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Posts Tagged ‘Christian Living’

Matthew 9:36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” This was a major problem in Jesus’ day. Those in authority were heaping more on the people than they could bear. Instead of being compassionate helpers, they were harsh. Their actions were harassing and as a result the people felt helpless.

 Though Deuteronomy 8:1 does say, “Be careful to follow every command that I am giving you today”, the problem was they kept adding. Thinking they were helping and clarifying, they instead were making it so difficult, nobody could measure up.

 Jesus slams them for missing the part of being the merciful shepherd. Focusing entirely on the phrase in Deuteronomy, they overlooked the compassion God showed them over thousands of years when they forgot God’s commands completely. They missed his original intent.

 Our rulers today are doing the same thing to us. By focusing on a phrase or two in the Constitution, they squeeze out meanings that our founders clearly did not intend. They create more and more laws, more and more regulations; the result of which is this same harassing. It is becoming more than we can bear.

 Our government is out of line. They do more to protect a tadpole that will one day turn into a frog than they do to protect a fetus that will one day turn into a baby. The list could go on.

 

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How much is our usefulness to God dependent on our own faith and spiritual sensitivity? How about the God sized breakthroughs? When Jesus went back home and into the familiar synagogue, there was very little faith present. As a result, Jesus did very few miracles there.

To this same group of people he makes the point, “There were many widows, yet Elijah was not sent to any of them; but to a widow in Zarephath” and “Many in Israel had leprosy, yet not one of them was cleansed, only Naaman”.

I believe much is on us to position ourselves as a proven faithful servant. God used this story this morning, as the never ending “follow me”, to draw me to himself. He is a gracious God.

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In the first 3 chapters of Revelation, John, while he writes the series of letters to the churches, is on the island of Patmos. This 4th chapter begins with John being called up to heaven where he will remain throughout the rest of this book.

The first thing John describes is the throne in heaven. The thing that struck me was his description of the four living creatures around the throne. One was like a lion. One was like an ox. One had a face like a man. One was like a flying eagle. Each of the four creatures “never stopped saying: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

I had a thought I had never considered before. By the lion doing what it is created to do, day after day after day, is it not perpetually declaring, “holy, holy, holy”? The eagle, as it does what God created it to do, is it not also declaring . . . and the ox? All three with different design do what they were designed to do.

And then I thought about the one that had a face like a man. Do we do what we were created to do? Do we all work to provide for the betterment of our families? Do we all choose as a mate, a member of the opposite sex that we might produce a family? Do we honor God in and with our lives? It is the only one of the 4 that chooses.

As a side note, I thought of when God created man. If God had intended for man to be with man and woman to be with woman in addition to man being with woman, He would have created 6 people – 3 men and 3 women – but He didn’t.

There is a verse in chapter 5; “with your blood you purchased men for God”. Funny, He didn’t have to purchase the other creatures; they do what they were made to do. But man . . . man had to be “purchased”. And then, “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God.”

I’ve wondered more lately than ever if I am doing what I was created to do. I watched Men of Valor a few nights ago. Trained Men of Valor fought against evil to rescue a woman who had been taken hostage and was being tortured. These trained men who rescued her cussed and drank a little, but I couldn’t help but to wonder if maybe they didn’t cause God to stand up and take notice. I wonder if He didn’t stand up and say, “Now that’s what I’m talkin about”.

In both the 4th and 5th chapters, John refers to “the seven spirits of God”. Could these spirits be like facets of a diamond? Isn’t there a part of God that both loves and hates? Is He not both full of mercy and yet He will eventually judge? Is He not both gracious and jealous? Is He not also a God of vengeance?

We are at a critical point in our nation’s history. A couple of states just voted to accept gay marriage. Our government is leaning toward raising taxes so that it does not have to cut its out of control spending. Both financially and morally we are bankrupt. Business as usual is as much out of line for our government as it is for us. Personally I am searching for a better way “to serve our God” in these trying times. I believe the question we should all be asking is, what will we, who have “with blood” been “purchased for God”, do to serve Him? And will it be enough to bring Him to His feet?

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In this letter to Sardis I saw a difference in what he wrote to Pergamum. The people of Pergamum, for the most part, “remained true”, but there were some among them “who held to the teaching of Balam”. But with the church of Sardis, they, for the most part, “were dead”, and yet had some who were very much alive. One was a batch of good apples with a few bad ones and the other a batch of bad apples with a few good ones.

How is He described and what are the words He has to say to this predominately bad batch of Christians? First, He is described as the One who is “holding” them. He specifically is “holding” the leaders. He who could have written them off and let them go; instead, He “holds” them.

His word to them . . . “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die. Remember what you have received and heard; obey it and repent.” In the same way that we might hold in our hands an apple with some bad spots in it, deciding whether to pitch it or cut the bad spots out and keep it, similarly He, with this church is in effect holding it and choosing to keep it. He is willing to cut the bad spots out; the question is . . . will they let Him? And His final words: “He who has an ear, let him hear.” We who have the spots . . . will we see it?

To the church of Philadelphia, He is described as, “holy and true”. It is a similar description as to the church of Laodicea – the last of the seven churches. To them He is the “faithful and true witness”.

What’s interesting is that the church of Philadelphia is “holy and true” right along with Him, while the church of Laodicea is not the same “faithful and true witness”. To church of Philadelphia, though they had “little strength, yet they had kept his word and had not denied his name”. While others advanced, they on the other hand remained in relative obscurity. To the so called religious who had looked down on them . . . and worse, “I will make them acknowledge that I have loved you”.

To this group of “holy and true” believers – who probably struggled with whether or not He was even mindful of them – He lets them know that their day is coming. He is encouraging them to “hold on” and to “overcome” – to remain “holy and true”.

To the church of Laodicea though, the “faithful and true witness” has a bone to pick with this group who has not been. They are lukewarm; they have no passion. “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich.”

To this church in particular – but I think really to all – He has these life changing words. And for any “who have an ear to hear them” – for any who will “overcome, just as He overcame, he will give the right to sit with him in heaven”.

It is popular today to think that we are covered by grace regardless of how we live. But when you are really familiar with His words to us, there is a bit of a different picture painted. Jude refers to “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality”. That is not a popular message today. “Who do you think you are to tell us how to live?” But these are His words . . . not ours.

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I have to keep reminding myself . . . write what you see. Part of me, when I decided to read through Revelation again, wanted to figure it all out. But the other part reminds me . . . just write what you see.

First of all, when John addresses each of these letters to “the angel of the church”, it makes sense to me that he is referring to the human leader. I don’t see that there would be any reason for him to write to a literal angel.

Too, I see a clear continuity in each letter. For example, in this first letter to the church of Ephesus, “the words of him who walks among them” and “they have forsaken their first love”. To me, I see the clear image of a couple just enjoying walking together – being together. I see the image of the passion that a young couple has for one another.

In spite of the fact that they were doing some things right – working hard and enduring hardships together – they had lost this passion they had at first. His words to them, shows a side of Himself that longs for us to have that. A couple can get so mechanical – so taking care of business – and yet ending up losing the passion they once had. We can get that way with Him.

Contrast that with His words to the church of Smyrna. To them, He was the one “who is the First and Last, who died and came to life again”. This church was facing persecution – persecution “even to the point of death”. His words to them were assuring words. From His words to them, they could have the assurance, if indeed they did face death, that they had a “crown of life” on the other side of it. They could have firmly fixed in their minds that the One who died for and before them, came to life again. They could know that they would do the same.

His words to us are fitting. He knows what we need to hear. To the church at Pergamum, who had among them those “who held to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality”, to them He was “the sharp, double edged sword”. His word to them . . . “Repent”.

Similarly with Thyatira, they “tolerated that woman Jezebel”. “By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality”. His word to them was the same, “Repent”. And how is He described for them? Very similar to the way He was for the church of Pergamum. He was “the Son of God, whose eyes were like blazing fire”. Isn’t this the perfect image for a group of believers, many of whom had been enticed and misled. No matter how distant from Him we get, He is still able to pierce into our distracted hearts and minds and whisper steadily the words we desperately need to hear; “Repent . . . before it is too late”.

This call to repentance is in spite of the good. To Pergamum He acknowledged that “they remained true to his name”. And, when someone close to them had been killed for not renouncing their faith, “they did not renounce theirs”. They took their Christianity seriously. Nevertheless . . . He had these things against them and they needed to hear it. Similarly with Thyatira, “I know your deeds, that you are now doing more than you did at first”. Nevertheless . . .

I believe it is time we take a fresh look at the words He has for us today. It is time that we take inventory and realize that “He has a few things against us”. “We’re not as good as we once were.” But if we will hear His words, I believe “we can be as good again as we ever were.”

“He who has an ear, let him hear” the words He has for us today.

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I have put off reading John’s account of the Revelation, because quite frankly, there is just so much that I have never been able to understand. He is writing to show us “what must soon take place”, and with all that is taking place today, I thought it would be good to give it another try. I had hoped this time, I would understand more.

Well, after reading through it twice and now beginning my third time, I have concluded that there is still a lot that I may never understand, and I’ve had to adjust my thinking. Jesus told John to “write what he saw”, so I have decided to do the same – to not worry about what I don’t see – to write about what I do see.

Though John is writing this to the ‘seven churches’, we can read it today as it is to us. I like one of his introductory comments; “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins”. In times past, I would have interpreted the word “freed” as forgiven. It is one thing to believe that we have and will be forgiven for conduct that stems from our sin nature – quite another to understand that he has freed us from the power of that nature.

That is not to say that there will never be a slip now and then . . . but slipping now and then is a far cry from being bound. When Jesus cursed the fig tree . . . was that not a bit of a slip? He was hungry. The tree had no fruit. It wasn’t supposed to have fruit because it wasn’t the time of year for it to have fruit. Nevertheless He got agitated and cursed it.

When you’ve been bound by evil desires as long as I was bound by them, it is not a stretch for me to see that Jesus could have a flicker of anger without losing His sinless status. But that is just me. You may disagree; and that is fine. But like I said earlier, I will write what I see.

I had one other thought from this first chapter. John referred to himself as a “companion” to those to whom he was writing. He was a “companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus”. He was stuck on the island of Patmos. No tropical drinks by the beach there; it was a desolate, rocky place. And yet somehow, while he was suffering in this hard place, we find him “in the spirit”.

As I write this, Israel is in the beginning stages of what could escalate into an all out war. In our own nation, we are wrestling out our differences. Hard places are plentiful these days. It is more important than ever that we make sure that we are “in the spirit” as John was.

In this kingdom that is ours, we shouldn’t have the misconception that we are promised protection from suffering. We are promised the gift of patient endurance in our suffering. There is no promise of protection from the hard places in life; just the promise of peace in them. Lord give us peace in these hard places.

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I will start with a thought I had yesterday:

While Jesus was hanging on the cross, onlookers watched. “He saved others, but can He save Himself.” Our nation is hanging on a cross today. Onlookers are watching. “They saved others, but can they save themselves.”

My prayer this morning is that the right group of people will come out in droves to vote to signify the first shot fired at a government that is out of control. That we would send Romney to Washington with the clear sense that ‘We the People’ have had enough. That it would be the first shout of our voices that will not be able to be ignored. And then . . . that we would keep shouting so that we might save our great nation while there is still a chance.

(This is a portion of my most recent article which I have posted on my new blog site.)

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I don’t know how it is in your house, but in ours there is one that tries a little harder than the other to patch up offenses. A blogging friend of mine just posted a story about one such attempt that involved a dozen roses presented on bended knee. It’s the perfect example of the extent to which the offender will often go – bending over backwards – to make things right with the offended.

My wife and I just got back from an anniversary trip. She has wanted, for quite some time, to browse through a certain store. Knowing the store was in the city we were going to be in, we decided to take part of a day to walk through and see what all they had. The store is huge; in fact it was a bit overwhelming.

Now you might think you know where this is going – the husband gets aggravated for being drug through a store that big while on vacation and then has to patch things up with his wife for ruining something she had looked forward to for so long. Guess again.

For once, knowing how much she had looked forward to it, I was good with it all. I put mental energy into making sure I was good with it all. But then the unexpected happened; because of the size, my wife got a little too tired before we finished making it all the way through. This time, I was the offended and she the offender.

Pretty soon after we got in the car, she apologized for becoming irritable. That should have been enough . . . but I wanted a dozen roses presented on bended knee. I kept waiting for more apology – more acknowledgement that I had done well to make her day enjoyable – more apology for not enjoying it as much as she thought she would. The longer it went, the quieter things got.

I thought I was doing good to bring it up later that evening. I didn’t want the ‘sun to go down on our wrath’. Add to the mix that the next day was actually our anniversary; I wanted us to get back on track.

I’ve decided to leave out the details of what happened next. I’ll let you fill in with what you think happened. But the next morning I got up and decided to read 1 Corinthians 13 to see what I might learn about love. I ended up reading 4-8a over and over and over. There was a phrase that kept standing out; ‘love keeps no record of wrong’.

Leave it to God to show you something you’ve never thought of. I had the frame of mind that thought it was the obligation of the offender to patch things up with the offended; and there is definitely a place for that in the patching process. But . . . ‘keeping no record of wrong’ – that changes things.

What if I had kept no record of my wife’s wrong? What if I had overlooked it? What if, instead of me wanting to see her bend over backwards to patch things, I bent over backwards to make sure there was nothing to patch? From a history of normally being the offender, I know there is a part in the effort to patch that is trying to relieve ourselves of guilt. What if, instead of wanting to see the offender bend over backwards to relieve themselves of guilt, we bend over backwards to relieve them of it?

It turns out, looking back, that is exactly what I should have done. She got tired and I took it personally. Had I loved like I should have, there would’ve been no wrong to keep record of.

And totally separate from this personal story, is the parallel of us with God. Don’t we, in an attempt to relieve ourselves of guilt, bend over backwards to patch things with Him. Don’t we do and do and do in an attempt to patch our wrong. Would He tell us to do something that He is not willing Himself to do? I have a new appreciation for the thought now, that we are the record keepers, not Him.

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One of Webster’s definitions of the word ‘welfare’ is the ‘organized efforts to improve the living conditions of needy persons’. 2000 years ago there was one such effort. Matthew, in the 11th chapter and 36th verse of his gospel, records this about Jesus: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”.

Jesus didn’t just have compassion on them; He did something to make their living conditions better. When a person finds themselves in a helpless state, assistance can give them hope that they will see better days. And so this is what He did; He offered assistance.

In the movie, ‘Cinderella Man’, much of which takes place during the depression, we see, maybe for the first time, government assistance. People who lived through that period of our nation’s history, were definitely a needy people. They were used to working, but work ran out. And when work ran out, food ran out. Heat ran out. The organized efforts of our government to improve the living conditions of our people, was much needed.

But what began as a much needed effort to temporarily assist a needy people, has now grown to an ever expanding group of people who believe it is our governments duty to provide assistance perpetually. What began as the organized temporary assistance to help a needy people through to better days, and to a people who gratefully, yet with reluctance accepted it, has now spread to a much larger group who insists they are entitled.

Have we as Christians, to some extent, done the same thing? Have we who were provided the much needed assistance of forgiveness – given to help us through to better days – settled instead for the assistance?

Are we as stuck in a Christian welfare state as many today are with our government? Some undoubtedly are. It is really no different today than it was in the days when the disciples and apostles were preaching and writing to the believers of their day. The writer of the letter which we know today as ‘Hebrews’, was making this same point when he said the following:

“Therefore, let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death.” The writers point is that we should not become dependent on the assistance of forgiveness. Instead we are expected in time to move on to maturity, able to ‘distinguish’ and choose ‘between good and evil’.

It was never intended for us to be stuck there. It was intended that after this initial assistance that we should go on to maturity. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he gives a clue as to how this is to happen. The same power that God used to raise Jesus from His physical death, he said God will use to ‘transform our lowly bodies’.

I especially like the way Peter puts it in his second letter. ‘He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption that is in the world caused by evil desires.’

Like with people today who receive government assistance, some really need it. But some just choose it. Some have the ability to work their way into better days but instead they choose the easier path of assistance. Likewise with some Christians, some really need the assistance of forgiveness. But some who have received it continue to choose its easier path. They have not taken advantage of what the assistance was intended to do for them.

It is at least a little like the nation of Israel when God brought them out of Egypt. He gave them assistance to help them on to better days. It would require that they believe and follow as He led into battle. Instead they doubted and followed as He led them through 40 years of wandering.

He didn’t lead them into something they could do themselves; He led them into something they couldn’t do without Him. Similarly today, He did not offer us something that we could do for ourselves; He offered us something that we could not do – that we could not have – without Him and His help

There’s some fighting that has to be done. After 40 years of wandering, Israel was ready to do some fighting. They had had enough wandering. I was a lot smarter than they were; I only wandered for 30 years. For any today who have had enough – who are ready to do a little spiritual fighting – there are some improved living conditions to be gained.

It is not easy breaking out of a pattern that has developed over years; what takes years to do, takes a little while to undo. His forgiveness doesn’t wipe away all that our bad choices have caused, it is an invitation to follow Him out of all they have caused. There may be a fair amount to undo, but if we engage in the following He will lead us to the better living He intended for us to have. No matter how bad the pattern or how deep the hole, He knows how to lead us out. He wants to lead us out.

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A friend of ours owns a nursing home. Her main job is finding workers to fill the schedule that is necessary to meet the needs of the facility. To begin with, there is an overall shortage of qualified workers. So from the beginning, her work is cut out for her. From a limited number of workers, she must fill the shifts.

It would be one thing if the arranged schedule could be reliable; but it really isn’t even expected to be. For an endless number of reasons workers will call in to say they can’t make it. With an already short list of available workers, you can imagine the logistical strain this creates.

You would think that with the economy being the way it is that there would be more workers than necessary for the available work. But for some reason, it is just the opposite. There is much work but few who want to do it.

Sometime in the night last night – during one of my awake times – I made the connection. Isn’t that exactly the strain that Jesus must be under? There is much work and many are actually on an arranged schedule. But for an endless number of reasons, many who are scheduled call in to say they can’t make it.

In relation to these thoughts, I thought of a verse that many are familiar with. “The harvest is indeed plentiful but the workers are few”. There was a time when I questioned that. “Everybody has heard”, I thought. “There is no need of me telling them again”. So that became my excuse for not working – the reason I gave for not being able to make it.

But the truth is there is a need of telling them again. We all will get distracted from what we know to be true if we are not reminded of what is true. A patient in a nursing home doesn’t receive care once; they receive it on a regular basis. They must receive it on a regular basis. And so it is with people and their believing. They must be reminded on a regular basis of what they are supposed to be believing; otherwise they will get sidetracked in their believing.

I like the other part of that verse; “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest”. I think it is good for us to ask God to show us what we can do. Not just once or twice, but to ask until He shows us. We’re already on the schedule. He wants to show us where we fit in. But at the same time He wants us to be dependable.

I know the owner is thankful for a few who are very dependable. They have settled the issue. They know there is work that needs to be done. They understand their role. And I think that is part of it. We need to understand our role. We need to know the work He has called us to. And then we simply need to become faithful in doing it.

So ask and don’t quit asking. If you ask and don’t quit asking, you prove your determination to work; and why, when ‘the harvest is indeed plentiful’, would He not be all over you to show you where He has you scheduled.

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