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Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

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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The Gift of Grace

The party was just days away,
it would have been her first;
and now to us the gift of grace
helps us through the worst.

This ripping hole so few can know,
yet You who lost a Son;
will help us by the gift of grace
until our days are done.

We’ll long to see our little girl –
there’ll never be a day
that we won’t need the gift of grace
to help along the way.

Enjoy her Lord, as we sure did,
now she is in Your care.
Bestow in her the gift of grace
until we both get there.

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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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Have you ever wondered if there was another reason that God had to forsake Jesus during His final hours?  I’ve wondered lately if He simply couldn’t bear to watch what was happening to His Son.  If it had been my son, I couldn’t have watched.   

 

I wondered at what point God had to ‘forsake’ Him; at what point He could no longer bear to watch.  Was it while Jesus was being beaten?  Was it while He was carrying His cross?  While He fell beneath the weight of it?  Was it when they laid Him out on it?  Did He make it all the way to the nails? 

 

I’ve heard preachers over the years say the reason God had to ‘forsake’ Jesus, was that He could not look on the sin that Jesus had taken on Himself.  Maybe that was part of it, but I also believe God might have had to ‘forsake’ Him for the same reason I would have; He just simply could not bear to watch.

 

Sin effects people in varying degrees; some slip now and then while others are consumed, driven and destroyed by it.  Jesus could have stopped everything after a few lashes of the whip.  That would have been good enough for those who slip up now and then, but He went all the way to the nails.  He made sure He covered those who were destroyed by it.

 

Jesus knows how destructive sin can be – how it can beat on you till you can’t take it any more.  He knows what it’s like to be laid out by it . . . just laying there waiting on the nails to finish you off.  God didn’t bring Jesus back to life after a few lashes of the whip; He brought Him back from the worst.  By going all the way to the nails, He proved that no matter how far down sin has beat you, He can bring you back to life.

 

There was a point when Jesus was hanging on the cross that He said, “Enough! It is finished.”  I think part of what He was saying was that the price has been paid, but I also think He was saying, “I have covered the worst”. 

 

You have to reach the point where you say ‘enough’.  Whether you have just felt the sting of sin’s whip, or it has beat you down, or laid you out.  Maybe you’ve even seen the nails coming to finish you off and you’re just laying there waiting.  At any point you can say, ‘Enough!  It is finished.  That is all I will let sin do to me’.  Say it and He will forgive you.  Mean it and He will bring you back to life.   

 

  

 

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For Aubrey

 

After a year and a half, I am back at the same story that began a stirring in me to pray for someone.  And once again this morning, the same story has stirred me.  I have learned some things since that initial stirring . . . and this morning, the things I have learned have been reinforced. 

 

The story is about a boy who had seizures.  He had had them all his life.  Naturally, the boy’s dad was encouraged when he heard about the healings that were taking place.  He did what any dad would do; he brought his boy out to those who were responsible in hopes of seeing his own son healed.

 

Well, they tried but no healing took place.  Isn’t that the way it often is?  Good things happen to others but not to us.  We hear of stories and would like to have one of our own but we don’t. 

 

Fortunately this dad didn’t give up.  He appealed to One who had more authority.  And again fortunately, this One with the more authority got this man and his son there own story. 

 

This One with more authority was a little perturbed at the others; His exact words to them . . .  “How long shall I put up with you?”   

 

I’m not sure what the others did exactly – or didn’t do exactly – but maybe they do a little like we do today.  In our churches, when people come who need healing, we pray right then and there for God to heal them.  Now I know we’re told to pray for the sick, and even in this story that Mark tells, this One with authority said, “This kind can only come out by prayer”. 

 

But notice that this One with authority didn’t come up like we do and start praying to God; He came up, having already prayed – having already secured this authority by praying – and commanded the evil spirit that was causing the boy to have seizures, to come out.

 

I am a builder.  I know how to build because I have done it.  I don’t hope I can build; I know I can build.  I have faith that I can build.  Spiritually, when we refer to having faith, we can think of it more in terms of hoping.  It would be like me 20 years ago, before I had ever built my first house, hoping that I could build one.  It would be like me saying, ‘If you just hope enough, you’ll be able to do it’.

 

Faith is more a knowing which comes with time as we learn.  This One with authority had learned in His praying time that He had authority.  He didn’t approach it hoping; He approached it knowing.

 

And so this morning, my knowing – my faith – has been moved a little further along.  And with this knowing – this faith – I approached the enemy and commanded.  Afterwards, I asked God to restore.  

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Do All You Can Do

If I could boil all that Peter said in his first letter to just a few sentences, it would be this: First it was written to God’s elect who had been given a new birth – who had been born again – who had been called out of darkness – who had returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of their souls. Peter tells us that like newborn babies we should crave pure spiritual milk that we might grow; and that we should humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God – our faithful Creator – who will lift us and restore us, make us strong, firm and steadfast . . . all in due time.

And then how does he begin his second letter? To those who have received this kind of faith – the conviction that our faithful Creator has indeed called us out of darkness and given us new birth – that he is indeed the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, and that He is indeed able to lift and restore us all in due time . . . if you have that kind of faith it will indeed lead to your becoming strong, firm and steadfast.

Again in this second letter, in the same vein as the first where he says that we have been given a new birth – that we have been born again, he adds the thought that by all He has given us we are able to participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption that is in the world caused by evil desires. Is that not what we have all hoped for? After years of trying to do right and not being able to, and it’s not just a new ability to resist, although there is some of that, but every bit as much, and really first, it is that we can now participate in a new nature and as a result can escape the evil desires?

I like the way Peter says really the same thing in both letters, just in a little different way. He ended his first letter with, humble yourselves before God and He will lift and restore you. He will make you strong, firm and steadfast. In this second letter, he puts it this way; make every effort to add to your faith the things you learn as you humble yourself before God, and as you add these qualities in increasing measure – if you do these things – you will never fail.

His message is the same. As newborn babies, crave the pure spiritual milk so that by it you will grow up. If you do that you are humbling yourself before God. And if you do that you will never fail.

This all says what I’ve concluded lately. It takes us doing all we can do to encourage you (which is what Peter was doing by writing these letters); you doing all you can do to press towards God; and God doing all He can do to lift and restore us. If I don’t do all I can do to help you, I leave you vulnerable to an enemy that is gunning for you. If you don’t do all that you can do to press, you leave yourself vulnerable. And if both of us are doing all that we can do, you can expect that God will do His part.

Now I could stop there and many of you could say that in spite of all you do, you don’t see God doing much. That is your enemy trying to get you to quit. Take those thoughts to God and say, God, I need to see evidence that you are mindful of me. And don’t let up until you see it. We have to see evidence. God knows we need it. If we don’t see it we get discouraged and think our Christianity didn’t take; that God has neglected us. That is exactly what your enemy wants you to think.

If the greatest truth in all the Bible is that God loves us, doesn’t it make sense that the greatest lie is that he doesn’t. Anything that causes us to take our eyes off God, anything that cools our will to seek Him, even discouragement, is a lie that we must learn to press through. As we add these qualities to our faith, we will never fail.

I just mentioned that Peter was doing his part to encourage by writing these letters. There’s actually a few things he says about that in his letters. In this second letter he says this, ‘I think it is right for me to refresh your memory.’ And then specifically, and again the point that it takes us all doing all we can, he puts these things in writing and is what he is referring to when he says, ‘I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.’ And finally he says, ‘I have written both of these letters as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking.’

It is good and necessary to be encouraged or stimulated as Peter just put it. That is what I was thinking when I published my first book. I wanted a written record of what I had learned so that it might help someone even after I am gone. And now I have two other books and trying to figure out how to get them printed so I can leave them with you. It is a record of what has helped me. Maybe it will help you and others. Again, it takes us all doing all we can do.

Finally, in Peter’s 1st letter he tells us to ‘not conform to the evil desires we had when we lived in ignorance.’ And later he says, ‘abstain from sinful desires which war against the soul.’ But in his 2nd letter, he addresses how some of these desires can be stirred and warns us to look out for them.

You have to watch out for false teaching. False teaching is destructive. And it is not just people like us who come in here that you have to watch out for. They/we are the obvious. It can come from anything; the music you listen to; the TV you watch; the material you read.

It is all designed to seduce the unstable. ‘By appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity.’

In Peter’s first letter he ends with the thought that God will do all He can do to restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. Here in his second, after he has done all he could do, he encourages them now to do all they can do. ‘Be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.’

It would do us all well to do all we can do.

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As one who enjoys working on word puzzles – choosing from all the words known to man, and then arranging those words in the simplest and clearest way possible to convey a significant thought – I equally enjoy solving the puzzles that others before me have worked out. After several readings of Peter’s first letter to ‘God’s elect’, I believe the significant thought he was trying to convey was the faithful aspect of our Creator.

As a people belonging to Him, He calls us out of what is like a womb of darkness into His wonderful light. ‘In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope, into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.’ ‘We are like new born babies and like them we need to crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it we might grow up in our salvation.’

We were like sheep going astray, but we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. We who have been called out have spent enough time in the past doing what the world chooses to do – living in lust, drunkenness and all kinds of craziness; and maybe our old friends will think it strange when we do not plunge with them into the same flood of wasteful and improper behavior which is indifferent to moral restraints. Our friends may heap abuse on us now for not joining with them; but know this, one day they will stand before a judge and abuse will be heaped on them.

If you think it’s hard facing a judge today, think of that day. Think of today as a little trial run. If you think your judge today is unfair, imagine how unfair it’s going to seem to your friends when God says, I’m sorry; but you never turned from your wicked ways. I called you but you would not come. I gave you many chances but you would not listen.

But you have listened. You have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. Know that you are shielded by His power, ‘though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith may be proved genuine.’ Once your faith is proved – once you know, in spite of the trials you are in, that your Creator is in deed faithful – you will be able to help others whose faith is still being proved.

‘Don’t be surprised (or discouraged) at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.’ Understand you are ‘participating in the sufferings of Christ. When you suffer, it is according to God’s will. He wants you to learn that He, as your faithful Creator, can sustain you and bring you through whatever you are facing. You should commit yourself to Him and continue to do good.’

Don’t waste your energy thinking the judge did not treat you fairly, or that God has abandoned you, or that He can’t help you. Nothing can happen to you that He does not first allow. Nothing can happen to you that He cannot handle. Consider what he accomplished in creation. Consider the impossible situations He helped His people through. Consider that He raised Jesus from being dead to life.

Now . . . do you think your situation has finally backed Him into a corner? Is God finally stumped; not knowing what to do? Saturate yourselves with the stories in this book and you will learn that He is not. Don’t reduce God to what your puny mind can think. Don’t limit His ability to what you can understand. He is our faithful Creator and we would do well to commit ourselves to Him. Commit yourself to Him and let Him show you what He can do.

Peter ends his letter with these fitting comments, ‘Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith – faith in the fact that God is your faithful creator. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.’

He is in deed our faithful Creator. He is very able to not only forgive us of our sins, but to see us through the messes that our sins have gotten us into. But He doesn’t stop there. After we have suffered a little while, He will restore us.

Do you remember the story of the prodigal son? When he returned, all he asked for was to be forgiven and made a servant. What did his father do? He threw him a feast. God wants to throw you a feast.

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