Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Breathing Places

“A few years ago, the world watched as three gray whales, icebound off Point Barrow, Alaska, floated battered and bloody, gasping for breath at a hole in the ice.  Their only hope: somehow to be transported five miles past the ice pack to open sea.  Rescuers began cutting a string of breathing holes about twenty yards apart in the six-inch-thick ice.  For eight days they coaxed the whales from one hole to the next, mile after mile.  Along the way, one vanished and was presumed dead.  But finally, with the help of Russian icebreakers, the whales Putu and Siku swam to freedom.  In a way, worship is a string of breathing holes the Lord provides His people.  Battered and bruised in a world frozen with greed, selfishness, and hatred, we rise for air in worship, a place to breath again, to be loved and encouraged, until that day when the Lord forever shatters the ice cap” (Craig Brian Larson, Leadership, Vol. 11, No. 2).
Do you struggle with picturing worship as a setting where “...we rise for air...a place to breathe again, to be loved and encouraged…?”  It’s a beautiful description but perhaps it hasn’t be your experience often enough.  One possible reason for that has to do with what motivates us to worship God in the first place.  Perhaps you were raised in an environment (like I was) that taught us to worship God primarily because He commanded us to worship Him.  And while that motivation is better than none at all, I would submit that it falls short in leading us to experience the blessings that times of worship can become when they provide for us what we can get nowhere else
Perhaps this is another one of those times when our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ in the past as well as in the present have an advantage over us.  Worship becomes more precious to those whose faith has caused them to be persecuted by enemies and rejected by family and friends.  For them, it becomes life-giving rather than just another option among many others.

God loves you!
Mike

Monday, April 30, 2018

Spiritual Maturity

          “Two teachers were once applying for the same Vice-Principal position at  a local high school. One had been teaching a total of 8 years and the other a total of 20. Everyone expected the teacher with the greater experience to get the job, but when a decision was made it was the person with 8 years teaching who was chosen. The teacher overlooked for the job complained bitterly – “I’ve got 20 years teaching to her 8” he cried. “I’m vastly more qualified.” The School Board’s reply went like this: “Yes sir, you do have 20 years teaching to her 8, but where she has 8 years experience you have 1 years experience repeated 20 times.” Simply experiencing the passage of time doesn’t mean we have grown or learned from those things we experience during that time” (storiesforpreaching.com).
          The Scriptures are clear concerning the need for disciples of Jesus to grow in their faith.  The apostle Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers “...to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ…” (Ephesians 4:15).  The apostle Peter counseled his readers in his first letter to “...long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation…” (1 Peter 2:2).  Then he ends his second letter with an admonition to “...grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).  The letter to the Hebrews chides those disciples for not growing past the baby food stage in their lives (Hebrews 5:12-14).  It would appear that remaining static in the faith wasn’t an option for first century believers.  I find no reason to think that the expectation is any different today for us.
          Am I the same Christian i was 10, 20, or 30 years ago?  Am I content to remain an infant in my faith?  Do I seek opportunities to stretch my spiritual muscles so that I can become more involved in my church family?  Is it time for me to grow up?

God loves you!
Mike

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Be On Your Way

  “The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king”” (1 Samuel 16:1).
          The endeavor to establish a monarchy in Israel hadn’t gone well up to this point.  King Saul had proven to be unfit for leadership, ultimately earning for himself the rejection of God.  The situation was filled with emotion for those most directly involved.  In spite of the fact that the prophet Samuel was firmly on God’s side in the matter, he still was grieving over what had happened.  Even the LORD himself had an emotional investment in the events (1 Samuel 15:35).
          But by the beginning of chapter 16, the time for mourning and regret regarding the past was over.  While grieving over sin was allowed and perhaps even necessary, the time given to such things apparently had a shelf life.  According to God, Samuel needed to be on his way.  It was time to get up and get going.  There was a new king to anoint.  The plans and intentions of God may experience turbulence but they will never be grounded.
          The “Preacher” of Ecclesiastes speaks of there being a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).  Perhap we could add one more to his list: A time to get busy.  There is a time to discuss options and consider alternatives.  There is a time to share emotions and reflect on events.  I get that.  I have a tendency to overthink things myself.  But there is such a thing as paralysis by analysis.  Sooner or later, the time comes to act.  Maybe the words of Elijah to the people of Israel are appropriate as a reminder here: "How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him" (1 Kings 18:21).  Is it time to get up and get going?

God loves you!
Mike

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