Archive for July, 2008

Subway follow-up

Monday, July 14th, 2008

A few weeks ago there was a story in the news about how the Subway restaurant chain was specifically excluding homeschoolers from its latest contest.  Now there’s a follow-up on that issue:

Subway makes good on its apology to homeschoolers

“Here am I, send me”

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

I mentioned “martyrs for Christ” in yesterday’s entry, and it got me thinking about the special place in God’s heart for those who give their life by dying for their faith.  We see the souls of these martyrs and the special place they have in Heaven in the book of Revelation.

I believe that God also has a special place for those who give their lives as a living sacrifice, those who do not die for Him but who live for Him.  I don’t mean those who just call themselves “Christians” and go to church on Sunday.  I mean those whose sole purpose in life is to serve God.

Even at the height of the missions movement of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Hudson Taylor lamented that he had secured financial backing for dozens more missionsaries.  The difficulty, he said, was finding people who were willing to go.

It’s even harder today to find people willing to “go” (to the foreign mission field, to the streets of America, to a bus route, to their neighbors).  We are surrounded by such material abundance and comfort that we are somehow comfortable giving God part of us — as long as it doesn’t mean going.

Our jobs, our friends, our retirement, our financial security, and our social positions are “sacred cows” in 21st century America.  We are willing to serve God up to a certain point, but once one or more of these “sacred cows” are are put on the table, we pull back.

God is still asking today, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8).  Isaiah’s response was an unqualified, “Here am I; send me!”  And God did.

God is looking for Christians who will serve him with their life — their whole life.  Maybe you won’t be asked to die for Him.  Maybe you won’t be asked to lose your job for Him.  But are you willing?

Right this moment, God is looking the earth over, asking “Who will go for me?”  He’s looking from church to church, from Christian to Christian, to see if there might be someone who is willing to surrender everything to Him.  Will you be the next one to stand up and say, “Here am I! Send me!”?

Gay man sues Bible Publishers

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

We all knew this was coming, so it’s not a surprise.  Here’s a link to the article:

‘Gay’ man sues Bible publishers

The interesting twist here, which I did not expect, is how the Bible versions issue ties in with it.

This guy is representing himself at court in these cases, so his law suit is unlikely to go anywhere, but there will be more like him (but better prepared) in the future. 

But, “… see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass….”  (Matthew 24:6)

Yes, they have removed the Ten Commandments and nativity scenes from public property.  Yes, there are now perpetual lawsuits over the “One Nation Under God” in the Pledge of Allegience.  Yes, the U.S. Treasury has sneakily removed “In God We Trust” from the face of the new dollar coins.

But, there is much worse to come.  One day soon, they will be killing us and thinking they are doing God a favor by doing so.

We should oppose every intrusion of government into religion.  We should mobilize our friends and our churches against the anti-Christ spirit in our courts, legislatures, and the executive branch.  However, let’s not get overly worked-up over it.  “All these things must come to pass.”

If you want to get worked up over something, if you want to lose sleep over something, let it be the winning of more souls for Christ.

The time is so short.  Of course the world is going to hate us.  Of course evil people will attempt to take away our rights.  Soon, they’ll be taking away our money and our property, imprisoning us, and killing us.

That doesn’t matter right now.  We know how the book ends.  We know that there are many more martyrs for Christ yet to be made (maybe you or I).  We can’t change that.

What does matter right now, and what we can make a difference with, is the winning of souls. 

We can’t change the course on which humanity has set itself.  We cannot change end-times events foretold in prophecy 2,000 years ago and testified of in the very newspaper and TV-news headlines we see every day.  But, we can win one more soul.  We can point one more person to Heaven.  We can help one more person understand that their sin can be forgiven and that they can have peace with God.

We need to understand the difference between what we can change, and what we cannot change.  Where will our effort be useless, and where will it be useful?  What is worth losing sleep over, and what is not?

Time is short.  Let’s go out and win one more.

Works vs. Fruit

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

Following up on yesterday’s entry about living an authentic Spirit-filled life, and how others are naturally affected by our being consumed by the Spirit, today I’m talking about those famous verses in Galatians chapter six.

First, we have the works of the flesh:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21

 Note that these are works.  These are things we choose to do when we walk after the flesh.  They are the things the flesh wants to do, but we don’t have to do them.  We choose to do them because they feel good to us at the time, and by so choosing we condemn ourselves to hell.

Every person who goes to hell goes there by their own choice.  They have chosen to do the works of the flesh.  We can’t complain to God that He is “sending” people to hell.  People choose that path all by themselves.  God, in His infinite mercy, provides a way to stay out of hell.

Notice also in Galatians five that we see some fruit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 

Galatians 5:22-23 

 Fruit is a natural outgrowth of something, because of its nature.  Apples are a natural outgrowth of apple trees.  Apple trees produce apples, because that is simply their nature.

 The fruit spoken of here is not our fruit.  Remember, “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”  Our nature is to produce rotten fruit.  But the nature of the Spirit, and thus the nature of the Spirit-filled-life, is to produce good fruit.

We don’t have to work at the fruit.  He does all the work.  If we provide Him with a vessel, He will fill it and the natural outflow of that filled life will be these fruit of the Spirit mentioned here.

I have heard some preachers preach that we should strive to emulate the fruit of the Spirit.  They say we should try to have love and peace, then we should work hard to be patient, etc.  I think that this is not completely accurate.  If we have to work at it, if we have to do it ourselves, then it’s not the fruit of the Spirit but just another lousy human work.  More filthy rags.

If we are indeed Spirit-filled, then these things will naturally flow from our life.  They are His works, not ours.

If we are not seeing these fruit in our life, then our respone should not be to fake them (plastic fruit looks nice but it tastes terrible), but to surrender more to Him so that more of Him will shine through us.

Our Christian life boils down to this: we make the choices, while He does the work.  We can choose Him, a choice which leads to surrender and self-denial, and then He will fill us with His Spirit and His fruit will be born in our life.  Or, we can choose self, which leads to the self-gratifying works of the flesh.

 

Spreading flames

Monday, July 7th, 2008

 Everywhere around us we see symbols, types, and illustrations of spiritual truths. It seems that the greatest truths are reflected in myriad ways in nature itself.

My wife sometimes tells me that I think too much. But, when I see something that abstracts a complex concept or illustrates a profound spiritual truth, I just can’t help but marvel over it and point it out.

On Saturday we drove up to the church to pick up some Sunday School materials. Since it was a beautiful day, I drove the long way home, going down Middle Road from Kingfield and over the dirt roads in New Portland, looking at the beautiful old farmhouses that dot those roads.

I meant to cross the Carrabassett River at the Wire Bridge in New Portland, but when we got to the bridge it was closed for repairs, so I turned around and crossed a little further south and headed toward West New Portland. But, when we got to the village, there was a fire truck blocking the road and traffic was re-routed around the village.

We wondered what was going on (being nosy, small-town Mainers), so after church today I swung down to West New Portland to see what all of the excitement was about. It was amazing to see one house completely gutted by fire. To the left was another house that was partially burned. You could see where the fire jumped from the first house to this one. And, out back there was a barn with a scorched, charred front.

The fire had originated in one house, but because of the intensity of the heat, it spread to a neighboring home and almost spread to the barn, too.

What an apt picture of the true working of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life. When we’ve got the real thing, we don’t have to force it on people. We don’t have to come up with clever programs to promote it. It will naturally spread to our neighbors, because that’s simply what it does by nature.

Now, when you’ve got the artificial stuff, when you are trying to manufacture a move by the Holy Spirit, then you’ve got to work to “spread” your “spirit” to other people. Then, you need to tickle dead ears and entertain cold hearts to get folks into the “spirit.”

When you’ve got the “real thing,” the people around you will naturally catch it. They can’t help but be influenced (scorched) by the Spirit that is working in you, and it’s the most natural thing in the world for them to catch it themselves. You don’t need to entertain them. You don’t need to ply them with guilt. You don’t need to use crowd psychology to manipulate them. The “fire” itself does all the work.

He always does all the work. If we find ourselves working too hard to manufacture the outward signs of the moving of the Spirit, then we need to take a time-out for self-examination to see if we’ve got the real thing.

He did all the work for our Salvation, right? We can try to save ourselves, to be good enough to earn a place in Heaven, but it’s not going to work.

So it is with day-to-day life. The power to live a Spirit-filled, God-honoring, obedient life does not come from our own will, our own strength, or our own self-discipline. The power always comes from God. We are incapable of living a life pleasing to Him within our own power.

Why did the 24 elders in Revelation chapter four cast their crowns at Jesus’ feet? Because they knew that they did not earn the crowns. We may be given crowns and rewards for what “we” do while here on earth, but in the end we should cast them all at Jesus feet because everything we ever do that matters in any way for eternity – every good work, every accomplishment, every gain – will be done through His power, not ours.

What a great life! He does all the work, then He turns around and rewards us for letting Him use us to do the work. God is so good!

Let’s don’t force the Spirit on others (as if we could). Let’s don’t be artificial. Let’s don’t manufacture the symptoms of the power of the Holy Spirit in the absence of His real power. Instead, let’s prepare our vessel for His use then pray and serve until He sends upon us His real, authentic power. When we have the real thing in our life, when we are being consumed by the Spirit, the people around us will catch it.

Like fire, the most natural thing for the Spirit to do is to spread.

Cages of our own building

Friday, July 4th, 2008

I hate being limited. When I want to do something, I want to be able to just go do it. Yet, I look around and see all kinds of limitations on my life.

Some of these limitations are put there by God. I have seen many times in the past where God has limited me by circumstances in order to protect me from something. These are good limitations. These limitations are much like the moral lines drawn up in the Bible – they may seem onerous to the unspiritual, worldly-minded person, but in reality they are there to protect us.

For example, God says to keep sex inside of marriage in order to protect us from emotional damage, sexually-transmitted diseases, and shattered families. God’s “laws” are all like that – they are in place for our good, for our protection, because He loves us. It’s much like a parent telling a child, “don’t touch that hot stove.” The parent does not say it to be mean, but to protect the child whom they love.

But, most of us have many other limitations put in place by our own choosing, not God’s. We make choices or have attitudes that cause our effectiveness and our freedom to be limited.

We once had a dog that would run to the road. Every time we let him loose, he would sprint toward Route 27, where the slower traffic drives at 65mph. Because of this, we had to put him on a runner, and he was greatly limited as to where he could go after that. Instead of being able to run around the whole yard, he could only go as far as his chain and runner would take him. We did not tie him up to be mean to him, but to protect him from his own bad choices and bad habits.

He could have been free and had the run of the yards and house. But he consistently chose badly, so we had to limit him to save his life.

Often, God finds the need to put us on a leash, to limit us in some way in order to protect us from our own bad choices, habits, and attitudes.

Piece by piece, we build our own cages, in which we remain imprisoned.

Many American Christians are quick to run up credit card debts, get loans for newer model cars, etc., because we don’t have the cash on hand to pay for things out-right. “Everyone does it”, we say. “That’s the American Way.”

Since when was the crowd always right? In fact, experience shows us that the crowd is usually wrong!

The Bible points out that the borrower is servant to the lender. It’s just a fact of life. We borrow money, and in so doing add more bars to our cage while lining the pockets of the same billionaire bankers who leach the prosperity from our nation’s economy. [But, that’s a message for another day.]

Christians bind themselves with debt – cords of our own making – then when God calls and says, “Son, I want you to go build a church in Argentina,” or “Daughter, I want you to go teach people about me in Nigeria,” guess what? We can’t go. We’ve got thousands of dollars of debt binding us to our present situation, so we have no freedom to go when God says “Go.”

We are imprisoned behind bars of our own making.

Sometimes it’s an ungodly attitude that binds us. Sometimes Christians get the idea in their minds that they will give God control of their lives up to a certain point and no further. God wants to bless us beyond measure, but He needs that extra bit of us that we refuse to surrender. Maybe it’s the refusal to go to Sunday School. Maybe it’s the refusal to go to prayer meeting. Maybe it’s the refusal to witness to others about Him. Wherever we draw the line, it doesn’t matter. The fact is that we have drawn a line and not only limited what we can do on God’s behalf but also limited the blessing God will give to us.

One more bar for our cage.

How clever is our enemy. He gets us to build our own prisons and to live voluntarily within them! All the while we blame God, the preacher, the economy, our parents, etc., for our inability to serve God and for the absence of His blessing upon us.

Perhaps it’s the company we keep which limits us. We don’t want to do certain things for God for fear of losing our friends.

Perhaps its the religious crowd or multi-church fellowship we run with, and we can’t study or preach the Bible honestly and with integrity for fear of losing that fellowship or our position within it.

George Muller came out of the Lutheran environment in Germany and into an Anglican-dominated England. Coming from that background and being in that kind of environment, he naturally supported and taught sprinkling rather than baptism. One day a woman challenged him to search out baptism in the Bible and to see what was the proper way to do it.

Muller had taken the personal stand that if he found something clearly taught in the Bible, he would change his ways to conform to the Bible rather than try to do doctrinal acrobatics to conform the Bible to himself or some creed. He did a thorough study of baptism in the Bible and concluded that biblical baptism is by immersion only (not by sprinkling) and that only professing believers (not infants) should be subjects of baptism. He immediately changed his belief and practice on the subject in order to bring himself in line with the clear biblical teaching on the matter.

It didn’t matter to him that he might lose some ministry support, position, or endorsement over the matter. What mattered to him was being right with God.

Muller was a great man in his time. He was a renowned Christian leader. How many Christian leaders today are willing to search out a matter and change their own beliefs and ideas in order to conform to the Bible rather than to blindly follow the party line of their fellowship, their crowd, their friends, their college, or their denomination.

More limits, more bars. Less and less ability to serve Christ.

Often we make lifestyle choices that confine us. The typical American middle class lifestyle is not one that fits well with the Bible. It is a consumption-oriented life, steeped in superficiality. God does not want us to be consumers, but providers and givers. A consumption-based lifestyle is excessively wasteful. How much we could learn from our grandparents, who lived through the Great Depression!

Every resource God gives us should be treated with thankfulness and care, not just used and discarded.

Does it really matter what label is on our clothing, or what store is was bought at? Is that flashy car really necessary? Does the lawn and house really have to look so pristine? Are sweat and dirt really so vulgar? Who in the world are we trying to impress?

When we live an excessive lifestyle, what do our children learn from it? What do young Christians, whose eyes are turned to us, learn from it?

What kind of move of God is it going to take to lift us up from our plush, comfortable surroundings and drop us into a dirt-floor grass hut in Burma?

How much more could we give to God’s work if we bought that $20 shirt at the discount store instead of the $50 one from the “cool” store? How many orphans in India or impoverished people in your own home town could be fed if you bought a two-year-old car instead of a brand new one?

Bar-by-bar we build our cages. We huddle in these prisons of our own making, saying “God, please use me” or “God, please help me,” still unwilling to surrender every aspect of our life, heart, and mind to the King of Kings.

And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.

2 Timothy 2:24-26

Day by day we oppose ourselves, limiting our ability to be used by God by choosing selfishly, pridefully, or ignorantly those things which lead to imprisonment and captivity. Of the Bible-believing Christians in our country today, probably 95% are held captive by the enemy, unable to truly give and serve as He would have them.

How can such an army be effective, when most of the soldiers are bound and caged by the enemy? We holler “Amen” to the preacher, full of pride and zeal, shouting through bars of our own making, unwilling or unable to actually do something.

There’s a lot of amening in our churches and precious little doing.

Today is Independence Day in the USA. Today, brother and sister, let us not only resolve but act to break those bars that imprison us and hold us captive. Let’s have a renewed commitment to not only studying the Bible but to applying its clear teaching to our lives. Let’s be providers and producers, not consumers. Let’s begin a debt retirement plan rather than binding ourselves with more debt. Let’s surrender every corner of our selves to God, letting Him shine His light into each dark, protected closet and hide-away.

Let’s break every yoke and loose every burden (Isaiah 58:6) that we might be free to carry His yoke and bear His burden (Matthew 11:30).

Living heroes

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

mom-and-dad.JPGA couple weeks ago I wrote a post about George Muller and explained that, among those Christians of the past, he is my biggest “hero”. I admire his commitment, faith, sacrifice, and discipline, and I try to emulate it.

I also have heroes among those who are alive today, and I want to talk about them this morning. My biggest heroes among those who are still alive, and the two people who have affected my spiritual growth the most, are my parents.

They have served God unswervingly for fifty years. They have “walked the talk”, both publicly and in private. The man you saw preaching behind the pulpit and the woman you saw teaching a Sunday School class were the same people you would see if you dropped in unexpectedly at home to eves drop on home life.

My father began looking for God when he was in the Air Force during the Korean War. He was the crew chief for a bomber maintenance crew and had shown such an aptitude for the work that he was promoted rapidly and became the youngest such crew chief in the USAF.

While he was stationed near Savannah, GA, for some training, he and a buddy decided to find out more about God. He remembers going to church throughout his childhood, but never having been presented with the Gospel, so now he was determined to find out what it was all about.

He and his buddy first went to the largest church in Savannah, figuring they were the largest so they must know the most about God. It didn’t work out that way. It was a dead service, and they didn’t learn anything that day.

The next week, they went to a small country church on the outskirts of town. At this little Baptist Church he heard the first clear presentation of the Gospel in his life.

Praise God for the little country churches! Praise God that “bigger” and “more” does not always mean “better.” Praise God for people who are faithful in “little” positions, “little” towns, and “little” churches.

When my father was transferred back to the Whiting, MO, Air Force Base, one of the first things he did was to look for a church. He chose a little Baptist church out in the country.  The first Sunday he went there, he was surprised to hear the preacher talk about that very same Gospel he had heard about at the church in Georgia.  There he surrendered himself to Jesus and was Saved!

A short time later, an evangelist came along to hold nightly preaching meetings, and the young people in the church divided into groups to have a competition to see who could bring the most people to the meetings. My father’s group stopped at a farm in Knobnoster, MO, and invited a young woman to church. In 1956, shortly before my father was discharged from the Air Force, they were married.

The young married couple moved to my father’s native state of Maine after his discharge. Despite the opportunities my father had to make tremendous money from his Air Force training, he surrendered to God’s call on his life and they moved back to Missouri where he attended Bible college. Before graduating from college, he was already pastoring a little country church, driving 70 miles one-way every Sunday to get there.

In the following decades they ministered at eight churches throughout Missouri and Maine – all of them “little” country churches – seeing the hand of God move strongly virtually everywhere they went. I say “they ministered”, because although my father pastored these churches, his work would have been virtually impossible without my mother by his side. Every pastor knows exactly what I mean by that. In every church they went to, my mother served in a multitude of positions: Sunday School teacher, pianist, choir member, event organizer, nursery worker, cleaner, cook, counselor, and much more.

They always served in “small” churches, often having to work an outside job in order to make ends meet. They kept on ministering through every trial and challenge. They kept ministering when the treasurer at one church embezzled thousands of dollars and my father’s own salary check from the church was returned from the bank – and he had to go weeks with no salary at all. They kept on ministering through health crises and family crises. In the good times and the bad, they just kept on.

Through all of it they modeled Christ before the church, the community, and their family. It’s one thing for a church to call its pastor blessed, or for the community to hold him in high regard, but when his own children – those who see who he really is and what he really believes every day – rise up and call him blessed, that’s something indeed! My parents lived Christ before us, through the good and the bad.

I never realized how hard that was until I was married and had kids of my own.

Today they are retired (though no preacher ever really “retires”), but only because of health reasons. They have no retirement package and no stash of cash. That’s not what they have labored for all these years. Yes, they could have! My father could have stepped into the aeronautics industry right out of the Air Force and retired with a nice pension plan. He had many other opportunities along the way that could have allowed him to accumulate large amounts of money and this world’s goods, but he didn’t. He stuck with his calling, and that’s one of the things I most admire about him.

How tempting it must have been at times to go out and earn some “real money” instead of living on the pittance most churches paid. Instead, they persisted in serving God at times and in places where others would have given up or moved on to something “better.”

And, even in their retirement and with health problems that come with age, they are some of the most active and devoted members of the church. They are the ones you can depend on seeing at church every time the doors are open. It takes a whole lot more than a little sniffle, TV program, or nice sunny day to keep them out of church. The last time my father missed church was because he was in the hospital. I don’t remember when my mother last missed.

They are my heroes, above all other men and women who have walked this earth. They gave their lives as a living sacrifice that others may be blessed, grow, and be led to eternal life through Jesus Christ, and they did so happily, never regretting a moment of it and never complaining about anything they “could have had”.

What I have told here isn’t even the half of it. If I have one tenth the Spirit that is on them, I will be a success.