Monday, April 16, 2018

Indulgences


“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king” (1 Samuel 15:22-23).

King Saul had a hearing problem and it ultimately cost him his kingdom.  God had been clear and specific with His instructions regarding the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:1-3) but the king had a “better” plan -- one that involved not following God’s directions completely.  But apparently his “obedience” was close enough that Saul had convinced himself that had accomplished what God sent him to do (1 Samuel 15:13).  At any rate, when confronted by God’s prophet Samuel, Saul begins to backtrack and make excuses.  When pressed about his disobedience, he claims that the people spared some things that should have been destroyed for the purpose of offering them sacrificially to God (1 Samuel 15:21).  What’s the rationale?  Not fully listening to God is okay if done for a good purpose, like worshipping God.  But Samuel isn’t buying it!  His response is quoted in the two verses at the start of this article.  In summary, he reminds Saul that God is more interested in an obedient heart than an act of worship.  While worshiping God is important, it should never be used as a justification to set aside God’s directives.

I wonder if we fall into the same trap when we convince ourselves that, if we fill out our Sunday morning checklist of worship activities (singing, praying, communion, study, etc.), God will somehow overlook our disobedience to His directions during the rest of the week.  Worshipping God is not some new form of indulgences through which we purchase credits to live as we please.  The greatest worship offering is a heart committed to hearing and obeying the Lord (cf. Isaiah 1:11-17; Micah 6:6-8).



God loves you!

Mike

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Where Is Your Trust?

          “Older adults who lose their life savings may also lose years from their life, a new study suggests.  Looking at more than 8,700 Americans older than 50, researchers found that those who lost most of their net worth were more likely to die over the next 20 years.  Compared with people who held onto their wealth, those who lost at least 75 percent of it over two years were 50 percent more likely to die over the next two decades.  One of the most striking findings, researchers said, was how often families suffered that kind of financial loss.  More than one-quarter of study participants lost most of their wealth at some point over the 20-year study. Another 7 percent had no savings or other assets to begin with.  "If this has happened to you, you're not alone," said lead researcher Lindsay Pool, a research assistant professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.  Why is wealth loss related to an earlier death? The study cannot answer that question, Pool said. But, she noted, the stress of losing your financial security -- especially later in life -- could take a toll on physical health.”*
          There is a danger in putting our trust in anything other than God -- whether it is wealth or any other material thing.  Long before the days of 401K’s, IRA’s, and mutual funds, Jesus warned his disciples about storing up treasures on earth -- not because doing so was inherently sinful, but because such investments can be fleeting (Matthew 6:19-20).  Paul reminded his young friend Timothy that true godliness is linked to contentment because everyone enters the world the same way they leave it -- penniless.  If our trust and focus is on riches, we are setting ourselves up for all kinds of trouble (1 Timothy 6:6-10).  True freedom from the problems associated with an over-emphasis on wealth is found in a close relationship with the One who will never abandon us (Hebrews 13:5).  Remember: “Money is a great servant but a bad master” (Francis Bacon).

God loves you!
Mike

*https://consumer.healthday.com/mental-health-information-25/anxiety-news-33/when-nest-egg-vanishes-death-risk-rises-732592.html

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Greatest Day Of Her Life

“On February 27, 1991, during the Desert Storm War, a woman by the name of Ruth Dillow received the worst call of her life. Her son, Clayton Carpenter, Private First Class, had stepped on a land mine and was dead. For the next three days she grieved. No one could comfort her.  On the third day after receiving the terrible news, the phone rang. On the other end of the phone there was a voice that said, “Mom, it’s me. I’m alive.” At first she thought it was a cruel joke, but as the conversation continued, she realized it was her son.  Later she said she laughed and cried and rejoiced because what seemed to be a hopeless situation turned out to be the greatest day of her life.”*

Imagine what it must have been like for Mary, the mother of Jesus, to witness her Son die.  The Scriptures do not speak of her specific reaction but we do know she was present at the horrible event (John 19:25).  How utterly heart-rending it must have been for her!  And even though she knew the true identity of Jesus better than anyone else, we are given no reason to think that she expected Him to be resurrected anymore than anyone else.  Likely she shared in the same grief, fear, and despondency that filled the disciples of the Lord in the dark hours between Jesus’ death and the following Sunday morning.

And what a Sunday morning it was!  As the news raced through the band of followers of Jesus, things changed.  Grief gave way to astonishment.  Fear gave way to excitement.  Despondency gave way to wonder.  How unbelievable it must have seemed when Mary first heard the words: “He is risen!”  Could it really be true?  As the earthly mother of the Son of God, Mary had a relationship with Jesus that was truly unique.  But even for her, the resurrection of Jesus Christ would prove to be the day that changed everything.

God loves you!
Mike

*Source: Los Angeles Times, March, 3, 1991; via ministry127.com

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Am I A "Heretic?"


          If you look up the word “heretic” in any modern dictionary, you will likely find something close to the following: “...a professed believer who maintains religious opinions contrary to those accepted by his or her church or rejects doctrines prescribed by that church.”*  Of course, the word is most often used in the context of religion, but it can refer to “...anyone who does not conform to an established attitude, doctrine, or principle.”*  So in the broader sense of the term, I suppose you could also be called a  heretic by the local Lions Club or Moose Lodge (although not very likely).  Throughout church history, to be branded a heretic often meant a death sentence.  Many were burned at the stake, drowned, beheaded or otherwise cruelly killed.
          Interestingly enough, when you look at the New Testament concept of heresy and heretics, you find something different.  Instead of focusing primarily on differing doctrines or opinions in contrast to the accepted norm, the emphasis is on what one does with those different doctrines or opinions.  The sin of heresy was being divisive with our doctrine and opinions.  In the context of disputes in the church, Paul directed Titus: “Reject a factious (Greek “hairetikos”, heretic) after a first and second warning” (Titus 3:10).  The apostle also includes “factions” (Greek “haireseis”, heresies) among his list of deeds of the flesh in his letter to the Galatians (5:20).
          Yes, it's possible to be heretical (divisive) with false teaching (2 Peter 2:1).  It happened in the first century and it still happens today.  But we must also guard against being heretical (divisive) with the truth as well.  It’s possible to take correct doctrine and use it to divide or split the body of Christ (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8).  Having the truth doesn’t make us immune from being heretical.   Paul said it this way in 1 Corinthians 8:11: “For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.”  That, my friends, is heretical.

God loves you!
Mike

*http://www.dictionary.com/browse/heretic

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

But I Can't Afford It

Early last year, Kathryn Vasel shared some numbers that caught me by surprise:
“The average cost of a wedding climbed to a record high of $35,329 last year, according to The Knot's 2016 Real Weddings study. That's up 8% from the 2015 average.  Meanwhile, the number of guests has dropped.  "Couples are spending their budgets to focus on guests, they are taking care of them and showing them a very personalized experience," said Kristen Maxwell Cooper, executive editor at The Knot. "But personalization is not cheap."  Last year, the average number of wedding guests was 141, down from 149 in 2009. Smaller invite lists mean guests are getting pampered: Couples spent an average of $245 per wedding guest last year, up from $194 seven years ago.”*  Later in the article it mentions that “the most expensive place to get hitched was in Manhattan, where couples spent an average of $78,464 in 2016. Couples in Arkansas spent the least on their big day at $19,522.”        
I was dumbfounded when I read this.  $35,000 for a wedding?  Who does that?  Apparently enough are spending that much to bring the average price up to that number.  Now I’m going to have to explain to my own kids how they were short-changed.  What a social embarrassment!  I’ll never be able to hold my head up in polite society again.  Just call me Ebenezer Scrooge.  Ok, rant over…(smile).
On a more serious note, wouldn’t it be great if more people today were as willing to invest in the strengthening of their marriage as they apparently are to invest in its beginning?  There are numerous good books, seminars, and retreats on the subject that cost a mere fraction of $35,000.  But for some reason, all of a sudden, such things become “too expensive.”  Then there’s also the investment of non-monetary things like time and effort.  “But I can’t afford it.”  My friend, you can’t afford NOT to invest in your marriage!

God loves you!
Mike

*http://money.cnn.com/2017/02/02/pf/cost-of-wedding-budget-2016-the-knot/index.html

Monday, March 12, 2018

Living The Words We Sing


In an article titled “Hymns for the “Sorta” Committed,” Edd Sterchi lists the following “revamped” song titles:

I Surrender Some
It is Fairly Well with My Soul
Fill My Spoon, Lord
Oh, How I Like Jesus
He’s a Little Bit to Me
I Love to Let Someone Else Tell the Story
Take My Life and Let Me Be
Where He Leads, I’ll Consider Following
Just as I Pretend to Be
Onward Christian Reserves
When the Saints Go Sneaking In
Sit Down, Sit Down for Jesus
My Hope is Built on Somewhat Less
How Neglected is the Book Divine
I Need Thee Every Other Hour
To Canaan’s Land I Hope I’m On My Way*

While we smile at these titles, perhaps inwardly we cringe a bit, knowing that too often we also sing better than we live. I understand that many of our songs to God are designed to be aspirational — where we stretch for a target beyond us, such as “More Love To Thee.”  That’s all well and good.  But have you ever caught yourself singing some well-known words and then wonder: Do I really mean what I’m singing?  This isn’t intended as a discouragement to praising God in song.  It’s merely a reminder to us all to endeavor to live the words as well as sing them. 

God loves you!
Mike

*http://bulletindigest.com/2015/12/09/hymns-for-the-sorta-committed/

Monday, March 5, 2018

After His Own Heart


          In 1 Samuel 13, King Saul is confronted by Samuel for his foolish disobedience in offering a sacrifice that ignored God’s directions in the matter.  As a result, Saul was informed that his kingdom would not endure and that God “...has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you” (1 Samuel 13:14).  This coming ruler would be King David.
          Perhaps you have wrestled with the designation of David as a man after God’s own heart, especially in view of his own sins, such as lust, adultery, and murder.  Saul’s kingdom was not to endure because of an unauthorized sacrifice and, yet, David’s kingdom endured even in the face of what most would call “greater” sins.  What’s up with that?  Various explanations are offered, focusing on the differences between Saul and David, but none have ever seemed very satisfactory to me.
          In studying 1 Samuel 13 in preparation for a sermon, I ran across another explanation that makes more sense.  John Woodhouse describes it this way: “The expression “a man after [God’s] own heart” has entered Christian jargon, usually as a statement about the qualities of the person. In 1 Samuel 13:14, however, the expression is literally, “The LORD has sought for himself a man according to his own heart. . . .” This is about the place this man had in God’s heart rather than about the place God had in the man’s heart. It was a way of saying that God had chosen this man according to his own will and purpose” (1 Samuel: Looking for a Leader (Preaching the Word) (Kindle Locations 4760-4764). Crossway. Kindle Edition).
          This makes so much more sense given the context of 1 Samuel.  Remember -- Saul was the kind of king the people wanted (“like all the nations”) --  a king, if you will, after THEIR hearts. In contrast, David was to be a king that God chose according to His standards, after HIS heart.  Just some food for thought....

God loves you!
Mike