools. There are Ph.D’s in leading universities who can intellectually understand the theory of relativity, but spiritually they don’t know their ABCs. They see a car and they believe in a manufacturer, they see a portrait and they believe in an artist, they see a book and they believe in an author; but they see a creation and refuse to believe in a Creator.

You notice in Psalm 14:1 the words “there is” are in italics. In the Hebrew text the words are not there. What the verse actually says is, “The fool has said in his heart, no God.” This is the person who wants nothing to do with God at all. He has no use for God’s person, God’s principles, God’s people, or God’s purposes.

In effect, there are two types of atheists. There is the intellectual atheist, and there is the practical atheist. There is the person who believes there is no God; that is the intellectual atheist. But then there is the person who behaves as if there is no God; that is the practical atheist. There are far more practical atheists both in church and in America than you might even realize.

Now we understand why God called such a person foolish. If a person knew there were no God, and said so, he would be wise and even courageous for telling the rest of us we were wrong. If he did not know whether there were a God, and said so, he would at least be an honest skeptic. If a person is convinced there is no God, when actually there is one, he would merely be mistaken. But the reason God calls this person foolish is because deep down he knows there is a God, and yet chooses to believe and act as if there is none.

The foolish are marked by intolerance. “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread?” (Psalm 14:4) Not only does the unbeliever attack the person of God, he attacks the people of God. Secularists, humanists, materialists, and atheists absolutely hate the devoutly Christian people. The more you love God, the more this world will hate you. Jesus said in John 7:7, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” He then went on to say in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”

The foolish are marked by indifference. “And do not call on the Lord.” (Psalm 14:4) The reason why an atheist can’t find God is the same reason a thief cannot find a policeman. They do not want to find God, because if they do it will change the way they live. Psalm 14:1 tells us the unbeliever does not see God, but verse 2 tells us why, because he does not seek God. You can see the power of God by the eyes on your face, but you can only see the person of God by the eyes in your heart. The reality of God is only truly known by faith.

It is true that when it comes to God in His reality, we walk by faith and not by sight. But that’s all right, because “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) I can say, without shame, I would rather live by faith than to die in doubt.

I believe in God. But more than that, I know God through Jesus Christ His Son, and I can say today, beyond any shadow of any doubt, my God is real.

–James Merritt

Fiscal Fitness

You would expect that the richest man who ever lived would have something to say about money, and, in Solomon’s case, you would be right. He has plenty to say. There is a wealth of wisdom about wealth in Proverbs. With money, there is not only much to earn, but there is much to learn. In fact, the entire Bible has much to say about money. Howard Dayton, the founder of Crown Ministries has counted about five hundred verses in the Bible on prayer, but over 2,350 on how to handle money and possessions.

The amount of hard cash lost each year in the United States amounts to about $75 per capita. The total average income for most of this planet comes to about $69 per person annually. In other words, the average American loses more money each year than almost anyone else in the world earns.

Money is like nitroglycerin: handling it is not morally wrong, but, especially if you do not know what you are doing, it is extremely risky. It seems as if everywhere you look, there is a warning label of some kind on toys, cigarettes, diet soft drinks, even air bags! Perhaps it would be a good idea to put a warning label on dollar bills, certificates of deposit, and credit cards. Perhaps nothing has been the ruin of more people, marriages, and friendships, than the failure to handle money properly.

You are either master over your money or a slave to it—there is no in between. As I walked through the rich grain fields of financial wisdom in Proverbs, I gleaned some keys to helping you to master your money—lessons you can pass on to your children that will be “worth their weight in gold.” Let me share just two with you…

Principle No. One: Being poor is a problem, but being rich isn’t the answer. The New Living Translation renders Proverbs 8 this way: The rich can pay a ransom, but the poor won’t even get threatened.

The poor man may get no mail, but the rich man may get “blackmail!” The good news is, that the rich are worth kidnapping. The bad news is, they are able to pay the ransom. For the poor, the bad news is, they are not worth kidnapping, but the good news is, they don’t have to worry about ransom. The principle is that money is not an end. It comes with its own set of problems. Pursuing riches may rid you of some challenges but it will also bring other challenges and it certainly will not bring you happiness in any eternal sense.

Principle Number Two: Remember the difference between “needy” and “greedy.” We have all heard, when it comes to cars, “speed kills.” When it comes to money, “greed kills.” So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its owners. (Proverbs 1:19) We Americans pledge allegiance to “One nation under God,” and then live as if we believe in “One nation under greed.”

A greedy man is just like the heroine addict. It takes a “hit” to satisfy him, but the effect soon wears off and he needs another “hit.” When John D. Rockefeller was the richest man in the world, he was asked by an employee, “Mr. Rockefeller, how much money is enough?” To which Rockefeller replied, “Just a little bit more, son, just a little bit more.” A Greek sage once said, “To whom a little is not enough, nothing is enough.”

–James Merritt

 

The Fishing Business

How many of you have ever been deep sea fishing?  I was shocked to learn that more than 2.4 million people participated in this sport last year, resulting in retail sales of almost $2.4 billion dollars and a total economic impact of almost $4.5 billion dollars. Deep sea fishing provides jobs for nearly 55 thousand people.
You may be asking what does deep sea fishing have to do with the church? Deep sea fishing is a picture of the deep soul fishing we are to be about as a church. I asked myself this question, “If Jesus was here today, what would He see and what would He say?” I believe He wouldn’t see a building.  I believe He would see a boat.  In this crowd, He would see two types of people–fishermen and fish.  Let me let you in on a little secret, you are one or the other.
I have no reason to doubt that the very first thing He would say to us would be the very first words He spoke to the very first people who became His disciples.  “As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen and Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.'” Mark 1:16-17. That one statement tells us what our primary business is, both as a church corporately and as followers of Jesus individually.
It never ceases to amaze me that the first two words Jesus ever said to those who would become His followers were “Follow Me”. There are two amazing things about those words. What He said and why He said it. Think about it. When He said those two words, He was talking to complete strangers.  He gave them no formal introduction.  He presented no credentials, no proof of id, no drivers license and no social security number.  He just simply said, “Follow Me.” Can you imagine what immediately went through their minds, “Follow you?”  I don’t even know you.”
Look at their response, “Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” Mark 1:18. They were gone in sixty seconds! In the blink of an eye, with a snap of a finger (just like that), gone, left home, business, friends and family and began to follow Jesus. If you want to know what a true Christian is–there you have it. A Christian is a follower of Jesus. That is where the Christian life begins and ends–following Jesus in life and following Jesus through death.
The lesson to be learned here is to follow is to fish or to put it even more simply–“Followers Fish”.
–James Merritt

Detours

shutterstock_51132958The country music group Rascal Flatts has a song titled Life Is A Highway.  That really is true.  Life is a highway a highway that eventually ends.
Most everyone hopes that highway ends in heaven, but there is a roadblock on that highway called “sin.”  Unless we find a way around that roadblock we will never make it to what should be our final destination.
It is a driver’s worst nightmare.  You are on a long highway, stuck in traffic, there is nothing but chrome and concrete in front of you and everything and everybody is at a complete standstill.  You have hit a classic roadblock. Time is of the essence. You’ve got to move.  You have a destination to reach and it has to be quickly.  There is no exit in sight.  You have only one hope or at least you think you do – find a detour.  Find someway around that roadblock.  Find someway to get to that destination.
As we face this roadblock called “sin” there is a detour that appeals to the vast majority of the human race and it seems like the logical way to get away the roadblock.  The detour can be called “religion”.  The detour can be called “good works.”  The detour can be called “giving your best.”  The detour can be called “doing good things.”  The detour can be called any number of things, but it all amounts to the same thing – trying to work your way around that roadblock.   There is only one problem with taking that detour, the detour around the roadblock of sin leads to death.
 
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 6:23
Eternal life is a gift that keeps on giving.  God does not give us eternal life just so we can enjoy it and use it to get into heaven.  God gives us eternal life so we in turn can give it to others.  One of the ways you do that is by finding people who have gotten off on this wrong detour and letting them know that detour only leads to death, but they can receive the free gift of eternal life.
The mission of every Christ-follower is to share their faith—their story in Christ.  It is by sharing our story that we lead others to love God. 
No Detours!
–James Merritt

How Can I Please God?

shutterstock_132299630One of the most exciting events in track and field is the relay races.  It takes a combination of speed, timing, precision, and teamwork in order for a relay team to be victorious.  Now the suspense is much greater than an individual race because in an individual race the fastest person always wins.  In a relay race the fastest team can lose if one thing happens –they fail to pass the baton. Any track coach will tell you that relay races are won or lost not in the sheer speed of the team, but in the transfer of the baton.  There is that critical moment when everything can be lost by the slightest miscalculation.
In the 1988 Olympics, the world just assumed that the United States would be victorious in the 400 meter relay because we simply had, by far, from top to bottom the best team.  From the crack of the opening gun, we took the lead and extended the lead through the first three runners.  After the last curve, the unthinkable happened.  The United States was ahead by ten meters and no one was going to catch them.  At the last hand off the impossible happened.  They dropped the baton and the fastest team in the world lost not only a gold  medal, but any medal because of a dropped baton.
I thought about that when I read something that Dr. James Dobson once said. “According to the Christian values which govern my life, my most important reason for living is to get the baton – The Gospel safely into the hands of my children.”
I could not agree with him more.  I can tell you both as a pastor and as a dad, you will never teach your children a greater lesson than the lesson of having faith in God.  I have said before, nobody can change your life like God, but even God cannot change your life until you place your faith in Him.
Hebrews 11:6 says, “It’s impossible to please God apart from faith.”
Why is faith so important?  It is just this simple. You cannot please God without faith, because you cannot know God without faith. You cannot be saved without knowing God and that is why the greatest lesson you’ll ever teach your children and the greatest lesson you’ll ever learn yourself is what real faith is, how to get it and how to live it.
–James Merritt