Monday, August 20, 2018

Getting At the Truth

Monday, August 20, 2018
Some time later two prostitutes came to the king to have an argument settled.  “Please, my lord,” one of them began, “this woman and I live in the same house.  I gave birth to a baby while she was with me in the house.  Three days later this woman also had a baby.  We were alone; there were only two of us in the house.  “But her baby died during the night when she rolled over on it.  Then she got up in the night and took my son from beside me while I was asleep.  She laid her dead child in my arms and took mine to sleep beside her.  And in the morning when I tried to nurse my son, he was dead!  But when I looked more closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t my son at all.”  Then the other woman interrupted, “It certainly was your son, and the living child is mine.”  “No,” the first woman said, “the living child is mine, and the dead one is yours.”  And so they argued back and forth before the king.  Then the king said, “Let’s get the facts straight.  Both of you claim the living child is yours, and each says that the dead one belongs to the other.  All right, bring me a sword.”  So a sword was brought to the king.  Then he said, “Cut the living child in two, and give half to one woman and half to the other!”  Then the woman who was the real mother of the living child, and who loved him very much, cried out, “Oh no, my lord! Give her the child—please do not kill him!”  But the other woman said, “All right, he will be neither yours nor mine; divide him between us!”  Then the king said, “Do not kill the child, but give him to the woman who wants him to live, for she is his mother!”  When all Israel heard the king’s decision, the people were in awe of the king, for they saw the wisdom God had given him for rendering justice. 
1 Kings 3:16-28(NLT)                   
Of course, it was never a thought in the king’s mind to cut a living child in two.  Solomon was counting on the most basic human instinct a mother has (to protect her child) to get at the truth of whose baby was before him.  When the king saw the real mother’s willingness to let the child live, even at the expense of letting her son go, he knew he had the right mother. 
Solomon was the judge between these two women, but, greater than judge, he was also their friend.  By pushing the envelope with the child’s life hanging in the balance the king forced both of them to open their eyes to the truth.
To the real mother, this friendship was a matter of acknowledging and affirming in her the genuine gift of motherhood, her willingness to put aside personal feelings and do that which is best for her child. 
To the other one who had lost her own child in infancy, Solomon forced to surface the truth that her selfishness in stealing another’s child wasn’t the answer to the grief she was battling.  That grief may have been what caused this coldness towards the living child and the other mother.  She was attempting to deal with the grief of her loss by inflicting her pain on another.  It is what we do when the pain is too great!
I have had friends like Solomon.  I have been in circumstances that produced grief in me big enough to overwhelm my ability to make a sound choice of what to do next.  You get stuck, unable to move forward, and, like a car’s wheel, bogged-down in a snow drift, your judgment is in danger of freezing to death.  Then a friend utters the simple, basic truth you’ve been unwilling to face, because it demands humility in the face of your pride, or surrender when you’d rather control, or change when you’re so unmotivated in your current tiredness…and you realize the familiar mess you’re in is more dangerous than the move forward into the unfamiliar unknown of the future. 
And you press on!
That’s what a friend is really like!
For You Today
If you have, or have had, one or two friends in your life willing to bring truth to the surface for you, you are indeed blessed. 
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

Friday, August 17, 2018

Hanging-In

Friday, August 17, 2018
And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters.  Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught.  Stay away from them.  Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests.  By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people.  But everyone knows that you are obedient to the Lord.  This makes me very happy.  I want you to be wise in doing right and to stay innocent of any wrong.  The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.  Romans 16:17-20(NLT)
There is a distinction between persistence and stubbornness.  And though that line appears somewhat thin, particularly at a first, casual glance, the driving forces behind the persistent person are far-removed from the one who is just stubborn. 
Here are three of those differences:

1.     Motive

Paul tells us a stubborn person is interested in his own agenda, not serving Christ.  Stubborn people want what they want, and really don’t care what they have to do to achieve their personal gain.  There is little integrity involved…only achieving a desired outcome. 
I once had a church leader look me in the eye and inform me that the church would not follow me because I was an outsider.  He said:  Preachers come and go; we hire and fire them, because we are the church here…not you. 
We must be careful not to judge motive too closely; we are not equipped to look inside another person and understand his or her darkness.  That is God’s purview alone, along with deciding on what kind of correction is needed.  So understanding the driving force of what motivates a stubborn person from within is given here to help us keep a check on our own reasons for hanging-in, not judging or controlling others.

2.     Method

Paul holds up to the Roman believers the chief ingredient of how stubborn people achieve their success – deception.  Paul got this from Jesus, whose “discussions” with the religious leaders hardly ever went well.  Their motives were selfish and controlling, and their method was deceptive; Jesus finally had enough of it, and this is what He said:
For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does.  He was a murderer from the beginning.  He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.  John 8:44(NLT)
A persistent person won’t lie; he hangs-in with truth, no matter how tough it might be.

3.     Result

The result of selfishness-driven stubbornness, as opposed to unselfish persistence in the truth, is as far removed as East is from West.  Stubborn people, living in ignorance or deception (and ignorance is a kind of self-deception) always create division.  They might use sweet-sounding words of cooperation and unity, but that kind of manipulation, coupled with a selfish motive always divides.
On the other hand, persistent, truth-holding, truth-living people are faithful; this is the result which comes from people you can count-on to mean what they say, and do what they say.  There is a confidence that comes with persistence in truth which builds trust and strength in those they serve.
So, persistence and stubbornness are not even distant cousins!
For You Today
Does it seem sometimes like you just can’t hang-in for much longer; like giving up is getting to be that corner you’ve been dreading?  That’s ok; it’s one of the marks of people who walk by faith, and don’t try to manipulate just to make things easier.
Hang-in, my brothers and sisters; He may not be on your schedule, but He is always on time!
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, August 16, 2018

Faith Maturing

Thursday, August 16, 2018
Praise the Lord!  I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people.  How amazing are the deeds of the Lord!  All who delight in him should ponder them.  Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty.  His righteousness never fails.  He causes us to remember his wonderful works.  How gracious and merciful is our Lord!  He gives food to those who fear him; he always remembers his covenant.  He has shown his great power to his people by giving them the lands of other nations.  All he does is just and good, and all his commandments are trustworthy.  They are forever true, to be obeyed faithfully and with integrity.  He has paid a full ransom for his people.  He has guaranteed his covenant with them forever.  What a holy, awe-inspiring name he has!  Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.  All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.  Psalm 111:1-10(NLT)
This Psalmist understands how valuable it is to the spirit of a human be present in the church house for worship.  He gives genuine thanks from his heart there, marveling over all the good things God does for His people.  He maintains that all of God’s acts reveal something of God’s character, which is glorious and majestic!  He declares that God’s covenant love, God’s righteous lovingkindness, never skips a beat, and God’s power is on display as God’s people are blessed, and the influence of obedience to God grows into a worldwide mission of blessing and awe-inspiring good deeds.
The final two sentences of this Psalm should be the bedrock life’s theme for any believer who wants to see their faith grow:  fear the LORD, obey His Word and grow wise!
To watch faith mature in another human being is truly awesome.  To see faith develop and begin to flower into Kingdom fruit is beyond joy…it becomes what the Apostle Peter blurted-out as a doxology about a life-lived that walks in faith, not sight:
You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy.  1 Peter 1:8(NLT)
As a pastor, I’m in a unique position to have a front-row seat to seeing faith mature.  It is startling sometimes.  A young lady and her fiancĂ© wanted to marry.  They were not part of the church I served, (or any church for that matter) but loved (in her words) the lovely setting of your little church.  At the time I thought, oh, brother…!  And I was right…they had no clue, other than some basic understanding that a wedding ought to be connected to God in some way.  We counselled for six weeks, all the while me feeling like she despised my constant emphasis on becoming a Christian family, and wishing we’d just get it over and get on with the wedding.  Well, the wedding happened…and I was glad it was over, hoping for the best.  To this day I have never laid eyes on them again. 
It took ten years, but one Sunday morning, just before leaving for the church, “Bridezilla” called to thank me for being a faithful pastor; she and her husband were being baptized that morning.  Faith maturing!
For You Today
As you set out for whatever you’re going to do today, take a moment to reflect on where faith has grown (yours, or perhaps someone else you’ve known for a long time).  Give thanks for what God has done…it’s the foundation of wisdom to fear God, love Him, and obey his Word.  And when faith matures, good stuff happens!
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, August 15, 2018

Bread of Life

Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again.  Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  But you haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me.  However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them.  For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will.  And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day.  For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.  
John 6:35-40(NLT)
This morning let’s look at what Jesus said about the Father’s will, a few statements that Jesus made to those who rejected Him…statements about those who accept Him.

He Won’t Reject You

…those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them.
Many people have made a wreck of their lives, and, believing that God could never accept a person as sinful as they are, refuse to make the one step of repentance that will lead to forgiveness.  God has promised that all who come with a repentant heart, the broken heart, the surrendered will, may come into the family. 
He will not reject you – He died for you!

He Won’t Neglect You

And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me
I have known so many people who imagine that God’s forgiveness is so fragile that it can break and fade.  People walk around praising God today for the fact that salvation is free, and grace is sufficient.  The next day they are wondering if it has run out of warranty.  The problem with people in this group is they are operating on feelings, and not the assurance of the Word of God.  He promised, I will never leave you, or forsake you.[2] If He will not reject you, He will also not neglect to hold onto you. 
Dr. F. B. Meyer once told about a Sunday school superintendent who asked his class, who can tell me what a yoke is?  Something they put on the necks of animals, answered a ten-year- old girl.   Then, asked the leader, what is God's yoke?  There was silence until a four-year-old raised his hand and said, God, putting His arms around our neck.
He will not reject, will not neglect, but...

He Will Resurrect You

…raise them up at the last day
Resurrection is not only the theme of Christianity, it is the center.  Without the resurrection of Jesus, we have no reason to celebrate, or hope.  When it comes down to it you either believe in the resurrection or you do not.
All these questions have the same answer; find the common thread:
·      What is it that gives a widow courage as she stands beside a fresh grave?
·      What is the ultimate hope of the cripple, the amputee, the abused?
·      How can the parents of brain-damaged or physically handicapped children keep from living their entire lives totally and completely depressed?
·      Why would anyone who is blind or deaf or paralyzed be encouraged when they think of the life beyond?
·      How can we see past the martyrdom of some helpless hostage?
·      When a family receives the tragic news that a little daughter was found dead or their dad was killed in a plane crash or a son overdosed on drugs, what single truth becomes their whole focus?
·      What is the final answer to pain, mourning, senility, insanity, terminal diseases, sudden calamities, and fatal accidents?
By now you have guessed correctly; it’s the hope of bodily resurrection.  That is the Father’s will.  And Jesus came to make that possible.
For You Today
When you place your faith (all your hope, trust and entire existence) in Jesus Christ, that hope extends into the endless eternity beyond time and space; you are part of a family God will build and bless forever. 
This world will pass away, replaced by the New Jerusalem, New Heavens, and New Earth.  Like the Apostle Paul wrote[3], our faith is in the resurrection of Christ as our sure hope; He died, but He rose again…and said we would too!  He is the bread of LIFE!
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
[2] Hebrews 13:5
[3] 1 Corinthians 15:19

Monday, August 13, 2018

Emptying the Church - Part 2

Tuesday, August 14, 2018
And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight.  And remember, our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved.  This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him—speaking of these things in all of his letters.  Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction.  You already know these things, dear friends.  So be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing.  Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  2 Peter 3:14-18 (NLT)
Peter, a fisherman by trade, turned Apostle by Jesus, was quick to say it is hard to understand some things his brother Apostle, Paul wrote.  And, truthfully, some of Paul’s writings do spill into the gray area when seen against the backdrop of 21st century culture.  Two thousand years makes for a huge communication gap.
So, it seems like every time someone has a new thought about Scripture, Scripture gets a new interpretation.  That is particularly true when we sin, and try to rationalize our rebelliousness towards God.  For validation of this human trait we don’t need to plow through the whole Bible; simply check out the Garden of Eden.  When Adam and Eve sinned by taking forbidden fruit they were embarrassed and made clothes to hide their nakedness.  That showed a sense of shame.  But when God came looking for his rebellious children one cool summer’s eve, they also hid from him; they inherently understood their sinfulness and wanted no part of a face-to-face with their Creator.  And when the accounting finally came, Adam shifted the blame to Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent.  The fact at hand is, we humans never want to acknowledge our sins.
Peter also pointed to the fact that part of the distorting smoke screen we try to raise to cover our sin-tracks is to twist Scripture’s meaning to give us some wiggle-room.  The current culture’s controversy over homosexuality is a vivid image of this posturing and attempts (by the unstable and ignorant) to redefine moral behavior.  Proponents of throwing the door wide-open in this area do so by twisting Scripture to fit what they want, rather than obey what God has said!
A simple illustration is a common argument I’ve been handed as a pastor.  The question is posed:  Pastor…it’s not really clear…do I tithe on my gross salary, or the net?  Now, while that sounds like a pretty serious Christian who just wants to get it right, it’s more like Adam and Eve hiding from their sin while God is calling; it’s more a delaying tactic than an honest question.  If we can claim just the slightest bit of ambiguity about Scripture we’ve got a foothold to stand our ground to do nothing at all.  We can just be praying about the whole thing until God reveals it all.  But, can we talk?  How much clearer does the Bible have to be than the tithe is holy unto the LORD?[2]  And the real problem, as Peter wrote about the destructive path of twisting scripture, is that we are not really providing a foothold upon which we can stand and buy time while we find another reason to do (or not do) something about our rebellion; what we’ve really done is given a foothold to the enemy – a wedge Satan can use to destroy our relationship with holy God.
So, while Paul may be hard to understand sometimes, it makes little sense to let our questions make sin seem affordable.  In many ways this is what is happening to the church in today’s culture.  Doubt, questioning, and half-hearted living of the Christian life provide a sorry witness for those both on the inside or outside of the church.  It leads to destruction.
For You Today
God is all about accountability with His creation.  Sooner or later He is going to come walking (and looking for us) in the cool of the evening, just like He came looking for the first couple.  The question is will he find an empty church, while we’re all out sewing fig leaves to cover our tracks?
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
[2] See Leviticus 27 and Malachi 3

Emptying the Church

Monday, August 13, 2018
Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.  Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.  It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret.  But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said, “Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”  Ephesians 5:10-14(NLT)
The trend towards everything personal in today’s culture is emptying the church.  It’s not that people have no spirituality about them; in fact, according to most religion studies, more people are interested in the spiritual side of life these days than previously.  But this overwhelming emphasis on personal freedom, personal growth, and personal choices make the church an impractical anachronism, a useless institution that misses the mark of what individuals want today.  And that word want is the key that opens Pandora’s Box.
God designed the church to be exactly what humans need, and not necessarily what we want.  And in the scheme of things, as we push through this life under the influence of our fallen nature, we crave what we want much more than what we need. 
The apostle Paul tells us we should carefully determine what pleases the LORD.  That is so different than our human bent, which is to move towards the darkness of selfishness, pleasing self.  However, in our human proclivity towards the darkness of selfishness, too often we fail to see that moving towards what pleases the LORD (moving towards the light) is that one needful thing our souls really crave.
As I read the statistics and opinions about how the institutional church is slowly sinking into oblivion I am impressed with two thoughts:
1.      An institution that fails in its mission ought to go out of business.
Everything about the church’s mission is geared towards bringing praise, glory and honor to God through Jesus Christ.  If we cannot center on doing that, we miss the purpose for which we exist; we become self-serving, and we live in darkness.  That version of church doesn’t deserve to be called “Christian”.

2.      God’s Word is true.
Jesus gave us the ultimate reality check in his conversation with Peter. 
…upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.  Matthew 16:18b(NLT)
If we believe-in Christ, trust, and rely on His word being true, how can we simply opt-out of Christ’s church…particularly in favor of some personal pseudo-spirituality that creates aloofness and separation?  Rather, God has specifically called us into fellowship with believers.
Emptying the church (as I’ve entitled this post) is an oxymoron for true believers; you don’t leave the church – that is like leaving Christ.  How can the foot depart from the leg and still be a foot?  How can the hand say it needs nothing but absence from the body which needs the hand to feed it?  How can the stomach despise the hand that feeds it?[2]

The denominations (groups of churches) that claim to follow Christ are not infallible; neither are they holy when they call sin holy and refuse to move from that stand.  It is right that believers do everything possible to help correct the heresy.  But if the refusal to repent stands, the only choice left is to stand-apart from that group.   
For You Today
Let’s let the apostle have the final word today:
Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers.  How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness?  How can light live with darkness?  What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil?  How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever?  And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols?  For we are the temple of the living God.  As God said:  “I will live in them and walk among them.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord.  Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you.  And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”  2 Corinthians 6:14-18(NLT)
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
[2] See Paul’s discourse on this concept in 1 Corinthians 12

Friday, August 10, 2018

Night Waiting

Friday, August 10, 2018
From the depths of despair, O Lord, I call for your help.  Hear my cry, O Lord.  Pay attention to my prayer.  Lord, if you kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive?  But you offer forgiveness, that we might learn to fear you.  I am counting on the Lord; yes, I am counting on him.  I have put my hope in his word.  I long for the Lord more than sentries long for the dawn, yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.  O Israel, hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is unfailing love.  His redemption overflows.  He himself will redeem Israel from every kind of sin.  Psalm 130:1-8(NLT)
It’s hard to forget the angst of waiting for the dawn when you’re on sentry.  There is always something so unfriendly about the darkness.  It is no wonder Scripture uses darkness as a descriptive for sinful activity; it’s something that has inherent destruction about it, and always leads to no-good.
My unit in Vietnam did not have overwhelming casualties; we were in more secure areas than some.  However, we still had to be on guard.  When my turn came around to pull guard duty through the night it seemed they were the longest nights of the century.  We were posted by twos to the guard stations, and, although we became sleepy, the threat of an enemy sneaking into the camp was more than enough to keep us alert…and on edge!
During one moonless night shift it was so still and dark, even the sound of an ant breathing could disturb the silence.  Suddenly a firefight broke out in the valley below us.  It was truly unnerving to see the flashes of rifles and feel the thunderous concussion of grenades and mortars exploding, and the helicopter gunships above raining-down streaks of machine-gun fire.  In 20 minutes, that seemed three-weeks long, it was over, and you could see and smell the traces of leftover smoke from the explosions, floating, slowly fading to dark and quiet.  The memory of death, altogether dark and quiet; this is the fearful waiting of the night.
The Psalmist was hoping desperately for the dawn.  He compared his waiting to the angst of the military sentries longing for dawn.  But the kind of dawn he was longing to see wasn’t of physical threats of darkness and death; the writer of this Psalm was agonizing through the long night of darkness in the soul of his nation.  This was a spiritual void, a place of godlessness that created an unlit void in the God-shaped place we humans call our hearts.  When we walk in sin, we give power to the darkness to overwhelm and take us prisoner.
But the prophets pointed to the dawn:
Who among you fears the Lord and obeys his servant?  If you are walking in darkness, without a ray of light, trust in the Lord and rely on your God.  Isaiah 50:10(NLT)
For You Today
The most unique departure from the constraints of nature and the physical absence of light, compared to spiritual darkness, is a matter of control.  In the physical realm, humans have no control over when the sun comes up…that’s God’s work. 
But we have the Lord God in which to trust, Who removes our spiritually-blind ways…and the switch of faith is always within reach – and entirely our choice.
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