Sunday, October 21, 2007

Monday Morning Devotions.

Is. 41:10- "Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes I will help you, I will uphold you with My right hand." (NKJV)

In the verse above, God is speaking to His people, Israel. God tells them not to fear their enemies, not to be dismayed by their enemies strength. God promises to strengthen Israel, to help Israel (to exercise overwhelming power on Israel's behalf), that He will supply Israel with His own strength. How does God back up His claims? Simply by stating that He is their God.

Why would this reminder of who He is be proof enough to Israel that He will do as He promises? History.

When seeking someone to do business with, you would seek out a trustworthy partner. To find such a partner, you would ask people about who they had done business with in the past. Through these inquiries, you would learn who has a good reputation, based on past actions. An honest man gains a reputation for honesty; one who produces quality work will never lack for customers willing to recommend him. His past behavior is a good indication that his honesty and performance will remain at high levels in the future.

Israel needed no other people to inform them of God's track record concerning the keeping of His promises or of using His power on behalf of those who trust in Him. God had a history with Israel. In verse eight, God reminds them of this history by referring to them collectively as Jacob, their ancestor who God protected from Esau and his men. God reminded them that they were of the seed of Abraham, to whom God gave promises concerning his descendants. God called Abraham His friend. Then God brought to Israel's remembrance how God had chosen them and brought them into the Promised Land. By reminding Israel of all that He had done for them, Israel could count on God to fulfill His promises to them.

When we first begin to walk with the Lord, we have yet to learn to trust Him fully. As time goes on, and if we are obedient, He makes His promises real in our lives. He works out situations we thought were impossible. And then, as God establishes a track record with us, we begin to trust Him more and more, until total trust in Him is achieved. But this cannot happen unless we allow Him to take control of our lives. If we refuse to operate in God's strength, then we prevent a personal history of God's deliverance in our lives from being established. Then when circumstances seem overwhelming, that lack of history makes us just as fearful as those who believe in no God. This is not what God had in mind for His disciples. Not only does He not want us to fear, but He wants us to have a public testimony regarding his power and willingness to use it on His childrens' behalf. Not to have such a testimony in our lives is an indicator that there is sin somewhere in ourselves.

The difference between Wesley and the Moravians during the storm at sea was that the Moravians had such a history in their own lives; they were able to remain calm, knowing that they were in God's hands. Wesley, who had no such history with the Father at that time, could do nothing but fear for his life. Later, after walking with God, he could face hostile mobs while declaring the gospel. The stakes are high regarding this issue. Not only for ourselves, but for others who need to see Jesus reflected through us.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Why Marriages Fail: Observations From A Single Guy.

Those of you who keep up with current Christian literature, including books, magazines and Internet articles, are probably aware of the grim statistics concerning Christian marriages. Couples who through the years have proclaimed Jesus as their Lord are now statistically more liable to divorce than their secular counterparts. In fact, within the Church itself, it seems the more evangelical the couple, the greater likelihood that they will divorce. Many Christian couples of my acquaintance have recently divorced or separated. In asking ourselves why this is the case for God's Church in America, the obvious answer of course is sin. Instead of remaining committed to each other, as they pledged to do before God, husbands and wives decide to do as they please, no matter what, no matter the effect upon their children. Whether the roots of the problem are monetary or sexual, husbands and wives follow their own feelings rather than God's counsel. This is the primary reason the Church finds itself in this situation.

Adding my own observations to the discussion, I don't pretend that the factors I am about to address are the main reasons for broken marriages; the following observations most likely deal with the secondary causes. But these observations need to be shared nonetheless.

When young people make a commitment to follow Jesus, when they forsake all for Him, some find it easier than expected for two reasons. First, they are too young to have that much to forsake. Second, they still haven't fully counted the cost. Let's address the second reason. Some people believe that when they think they have forsaken all, what they really have done is put their dreams aside for a few years. When they hear Christ's words "But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you..." (Matt 6:33, NKJV), consciously or not, young Christians tell themselves that if they lay aside their greatest desires for Jesus for ten years or more, then later God will bless them by fulfilling these desires. In other words, they expect to experience a form of delayed gratification by the time they are forty. In many cases, God does later reward his children with the fulfillment of dreams that had been forsaken for God. But it is also often the case that there are some things forsaken that God expects to remain forsaken forever. And when that is finally understood by many a Christian, they cannot handle that truth.

Sometimes non-Christians are more honest about what they want out of life and what they expect from their marriages. They want to achieve a certain status by a certain age and if one partner seems to be lagging in their efforts to achieve, then warnings are given by the other partner. (I know of two wives who told their husbands that if they did not seek promotions, then the marriage would be over. The husbands were satisfied with their positions, but both sought promotion to maintain their marriages.) But it is different with many Christian couples. When young and in love, it is exciting just starting out in life. Living a simple life style has its enjoyments, but when people still live that way at thirty-five, some begin to be weary of it. They yearn for the life style of their youth. They become nostalgic for times past. As home-schooled children approach college age, one spouse may worry about what kind of educational opportunities their children will have. (Don't misunderstand me here; I am a supporter of home-schooling.) Peoples dreams change. What we want out of life can alter as we age. But some Christian spouses choose not to speak of how they feel inside. They think that to do so would be sinful, whether they unburdened themselves to their spouse, or to God. Perhaps they hope the feelings will go away. Sometimes they do. But often they don't. And then they get intolerable, and then, one spouse either leaves, has an affair, or both. And neither the other spouse, nor anyone else, saw what was coming.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Monday Morning Devotions.

IITim. 1:12- "For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that day."

Paul wrote these words while in prison; he was arrested during Nero's persecution of the Church.

Paul wanted Timothy to know that he was not ashamed of the gospel nor the life he lived in the proclamation and demonstration of it. Here was the Apostle formerly known as Saul, in a Roman dungeon, perhaps bound hand and foot by chains to the wall. The promising student of Gamaliel, able to expound upon the Law as well as any Pharisee, now was imprisoned for a message he proclaimed without relying on his own oratorical powers or his wide learning. Instead, he relied on the power of the Holy Spirit to persuade men and women while to outside observers, he seemed unpersuasive, unimpressive (I Cor. 2: 1-5). A son of privilege in Tarsus, he was not now wearing the fine clothes he had once worn, but the garb of a man who had no permanent home. Also quite noticeable were the marks of persecution on his body. Particularly on his head and face. You see, when one was stoned in those times, small rocks were not the stones of choice; big stones, big heavy stones were used. To make sure the offender was dead, a massive stone was dropped on the head so it would be crushed, so there would be no doubt that the person was dead. It was a bloody form of execution. Someone was designated to hold the clothes of those who carried out this death sentence. The executioners operated at such close range to the one being stoned that if they wore their clothes during the stoning, their clothes would be saturated with blood. Paul, then Saul, held the clothes of Stephen's executioners. When Paul was stoned in Ephesus, the severity was no less than what Stephen was subjected to. Paul was left for dead. By the grace of God, he lived. But he carried those marks on his body, especially where that big stone was dropped upon his head. And now he was in jail. Here was the man known for his zeal in killing Christians about to suffer the same fate himself.

He knew his time was short. "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand." (IITim 4: 6) He knew his time of execution was near. His last moments on earth would be controlled by men who despised him for his message and his seeming powerlessness before them. His manner of death would be at the whim of others. I can imagine the enemy of his soul trying one last time to bring discouragement to him in his final hours. Reminding Paul what he was, and what he could have been, Satan could have spoken the following words to him: "This is Saul, the man of promise. You had more advantages than any any other man alive. You were a Pharisee of the Pharisees. Now look at you. Is this what you have become!"

But Paul felt no shame. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (IITim 4: 7) Through all that Paul had suffered, he was true to his Lord and the mission his Lord had given him. The Church had many disciples who were nurtured by him and would carry out the Great Commission. None of those things Paul had forsaken had any power to tempt him to return to the world, or to try to mix the world with the gospel. He was so sold out to Jesus that he longed for the day of his appearing more than anything else. (IITim 4: 8) I am sure that as that executioner's axe fell, there might still have been voices from the world and the devil whispering to him, trying in those final seconds to cause him to lose his hope. But as the axe fell, those voices were heard no more. What Paul saw as he entered heaven I am sure no one could describe, but I am sure the first thing he heard was another voice, the voice he had heard on the Damascus road. That voice was saying "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

When reaching heaven, and wanting to talk to Paul, where would I look? Right now I bet he is with those saints who were killed for their faith who are now worshipping before the throne. I wonder if Paul is now worshipping Jesus Christ with the very brothers and sisters he hauled off to jail. I wonder what the scene was like as these martyrs welcomed him home.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual: "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" by Thomas Sowell, Part I.

I have had my eye on this book for four or five years. The title in combination with my knowledge of the author, noted conservative African American Professor, Thomas Sowell, intrigued me. Buying a copy in July, and reading it only on Friday evenings, it took me longer to complete than anticipated. I must confess that the book's title made me a bit apprehensive as far as blogging is concerned. I was, and am, a little anxious that those who have no knowledge of Thomas Sowell would be offended because of the title. Yet I think it worth the risk. Sowell's views of history and race relations are totally different from the liberal establishment. Giving these views as wide as possible circulation could foster a new climate that could demolish current assumptions and policies that keep the poor in poverty.

The first chapter, also entitled "Black Rednecks and White Liberals," attempts to explain the roots of all the problems currently plaguing African American society: poverty, high crime rates, high illegitimacy rates, disappointingly low academic achievement. Conventional wisdom, perpetuated by the liberal establishment, places the blame squarely on white racism. Liberals claim that the black community has yet to recover from the effects of slavery. Slavery destroyed the black family, and continued white racism has prevented blacks from the same level of educational and vocational achievement as whites. This same racism has sparked justifiable outrage in the black community, resulting in violent behavior. While Sowell does not dismiss the factor of racism or the historical experience of slavery, he places the blame for these maladies elsewhere.

Sowell places the blame for the social problems currently being experienced by African Americans not on slavery, but on the exposure of Africans to a white, Southern redneck culture. This culture originated in the backward regions of England, Scotland and Ireland, and was transported through immigration to this continent. The habits of this transplanted culture discouraged work and individual effort and devalued education, resulting in a high poverty rate and the lack of a skilled labor force. Violence was not only common among these immigrants, but celebrated. Not to engage one's enemies in mortal combat marked one as a coward (which is today reflected in the behavior code of gangs: if you or your gang is "dissed", the offender must be punished). Lax sexual standards produced a high rate of illegitimacy among these white immigrants from British lands. It was exposure this culture that sowed the seeds of the current plight of American blacks, Sowell argues. And it is the liberal establishment, he charges, that won't let these negative cultural influences die. The perpetuation of this redneck culture, in such forms as Hip Hop, is continuing to hold back African Americans from the same level of educational and economic achievement as their white counterparts.

Those who hail from the South and Appalachia (like myself) may at first be offended by what appears to be an unfair stereotype of Southerners and Appalachians perpetuated by Sowell. Yet he makes a solid historical case that this indeed was the cultural climate of the South during its formative period. (I will examine his historical evidence in the next post on this book.) My own study of the South and Appalachia, which consisted of reading books by Southern and Appalachian historians, which was conducted at West Virginia University, under the direction of a professor from Kentucky, only confirms the truth of the portrait painted by Sowell.

Yet I must disagree with Sowell's argument. To me, it is inconsistent. He is right in his denial that the roots of black America's current problems originated with slavery. He does not diminish the evil slavery was, nor does he ignore the effects it had on later generations. Sowell presents credible evidence that blacks for the most part had overcome the effects of slavery prior to the 1960's. Since we cannot blame slavery, that died out as an institution one hundred forty years ago, it is then illogical to blame a culture that existed long before American slavery developed and has since mostly died out. I place the blame not where the liberal (mostly white) establishment tells me to, but I blame the liberal establishment itself for much of the problems faced by black Americans.

Still, so much of what Sowell presents is worth looking into that it makes reading this chapter worth your while. ( )In the next post on this book, I will examine Sowell's evidence for the truth of his portrait of the South and how after slavery the former slaves overcame the effects of bondage. This will be enough to make white liberals and modern day Confederates howl. After the howling is done, hopefully enlightenment will set in.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Monday Morning Devotions.

II Tim. 1:6- "Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands." (NKJV)

There are times in our service to God when we exceed our limitations or fall into the trap of depending upon our own strength. These are the times that we become burned-out and we cease to pursue the purposes God has for our lives. Also, we can be tempted to quit our service to God and his Church during times of overwhelming persecution. From the context of the above verse, this seems to have been Timothy's problem that Paul was concerned about. Paul was writing Timothy from prison; he was arrested during Nero's persecution of the Church and he knew that he was soon to be executed. In his last letter to Timothy, Paul exhorted him not to cease ministering to the Church, proclaiming the Gospel and equipping the next generation of pastors. As an antidote to the temptations to quit serving God that persecution often brings, Paul commanded Timothy to "stir up the gift" that was in him. That command came with instructions, instructions that we often fail to follow in our own lives. Paul told Timothy to "Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus." (v. 13) Note here that Paul did not just tell Timothy to hold to Paul's teaching, but to do so "in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus." These are the portions of scriptural instruction we are apt to forget. We know that we could not be saved without faith upon our part, and the origin of that faith is the Triune God. Yet when seeking to live as a disciple, or to stir up the gifts previously bestowed upon us by God, or seeking entire sanctification, we forget that the same faith required for salvation is required to live a life that pleases God. Or knowing that faith is required in these cases, we try to stir up our own faith within us, forgetting that this needed faith is found in Christ Jesus. The love Paul speaks about also has its source in God's Son. If the source of our efforts for God is a simply a sense of personal discipline, our efforts will result in frustration, boredom, powerlessness and ultimately, utter defeat. Yet if our motivation is love for God and man, then the results will be different. Yet just as faith cannot be manufactured from within us, neither can we stir up love within us. The love found in Christ Jesus was the only love capable of empowering Timothy's devotion; that same love is the only love capable of empowering ours. God is love, and when we first believe, the Father and the Son send the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, to abide in our hearts. This is the source of faith and love that are found in Christ Jesus. Other scriptures teach us that if we cooperate with the Spirit by obeying His commands, by not allowing sin to compete with the Spirit's work, then it is the Spirit who empowers us in all that we do. This point is and will be repeated often here, because it is of the greatest importance and is often forgotten, resulting in tragic ends to lives that had once seemed to going to be going well.