Friday, October 20, 2017

The Humility of a King

Friday, October 20, 2017
“When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests.  He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives.  That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees.  This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens.  It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way.  And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.  
Deuteronomy 17:18-20(NLT)
Before the nation of Israel even crossed the threshold from the wilderness into the Promised Land, God laid out instructions for the kind of king they must have if they chose a new leader. 

Familiar with Scripture 

The new king would have to personally copy the Scriptures and keep the scroll with him every day, reading and understanding it as a lifestyle for a lifetime.

Familiar with Humility

The Scripture, read daily and taken intimately as a guide is the best prophylactic for pride.  When a person becomes king the rarified air of state dinners, cameras flashing, people bowing, motorcades, and all the pomp and circumstance associated with power can lead to thinking you’re above everyone.  In fact, however, that only works against the reality that a servant must find a way to be under those he serves.  That, not budgets, treaties and managing the underlings, is the real task of a king.
From my perspective, I do not see much of that kind of leadership in our world these days.  I see plenty of posturing, jawing, and lording it over those with less power, but what I do not see is the kind of character and integrity of a leader in Scripture’s instructions.  Indeed, Scripture is relegated to a manipulative tool when speaking to those groups who are “religious” and band together to manipulate their own brand of power-brokering. 
There are bright spots in leaders from time to time, so this is not a blanket indictment of all modern leaders, but the modern prototype for a king seems to be brash, forceful and proud, with a decided arrogance that uses a lot of the personal pronoun to evaluate whatever’s going on.
This is a formula diametrically-opposite of that which ensures a crown will endure for many generations.
Contrary to what my grandchildren think, I am not old enough to have observed the likes of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.  They may have been their generation’s version of today’s leaders; history doesn’t paint them so, but rather as more humble and servant-like.  May their tribe be found again.

For You Today

Who and What are under the crown of your leader?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image: Courtesy of:  Pixabay.com

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Leaving the Door UNLOCKED for God's Spirit

Thursday, October 19, 2017
“But now I am going away to the one who sent me, and not one of you is asking where I am going.  Instead, you grieve because of what I’ve told you.  But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come.  If I do go away, then I will send him to you.  And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. 
John 16:5-8(NLT)
When our youngest child, Carrie (now a mother of two boys) was only 7, her best friend, Amber lived just around the corner from our house.  Sometimes this duo would play at Amber’s house, and sometimes at ours.  Whenever the after-school play was away from home, Carrie knew she had to be home before dark.  Most times she made it.  One time it was well after the street lights came on that we spotted her coming down our street towards the house.  I decided to make an important point about the missed curfew.  I stood (silently, but rather menacing) in the carport, arms folded with appropriate “Dad-scowl” on.  Carrie, our little princess was skipping home, singing a carefree child’s song, and never saw me standing in the dark shadow of the doorway…until she was right in front of me.  She stopped dead in her tracks like a head-on collision, looked-up at my dead-pan face, with the blood drained from her own face, white as a sheet, remembering the curfew, and proclaimed in a small, stage whisper:  I’m dead meat!
I have to admit it was really…I mean REALLY hard to keep my smile hidden, much less keep the belly-laugh that wanted to burst-out of me down where it belonged.  It was even harder to impose the sentence of a weeks’ worth of no-play after school.  After all, she’d gotten it; it was a momentary, childish lapse of thought…and she was only 7 with a ton of remorse.  We let her off with a warning.
The remarkable thing to me was that I never had to say a word.  Conscience, presence, and the working of God’s Spirit to bring righteousness to the surface was what that situation needed – not another sermon.  Sure, my child felt guilty – some guilt is warranted when you’ve stepped over the line.  The fact that she felt guilty is a mark that God’s Spirit was working in her.  That is what Jesus told the disciples would happen when the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, would come to bring conviction to the hearts of people everywhere.  Some guilt is necessary and good, particularly when it points you in the direction of Heaven.
There is a decided “no-vote” in our culture today – against morality and judgment.  Everything and anything that remotely suggests a flaw in sexuality, relationships, conversation or lifestyle behavior is seen as judgmental; say it twice and you’re guilty of a hate crime.  Mention God while you’re saying it and you are a Bible-thumping bigot.
Today’s generation wants everyone to be accepted and feel accepted.  However, lifestyle choices that are 180° opposite of what Scripture declares as righteous, is what makes people uncomfortable around people who are attempting to live a life surrendered to God’s will.  You mostly don’t have to say a word; the Spirit of God will be in the midst of your relationships with others.  Those who live rebellious lives, apart from God and refusing to submit to His will, inevitably blame the Christians in front of them; if you’re the target…if you’re the dead meat for their anger, so be it; it is the Holy Spirit of God they’re fighting against – not you.

For You Today

Some guilt is holy.  Sometimes people need to see their sin, and feel the reproving of the Spirit. 
Most times it is a wise thing to lock your lips, and leave the door open and unlocked for God’s Spirit to do what He wills…not what you think.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image: Courtesy of:  Pixabay.com

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Biblical Wisdom About Human Nature (as translated by Forrest Gump)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Again and again the Lord had sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah:  “Turn from all your evil ways.  Obey my commands and decrees—the entire law that I commanded your ancestors to obey, and that I gave you through my servants the prophets.”  But the Israelites would not listen.  They were as stubborn as their ancestors who had refused to believe in the Lord their God.  They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors, and they despised all his warnings.  They worshiped worthless idols, so they became worthless themselves.  They followed the example of the nations around them, disobeying the Lord’s command not to imitate them.  2 Kings 17:13-15(NLT)
In the film Forrest Gump[2] the main character (played by Tom Hanks) tells the story of his life to several folk sitting on a bench, all waiting for their bus.  It is obvious from his speech patterns and the unfolding story, that Forest is na├»ve, bordering on the challenge of mental retardation.  As a young boy he is teased mercilessly, and struggles with being called “stupid” by ignorant people through his entire life.  A recurring response is what Forrest’s mother gave him to say:  stupid is as stupid does.
Forrest’s mom must have read the Bible.  God sent prophets to warn Israel and Judah to keep themselves soft and pliable in the hands of their God; they wouldn’t listen.  They fell into the same dumb trap as their stubborn ancestors, rejecting holy living as a lifestyle, worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.  Instead they began worshipping idols, trying to fit-in with their neighbors.  Such is the nature of human beings; whatever we worship, we become.  Idols are worthless, and when we place our faith in such, we become as such, worthless.  Stupid is as stupid does!
This astute Biblical wisdom about human nature imparted to Forrest by his mother (played by Sally Fields in the movie) is a post-graduate course about Godly-wisdom in a single sentence.  
We humans hold axioms that elevate us far above our pay grade.  One of those axioms is that we know what is best for us.  Only living proves otherwise.  And it always proves otherwise!  What turns everything on its head is when someone like Forrest, seen and judged to be simple by the rest of us, shows us how simply ignorant we can be.  Forrest’s whole life is all about doing the good and kind, or right thing…the unselfish and loving thing for others.  This is the definition of God’s kind of love.
Fallen human nature is not that wise.  And therein is the coming of all the pain we experience in a culture such as ours in the 21st century.  Killing, stealing, over-sexed, and covered with cold harshness, we, like the Emperor with no clothes, imagine ourselves to be an advanced civilization.  We are coming unglued as a species…and all the time, like Nero fiddling while Rome burned, we congratulate ourselves for everything going in the right direction. 
I can imagine Forrest’s mom asking the question:  How’s that going for ya?

For You Today

It is decidedly counter-cultural to reject the cultural nonsense that stands for wisdom in our day…just ask Forrest Gump.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image: Courtesy of:  goo.gl/images (non-commercial use only)
[2] ©1994 Paramount Pictures, starring Tom Hanks (see more)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Citizens of Heaven

Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example.  For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ.  They are headed for destruction.  Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth.  But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives.  And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.  He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.   Philippians 3:17-21(NLT)
It is an unusual thing for a pastor to miss church.  It’s like an athlete watching his team play the game on TV; it’s just not the same when you’re not there.  I’ve written and preached enough about that over the years so this seems like familiar ground, but when a believer/follower of Christ is absent from worship there is a sense of having missed doing that for which you’ve been created…worship!
I felt that Sunday.  Saturday night’s earache, brought on by a sizeable middle ear infection, robbed me of any possibility of sleep.  By the flickering pre-dawn light of the wee hours I was hunting for a worship service on TV that would somehow keep my mind focused on the Lord’s Day.  Flipping through the channels I saw it again – the filled stadium in Texas, and the familiar pop culture pop star peddling his best-life, you-deserve-more, and you-can-have-it-if-you-smile-as-big-as-I-do theology. 
(I’m not sure why I’m drawn to watch that drivel, except that it’s common to our human nature to want more of everything, and this guy finds a way to tap into that desire.)
This time I only watched for about thirty seconds before the waves of nausea hit.  No, the ear infection did not make me want to lose it; I felt a rising sense of compassion for the people in that stadium who were being deceived by a false message which dwells on all hope being in this life only. 
That is a message worlds-apart from the true Christian message the Apostle Paul gave us about being content, not letting your belly’s appetite, or this world’s wealth rule your mind and actions. 
Paul said we should be citizens of Heaven, eagerly looking for the return of Christ.  To be a citizen of Heaven means we lift our aim a little higher than having financial gain, or the trappings of earth’s successes.  Paul said to the church at Corinth that fixing your mind on earthly wealth, even though some Houston preacher of prosperity with a TV audience makes it sound like a spiritual quest, is empty – a sham of godliness:
 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.  1 Corinthians 15:19(NLT)

For You Today

Financial gain, worldly acclaim, and the power to control your life may hold a certain allure for those who don’t have those things.  But the overwhelming evidence is that we were created for worship, not wealth. 
If you are a citizen of Heaven the choice isn’t that hard.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image: Courtesy of:  Pixabay.com

Monday, October 16, 2017

Living In a War Zone

Monday, October 16, 2017
But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ predicted.  They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires.  These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you.  They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.  But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life.  In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.  And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering.  Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment.  Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.  Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault.  All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord.  All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time!  Amen.  Jude 17-25(NLT)
Living in a war zone is not the happiest place on planet earth.  Most of us do not want to be in a place of combat.  Yet, there are enough of those places in our journey through life to validate the old phrase out of the frying pan, into the fire!
The effects of living too long under the stress of actual combat circumstances can leave one empty and debilitated.  There are a lot of names for it:  battle fatigue, combat neurosis, combat fatigue, shell shock, anxiety disorder, survivor guilt, posttraumatic stress disorder.

Posttraumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder associated with serious traumatic events and characterized by such symptoms as survivor guilt, reliving the trauma in dreams, numbness and lack of involvement with reality, or recurrent thoughts and images[2].  Medical studies show PTSD occurs in as much as 35% of Vietnam Veterans, 50% of survivors of natural disasters, and as high as 80% of survivors of manmade disasters, such as the chemical disaster in Bhopal, India in 1984[3].
It is a reality that the human mind was not meant to live in horror!  I have dear friends, family, and have personally experienced the PTSD effects of living in a war zone.  I am thankful for the unselfish dedication and skill of those who help victims of all kinds get through the dark periods of remembering the hell that never should have been!
Jude warns that divisions in the church would be a constant threat to the spiritual health of Christians, because war-like conditions are brought about when selfish ambition takes over.  If you have followed Christ, and been part of the church, you understand; despite the smiles on Sunday, there are spiritually shell-shocked believers in every pew.
Jude also offers the Rx for spiritual PTSD – mercy, plenty of mercy!  Those of us in the church who have tried to follow Christ faithfully, and been helped along the way with our own wavering faith, are to be there for others.  We are to be an example of what genuine faith looks like; we are to be hands-on, standing committed to shore-up the faith of those who stumble.
Contrary to the cynical remark about the church of Jesus Christ being the only army that shoots its own wounded…the genuine Church is the one that follows the example of her Master, willing to bear one another’s burdens, and even die for each other.

For You Today

There are many today who are walking around hollow-eyed, emptied of hope, and ready to give up.  Some are “former” believers, blown-apart by the struggles of the war zones of our culture.  They need someone to come alongside and be their hope while Christ becomes their salvation.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!


Friday, October 13, 2017

Four Confession Booths; No Waiting!

Friday, October 13, 2017
Praise the Lord!  Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!  His faithful love endures forever.  Who can list the glorious miracles of the Lord?  Who can ever praise him enough?  There is joy for those who deal justly with others and always do what is right.  Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people; come near and rescue me.  Let me share in the prosperity of your chosen ones.  Let me rejoice in the joy of your people; let me praise you with those who are your heritage.  Like our ancestors, we have sinned.  We have done wrong!  We have acted wickedly! 
Psalm 106:1-6(NLT)
Scripture records how, in the Garden of Eden God held Adam and Eve accountable for their actions of disobedience.  In the entirety of the rest of Scripture there is an unmistakable pattern of:
·       God’s ways being clearly laid-out,
·       followed by humankind’s disobedience and rebellion,
·       and that followed by God’s invitation to return to fellowship. 
The Psalmist’s pattern is no different. 
When we read Psalm 106 we can stop short with praise the Lord and thanking Him for his good and faithful love.  We can be mesmerized by his glorious miracles.  We can (and do) spend much time in asking to be remembered in his favor and rescue (including tons of prayers for Aunt Susie’s toenail infection, heart procedures and gastric problem relief).  We pray heartily for participating in the prosperity of the chosen ones.  We want to take part in the joy of [God’s] people.  We want all of that!
But too often we forget the final verse of that praiseworthy litany:
Like our ancestors, we have sinned.  We have done wrong!  We have acted wickedly!  Psalm 106:1-6(NLT)
I was having a discussion with other pastors on a Facebook page this week about the Matthew 22 passage where Jesus is teaching about the kingdom gathering for the celebration of the Bride (church) being married to the Bridegroom (Jesus, the Son).  One man shows up without a robe, and is kicked out of the party.  The discussion centered around why the man wasn’t accepted; obvious (and orthodox) theology tells us it was because the robe is required.  That robe represents righteousness, and it is only available through faith in Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection.  The man without the robe sauntered into the banquet hall in his own costume (self-righteousness), and God, the Father of Christ the Bridegroom, had the arrogant one ejected. 
This is a picturesque and common teaching method to get across the point – we aren’t connected to God or His salvation in any other way than the way God has proscribed.  We come to Him on HIS terms, not ours.
And that way is still the cross, by way of humble confession of our sins

For You Today

The title of this devotion is somewhat misleading, or under-stated; there are more than four confession booths…there’s one for each human who has ever lived.  Yours is in the same place mine can be found…in our hearts and minds.  When you confess Christ as Lord and Savior, he dresses you in a robe fit for the wedding feast of the ages!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!
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[1] Title Image: Courtesy of:  Pixabay.com

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Covenant

Thursday, October 12, 2017
Then Moses carefully wrote down all the Lord’s instructions.  Early the next morning Moses got up and built an altar at the foot of the mountain.  He also set up twelve pillars, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Then he sent some of the young Israelite men to present burnt offerings and to sacrifice bulls as peace offerings to the Lord.  Moses drained half the blood from these animals into basins.  The other half he splattered against the altar.  Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people.  Again they all responded, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.  We will obey.”  Then Moses took the blood from the basins and splattered it over the people, declaring, “Look, this blood confirms the covenant the Lord has made with you in giving you these instructions.”  
Exodus 24:4-8(NLT)
In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.  
Hebrews 9:22(NLT)
Moses set up a sacrificial altar with twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel.  The meaning couldn’t be clearer.  God had led the fledgling nation of former slaves to the point of crunch time.  It was time to make a decision about what direction their future would take. 
The altar was a place significant of forgiveness and new life.  If there was going to be an agreement, a choosing to obey God, it was going to be signed in the most fitting way…with the sacrifice of blood.  After multiple readings of the Book of the Covenant, God’s instructions on what their agreement would mean, the people said with one voice that they would do it all; they would obey!
The altar (representing God’s very presence with them) had been splattered with half the blood of a sacrificed animal, and when the people voluntarily agreed to enter this covenant, they too were splattered, virtually covered with the blood. 
Why this bloody ceremony?  The writer of the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament made it clear – sin is a life and death thing; forgiveness requires blood.
Later, when Jesus would die on the cross, He was called the Lamb of God.  Jesus was our blood sacrifice, and it is His blood which covered the altar of a cross on Golgotha’s hill.  When we accept this great, grace-filled gift, the blood is also sprinkled over us as surely as it covered the Nation of Israel that day at the foot of the mountain.  That blood is God’s forgiveness washing over our sins; those sins are forever placed under the blood!
This is such a solemn thought.  The ceremony is solemn.  The meaning is unmistakable; our sins, transgressions, rebellion, stubbornness, greed, lust, envy…even murder is forgiven and pardoned by this sacrifice when we present ourselves just as the people did at the foot of the mountain that day. 
How did they present themselves?  It was an act of confession.  In effect, by participating in the sacrifice (they being sprinkled with actual blood, we in baptism) were promising fidelity to worship, serve and love only God.  We promise to turn our backs on sin and the rebelliousness which comes so naturally to us.
How great is this covenant?  Well, consider that the rest of the Bible (all 64 books) recounts how Israel, and later the church, didn’t follow through with keeping their promises.  All of them sinned; today all of us still sin.  The greatness of the covenant of God is that it surpasses the guilt of our past, present and future.  However well-intentioned and fervent our promises to obey, we often fail at keeping our promises.  But, forgiveness is a forever thing with God, and we are the beneficiaries of His incredible love.  He confirmed the covenant with Israel in blood knowing they would stray and rebel.  Jesus reaffirmed the New Covenant for us knowing we are no more faithful than Israel.  That is the mystery of this gift of God we call amazing grace!

For You Today

The next time you come to the Lord’s Table to celebrate His gift, picture in your mind the twelve stones surrounding the altar, and remember that, like Israel, you are a witness of Jesus’ loving act of blood forgiveness.  After the ceremony live like a witness.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!
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[1] Title Image: By Alaexis (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons