Friday, December 15, 2017

When Tolerance Grows Up into Spiritual Maturity

Friday, December 15, 2017
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection.  But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing:  Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.  Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things.  If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you.  But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.  Philippians 3:12-16(NLT)
Paul takes the humble position of allowing for his own human fragility.  In one of his other letters (to the Corinthian church) Paul stated it clearly that when he let go of having to control everything – letting God do what God does – his weakness became the effective mighty power of God.[2]
Rather than trying to be “strong” in his own abilities, Paul desired to put the past behind and focus on what God was doing.  Henry Blackaby’s Bible study Experiencing God calls that mindset locating where God is working and cooperating with Him.  
The important point is that Paul understood, even in a wonderfully vibrant fellowship like the church at Philippi, there were going to be disagreements; that is inevitable with human beings!  What Paul wanted to stress was that even in the most controversial of differing opinions genuine spiritual maturity will not lose sight of the goal.
Tolerance has been an overly-accepted word in our vernacular the past several decades.  It hangs like a Behavior Storm Trooper over the entire culture.  We are expected to tolerate others’ viewpoints; in fact, we are expected to surpass tolerance to the degree that all people’s ideas and values are considered equally valid.  That may be high-sounding, but it is dangerous.  For instance, the person that holds an idea that thirty-five cents in his pocket is enough to buy a new car is going to have a huge problem when it comes to the Mercedes dealer allowing him to drive a $63,000 E-Class SUV off the lot for that price; not all ideas are equal!  There will be conflict…if not arrests!
Tolerance can also tip the scale toward arrogance.  Check into a discussion between a Christian conservative and a Christian progressive and you will not have to wait long before the accusations and tempers begin to fly.  The same holds true for liberal and conservative political discussions. 
What Paul suggests is spiritual maturity.  Hear it again from the apostle:
If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you.  But we must hold on to the progress we have already made. 
Holding on to the progress already made is a matter of not losing your Christian cool!  It means being willing to be weak personally so that God’s Spirit can be strong in the middle of strengthening relationships.  It means in spite of a disagreement you’re willing to wait for God to make things clear.  A dear friend of mine made that point with me after he’d witnessed my prolonging a heated discussion with another believer.  He said:  You know, Russell, you don’t have to have an answer for everything!
This is the essence of spiritual maturity – when you refuse to take personal offense over a disagreement.  When someone wants to get in your face and turn up the volume, you can turn the other cheek and offer graciousness; if not, you disown the opportunity to build-up the person who disagrees with you. 
And if you’re simply (and arrogantly) tolerating someone’s ideas (because in your humble opinion he or she is an idiot) your attitude towards them can only bring deeper separation and fuel the angry fires of misunderstanding.
So, as Paul also said:
…but we are to hold to the truth with love in our hearts.  We are to grow up and be more like Christ.  He is the leader of the church.  Ephesians 4:15(NLV)

For You Today

Growing-up into the likeness of Christ – keep that in focus!
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] 1 Corinthians 12:10

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Precious Seeds

Thursday, December 14, 2017
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.  He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.  Psalm 126:5-6(KJV)
Meeting human needs that are significant always costs – and it should.  Human needs met in some way must be significant.  Notice how the Psalmist says we bear precious seed.  Ministry “seed” must be significant enough so that there is “preciousness” about the way we give ourselves to meeting the needs of desperate people. 
The text indicates that the sower goes forth and bears the seed; but he also weeps over it.  Do you weep over insignificant things, or precious?  I see weeping over lost loved ones, straying prodigals, health reversals and lost fortunes.
We go forth weeping, meaning we go for significant human reasons.  Have you ever wept for someone’s need?  Have you ever wept for someone’s soul, a lost person who just seems to stay out of reach of the Savior and His gospel? 
I wept over a man’s soul one time early in our ministry.  He came to Elizabeth and me in our first church out of seminary.  John was not a nice man.  He started attending our church.  He was a rough, ex-military man; if you look up the definition of bad attitude and language in the dictionary – you’ll find John’s picture there.  John was a drunk – mean and foul; he beat his wife, an all-around bad guy! 
I wept because I never really could reach John.
He made a profession of faith, and was baptized; we all thought it was genuine, but the man was as mean as they come, a serpent in sheep’s clothing.  And I wept over him. 
A few weeks after he joined our church he returned to his old ways.  During one of his drunken tirades Elizabeth and I had to hide his wife from him.  The man carried a 44-caliber revolver; the last words he ever said to me were:  I’m going to make a minister out of you.  I told him that wasn’t his job, only Jesus could work with the likes of me.  Several weeks later John made the headlines.  He committed suicide publicly, in front of a K-Mart store. 
I don’t know what happened to John’s soul; I am not equipped to look inside one’s heart – only Jesus can do that.  But I wept again for John; I wept for the precious seed I shared with him.  I also wept for the many others like John who are out there – people in the kind of anguish that only a lost soul can know. 

For You Today

There is a significant ministry out there for each of us…precious seed needs to be sown.
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, December 13, 2017

All the Days of My Life

Wednesday, December 13, 2017
The one thing I ask of the Lord—the thing I seek most—is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.  For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary.  He will place me out of reach on a high rock.  Then I will hold my head high above my enemies who surround me.  At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy, singing and praising the Lord with music.  Hear me as I pray, O Lord.  Be merciful and answer me!  My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”  And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”  Do not turn your back on me.  Do not reject your servant in anger.  You have always been my helper.  Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me, O God of my salvation!  Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close.  Teach me how to live, O Lord.  Lead me along the right path, for my enemies are waiting for me.  Do not let me fall into their hands.  For they accuse me of things I’ve never done; with every breath they threaten me with violence.  Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.  Wait patiently for the Lord.  Be brave and courageous.  Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.
Psalm 27:4-14(NLT)
David’s heart-prayer in this Psalm is the rambling of a soul struggling to make sense between the glories and joy of heaven and the troubles that swamp him here on earth.  And while the prayer explores back and forth like a spelunker trying to find the slightest bit of light to lead him out of the cave’s darkness, there is a theme you cannot miss; David is certain his heart belongs to God.
The experiences of joyful worship (shouts of joy, singing and praising the Lord with music) are just that – moments of unbridled worship and expressions of love for God.  But the heart that offers such praise is only genuinely able to worship that way when the bridge away from God’s presence has been burned.  David has heard the call of God to come and talk with me and his immediate response is o Lamb of God, I come
(Reading this Psalm is like watching the end of a Billy Graham crusade.)
The final phrases of this Psalm are the same approach to living that captured my heart many years ago: 
Wait patiently for the Lord.  Be brave and courageous.  Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.
It’s not that I haven’t made mistakes with this.  There have been times of running ahead of the Lord, not waiting.  There have been times of fear and the temptation to make cowardly choices.  But in all such times, even when I trembled over what might be a wrong decision, a deep breath and trusting God have never let me down. 

For You Today

When you don’t know what to do, and can’t muster up anything to say that sounds remotely intelligent, safe, or doable…throw your lot in with King David, a fellow traveler and sinner:
All the days of my life, O Lamb, I come to you!
And, by the way, a better time to do that is when things are going well!  Think what God can do with you when that face already has a smile on it!
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

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Clearer Picture

Tuesday, December 12, 2017
He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.          Luke 1:52(NLT)
It has become agonizingly clearer in recent months just how deeply our culture is stained with Sodom and Gomorrah’s legacy.  Public figures are dropping like raindrops in a monsoon.  Just the tip of the iceberg is a list of the most well-known:
Politics:  Al Franken, Anita Hill (Clarence Thomas), Anthony Weiner, Roy Moore, and not to be forgotten, Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.
Hollywood: Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Dustin Hoffman, Bill O’Reilly, Matt Lauer
Education:  USC Medical School dean, Rohit Varma
Sports:  Mike Tyson, Jerry Sandusky (Penn State assistant coach who was convicted of molesting 10 boys over 15 years and is now in prison for 30-60 years)
Religion:  Jimmy Swaggert, Jim Bakker, Catholic Church priests, Ted Haggard
In most all of these cases, payoffs for the silence of the victims have been common.  This, unfortunately, turns a crime into de facto prostitution. 
It is without doubt impossible (in the space of a four-minute devotion) to trace the evolution of a society along the dark path of the powerful exploiting less-powerful individuals; how we got here is a long discussion.  And where do we go from here might be an even longer discussion.
But there is something we can say about this point in time to at least start the discussion; this is a path to which every generation has opened the door.
There are many Biblical passages that bear out the proclivity of the stronger abusing the weaker.  One particularly revealing incident is in 2 Samuel 13 which records the scheming of Jonadab and Absalom, two of King David’s relatives, so that Absalom could satisfy his lust and rape his relative Tamar.  May we not forget that David himself, with his lustful desire towards another man’s wife (Bathsheba) set a clear example for Absalom that he could have whatever he wanted.
From King David’s palace to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion, God’s purely wonderful gift of sex has been abused, perverted and exploited.  It has also brought down empires and their rulers. 
In my opinion, the (so-called) sexual revolution of the 1960’s was not a revolution at all; it was merely the revelation, or coming-out of what has been mankind’s illness since the Garden of Eden.  The book of James describes it well:
Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away.  These desires give birth to sinful actions.  And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.  
James 1:14-15(NLT)
The current flurry of powerful men (in particular) being brought down by accusations of sexual harassment is the endemic and epidemic harvest we are reaping from generations of sexuality being misunderstood and abused. 

And who’s to blame?

Men bear responsibility for objectifying women as sexual property, and women bear responsibility for pandering to the lust of men in order to get what they want.  That, in no way, represents God’s original intent for the beauty of the mutual giving sexuality affords within the context of monogamous marriage.
When we go outside of God’s plan the results are always disastrous.

For You Today

God never gave lust as a gift; that grows as a result of sin.
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, December 11, 2017

Inside Job

Monday, December 11, 2017
O Lord our God, others have ruled us, but you alone are the one we worship.  
Isaiah 26:13(NLT)
I once saw a cartoon in the newspaper that had a little boy sitting in time-out in the corner of the room.  His brow was furrowed in an awful scowl; he was not a happy camper!  His head was turned as if to see where the parent was who had consigned him to such a reprehensible punishment, and there was a thought balloon over his head; it said:  I may be sitting on the outside, but on the inside I’m standing tall! 
The prophet gives us this look at the fiercely independent nature of the human spirit. We may be ruled in the sense that others have the power to tell us what to do in school, job, law enforcement, or, in the extreme, as one conquering army enslaves citizens of the conquest.  But in all these the fact remains constant that you cannot take away freedom of thought.  You may influence a person’s thought process, even to the extent of coercing certain behavior or getting them to say or sign-off on some action which is against their will.  But therein is the rub; against the will is a phrase that defines free will, the fact that you can strong-arm a person’s body, but the will of human spirit is a free agent.  It’s an inside job!
We have seen this indomitable quality of free will illustrated time and again in heroic soldiers taken in battle, imprisoned and tortured, but who refuse to break.  We have seen this will imposed to change whole cultures with leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Wilberforce, and movements of the powerless masses that culminate in an iconic standoff at a place like Tiananmen Square.
Enter the concept of worship! 
Scripture declares that we are created in the image of God, and that means we have a purpose like God’s purposes.  In the mix of that is a natural bent to worship and love God.  But even so, God has chosen to not tamper with the free will of human beings, preferring that we give ourselves willingly to love Him, rather than God coercing us into obedience.  God will and does work in the affairs of human beings to reveal Himself to us, and let us know His desire for relationship, but He has placed as off-limits (even for Himself) that piece of us on the inside that makes choices.
That places a huge gift of choice, and an even greater consequence of the weight of our actions, squarely in our own hands.  What it means is, ultimately we can never claim victim status when it comes to God; he has given us totally absolute sovereign choice over our eternal destination.
But the greatest realization that comes along with this gift of choosing whom we will, or will not, love and worship is the undeniable fact that God is rooting for us to come to Him so he can bless us beyond measure!

For You Today

What will you do with this incredible, holy, and sacred gift of free will?  Whom will you love and worship?
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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Good Medicine - Part 2; HOPE

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.  By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.  And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him.  For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.  Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.  Hebrews 10: 19-25(NLT)
Thomas Merton wrote:  We are not perfectly free until we live in pure hope.[2]  Fr. Merton points us to the reality (according to Matthew’s Gospel[3]) that Jesus Christ, the hope of the world, is our hope only when he’s our only hope.
There is a phrase in our text that evokes a picture.  That phrase is through the curtain.  The sky was clear the morning they led Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha, but it didn’t stay clear!  Near mid-day the sky went dark; three hours later it was still dark when Jesus breathed his last agonizing words:  it is finished
At that moment the earth began to shake like a bad California day.  Matthew[4] tells us the earthquake was so violent huge rocks were split in two.  Tombs were opened when this happened; corpses were raised and they were seen walking in the cities nearby. 
Notice what else happened:
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  Matthew 27:51a(NRSVA)
This is the curtain Paul mentioned when he wrote to the Hebrews of how Jesus made a way for us to enter God’s presence.  The curtain was a separation in the Old Testament temple.  It separated everyone from the holy presence of God.  The reason for the veil was sin; that veil separated the place of God from the place where man stood.  The veil represented the darkness of having no hope to approach God.  Sin takes our hope away, because it separates us from God, which makes life unbearable. 
Author Lee Stroebel talks about hoping for success in explaining Easter.  He tells how his brother-in-law tried to do that with his 5-year-old son Sean.  They were sitting in church on Easter, and just before the service began, my brother-in-law pointed to the cross and said, See the cross?  The people put Jesus on the cross. The people killed Jesus.  Sean looked around very nervously, then asked cautiously:  These people?[5]
That is always the reaction; we are astonished that we have the capability to put God to death – yet the very presence of the curtain said so!  And when that curtain was torn in two it was because the sacrifice of blood on the cross was final; it was a victory over sin and death.
Our text tells us to do three things in light of that veil being torn down…

1.   Enter god’s presence

Entering God’s presence is possible because when Jesus died for our sins, he proved the truth of what he said in His teachings:  for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son.…[6] 
I don’t have to be encouraged to draw near to the ones I love.  Sometimes I need a reminder, because I get distracted doing things.  But the normal thing to do when you love someone is to hang-out together.
The how of hanging-out with Jesus is found in the word trusting.  We have been cleansed by His blood, so we can draw near to God, trusting, in full confidence that our faith has brought us into God’s Forever Family!
Why should we do that?  His sacrifice makes our salvation certain. 
To be saved is the most important reality in life.  We live on this planet for less than 100 years in most cases…150 would be astounding.  Eternity is a lot longer than that! 
The conclusion here is simple; if our lifespan is relatively short, and eternity is really long, you should do what you need to prepare for the long run.  Draw near to God…join with His household…be adopted into the family. 
The second command is to hold fast to the faith. 

2.   Hold Fast to God’s Faith

Paul says:  Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm
One of the reasons true Kingdom families hold together better is that we were designed to be people of faith.  The how of holding fast to our “confession of hope” is without wavering
It is certainly easy to get sidetracked these days.  I see it every year when the Nominating Committee attempts to enlist people to serve.  Holding fast to God’s faith has more to do than just being convinced in your mind that Jesus saves, saying a little prayer and then living like you used to; it has to do with serving consistently. 
Every believer who draws near to God’s house should hold fast to the faith with serving God.  The why of this is found in what Paul said about the promises of Jesus – they’re faithful; they always come true. 
Jesus promised rewards to His followers who serve Him faithfully – it is a true promise!  He also promised chastening (the woodshed) for those who are less than faithful servants; that is no less a true promise.
First draw close to God, then hold fast to God’s faith, and lastly…

3.   Plan to Make an Impact on God’s World

Paul said we should:
     …think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 
That’s making a plan for impacting each other and the world. 
In addition Paul gave us the how to do that in two simple ways that you will recognize; he said we should continue with God’s plans by meeting together and by encouraging each other. 
This is walking it and talking it!
I am only vaguely aware of how God fits everything together.  But, often looking back we see more clearly.  I was searching through some old papers and came across a note from Sarah.  Sarah was our youngest daughter, Carrie’s friend when we served a church in Jacksonville, Florida.  She rode our van to church each week even though her parents never came.  I had the privilege of baptizing Sarah. 
One Sunday little Sarah came to me with a two-fold request.  She wanted me to pray for her uncle and his wife; that was no problem!  But she also wanted me to go see them to baptize their baby
When I met Sarah’s uncle and his wife it was clear they had very little church background.  What they had was worried hearts over a very sick, premature baby in an incubator.  They wanted me to baptize their baby; the doctors said he was going to die within a day or so.  My heart went out to them.  As a Baptist pastor I couldn’t baptize this infant, but I offered to pray for him with everything I had. 
I was fearful of the trust that couple placed in me as they asked me to talk to God for their son.  I told them the little kitten-sized child was in God’s hand.  I held their hands and we prayed.   
That was in 1990.  Five years later Sarah wrote me this note:
I still remember the day you prayed for Scott (my cousin) and gave his parents faith and helped them believe.  On the 28th of this month he turns 5 year[s] old.  Today is his party.  Thank you for giving me the faith and hope.  Thank you, Sarah.
Sarah remembered that day as a time when her pastor gave her hope.  To be completely honest, at the time my main thought was frustration over a 10 year-old putting me in an awkward situation about baptizing a baby.  I’d never even laid eyes on his parents.  I went because I was her pastor and she asked.  But I went mostly because I couldn’t deny Sarah’s pleading eyes. 
Looking back, I know, (and Sarah also probably knows) it was God who gave her faith and hope.  In the end, God used a pastor doing his job to build faith and hope in a little girl.  And God used a 10 year-old kid’s faith to spur a forty-something, Christian pastor into good works.  Sarah impacted my life with her faith, and my faith was strengthened because of her impact. 
Our hope is all about drawing near to God, holding fast His gift of faith, and making plans to impact each other for good…that brings  the good medicine of hope to the soul!
I believe God has given us a few questions through this text, and He wants us to wrestle with them until there is an answer formed in each of our minds about what it means to truly go through the veil…to truly come right up alongside the throne of God, holding faith without wavering, and in so-doing, encourage each other to good works. 
Those questions:
·       Have I truly entered God’s Sanctuary…Am I saved?
·       Am I truly holding fast…is serving through my church a priority in my life?
·       Am I impacting the lives of others for Jesus Christ?
You wrestle with those this week, beloved!
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
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[1] Title Image Courtesy of Pixabay.com
[2] Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, (NY & London, First Harvest Books, 1955), p.14
[3] Matthew 12:21  And his name will be the hope of all the world.”
[4] Matthew 27:50-55
[5] Lee Strobel in "Jesus is Alive -- True or False?" a sermon on SermonCentral.com
[6] John 3:16