Monday, September 30, 2013

Going to Hell 9/3/2013

"Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it." Isa 5:14 (KJV)

On the tiny western Caribbean island of Grand Cayman exists Hell. To be sure it is a real place. More specifically it is a town named Hell. Interestingly enough, it is quite an attraction for cruise ship passengers and other tourists. In fact, it is a mandatory stop on most tours about which the guides enthusiastically remark, "Today I'm going to take you to Hell and back."

When you visit there, you find that there is a post office, a gift shop and a rock formation that gives the place its name. There is also a "Satan" who runs the store which sells all manner of t-shirts, hats and other tourist baubles.  He runs around in horns, a tail and a tuxedo jacket and happily interacts with all of the visitors.  Of course there are numerous sayings and jokes that turn on the word hell such as, "What in Hell do you want?" or "I guess its time to get the hell out of here." You can even send friends and family post cards from Hell and receive a passport stamp saying that you have been there. No thanks.

Beloved, I guess the place is all in good fun, but I could not bring myself to join in because I know something of the real hell. This area is named such because of some pretty creepy rock formations that definitely put one in mind of the place, but the formation is easily explained, not threatening to anyone, not hot, and you can come and go as you please. The bible is replete with warnings about hell and advisements to do all that can be done to avoid it. Sheol, Tataurus and Gehenna are some of the biblical words used to variously describe it but you might more readily recognize it as "the lake of fire," "the pit," "the second death," "outer darkness," and a place of "weeping and gnashing of teeth." Trust that it is the last place you ever want to be and nothing about which to trifle.

The one thing Hell in Grand Cayman has in common with the real hell is that there is an acknowledgement of the saving power of Jesus . I'm sure that everyone who will ultimately find their eternal home there will have no doubt, albeit too late. To quote Joshua, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord," Joshua 24:15.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Living Your Giving 9/27/2013

“A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent.   Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury;  for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.’”   Mark 12:42-44
While many expositors of the Word have used this passage to prompt their congregations to give and that generously, the thought I would like to share this morning has not as much to do with financial contributions as giving our all to and for the one who gave his all for us.
When you consider the poor widow, what do you think?   The fact that she is a widow tells us that she is in a perpetual state of loss.  She is described as basically being down to her last cent.  This tells us that she either had no children or the children she had were not willing to support her.  Perhaps she had a way of making money or survived on the kindness of others, nevertheless, it was everything she had.  Lastly, she was willing to give it to the Lord.  We know that she appeared at the temple to pay her temple taxes as was the custom for the Israelites, but to her, it seems the ultimate demonstration of faith, obedience and love.
Beloved, when we think of our Lord, what is his worth to you?  It is well known that he, as an absolute expression of love, left heaven and gave his life for us, but what are we willing to give to express our love for him?  To be sure, we are unable to earn the great gift that he gave, but we are by no means prevented from demonstrating love and faith toward him and expressing ourselves by giving ourselves.  You see we were bought by his blood, but must still voluntarily give ourselves to him.  This can certainly be expressed in our financial contributions, but is exponentially better shown in our manner of living.  Our attitude and actions should be consistent with this:
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Rom 12:1-2
What is the biblical meaning of sacrifice but the giving of life?  It is what he did for us.  Let us be willing to give our living for him.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Beeseeching God 9/25/2013

"Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?" 1 Kings 3:8-9

After the death of his father, King David, Solomon was enthroned as king in his place. It is said of Solomon that he loved the Lord and walked according to his statues and commandment just as his father before him had done. As a result, God appeared to him in a dream and instructed him to ask for whatever he wanted. As king, there were many things that it would be expected that someone in his position would request. Among these were riches, wives, the disposition of enemies, the enlargement of territory and more. Instead, Solomon famously asked for understanding.

Beloved, when you pray, what do you ask of God? So many of us treat God as some sort of genie in a bottle. We feel that if we pray earnestly enough, our wishes would come true. How many people do you suppose pray that God would grant them the Powerball Lottery winning ticket?. How many pray for the outcome of sporting events? With what other relative frivolities do we approach God? Solomon prayed for the ability to do the will of God. Should that not be our guide? Of course God lends his ear to the lamentations of heart and has instructed us to bring our supplications to Him with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6), however, note how He responded to Solomon’s prayer:
  • Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you. I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days. If you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days. 1 Kings 3:11-14.
Let us carefully consider our God, our prayer life and our supplications.



Monday, September 23, 2013

Confidence in the Face of Challenges 2/23/2013

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

It was after the passing of Moses that leadership of the people of Israel was charged to Joshua. Imagine how daunting a task it was to cross over into a land promised to them over 400 years before. The land was filled with people who were pretty attached to it and the Hebrews had been directed by God to remove them. Speaking of the Hebrews, Joshua also had the responsibility of leading them knowing that they had proved themselves to be unfaithful stiff-necked grumblers who, at times, seemed as though they would do anything but what God commanded.

Nevertheless, God both encouraged Joshua and promised to be with him when he said, “Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go," Josh 1:7-8

Beloved, the same God that was with Joshua is with each of us today. We all face daunting tasks, trials, tribulations, discomforts and challenges. These things are as certain, as it has ben said, as death and taxes. Knowing that God is with us should give us all of the encouragement we need to persevere on our journey to the land He has promised us. Let us be sure to adhere to His word, not turning to the left or right from it, and look forward to success.



Friday, September 20, 2013

Something Greater is on the Way 9/20/2013

"And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body." Romans 8:23

I do not know about you but I am the type of person that always tries to have something to which to look forward. I remember how excited I would get as a kid when Christmas was around the corner or the time for the cross-country family vacation to Disney was near. I am sure I drove my parents to distraction talking about it. Interestingly enough, whenever something tough would happen, I would always think to myself that it did not matter because something big and good was coming. I am not the least bit ashamed to say that I still plan big things and still use the thought of them to get me through the tough times. Though trips and holidays are still a part of that thinking, over the years I have discovered something much greater.

Beloved, though we as Christians may not regularly think of it this way, there are unimaginably great things in store for us in the Lord. It is of first importance to know that through the agency of Jesus, we have been made members of the family of God. Evidence of this is that we have been given the Spirit as earnest in anticipation of receiving the full reward promised by God (Ephesians 1:13-14). As members of the family, we, through the grace of God, become entitled to big things including the ultimate excursion of all time! We need to know that our accommodations are even now being prepared and that at the proper time, we will be collected by our Savior (John 14:2-4). We can take heart that free transportation has already been arranged (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Lastly, what awaits can scarcely be described but we have surely been told about some of what we can expect (Revelation 21:1-7; 10-27; 22:1-5).

My encouragement to you today and all days is to keep an eye toward heaven and always keep your hand firmly clasped to His. Though the trials and tribulations of life come and go, let us all take heart that whatever circumstances in which we may find ourselves today do not represent the end. Something greater is on the way.



Thursday, September 19, 2013

Compassionate Word Choices 9/19/2013

"Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear." Ephesians 4:29

There are times in all of our lives that we need someone with whom to talk. Whether we are in the depth of sorrows or the height of celebration, we have a basic human need to interact with others. The question we must ask ourselves concerns whether we do the right thing when we receive the call.

The book of Job, among other things, is a great study about dos and don'ts when coming to the aid of another. Upon hearing of his great tragedies, Job's three friends came to his side. It is recorded that, "Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great" Job 2:13. This was a very large "do" at the time. It was exactly what Job needed. Many times people who are suffering just need to know that someone cares, but they also need time to mentally and emotionally process the things that are happening to them. A lot of talk can be distracting and do more harm than good.

Of course the other side of the story (and an Olympic level "don't" in Job's situation) is that when his friends did begin to speak, they said the wrong thing. In fact, they actually got in trouble with God: "It came about after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, 'My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has,'" Job 42:7.

Beloved, caring for one another in a time of need can be a delicate and challenging thing. We do not always know what to do or what to say. It would be easy to proceed as we think we might like for someone to do if we were in that situation, but one never knows what is needed until those conditions actually arise. Even then, everyone is different. The bottom line is that we must use care with the things we say. If someone finds themselves in trouble, the last thing they need is an indictment. There will be a time for loving and gentle admonishment, but in an acute situation, love, comfort, companionship, reassurance and tender words are needed. Better said, "Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person," Colossians 4:6.



Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Keep Your Feet (Don't Stumble) 9/17/2013

"But Peter said to Him, 'Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.' Jesus said to him, 'Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.'” Matthew 26:33-34

Imagine what it must have been like for Jesus to be experiencing his last night before being hung on a cruel cross and dying. Spending time with his inner circle, he had just partaken of what we know as the Last Supper and informed them that one of them would betray him. Subsequent to this, however, he told them that they would all fall away (or stumble). He quoted Zachariah 13:7 which states, "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered." We all know that it was Judas that betrayed the Lord but what of those who stumbled? What does it even mean to stumble? And why was Peter pointed out in particular?

The simple truth is that most of us avoid trouble at all costs. Jesus was considered to be and treated as a criminal and the apostles were his closest associates. On that same night, while in the company of some of them, he was arrested, beaten and taken to trial. That is most certainly trouble. As it was predicted, the apostles, with the exception of John, all scattered. Peter in particular followed Jesus to the trials at some distance but did in fact deny him three times when people recognized that he had been one who walked with Jesus. It is also known that the apostles did not busy themselves carrying out the training and mission they had received but instead hid, returning to their prior vocation as fishermen. This is stumbling.

Beloved, we must ask ourselves if we ever stumble in our faith and purpose. Though Jesus is no longer physically being dragged through the streets and falsely accused, his cause is still under indictment by some. When atheists attempt to legislate the Lord out of our lives, do we make our voices heard? When we are attacked for our stance on God ordained relationships do we hide and cower? When Satan tempts us personally do we give in or tell him to go away? The potential to stumble most surely continues to exist among the followers of the Lord. Even the most ardent, such as Peter, can find themselves out of position. We therefore must guard against the impulse to flee the one who left heaven to seek and save us. Let us not stumble but let us keep our feet.



Monday, September 16, 2013

Would You Be Great? 9/16/2013

"The Lord said to Gideon, 'The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’" Judges 7:2.

These days we are our own biggest fans. Everything we have, we earned and therefore deserve. Many times we are even squeamish about accepting help from others when it is probably in our best interest to accept it. We are dyed in the wool "pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps" people. The interesting thing about this thinking is that it leaves no room for the recognition of God's grace in our lives.

Due to an amazing pattern of rebelliousness and idolatry, the people of Gideon's time were in need of someone to deliver them from their enemies. Rather than the biggest most powerful and ferocious person around, God chose Gideon, who, by his own admission was the least in his family, who were the weakest in the clan, which was of the smallest tribe (Judges 6:15). God was not looking for someone formidable, but was looking to express His own power through the meekness of an individual.

Beloved, far too often we fail to give God the glory. We are much too interested in our own fame, fortune and abilities. We are preoccupied with being well thought of, praised and deferred to by others. Interestingly enough, Jesus, in response to two of his apostles desiring to have preeminence over the others said, "...whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;" Matthew 20:26-27. Otherwise put, serving others in all humility rather than self is the path to greatness in the Lord.

When we give God the glory and allow Him to use us, His greatness will be seen through the greatness He has brought about in and through us.



Friday, September 13, 2013

Atonement 9/13/2013

“When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness." Leviticus 16:20-22

Tomorrow (9/14/13) is the Jewish high holy day of Yom Kippur. In short, it is the occassion on which the Old Testament Day of Atonement is celebrated by Jews all over the world. It comes from the one day a year in which the Hebrew high priest performed a sacrifice for the atonement of the sins of the people committed that year. It was also the one time per year that the high priest could go behind the veil in the tabernacle (or temple) and come into the presence of God in a place called the holiest of holies for the purpose of making the sacrifice. At the conclusion of the event, all were considered clean (Leviticus 16:30).

Though this was a great and glorious demonstration of the love of God toward His people, there was one problem: the sacrifices did not take away sins. It is recorded in Hebrews 10:1-4, "For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins."

The good news, beloved, is that there IS a sacrifice that was made for the forgiveness of sin, the cleansing of conciences, the bestowing of righteousness and the provision of salvation. Further, it was and is made available not just to the Jews but to all who will accept it. It was Jesus who said to God, "'Here I am, I have come to do your will.' [In so doing] He sets aside the first [covenant] to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all," Hebrews 10:9-10 (NIV). There is no longer any need for an earthly high priest to intercede on our behalf. There is no longer any need to sacrifice bulls and goats. There is no longer any need for these things to be done year after year. To the praise of the Almighty, they have been done once and for all.

As you hear about Yom Kippur this weekend, just remember that necessary atonement has been accomplished in Jesus and it is worth celebrating daily.



Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Keeping the Fire Burning 9/11/2013 (rp)

"Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord." Romans 12:11 (NIV)

It is a natural thing for the fire in some relationships to cool. This is not to say that the relationship is destroyed or becomes any less important but that the intensity and enthusiasm can either wane or become transformed to something more comfortable. Think about romantic relationships. In the beginning, we are given to writing poetry, dedicating songs, remaining on the phone (or text) all hours of the day and night and that person is almost all that is on our minds. We present ourselves in the best possible light by carefully and purposefully choosing our attire, hair style, make-up (in the case of the ladies) and scent. Emotions run high and feelings soar.

Let us fast forward 5 years, 7 years, 10 years, then 20. How much poetry has been written lately? How purposeful are we in our dress now? It is not to say that the love is no longer there but the urgency once known seems to have faded over time.

Beloved, our zeal for the Lord should never suffer this fate. As much good as he had to say about the church at Ephesus, the Lord said to them, "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first." Revelation 3:4-5a. We must remember that the Lord's fervent love for us never fades and never diminishes. Despite our many shortcomings, the Spirit has said that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord, Romans 8:39. For this reason, for the very love of him, we must constantly feed and re-stoke the fire of love and adoration that burned within us when we first met him and when we gave ourselves to him. Never let it be said that we have forsaken our first love.



Friday, September 6, 2013

Nothing But the Best 9/6/2013 (rp)

"It was necessary therefore that the copies of things in the heavens should be cleansed with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ entered not into a holy place made with hands, like in pattern to the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us." Heb 9:23,24

The Hebrew writer penned his letter primarily to make the case for the supremacy of Christ over all who had come before. There were people who were leaving the Christian faith to return to what they felt they knew best. They had begun to fall back to their traditions and religious habits that had since been superseded in innumerable ways and measure.

In short, everything that was being done was mere practice for heaven. The temple worship of old and all of its tenants and implements were symbolic of things in heaven (Rev 4). Even they, however, required the sacrifice of bulls and goats to make them clean. In order for you and I to gain the actual heaven, far more was needed. In fact, it required the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus to make it possible.

Beloved, many times in life, we get by with the next best thing. Rather than insisting on purity, the genuine article or the name brand, we compromise for one reason or the other. Know that God is the master of quality. Our reconciliation to Him required no less than the perfect sacrifice. Knowing and requiring this, He sent the only one of his kind. He sent nothing but the best. Dare we give Him any less than our best?



Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Alignment 9/4/2013

"If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;" 1 John 1:6

Let's face it. Not everyone who claims to be a Christian behaves like one should. If the estimated 247 million Christians in the US alone truly reflected the teachings of Jesus in word, thought and deed, Christianity would not be experiencing the decline that has been documented. Our children would not be leaving the church as they enter adulthood at the levels they are. And our country would not be in the state of moral degradation that it clearly is. But this is not about what others are or are not doing. This is about self examination.

Beloved, the questions about why things are as they are must begin with a long look in the mirror of Scripture. We as individuals must make an honest determination about how much the word and will of God exists in our lives. It is the easiest thing in the world to do to cast stones at others or point out the "motes of dust" in their eyes, but are we as quick to recognize deficiencies in our own lives? The Scripture says, "For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does," James 1:23-25.

It is beyond both our ability and our commission to "fix" the whole world. That is strictly within the purview of God. We can, however, do all within our ability to be in alignment with His will as reveled in His word in our own lives. It would be amazing how "fixed" the world would become if everyone focused on ensuring the orderliness of their own houses.



Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Shine On 9/3/2013

"And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:18

When you think about bondage in the spiritual realm, there are several different aspects to consider. First, before making a decision for Christ, we were all bound in and by sin. We were in utter darkness with no access to the benefits of light. For the Jews specifically, there was bondage under the Law. Though the Law was a great and holy thing, it meant death insofar as none could successfully keep all of it (Romans 7:9-10). Lastly, Gentiles were not a party to the covenant between God and Israel and were therefore without God, without hope(Ephesians 2:12)and clothed in darkness.

The good news today beloved, is that Jesus has made a way out of darkness and provides freedom. We have the ability to look upon his words and his life and see the light that exists there for all mankind. Not only are we able to observe it but we are transformed by it. Moses face famously shone as a result of his being in the presence of God, causing him to have to wear a veil (Exodus 34:32-35). Eventually the glory began to fade from him and the veil was kept to keep the people from seeing the glory leaving. But the veil of darkness has now been removed from our lives and the glory from the Lord is increasing every day. The glory manifests itself in our spirits, our hearts and our words, thoughts and deeds. It will continue to increase until such time as we reflect the light of the Lord in everything we are.

Let us do all we can to avail ourselves of what is available to us in and through the Lord. In so doing, let us let our light shine.