biblemike wonders

There isn't anything new in what I have to say, but I do see life from an unique perspective. As my body is shutting down, my soul is opening up to a greater and greater relationship with Christ. I am sharing the things I learn as I go through my trials so that those who read what I write will be encouraged in their own walks by how gracious God has been to me in mine. Ask me questiions, dispute my views and most of all pray for me. www.ucfm.net
UCFM Evangelistic Association

Saturday, January 22, 2005

 

THINKING OF ECCLESIASTES

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Time barely touches these solitary places
Of hide and seek living,
Crossed fingers,
Home bases.
A moment spent idly wondering at traces
Of memory,
Poetry rhythms,
Lost faces.
Communing now with wise men of the ages,
I ponder the written thoughts of lost sages.
Though the ashes are sifted to fine powder,
No single thought can ring out louder
Than this, the oft repeated one,
Which decries the lack of newness
Beneath the beating rays
Of a seemingly everlating sun.
Searching through the shelves of life's general store,
I find that everyone else has been here before
And all those philosophers continue unaware -
The Cornerstone of Creation soon will be here

Michael McLarney revised 2002

 

Racial Harmony and Intermarrriage in Christian Churches

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John Piper’s website contains the most powerful argument for interracial marriage and God’s blessing of it I have ever seen. You can see it here (http://www.desiringgod.org/library/sermons/05/011605.html).

I grew up part of my life in the south and I know the bitter and hateful agony of racism. Young people today cannot imagine how horrible it was. I remember my mother being ostracized from the local women’s group for paying her black maid too much. My mother learned that she could give old clothing and left over food to her maid and her maid’s family, but she could not give the money to buy those things for themselves. She learned her lesson. She would buy clothes at discount stores and wash them several times then place small stains on them in inconspicuous places. These she would then “donate” to her black workers as they were no longer good enough for her white children to wear. Similarly, she would throw lavish parties twice a month preparing far more food than she needed. Often Louise, our maid, and her friends would take home turkeys, whole hams and other foods that may not have even gotten prepared as mother did not have the means of storing all that food until her next party. In this way she was able to help, but she was always ashamed that she merely sidestepped the problem instead of standing against it.

Louise lived in a four room shack with her eight children and sharecropped some acreage to make ends meet. That house was burned down because she had audacity to feed my sister and I there.

I share the above only as an example of the atmosphere As John Piper points out it was not until 1967 that the Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia outlawed prohibitions against interracial marriage which still existed at that time in 16 states. The south was a shameful place for Christianity as a whole at the time when white churches would not serve blacks and black churches were made uncomfortable by the presence of whites based on their experience that the only whites that came to their churches came to burn them down.

This is the only sermon I have read that points out the truth about Moses marriage to the Cushite woman. Cushites were dark skinned Africans living in the region of Ethiopia. Miriam and Aaron were upset with Moses for marrying a Cushite woman. God let them know in a very clear way that He approved of the marriage and disapproved of their disapproval. As one writer puts it, “God in essence said to Miriam that if she wanted to be white then He would give her a gift of whiteness she would not forget.”

The timeliness of this sermon so near Martin Luthor King’s birthday celebration is wonderful, but even more wonderful is the scriptural evidence of God’s blessing of interracial marriage laid before all. This is the sermon that should have been preached in the 1950’s and 1960’s in our churches. Now is the time to examine our current prejudices and determine what we should be preaching today.

 

Recognizing A Blessing

Michael Paul
He came as a gift disguised as a broken toy.
Skin hung from him that didn't fit this blessed little boy.
Don't take him home. He'll never walk or talk or sit.
But this was the child God gave to us. He was the perfect fit.
Yesterday he strolled across the room to lean against my side.
I asked him what he wanted and his eyes lit bright and wide.
"God sent me to give you some love," he said. And then he walked away.
I've entertained angels unaware and one of them chose to stay.
This child is more than they said he could be.
His spirit is stirred by God's grace.
Everything he does and all he says to me
Constantly turns my heart to God's face.
And as I kneel on hard wooden floor
Elbows resting on the bottom stairs,
I thank God for this wonderful child
Both a source for and an answer to prayers.

Michael McLarney October 4, 2003

 

The Marks Of Spiritual Maturity

Before I begin, I would like to ask you to praise God with me for His goodness. For a couple of weeks I could not write and I was having trouble reading. I really believed that this time it was permanent. It was worse than ever before. All I could do is pray and tell God that whatever His will was I would accept it. However I also asked Him to please let me have my Bible reading back and keep me from behaving awfully toward Rhonda during these periods when my mind is not my own anymore. God heard my prayer and then some! By the amount of writing I have sent out these past two weeks you should be able to tell the great thing God has done. Rejoice with me and praise Him for answering prayer.

Join me in this latest document and you will find words of comfort, encouragement and growth. I don’t write typical short remarks like many blogs. I generally write longer passages that deal in the details of spiritual walking. There are many things I learn from my Lord on a daily basis and I try to share what I discover in a humble way. I am not brilliant because I have learned these things. I am blessed because He has taught them.

Back when I was working as an insurance fraud investigator, I was great at doing interviews of witnesses and suspects. One day I was supposed to meet an insured at a tow yard off of highway 80 in the Sierra. I left the office in a company car and had driven about two miles when I realized I did not have my map book with me. I thought that I could remember how to get there so I didn’t turn back. Well, I never did find that tow yard and our insured was very unhappy about it. He was a lot more unhappy when we proved he had torched his own car for the insurance.

This trip down memory lane is to make a point: if you want to get to the proper destination, it helps to know where you are going. This is true in everything we do. The person who goes into training needs to know what they are training for. It makes a difference in how they approach their training. The person who is getting ready to bake cookies needs to know what kind of cookies they are planning to cook to determine what ingredients they need. And the church cannot be effective unless it knows where it is headed. If we want to be what God has called us to be, we need to know His vision for us. If we want to become a spiritually mature body of believers, much less a spiritually mature individual, we have to know what maturity means.

Col 2:1 I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. Col 2:2 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, Col 2:3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Col 2:4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. Col 2:5 For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.
Col 2:6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, Col 2:7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Col 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. Col 2:9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, Col 2:10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:1-10)


Notice What Paul Does Not Include

The first thing we should notice about Paul's purpose for the church is what is not on his list. If we were trying to describe a strong, mature and vital church we might include such things as:

Diverse Programs
Spacious Buildings with plenty of parking
Large Attendance in Worship
Dramatic Experiences
A certain Style of Worship

These are the things that we are told are the keys to vibrant congregations. These are the things the church growth "experts" point to as leading to successful ministry. But Paul doesn't include any of these things! So either Paul was mistaken or we are. More times than not our focus is almost exclusively external. Paul's is internal. So, at the very beginning of our discussion we are alerted to the fact that we must change our thinking. We must change the way we define "success" when it comes to the church.

Notice that Paul has committed his life to achieving these goals. He says, "I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea (a neighboring town), and for all who have not met me personally." The word Paul uses for struggle is the word "agon" the same word that is the source of our word agony. It is a reference to the place where the Greeks assembled for their Olympic games. It was a place where they strove to win.

Paul agonized for the maturity of those new believers. We have already been told that he remembered them constantly in prayer. He was so focused on the goal of the church that he was constantly lifting up these people in prayer. He agonized by suffering with them and for them. The whole reason Paul was in jail was to be a faithful witness in Christ. And in 2 Corinthians 11:29 Paul talks about his tireless labor for the church. Paul was committed to these goals for the church. We would do well to strive in a like manner.

2Co 11:28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 2Co 11:29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? 2Co 11:30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11:28-30)

A Spiritually Mature Church has a Strong Faith Even in Difficult Times

Paul says, "My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart. "(v. 2) The word Paul uses for the word translated "encouraged" is the word "parakalein". Sometimes this word means to comfort, sometimes to exhort but it is always used in the sense of enabling someone to meet a difficult situation with confidence and strength. One of the indications of mature faith then is strength even when the times are tough.

Listen to these words of the prophet Habakkuk,

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights." (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Habakkuk determined to hang on because of his confidence in God! He knew God's character. He knew that He is sufficient for every need. He knew that God loved him. He knew God was faithful. So, no matter what the outward circumstances, Habakkuk trusted what he knew to be true. That's the kind of faith Paul wants from the church, a group of people who see by faith and not by sight.

I know there are many in our churches who are going through agony. They face physical, relational, professional, financial, and spiritual struggles. Some of you, I'm sure, are not sure how much longer you can hang on at times. You just get exhausted. You try to be faithful and you succeed much of the time, but you have nothing left to give. If this is your experience then you are on the verge of a great discovery! Your strength for the difficult times does not reside in your ability, but His! You may be weary, but He is strong. The Lord knows what He is doing. Trust Him. This is a lesson I am learning on a weekly basis. I don’t have it down pat, but I am getting better.

A Spiritually Mature Church is United in Love

Even a casual reading of Scripture will quickly convince you that one of the hallmarks of the church is to be a love that is uncommon in the world. Paul tells us that he prays we might be "united in love". The church should be the last place with problems regarding diversity, but churches, not just in this country, have a long history of bringing societies prejudices into the house of worship. When I was a boy, blacks could not go into a white church and whites would never consider visiting a black church. The Irish and the English wouldn’t worship together neither would the Poles and the Czechs. Diversity can strengthen a church, but only if love first unites that body in the unwavering love of Christ. Without Christ’s love for each other, diversity will tear any group apart during tough times and churches are no exception. The Apostle John would tell us to get rid of our pet theologies and our worship traditions and all of our societal baggage. He would tell us that until we truly love each other, we could not understand the love of Christ.

Love within a church is a magnetic power. All of us are longing to find a place where we are loved not for what we can contribute but for who we are. This is what the church is to be. In order to "get the picture in my head" I made a list of what I think true love in the body of Christ means,

We treasure each other
We spotlight gifts and abilities rather than faults and failures
We truly celebrate the gifts and blessings of others without feeling resentment
We rally around each other in times of sadness and loss
We allow people to have "bad days"
We are quick to forgive
We act in kindness toward each other
We defend each other
We are willing to do things differently than we would necessarily choose for the honor of Christ.
And we listen to a list like this and wonder how we could love better rather than moaning because we are not better loved.

There is a story I have heard used several times about six young men that were to run a hundred-yard dash. They lined up, waited for the starting gun and then they were off running. About halfway down the track, the young man in front stumbled and fell. Almost immediately, the other five men stopped and helped him up. When they had dusted him off and decided that he was all right, they then decided to finish the race. None of the judges could tell who won the blue ribbon for none of them could see through their tears of joy. No one in the stands that day would ever forget this incident or how proud they for each of the persons that participated in these Special Olympics. Yes, these young men who cared more about their fallen friend than winning a race, were people that some have the nerve to call retarded. Maybe they understand things better than we do. I know that my son, Michael Paul does. They give us a parable of what God wants from the church.

A Spiritually Mature Church is Characterized by Knowledge and Understanding

Notice, that Paul says our faithfulness and our love for each other will lead to: "the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." In other words, the mature church (and believer) is growing in their knowledge and understanding as a direct result of our love for each other.

Paul told the church at Rome that the way to resist the push of the world to conform was to "renew your mind." We must continue to grow in our knowledge and understanding of the gospel. The two words "knowledge" and "understanding" denote that what is needed is more than an increase in factual information. We need to not only learn more facts but we need to know why those facts are important and how they relate to our lives. And notice that it is not just any facts that we should be seeking. We should be seeking a deeper knowledge of Christ!
What happens to a vast number of Christians is this: They make a decision for Christ. They become active and involved in the church. They learn the language. They learn how to do some things. These things may be spectacular (which is even more dangerous) or ordinary. But they make it to the "mainstream". Now they talk like a believer. They act like a believer. They are respected and admired. They know enough to fit in. So once they fit in, they sit down! They are content. Unless someone tells them we aren’t called to sit by the river, they will remain there content in their salvation. They should be getting up and heading out into the desert, because it is there that we really come to know Christ.

Every team that gets too self-satisfied loses its edge and is set up for defeat. Our opponent has not lost his fire. He is as enthusiastic and diligent as ever. To withstand his attacks we must continue to grow in knowledge and understanding. We have to get moving forward if we want to grow.
With that thought in mind, I must add a caution. Paul warns Timothy that in the last days, the unsaved will be "always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth." (2 Timothy 3:7). We live in a world where information is readily available. We can learn as much as we want to learn. However, it is not enough to grow in information. We must seek out the truth and then acknowledge it and commit ourselves to it.

So, are you sitting or still moving forward in your faith? Are you remaining fresh in the faith or are you beginning to stagnate?

A Spiritually Mature Church is Discerning in Confusing Times

I used to be a sucker for a good advertising campaign. Everyone who called for a donation got one. Every time I received one of those post cards that told me that I had won something, I would call them. I was willing to pay the $2.00 a minute to claim my prize (little knowing I would be on hold for 20 minutes!) Every time Ed McMahon sent me mail I would send him some back. Those late night TV Infomercials advertised some of the best products ever made! A slick presentation always worked with me. However, I came to realize that not everything that sounds good is good. And that truth does not change even though times do.

The Bible warns us to beware of false teachers. Listen to these warnings from Paul:

(1 Timothy 4:1, 2 NLT) "Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from what we believe; they will follow lying spirits and teachings that come from demons. These teachers are hypocrites and liars. They pretend to be religious, but their consciences are dead."

[2 Timothy 4:3,4] "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths."


The best defense, of course, is a good offense. But there are some other things we can do. We can remember some simple principles:

Not everyone who sounds like an expert is an expert. What makes an actor or actress an authority on anything but acting? These people are constantly being called upon to testify on all kinds of issues. But why? There will always be people who talk authoritatively about God's will but have no idea what the Bible says. Many people engage their mouth well before they engage their brain. Many (most?) people merely parrot what they have heard others say. Some have never considered the implications of their words.

Something that sounds good is not necessarily something that is good. Most deception comes in brightly colored packages. We must see beyond the polished words and slick presentation.
Most deception minimizes or seeks to eliminate any talk of sin and responsibility.

Deceivers will diminish the character and person of Christ. They may talk about how much they love Jesus, but if you ask them to describe Jesus you will get a different picture. Sure, at first they will say, He is the Son of God and Savior. But if you continue to probe, you will find that when they talk about Jesus being the Son of God they believe He is the Son of God much the same way you and I are sons of God. They believe he saved us in the sense that He showed us a way to overcome.

Deceivers will draw deep meaning from obscure passages of the Bible. If it is not taught clearly throughout Scripture beware! There are no secret codes or hidden meaning in God’s word.
Deceivers seldom have a lifestyle that matches their profession. Most missionaries don’t fly first class or own muti-million dollar homes.

Let’s just take a quick assessment at where we are in regards to Paul’s comments to this point. These are questions we might consider asking ourselves in those moments when we are preparing to talk with God or, sometimes, right after we have had time in the word or in prayer. I pick those times because they are the times when we are most ready to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to us.

Do you need to train yourself to trust God more than your own abilities?
Do you need to work on being more loving?
Do you need to get out of neutral and start learning and understanding more? Is it time to read more Christian literature? Time to dust off your Bible and sharpen your pencil?
Do you need to be more discerning? Maybe you need to start asking questions and interacting with those who would have you follow them.

I must admit, I find that I am working on all those areas. I don't know whether you ever "arrive". I feel I am such a long way from the goal. It still seems all a little "fuzzy" to me. But the picture of what I shall be is clear in His head and that's all that matters. I'll just try to keep focused and enjoy the journey. In the meantime, Paul still has more characteristics of a mature Christian for us examine.

DISCIPLINED IN OUR DISCIPLESHIP (2:5)

Paul writes, "For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is." In this passage we see the affection the apostle has for the Colossians. He wants them to know that even though he is not with them in person, his heart is bound up with them. He tells them he is proud of them. He is delighted to see "how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is." One thing is certain about Paul. He really loved the body of believers with his whole heart. Even here you can hear the tone of concern rather than anger as he redirects from the path the false teachers have been leading them down. He is doing it because he cares about them, not because he wants to be sure they do things his way.

The terms Paul uses here are military terms. They picture a disciplined military unit. We can picture a parade ground with soldiers marching in formation. The message is clear: this group has become a disciplined group of soldiers. In the battle, the group is organized, everyone does their job, and they remain solid in the face of opposition. This is a result of careful, rigorous and constant training. Paul sees the Colossians like this. They have arrived at a measure of maturity because of their attention to godly discipline and training.

Sometimes it is helpful to understand a concept by stating things in opposites. The opposite of being orderly and firm in our faith would be to be haphazard, undependable, impulsive and flabby. Which terms best describe your Christian walk: disciplined or haphazard, firm or flabby?
The best illustration I can think of is exercise. (I tried to find one less convicting but failed.) If you want to be in your best physical condition; if you want to be firm and not flabby, you must have a certain amount of discipline in your life. It means at least somewhat regular exercise, eating right, practicing good habits. One of the biggest problems I have is keeping my weight up. I have to make myself eat regular meals as much as possible or my weight will drop rapidly. I realize that some people imagine they would rather have that problem than be overweight, but trust me on this, you don’t want to be this way. Anyway, I must be disciplined if I am going to control my weight. I must take my medicines at the right times and be sure I get sufficient rest as well or I will become ill. The point is that in my case self-discipline keeps me healthy longer and more often. Your areas of focus are different than mine, but the principle is the same.

Do you see that this is similar to our spiritual walk? We may be very intense for a period of time and feel the wonderful sense of the Lord's presence. Then we coast. Our spiritual life begins to dry up. Some people conclude that it wasn't real to begin with. Others go back to work. The mature believer avoids the periods of coasting and drifting by being disciplined in their Christian life.

But what do we mean when we talk about having a disciplined faith? Here are some things a disciplined believer will do:

Read the Book The best place to begin is to read the Bible. The Bible is God talking to us. We all know that it is rude to ignore someone who is talking. It is equally rude (and foolish) to ignore God's communication to us. Here are some of the ways I make sure I get my Bible reading in:

Read the Bible instead of the magazines at Doctor's offices
Keep a Bible in my car and read it when I’m waiting for the kids at school
I make time every morning to read for at least fifteen minutes
Read small sections several times during the day instead of reading for a longer period in one sitting
Another good way is to get involved in a small group Bible study. There is an accountability there as well as the enjoyment of sharing the word with fellow believers. Even you pastors could gain insights and a special sense of fellowship in a group study with non-pastors. I recommend a study with non-pastors because if you are studying with pastors there might be a tendency to intellectualize what should really be a heart experience. The key of course is not just to read, but also to meditate on the Word. Ponder it in your heart and mind. Ask, "What is it God wants me to learn?" Write notes, or as in my case papers on what you have discovered.

Talk to the Author We need to visit more with God. We are so formal in our praying. We have a list we want to get through and that becomes the focus of our prayers. What I am suggesting is that we learn to focus on talking with God. Share your ideas, your thoughts, your frustrations, your dreams. He already knows them, but He would like to hear about them from you. On occasion, talk to Him as your best friend. And of course, give Him time to respond. My wife, Rhonda, has the best prayer life of anyone I know because she is so comfortable when she talks just to Him. I even wrote a poem about it.

Her Prayers


I’ve heard her voice in firm resolve question and oppose
What she has seen as God’s ongoing plan
But then I’ve heard her close
With humble tone and soft spoken request.
She always seems so sure that He will not reject her words
Nor turn His back on her,
But with His Grace pour blessings out
On those found in her care.
Her faith is based on something present here and real.
She does not seek the Face of One high in heaven’s peaks,
But rather touches hands with the Christ found in her heart
So strong in power and soft in Grace.
He listens to her every call
And because she holds Him close
His blessings shower us all.

Make time for Quiet Our lives are so active we seldom get the chance to stop in the quiet and listen to the whisper of God's Spirit. We need time to "be still and know that He is God." This is probably hardest for moms to do. I know that Rhonda very seldom has a moment to herself. As she cares for the needs of our children, who because of special needs take more care than the average child, and she deals with my illness and physical or medical need; there is little time for quiet moments. Each day I pray for God to provide such time for her and then seek ways of helping her find that time.

Serve We should always be looking for opportunities where we can give of ourselves to others. It may be at a shelter or in the church. Or it may be in the every day tasks of life. Look for ways you can practice being a servant: clean up the dinner table, take out the garbage, pick up trash in the street, hold a door for someone else. Jesus humbled himself and took the form of a servant. We should follow His example every chance we get.

Other disciplines to try: fasting, giving, keep a spiritual journal. Whatever you do, do something. Eliminate haphazard faith. Strive for more self-discipline. The longer I know Christ, despite the improvements over time, the more I realize how far I still have to go to be the kind of disciple I am called to be. It is that realization that sometimes causes people to give up or give in or simply stop where they are and sit in their pew on Sunday. Sometimes that realization can be discouraging, but I prefer to see it as the finish line of the race and Christ is waiting there to give me the prize. That thought makes me want to run all the harder.

CONSISTENT IN OUR DAILY LIVING (2:6,7)

I think verse 6 is one of the most challenging verses in the Bible. The Amplified Bible does a wonderful thing with this text, "As you have therefore received the Christ, [even] Jesus the Lord, -- [so] regulate your lives and conduct yourself - in union and conformity to Him."
Notice the sequence. First, Paul assumes that we have a relationship with Christ. Paul says, "Just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord". Things must be done in a certain order. You cannot live a victorious and mature Christian life until you have first come to Christ as the only one who can cleanse you from sin and infuse you with life.

But, once you have received Christ as Savior, you must follow Him as Lord. It's a "package deal". Paul says we received Christ as Lord and now we should show Him to be Lord in our living. This means that we live by His example and follow His commands. It means we change. The true test of the genuineness of a person's confession of faith is the life they live. It also goes back to one of my favorite expressions: We are the only Bible most people will ever read. If we live our lives under the Lordship of Jesus, people will see Him in what we do and be drawn to Him.

I'm not saying we are to be perfect. That's the standard and the goal but it is not something that we will ultimately achieve until we get to Heaven. However, we must be working toward that goal. We should not say we follow Christ with our mouth, yet deny Him in our living. It's not enough to know a lot about Christ . . . we must apply what we know to how we live!

GRATEFUL IN OUR HEART (2:7)

Paul says there are two results from being "rooted and built up". The first is that you will be "strengthened in the faith". When we begin to walk with Jesus in our daily living we become increasingly sure of the truths we committed our life to. As we become more acquainted with Him, we become personally aware of His great faithfulness. This strengthens our faith.
The second result of this consistent walk with Christ is an overwhelming sense of gratitude. As you mature in the faith something surprising happens. You become even more grateful than you were at first. Two things happen. First, you see how awesome and great God is. The longer I know Him the more overwhelmed I am by who He is. You begin to understand His holiness, His power, His Purity. You understand that He needs nothing to be complete. Second, you realize how deeply sin has infected our lives. When we come to Christ we have little idea how pervasive sin is in our hearts and lives. As we grow it sometimes seems that we are more full of sin than when we first began. It actually is that we become more aware of other areas of sin in our lives as we get rid of the more obvious stuff.

It’s sort of like the Marines hitting one the islands in the Pacific during the battles of World War II. The first thing they did was establish a small beachhead, just a tiny part of the island. Once that was established they brought in more troops and equipment. Once they were better fortified, they moved out to capture another section of the island. Again they brought in more troops and equipment now that there was room for them and moved out to absorb more of the island. They kept doing this until the island was theirs. When Christ first came into us, He established His beachhead. By the power of His Holy Spirit we were strengthened. As we became more mature, we began to see more of what was still left to conquer. The sin we discover in our lives was always there, but we weren’t ready to deal with it yet. We needed the power of the Holy Spirit and a more intimate relationship with Christ to prepare us for that task. When you put the strengthening and the consistency together you realize what an undeserved grace we have received. You can't help but ask, "Why me, Lord?"

The mature Christian does not become rigid, arrogant or snooty. The mature believer is becoming softer, more humble and much more grateful. How do you measure up? Does this list sound like you?

faithfulness in difficult times (2a)
love in our relationships (2b)
growth in knowledge and understanding (2c)
discernment in confusing times (4)
disciplined in discipleship (5)
consistent in daily living (6)
overflowing with gratitude (7)

This list is not concerned with how much we know, but rather how well we follow. It's about our character not our I.Q. We're not asking what others are looking for. We are talking about what God is looking for.

The time of revival is coming in America. I believe that this current generation will see that revival. In that time many wonderful things will happen and many will come to the Lord and be saved. Unfortunately persecution of one type or another often accompanies revival. Those of us who know the Lord already must be prepared and must be mature when that time comes. Our maturity will enable us to lead others to Christ. It will also enable us to stand up under the threat of persecution. When the early church was persecuted, many were overcome and denied their faith rather than die or suffer abuse. They weren’t mature enough or committed enough to handle their fear. Like Peter before Pentecost, they denied their Lord. Today Christians all over the world are standing up in the face of persecution and paying with their lives or their children’s lives. Are you going to be ready?

 

Recognizing A Blessing

Michael Paul
He came as a gift disguised as a broken toy.
Skin hung from him that didn't fit this blessed little boy.
Don't take him home. He'll never walk or talk or sit.
But this was the child God gave to us. He was the perfect fit.
Yesterday he strolled across the room to lean against my side.
I asked him what he wanted and his eyes lit bright and wide.
"God sent me to give you love," he said. And then he walked away.
I've entertained angels unaware and one of them chose to stay.
This child is more than they said he could be.
His spirit is stirred by God's grace.
Everything he does and all he says to me
Constantly turns my heart to God's face.
And as I kneel on hard wooden floor
Elbows resting on the bottom stairs,
I thank God for this wonderful child
Both a source for and an answer to prayers.
Michael McLarney October 4, 2003

 

Recognizing A Blessing

Michael Paul
He came as a gift disguised as a broken toy.
Skin hung from him that didn't fit this blessed little boy.
Don't take him home. He'll never walk or talk or sit.
But this was the child God gave to us. He was the perfect fit.
Yesterday he strolled across the room to lean against my side.
I asked him what he wanted and his eyes lit bright and wide.
"God sent me to give you love," he said. And then he walked away.
I've entertained angels unaware and one of them chose to stay.
This child is more than they said he could be.
His spirit is stirred by God's grace.
Everything he does and all he says to me
Constantly turns my heart to God's face.
And as I kneel on hard wooden floor
Elbows resting on the bottom stairs,
I thank God for this wonderful child
Both a source for and an answer to prayers.
Michael McLarney October 4, 2003

Friday, January 21, 2005

 

Progressive Church or Progressive Hate

My heart breaks each time I read of yet another person using God’s word to support ungodly positions. I recently read an article by Dr. Albert Pennybacker of the Church and Laity Network, whatever that is, in which he protests the inauguration festivities for President Bush. I don’t object to those who disagree with how those private citizens choose to spend their money when they base their objections on logical and principled positions. I am grief stricken when they use Holy Scripture to inject hateful and venomous remarks into their argument. They use scripture to judge the hearts of those they do not know and to attack some for upholding God’s word!

The article and a subsequent follow-up occur on the website Democracy.org. I don’t want to send anyone to that website, so I am including portions of the article and my responsive comments that I left at the website.

Dr. Albert Pennybacker, of the Church and Laity Network
VIGILS PROTEST INAUGURATION EXCESSES
Interfaith vigils protesting the excessive expenses and the numerous celebrations of President George W. Bush’s second inauguration are occurring on Inauguration Eve, January 19, in numerous communities across America.
CLN urges your participation.
This is a time of war, military deaths and grieving families as every pastor knows. Ravaged Pacific coast communities, overflowing rivers and growing poverty are present in our midst. Overseas millions suffer in homelessness in the wake of the unprecedented Southeast Asia disaster, and millions more grieve the loss of parents, children, loved ones and friends.
It is a time when wounded and maimed US service personnel lie in hospital beds or work in painful therapy programs. Yet they struggle in unexpected numbers (which we have not been told) with inadequate provisions for their healing.
The gross insensitivity of the inauguration plans must be named and challenged! America’s priorities at this time are not authentically voiced through these inauguration frivolities.”

If this was the only tone, then I would have no problem with the comments, but things change as you continue.

“For those progressive religious communities that wish to join in Inauguration Eve prayer vigils, CLN urges that you first scan the Internet for existing vigil plans. CLN recommends the following: info@NCCCUSA.org, UU.org, interfaithalliance.org, and local and state interfaith councils and councils of churches. For further information you may use CLN’s website.”
“The following is offered as a brief template, or model, for your consideration as you plan your prayer vigil. Feel free to use all, some or none of it – whatever is most helpful. Thank you for your willingness to join with others to pray and witness for the well-being of all God’s creation. If the Clergy and Laity Network can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Welcome and Explanation[The appointed spokesperson says the following or something similar…]
As much as any time in the history of the United States, we need to come together to pray for the health and well-being of God’s entire creation. For the courage to beat swords into plowshares, to study war no more, to take a chance on peace, we need to pray. For policies that reflect the conviction that every life truly is precious, we need to pray. For leaders who will lead us to virtue without imposing our virtue on the virtue of others, we need to pray. For the wisdom to know the difference between arrogance and faith, the difference between charity and greed, the difference between confidence and delusion, we need to pray.So, welcome to this vigil of prayer on eve of the presidential inauguration. It is good to be together. [If the attendees do not have a printed program, a few words of explanation about the program might be helpful.]
Call to Prayer[The bold print is intended for the attendees to read. If programs are not printed, perhaps this can be used as a two person Call to Prayer with each person alternating parts.]We gather tonight as people of various faith traditionsTo witness and pray together, talk and listen to each otherWe gather to affirm our commitment to building a societyIn which diversity is a source of strength and not of painWe gather at a time when the greed of a few is trumping the needs of manyWhen more live in the grip of poverty than in the lap of luxuryWe need to hear again a calling to our better selvesThat we may have courage to speak truth to power, to shine light amidst darkness
Viewpoints from Various Faith Traditions[Ask a representative of each faith tradition to read a brief passage from their tradition that speaks to justice, peace, unity or a related issue. The ones below are possibilities.]IslamicAl-Husraat The prophet said: He who amongst you sees something abominable should modify it with the help of his hand, and if he has not strength enough to do it, then he should do it with his tongue; and if he has not strength enough to do it, (even) then he should (abhor it) from his heart and that is the least of faith. — Sahih Muslim, Hadith Number 79BuddhistThe thought manifests as the word; The word manifests as the deed; The deed develops into habit; The habit hardens into character. So watch the thought and its ways with care, And let it spring from love, Born of concern for all beings. — The BuddhaHinduMay Brahma protect us, may he guide us, may he give us strength and right understanding. May love and harmony be with us all. — Peace Invocation, Katha UpanishadChristian
He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’– Luke 21:1-4JewishIf you banish the yoke from your midst, the menacing hand, and evil speech; and you offer your compassion to the hungry and satisfy the famished creature—then your light shall shine in darkness. — Isaiah 59:10”

There is more to part one, but you can see that there is plentiful use of quotes from various religions alongside of quotes from the Bible. They then use an inordinately long list of Bible quotes to attack the inaugural festivities, those who donated to pay for them and any who supported President Bush at all. This is where the judgment of others comes in and the misuse of Scripture out of context.

Some Scripture relevant to the inaugural
Deuteronomy 24:14-15
You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy labourers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns.You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the LORD against you, and you would incur guilt.
Amos 4:1Hear this word, you cows of Bashanwho are on Mount Samaria,who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,who say to their husbands, ‘Bring something to drink!’
Psalm 3:13-15The LORD rises to argue his case;he stands to judge the peoples.The LORD enters into judgementwith the elders and princes of his people:It is you who have devoured the vineyard;the spoil of the poor is in your houses.What do you mean by crushing my people,by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord GOD of hosts.
Isaiah 10Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees,who write oppressive statutes,to turn aside the needy from justiceand to rob the poor of my people of their right,that widows may be your spoil,and that you may make the orphans your prey!What will you do on the day of punishment,in the calamity that will come from far away?To whom will you flee for help,and where will you leave your wealth,so as not to crouch among the prisonersor fall among the slain?For all this, his anger has not turned away;his hand is stretched out still.
Psalm 9:18For the needy shall not always be forgotten,nor the hope of the poor perish for ever.
Proverbs 14:31Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker,but those who are kind to the needy honour him.
Proverbs 21:13If you close your ear to the cry of the poor,you will cry out and not be heard.
Proverbs 22:8-16Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,and the rod of anger will fail.Those who are generous are blessed,for they share their bread with the poor.Drive out a scoffer, and strife goes out;quarrelling and abuse will cease.Those who love a pure heart and are gracious in speechwill have the king as a friend.The eyes of the LORD keep watch over knowledge,but he overthrows the words of the faithless.The lazy person says, ‘There is a lion outside!I shall be killed in the streets!’The mouth of a loose woman is a deep pit;he with whom the LORD is angry falls into it.Folly is bound up in the heart of a boy,but the rod of discipline drives it far away.Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself,and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss.
Luke 21:1-4He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury;he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them;for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’
2 Corinthians 8:9For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.
1 Timothy 6:10-17 (especially verses 10 and 17)For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge youto keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time - he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share,thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”


To this they have added comments such as the following:

1. Thanks for your great site and your great effort.
Comment by
Guiseppe Caluri — 1/19/2005 @ 10:54 am
2. I forgot to mention our website–which has much in common with your own:
http://www.10000jesuses.org. We’re looking for a few good Jesuses to dress as Jesus (Or New Testament figure) and carry signs indicating Jesus’ disapproval : “Who would I bomb?", “Who would I torture?” etc. Come join us at the inauguration.
Comment by
Guiseppe Caluri — 1/19/2005 @ 10:57 am
3. The “Word” of God most precious to me.Honey to some but will cause hypocrites to “puke".Bush and those who voted for him ought to be ashamed of themselves. I can’t imagine a Christian voting for Bush or the rich corrupt that gave him his horns. May they read this and weap. It is the wonderful truth that we all love! Jesus hears us!
Comment by P.A. Crone — 1/19/2005 @
10:02 pm

To these I added my own comment at the end of Part one:

4. How it breaks my heart and how it must grieve our Lord to hear those who profess to follow His Son use His word as a mask for hateful invective. Distorting God’s word and making hateful assumptions about people you don’t know is more hypocritical and shameful than rich men and women spending their own money how they see fit. You don’t know what any of those people may be giving to charities and churches through out our nation. One thing is certainly true and that is that George Bush gave more to charity than any of the Democratic candidates. No matter how much I disagree with him about the war in Iraq, I also know he is trying to follow God’s word as it applies to the murder of unborn children and sexual morality. I know he does not hate homosexuals as most misguided Democrats believe, but that he believes that sex. homosexual or heterosexual, outside the bonds of matrimony is sin in the eyes of God. The Democratic candidates propose continuing to deny the rights of unborn children formed in the womb by the hand of God. They continue to support sexual behavior called an abomination by the word of God. More people were murdered by abortion and AIDs than have died in all the wars fought by this country. When will we stop that killing?

I know I will be sprayed with the same hateful vindective as others, but still I will pray for God’s Holy Spirit to bring peace to the war on Him in this country. Those of you who claim Christ as Savior should be ashamed of the way things have been said here. Jesus said we are to make Him Lord of our lives. That means we put what He said and He taught ahead of any political belief or commentary. Those who have misused these scriptures and taken them out of context have put Christ and God’s truth behind themselves instead of in front.

Comment by biblemike — 1/21/2005 @ 8:39 am

And again at the end of part two:

How can you provide a template that calls every life precious while supporting a political party that has murdered more children that have been killed in any war undertaken by the United States? You are no better than Manasseh, Anon, Jehoahaz, Jeholachin, Zedekiah and the other kings of Judah who put altars to false gods inside the Temple to the one living God. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot serve God and then serve those who oppose God’s law. You cannot claim God as Lord and then misuse His word to attack those you disagree with. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Render unto God that which is God’s. Stop choosing the parts of God you like and rejecting the parts that make you uncomfortable. Stop manipulating God and His servants to your purposes and opinions. It is time to bow before God. His kingdom is a monarchy for a reason. He is the only One with all the right answers.

Comment by biblemike — 1/21/2005 @ 8:58 am

I do not hold anything against those Christians who voted Democratic or those who voted Republican. This is a democracy and each person should exercise their right to vote for that per son or party they believe most represents their views and there are arguments that can be made for a Christian to support either party. What I object to is using Scripture to support positions that are not of God. This group would have us believe that all faiths worship the same God. Not true. That God does not object to homosexual activity. Not true. That heaven is open to all no matter how they worship. Not true. That those who support the war in Iraq are going against God, but those who support abortion are not. Not true. This organization’s spokespersons call themselves “Progressive Church” leaders. I ask then, how can the Progressive Church be Christian?

I stumbled on this website after my morning prayer time and just I began reading my morning e-news. Perhaps I am overreacting to what I saw there. Perhaps the offense I feel is personal rather than spiritual. I don’t think so, but what do you think? If you think me wrong come to me in love and pray for me. If you think I’m right come to me in love and pray for me.

Yours in Christ,

biblemike

Monday, January 17, 2005

 

How Real Is Your Christianity?

Colossians 1:1-8

The people in Colosse were hearing about all the ideas and experiences of the people around them and were wondering if maybe they were missing something. Maybe they needed more than their faith in Christ. These questions were among those Epaphras shared with Paul while Paul was imprisoned. It should not surprise us then that Paul begins his letter quickly affirming the genuineness of Colossian faith,

Col 1:3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, Col 1:4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints— Col 1:5 the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel. (Colossians 1:3-5)

Paul focuses on the characteristics of a follower of Christ in this opening statement. A genuine follower of Christ is characterized by faith in Jesus Christ, love for the brethren and hope of eternal life. Paul, Peter, James and John all use this same simple shorthand to describe the new nature of those in Jesus. As I tried to read through Colossians, I found myself stuck on this passage. Look again at how we are described.

Faith in Christ Jesus

We hear lots of people today who tell us they have faith. Others tell us that faith is very important in their lives. We are living in a day when faith is quite popular. However, we can’t assume that everyone is using the term the same way we are.
First, we must always ask, "What is the object of your faith?" Faith in and of itself has no intrinsic value. Faith has no power. It is the object of your faith that is significant. You see, many people have faith, but the object of their faith is: experience, reincarnation, theology or philosophical systems, their own goodness, the free market system, the goodness of men or even religion or the church. The true believer has faith in Christ Jesus not in the things of this world. How quick we are to forget this at times. We are prone to quickly revert to our old approach to faith, to trust in our own efforts. Christian confidence and faith is not in anything we have done or can do. Our confidence is in Jesus Christ: in His sacrificial death, victorious resurrection and His present intercession on our behalf.

This leads us to a second question: What does it mean to have "faith"? Some would say that having faith is to feel good about something. But when the Bible talks about faith in Christ, it means to believe Him, depend on Him, follow Him. It means to believe what He says about God, about salvation, about us. To have faith in Christ is to "bet our life on Him." Having faith in Christ means believing that His death really was the payment for our sin just as He said. It means believing that He loves us even when we feel unlovable.

The third question follows, where does this faith come from? Notice something interesting from this text. The faith Paul talks of here is not the means to salvation; it is the result of our salvation. Paul tells us that this faith "springs from the hope that is stored up for you in Heaven." Faith doesn't produce the hope it comes from the hope.
Now this is different from the way we usually talk. We usually make it seem that we have to come up with faith in order to be saved. Paul says this faith is evidence that we are saved. Paul wrote the Ephesians:

Eph 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— Eph 2:9 not by works, so that no one can boast. Eph 2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Faith is something God creates in us. He produces faith in us. Now, why is this important? Because so many try to will themselves to believe. We try to create faith. What we need to understand is that faith does not come from looking inward. It comes from looking at God. Faith is the fruit of seeking Him. So if you want to have more faith, don't read more books on faith, spend more time looking at and seeking God.

This is a good time to make this very practical. We simply need to ask ourselves: "Where are we placing our faith?" Many people talk religion. But the crucial question is this: Who or What do you really trust? Be honest with yourself. Are you confident because you are talented? Decent? Competent? Well-respected? Are you trusting your financial acumen or your determined spirit to get you ahead in life? When we do these things we have gone back to building our houses on the sand.

Love for all the saints

We must always look out for those who talk Christianity but don't walk it. A loveless goodness, apologetics without passion, a profession without practice, all make for a questionable faith.
The Apostle John wrote,

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John. 3:16-18)

James wrote, "faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." (2:17) James is not arguing that we have to be good in order to get into heaven, he is arguing that anyone who has truly been reborn by God's Spirit acts differently. Faith is not passive, but active. The Colossians showed the reality of their faith because they not only professed faith, they reflected love.
But what does it mean to love each other? Christian love is unique. It is characterized by,

1. a sense of family. It is certainly true that we should never refer to the church as they it should always be we. Our love is anchored in the fact that we are related to each other in Christ.

2. seeing another person not for who they are . . . but for who they can be by God's Spirit. We understand how radically God can change a life. We should never write another off as one who "will never change" because we ought to know better. We know what God can do because He has begun that process in us.

3. by a desire for the good and spiritual happiness of the other. This is different from the way of the world. In the world we "love others" because we think they can be good for us or because they make us happy. I know it sounds harsh, but I still believe it is true. I see remnants of this attitude in my own life. We use people. We see people in terms of what they can do for us. We love them if they do what we want. We discard them if they don't. Christian love desires the benefit of the other person. It is concerned with building up the other not ourselves.

4. a genuine delight from being with each other. Christian love means we enjoy being together. That's why it is so delightful to come into a church and hear laughter. Worship should not be drudgery, onerous prayers and false piety. It is a time to do something special (exalt God) with our friends. When a group of friends get together there is talking, laughter and joy.

5. an overlooking of faults and infirmities. It's not that we minimize these things. Christian love understands that we are all sinners in the process of being transformed. So, we do not focus on the sin and failure. We focus on the progress and growth. People who love each other dwell on the admirable and praiseworthy not the blemishes and struggles. Unfortunately, in many churches the members are much less patient with each other than they are with their friends who are not Christians. This is because they have become focused on the outward appearance and on making certain behaviors more important than others. They have lost sight of their original goal.

6. a love that is without barrier. Our love for each other is based in something much deeper than our economic class, gender, race, age or any other category of men. Our love is anchored in our common experience of grace and our common destiny of eternity worshiping God.
Obviously we realize that we are a long way from achieving this goal perfectly. We are still prone to pettiness and competition. But the true believer is moving toward this goal of Christ-like love. They want to love this way. They are learning to love this way. They delight when they love this way. Every morning I try to begin my day with a conversation with God. The first thing I ask is that God help me love deeper and more fully today than yesterday. When I pray for others and when I act in love toward others, my physical symptoms recede and at least for a while I have freedom from this thorn in my flesh.

Hope Is The Springboard

Once again, we see that this "faith and love spring from hope". In Paul's letter to Titus he writes about "a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior." (Titus 1:2)

Peter also talks about the significance of hope, "In his great mercy he had given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade - kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time."
(1 Peter 3b – 5)

We hear the word "hope" used frequently. We "hope" for a good report. We "hope" to be able to reach some goal. We "hope" for the best. Most of the time we seem to use "hope" as wishful thinking. It's a "pie-in-the-sky" optimism. But that is not what this hope is about. The hope that Peter and Paul point to is different. It's a hope based in fact. We are not engaging in mere positive thinking. Our hope is grounded in the promises of a real man, Jesus. We believe He went to the cross willingly and rose from the dead victoriously. We base our hope on God's testimony and revelation over the years.

It is a hope that is undiminished by difficulties. The Bible tells us the truth about life. It doesn't promise things will be easy. In fact, it tells us that this world and everything in it is going to pass away. It tells us that the world in which we live is infected with a cancer that is more deadly than the most devastating cancer we know. It's a cancer called sin. Our hope is not anchored in present circumstances but in a promise for the future. It is this hope of eternity that keeps us going through the rough times of our lives. Our hope is one that changes the way we face the trials and tragedies of life.

It is a hope that alters the way we live. Our hope is for the day when we will stand before the Lord and hear those wonderful words, "Welcome Home." We look for the day when this world will be cast aside. And because our sights are set on heaven our response to the annoyances, obstacles and disappointments of this world is changed.

We must ask ourselves: Is Our Focus Clear? A child of God is called to look beyond this world to the next. It is natural to care for our body. It is appropriate to be concerned for our families. We are right to want to live this life to the fullest. But if our primary concern is with this life we have our priorities confused. Why give so much priority to that which is temporary and give so little attention to our soul, which is eternal? Shouldn't it be the other way around?

And what about in the times of difficulty? Many of you have let me into your lives. I know some of the struggles and the difficulties you wrestle with and you certainly know mine. This life is not easy. Sometimes it's not even all that enjoyable. But here's the question you and I have to ask: in these times, do we dwell on the difficulties or do we dwell on the One who will someday wipe our tears, heal our wounds and put our weary hearts to rest? Do we dwell on the struggle or the sure victory? Do we dwell on the trial or on the promise that God will use the trial? A true hope changes our perspective on everything.

It is certainly possible that some of you may feel at the "end of your rope" as you read this. You may be exhausted, worn out, tired of the battle. Perhaps you can't sleep because you can't stop your mind and your racing heart. You examine all the possibilities. You've considered all the "what ifs?" The uncertainty of the future overwhelms you. To those in this state I urge you to change your focus. Look up. Look into His face. Replay his promises. Know that the future is in His hands. Remind yourself over and over and over again that He is sufficient for whatever comes your way. His promise is sure. This life is only the title page of the life that is to come. Turn your eyes to His sufficiency and grace rather than the obstacles of the Devil. Make hope your anchor and it will hold you steady in even the most tumultuous waters.

So, there you have it. The simple definition of a genuine follower of Christ. It's not who holds a certain theological position or has had a certain experience. It has nothing to do with the amount of water that is used in baptism or even it's timing. It is not about the frequency of the Lord's Supper. It is not a matter of style or worship or version of the Bible you read. The issue is really much more basic than that. A genuine believer is one who trusts God rather than Himself; and shows faith by the way they treat those around them. And they do all this because of the hope that burns in their soul. It is a hope that is anchored in the promises of God. And when faith, hope, and love are at work in a follower's life ----the other things will take care of themselves


 

Important Words to Remember for Those Who Suffer or Love Those Who Suffer

The Lord is like a father to His children, tender and compassionate to those who fear Him. For He understands how weak we are; He knows we are only dust. Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows and we are gone – as though we had never been here. Psalm 103:13-16 NLT

Boy! That is kind of a bleak picture isn’t it? It would seem so, but this is why you need to keep reading when the message seems particularly hard or the answer you are looking for does not seem to offer the help that you want. I read this section of Psalm 103 at night, alone and feeling unwell. As I prayed for an answer to the matters troubling me, God kept sending me here to Psalm 103. As I contemplated the words I was struck by the wonder of God’s love. The first verses talk about how God has forgiven David’s sins and ransomed him from death. David is filled with the same wonder I felt. ”He has not punished us for all our sins nor has He dealt with us as we deserve.” When we finally slow down in our reading, we are embraced and filled with hope and a covenant that God is making with each of us as an individual parent. The question is whether we will do our minor part to win the major blessing for our children and our children’s children.

But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children -- with those who keep his covenant and obey his precepts. The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servents who do his will.Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the Lord, O my soul.
Psalm 103:17-22

God has given a father’s promise that fathers immediately understand. God’s promises don’t very often fit in packaging or a framework that we easily understand until many years of walking in light and dark and in good and ill weather. God speaks in terms of generations, of thousands of years. He sent the Jews into captivity for seventy years, but made it sound like a gift because it was. Jeremiah was forced to prophesy the terrible things that would happen to the Jewish people and end these terrible sayings with words of great plans or designs God had in store for these people. None of the people listening were going to survive the seventy years of starvations, slavery and cannibalism to see those designs begin to come to pass. Many of us have the words of that promise written on a wall or picture in our home, but we conveniently leave out the part that is hard to hear, but absolutely necessary to experience if the rest is to come to pass.

Yes, this is what the Lord Almight, the God of Israel says: "Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do no listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them, " declares the Lord.
This is what the Lord says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious pomise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, " says the Lord, "plans to proser you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jermiah 29:8-11

Imagine the heaviness of Jeremiah’s heart as he had to say the things of trial and suffering that the Jews ust face in the next seventy years, but the wise Jews put their hope on a promise. They put their faith in God’s statement that He had an extremely intricate design that man could not understand, but which carried the promise of generations of hope. God did exactly the same thing through David as the great king humbled himself to worship and praise the God who had preserved him. His salvation extends to the children’s children. There are many better-educated men than I who will tell you that the promise in Psalm 138 applies to a single event involving David. I respectfully disagree and with Jeremiah and David announce that my God is bigger than that. The love of the Lord endures forever!!!

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch our your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me. The Lord will fulfill [his purpose] for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever -- do not abandon the works of your hands. Psalm 138:7- 8

As David praised God, the Holy Spirit spoke through him as He had done before and would again. God understands our suffering. He recognizes we are but gnats whose life spans are less than God’s blink. Praise God like His angels praise Him. Stand before Him like His armies of angels stand before Him. Serve Him and do His will. Obey His commandments, a task made easier now by the presence of the Holy Spirit in those who have given Him their allegiance. Serve Him. Do His Will as servant to warrior King. Your life, your goods, your very soul is His to command. He has promised that if you do that which is required of you, if you have truly given your allegiance to Him as Old Testament obeisance required, then the promise of God’s blessing on your children and your children’s children is absolute. David knew that and that is why he rejoiced. We know it in our hearts and it is supported in the scripture. God is consistent and unchanging though men will continue to try to change His words and His promises in perversions of the truth.

There is no promise of riches or perfect health. I am living proof that terrible illnesses are contracted just by living in this world. My faith is greater now than it has ever been in my lifetime, but I have a potentially terminal illness. My illness is not caused by a failure of my faith. It is caused by living in a sin infected world that is a thriving greenhouse of disease. I praise God for the opportunity to get to know Him better and to better understand doing His will. The world is at fault for many things and everything in the world not produced to praise God is sin according to the scriptures. One thing is certainly true if you suffer and you pray about it with the Lord, you can’t help giving praise to God for all the good He is doing in your life and you can’t stop telling everyone else about all the good stuff God does. It operates on the same principle of all that God has created. If you touch something hot, it burns you. It you stand in the rain, you will get wet. If you pray about hardship or suffering, God will give you much to rejoice about. It may not be what you expect. In fact, it usually isn’t, but your heart will be filled with a gladness and thanksgiving. You will be drawn closer to God and He will put His hand on your children and your children’s children.

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim His greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. Sing to Him, yes, sing His praises. Tell everyone about His miracles. Exult in His Holy Name; O, worshippers of the Lord, rejoice. Search for the Lord and for His strength, and keep on searching. Think of the wonderful works He has done, the miracles and the judgments He has handed down, O children of Abraham, God’s servant, O descendants of Jacob God’s chosen one. He is the Lord our God. Psalm 105:1-7 NLT

Sunday, January 16, 2005

 

A Message For Revisionist Christians

Holocaust Tears

There are those who say it never happened.
They will deny it all their days.
But within another single breath
They claim it would be justified today.
We look in horror at the proof.
The evidence is plain.
Hitler had a master plain
Based upon what is evil and insane.
When you look upon the pictures
And say it couldn’t happen again
Try using words like euthanasia,
Abortion, suicide assistance, human sin
It is all the same you see
No matter what you say.
Pregnancy is not a disease
And I should stay if I want to stay.
The laws are already written
And some have been upheld.
It’s moral if it’s legal
That’s the story they all tell.
But the Germans called it legal
And destroyed those unlike them.
Words and laws are only paper
And can’t change what is human.
Morality should make the law
Not the other way around.
What law will you be quoting
When that last trumpet sounds.

Michael McLarney January 27, 2003


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