Thursday, April 24, 2008

Bearing each others burdens

Rom. 15:1 We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not please ourselves. Aug. 8, 2008
I heard a story some time back about some young men that had gone off to boot camp, and the last thing they had to do before graduating was run ten miles in full gear, boots, helmet, rifle, and backpack. They were all doing fine until the last couple of miles, it was at that point that one of them men started lagging behind. His buddy on the right reached over and took his rifle from him and carried it along with his own gear. This helped for another mile or so, but then the man began to fall behind once again, this time his buddy on the left reached over and took his helmet and carried it along with his own stuff. The weaker man ran with renewed vigor until the last half mile when once again he began to stumble and almost collapsed from exhaustion, the two men behind him then relieved him of his backpack and continued to run bearing his excess weight along with their own. The entire unit finished the course together.
When you think about it all those other men could have finished that course, probably even faster than they did, if they hadn't helped the weaker soldier, but they knew that the unit was important then themselves. Christians ought to think this same way. I wonder what would happen if more people began laying down their luxuries, their comforts, and even their rights, in order to promote unity. If our churches were filled with Christians who were willing to forgo some of their preferences in order to bear the weaker brother's burden, what great things could be accomplished? The fact of the matter is, most people are so focused on what pleases them, they aren't willing to follow Christ's example and humble themselves in order to maintain unity and harmony among God's people. We live in the Burger King generation, that says "I want, what I want, when I want it." Most of the previous generations were raised to understand that the only way you could survive in this world was to give a little, take a little. In other words sometimes you got what you wanted, sometimes you had give in and let the other guy get what he wanted. Our current generation is being raised with no idea of responsibility or give and take. The psychologists have told us "If they don't get everything they want it might make them develop an inferiority complex, and if they don't get it right away they may fell emotionally neglected." The biblical perspective is right the opposite, it says you win some you lose some, and whenever you are able you ought to forget about yourself and help the unit.
I would challenge you, when you go to church tonight or next Sunday, to lay your preferences down, if required, in order for the church to grow in grace and unity. Reach over to that person struggling next to you and take his helmet, relive him of a little of his load, that the entire church would be a stronger more unified body, that could finish their course with joy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A lively God

Heb. 10:31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Aug. 1, 2007
About 200 years ago a preacher by the name of Jonathen Edwards preached on this passage, his sermon was entitled, "Sinners in the hands of an angry God". It is reported that he read this sermon word for word off his notes in nearly a monotone voice, and yet by the close of the service the listeners were clinging to the pillars of the building, screaming that it was as if they could feel the flames of hell licking at their feet. What caused this reaction, clearly had nothing to do with his delivery, but instead with the profound content of the verse. When we break it down, we find layer after layer of doctrine condenced into these fourteen words.
First off we see that falling into the hands of a God ready to take vengance on those whom vengenace is due, is a fearful thing. We often lose sight of the fact that we serve a God that is complex and multifaceted, we do not undersand evrything he does, we're not told to understand we're told to believe and accept it as holy. It is a very popular subject today to talk about the love of God, there's nothing wrong with that, God is love. (I John 4:8) The problem arises when we attempt to limit God to that single attribute, God is not limited and he is as fearful to those who reject him, as he is loving to those who are his children.
Second, we see that it is a fearful thing to fall into his hands. That is to find youself completely at his mercy. God can do all his holy will and "none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?" (Dan. 5:35) Our God is all powerful, and at every moment of every day we are completely at his mercy, even "the king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as rivers of water he turneth it withersoever he will" (Prov. 21:1) Once again we try to limit God to a position where he is convinient for us to access. God has hands that reach to every corner of the earth. To be at the mercy of such powerful hands and be deserving of punishment would be fearful indeed.
Thirdly, we see it is a living God. Whether you choose to recognize it now or at the moment of your death, there is a God and he is very alive. Two prevalent ideas in this age is that there is no God, or that God is not active. The secular realm sticks to the "no God" argument, the obvious point of this scripture is that the fearful thing is that he is alive. The "religious" crowd tries to tell you that God got this world spinning and then just sat back and let it alone. This word "living" however entails being "lively" or active, our God is not limited to heaven, he works in evryone's life, every day, acting for the good of his children and his own glory.
These are just the three most obvious points of this verse, but still enough to make us reconsider how we view God and fit him into our lives. Do we think of him as an unlimited deity that can do all his holy will, or a limited God that we have carved out to fit our wants? As C. S. Lewis said of Aslan "He is good, but he is not a tame lion."

Think on these things

Phi. 4:8 "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." July 25, 2007
As the saying goes, "the mind is a terrible thing to waste." Why then are there so many people who do just that with their minds? I'm not speaking of those who never educate themselves as much as they could (although that's a problem too), I'm talking about those who trash their minds with pornography, explicit violence, curse words and blasphemies. They give into the pressure of the flesh to gratify their fleshy desires. When this happens to a lost man it's sad, but expected. The real problem arises when the children of God, those who have trusted Jesus through faith and proclaimed that to the world, think on these fleshly things. The church has been compromised over time, giving into the world in the little things, a little at a time and the end result is a far cry from the truth.
I personally know "good, christian people" that allow their pre-teen children to watch movies laced with profanities, sexual references, and suggestive clothing. Then we wonder why they end up pregnant at sixteen, or when they learned how to cuss out their parents. The under lying problem is their thought patterns, from there it's only a mater of time until their actions follow. So what should we be giving them, (and ourselves) to think on?
Things that are true, the bible is 100% truth, but how many of us read it on a daily basis? Things that are honest, you'll be amazed how much you learn by reading history and real events. Things that are just, this implies teaching them that there is a difference between right and wrong, and that when a rule is broken, justice demands punishment. Things that are pure, purity simply means without any blemishes or defilement, this would cover a vast multitude of academic and entertainment sources, just so long as they're not tainted with sinful undertones. Things that are lovely, we live in an age that says "What's right for you is right for you, and what's right for me is right for me." People following that train of thought say "Who's to say blue jeans and a t-shirt is any less appropriate that a suit and tie, or blouse and dress." Everything from our clothes to art to music has been infiltrated by this teaching of "Beauty is relative." The bible teaches absolutes and that carries over into loveliness, different cultures have different definitions, but every culture has a fairly clear ideal as to what constitutes beauty. Things that are of a good report. The vast majority of the media focuses on all the bad, because bad news sells better than good news. Christians ought to strive to find information that is optimistic, now I realize that it's hard to to put the Virginia Tech shootings, or 9/11 in a good light, but we're not supposed to be dwelling on these. We are to be meditating on anything that is full of virtue and praise.
Don't feed your body good things and then fill your mind with trash, commit to use your mind and body and soul for the glory of God, by thinking on good things and letting good actions follow.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Praying with faith

Acts 12:5 Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church of God for him. July 18, 2007
Peter, in this portion of scripture, had been thrown into prison by the gentile king, and all the church gathered to pray for him. God heard their prayers and in order to show Himself mighty, He rescued Peter from the prison by an angel. Once in the street Peter went straight to the house where the brethren were praying for him, the servant who answered the door ran and told those praying that Peter was at the door, they wouldn't believe her. They said that either the servant was crazy or Peter had been killed and his ghost was there, until they saw Peter with their own eyes. They were praying with no expectation of God answering their prayers. How often do we pray this same way? We pray for the sick, never really attributing it to God when they recover. We pray for the lost, never expecting them to get saved. We pray for rain and then act surprised when we get it. Just like those Christians 2,000 years ago praying for Peter, human nature really never changes and we forget that the bible has promised that "The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." Do we pray because it's a religious obligation, or because we have a Father who cares for us and our petitions? Do we pray to be seen of man, or to be heard of God? In Matt. 7:9-11 Jesus said "Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gift unto your children, how much more shall you Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" Any father with natural affection for his children loves to give them the things that are good for them and make them happy. But what if your child walked up to you and in a monotone voice, made some generic request, without looking directly at you, then walked away without waiting for an answer. How would you feel about how much they really wanted what they were asking for? If we began praying like we talk to our fathers, maybe God would would reward our faith and trust. Instead of the way so many people currently pray, as if they're talking into the air and not to the God of the universe. I know it's easy to fall into the trap of disbelief when speaking to someone we can't see, but that is when faith comes into play, that's when it really matters. Anyone can believe in the things they see, but it takes true faith to believe in the God you can't see or hear, yet you can see Him at work. Like the wind you can't see it but you can see the work of it, so likewise we can't see God, but we can see his handiwork all around us. That ought to encourage us to take more time to pray with the expectation that God is not only going to hear our prayer but answer it. Let's learn a lesson from the account of those praying for Peter, when a prayer is answered we should be thankful, but not surprised.

God is greater than our heart

I John 3:20 For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. July 11, 2007
It seems as if the modern world we live in has completely forgotten that this verse is in the bible. The prevalent theme being pushed by Hollywood today is "follow your heart", and the modern Evangelists, for the most part, have latched onto it. After moderating the "conversion experience", the recipient will ask the evangelist "Now am I saved?" He replies "What does your heart tell you?"
Such an interaction teaches the convert that the status of his salvation depends on what his heart feels. Jeremiah 17:9 says "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" There comes a time in many believers lives when their highly deceitful heart tells them, "You can't be saved, you're not good enough." It is at that time that our confidence in the saving power of God coupled with his all sovereign, keeping power, takes over. The second part of what our heart told was correct, we're never good enough for salvation, however we can be saved if we remember I John 3:20 is still in the bible. We have a God who is greater than our hearts, and though the logic of our heart would seem to tell us we are headed for hell, our faith in a sovereign God overrides that.
When the greater part of Christendom begins rejecting or downplaying the sovereignty of God, it hurts all aspects of our life, but no one area is hit harder than the area of conversion. Because if we do not serve an all powerful God, what hope do we have for salvation? I know for a fact I'm not good enough to earn it, the bible tells me I'm not smart enough to choose it, and my heart isn't trustworthy enough to sustain it. My faith lies solely in the blood of Jesus Christ and the love and power of a God that saved me when I never did a thing to deserve it.
Last week we discussed the worth of a soul, and the fact that our souls are worth more than the entire world. If that is what God saved, what do you have to deserve God paying such a high price? Is baptism an act that merits salvation, does mere water have some sort of efficacy that makes it worth God's while? Is church membership worth more than all material gain on the globe, can we do any works that would pay for such a debt? Would God pay the price of His only begotten son dying on a cross, if it took our works to keep that salvation? Obviously the question to all the answers above is a resounding "NO"! Understanding the biblical doctrine of the sovereignty of God in conversion, leads us to an understanding of the fact that we belong to a God that is greater than even our heart. Such a God deserves our all, does he not? Our all will not save us, it will not repay the debt he payed for us, but it is a service we do anyways, out of love and worship for such a God as ours.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A time to get

Ecc. 3:6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away. June 27, 2007
As stated here there are appropriate times and things to get and lose, however when I read this verse I automatically thought of another verse in scripture that deals with getting and losing. Jesus asks in Matt. 16:26 "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" I would venture to say that all of us have to ask ourselves this question, How much is my soul worth? Is it worth the whole world? If you could have all the power and influence over the entire world, if all the kings, emporers, presidents, and prime ministers bowed the knee to you would it be worth an eternity in hell? If all the money, resources, and materials of the world were given to you, would you get that and lose your soul? The majority of this world goes on, so caught up with power, money and material gain, they never take a second to think about eternity. The sad end will be that they die and find out they traded a season of getting for an eternity of loss.
Would you not rather the trade of be the other way around? Wouldn't it be better to trade a season of loss for eternal gain? The bible clearly tells us that a believer ought to spend less time building up treasures on this earth, and more time doing spiritual work. I wonder what would happen to the world's economy if all christians decided they were going to spend less time getting "stuff" and more time pleasing God. If we christians decided that we would rather do without the excess, in order to have more time for God's work. Do you realize that if you have a roof over your head, a car, eat three meals a day, and have some money in your pocket, you are among the top five percent richest people in the world. So why then do we continue to strive to not only have a roof over our head, but also have two extra bedrooms? Instead of being content with a car, we have to have a new one every two years. It's not enough that we have some money in our pockets, we insist on having enough to splurge on all the unnecassary toys, to impress our friends. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all for comfort and fun, I like having the new toy as well as the next guy. But, when the work for all this starts getting in the way of God, when we can't go to church because we have to work on Sunday, when we don't read our bibles because we're too tired, we've gone too far. We now have other gods in our lives that are coming between us and the one true God. I'm afraid the end result for the modern christian, is that our lives are consumed with the time to get and when we get to heaven we will find out just how much we actually lost.

A time to cast away.

Ecc. 3:5 "A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;" June 20,2007

Every good farmer or gardener knows, that one of the first things you have to do when preparing land for agricultural use, is to remove all the stones. All those those hard pieces of rock that will inhibit many plants from growing or at least will keep them from reaching their full potential. It is a hard chore, it requires a lot of work and monotony, but in the end it is worth it, because of the fruit you reap from that ground. In many parts of the country where the ground is especially rocky, the farmers will take all these stones and build a stone wall around the fields.
This principle is true for a christian as well, we have a calling to remove the many "stones" and "rocks" from our hearts, so that God can better use us. Now a christian with "rocks" is still a christian, but if he has a heart with "stones" of sin scattered throughout, he will not be blessed with the work and fruit of a christian with a clean heart. Every christian's earnest desire ought to be that God would make them the purest and cleanest servant fit for the masters service. Sometimes that requires breaking some hard habits, sometimes that includes purifying yourself from ingrained practices, it can be a hard work and one that involves toil and sweat, but the end result will make it all worthwhile. Our call is to be like the master, to do what he would have us do, to be conformed to his image. We will never reach a state of sinlessness on this earth, even Paul struggled with doing the things he should, and not doing the things he shouldn't. That doesn't mean we throw in the towel though, it means we keep casting away those nasty rocks.
Now, we must remember that there is a time to gather these stone together as well, those rocks that at one time seemed so nasty to the farmer, he can use to build himself a guard wall. We too must keep in remembrance those sins that we are casting out, in order to make sure we don't repeat those sins. In essence we are taking the things we have rid our lives of, and using them for the glory of God, we keep the memory of these sins to keep us humble before God and remind us that no man is above sin, we all (but for the grace of God) could fall prey to those sins once again at any time. Sin is an addiction, and when a christian is able to rid himself of a particular sin he needs to keep himself as far away from it as possible, if you start dabbling around in it, it will take you captive again before you realize what happened to you. Then you will have to start the whole "casting away" process over again.
Let's all start being a little more concerned about our heart's purity, let's work to get any sins that we have out, and then let's stay as far away from those sins as we can. Why don't we let those sins become our "stone wall" that protects us from recommitting them.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A time to weep.

Ecc. 3:4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; June 13, 2007
If you are a member of the human race, I'm sure you've figured out by now that life is full of ups and downs, highs and lows, mountaintops and valleys. We have all experienced that rush of exhilaration, whether it was because that certain someone had just agreed to marry you, or because your first child was born healthy, or something as simple as winning that football game. On the flip side we've all experienced those moments of nearly overwhelming sadness, the day you got the word one of your parents had died, the day you lost your financial security, the time you made a stupid choice and let somebody close to you down. All of those emotions are okay and natural, every human from Adam to myself has encountered them. Read the book of Job if you think you have it hard, then again not many of us has had the riches and blessings he had either.
dancearound. In this verse the Preacher says there is a time for both, and to miss either is to disregard the mandates of scripture. Have you ever been around a cynic, a pessimist, someone that always sees the glass as half empty? Not only are they missing all the good things around them, they are ruining it for everyone around them. We would do well to remember that none of us are islands, and when we act a certain way it does not just effect us, but in fact directly impacts all those we come in contact with. Of course you can have someone who is the polar opposite of this, the kind of guy that never takes anything seriously, the kind of person that makes a joke out of the fact that someone close to you has died. That kind of person is generally thought of as a jerk. Rightly so, the Bible dictates that we weep with those that weep, not just when we're sad, but when our coworker or neighbor is sad as well. We, as Christians, ought to be the people that not only have a shoulder to cry on, but have a heart that will sincerely weep with them.
A christian will be sincere and tuned in to others feelings, to be always weeping and mourning is completely self centered, to be so caught up in laughing and dancing that we ignore the plights of others, is equally selfish. Christians ought to take it on themselves to be following what Christ said was the second greatest commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. If we are doing this, honestly loving our neighbor the same way we love and look out for number one, we will be properly balanced in our approach to joy and mourning.

A time to build up.

Ecc. 3:3 A time to break down, and a time to build up. May 30, 2007
I wasn't always a farm boy. Up until I was eleven I lived in the city, shortly after my eleventh birthday my family moved from a half acre plot (or less), to the 160 acre farm where we now reside. When we lived in the city, we never had any animals except for a few fish in a fish bowl, and at one time a cat. (I still cherish those childhood memories of the adorable four year old me, dragging the cat around by it's tail.) Back to the subject at hand, when we made the drastic move, one of the first things we did was got animals, all sorts of animals. We had cows and horses, dogs and cats, goats and rabbits, and then there was the chickens. All the other animals looked out for their own kind, dogs protected dogs, cows stuck with cows, and if you messed with one rabbit you had a pack on your hands, okay maybe not the rabbits. The chickens were another story entirely, if one chicken got a cut all the rest would mercilessly peck at the cut. All the healthy chickens picked on the hurt one. Unfortunately, I'm a chicken. I'd rather point the finger than lend a hand. I'm ashamed to say it, but the more I look around the more I see everyone else doing the same. The Christians that are supposed to be showing Christ to the world through their love for one another, are all too busy looking out for number one to worry about helping the brother who has been knocked down. Instead we'll climb over him, if it helps us get to the top. Oh, there's a time to break down, a time to break down our pride, a time to break down our walls of prejudice, but we get so caught up in the breaking down we forget that there is a time to be building up.
Paul writes a young minister named Timothy, and we read in his letter, II Tim. 4:2 "Reprove, rebuke, exhort." All three are critical for a healthy relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. At times we need to tear down, we need to reprove and rebuke; but so often our problem is that we leave out the exhortation and our relationships crumble. We spend all our time tearing down and not enough building up. Christians would do well to start focusing on building up those around us. Going the extra mile to be kind to those we work with, going out of our way to tell someone they did a good job, getting over our pride and telling our family we appreciate what they do for us every day. If we would start building up those lives we come in contact with every day, I think we would start to notice something, that in building up other we get built up, in encouraging others we get a shot of encouragement ourselves. Let's make this day the time to build up, although that may require a little bit of tearing down for your pride.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A time to kill and a time to heal

EC. 3:3 A time to kill, and a time to heal. May 23, 2007
Although there are many who would disagree with both me and more importantly the Bible, there is in fact a time to kill. Many people and organization wish to promote peace and pacifism to such an extant it cripples justice. They would tell you wars, capital punishment, and perhaps even self defense needs to be laid down, at the expense of justice and freedom. All this is done they will tell you, in obedience to the sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill". So we now have a contradiction in the Bible it would seem, but the commandment is speaking clearly of murder. It is not saying we cannot exact justice, for God said that a man who murders another man shall surely be put to death. It is not saying to never war for God commanded the Israelites to go to war in several places in the Old Testament. To top it all off, Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time to kill. Were it not for capital punishment our prisons would be strained even more than they already are, filled with those who deserve death for their heinous deeds. Were it not for war we would still be a colony of England, or more likely we would be under Nazi rule. There comes a time in every generation that men are asked to give their lives for God and country, and in every generation there are those who rise to the occasion. I hear people all the time saying things like, "How many more of our soldiers will have to die before we get out of this war?" The bible says there is a time to kill and there is a time to die, countless other Americans have killed and been killed in order to throw off tyranny, oppression, and other evils. To quote the Spider man movie, "With great power come great responsibility." The United States is the most powerful country in the world, we have a great responsibility not only to protect ourselves, but use our power and influence to bring freedom to the rest of the world, and sometimes that includes death to both the good guys and the bad.
By the same token we ought not be warmongers constantly looking for a fight or a reason to kill. There have been times down through the ages when one army has put another to flight at much loss to themselves, and a portion of the victorious army wishes to press their advantage, follow the fleeing army and kill them all. Now perhaps there is a time for this, but most wise leaders will allow their men to heal and recuperate before continuing the war. After the shootings at Virginia Tech, nothing could be done to exact justice, the killer was already dead. After so much senseless death not many people wanted to see any more killing, this was their time to heal. A healthy balance is needed, to say killing is always necessary would be completely wrong, but to say it never is would be equally untrue. There is a time for both.

A time to plant

Ecc. 3:2b "A time to plant and I time to pluck up that which is planted;" May 16, 2007
I work at a feed and seed store, all year long we sell some kind of seasonal seeds, but during the springtime those sales really take a jump. Everyone is getting their gardens, lawns, and pastures planted, more than any other time of the year this is the time to plant. The ground is warm but not hot and cracked, the weather is conducive, both to the plants and to the planter. When I look at a garden I see much new life springing forth from tiny seeds, and with the right balance of light, water, weeding, and care, those plants will grow to bear much fruit and following the course of nature, reproduce themselves.
The bible speaks of planting in another place as well, in Matt. 3 Jesus tells the parable of the man who sowed all his seeds. The seeds fell in many places, some on the path, some on stony ground, others still among thorns, however a few seeds landed on fertile ground. Those that landed on the path, stayed on top of the packed ground and the birds ate them, the ones that landed on stony ground grew quickly but when it got hot their root system was not enough to support them and just as quickly as they had grown they withered away. The ones that fell among thorns quickly grew as well, but with the thorns already firmly established the plants were choked out. On the contrary all those that fell on fertile ground grew and produced fruit. Jesus' explanation of the parable was that we are the planters, the world is our field, the seeds that were eaten by birds are pictures of those who hear the gospel but Satan immediately takes it away before it can gain root. The seeds that grew on stony ground are those who hear the gospel and receive it for what it can give them in this world, as soon as persecution comes and they realize the gospel doesn't give them much physical gain, they fall away. The seeds thrown among thorns are those who hear and receive the gospel but are choked out by the cares of this world, and their love for it is greater than their love for God. The seeds thrown on fertile ground are those that truly receive the gospel for what it is and do that which nature demands, bear fruit, which holds the very thing necessary for it's reproduction.
There is a time to plant and it is now, while we are on this earth and have a chance to make a difference for eternity. The sower did not stop throwing seeds on the rocky and hard and thorny ground he gave the seed to all the ground that was available to him. Likewise we ought not refrain from witnessing strictly because we think the person is not receptive. We are to proclaim the gospel to all people, plant the seeds in all grounds, and let God grow the plants.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Birth and death.

Ecc 3:2 “A time to be born, and a time to die.” May 9, 2007
The statement here that there is a time to die, has hit me hard in it’s truth this past week. On Monday morning I found out the mother of one of my church members had died, this is the first death I’ve dealt with in my church family. Then on Thursday morning I got the devastating news that a man that had attended the same college I did up until last year when he graduated, had died as well. This man was a motorcycle policeman named David Young. I was honored to know this man for the short period of time that I did, he was always smiling and I can still hear his booming laugh. Not many people in this community have made such an impact on the city of Florence and Northwest Alabama as a whole. He was not only a father, husband, son, friend, etc. but was also the pastor of a church, as well as his job as a policeman.
Death comes to all of us just as sure as birth did, all who were born must one day die. Whether that death comes to a 90 year old woman in a nursing home, or a 46 year man in a motorcycle wreck, it is still a devastating loss to their families. David left behind a shining reputation, both personally and from all the interviews I’ve read he was a “blameless” man. A man that had no handles for the world to grab onto and drag him down with. I hope as I think David would, that through his death we see much new life. I think David would have wanted his death to bring about a recommitment in Christians, and it has in my life. Though older than I, him and me weren’t much different, we both were graduating college within a year of each other, we both had recently taken our first pastorate, we both had dedicated our lives to preaching of the gospel. His death made me wonder if I were to die tomorrow what kind of reputation I would leave behind.
David’s wife Donna quoted him as often saying “There’s no oops with God”, and that has been one of her greatest comforts. God said there is a time to die, David’s time came a little sooner than we were expecting, but God’s in control of that.
The bible says Samson killed more Philistines in his death than in all of his life, though at one time he slew 1,000 with the jawbone of a donkey. I think David might be our modern Samson, although he influenced and impacted hundreds of people in his life, his death just may be even more influential. As people come out of the woodwork to testify what a man of God this officer was, how the other officers would stop their cursing when he walked in the room. The expectation is that this funeral may be the biggest Florence has ever seen. There is a time to die, but I pray that God would use this death to bring all glory and honor to Himself and that new spiritual births would result from the physical death of this man of God.

It is a man's duty to have books, a library is not a luxury but one of the necessaries of life.
~Henry Ward Beecher~

For everything a season

Ecc. 3:1 To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven: May 2, 2007
The preacher (as the writer of Ecclesiastes identifies himself) tells us a profound truth in this verse. Contrary to popular belief there are many things that are either considered bad by our society or are in fact bad under most circumstances, which do in fact have a legitimate time and place. Take illegal drugs for example, when used as most people use them, to bring about a high or some other such loss of physical and mental control is wrong, that is not to say that drugs are wrong across the board. Many people have survived a trauma that their body would not have been able to bear without the help of such drugs. God created those plants and he created them for a reason, we can abuse that privilege or we can use it in a proper manner.
God has given us all things for our enjoyment and His glory, we as humans have been given the responsibility to be stewards of this world, whether it be a thing, an action, an animal, we are to exercise dominion over it, that does not mean use it however we want. That does mean that we ought to use all the resources we have in the manner that would bring the most honor to Him. You hear people talking about litter and pollution; you can swing to either end of the pendulum if you wish. The one side will go to the extent of worshiping the creation more than the creature telling us trees and animals have the same rights we do, the other side would tell you humans can do whatever they wish with the earth since we’ve been given dominion over it. Both sides would be wrong, the biblical answer is that there is a time for everything, there is a time to cut down the tree for the natural resources it provides, there is also a time to refrain from cutting down that tree in order to use the land to it’s fullest capabilities.
It is rare in our day and age to see anyone do something or teach something in moderation, we like to generalize things. Really it doesn’t even have to do with our time, we’re told that in the garden Eve said that God had said not to eat the fruit or touch it lest they die. What God had really said was not to eat the fruit, but we humans like to add to God’s word and say something is wrong in all it’s facets when God didn’t really say that. Now don’t get me wrong a sin is a sin, there is not time for adultery, and idol worship is never condoned in the bible. But as I said all the resources God has given us have a designated place in this world, we can use them or abuse them but in the end we will answer to God for what we do.

Strength through unity

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. Psa. 133:1 April 25, 2007
The other evening I was reading a pamphlet about the Puritans. Unbeknownst to most, these were the people who really made this country the Christian country it is, the ones who laid the moral foundation our laws were built on. One of the features that struck me about these men was their emphasis on Christian unity. Now don’t misunderstand me they weren’t ecumenical, they did not promote Atheists, Muslims, and Catholics sitting down together with them to call each other brothers in Christ. However they did encourage those who agreed on the fundamental Christian doctrines, to fellowship with one another. Following the teachings of Jesus, Paul, and James, they taught that we ought to lay down our trivial disagreements, and gladly join hands to further the gospel of Christ. John 13:35 tells us that the world knows we are Christ’s disciples by our love for one another.
Have you ever been in the middle of a warm conversation with someone you just met, things are going along fine, until you mention you're Baptist and they're Pentecostal? The conversation comes to an awkward end and you walk away, without ever finding out what he/she was trusting in for salvation. The manmade names we’ve denominated ourselves into, instantly become a barrier between us and one who might have become a life long friend. We allow trivial theological differences, to bring a friendly conversation to an abrupt halt. Why?
We live in a country with incredible religious freedom, and this plays out to our advantage the vast majority of the time. Like everything though, it has its disadvantages. The most obvious one, (especially for those of us in the Bible belt) is the fact that there are a dozen churches of each denomination in each town. If we don’t like the way so-and-so looked at us, or the way so-and-so didn’t look at us, if we think Ms. Sally was rude to us, or Mr. George slighted us, we just up and move to a different church or drop out of church all together. You know who I’ m talking about, the one that you see in the grocery store and quickly duck into the next aisle, so as to avoid having to talk to them. The person you would walk over hot coals to get away from, before you would confront them with the problem and try to make it right. The Puritans didn’t have this luxury, if they thought something was wrong, the only choice they had was the biblical one. They had to go to that person and work it out. It is easier though, to just switch churches and talk about that person behind their back. A godly man once told me "If you're not the problem or the solution, stay out of it!" That advice has saved me a world of trouble.
What do you think would happen, if we Christians decided to quit bickering about the end times and instead focused on today? What if we could stop majoring on the minors, and start deciding what is really important? What relationships would be restored if we would go the extra mile to make sure that there was nothing between us and our brother or sister? What a revival could break out, if we could agree that the bible alone was going to be our measuring stick, and not tradition or men’s words. Along with the Psalmist we could cry “How good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”, if in fact we started practicing it in our daily lives. If we would purpose in our hearts, to be true disciples of Christ, by honestly loving one another at church, at work, or in the grocery store. If Jesus loved them enough to die for them, ought we not to love them too?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Cleansing: Part II

I 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.
When I wrote my column last week, I was writing from a full heart, my heart that had recently been convicted about my lack of sincerity in my bible reading. However a helpful reader gently pointed out a few flaws in it and challenged me to read it as objectively as possible. When I took their advice I saw what they meant.
The bible is the method of cleansing for a Christian, for those who are lost it does nothing but confuse them. When speaking of salvation, (which is the primary cleansing), nothing but the blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient. Our initial and final wiping away of sins in the eyes of God happens when we call on the name of Jesus Christ the Lord and confess our sins. The bible comes in when I’ve messed up, because even after I’m saved I still continue to sin, as hard as I try not to. When I do end up (paraphrasing Paul) doing the things I would not and not doing the things I would, I am saddened. I hate the feeling of knowing after all God has done for me I’ve failed Him again, I don’t fear losing my salvation any more than I fear being disowned by my dad when I disobey him. What I do fear is falling out of His pleasure, knowing that Jesus died to cover my sins and still somehow I seem to always be wallowing in them.
It is at this time that I go straight to the Word of God, and try to wash my mind and heart in it’s powerful cleansing properties. The reason I rely so heavenly on the bible is not because of it’s inadequacy, but mine. The bible is completely sufficient to remind me how do deal with each and every one of my sins. The problem is, as soon as I get one sin taken care of I seem to commit another one, forcing me to stay in a near constant state of begging for God’s forgiveness and reading His word. I fail so often, it sometimes makes me wonder why it is so hard to stay clean. The conclusion I have come to is that as long as I live in this world surrounded by sin, as long as I am in this frail body I have to lug around, I will not be able to escape sin. That does not stop me from trying though. Every day I strive to become more like my savior and push toward perfection.
I hope I did not cause any confusion in my columns; my goal is to encourage sinners to repentance and believers to righteous living. For a sinner the only way to acceptable repentance is through the blood of Jesus, for a believer the only way to righteous living is a steady diet of spiritual meat, God’s Word. I hope you will all strive with me to start acting more like the savior every day, to fall deeper in love with Him through His word every day, and to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to (once again paraphrasing Paul) follow us as we follow Christ.

Cleansing Part I

Psa 119:9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.
As a young man myself, this verse has become one of my mainstays in life. I guess all humans stay in an almost constant state of being in need of cleansing, but a young man is open to so many venues of temptation and sin. Who is more likely to be arrogant and full of themselves than a young man? What stage of life does lust occur most often than in the youth? Who has more choices to make concerning the direction of their future than a young man? His occupation, his education, his marriage, where he will settle down, these are all questions that only aid in clouding his mind further. I often stop and wonder what does a young man do that does not make it a habit to read the bible daily? Where does he go to get the answers so desperately needed during this time of life? But, as the verse so clearly states it is not only answers the bible provides but a cleansing. When a man has disobeyed the laws laid out in the word of God, it is only the word of God that can cleanse him from the filth he has gotten himself into. Paul says that Christ uses this same method in the sanctifying and cleansing of His church, Eph. 5:25-27 says “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Emphasis mine).
Clearly then, the bible does possess spiritual cleansing properties not found in any other thing here on this earth. Why is it then that we try to cleanse ourselves in so many other ways? We somehow think that doing good deeds will cleanse us, as if the good would erase the bad. Or perhaps we are more inclined to think that cleansing occurs by “finding our inner self” and that by taking long periods of time out of the day to sit and clear our minds of all the other things that has clouded them, we can become clean. God on the other hand has designated a much better method of cleansing our minds and spirits, a continual drenching by the scriptures. I once heard a man say that someone had accused him of being brainwashed to which he replied he was glad to be brainwashed by the bible, in fact it was the only way he would want his dirty mind to be washed. We ought to all take up this attitude, that we would give over minds to the truth of scripture. Instead we try to convince ourselves and others that we would read the bible more, if only we had more time. The truth of the matter is we have time for what we make time for. We have time in spades to work, we have plenty of time to take meals thrice daily, we have time to watch the news and ball games, we have time for everything else. How pitiful our excuses sound when laid against reality, how apathetic our lives have become if we can convince ourselves that our time would be better spent working out at the gym than reading the letter God has preserved for 4,000+ years, just for us. I mean not to tirade against watching television or any other such exercise, I only mean to point out what god's we have made unto ourselves. I recently conducted an informal poll, asking the participants how a man could become right in God's eyes. You would be amazed how many people either didn't know, or didn't know “how to explain it”, and we live in the “bible belt”. Unfortunately, our bibles are fast being replaced by TV Guides and newspapers. Why don't we make a resolution to start reading more of the scripture than we currently do, at least a few minutes a day? I attempt to read it for an hour a day and I still don't get the kind of washing this young man daily needs.

Serve the Lord with gladness.

Psa. 100:2 Serve the Lord with gladness:
David’s Psalms are some of the most uplifting portions of scripture. His songs are filled with praise and adoration, and in this specific passage he commands us to serve the Lord with gladness.
This verse really is two commands in one; the first is to serve the Lord. In our democratic system we have forgotten what it means to be the servant of a sovereign. Three Hundred years ago, our ancestors were probably the subject to some king. No matter what country they lived in, they knew what it was to serve a monarch. In a monarchy, what a king said was law, period. It didn’t have to go through a senate, or a congress, or a parliament. As Christians we live in a monarchy, what God says goes, with or without our consent. He doesn’t ask our permission or advice for any law he sets down. He says to Job in Job 40:2 “Shall he that contedeth with the almighty instruct him? He that reproveth God let him answer.” Job answers wisely and says “Behold I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay my hand upon my mouth.” He understood how to answer God, which is that man cannot talk back to God, His ways are past finding out. We need to reeducate ourselves with the idea of an all sovereign monarch that doesn’t require our say in how he runs his kingdom.
Secondly, David says we ought to serve Him in a specific way, with gladness. It is one thing to do what you’re told it’s another to do it with a good attitude. Every parent knows this, and we tell our children often “Don’t get an attitude about doing what you’re told”. Yet we teach them just the opposite in our actions. We act like it’s an inconvenience to get up and go to church on Sunday, we do go and then grumble and gripe the whole way home because the services didn’t go the way we thought they should have. We make time to go to all the ball games and cheerleader camps, but we tell people “We just don’t have time to do family devotions”. Do we wonder why our children aren’t serving us with gladness? Maybe it’s because we show them it’s unimportant to serve those who have authority over us with gladness, namely the ultimate authority God.
What if we started serving God as a king instead of a CEO? What if served him with gladness instead of begrudgingly? Do you think it would send a different message to our children, to our coworkers?
What has God done for us his children? He has saved us from eternal damnation, He has promised not to keep us from trouble, but to help us get through it, and He has made us not only servants (which would be privilege enough) but joint heirs with Jesus Christ. Is this not reason for service? Is this not reason enough for joyful service? Let us resolve in our hearts, like Job, to obey God’s orders without question, to lay our hands over our mouths and keep from talking back. Then let’s attempt to show all the world around us that we are happy to serve so great a God as ours. To show them that He has made us a little lower than the angels, though we were worthy of nothing short of death. To show the world that we will serve the Lord with gladness.

Friday, April 4, 2008

This is the day

Psa 118:24 "This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."
With springtime upon us, we all enjoy getting outdoors and getting busy in the warm sunlight. It seems like everyone has caught a case of cabin fever and since we can finally get outdoors, we are all a bustle with our spring cleaning, (or any other excuse we can come up with to get outside). We bask in the sun, listen to the birds chirping, and watch the flowers bud all around us. It’s easy to rejoice in this day that the Lord has made, and rightly so, we should rejoice and thank God for these days. But what about the days when the sun is not shining so brightly? Or perhaps it is a nice day outside, but inside ourselves our spirit is darkened. Something as simple as a change in the weather or as complex as an unexpected financial burden comes our way, it is on those days that it is hardest to rejoice in the day that the Lord has made, instead we become so focused on the things we are going through, that we forget to take time to rejoice in these times as well.
James said that we should “Count it all joy” when we are confronted with temptations, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” (Jam. 1:2, 3) We too know that when we make it through a trial we are often stronger because of it, but as the old saying goes, “Hindsight is 20-20”. We can say that when a couple goes through a trying time it only serves to strengthen their marriage, but when they are actually going through it that’s a small consolation. Life is never a smooth and easy road for long, no one said it would be, but if we can have the foresight to make the best of our bad times, it will make it an easier road altogether.
There is a lot to be said for rejoicing, I know personally that when something bad happens, I have two choices. I can
A. Complain to those around me about what is happening.
B. Take it, deal with it and make the best of it.
When I choose A. I do nothing to make the situation better; I only drag everyone else into it with me. Unfortunately, that is what we normally choose, because misery loves company. However, if I should choose B. the situation can only be improved. Interestingly enough, it is a scientific fact that if you force yourself to react positively on the outside, when inside you feel like shooting somebody, it will change the way you feel after a while. Go ahead and try it one time, when you really feel rotten, smile and start whistling, as much as you’ll hate the feeling. See if after two or three minutes you’re not laughing at yourself.
Whatever the situation, let’s all try to be a little more optimistic about our lives. Let’s try to be cheerful even when we don’t feel like it, and rejoice in the day that the Lord has given us. Because whether we like the way the day is going or not, it is still the day the Lord has made and He is worthy of praise for it.

Puritan Prayers

“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Jam 5:16
I recently taught a Christian Biography class on one John Flavel. Flavel believed that James 5:16 was the answer to a Christian’ s troubles, not to take a deep breath and count to ten, or to start exercising, or take a nap; but to honestly get alone with God and talk it out with Him. Flavel did not just talk the talk, he actually walked the walk. On one occasion he publicly agonized with God, that God would watch over a number of sailors that were about to sail from Dartmouth to engage in a great sea battle. Every man that sailed from thence returned home safe! There was no small stir among the people in the town, that God had miraculously answered John Flavel’s prayer. In today's society the reaction is about the same. You will hear people say things like “What a coincidence”, or other such remarks, that try to give the glory to anything but God. In our scientifically enlightened age, we blindly assume that God could not actually have intervened in the lives of men. We have been indoctrinated since youth with the idea that Science and God do not mix, when the truth is they are inextricably entwined. Can the painter and the painting coexist? The Author and the book, the carpenter and the building? Of course, without a creator there would be no creation.
So why are we so determined to believe that God couldn't actually answer the prayers of His children? We're told in James, “Ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (Jam. 4:2,3) I’m afraid the answer is that we pray for the things we lust for, instead of praying for those things that put us in mean estate and elevate God. We’ve been praying according to our lusts and when God doesn't give us what we asked for we begin to think that maybe God doesn’t really hear us. Praying as a righteous man entails praying for righteous things. God is not our genie in a bottle that will come out to grant all our wishes, every time we rub him the right way. Instead He is a holy God that does all His holy will, when we pray inside His will He will grant our requests. Think of a father, if his son were to ask for a candy bar every night before dinner, the father would probably regularly deny his son’s petition, even though the child thinks it is in their best interest. Now if the same son were in tune to what his father’s wishes were, he might ask for an opportunity to set the table, not that that would be instantly gratifying, but because in the long run it would be in sync with what the father had planned.
Let’s commit in our hearts that we will renew our relationship with the Father. That we will regularly talk with God about all aspects of our lives, and if He doesn’t always give us what we think we need, we can rest assured that His way is always better than ours. Let’s be so in sync with His will, by reading His word every day that we would know what it is He wants for us. Let's pray not for our own lusts, but that God's will would always be done.