2015 Vital Question

It is the Eve of 2015. What is the most vital question going into the New Year? Is it the world economy? Is it global terrorism? Is it the resurgence of the Cold War? Hold that thought…

Since the beginning of human history, men have struggled to determine what was most important in life. Every generation since the dawn of time has wrestled with the question of God’s integrity. It is the same question facing the young couple at the beginning of human history: “Did God actually say what He said?” And the temptation is always the same, to accept as truth the age old lie that God is bent on withholding the good stuff in life. And because we believe that lie, we respond and deny the sovereignty of God and His love as He describes in His Word.

Nothing has changed in the course of human history. Questions regarding balance of power, economic well-being and personal safety are concerns from yesterday, for today and into the future. Those are questions that we can see. But there is another question that cannot be seen. Does it not seem strange to you that for thousands upon thousands of years, the Bible is still being questioned, doubted, denied, twisted and reinterpreted. Those that believe the lie [that God is a figment or crutch of our imagination or He is real but did not say what He said] want to update the Bible to make it relevant to what the culture is saying is truth. Truth becomes non-truth based on whatever seems right for that time and situation. God becomes an idol to appease but not take seriously.

What is the most vital question going into 2015? It is simply this: Are we going to fall into the trap of denying God and the authority of His Word. If we fail to affirm the authority of what God speaks to us about, then we will believe the lie “Did God really say” and allow the weeds of doubt to be fertilized in our minds. We will be people of no vision. This question is at the heart of every human event. Denying God centrality in our thinking causes us to twist God’s original design and intention for us. Tragically, if we believe that God has little integrity, we try to hide ourselves from Him who is lying to us. Who wants to be around a liar?

Having taken that path, we miss the next question, not from the lord of liars, but from God’s heart: “Where are you?” [Genesis 3:9] God is under no obligation to us. We did not create Him, He created us. When that first couple rebelled by believing a lie about God’s integrity, God could have wiped them off the map of just silently ignored them. But He didn’t. He responded in love. We just celebrated Christmas, the advent of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, being sent into the world to provide an answer to our rebellion.

Back to the original question: What is your most vital question going into 2015? Your answer directly affects your destiny. God is asking you today, “Where are you?” He is not asking you because He does not know. He is asking as our Creator because He wants us to find hope and security in Jesus and not be rattled by the events of men. Do you know this Jesus, other than a swear word?

Jesus is calling “Where are you?” “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” [Matthew chapter 11, verse 28]

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God’s Candle

As young men, several of my buddies and I were new believers, serving on board a ship in the Navy. I wrote home one day from overseas complaining of the darkness of temptations. She wisely wrote back and said that as she prayed for us, she envisioned our ship on the dark ocean with some little lights moving around on it to bring God’s light to a dark ship. Those little lights were us accomplishing our work. That image stuck with me through the years.

Before I met Jesus, I was an unlit candle. God sent several people across my path telling me about Jesus. Finally I realized that I needed God’s Spirit to re-kindle my spirit. In the beginning, it was a small spark. I was careless and sometimes felt as if a puff of wind would surely extinguish it. God put some men in my life that taught me how to feed the flame with God’s fuel. I disciplined myself to daily fuel myself with wisdom from His word. I found that Jesus’ words about “not hiding my light under a bushel basket” meant Jesus wanted to shine through me. When we experience a power failure, the first thing we do is go find some candles and matches, get one lit and place it in a candleholder. Then we place it on the table. I have never found us standing around spending any time admiring the candle holder or the wick. What we are delighted in is the flame that is lighting up the room. That is the focus of attention.

God rarely uses supernatural events or miracles to reveal Himself to the world. His Kingdom expands as we recognize and come to the Light. So the question is this: Today, how else will those around you and I ever see the light of God unless it is radiating from us?

Luke 11:33 “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.

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FAITH (strong, confident belief in God)

What does faith look like? Over the years I have found that faith is built at the crossroads of doubt and fear.

My wife and I spent three and a half years as missionaries in South Africa. During the first six months we were part of a Mission Development Team located on a primitive base. We left sunny southern California at the onset of warm summer and the next day arrived in Pretoria, greeted by the southern hemisphere’s starting of cold winter. The base amenities’ consisted of cold showers, poorly prepared food, cockroaches and no heat in any rooms. Everyday everyone got up when it is dark and we sat collectively in a freezing room wrapped in blankets while one of us led devotions. Then we each went back to our rooms to spend another hour in personal devotions; all before having coffee. Two months after arriving, I was standing early one bitterly cold morning with a hot bowl of oatmeal. Icy blasts of wind were blowing through the room like a sieve. My hands were wrapped around the bowl and I had my head over it to catch the hot steam. There just was not enough heat. I remember distinctly questioning myself “What on earth I was doing here?” This was not my picture of serving the Lord. This is not what I had in mind coming to South Africa. “Lord, did I make a mistake?” That was the first time I really started to examine my faith.

On any day in the year, somewhere in the world there is tragedy. The most common question asked is “Where is God?” People from assorted faiths were asking this question last year when 200,000 lives were extinguished in several minutes from a tidal wave and when an entire village of men, women and children were wiped off the face of the earth in less than a minute by a mudslide. My wife and I struggled with the same question two years ago when within seven months of being diagnosed with cancer, our oldest daughter who was an ardent Christ-follower, was dead. Where was God?

It is easy to say that I am going to step out in faith and trust God. It is not so easy to have my faith stretched. Walking in faith means that maybe I am going to be asked to do things outside of my comfort zone. Living in another culture means that I may have to worship with other Christians in ways that may be uncomfortable, or work with other nationalities who do not share my ways work should be accomplished or eating graciously food that is very different from what I like or expect, or doing ministry that seems meaningless in order to reach a people who show no appreciation.

I learned quickly the “knots” of faith: faith does not just drop out of the sky; faith does not just happen like magic; faith is not a result of my effort to believe.

It took more time to learn the “mean’s” of faith: faith means experiencing God under difficult times; faith means learning to go where you have never been before; faith means trusting God for the things that you cannot see, much less understand; faith means trusting God’s intentions [Is He always for me or is He out to get something from me?] and finally faith means that I believe that God is capable of producing results from things I cannot see.

It is easy to say “I trust You God” when things look good. But when I get into heart-racing situations those words can melt like butter. I think that faith may be one of the greatest human achievements possible. The test of my faith comes when I have lost control of the situation and am powerless to do anything.

The test of your faith will be when you encounter something beyond your ability to control. Will you suddenly have “spiritual forgetfulness”? Will you lose sight of what God has done for you in the past? Faith is really nothing more than a practice of choosing to trust God at the crossroads of doubt and fear.

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A Treacherous Trap

I read recently of a woman who was enjoying time with her family one evening. Quite suddenly she started experiencing some mild stomach pains. 24 hours later, after taking some over-the-counter stuff for flu, the pain persisted and got sharper so she went to her doctor. The doctor gave her some flu medicine and told her it was nothing to worry about. A week passed with the pain continually worsening, until finally one evening it was intolerable. Going to the emergency room, the on-call surgeon took and studied her x-ray. He then ordered she immediately be prepped for surgery. The x-ray revealed that her appendix had burst several days previously and poison was slowly killing her.

Greed: avarice, particularly for wealth and things. Greed is analogous to that burst appendix spreading poison. There was a time early in my Christian journey where I was driven by greed. My lust for things started off small. As I spent money that I could ill afford on things I wanted but did not need, I would get annoying little twinges of guilt. Like any sin, greed is never content. During that time in my life I was never satisfied with what I had. As my friends bought new things, I just had to get those same things or even better things so I could stay up with them. The focus of my life was to grab all that I could get even if it meant going further into debt.

Greed warped my personality. I became jealous of my friends for the things that they had and even the positions they held in work and church. I developed an insatiable desire on having my own way. I started to be quarrelsome. Jealousy turned into conceit. I began looking down on those who did not have the things that I had. Looking back, I was struggling for pre-eminence in all that I did, even in the church. I choose to ignore that there is only One who is qualified pre-eminent. I claimed that Jesus was pre-eminent in my heart but that was a deception. Greed was the driving force in my life. I became ego-centric, not thinking about others and did lots of damage relationally.

Here are seven specific things I have learned about greed:
1. Greed is destructive to me and those around me.
2. Greed hinders honest prayer.
3. Greed is offensive to God who is unrelenting in His giving of Himself to me.
4. Greed cannot be reformed by more religious activity.
5. Greed insists on growing over time.
6. Greed breeds injustice and inequality.
7. Greed is the worship of me instead of my Creator and is therefore the highest level of treachery against the King of Kings.

The Bible and Jesus in particular, have some pointed things to say about greed. Jesus combined hypocrisy and greedy self-indulgence together. Matthew 23:25 God warns us that unchecked greed will turn a man of God into a sworn enemy of the Gospel, hindering God’s intended salvation, keeping men from believing in Jesus. Hypocrisy fueled by greed will cause men to take great pains to appear Godly but they are living a life of extortion and excess at the expense of the poor. It is a treacherous trap.

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It’s Not Magic

It’s Not Magic. We all have one thing in common, how to keep sin out of our lives? Even the Psalmist asked the question: “how can a man keep his way pure?” [Psalms 119:9 NIV] Then he turned right around gave the answer by saying “by living according to your word.” Our world is full of “how to” books and seminars. The most consistent answer to living as God would want us to live, is by realizing that it’s only by a divine intervention that man can shape his character so that is pleasing to God. God has provided us that divine intervention. It’s not magic. How do we do it? Be intentional about living according to God’s word. We start the process and God does the rest.

For example, suppose at the beginning of the New Year I make a resolution. I am never going to look at pornography again, ever. But that resolution soon gets broken. The problem is I am seeking God with my head and not my heart. It’s easy to agree with God’s word in my head. But it’s in the heart where God makes the changes. Jesus makes it clear that it is from the heart where the “want” to look at pornography comes from, along with every other sin. God has the solution for us.

Memorization is one of the most effective tools God provides for us in combating sin. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” But you might say “Well memorization is something you do with your head.” And you’d be correct. But here’s what happens. As we memorize God’s word we are actually hiding it in our heart. The Holy Spirit can remind us of how He wants us to live. It’s at that point that we have the opportunity to meditate on what we memorized. IF we choose, we can apply it to our lives. As we go through the process of considering what we memorized and considering what God is telling us, we gain the opportunity to try to apply it to our lives. And here is what’s really cool. One outcome is discovering that we are changing. We start delighting in reading His word. And the more we work the process the more we find that we will not neglect finding time get into His word.

The process memorizing, meditating and applying God’s word is much like the old illustration but we’ve all heard. A glass of muddy water stands on the counter. Move the glass under the tap and let the tap run water into the glass. Eventually the running water will push out the dirty water. As we fill our life with God’s words, the pressures of sin become negated and pushed away, replaced by God’s word. “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” [Psalm 119:15-16 ESV]

Here are four things that from my experience I can count on:

  1. When I meditate on God’s precepts [directions for living] this affects my thoughts.
  2. When I fix my eyes on God’s ways this changes my attitude.
  3. When I delight myself in God’s statues [God’s permanent rules established to govern my internal life] this affects what I strive for.
  4. When I make a conscious effort not to forget God’s word, this changes what I remember; old things get nailed to the cross and God makes things new in my life.

Like I said the beginning this is not magic. God wants to support me changing my life. All He wants me to do is to start the action. Listen to the Psalmist: I seek…, I have hidden…, I rejoice…, I meditate…, and I delight. [vs. 10, 13, 14, 15 & 16] Only I can start the process of exchanging my dirty undrinkable water with His clean living water, Jesus. What are you waiting for?

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Too Long?

Did you know that Psalm 119 has 10 synonyms for the word of God? Having lived three score and 10+ years I can honestly say that the Bible is God’s medicine chest for me. It contains every medicine I will ever need to cure any spiritual disease I might have. Check out these synonyms:

Way: a particular course or direction set for us to follow.

Law: a rule of conduct or procedure to govern me along the right way.

Testimonies: evidence from real people in real situations telling me how to live in story form.

Precepts: a principle that takes precedent over cultural norms of society that helped mold me.

Commands: directions given with irreversible authority directly telling me how to live.

Statutes: guidance from the collection of rules established by God’s authority.

Judgments: a testing my faith to strengthen it.

Word: speaking to my heart by the Holy Spirit comfort and contentment.

Righteousness: setting a standard for me, that if I apply, will set me living without guilt or sin.

Truth: the supreme reality; the ultimate meaning and value of existence.

There are 162 verses in Psalms 119 and many have said that is just way too long. Robert D. Foster tells this story about Psalm 119:

“The Bishop of Edinburgh, unwilling to yield to the king of England, found himself on the hangman’s scaffold availing himself to the custom of the times, he was permitted the choice of a song to be sung before his death. He selected Psalm 119. Before two-thirds of the song had been sung, a pardon arrived and his life was spared.” [The Challenge, January 1, 2007] Sometimes longer is life-saving!

Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17 MSG)

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Road Map

It is not hard to see that we live in a world with decreasing standards. I love that I can count on the Bible to give me rock solid foundation for living. In my journey through life toward the city of God, the question I have often asked myself is simply “how can I remain uncontaminated. I can’t speak for anyone else but in my experience, but my road can get really muddy or really dusty. It is hard to keep from getting muddy or dusty at times. And there is only one way that I know of to keep from getting dirty and that is walking according to the principles that God has so clearly laid out for us as a road map, no matter what the conditions of the journey. “Blessed are those who live without blame. They live in keeping with the law of the LORD.” [Psalm 119:1 NIrV]

Ed Nobel talked a lot about habits this past few weeks. One of the important habits is consistently obeying God’s rules for conduct. There are just two basic rules for living. First, have the right attitude toward God. Second, have the right attitude toward man. And where do I learn what that attitude should be? By reading and applying what I read. Psalm 119 is a great place to begin. I have learned that I experience the most happiness and contentment when I learned to become habituated to consistent listening and responding to God in obedience.

Make no mistake. I am not talking about religious habits that make us think that we are something special to God and therefore have a certain holiness by obeying certain rules. What I am talking about is having conversation and action that is without hypocrisy. What I desire is that my will should be brought into alignment with God’s purpose. I want to experience unbroken fellowship with Jesus. Psalm 119 is the possibility psalm. It is really a clear statement of what I can experience when I believe what God says and then walk by faith according to his promises. God promises that my life will be blameless in His eyes if I follow His lead.

All people have the possibility of genuine contentment but few take the right way that God has laid out for us to follow. God has established a hedgerow for us to live within and when we get obstinate and break out of the hedgerow by doing what we shouldn’t we end up with consequences not to our liking. And then we blame God or others.

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We have in our culture a conundrum. On the one hand, written into the core values document of our nation [constitution] we say all humans are created equal. By that the original framers of the constitution meant that all humans are deserving of freedom, dignity and equal rights under law. Today, we demand and are guaranteed these rights as adults. However, unborn babies have no such guarantee. They are the ones in our society that are at risk. They are denied freedom if an adult says so. They are denied the dignity of living if it seems inconvenient to an adult. They have unequal rights under the law. In other words, they are considered expendable and of much lesser value to the adult population in our society, who wield power over them.

The statistics are staggering if we stop to actually think about it. I have read that abortions are the most common surgery performed on women. In 2011, 1.06 million abortions were performed. From 1973 through 2011, nearly 53 million legal abortions occurred . Those are big numbers and are hard to visualize. I lived in Loveland Colorado years ago, a town at the time of 35,000 souls. A million deaths would equal three towns of Loveland’s size wiped off of the map. We think horrible tragedy if an airliner goes down killing two to three hundred people. Yet each day over 2700 babies are killed equating to six 747 airliners carrying 450 passengers each, crashing every day. Would our society tolerate such massacre? No.

So how did we as a nation move from “all are created equal” and therefore protected under the law to only some are protected? I think that the answer is based on where we, as individuals, see life originating. Abortion is not just a non-Christian issue. The congregants of the Church at large [Protestant and Catholic] are severely divided on this issue. This article is written from a Christian perspective. My source material is unashamedly the Bible. And I am going to state right up front that I believe that God is the originator of all life. I do not believe that we evolved out of some primordial slime pit from a one celled-organism into the complicated entity that we are today. God was there when each of us had our start. Hold that thought…

Here is an interesting question: Does God believe that humans He creates are equal in status – babies and adults? In order to answer that, I have to go to the source where God speaks to that issue. I have found five ways that God speaks to the issue of equality of human life. Here they are:

FIRST: God cares for the unborn. When God was forming the nation of Israel, He told them that “If men fight and hit a pregnant woman and … there is serious injury, then you will give a life for a life.” [Exodus 21:22-25] God is expressing a deep moral code here. Even human life that seems to have little or no value to us humans is invaluable to Him. In other words, God is telling us that He expects us to respect life from the very beginning, both of the mother and of the child. Precaution should be taken to insure that no hurt might occasion a miscarriage.

SECOND: We are to protect the helpless. Jesus Himself told said to the Disciples: “It is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” [Matthew 18:14] What are amazing are the contradictions we have within the boundaries of the law. In many states, the law says that it is illegal to distribute drugs to a minor. That includes ingesting drugs when a woman is pregnant. If caught, they will be prosecuted under the law. That means that it is illegal to do harm to the baby a woman is carrying. However, it is perfectly lawful to kill it! All alcoholic drinks carry the federally mandated warning: “In accordance with the Surgeon General, woman should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects.” So the government is insistent that women should be warned that alcohol can harm their baby but there is no warning about the risks of abortion to the baby; it is killed. We live in a conflicted society because we refuse to protect the helpless from perishing as God intended.

THIRD: Children are from God. “Children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.” [Psalm 127:3] Here is the problem. Our society has moved away from acknowledging God. Therefore we have no reason to see babies as a blessing from Him. We no longer see babies as something to value but more of a commodity.

FOURTH: God forms every child. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” [Psalm 139:13-16] Of course, if one believes that they evolved from an ape or some lesser form of life, what God has to say is meaningless and foolish. For me, knowing that there is Someone who is intimately concerned about me rather than my beginnings being chance evolution in a swamp is a source of great comfort. It gives me a reason for my name and for being. There is a future for me. I have a destiny. This life is not all there is to my existence.

God plans the future of every child. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you …” [Jeremiah 1:5] God has a distinct purpose for each life He creates. Our goal is to discover and work out His plan.

We have in our culture a conundrum. Our society, including a large segment of Christians, have opted to question God. It happened in the Garden first when the Tempter asked Eve “Did God really tell you …?” It takes a radical commitment to listening and adhering to the principles God has laid down for our welfare to follow a different path than society. But that is the only path that leads to emotional and physical health.

Your thoughts?

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The Magic of Books

Well worth the time to read!

The Magic of Books.

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Please, Stop Making Jesus an Agenda!

Very good article.

Please, Stop Making Jesus an Agenda!.

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