Monday, September 30, 2013

The Fear Factor

Monday – September 30, 2013

I’ve always been intrigued by the great speeches – Lincoln at Gettysburg, President John Kennedy’s inaugural “…ask not what your country can do for you…”  And, of course there is Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural address (1933), which contained a phrase that is ingrained in American history:  “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

While that sentence is oft-repeated, it is hardly ever finished.  Check out the full line:
“…let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”[1]

Of course President Roosevelt on that Inauguration Day faced the Great Depression; and his greatest concern was how to lift American hearts out of the fear and malaise brought on by financial ruin.  The “advance” he was seeking was a return to economic stability.  Fear runs counter to a heart for investment risk. 

Actually fear runs counter to any kind of “heart-healthiness”.  But, nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror…that is fear ramped-up to new heights!

And it’s scheduled for October 31st!

Halloween has always been my least favorite holiday.  I just don’t get it – how people love to be scared.  Scary movies, haunted houses….BOO!  It’s beyond my comprehension.
And let us not forget “Fear Factor”!  You remember the TV show?  Now, there’s an attractive mess – jumping off into who knows what, blindfolded – so you can win the round and go on to eat the eyeball sandwich on the next show.  Whoa….what a blessing!  Shall we (if we so presume) add to Mr. Roosevelt’s speech, nameless, unjustified, unnecessary terror!

Don’t be a “party-pooper” Russell!

Sorry!  Can’t help it!

Now, I’m not going to write your name in the “evil-book” if you dress your kids in costume and head out to “Trick or Treat,” or have a party.  My point is simply that it is a pretty weak substitute for Christian witness to put all that energy, time and resources into something meant to scare people so we can laugh at them for being scared.

There is enough fear and humiliation in this world; followers of Christ live by a different standard.

So….is it the eyeball sandwich that I fear?  Well…it doesn’t help!


Find a way to help someone overcome fear – encouragement is a powerful source of the kind of love that expels fear (1 John 4:18) from our lives.

Friday, September 27, 2013


Friday – September 27, 2013

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.  Amen.   Matthew 6:13 (KJV)
Writing something fresh every day isn’t as easy as it may seem.  Writing something fresh that can relate to just about anyone’s experience is next to impossible (for me).  What do you do with an empty page at 5am?

Of course you read the Scriptures – I use the Lectionary texts devotionally, and today the Lord’s Prayer spoke anew to me; especially the word “deliver”.  I looked it up and the newer translations’ use of “rescue” works very well.  The word pictures drawing as you would snatch something out of a river.  The act of drawing brings the rescued person rushing towards you like a raging river.  The picture above is Mary Chind’s Pulitzer prize-winning photo of a river rescue.

And so, at 5am I was thinking of the rescues in my life. 

have you ever been rescued?

·        I’ve been rescued Physically just like the river rescue (okay, it was a lake, and the canoe…well…I was a kid).   

·        I’ve been rescued Financially (too often to count). 

·        I’ve been rescued Emotionally (the ups and downs of life presume occasional rescue).

·        And I’ve been rescued Spiritually by the Christ who forgave (and forgives) all my sins.

The truth about spiritual, emotional, financial and even physical rescue is that it’s an ongoing divine project.  Delivering His children from evil (sins, moods, bills and rush hour traffic) fills our God’s Day-Timer™; talk about multi-tasking! 

It’s almost like the Father has all these toddlers running around all over the earth, and just when he rescues this half of the planets’ goofiness, the other side of the world is waking up to all sorts of trouble.  I’ve often thought the prayer would’ve been more accurate if it was deliver us from our “nincompooperies”!

Rescued FROM is always rescued TO

When you’re in the thick of it – problems up to your ears, a dangerous situation, or an unexpected dental bill – it’s easy to picture the rescue “from” that difficulty.  You can see and pray get me away from the evil driver in the other lane.

But what are you being rescued to?  If you believe the toddler image above, that we are rescued from this goof-up, only to rush headlong into another, you’ve got the human side of the equation.  But, from the Father’s side, He doesn’t rescue just so we can turn right back to the water.  The rescue, or “rushing” is towards Him; he rescues us from whatever evil to draw us close to His side.  He loves us that much!

Today – a three-step plan:

1.      Consider the rescues that have happened in your life.
2.      Give thanks.
3.      Repeat!
Part of that involves going to church this Sunday.  
See you at Dad’s house.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Thursday – September 26, 2013

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you.  And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything….Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?  You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price.  So you must honor God with your body.    1 Corinthians 6:12, 19 - 20 (NLT)

So Many Choices

Our life’s choices are inextricably linked to what’s in our heart…what we care about.  

A builder in the Midwest offered a special deal on “extras” he could put in some houses he was constructing.  That section of the country is tornado alley, so one of the extras was a basement “tornado room” guaranteed to save the family.  Of the ten houses he sold, nine families chose the tornado room option.  On the tenth, sold to a couple in their late 70’s, they rejected the safe room, and chose the hot tub!

Now, that couple figured their choices had to be based entirely on what was important to them; It was ALL based on them.  If you figure that way in the Kingdom, you’re going to spend a lot of time in God’s “woodshed”.

Here are three questions for followers of Jesus Christ that you can use as a test to see if you are in line with what Paul said about choices.  When you make your choices about the way you live, what you do, and how you treat others, it will be good to ask these three questions:

Is it holy before the Lord?

Is it helpful to the body of Christ?

Is it a hindrance to a lost person?

God paid a huge and holy price for us; those questions are not optional for someone who would be a follower of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Faith Eyes

Wednesday – September 25, 2013

Most everyone I know would like to face life with greater confidence and assurance.  Elisha said to his servant, Don’t be afraid!....For there are more on our side than on theirs![1] This brings to mind John's great and oft-quoted "Greater is He that is in you...,"(1 John 4.4) and Paul's "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans  8.31)      These verses encourage us to live our lives in light of faith that overcomes. 

The great problem with living an assured, confident life (by faith) is that it is against our human nature to walk by faith.  God says we should live that way, but often we miss it entirely – by a mile.  We have the faith to get saved, and then live miserably by sight.

The fact is -- in spite of the problem -- that it is impossible to live a life of confidence and assurance apart from faith in God.  The question, therefore, becomes: 
"How can I have that faith, and 'fear not,' like Elisha said?"

The Story

The King of Samaria had a problem...every time he would plan a military campaign against Israel his army would get whipped.  He began to suspect he had a spy in the camp, revealing his secrets.  When he checked it out with his advisors he found out he didn't have a Samaritan Spy – he was up against a “Supernatural Saint”.  Elisha the prophet knew the king's innermost thoughts, because God was speaking to him.

The King decided to get rid of his problem (How do you "get rid" of God, anyway?).  Well, the king set a trap for Elisha at Dothan.  The plan was a good one – send twelve billion troops to circle the city!  It would have worked, except Elisha was connected to the King of Kings! 
In the morning Elisha's servant went out to do early morning servant-type chores.  Can you imagine the assault on his adrenal gland when he sees Samaritans – everywhere?  As many as the sands of the sea!  Matthew Henry makes the ultimate understatement:  "What a consternation he was in."[2]  My terminology would've been considerably more demonstrative -- and probably less religious!  "Yeow!  Hey Boss -- Elijah, get out here man -- we're history -- Oh My -- Good night, Elizabeth!  We're done for!  Woe is me" 

Elijah did come out, and he calmly prayed for his servant to have his eyes opened.  No fuss, no calamity, no fear -- confident, assured.

What a contrast we have here; one man living by faith, the other, frantic, frenetic, frenzied, living by sight.  Learn the lesson of being spiritually balanced like Elisha.  It comes from and through prayer.

Then Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes and let him see!” The LORD opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.   2 Kings 6:17 (NLT)

If you are looking for answers to life's problems, your solutions will come from having the presence of God a reality in your life.  The servant saw the chariots of fire and horses.  You don't suppose those chariots were empty, do you?  They were filled with fierce fighting angels.  The servant's confidence level changed when he saw!

Isaiah (26.3) tells us that God will keep us in perfect peace when our mind is stayed (fixed) on Him.  Anxiety has to go when we submit ourselves to God in prayer. 

As a young boy I can remember going to relative's houses for Christmas.  We would return home late -- in the dark.  I would always be encouraged to fall asleep in the back seat of the family car.  It wasn't easy.  Merrick Parkway was narrow, and the cars went fast.  And it was dark, and lights flashed everywhere.  Lying down, I could see the dark roof of the car, lights playing, jumping off every shiny part.  Each curve, bump and swing in the road brought a new fear that at any time we'd crash into something. 

But then I would look, and Dad was behind the wheel.  My father was in control.  When I saw that I could drift off to sleep.  Elisha could show his servant that the Father of all was in control.  But you have to see it in prayer!

[1] 2Kings 6:16 (NLT)
[2]Matthew Henry, Commentary On the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1960), 408

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Committing Advent

Having just finished (last week) writing a series of devotionals on temptation, I had the distinct sense of missing something.  It hit me like a falling brick this morning; what I’d forgotten was the positive side of temptation.  Huh?

It works like C.S. Lewis’ well-known explanation of Matthew 5:27 where Jesus had taught on lust and adultery; Lewis wrote:

If you see the ham and eggs you have not sinned, but if you linger over them, you have committed breakfast in your heart.

The positive note in this is that it works with good things as well as the bad. 

I have a habit of “committing Advent” in my heart.  When the calendar turns to Fall, and I’m looking ahead to the season of Advent (in 2013 – the four Sundays of December), my head is always turned towards preparing my heart for Jesus’ coming.  I “commit” Advent…preparing the way of the Lord.

It is with this in mind, and the terribly unsettling world conditions we see constantly in the news reports, that I have chosen to preach sermons on the Second Advent – the “second coming” of our Lord during October and through Advent.

This series will include a lot of Revelation and the Gospel of Matthew (especially chapters 24, 25 – see the calendar for sermon topics and Scripture.). 

The series will be called “Occupy Till I Come” and is based on one of Jesus’ parables about how to be faithful in the times with what God has given. 

So…come, let’s commit Advent together (and bring a friend too!).

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Jesus Church

I am thankful for the ministry of the church where I was saved.  I came across the history of that church while looking through my files one day.  The date was 1815 on Long Island, a fish-shaped strip of land, jutting-out 110 miles from the southeastern tip of New York State into the Atlantic Ocean.  Halfway out on that island stood the little town of Lake Grove; hardly a town, just a few family homesteads. 
The American Revolution was just 32 years before, and the Civil War was still 45 years in the future.  James Madison was the president with only 9.6 million Americans.  There were only 23 states.
The first entry in the ledger for the church of my spiritual birth,
March 27th A.D. 1815 West Middle Island.  A number of the inhabitants met and took into consideration the state of Religion and thought proper to form into a church.
The ancient, crumbling paper read that they considered the state of religion and THOUGHT PROPER to form into a church. 
They thought "proper!"  Over 130 years before I was born, a church was waiting to minister Christ to me.  I am so grateful they were “thinking proper,” which means making wise decisions
In our text for today we find the disciples standing in the shadow of the temple in Jerusalem.  Jesus had shared His plans and power with them for reaching the world with God’s good news of salvation.  They had waited for God’s “go-ahead” to begin.  It came at the time of Pentecost in the form of the Holy Spirit descending upon them in power, and urging them to go out and spread the news. 
Peter, the big fisherman was their spokesman, and he stood in front of a very large crowd of his fellow countrymen.  He told them that we are all sinners before God, and guilty; therefore we all need to be saved.  Our text records their response:
Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”  Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins, turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ to show that you have received forgiveness for your sins.  Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles—all who have been called by the Lord our God.”  Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”  Acts 2:37-40 (NLT)
Save yourselves from this crooked generation.  There is ‘proper thinking’ if ever it was proclaimed!  To be saved from corruptness is all about Jesus, all about being forgiven and welcomed into God’s “Forever Family”.
I read something years ago which was attributed to George Ingles.  He said that there are really “…three conversions in a man:  First to Christ; Second to the church; and Third back to the world.”  If a man comes to Christ, he ought then set his sights on the Church, the bride of Jesus, and then on the world, bringing the Christ-less to the Lord. 
Three conversions – yet, there is something that comes before conversion.  The people standing and listening to Peter’s sermon understood that.  They understood it enough to ask the question…what should we do?  They understood that they were sinners before God. 
That “understanding” is what we commonly call conviction.  If there is going to be a true conversion in a person’s life (or true conversions), then conviction comes first (like a doorway) to each of the conversions.
Let’s look at those doorways of conviction that lead to true conversion.
Doorway #1 Conviction for Christ
Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.  Acts 2:41 (NLT)
Peter’s sermon was Jesus-centered.  The convicting power of that sermon was not Peter’s clever words.  The messenger is never the message.  Peter was no public speaker; whenever he opened his mouth it was usually only to exchange one foot for the other.  The convicting power of that retelling of the Gospel story was the Holy Spirit working on the hearers to produce conviction.  Jesus told the disciples it would be this way:
And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.  The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me.   John 16:8-9  (NLT)
Conviction – a holy conscience – is a powerful thing.  It can change everything.  Conviction is never an easy thing.  Sometimes preachers can make coming to Christ a too-easy pathway.  However, if you take the conviction out of the conversion process, there will not be a true conversion to Christ.
And just how can you tell the difference between a false or genuine conversion?  The difference is in the changed life; it is when priorities change that you know the conversion was genuine. 
Paul the Apostle had an experience on the road to Damascus; Paul met Jesus, and he was convicted and changed.  His heart was pierced with guilt because Paul had been putting Christians in jail, and even seeing to their executions.  Paul came under great conviction and it led to a genuine conversion, because Paul did an immediate and lasting turnaround. 
Where once he persecuted the church and her Lord, now Paul gave his life to preach Jesus and love His bride, the church. 
Does that describe how you came to Christ?  Was there a conviction deep-within that your sin had offended holy God?  Was there a sense that things would never be right until your entire life and priorities were changed – put in Jesus’ hands?  That’s true conviction for Christ; it leads to a conversion to Christ.  That will lead to another conviction. 
Doorway #2 Conviction for the Church
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.  A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders.  And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.  They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.      Acts 2:42-45  (NLT)
In true conversion to Christ, conviction for the Church is what naturally follows.  You read about Paul’s love, his conviction for the church in Scripture. 
3Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy….you have a special place in my heart….God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.   Philippians 1:3 - 8 (NLT)
How does it come about that Paul, a man who hated and tried to exterminate the church, became one who loved the church like that?  The answer is that he was linked to them by love.  People who love the Lord and belong to the Lord love what and whom the Lord loves.  I’ve heard it said before that everyone who belongs to the Lord belongs to everyone who belongs to the Lord.  Love will make you like that!
Do you recall the story of Ruth?  Ruth was from Moab.  As a Moabites, Ruth was part of a race that was not highly cherished in the eyes of the Jews.  Yet she married Naomi’s son, a Jew.  And when he died Ruth gave her entire life to watching after and caring for her mother-in-law, Naomi.  As a Christian you cannot come into the family without being truly linked in love to the family.
Do you belong to the church Jesus loves?  Are you linked in love to the church?  Here are a couple of questions – a kind of self-test we can all do to discover the answer to that question, am I a part of the Lord’s church:
·        Do I care what happens to this church, enough…?
·        Do I care about the ministries of this church, enough…?
·        Do I care enough about this church to tithe, labor, and sacrifice and defend her?
If I can answer “yes” to those few simple questions, there is a good chance that my conviction for Christ led to a genuine conversion, and my conviction for the Church brought about a conversion to the Church. 
There is a third conversion, back into the world…
Doorway #3 Conviction for the Christ-less
They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.  And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.    Acts 2:46 - 47 (NLT)
Did you notice that there is a transition in this story?  They continued meeting in the temple area.  That’s like our church meetings.  But it also spread to the homes where fellowship and sharing became the norm.  But, understand this clearly – it did not stay within their “holy huddle”.  Doctor Luke tells us (v.47) that they began to enjoy the goodwill of all the people
There are two important words there.  The meaning of the word “goodwill” is, the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude.[1]  The word is actually charis or grace.  And the word “people” indicates those different from their own folks.  This means they didn’t keep Jesus to themselves!  They went to outsiders and treated them like insiders!
If you consider this, that group of folks had such a conviction to reach the Christ-less that they paid attention to them and began to have an influence upon them.  Those people without Christ were glad to have the Christians around.  Unbelievers looked at their Christian neighbors and saw their Christian Master! 
Beloved, that is what it is like for people who have a genuine conversion to Christ and His church.  When you are truly saved by grace,
·        You’ll be a blessing to those who are without Christ 
·        You’ll be kind, generous and a really good neighbor. 
·        You’ll take a lot of “shots” and overlook a lot of obnoxious behavior just so someday you will have the opportunity to share Jesus with someone who needs to know.
     Am I right about this?  And if so, how did I know that will be the case?
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:43-44
When Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world and preach the good news, He knew that the journey around the world begins at our neighbor’s doorstep.

How about us….today?

·           Have you been convicted once…to Christ?  If so, you “thought proper”.
·           Have you been convicted a second time…to His Church?  If so, you “thought proper” a second time.
·           Are you a three-time convicted winner…to the Christ-less?
Have you “thought proper” about these?  Have you allowed the conviction, that internal voice telling what you ought to do, to lead to conversion? 
If not, why not?  And, if not, will you now?

[1] Strong, James, Strongs Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries (Parsons Technology, Quickverse Ed.)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Temptation - Facing the Dark Side - Part 5

Friday – September 20, 2013

Any tactician will tell you that the best defense against anything is a good offense.  Football players keep the ball away from the other team’s offense by having a good ground game.  Soldiers keep on the attack so the enemy cannot regroup and attack.  Debaters who have a weak point yell. 

Fighting is what an army does when they go into war.  And the war in this case is spiritual; the prize is the territory of your soul, your witness, and in some cases your life.

Make no mistake about spiritual warfare – it has been the premier battleground since day #1.  Do you remember Job?  His story is (historically) the first book of the Bible.  Job’s troubles started when Satan waltzed into heaven and challenged God to a “showdown” – devil vs. man.  The temptations were bigger than most of us have, or will face in life – loss of entire family, fortune, health and reputation.  Job had nothing left!

God allowed that test to take place; (Just why God allowed it is another issue for another day) Job stood firm in his faith….certainly not his strength, because that was long gone…and God won the day.  Job’s life was more blessed at the end than the middle.  The point is, whether you enlisted or not – like it or not – you’re in this war.

Lessons from Jesus and Job

Spiritual Leadership in your life

The best way to beat a superior army is to get more soldiers and become a more superior army.  And even better is to get a general with experience and superior knowledge than the other general.  Listen to what the Bible says about General Jesus:
he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.  There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.   Hebrews 4:15b - 16 (NLT)

All those temptations you give into – the ones that have been ruining your life – Jesus has faced them all and whipped them all!  And He is able to give you the strength to overcome them as well.  Form an alliance with the King of Kings.  Be saved.  Invite Him to reign in your life.

Spiritual weapons in your life

The Sword and Spirit are ours.  Memorize God’s Word – hide it deep in your heart.  Make it so familiar to your soul that it comes out whenever you are threatened.

Paul advised Timothy:
But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things.  Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.  Fight the good fight for the true faith.  Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses.   1 Timothy 6:11 - 12 (NLT)

Couple that with apostle Paul’s understanding, that you never fight alone; there is always God, enabling through His grace…
The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience.  And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand.  When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.   1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT)

No matter the temptation, the grace of God is able.  To paraphrase the old sermon illustration,
Temptation knocked on my door one day,
I asked Jesus to answer.

There was no one there.