Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When Animals Attack

Dear Mom and Dad-

Thank you for not getting me a pet monkey when I was a kid, even though I begged and begged for one.


Lately, and I'm not sure why, I have become fascinated with a television show on Animal Planet called "Fatal Attractions". It's all about people who keep dangerous exotic animals as pets. Usually, the pet owner ends up dead by the end of the show, hence the title. It's not a program for the faint of heart.

People keep the strangest animals-- venomous snakes, giant lizards, bears, and, yes, even apes-- despite the fact that they are known to be dangerous. Now, if you grew up in the '70s and '80s like I did, you might remember that there was a spate of movies and TV shows at some point back then-- "B.J. and the Bear", "Cannonball Run II", etc.-- that featured cute little chimpanzees and their human companions. So, you might be thinking what I was thinking the other day when an episode of "Fatal Attractions" focusing on pet chimpanzees came on: "How could those adorable little animals be dangerous?" They wear hats and overalls, give hugs and kisses, and even communicate in a rudimentary way. My parents told me the reason I couldn't have one was that they carried germs and that they would stink up the house.

Well, apparently, chimps are much more sinister than smelly. Even when people have taken them in as babies and raised them as their own children, many chimps, upon reaching adolescence, have turned violent and attacked their owners or others.

Moreover, the way they attack is particularly gruesome. Snakes will bite whichever of your body parts is closest. Bears flail their paws around indiscriminately, mauling whatever is in their pathway. Chimpanzees, however, attack systematically. They focus specifically on severing small appendages (ears, eyes, nose, lips, fingers, toes, and genitals) first, before moving on to a more "macro" assault on their victims.

nterestingly, most of the storylines on "Fatal Attractions" follow the same pattern. The pet owner is somewhat reclusive and secretive about owning the animals-- in many cases, because the species is illegal to own or has been illegally obtained. Some owners have even refrained from calling 911 when attacked out of fear that the animals will be confiscated.

Additionally, the fatal attack usually comes after months or years of much smaller assaults. A nip here, a show of aggression there. Those closest to the pet owner warn him repeatedly that the animal is dangerous, but he refuses to listen, thinking that the small attacks will be the extent of the animal's aggression. He believes he has control over the animal and that the animal respects, loves, and trusts him enough not to hurt him.

And, on this show, he always turns out to be wrong.

When it comes to sin, are we any different than these pet owners? I Peter 5:8 says:

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

At first, sin looks more like a cute, cuddly lion cub. It's small. It seems harmless enough. We have control over the situation. And besides, who could resist a little nuzzle with something so adorable?

We keep the cub a secret because we know we're not supposed to have it, or maybe because others just wouldn't understand how it's really ok to keep it, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Time goes by. The cub gets bigger. It's not so cute anymore, but we still love it and can't let it go. We ignore the warnings that lions are dangerous. It begins to show signs of aggression from time to time, but we still think we're in control.
And then, eventually, comes the final attack.

The extent of the damage depends on one thing, and one thing only-- whether or not we have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

Just like the victims who refused to call 911 out of fear that their animals would be confiscated, a person who has never turned away from his sin and cried out to Jesus to be saved from it will die a horrible death. His physical death may look peaceful, but it's in the afterlife of hell that Satan will devour him for eternity.

The person who is saved won't die that eternal death in hell, but he will bear the scars of his sin in this life. Maybe he'll just lose a finger, maybe he'll be horribly mutilated. His ministry might be destroyed, or maybe his marriage, his business, his reputation, or a friendship.

You see, on the episode of "Fatal Attractions" dealing with chimps, the victim didn't die. The chimp tore off his nose, lips, ears, and fingers, and gouged out one of his eyes, in addition to doing other damage. The man is still alive, but he will be horribly disfigured for the rest of his life. He can still function and have a purposeful life, but he will never be able to get back what he lost.

And so it is when we cuddle up with sin and it eventually turns on us. When we repent, God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us (I John 1:9), but the scars remain for the rest of our lives. He can certainly still use us, but we can never get back what we've lost.

What to do?

But resist him {the devil}, firm in your faith... I Peter 5:9

Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
James 4:7

Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. II Timothy 2:22

Run. Run for your life.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The "Merry Christmas" Melee

It's that time of year again. Time for love and good cheer. Peace on earth. Joy to the world.

And war.

Over the last several years, there's been a sometimes quiet and respectful, sometimes loud and obnoxious battle raging between conservative Christians and merchants over whether said merchants use the term "Merry Christmas" or the more general "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" in their advertising and in greeting customers at their stores.

I don't know about you, but it's driving me bananas.

Would I prefer for everybody to say "Merry Christmas"? Sure. But on my list of things to have an aneurysm about, it falls somewhere between my dentist telling me I should floss more and deciding where to get the dog a pedicure. I just really don't care that much. And I'm wondering, in the grand scheme of things that should be pressing upon Christians' hearts, should something this minor even register on the scale of issues that upset us?

What do we expect?

Speaking strictly numerically and statistically, genuine Christians-- not just people who say they're Christians and/or go to church, but people who have actually been regenerated by the blood of Christ --are a very small minority. Despite what you may hear to the contrary, the United States is not a Christian nation. It may have been founded on Biblically inspiried principles, but in practical societal terms today, this is a nation mostly made up of lost people.

This means that it's a safe bet that the majority of the people at the helms of these corporations are lost. And guess what? Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and lost people gotta act like lost people (Romans 8:7). What this means is that their decision whether to use "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" has nothing to do with Jesus or respecting the "true meaning of Christmas". Their decision is going to be based on what's going to make the corporation the most money. If saying "Merry Christmas" will get more customers in the door, that's what they'll do. It doesn't mean they're honoring Christ, it mean's they're pandering to Christians.

When we exert pressure on these corporations to say "Merry Christmas", what real change are we effecting? Are we not just creating more people who honor God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him (Isaiah 29:13)? Are we not sending them the subtle message that external behavior, rather than a reborn spirit, is what counts? One day, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). One day. But that day is not today. We can't force change in people's hearts by coercing them into saying "Merry Christmas". And, to God, a change of heart is the only thing that matters.

Where should our passions lie?

I used to belong to a Christian "social issues" organization. In many ways, it's a great organization. I got frequent e-mails from them regarding which social issues various corporations were investing their profits in, where politicians stood on the issues, and lots of other helpful information and resources.

But every autumn they would begin their annual "Merry Christmas" campaign. They have buttons you can order that urge people to say "Merry Christmas". They have leaflets and stickers and videos you can order for your church to promote saying "Merry Christmas". They publish a "Naughty and Nice" list of merchants who use "Merry Christmas" (nice) or some other wording (naughty), so you'll know which stores to shop and which to boycott.

And it made me stop and think-- how many manhours go into that campaign every year? How much money does the organization invest in it? How much money do churches and individuals spend on their materials? Is investing that much time and money in promoting "Merry Christmas" good stewardship?

We have brothers and sisters all over this planet who would give anything to own a copy of the Bible. There are crisis pregnancy centers that operate on a shoestring trying to help women and their babies. There are missionaries who live in poverty in third world nations taking the Gospel to those who have never heard it. There are people starving. There are children who have been kidnapped by human traffickers.

And "Merry Christmas" is what we want to get all worked up about?

What's more upsetting to us, the fact that someone says "Happy Holidays" or the fact that the person who said it might die and spend an eternity in hell? Where do our passions truly lie? Are we passionate about the same things God is passionate about?

This Christmas, can we just focus on what's important? We have a God who loves every person so deeply and so violently, and whose mercy and grace are so unfathomable, that He came here personally to redeem us.

And there are people all around us who don't know that.

And they desperately need us to love them enough to tell them that in Jesus there's hope. A way out of their sin. A way to get clean. A secure eternity. Peace.

God and sinners, reconciled. Oh, what a Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Stench of a Sweet Aroma

It seems like I've been cutting up a lot of onions lately. Fajitas. Chili. Homemade soups. People have been cooking with onions since the days of Israel's captivity in Egypt (Numbers 11:5), and probably even earlier than that. You've really got to wonder about the first person to pick up an onion, slice into it, be overwhelmed by noxious fumes, and say, "Oh yeah. We've got to put that thing in the stew. That's just what it needs!"

But, lately, my walk with the Lord has been a lot like an onion. He keeps peeling back layer after layer of my heart. And the more he does that, the more my sin stinks. And the more I realize I stink, the more it stings me. And the more it stings me, the more I weep.

But God has promised that, when I give Him those sins, He will take them away and "cast {them} into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19), and the sting will be gone. Just like when I drop those onions into my pot of soup. No more tears, no more stink. I wash my hands thoroughly, and I'm clean (Psalm 51:2). It's over.

Or is it?

Why did I cut up that onion in the first place? After all, I could have just left it sitting in the fridge. There wouldn't have been any pain or tears.

But my soup would have been weak and lacking the robust flavor it could have had.

No good comes from an onion that's been left in the refrigerator. It's only when I cut up the onion and put it into the soup that anything good can come out of it. As it cooks, the onion's awful fumes are transformed into a full and savory flavor that completes the taste of the soup.

And that's why I keep coming back to God and asking Him to reveal my sin to me. It's a painful and teary experience, but when He takes my sin, forgives me, and deals with me, only good can come of it. What "cooks out" of my sin might be a lesson learned, compassion for others strugging with the same sin, and the wisdom to help them, humility, or more dependence on God.

Dealing with my sin with the Lord makes me stronger in Him, and that's mmm, mmm, good.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. II Corinthians 2:14

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Order in His Courts

Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it. Deuteronomy 12:32

Remember long division? Some of us probably remember it fondly. For others, it was a nightmare of ghoulish proportions. Likely, most of us can still remember how to do it.

Ever tried to teach it to an eight year old?

That was my life last week.

If you think about it, it's really not that any of the steps in long division are that hard. You have to know your times tables and you have to know how to subtract. That's pretty much it as far as mathematical operations go. The tough part is working step by step and getting all the steps in the right order. One number out of place, one step out of order, and the whole thing falls apart.

And then, so does your eight year old.

The Old Testament is the story of long division. God told His people what to do, how to do it, and in what order to do it...

Bring Me the firstfruits, then you can use what is left.

Marriage first, then sex.

Work six days, then rest.

Put Me first in everything.

He spelled it all out for them, even carved it in stone, and still, they couldn't get it. Many times, the majority of them gave up even trying and openly rebelled. For others, initially desiring to be obedient, striving became the order of the day. They added layers and layers of rules on top of the ones God had given to protect themselves from even coming close to breaking God's original commands. And somewhere along the way, they lost the heart of God, and began to worship rule-keeping. Their steps were out of order at the deepest and most basic level, and things fell apart for them. Often. And badly.

But don't judge the Israelites harshly. We do exactly the same thing. Some of us rebel. Some of us strive. And both ways are equally displeasing to God.

Because the first step in coming to God is to realize and admit that we can't get it right. God never intended that we should be saved and in right standing with Him by keeping His Law and doing good deeds. Galatians 3:24 tells us that the whole purpose of the Law was to show us that we can't keep it, and to lead us to throw ourselves upon the mercy of God for forgiveness and salvation.

Does God desire our obedience? Of course. But not as a way to garner His favor or to outweigh the bad things we've done. Because it's not our outward behavior itself that pleases Him, it's a heart that's wholly His (II Chronicles 16:9). He desires that we obey out of a heart of love and gratitude to Him for saving us.

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. John 14:15

Love Him first, then obedience will be a natural outflow.

Just take it one step at a time.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

In Dependence

I Kings 3:

7"Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.

8"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.

9"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?"

10It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing.

Solomon was a little freaked out. God had just given him the huge responsibility of leading the nation of Israel. And King David was a tough act to follow.

"Help, Lord," he said, "I have no idea what I'm doing."

Big, strong Solomon felt the same way we all do when faced with a daunting task-- like a scared little kid, clomping around in Daddy's shoes.

It was, at that moment, that God had him right where He wanted him. Vulnerable. Dependent. Seeking God's face.

In America, we prize an independent, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, self-made man. God desires exactly the opposite. He wants us to realize that without Him we literally can do nothing. He wants to do great things for His glory through people who are completely dependent on Him for everything.

And, so, sometimes He leads us to places where we have no other option but to cry out to Him for His help, His strength, His wisdom.

I'm in a place like that right now. My first book will be coming out in less than a year, and I'm learning the ins and outs of the publishing world. Fast. Marketing plans, publicity, sales-- all, to one extent or another, my responsibility. Are you kidding me? I'm a homemaker with a degree in psychology. My sales experience consiststs of youth fundraisers and a brief stint as a clerk in an office supply store while I was in college. I am totally out of my element. I'm a little freaked out.

Help, Lord, I have no idea what I'm doing.

I think He's got me right where He wants me. And i
t's a great place to be.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

If You Like to Talk to Tomatoes...Is that Blasphemy?

Larry and Bob meet my two youngest at LifeWay's Kid's Day.

Have we got a show for you!

I was recently taken to task on a Christian discussion forum by a brother, --well-meaning, I'm sure-- who saw the picture above on my Facebook page, and let me know in no uncertain terms that my kids should not be watching VeggieTales. If you're at all familiar with this Christian animated kids' show, you have already recognized its two main characters in the picture, Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato, with my two youngest sons.
(If you're not familiar with VeggieTales, check out the back story here and here. You can also watch some of the videos on YouTube.)

Why the rebuke about my kids watching VeggieTales? Well, he raised some points I thought were important to consider. Maybe he's right and you'll agree with him. I don't happen to, but I'm glad that, through his remarks, God gave me the opportunity to think things through.

His stance? VeggieTales is blasphemous (his word) because it waters down the Bible and doesn't present Bible stories exactly as they appear in Scripture (for example, in "King George and the Duckie", based on the story of David and Bathsheba, the king covets someone else's rubber duckie rather than someone else's wife; in "Josh and the Big Wall", based on the story of the fall of the wall of Jericho, the enemy soldiers stand on top of the wall and drop frozen "slushee" drinks on the Israelites as they march around the wall).

Another argument was that VeggieTales never presents the Gospel, and rarely mentions Jesus, reducing the Bible to the level of Aesop's fables. Without the Gospel, Biblical truth can turn into moralistic deism, the false belief that we can be in right standing with God solely by "keeping the commandments", and kids may mistake this as the message of the Gospel, rather than salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone.

Ok, I can see where he's coming from, but here's what I think:

Don't depend on VeggieTales for your child's salvation.

If you're a genuinely converted Christian parent, you have a Biblical mandate to raise your children according to the Scriptures. Parents who are raising their kids in a Christian home are already teaching them the truths of the Gospel and taking them to church. They are not depending on VeggieTales or any other form of Christian children's entertainment to teach their kids the plan of salvation. The Bible, family worship, Biblical preaching, and kids' classes at church are the main dish with which they feed their children spiritually. VeggieTales, and the dozens of other Christian videos for kids, are like ice cream. They're yummy and fun, and, technically, they're part of the dairy group, so there's a little bit of nutrition in there, but it's an occasional treat. You don't feed your kid ice cream three meals a day.

Parents who are not saved are, by definition, not raising their kids in a Christian home. They are likely not teaching their kids the Bible or taking them to church (and, if, for some reason they are, the kids are being taught the Gospel), and VeggieTales isn't going to make their kids any more lost than they already are. Let's face it, you can be a nice "good people" family or a family of meth-addicted Hell's Angels, but without Gospel conversion, lost is lost, and VeggieTales, or the lack thereof, isn't going to change that.

VeggieTales introduces the idea that there is a God, and He has standards of right and wrong that we need to follow.

Again, kids in a Christian home are already getting this straight from the Bible. Kids who aren't being raised in a Christian home desperately need to be introduced to this basic concept. How can we know that we are sinners in need of a Savior unless we first know that there is a God, He has standards of right and wrong, and we have transgressed His law? Galatians 3:24 says, "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith."

VeggieTales teaches kids that they were made by God.

The tagline of every VeggieTales movie is, "Remember, God made you special, and He loves you very much." Kids in a non-Christian home might not have the opportunity to hear that anywhere else. They'll be taught in school that they evolved from animals, not that God made them.

VeggieTales teaches positive moral concepts and encourages kids to apply these concepts to their behavior.

Unselfishness, kindness, courage, obedience, love. These are attributes that most parents, whether saved or not, want their children to attain to. As Christian parents, we teach our children that we love because He first loved us (I John 4:19), that we can be courageous because God will give us strength for whatever task He has called us to (Philippians 4:13), etc. We funnel these concepts through the message of the Gospel.

Non-Christian parents are also trying to teach their children these concepts. How can it possibly hurt their efforts for a cartoon to not only reinforce what they're trying to teach, but also show both child and parent that these moral concepts are not the result of societal pressure to conform (as evolution teaches) but that they're God's idea?

Additionally, even if a child is lost, we want him to behave himself. What's wrong with a cartoon that encourages him to share, love, be kind, or talk through disagreements instead of punching his brother in the face? SpongeBob isn't teaching that kind of stuff.

Lord of the Beans vs. Lord of the Rings?

The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Christian romances, mysteries, historical fiction. Christian fiction is one of the largest and fastest growing book genres these days. Perhaps my brother would eschew all of these as well. I would hope so, if his argument is to have any integrity whatsoever. I have read the Chronicles of Narnia series (I read all the books to my children one summer) and numerous Christian fiction books, and I can tell you that most of them don't specifically mention Jesus, present the plan of salvation, or present Bible stories verbatim. So, if you're going to throw out VeggieTales, you're going to have to throw out a lot of other books and movies as well.

"I will open my mouth in parables..."

All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: "I WILL OPEN MY MOUTH IN PARABLES; I WILL UTTER THINGS HIDDEN SINCE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD." Matthew 13:34-35

While nearly all of the parables Jesus told had to do with salvation (a few don't center specifically on salvation, such as the
parable of the persistent widow {prayer}), He certainly was not against the idea of the parable itself as a vehicle of conveying Biblical truth. Though He did quote Scripture, Jesus was not teaching solely by telling Bible stories verbatim. He used illustrations and told stories. Lots of them. And Jesus wasn't the only person in the Bible to use parables. Isaiah did, Ezekiel did, and so did Nathan.

So search it out. Pray about it. Seek God for the kind of entertainment you place in front of your kids and be obedient to His leading. As for me and my house, it's time for VeggieTales.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rolling out the Welcome Wagon

The LORD said to him, "I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built by putting My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually. I Kings 9:3

As Sophia would say, "Picture it:"

After church one Sunday, a friend says, "Why don't you come over to my house tomorrow night for dinner?"

So, the appropriate time comes on Monday evening, and you drive over to her house. The door is standing open because she is expecting you, and you're familiar enough with each other that you feel comfortable just walking on in.

As you're walking in, you see your friend standing there, and you say to her, "I invite you into this house! You are welcome here!"

Anything seem a little off about that?

Well, of course that seems strange. It's her house.

But that's what is taking place in churches all over America every Sunday morning. I saw it in a televised local church service last week. The worship leader stood up to lead the first song and said, "God we welcome you into this place!" I've heard others say things like, "Lord, we invite you into this house this morning!" We sing songs like "Holy Spirit, Thou art Welcome" and "Lord, we Invite You".

'Scuse me? Isn't the church God's house?

Of course, it isn't God's house in the same way the temple was God's house, in that there isn't a holy of holies where the actual presence of God resides. On the other hand, I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's only a building, like the post office or a doughnut shop.

At some point, way back when, or maybe even recently, a body of Believers got together and asked God to give them a place where they could worship Him. God saw fit to answer that prayer. He provided the land, the permits, and every brick, nail, and piece of sheetrock. He allowed His name to be placed there when we decided to call it "Grace Fellowship", "St. Luke's", or "First Baptist". He protects that building and allows it to stand as a testimony to the community: God, and God's people, can be found here.

It's not your church. It's not my church. It's God's church. And it exists for His glory.

But somewhere along the way, we've forgotten that. Somewhere along the way, we gave God an eviction notice and became squatters on His property. How arrogant have we become that we strut into church as though we own the place, and dare to invite Him, to welcome Him into His own house as though He were a guest? How dare we?

Maybe it's partly because we no longer have a holy of holies that we don't see God's house as sacred. "Ah," you may say, "but that's Old Testament thinking. Now we know that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there in their midst. (Matthew 18:20)"


When it's my church, my comfort, my pew, my ministry that nobody else better touch, my style of music, my opinion about how long the sermon should be, my feelings that got hurt, my idea of how things should operate, what I got out of the service, are we really gathering in His name?

Welcome, Lord. Are You sure You want to come in?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Going to Pot

John 2:

3When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine."

6Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each.

7Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water." So they filled them up to the brim.

8And He said to them, "Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter." So they took it to him.

9When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom,

10and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now."

Much has been said, and many words written, about Jesus' first miracle-- the turning of the water into wine at the wedding of Cana. Why was this first miracle a miracle that put Jesus in the position of a caterer? Why not a healing? What did the disciples think? Was it really wine or just grape juice (It was wine, my Southern Baptist bretheren. As much as we might not want to, we all need to get on board with that.) And so on.

But I don't believe I've ever heard anybody look at this account from the perspective of the waterpots.

What was it about those waterpots that made Jesus decide to use them? People used the water in them for washing their hands and possibly their dishes. They were common. Utilitarian. Probably not very clean. Why didn't Jesus call for golden pitchers or silver goblets for the fine wine He was making?

The waterpots were close to Jesus.

The wedding Jesus was attending was in a small town, in an average home. It was likely that the hosts didn't even own goblets or pitchers made of silver or gold. If they did, they certainly didn't own enough large ones to hold all the wine Jesus was about to make. Gold and silver containers would have been far away in a palace or a wealthy home. The waterpots were close to Him, ready and available.

The waterpots had a great capacity for being filled.

We're talking 120-180 gallons here. Your bathtub holds about 60 gallons when completely filled, so this would have been the equivalent of two to three completely full bathtubs of wine. Pitchers and goblets wouldn't cut it.

The waterpots were willing to get dirty so others could get clean.

(Ok, so I realize I'm anthropomorphizing here and that anthropomorphizing probably isn't even a word, but just go with me for a minute.) Those waterpots stood there year after year providing clean water for dirty people. They didn't consider themselves too good to be used for handwashing. They didn't pick and choose how or when they were used. They just stood there and fulfilled their purpose thankslessly, without complaint that they were being used or getting dirty. They were willing to take on a humble task, and Jesus took them and did a great work through them.

The waterpots were usable.

When Jesus told the servants to fill the waterpots with water, no one said, "Oh no, that's the good china! You can't use those!" The waterpots themselves were accustomed to being used. That's what they were made for.

The waterpots also didn't put up a fuss when Jesus wanted to use them for a new purpose. They didn't say, "We're too old to change," or "We've been doing this for years. Who are You to tell us to do somethng new?" They were at their Master's bidding.

What about us? Sometimes we want God to do great things through us like He did with the waterpots, but we don't want to be like the waterpots. We want to be gold pitchers or silver goblets. We want to be special, not humble. Pretty, not getting dirty. Served, not serving. Our way, not His way.

Are you close to Jesus?

Do you have a great capacity for being filled with His Spirit?

Are you willing to get dirty so others can be cleansed by the Gospel?

Are you usable?

Maybe "going to pot" isn't such a bad thing after all.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Comment Response II

Brother Gee was kind enough to write back. (His first comment is in the post below this one.) His words are in italics. Mine are in plain print. His complete comment without my response can be found by clicking on the "comments" link here: "Follow On".

Thank you for taking the time to categorically respond to my recent comment. In the interest of maintaining a spirit of friendship and togetherness, i will refrain from responding, as to do so might result in this discourse degenerating to the level of argument.

This much i will put forth:

There are a couple of things that you misconstrued in my comment. For example, i never said that Jesus' life "did not matter". However, the fault is mine, for not being completely clear in my statements, as i was endeavoring to be brief.

I do sincerely apologize for misunderstanding what you meant. However, I didn’t say that you said Jesus’ life did not matter. My statement was that what you were basically saying was that Jesus’ life from conception to baptism had no salvific import. In other words, His life during that particular time period had no bearing or influence on our salvation. Again, if I misunderstood what you were saying, I apologize.

Secondly, after the death of Jesus the Christ, His inner teachings, the 'meat for the strong' were entrusted to His apostles and passed on to certain ones who came after. The early Church spent much time and spilled much blood endeavoring to eradicate these true teachings from the face of the earth. "Heresy" is the flag they waved as they swung the sword. What was left is the eviscerated shell teachings that billions follow as doctrine today - the 'milk for the babes'.

I’m not sure exactly which events you’re referring to with regard to “spilling blood” and “swinging the sword” when it came to the canonization of the New Testament. I can tell you, though, that if you’re referring to pseudoepigraphical writings such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Epistle of Barnabas, etc., being excluded from the canon of the New Testament, these books were never taken out of the New Testament because the were never considered Scripture in the first place. Christians at the time were aware of these writings and did not consider them to be the inspired, authoritative word of God because they either did not have apostolic authorship, or they did not claim to be the word of God, or they contained teachings which stood in direct contrast to divinely established teachings in other parts of the Bible, or some combination of these factors.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with a council canonizing the New Testament. (Every religion gets to decide for itself which writings will or will not be included in the book(s) it follows, and Christianity is no different.) In fact, there was everything right about it. It was necessary to keeping false teaching out of the church and to having a reliable document which contained only God’s word.

Matthew 7:7 states that one should seek until one finds. It does not state that one should follow blindly and without question.

Indeed it does. And what makes you think I or any other Christian you don’t know hasn’t done that? Just because I have come to the same conclusion that millions of others have come to about Jesus and the Bible doesn’t mean I reached that conclusion by following someone else’s teaching blindly and without question. I have spent decades searching the Scriptures and researching Christian teaching
for myself.

I have also come to the conclusion that 2 + 2 = 4. So have billions of other people. That doesn’t mean we’re all blindly following mathematics without question. We believe it because it is true.

Could it be that the reason so many people from so many different walks of life across thousands of years have all come to the same conclusion about Jesus is that that conclusion is true?

The Bible has been edited and re-edited countless times. I respectfully ask all to consider what exactly was it that was being edited out, and why?

The Bible has been edited, not redacted or changed. I have a book coming out in 2012. I know a little bit about editing. I know my editor will catch any misspelled words or punctuation errors and fix them. Although she may suggest I re-write something, I know she will not re-write it herself or take out chunks of text that will change the tone or intent of my book.

The Bible is textually 99.5% pure. Since the original manuscripts were written, nothing affecting the essential doctrines of the faith has been altered. Author Matt Slick from the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry explains it this way:

“The fact is that the Bible has not been rewritten. Take the New Testament, for example. The disciples of Jesus wrote the New Testament in Greek and though we do not have the original documents, we do have around 6,000 copies of the Greek manuscripts that were made very close to the time of the originals. These various manuscripts, or copies, agree with each other to almost 100 percent accuracy. Statistically, the New Testament is 99.5% textually pure. That means that there is only 1/2 of 1% of of all the copies that do not agree with each other perfectly. But, if you take that 1/2 of 1% and examine it, you find that the majority of the "problems" are nothing more than spelling errors and very minor word alterations.”

Click here for the rest of his excellent article.

In addition, it would go against the very nature and character of God not to protect His word and preserve the truth about Himself in it so that we could know Him.

What kind of God would say: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart,” (Colossians 3:21) and then turn around and present to us a Bible we can’t trust, exasperating us in our quest to know the truth about Him?

Why would Jesus say, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free," (John 8:32) and then not make sure we had that truth in the Bible?

How can He expect us to “worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23) if we don’t have the truth about Him?

There is no desire on my part to convert or convince anyone of anything. Each Soul's journey is their own. All choices made, or not made, are ultimately our personal responsibility. Please accept my apologies for appearing on your blog out-of-the-blue with concepts that are so obviously and diametrically opposed to what you have been taught to believe.

No need to apologize. I appreciate that you stopped by and expressed your thoughts and welcome you to do so again in the future if you’d like.

I do want to apologize if my “tone of voice” came across as derisive. I am obviously very passionate about this subject, and sometimes passion can have an unintended effect on the reader when it has to be crammed into the confines of the written word.

While it is not within my power to convert you or convince you of anything either, I would just ask you to consider, before dismissing the Bible and what it says about Jesus out of hand, whether or not it might be true. You seem to have studied the evidence for its not being true. Have you given the other side a fair shake? There are many good books on the subject, including:

Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell
Finding the Real Jesus, The Case for Christ, and The Case for Faith, by Lee Strobel
The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry

Josh was a lawyer who set out to prove the Bible and Christianity false, and in the process was overwhelmed by the evidence of its truth. Lee’s story is very similar, but he was a journalist rather than a lawyer.

Please also accept my thanks for your being gracious enough to respond to my comment. I wish you well upon your Journey.

And please accept my thanks for your kind words, your respectful tone, and for taking the time to read and comment on my blog. I wish you well also.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Comment Response

I received the comment below from reader "Brother Gee" in response to my blog post entitled "Follow On". I felt I needed to respond to it in more depth than the comment box would probably allow room for, so I decided to address it in a separate blog post. Brother Gee's words are in italics. Mine are in plain print. If you would like to read Brother Gee's comment without my response, click on the hyperlink above and go to the comments section. For the record, I welcome any and all respectful comments, but any false doctrine contained in such comments will be addressed and refuted Scripturally.

Hello! Nice post. A short comment, if i may?
Jesus (the personality) incarnated in order to live a life that would set an indelible example for future generations.

Hello, and thank you for your kind words. Although I understand the distinction you’re making between “Jesus” and “the Christ” (below), Jesus was far more than just a personality. Jesus was 100% human and 100% God simultaneously. He was not incarnated in order to set an example. The example He set was a by-product of who He was. The reason Jesus took on flesh was so that He could pay the penalty for our sin, thus satisfying God’s wrath, which justly abides upon each of us.

The Life would be designed in such a way as to illustrate a Plan for Salvation that any human could follow to Liberation.

Jesus’ life did not “illustrate” a plan for salvation. Jesus’ perfect, sinless life, His atoning death, and his bodily resurrection were the plan for salvation. Not a plan, the only plan.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.’” John 14:6

Jesus did not say, “I am the illustration of a way,” He said, “I am the way.”

Acts 4:12, speaking of Jesus, says, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."

“No one comes…but through Me,” “salvation in no one else”. Not only is Jesus Himself the way, but Jesus is the only way.

I’m not sure precisely what you mean by “liberation”, but the only true liberation is found by placing your faith in Jesus Christ and turning from your life of sin (which is what I mean when I use the word “salvation”). There is no liberation in any other area of life (or the afterlife) if a person is not first liberated from the captivity to sin.

However, it is important for us to understand that Jesus was simply the earthly vehicle for The Christ,

If you mean that “Jesus” was His humanity and “the Christ” was His divine nature, the two were inextricably interwoven. Although it’s difficult for us to wrap our finite human minds around the concept, it is important for us to understand the truth: Jesus Christ was, most emphatically, totally human and totally God at the same time, all the time that He was on Earth, from His conception to His ascension. His humanity was vital to His being able to die for our sin. Had He been only God, he would not have been able to die, because God is eternal and can’t die.

In addition, had he not been human, we would not have had a high priest who can “sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15

an eternal cosmic force most often referred to as "The Second Aspect" of God (ie., "The Son").

“Eternal”, yes. “Cosmic force”, no. Jesus is not a cosmic force, He is a person. He is the second person in the triune Godhead, co-equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. He is a Being, not a force.

After the Baptism, Jesus (the earthly personality) no longer exists. It steps aside and allows The Christ to take over the earthly vehicle. From that point on, it is The Christ who teaches, heals, etc.

Nowhere does the Bible teach this. Nowhere. Not one place in Scripture. In fact Scripture clearly refutes this idea:

“for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11

When announcing His birth, the angels didn’t tell the shepherds that Jesus would one day become the Christ, they said He is the Christ.

“And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ.” Luke 2:26

Even though Jesus was an eight day old infant, it was clear to Simeon that He was the Christ.

This important fact has not been clearly brought forward in the churches,

That’s because it’s not fact, it’s heresy.

and so men have been led to believe and follow the memory of a personality (Jesus) instead of understanding that the man lived his life up until the age of 30 in preparation to receive and accept a Cosmic Principle.

So, basically, what you’re saying is that as far as anything of salvific import goes, Jesus’ life didn’t matter until he was baptized and began His public ministry? If that’s the case, why didn’t God just cause Jesus to miraculously materialize on Earth at the age of 30? Why did God make a special point of causing Jesus to be conceived by the Holy Spirit, born as a human baby, and live through childhood, youth, and young adulthood? What was the point of all of that if it didn’t matter to salvation?

Because Jesus’ life, all of Jesus’ life—His personality, His deity, the fact that He was able to live an entire life without sin—are integral to our salvation. It was more than just preparation for His ministry (which included teaching, prayer, healing and other miracles, and culminated with His death, burial, and resurrection, and, later, His ascension-- not accepting and receiving a “cosmic principle”). God has a perfect and right reason for everything He does, and if He deemed it necessary to our salvation for Jesus to live a life from conception to age 30, then it was necessary and right.

This, in order to show all of future Mankind that we could do the same - achieve Transfiguration and Liberation from this plane of existence.

The only way humans can be liberated from this plane of physical existence is by dying. Then they go on to another plane of existence for eternity. Those who (before dying) have turned from their sin and placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation spend eternity with Him in Heaven. Those who have not spend eternity separated from Him in Hell.

No one can achieve liberation from his sinful spiritual state. We can’t do it in our own strength or by being a good enough person or doing enough good things. That’s why Jesus has to reach down and save us from it.

With this Key, The New Testament can be penetrated beyond a superficial level, and those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, will reach a new level of Understanding.

The only way anyone can penetrate, understand, and have eyes to see and ears to hear the New Testament (or the Old Testament) is through the power of the Holy Spirit. And the only way to be empowered by the Holy Spirit is to be filled with Him. And the only way to be filled with Him is to turn from our sin and place our faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. There is no other “key” to understanding the Scriptures:

“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” I Corinthians 2:12-14

I want to close by saying that our great country, at least for now, grants us the right to believe whatever we want about God. God, however does not grant us the right to believe whatever we want about Him and still be assured of salvation. If your faith is in any Jesus that is not the Jesus of the Bible, you have placed your faith in an idol that you have fashioned with your mind. And, as I Corinthians 6:9 and Ephesians 5:5 tell us, idolaters will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 1:8-9 says: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!

As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”

Brother Gee, I beg you, turn from this false doctrine you believe, turn from your sin, and place your faith in the Jesus Christ of the Bible. Salvation is found only in His name through believing precisely what the Bible says about Him.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Follow On

John 1

35Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples,

36and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, "Behold,
the Lamb of God!"

37The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.

38And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, "What do you seek?" They said to Him, "
Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?"

39He said to them, "Come, and you will see." So they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the
tenth hour.

You probably won't be able to fully appreciate this unless you have a child or a dog. Maybe a cat. I'm not sure about cats.

When we speak of "following Jesus" today, we mean that we follow in His footsteps figuratively. We keep His teachings. We obey Him. We submit to His leadership.

But when Jesus was physically present on earth, people were literally able to follow Him. Around. As in, walking right behind Him. Maybe even stepping on the backs of His sandals like my children do to me sometimes.

Which got me to thinking. Why do people follow other people around? And who are these people who follow other people around? And why are my children and my dog always following me around? And why does it annoy me when my children and my dog follow me around? (Ok, I haven't figured that one out yet, but there's some kind of a sin issue in there somewhere, I'm sure.)

First of all, you don't usually see an adult following another adult around unless one of them is a stalker. But there are a some occasions in which it might be appropriate and legal, for example, if the person being followed is a tour guide, or if the person being followed is a seasoned employee training a new hire. Much of the time, literal followers are children. And at my house, the dog.

Why do people follow people around? Think about it-- have you ever followed somebody around? Why did you do it? Do people follow you around? Why do they do it?

People generally follow another person around because:

a.) they are interested in what that person is doing,
b.) they want to learn from that person,
c.) they have no idea where they're going and the person they're following does.

That's why people followed Jesus around. They had heard that he spoke and taught as no one ever had before (John 7:46). They had heard about the miracles and healings. They were curious. Were the rumors true? What might they see?

For some, that initial interest blossomed into a desire to sit under the tutelage of Jesus. They couldn't get enough of His teaching, so these first century groupies followed him from speaking engagement to speaking engagement.

Certainly, none of the people who followed Jesus around had a clue as to where they were going, spiritually speaking. Jesus did. He not only knew the way to the kingdom of God, He was the Way (John 14:6). Who better to follow?

So why do my children and my dog follow me around?

Well, my dog follows me around because hope springs eternal in her that I will drop food on the floor, or that one miraculous day, the meal I'm cooking in the kitchen will actually be for her. She's not interested in learning anything from me and she knows her way around the house just fine.

My children follow me around for the same basic reasons people followed Jesus around. They're curious. They want to know what I'm doing, and they hope it will be something fun that will involve them. When they're young, even cooking, sweeping, and folding the laundry seem interesting to them (yeah, my kids don't get out much) and they want to learn how to do it just like Mom. When we're in an unfamiliar place, they follow me because they don't know how to get where we're going, and I do.

Which makes me think.

How am I walking? Am I walking the way Jesus walked? Do I walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11)? Do I walk in integrity (Proverbs 20:7) Do I walk blamelessly (Proverbs 11:20)?

Do I follow Jesus so closely that by following me around, my children can learn to follow Him too?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Facing the Furnace

Daniel 3:

14 Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?

15"Now if you are fall down and worship...very well; But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?"

16Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.

17"If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.

18"But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."

19Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated.

21Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their other clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire.

24Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, "Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?" They replied to the king, "Certainly, O king."

25He said, "Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!"

26Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!" Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire.

27The...king's high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them.

28Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king's command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God.

29"Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way."

What a great story. It's almost Disney-ish in the telling. Three boys rise from virtual anonymity to high and respected places of power and influence. Next-- oh no! --there's a brief period of drama and suspense. But then, as we knew it would, comes the happy ending. Cut and print. That's a wrap.

Hang on. Rewind.

If you grew up in church like I did, you probably can't remember a time when you didn't know the happy ending to this story. Check that. This wasn't a story. This was a historical event. It was a real situation that happened to real, flesh and blood people, with real feelings, just like you and me. And just like you and me, when these boys were in the middle of their circumstances, they didn't know what was going to happen next or how things would turn out in the end.

I think we forget that sometimes. We forget how frightening it must have been for Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to stand up to this megalomaniacal king and say, "Regardless of the outcome, we're not going to worship an idol." They served in Nebuchadnezzar's court. They had seen what this guy did to people who disobeyed him. Cruel and unusual punishment was his specialty.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego weren't out to be heroes. They didn't know that they would be written about and set an example for Bible-readers for thousands of years to come. Their only concern was personal obedience to God. Whether they lived or died. Whether or not anyone else noticed. They were in it for God, and God alone.

But since they were written about, what can we learn from their example?

Truly following and obeying God means trouble is coming our way.
How's that for an advertisement for Christianity? Jesus didn't say, "Follow Me so you can have 'your best life now'." He said, if you want to follow Me, you'd better realize from the get-go that you're going to have to deny yourself and prepare to be crucified daily (
Luke 9:23). He said, "Look, the world hates Me. If you follow Me, they're going to hate you, too." (John 15:18-20) He said, "In this world, you will have tribulation." (John 16:33). Following Jesus is not a skip through the park.

Gird up. Now.
Where do you think Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego got the spiritual fortitude to stand against Nebuchadnezzar? These weren't guys who just attended church, read the Bible, and prayed whenever they happened to feel like it and had a lackadaisical attitude towards their walk with God. You know how I know that? Because people like that don't do great things for God. People like that fold when faced with the furnace.

These guys were firmly rooted in the Word and in prayer. They were serious about obeying God, even when it came down to meal time (Daniel 1:8-15). They had such an awe and reverence for God that they feared His judgment more than the furnace. They were able to stand firm because they were already girded up in the faith.

Don't kick against the trials, embrace them.
God is sovereign. Any circumstance that comes into your life was put there, or allowed there, by Him. Even if it's a circumstance that is confusing, horrific, or heartbreaking, He is allowing it into your life for His glory and for your good. Maybe He's trying to reveal something to you about Himself, such as His faithfulness or His power. Maybe He's disciplining you so that you will repent and obey Him. Maybe He's trying to teach you a skill, such as patience, endurance, or persistence in prayer. Whatever it is, what greater blessing could there be than the God of the universe wanting to work in your life?

Just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego did not have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the furnace, accept that God has the right to use whatever means He deems necessary to work in your life, and thank Him for even wanting to. (Romans 5:3-5)

Trials allow us to know God in a new way.
It's one thing to know, "...I will never leave you nor forsake you." (
Hebrews 13:5) just because the Bible says so. It's another thing entirely to know it because you have walked it with your own two feet. Just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego would never have come to know the manifest presence of God had it not been for the furnace, we cannot know Him as Provider without experiencing desperate need. We cannot know Him as Healer without facing disease. We cannot know Him as Comforter without experiencing crushing loss. It is not until we are in the furnace with nowhere else to turn but to God that we can experience the fullness of His promises.

What about Bob?
Or Joe or Mary or Nebuchadnezzar and all his cronies? What effect does the trial you're going through, your reaction to it, and God's handling of it, have on the people around you who need to know Jesus? Maybe it's not just to grow you, but to bring someone else to salvation.

In verses 2, 3, and 27, Daniel gives a detailed list of the heads of state who witnessed this event. That was no accident. In His mercy, God brought each of these officials to Babylon to show Himself to them. Through Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego's obedience and subsequent suffering, God's glory and power, and the fact that He was the only true God, were displayed for all to see. Look at the reaction Nebuchadnezzar had in verses 26-29. In verse 26, this idol builder does a 360 and calls God, "the most high God". In verses 27 and 29 he says, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego...there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way."

Trials aren't any fun. They can be scary. They can be heart-wrenching. But if God gets glory, how small a sacrifice and how great an honor is our suffering.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

With the FIRST Fruits (and all the subsequent ones, too)

"Honor the LORD with your wealth
and with the firstfruits of all your produce;" Proverbs 3:9

Ouch. God really convicted me of something yesterday. The verse above, in its proper context, is clearly talking about honoring God with our material increase: our money, our posessions, the tangible fruit of our labor.

I'm a stay at home mom. My paycheck does not come in the form of dollars and cents, but in hours and minutes. My wealth is time, and lately, I haven't been honoring God with it.

I confess, I have workaholic tendencies. I hit the ground running when I get up and don't stop until I go to bed. We just moved into a new house. There's a mountain of work to be done, and that's how I've been spending my wealth of time. I have squeezed God in when it was convenient for me. I have given God the leftovers of my time; the scraps from the table He Himself has seen fit to bless me with. I have pushed Him aside and lavished my wealth on work.

I dont' want to "make time for God" any more. I want Him to so consume my heart, my mind, and my spirit that I can't tear myself away. I want to be engulfed in flames of passion for communion with Him. He is only honored when I give Him what He is rightfully due-- everything.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pursue the Imperishable

I Peter 1:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,

5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,

7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;

8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,

9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.

13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance,

15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior;

16 because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY."

17 If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth;

18 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers,

19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.

20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you

21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,

23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.

Luke 11:12 says that if we ask God for an egg, He won't give us a scorpion. But sometimes, when I ask God for an egg, He gives me a Denny's Grand Slam instead.

Such was the case with my Bible study this morning. I asked God to speak to my heart about something that's a concern for me right now, thinking He would lead me to one of those comforting passages that says that He cares for me (I Peter 5:7, Matthew 11:28). I only ordered an egg, but God knew I needed something more filling and nutritious. Something I could chew on for a while. Something that would stick to my ribs.

So He served me up a heaping helping of the first chapter of I Peter.

I've been asking God to teach me to need Him more. No, not just "need". NEED!!! And guess what I've learned-- God delights to answer prayers like that. Guess what else I've learned-- He doesn't usually do it by waving a magic wand over your head and instantly making you the way you want to be. He brings circumstances or people into your life that you have to walk through and work through. Along the way, He's sneakily transforming your character to make you more Christ-like. It's like nuclear physics homework, only not as easy or fun.

(Personally, I would prefer a magic wand. It's easier, faster, and requires nothing on my part. On the other hand, Cinderella got the magic wand treatment, and where did that get her? She didn't learn to sew a designer gown, shop for comfortable shoes, or make her own travel arrangements. How could she fend for herself the next time there was a ball? But I digress...)

So, I find myself in this situation where God is teaching me to really NEED Him. I've done literally everything I can do on my end. The only thing left is for God to move. And, boy, do I need Him to move. Like, yesterday.

So, I'm praying and praying and praying about this situation and God says, "Look, you're missing the point. The whole point of this little exercise is not about the end result (the resolution of the situation). That's temporal. It's not going to last. The point is what I'm teaching you as I walk you through it. That's imperishable. Eternal."

And so, I pursue the imperishable.

Because I was redeemed --bought back-- not with perishable seed (23) or with perishable things like gold or silver (18), but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ (19), and until I reach my inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled, and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for me (4),

I will forsake lusting after the perishable (14) and pursue obedience and holiness (15-16), which are imperishable.

I will greatly rejoice whenever I am distressed by perishable trials (6), because the proof of my faith --which is imperishable-- even proof by fire, is more precious, more valuable than all the perishable gold or material things in this world (7).

Pursue the imperishable things of God. They are more precious than food, shelter, safety, family, money, reputation, things. They are eternal.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cleaning House

II Chronicles 29:

1Hezekiah became king when he was twenty-five years old;...
2He did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done.
3In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the LORD and repaired them.
4He brought in the priests and the Levites and gathered them into the square on the east.
5Then he said to them, "Listen to me, O Levites. Consecrate yourselves now, and consecrate the house of the LORD, the God of your fathers, and carry the uncleanness out from the holy place.
6"For our fathers have been unfaithful and have done evil in the sight of the LORD our God, and have forsaken Him and turned their faces away from the dwelling place of the LORD, and have turned their backs.
7"They have also shut the doors of the porch and put out the lamps, and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the holy place to the God of Israel.
8"Therefore the wrath of the LORD was against Judah and Jerusalem, and He has made them an object of terror, of horror, and of hissing, as you see with your own eyes.
9"For behold, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this.
10"Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the LORD God of Israel, that His burning anger may turn away from us.
11"My sons, do not be negligent now, for the LORD has chosen you to stand before Him, to minister to Him, and to be His ministers and burn incense."
12Then the Levites arose...

15They assembled their brothers, consecrated themselves, and went in to cleanse the house of the LORD, according to the commandment of the king by the words of the LORD.
16So the priests went in to the inner part of the house of the LORD to cleanse it, and every unclean thing which they found in the temple of the LORD they brought out to the court of the house of the LORD. Then the Levites received it to carry out to the Kidron valley...
18Then they went in to King Hezekiah and said, "We have cleansed the whole house of the LORD, the altar of burnt offering with all of its utensils, and the table of showbread with all of its utensils.
19"Moreover, all the utensils which King Ahaz had discarded during his reign in his unfaithfulness, we have prepared and consecrated; and behold, they are before the altar of the LORD."
20Then King Hezekiah arose early and assembled the princes of the city and went up to the house of the LORD.
21They brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven lambs and seven male goats for a sin offering for the kingdom, the sanctuary, and Judah. And he ordered the priests, the sons of Aaron, to offer them on the altar of the LORD...

24The priests slaughtered them and purged the altar with their blood to atone for all Israel, for the king ordered the burnt offering and the sin offering for all Israel.
25He then stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with harps and with lyres,...

26The Levites stood with the musical instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets.
27Then Hezekiah gave the order to offer the burnt offering on the altar. When the burnt offering began, the song to the LORD also began with the trumpets, accompanied by the instruments of David, king of Israel.
28While the whole assembly worshiped, the singers also sang and the trumpets sounded; all this continued until the burnt offering was finished.
29Now at the completion of the burnt offerings, the king and all who were present with him bowed down and worshiped.
30Moreover, King Hezekiah and the officials ordered the Levites to sing praises to the LORD with the words of David and Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with joy, and bowed down and worshiped.
31Then Hezekiah said, "Now that you have consecrated yourselves to the LORD, come near and bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the house of the LORD " And the assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings, and all those who were willing brought burnt offerings...
34But the priests were too few, so that they were unable to skin all the burnt offerings;

35There were also many burnt offerings with the fat of the peace offerings and with the libations for the burnt offerings. Thus the service of the house of the LORD was established again.
36Then Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced over what God had prepared for the people...

You know the history of Israel: bad king, good king, bad king, good king (actually, there were a lot more bad kings than good kings). The bad kings would come in and establish idol worship. They set up altars and made sacrifices to false gods, introduced cult prostitution, and even desecrated God's house with idol worship and paraphernalia.

Ahaz was one of those bad kings. II Kings 16 and II Chronicles 28 tell us he not only burned incense and made sacrifices to his gods, he "even made his sons pass through the fire" in worship of these idols. He took the gold and silver from God's house and used it to try to bribe another king to come help him fight against an enemy. He desecrated God's altar and tore down parts of the temple. He cut to pieces all of the temple utensils used for making sacrifices to the Lord. He had altars to his own gods placed in the temple, "in every corner of Jerusalem", and "in every city in Judah".

Ahaz was one bad dude. In fact, he was such a pustule of a human being that when he died they didn't even bury him with all the other kings of Israel. That's pretty bad.

And Hezekiah, Ahaz's son, became king in his place.

Hezekiah was one of the most Godly kings in Israel's history. He had seen with his own eyes the evil perpetrated by his father, which had infested God's holy house and spread throughout the land, and God put it in his heart to turn things around and lead his people back to God.

See any similarities between God's house then and God's house now? Between God's people then and God's people now? Is it time for us to grieve over the holy things that have been destroyed or taken out of God's house, and the filth that has been brought into His house?

We've got to sweep around our own front door.

Notice that Hezekiah didn't just go out and get a bunch of guys together and say, "All right, boys, we need to clean house. Let's get to work." He went specifically to the priests and Levites-- the church leadership, if you will --and said, "consecrate yourselves".

Consecration was a process of ritual cleansing. As the priests and Levites went through each step of the outward, physical cleansing, they were also setting themselves apart from worldliness and seeking God's hand of purification in their hearts.

Notice also that the priests and Levites had to consecrate themselves before they would be able to consecrate the temple. Just as Ahaz's own personal evildoing had trickled down and infected the people, so the temple leadership would have to cleanse themselves personally before God in order for a pursuit of holiness to pervade God's house and His people.

Those who study revival have noted that the majority of churches which experience revival do so under the leadership of a pastor who has experienced personal revival. Pastor, if you sense it's time to clean house at your church, step one is to make sure you have consecrated yourself and are walking blamelessly before God. Step two is to get your leadership together for times of cleansing and much prayer, that they may consecrate themselves before leading the people.

Once their personal cleansing was complete, the priests and Levites began to "carry the uncleanness out from the holy place". The evil done in the temple in Ahaz's day had harmed families, stirred God to anger, and made His people "an object of terror, of horror, and of hissing" in the eyes of the world around them. Likewise, the worldliness and sin-- from gossip and jealousy all the way up to pedophile clergy --we have allowed into the church has brought tremendous harm to countless families and has made the body of Christ an object of ridicule and hatred in the eyes of many of the people we seek to reach for Him. Can we expect that His anger towards us would be any less than his anger towards the Israelites?

When the priests and Levites began to cleanse the temple, they did so completely and permanently. In the same spirit of Jesus' own remarks that if your very hand or eye causes you to sin, you should remove it from your body (Matthew 5:29-30), the priests and Levites removed everything--no matter how small, no matter how valuable it may have seemed, or how much its removal might have offended someone--that didn't belong in God's house.

Verse 16 tells us they carried all these unclean things out to the Kidron valley. The Kidron valley (or brook, as it was sometimes called when water was running through the valley due to heavy rains) was an area outside Jerusalem where, under Kings Asa, Josiah, and Hezekiah, all manner of unclean items used in idol worship were disposed of, usually by burning. That's permanent. They weren't taking any chances that someone might come across these items and bring them back into the temple.

Not only did the priests and Levites take all the unclean items out of God's house, they purified and brought back all of the sacred items used for worshipping God that never should have been removed.

Is it time to carry the unclean things out of your church and down to the Kidron valley? Maybe it's an unbiblical docrinal tenet of your denomination. A program that brings glory only to the church members involved and not to God. A person in a position of church leadership who intentionally lives in sin and rebellion. An attitude of your own heart.

What about the holy items of worship that have been taken out of your church? Have sound, Biblical sermons been replaced by ear tickling pep talks and skits? Have Scriptural and doctrinal worship songs been replaced by the vain repetition of fluffy, feel-good jingles? Has prayer become simply a way to bookend your worship services or even disappeared altogether?

Pastors, it's time. Our churches are in captivity to worldliness due to our disobedience. God has chosen you to minister before Him; to lead His people to be consecrated to Him and worship Him. Do not be negligent about cleansing His house. Go into the innermost part of the house of God-- your heart, your family, your staff --and through humility, prayer, study of the Word, and sound Biblical action, remove every unclean thing, and bring back the sacred things with the help of your church leadership.

Only when God's house is clean will we be able to offer Him the sacrifices He truly desires:

THUS the service of the house of the Lord will established again, and the people will rejoice over what God has prepared for them.