Month: May 2019

Monomaniacs

I just read an article in “Christianity Today” by Mark Gali titled, “Monomaniacs for God.”*

Mr. Gali writes, “Let me begin by picturing what the church looks like when it hasn’t forgotten God…The reality of which I am speaking—a church that has not forgotten God—exhibits one principal characteristic: a desire for God. A desire so intense it sometimes looks like drunkenness or even madness.” I know the exhilaration about which Mr. Gali writes; I hope you do, too.

When I was a young man, several times, I traveled to visit a friend that was attending a Bible College. On one occasion, as we walked around the campus, we came to an arched bridge that crossed a small stream. We stopped there and lingered for a while, listening to the flowing water and musing about what our places in Christ might be.

We were both sincerely committed to living our lives wholly committed to Jesus. Our conversation turned to how to live a radically Christian life. We each, individually, felt that God was calling us to a radical Christianity. So, on that spot, we each made that commitment to Jesus.

By radical, I do not mean militant, but radical as opposed to the lives of casual Christians of our day. I don’t mean just the laity was conforming to the ways of society, but the clergy also seemed to feel compelled to submit to modernity for their messages to be relevant.

Over time, our friendship drifted, but on the occasions when we checked in on each other, the fire remained, though we each followed very different paths.

For me, I wrestled with how to remain a radical Christian; I still do. I have learned that I must have a mindset like that of King David. He wrote in Psalms 63:1 (ESV), “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

If I fail to keep Jesus my first love and if I am not willing to be judged by the wise people as foolish then I am destined to be pulled into the rapids of the river of this world, the ruler of which stands condemned already (John 16:11).

Oh God, give us all empty bellies that we might hunger after you.

*https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/june/monomaniacs-for-god.html

Photo by Yingchou Han on Unsplash

Demonstrate Jesus to People

God blessed me with the opportunity to play a small part in transitioning some Romanian girls from the pits of desperation to productive lives by learning a trade to earn a living.

Back in the 1990s, we set up a small ministry to help transition older orphans out of Romania’s Orphanages and into Romanian society. We rescued three girls, provided them with supervised housing, and found jobs for them in a bakery where they could develop the skills to be bakers.

The group which we targeted were orphans that were already out of the system and were living in horrible conditions. From that group of three girls, one returned to her old ways while the other two continued for some time, working within the ministry of a local, American missionary. Eventually, the second girl struck out on her own, and the third girl married an American, Christian man and moved to the States.

All three were given the same opportunities, treated the same way, and received individual Christian counseling. Still, one returned to a life of sin, one became a productive member of Romanian society, and one clung to Jesus.

When I first met them, this third girl seemed to be mentally disabled. She spoke very little, was very backward, and even had a kind of blank look on her face. However, we discovered these symptoms were from trauma; Jesus healed her. She eventually became herself; she was a person that loved Jesus.

So, what did we learn from this program? We saw first hand Matthew 13:3-9: Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still, other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

We had three of the four in our small group. We didn’t have the one among thorns. We can’t change people; only God can do that. Still, it’s our job to demonstrate Jesus to people, to give our time, talents, and treasures to reach people for Jesus, and to not just talk about Jesus but to live as Jesus lived; to put everything we have, including life, itself, on the line for Jesus.

In the whole of this world, there is nothing more valuable than a single person being saved by placing their faith in Jesus as the Lord and Savior. We should filter all of our decisions through this truth.

Photo by Emma Van Sant on Unsplash

Are you a gadfly?

It is heartbreaking to look at the “grand view” of Christianity in our world today. The geography of the Church has shifted so as to be unrecognizable from just ten years ago. The locations where people are “all in” for Jesus are far away from America. What have we done to our country?

Great revivals, great miracles, great sacrifices, great humility, great love are alive and integrated into churches from India to Nigeria, and, surprisingly, on U.S. military bases, but rarely in the local churches in America. American churches suffer from what this Indian missionary preaches:

Do you know what the greatest sin of the century is? We preach to the preached, we bless the blessed, we convert the converted, and we baptize the baptized, we comfort the comforted, but we neglect the neglected.

Head-to-foot missionaryBhalchandra KambleMay 23 at 2:17 PM
[facebook url=”https://www.facebook.com/bhalchandra.kamble.37/videos/2515146078515786/” /]

Our human nature is to justify why we fail God and then try to attempt to persuade Him to give us “one more chance.”  However, it is crucial to understand that Jesus, our Lord, expects us to change. God expects us to receive His mercy so we convey His grace to other people.

Jesus is the Alpha, the beginning of all things, but He is also the Omega, the Last, the end of all things. He outlasts and transcends. He goes beyond the limits of our faults. We find this in Revelation 22:13, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

It gives me hope to know that I cannot fail bigger than Jesus can save, but the mandate from heaven is, “Will I change? Will I be like Jesus, or will I become comfortable as a Christian gadfly?” I pray that I will change to be like Jesus.

Come down that we may build up

When we lived in a condo, it was a new experience for us. People surrounded us, nearly all of whom want nothing to do with us or anyone else. And, those whom we coaxed a few words from communicated their sincere desire to not have any meaningful relationship with us or others of our community.

We were blessed with a modicum of conversation and even a small level of actual social interaction with others that were also most outcasts; those considered odd, clinically obsessive or hoarders. It was much like high school. How often it is that the strange, the socially inept, the fringe of acceptable society are the very ones open to friendship and willing to hear and even accept the good news of Jesus.

Notice in Romans 15:1-4 what the Spirit inspired Paul to write: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’ For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.’”

No, it’s not by chance or unfortunate circumstance that Christians are placed with the socially awkward, society’s outcasts, and the poor for they are a fertile field into which God has called may of us. Our calling from God is to “build them up.” In Romans, we learn much about this plan of God through Christ Jesus.

Karl Barth*, as did St. Peter, wrote about the enigmatical words of Paul. Nevertheless, encouraged by the Holy Spirit, Paul grasped and never released the Gospel that the only begotten Son died to bestow upon all who would receive Him God’s gift, salvation through Christ’s crucifixion. And, as we read through the book of Romans, the Spirit enables us to be transported to that higher plane, one which was revealed to Paul. We learn the way we are to live so that we may deliver God’s grace to others through Jesus.

However, we do not live on the mountain top. We may ascend by the Holy Spirit, but we must come down from our presumed high position that we may “build up” friends, neighbors, our own, and everyone everywhere for this is the pattern Jesus showed and acted upon for us. And what do we gain from this? We obtain that which cannot be purchased, that which kings and men of power long for but can never grasp. We gain peace and the abiding presence of the one true God.

*Karl Barth (1886-1968) was the most important Swiss theologian of the twentieth century, with an influence far beyond Switzerland. He is considered alongside Thomas Aquinas, Jean Calvin, and Friedrich Schleiermacher to be one of the greatest thinkers within the history of the Christian tradition. Barth gave new impulses to Protestant theology during a critical phase, reshaping it fundamentally toward a systematic theology that had to cope with the grim realities of the 20th century. As the principal author of “The Barmen Declaration,” he was the intellectual leader of the German Confessing Church, the Protestant group that resisted the Third Reich. Barth’s writings have been translated into nearly every European language, as well as Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and more. – http://barth.ptsem.edu/karl-barth/biography

Good Character

Bart Starr, the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers from 1956 through 1971, passed away today (May 26, 2019). As a kid, I watched Bart Starr, and his team win the first two Super Bowls. However, his most significant impact on me was when I attended a luncheon where he spoke about sportsmanship and good character; and, I got to shake his hand! He was a genuinely fantastic person who “practiced what he preached.” Many people will deeply miss him.

When was the last time you heard a commentator or athlete talk about character? They may briefly venture into sportsmanship but “character” that would be too controversial to touch on since there is no national agreement on what constitutes good character. It hasn’t always been this way.

And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. “(Ruth 3:11 NIV) Notice in this passage of Scripture that there isn’t a detailed definition of what was “noble character.” Society, at that time, had a very clear understanding of what was “noble character.”

There is a fascinating fifty-seven page thesis titled “Defining Character: A Curriculum Analysis of the Boy Scouts of America and the National Kappa League” written by Helen Marie Gerety, Loyola University Chicago, that seeks to analyze both the Boy Scouts of America and the National Kappa Leagues’ character education curriculum. – https://ecommons.luc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=3889&context=luc_theses

Who knew that defining “character” was so difficult and controversial? Well, I guess the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) knew. “The objectives of the BSA are referred to as the Aims of Scouting: Character, Citizenship, Personal Fitness, Leadership.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boy_Scouts_of_America

If we turn to 1 Corinthians 15:33, we read, “Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” The word “character” is the Greek word éthos meaning habit, manner, custom, morals (Strong’s Concordance 2239). Our English term “ethics” is derived from ēthos. I think Bart Starr understood character and I hope all of us strive to build within our lives good ēthos.

Hercule Poirot tackles Romans 7:9

detective

While reading the book of Romans I came across a verse that didn’t seem to make sense. Romans 7:9 says, “Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.” So, I enlisted the help of the famous Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective, Monsieur Hercule Poirot, to help me sleuth this verse.

I asked Monsieur Hercule Poirot, “What’re your first thoughts about this verse?” “This verse, it presents a concept most difficult, mon ami.”, he replied, “As, no doubt you know, Hercule Poirot’s methods are his own. Order and method, and ‘the little gray cells’. Nevertheless, for this adventure, the great Poirot has enlisted some help to unravel this compact, complex, codex! I have inquired about this verse’s truth from Jesus, for He is the Truth (Jn. 14:16).”

“Monsieur Hercule Poirot, may I call you Hercule?”, I queried. “No, but you may call me Monsieur Poirot.”, he replied. “Okay, Hercule.”, I said, “What is the Holy Spirit compelling Paul to communicate? What does God mean by in this verse! My head feels like it’s going to explode!”, I exclaimed. Monsieur Poirot replied, rather icily, “Surely, the meaning, it must be quite simple, N’est-ce pas?

Monsieur Poirot continued, “Having reviewed numerous Biblical commentaries I have observed that many of the authors thrust and parry amongst themselves to champion their interpretation above all others. Nevertheless, I, most humbly, am prepared to expound upon this verse. And, I, Hercule Poirot, present it with the hope that I do no injustice to God’s word while using an allegory to clarify these few words in verse Romans 7:9:

Suppose I live an active, healthy life. Suppose, I’m the picture of health, so much so I belong on the cover of a WheatiesTM box! However, during my annual physical exam, the doctor sees a mole that doesn’t look right. A biopsy is taken, melanoma is found. Upon further testing, it is determined that malignant carcinoma has spread throughout my body, to the degree that it’s useless to treat. My oncologist sadly informs me that, in essence, I am a dead man walking. It’s just a matter of time before what was already in me, unseen, is now seen.

In both my lack of knowing and in my knowing the result is the same; I am a dead man.

“So,” I posited, “God is saying that sin is in everyone and sin kills everyone. That agrees with Romans 6:23, ‘the wages of sin is death.’ But why do animals die? They have not sinned.” Hercule Poirot sighed and said, “Why? This is because when Adam sinned God’s kingdom on Earth was transferred to the enemy of God. How can this be known? I looked into this and found in Romans 8:20-21, ‘For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.’” “Oh.”, I replied.

Hercule Poirot drily declared, “So, mon ami, I may think I’m fine but, Jesus, the Great Physician, reveals the sin that’s inside me. He may do this for me if I happen to go to an Easter Sunday church service, or someone in the family prays before Thanksgiving dinner, or I hear a co-worker talk about Jesus. In God’s way, I become aware of my death sentence.”

“I’m starting to understand.”, I exclaimed! “Fantastique!”, Hercule Poirot responded. He continued, “You may rightly ask, what about people that never hear the gospel? Well, God has given everyone sufficient knowledge to know their condition which leaves them without excuse. There can be no pretense of ignorance. You can get a glimpse of this in Romans 1:20 and 2:15.”
“Thanks, Hercule.”, I said.

So, here is the good news. Jesus can save us. We all die a physical death for “…it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” (Hebrews 9:27) Our hope, our answer, can be seen in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

I’ve accepted Jesus as my Savior so now I’m no longer a dead man, walking. That’s good news.

Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

Is that in red letters?

My wife and I recently visited a city we lived in twenty years ago. It was fun discovering the new businesses, new homes, and new roads as well as finding the old places; the ones that hold special memories. We discovered that we had forgotten more than we expected. Without Google Maps we would have been lost in our old home town.

I see this very same condition taking place in church congregations today. It seems as if Christians, both young and old, have forgotten the framework of the body of Christ. It is stunning to me when I talk to people that have accepted Jesus as their Savior but they dismiss the cost of sin, they do not recognize the Church’s authority, and they look at the Bible as a smorgasbord from which they can pick and choose which parts they accept and which parts no longer align with popular culture and therefore are ignored or thrown away.

When I lead a person with this condition into the Bible it’s as if I’ve taken them to their hometown from which they’ve been away from for twenty years. They recognize only an occasional landmark and are unfazed by passages directly from the Bible that contradict popular beliefs. I find this especially disheartening with young people who discount the Old Testament. It’s passe, they say; nobody lives by the law, they say. What is even more disturbing to me is when I talk with someone that says, “I only believe in the red letters.”

Discussing this with a well-respected friend and Bible scholar, in mere moments they had an answer for these new-fangled ideas: Jesus said, mind you, in red letters, “You search the Scriptures…it is they that bear witness about me.” (John 5:39) And, Paul tells Timothy to “study to show yourself approved by God… rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15Guess what the Scriptures are that Jesus and Paul are referring?  It’s the Old Testament. The Law. Christ fulfills the Old Testament so we know Him better by learning from it.

If you’re a “red letter only” person then I’d like to point out that at the start of the ministry of Jesus He reads in the Temple from Isaiah, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled.” while Christ’s statement, “You search the Scriptures…it is they that bear witness about me.” comes afterwards. This shows that “fulfillment” does not mean retirement.

If ever there was a time when Christians need to study the Bible, discuss scriptures with other Christians to sharpen their handling of God’s Word, and challenge, respectfully, heresies when they hear them, the time is now!

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Show Hole

One of the streaming media services had a great commercial. They had this well-known actor over-dramatizing the end of a TV series he’d been watching. He declared he was now in a “show hole!” Similarly, as I was reading Genesis, I mused about what Noah might have been thinking when God shut the door. That was the end of everything he had known, except God. Indeed, Noah was in a “show hole!”

God is so good to us. Amid universal judgment, God provided a way of escape for the one that walked with Him (and his family) and God “tucked” Noah in like a father tucks a child in at night.There is so much we can learn in Genesis, chapter seven, especially what we can learn about God’s heart.

Noah lived what King David proclaimed in Psalms 46:1-2: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;” The contents of this Psalm is precisely what happened to Noah. This Psalm is not just an encouraging song; it is proven truth!

As I prayed today, I asked Jesus to help me take my eyes off the waves and fix them on Him. The sea may rage around me, but my place of peace is in Him. There are some severe problems in my family and with my health. No doubt, you also have a set of issues that seem to be resistant to prayer. I want to assure you that nothing is immune to prayer: nothing.

For my wife and I, a chapter of our life is closing. Like a good book we are left with our storyline still advancing as this chapter closes – some things are answered, new ideas are appearing, there’s a bit of suspense as to what’s in this next chapter; indeed the protagonists are at the proverbial fork in the road. I feel “show hole” loss for what has been familiar is ending.

I’m thankful we get to be characters in such an exciting story. Likewise, I confident God has you in an exiting story. Maybe some of us will be remembered well by later generations; no doubt some of us will be forgotten. Nevertheless, you and I are in God’s book of rememberers (Malachi 3:16).

My prayer for all of us is that God will make a way where there is no way. Let’s rest in Psalms 25:2, “I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

Insecurity

Are you insecure? If so, the following devotional can fix you in just three minutes.

When I was in middle school – it was called junior high back then – I began to notice and be attracted to girls. My first girlfriend was Leslie. I had no courage around girls, so she chased me until she became my girlfriend for about two weeks.

We’d been friends for much longer. My best friend and I would play tetherball with her in her backyard and, sometimes, she’d watch my wrestling matches at school. But, after I became her boyfriend, she quickly dumped me and moved on. I don’t fault her for that.

Before this first brush with courting, I was backward and clumsy; afterward, I was backward, clumsy, and completely insecure. Attraction, attention, affection, and abandonment is the process of how kids begin to learn the social skills they will need once they mature and are ready to start courtship.

If nothing else, I’m consistently a slow learner, so when I entered high school, I had to take a speech class. When it came to my turn to stand up and give a speech, I took an “F” because I was too insecure to give the speech I had prepared and held in my hand.

As a novice student of history, I am astonished by the number of kingdoms destroyed by the actions of insecure leaders. Pride, combined with fear, produces an insidious foundation for insecurity. You can be sure that this toxic abscess within one’s self will manifest itself.

Hold on, you might say. If insecurity is a person’s nature, why am I picking on them? For twenty years, I was the poster child for insecurity. Then, God showed me that just as worry is a sin, so is insecurity.

Now, here comes the cure.

Just as worry is an expression of a person’s lack of trust in God, so insecurity is pride with doubt. Both pride and doubt are not God’s will for His children. God loves us and has told us, “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.” (Psalms 46:1 KJV) If we are called on to give a testimony or to take a leadership role, we need to pray. If God tells us “yes” then any action on our part to undermine God’s call is a sin. None of us want that.

Left unchecked, when insecurity has run its full course, an implosion takes place leaving that person an empty shell, exposed to all as someone who’s God-given strength was drained by insecurities abrogating God’s joy, peace, contentment and love which are available to each of us through Christ Jesus.

You can read a brief example of the impact of insecurity in Mark 6:21-28, I’ll give you the “clincher” here: “And he [King Herod] promised her with an oath...” He was a king. He did not need to write her a blank check, but his insecurity in front of his guests manifested itself much to his remorse and eventual destruction.

‘Insecurity’s fruit is loss, destruction, and embarrassment. God wants better for you.

Insecurity will lose its hold on us if we do what Jesus said in Mark 12:29-30, “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” If we do this, then there’s no place in our lives for insecurity.

Prayer: Father God, we know your bountiful promises in your Word that calls us to peace and rest in You. Therefore, right now, we ask that you would give us the boldness to deal with the root causes of our insecurities. Set us free and teach us to cast all of our care upon you. Thank you for this new freedom you have imparted to us. In the Name of Jesus we pray. Amen!

There you go. If you take to heart these passages of Scripture and pray a prayer similar to the one, above, you are free of insecurity. Walk in faith and that’s good news.

Photo by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash

Press On!

One of the oldest skulls ever found in North America was examined extensively by scientists. A peculiarity they discovered was that he had spent so much of his life clinching his jaw that his muscles had worn grooves into the bone of his skull. The scientists attributed this peculiarity to the man living a stressful life, which required him to be straining and clenching his jaw continually.

When it comes to God’s call on our lives, we must consider all things in this light. I have heard a dear friend often quoted Isaiah 50:7 when talking about God’s call. This verse says, “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.“

Setting your face like flint is a very descriptive phrase. There’s a verse in the New Testament that shows Jesus doing just that. We find this in Luke 9:51, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.“

Unlike so many things in life, when it comes to being obedient to a purpose our Lord has laid on us, we must set our face like flint, and with our full confidence in the Sovereign Lord, press on.

Photo by Tommy Lisbin on Unsplash

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