Sunday, January 28, 2007

Monday Morning Devotions

Read Ps. 3: 5-6
All of us at one time or another have enemies. What? Am I being paranoid? I do not think so. There will always be people in our lives who seek to harm us through ruining our reputations, keeping us from reaching our potential, or making us think we are worthless. These enemies can exist in our workplaces, our homes and families, and yes, the Church. I know what it is like to have things said about me that are not true. However, being a Christian for twenty years has its advantages. One of which is as I have walked the walk before God and man, people see my heart. My brothers and sisters in Christ see my actions, hear my words, and have given no credance to those things said against me. A good walk is one line of defense against a wicked tongue. However, our main enemies are not flesh and blood. They are spiritual. The enemy of our souls and his demons are on a non-stop crusade to steal, kill, and distroy. Yes, there is spiritual warfare to be engaged in. There are positive actions we can take to prevent ourselves from being btaken captive by the enemy. But there is also the weapon of rest. We do not dare engage the enemy in our own strength. Like David, we must rely on God to achieve the victory for us. As David was so content to rest in God that he could sleep while fleeing his enemies, we are called not to worry but to let God take care of our enemies. To fight an enemy on his terms is to compromise one's testimony. To rest in God's protection truly gives us peace.
Read Rev. 21:4
I have heard some Christians say that when we get to heaven, we will be so different that we will not have the same emotions that we have now. I humbly disagree. The promises of God give us hope. Our struggles cause us to long for eternity in the Father's presense. The Holy Spirit that lives in our hearts gives us a foretaste of the things to come. All these things from the hand of God cause us to react in our emotions. There will be a time when all these longings will reach a final consumation. Will this be before we are in the Father's presence in heaven. No. This time will come when we stand before Him. It is then that all the hopes of a redeemed heart are realized. We will have our same emotions, yet they will be cleansed from sin. In our cleansed state we will fully know the beauty of a world free of sin and death. We will worship the Lord with a redeemed mind and heart for eternity.

Monday, January 22, 2007

There is Something About That Name: A Sermon

Read Gen 28: 10-22.
We are aware that Jesus instructed us to pray in His name; whatever we ask for in His name will be granted. But is the power of His name contained solely in the word "JESUS"? The Seven Sons of Sceva seemed to think so. Attempting to cast out a demon, they demanded that the demon leave the person in the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches. The response was not as expected: Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you? the demon replied. These seven sons barely escaped with their lives from that encounter. They thought that the word "Jesus" was enough. But it wasn't then, and it is not so now.
If I mention the names of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, you will generally have a positive reaction. These were men whose deeds revealed what kind of men they were; their names alone stand for their qualities of greatness. If I mention Adolf Hitler and Osama Bin Laden, you will probably have a negative reaction. Their actions revealed what kind of men they were (or are). Their names alone stand for their particular kind of evil. When one says that a man's word is his bond, that means that through habitual honesty, one's name is evidence of an honest nature. When we pray in the name of Jesus, we are not just relying on the power of the word "Jesus", we are praying in His nature. We inherited His nature when the Holy Spirit set up residence in our hearts at salvation. And if we pray in His spirit rather than in in the spirit of our carnel man, than we are truly praying in Jesus's name.

Jacob had much to learn about God's nature. Jacob knew about God, but did not know Him as he should have. Yes, he did not have the advantage of knowing Jesus as the human manifestation of the Father. But Jacob knew enough of God to have placed his full trust in God when he first fled his home. However, instead, he chose to act on his own devices, and made a mess of much of his life. Just what did Jacob's knowledge of God consist of? I will deal with that as we look at Gen 28:12-22.

v12- Jacob has fled his home to avoid the wrath of his brother Esau. That night Jacob sees a vision of a ladder set up on earth reaching to heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending on it. There is much we can delve into to fully understand the meaning of the vision. But for now, we can just consider one aspect. The ladder and the movement of the angels upon it signified that God was near. He is not just confined to some far-away place beyond our being in His prescence. But He is near, and because He is, we can trust that we are under his protection at all times.

v13- God proclaims that he is the God of Abraham and Isaac. This would not just be a history of log-ago times to Jacob. God is saying here that he has a history of dealing with Jacob's family that was not ancient history. Abraham was nearly one hundred years old when he had Isaac. Isaac was sixty when he had Jacob and Esau. Abraham died at the age of one hundred seventy-five. This means that Abraham was alive the first fifteen years of Jacob's life. They knew each other. Abraham must have told him how God had dealt with him; Jacob heard eyewitness testimony to the power and character of God. This should have built his trust in the God who is all powerful and the fulfiller of all promises. God gives Jacob seven promises:

1. God will give Jacob and his decendants the land on which Jacob was resting.

v.14- 2. Jacob's family will be without number. 3. His family will spread over all the earth. 4. All the families of the earth will be blessed through Jacob's family.

v.15- 5. God is with Jacob. 6. God will bring Jacob back to this land. 7. God will not leave Jacob as long as any promise is unfulfilled.

On the basis of God's history with Jacob's family, Jacob could put his trust fully in these seven promises God gave him.

v16-17- Unfortunately, Jacob did not fully know God as he could have. He thought that God's presence was limited to this locality. Earlier, he and his mother thought they had to scheme to obtain the promises God had made concerning Jacob.

v.18-19- Jacob did know enough that when he encountered the living God, he was to worship him. He did this by setting up the memorial stone.

v.20-21 - But then Jacob made a conditional vow: "If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father's house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. "

God had already promised to be with him and provide for him. But he put God to the test while he lived by his own understanding, causing himself unnecessary grief. He knew of God's past provision for his family so that he could trust God and his promises. But he refused to act on his knowledge.

We who are saved by Jesus have a history with Him. He has saved us and cleanses us from sin. This history shows us His nature, that He will fulfill all the promises he has made to us. His name alone reminds us of these things. When we pray in His name,we know that we have what we ask, because He promised us it would be so. Not just because of the word "Jesus." But we pray in His nature; the Holy Spirit guides our prayers. And we have the assurrance that we will be heard, and that our petitions will be granted.

Monday Morning Devotions

My apologies for being late in posting this weeks entry.
IJohn 4:9- "In this the Love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him." (NKJV)
The gift of God is more than just the forgivness of sins, it also allows us not to rely on our own strength to live Godly. In other words, we are able to live through God's Son. We just don't try to live to the Christian life, but Jesus lives the life in our hearts. If we fail to know any other evidence of God's love, than this should be sufficient proof: God gave His only begotten Son so that not only can we be saved from sin and judgement, but that we can live a full life on earth. The creator cared so much for us that He wants each one of us to live life as a "redeemed one". A life that is victorious over sin now and is so different from the world that this life attracts the world to this life.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Eph 2:8- "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God..." (NKJV)
Some, including myself, having so tried to avoid using grace to excuse my inadequacies as a disciple of Jesus , that we have forgotten the role grace plays in our lives. I have no problem admitting that I can do nothing to earn salvation. Yet how easily I can forget that it is by grace that I walk the way Jesus walked. We can no more boast of sanctification than we can boast of salvation. All we can do is cooperate with God as he does the work. Through positive action we can avoid grieving the Holy Spirit. If we can trust God for the gift of salvation, the gift which allows us to sit in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus, we can surely trust Him to do the work that molds us into the image of His Son.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Standard of Salvation-A Sermon

Read IPet. 1:22-2:3.
Notice what Peter calls those whom he is addressing. He calls them newborn babes who should desire the pure milk of the word. (v. 2:2) This kind of language should remind us of other passages where this language is used: Heb. 5:12-6:2, ICor 3:1-4. In these passages, reference to being "new born babes" only able to take milk, not solid food, is meant as a rebuke. Those Christians being addressed are not where they should be at that point in their Christian walk. However, Peter is writing to those "new born babes" that are precisely where they ought to be in their new relationship with Jesus.

We rightly hold to a higher standard those who have been in the faith the longest. Some say "I have been saved these past forty years", but do nothing but gossip and bring division. When judging their fruit, we have a right to wonder rather they have truly been saved. We are also justified in being careful not to offend new believers with too many demands. A friend of mine told me one day how he and his wife were concerned about the way his cousin, a new believer, was dressing. "We would like to talk to you about the way you dress" they said as they brought up the subject. "I know" she said. "You ought to see how I dressed before I became a Christian." The couple felt the Spirit telling them to back off. But are there standards to which we should hold new believers to account? Yes. But how do we counsel new believers who are doing what they should be doing? Should we just let the Lord deal with them with no input from older Christians? I have seen this done. The result is that these believers do not become all that Jesus wants them to be, or they abandon the faith. So I ask again, how do we cousel new believers; to what standards do we hold them accountable to? The example of Peter writing to these new converts serves as a model for us in this matter.

Just who were these new believers Peter was writing to? They were new converts being persecuted by Rome under Nero. They made their faith known, they did not hide their light under a bushel, and they were paying for it with their lives. This is the persecution, some thirty years after Christ's death and resurrection, that would eventually claim the lives of both Paul and Peter. However, Peter had yet not undergone the same suffering as those to whom this letter was addressed. This could have posed a problem for Peter. After all, did he not deny the Lord three times. We don't know, but Satan could have tried to discourage Peter from writing this letter. Satan could have taunted him, saying, "You hypocrite! Who are you to be giving counsel to these people. You denied Jesus three times, and yet you think you have the right to tell these people how to behave! I wouldn't be surprised if they told you to mind your own business." Fortunately, Peter knew he had been not only forgiven, but charged by Jesus himself to feed the sheep. Satan tries to discourage us as well when we try to counsel others. When we try to teach others to obey the gospel, Satan often brings back to our memory times when we have engaged in alcohol or drug abuse, or sexual immorality. Satan wants us to shrink back and say nothing, leaving him to do his work on those we need to help. But if we know that our sins are forgiven, we can give Satan his walking papers and do the works the Lord has called us to do.

So, how does Peter go about counseling these baby Christians. In IPet 1:1, he reminds them that they are pilgrims, temporary residents on earth that are not weighed down by the surrounding culture, like Abraham. Abraham knew that where ever he set his foot, that land would belong to his decendants one day. But he knew that this promise from God would not be fulfilled in his lifetime. So he just wandered the land, living in tents, not becoming captive to the ways of the inhabitants. In v.2, Peter reminded them that God had ordained before time that they would be members of God's elect, chosen to be sanctified for the purpose of obedience. In v. 3-9, Peter encourages these believers that their trial will only be of short duration and that for such suffering they will receive their reward, whether they survive the current persecution or not. In verses 10-12, Peter reminds them that the prophets often did not fully understand God's plan for the world's salvation. Even the angels long to look into these things, Peter says. However, these prophets realized that they were not serving themselves, but those who in the fullness of time would experience the ministry they were prophesying about. That has implications for us. When we undergo trials, it is not just for our individual faith, but we endure them so we may help those who later go through them to come out victorius.

Then Peter swiches gears in v. 13. He starts out with the word "Therefore". "On the basis of all I said before," Peter says, "now do this." Peter is not proclaiming any legalistic rules, but he is telling those who would follow Jesus what they ought to do in response to what God has done for them. Peter tells them not to revert under pressure to their former behavior prior to salvation. Why? We are to be holy because God is holy. We who have been part of the Church for a long time are used to this verse being used to bring revival to our lives. But here, Peter is telling new, baby Christians that holiness is their standard too. So what does this holiness look like? Not only are they not to live as they formerly did, but Peter calls them to deal with the more subtle sins in 2:1. No malice, no deceit, no hypocrisy, no envy, no evil speaking. The standard of the new Christian is to love as Jesus loved. Under pressure, it would be easy to become divided and suspicious of others which would lead to sin. But Peter holds up the standard of Love, and the means of growth is more love. If one loves his neighbor, them he won't speak or think evil of him. I once saw an interview with Corrie Ten Boom. She was preaching in an African country where the church was undergoing great persecution. It was dangerous for her to be there. As she preached one Sunday, the congregation looked discouraged and defeated. After the service was over, she saw them leave with the love of God on their faces. One week later, she came back to that church. The majority of those who were there the week before were dead. They had a new testimony of God, and they did not hide it. And they paid with their lives. But as did Stephen, they died showing the love of God in their lives.

When Jesus told his church to go and make disciples, he told them (and us) to teach people how to love. When we take in members into the church today, we give them information, doctrine. There is nothing wrong with doctrine. But when we allow people into the church without explaining the biblical standard of Love, then as time passes, many church people become hard in their hearts and poison the church. Today, there have been people saved who will be dead tomorrow. Does God care how much doctrine they have accumulated in the previous twenty-four hours? No. Just that they love the Lord and their neighbor to the best of their ability. I value doctrine highly. But if I had only one day to counsel a new believer, I would rather that new believer knew and made ICor13 part of his life than if he could rightly exegete the book of Romans. We must understand, like Peter did, that the Great Commission calls us to make disciples. And disciples are those whose growth is determined by how much they love God and their neighbor.

Clouds of Witness:In the Presence of My Enemies

In an earlier post, I described a few features that will appear regularly at "The Hand." One of these features is entitled Clouds of Witnesses. This feature will focus on the lives of Saints past and present. The first book to be appearing here is In the Presence of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham with Dean Merrill. This is the true story of an American Missionary couple kidnapped in the Philipines by Muslim terrorists linked to Osama Bin Laden. The first chapter covers the first hours of their ordeal, which lasted a year. A brief passage from the book reveals the mindset of the kidnappers.

'Solaiman" (one of the kidnappers) 'wanted us to know that we were in an atmoshere of high morals. "Would we ever lie to you. No. Would we ever steal from you? No. Would we ever touch the women? Never. The Koran forbids all these things." He began to rhapsodize about how great it is when Allah is the ruler and the Koran is the guidebook--as in Afganistan, their cherished model. "Afganistan will show the world how great the truly Islamic state can be. You know, in Islam, if you're a thief, they cut off your hand. Thats how things ought to be."

'I thought to myself, Wait a minute--didn't you guys just steal Martin's wedding ring?!' ( Martin Burnham was the husband of the author; he did not survive the ordeal.)

' "In Islam, all the women are dressed properly, with nothing showing but their eyes. If a ladies eyes are causing a scandal, even they will be covered. There are no enticements to sin, no Western movies, no drinking, no smoking, no drugs."

'Our captor's greatest goal it seemed, was to get to Afganistan. What a utopia that would be, they said. But if that didn't work out, they would settle for their second choice: to go to America and get a good job!

The following chapters cover the Burhams life growing up, getting married, and working with a Missions agency in the Philippines. This is as far as I have read so far. Next week I will review the rest of the book.

For this feature, I have also started a book on Wesley and his relations with the Church of England. While interesting, this is a slow-read, so reviews may be a few weeks in coming.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

My Eyebrows were Raised, My Jaw Dropped

Recently, I read a Peggy Noonan piece at the Wall Street Journal's online editorial page. While no mirror was available to reveal my reaction, the further I read, the more I could experience my eyebrows raising and my jaw dropping. "Peggy" I exclaimed inwardly, "you must be kidding!" Was I outraged? No. Just flabbergasted. The conclusion of this editorial I would expect to find in the Left-wing blogosphere.

In her piece entitled A Father's Tears , Noonan contrasts the different things that would cause Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush to cry. Reagan was moved by ideas of freedom and the sweep of American history. Not so Mr. Bush. Personal issues seem to be what affects Bush emotionally. The love of family, not the sweep of history, moves Bush, Noonan declares (or rather speculates). From this contrast, Noonan moves on to analyze the current president's public demeanor in the face of the last election and bad news from Iraq. She finds his demeanor wanting. She sees no suffering expressed in his looks nor speech.

"But George W. Bush seems, in the day to day, the same as he was. It is part of the Bush conundrum--a supernal serenity or a confidence born of cluelessness? You decide." (My eyebrows began their assent)

Noonan goes on: "Where you stand on the war will likely determine your answer. But I'll tell you, I wonder about it and do not understand it, either what it is or what it means. I'd ask someone in the White House, but they are still stuck in Rote Talking Point Land: 'The president of course has his moments of weariness, but is sustained by his knowledge of the ultimate rightness of his course...'

"If he suffers, they might tell us; it would make him seem more normal, which is always heartening to see in a president.

"But maybe there is no suffering"

"Maybe he outsources suffering. Maybe he leaves it to his father." (It was here that my jaw dropped. Between my upraised eyebrows and dropped jaw, it is a wonder my stopped-up ears did not pop.)

Noonan compares Bush's demeanor to photographs of Lincoln and Johnson. In these photographs, one can see the burden of war reflected in their features. Noonan wants Bush to show himself vulnerable in public. I for one do not.

History shows that the Presidents who hide their anguish are better able to lead.

Much is made of Lincoln's melancholy. However, during the course of the Civil War, Lincoln was the one that raised the spirits of the rest of his administration.

"...Lincoln possessed an uncanny understanding of his shifting moods, a profound self-awareness that enabled him to find constructive ways to alleviate sadness and stress. Indeed, when he is compared with his collegues, it is clear that he possessed the most even-tempered disposition of them all. Time and again, he was the one who dispelled his collegues' anxiety and sustained their spirits with his gift of storytelling and his life-affirming sense of humor. When resentment and contention threatened to distroy his administration, he refused to be provoked by petty grievences, to submit to jealousy, or to brood over perceived slights. Through the appalling pressures he faced day after day, he retained an unflagging faith in his country's cause." (Delores Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.) This is the model Bush seems to follow. I would rather have him follow this model than the example of Jimmy (We are all in a malaise) Carter and his public suffering during the Iranian Hostage crises. During the Depression, FDR never allowed any private suffering to be expressed publicly. The mood of his White house was one of constant good times. To have done otherwise would have rendered him unable to raise the spirits of the average American.

The historian, Edmund Morris, in an interview, related a story Ronald Reagan told him. It was during the Vietnam War when LBJ was president and Reagan was California's governor. The president told the governor that the fear of a nuclear war on his watch kept him up at nights. The fear robbed him of his sleep. Reagan was not impressed; in fact, he was dismissive of Johnson. Reagan thought that if he were president, his degree of self-confidence would be such that he would not expect anything so catastophic to happen while he was in the White House. Reagan would get his sleep. And if Bush follows Reagan's model rather than listen to Noonan, I'll get my sleep as well.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Monday Morning Devotions

Psalm 23:16- "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."(NKJV)
Like the birds of the air that neither sow nor reap, sheep rely on others for provision without a thought as to whether this protection will always be there. David invites us to be as these sheep; we can chose for ourselves whether we will live under God's protection or not.

v2-3-"He makes", "He leads", "He restores" FOR HIS NAME'S SAKE! Our loving and trusting in Him gives us a testimony of His goodness.

We are not kept from evil times, but He leads us through them. I walk through the valley of the shadow of death of my own volition, for the Lord leads me to do so. I have chosen not to fear, because I have chosen to trust.

v1-3- The Lord protects me; He leads me where I need to go, to good places on the right paths.

v4- The Lord is with us to protect us in times of trial.

Today, since Jesus has risen from the dead and is now at the right hand of God the Father, Jesus and the Father sent the Holy Spirit to reside in us. This means that in times of trial and temptation, the Lord is not merely an outside force to assist us, but He guides us from within. As his Holy Spirit dwells within us, our souls are restored, and we are being conformed to the image of Jesus everyday.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Ex 4:12-"Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say."(NKJV)
In the previous verse, God reminds Moses of the most basic of truths, that He, God, is the Creator. He created hearing, sight and speech. God can even make one slow of speech as Moses speak.

The Lord often tells us to do something and will not give us evidence beforehand that we will meet with success before we obey. No. We are to obey, and then we will see success as we obey, or after obedience.

Jesus told His diciples they would be brought before kings and priests to give a testimony. They were not to prepare themselves to speak beforehand, but what they were to say would be given them by the Lord at the right time. In Acts 4, Peter and John did not have to plan what they would say to the religious leaders. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and were given words to say.

The same principle applies to our witnessing today. We do not have to rely on preplanned responses, but we can rely on the Holy Spirit to give us the right response everytime. When we step out in faith, we find that the Holy Spirit will lead us to the right scriptures and will enable us to answer questions we never thought we could answer before. As we witness, the Lord brings to our rememberence things He has done for us, changes He has made in us, deliverences we may have overlooked or forgotten. And like Moses, as we step out in faith, we gain confidence in God to a greater degree so that we step out more and more in faith.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Belated Election Thoughts

I know. The election was two months ago. Its old news. However, this blog is new and this is my first opportunity to express myself on the subject.

Many respectable conservatives state that this was a good election to lose. The Republicans in Congress became corrupted by power, they forgot who sent them there. They and President Bush spent a record amount of our money on pork and liberal social programs. Corruption probes of either party caused the leadership to circle their wagons. The Foley incident made this plain to all. Not to be forgotten is Bush's attempt to push a disastrous immigration policy down our throats. By giving Congress back to the Democrats, some conservatives reason, the Republicans will be properly chastened and return to the party that gave us The Contract for America.

While I wish this scenerio will actually come true, I cannot be too optimistic. Why? The Supreme Court. Conservatives rejoiced at the elevlation of Roberts and Alito to the Court, but their presence is not enough to restore sound Constitutional interpretation to the Judiciary. At least two more favorable appointments are needed to reverse the damage done by years of judicial activism. With one justice in his eighties and another in ill health, the President should have an opportunity to replace both before he leaves office. Unfortuately, a Conservative rebellion against Bush and his party may squander this opportunity.

Some conservatives may say "So what? You social conservatives are not the whole Republican party; there are economic issues, such as government spending, and immigration to consider. It was time to send a message from the ballot box on these issues. Victory for your issues will come in time." Think again.

If your main issue is stopping illegal immigration, you might be in for a shock as an activist court enshrines the "rights" of illegals into the Constitution. If Federal Spending and increasing governmental interference in all aspects of life disturb you, think of the consequences when the court makes such policies the law of the land. Yes, these issues are as important to me. But one must choose which battle is the most important. By placing Bush's opportunity at risk, conservatives may have shot themselves in the foot on all their issues. Changing the Supreme Court had to be priority number one. Unfortunately, Bush waited too long to emphasize the point. I am not sure conservatives will look back on this election as a good one to lose.