Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ambassadors for Christ


Paul, in his sharing with the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 5:11-21), calls them to a higher standard -- to the principles of “love and “respect.” This is what was lacking with many of them; they were not living with respect to the Lord or His way. There are certain false teachers at Corinth, as in many other places, that are causing faithful Christians to stumble. The Judaizers (cultural and religious Jewish Christians) who accuse Paul are saying, “just wait until he has to stand before the Lord…he has done some terrible things.” These false teachers are saying that he is “crazy;” who could believe such a ridiculous conversion story, among other things that he has to say? Paul is not afraid...he is saved by grace through faith. He respects the Lord and lives with a clear conscience. It is through this that he persuades men with the truth of the gospel, and this persuasion bears witness concerning his heart. These false teachers promote regulations based upon fear. Paul wants them to understand that fear and faith cannot occupy the same space in the heart. We need to be convicted to live with a certain “fear”, but it is with respect to “reverence” and “awe”, not “dread” and “terror.” If Christians live in this way, then they will be motivated to minister…and others will see this quality in us and want a part of us.

Paul’s opposition is infatuated with appearances, “the praises of man,” but he takes his stand on what are “matters of the heart.” This is always the struggle with humanity. It seems, in our battle against the flesh and the world system, that we tend to spend a lot more time on the “outer” person than on the “inner.” For his part, Paul doesn’t exalt reputation over character...he lives with humility and integrity. He knows that the heart of the matter is the spiritual heart of man. We have to love and respect Paul’s courage, because he says that if he is crazy, it is for the Corinthians’ own good and for the glory of God. This makes his struggle all worthwhile…he loves them with the love of the Lord.

This all reveals how “love” and “fear” can dwell together in the same heart. In fact, it must be the case, that Christians live with respect and love for the Lord...the two walk hand in hand. Paul is a grand example of this himself, as he had to die to himself in order to be raised up a new person for the Lord…one who was set free from sin, death and the Law. We must identify with our Lord and with Paul in that we must die in order to be raised up, which is his point to the Roman Christians (6:1ff). When we undergo a conversion, it should motivate us to see matters in a new and different way…it is respect and love that motivates us to part with the world…to say “goodbye” in dying to self and to begin living for Him. Through His death, burial and resurrection, Jesus Christ provided the way “to bring us back into a right relationship with God.” The 50 cent word that Paul uses here is “reconciliation.” All believers were lost and without hope, save for this principle. If this grace and mercy shown to us will not get us outside of ourselves on occasion in order to connect with others for Him, then what will? Paul says that we cannot be silent. We are ambassadors for the Lord…authorized representatives to share the message. As His ambassadors, we have the responsibility not only to share this message concerning our king, but to live it.

Alan Smith shares this story -- A preacher in a small European village was greatly loved by the people, and they believed he had an especially close relationship with God. He disappeared every Friday and could not be found for several hours. The villagers boasted that during those hours he ascended to heaven and talked with God. There was a newcomer to that village…a skeptic who made fun of the faith of all the other people. He got increasingly irritated by all the claims about the minister, and so he determined to find out where he really spent Fridays. So he hid near the preacher's house. He watched as the preacher rose early, spent time in prayer, and left his house in the clothes of a peasant. The young skeptic followed the old man from a safe distance. He watched him cut down a tree and chop up a large stack of firewood. He continued to watch as he made his way to a shack in the poorest part of the village and stacked the wood. It was the home of an old woman and her sick husband. After leaving the couple enough wood to last them a week, the preacher quietly returned to his own home. The villagers were startled the next Sunday when the young newcomer was in church. They were even more surprised when he became a Christian shortly thereafter. He thought highly of the church's godly minister and -- upon his death -- he became his successor. For the rest of his own life, whenever he heard one of the villagers speak of his predecessor and say, "On Fridays he would ascend to heaven," he would add softly, "If not higher." Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).

We seem inclined at times to try to prove our discipleship by church membership and doctrinal correctness. While such things are important, the real proof that we know God is in loving and serving unselfishly. Food for the hungry, shelter for the cold, companionship for the lonely -- that's the way of Christ. It's also the best way to answer skepticism and unbelief. We should never do our righteous acts to be seen by others, but we know that our upright deeds -- even the ones done in secret -- are being watched. If you actually know God and walk with him, someone who is watching will discover it. That person may want to learn the secret of such a life and may come to know Christ as a result. The best answer to skepticism is often not argument but demonstration.

As I have said on many occasions, evangelism is more caught than taught. We have to be willing to develop relationships in order for this to happen. But, I have some significant doubts that this is going to happen if all we do is spend time with those whom we know…our friends…whether it is sitting down to a communal meal or engaging only in activities where those who are close to us are involved. Outsiders and newcomers will know us by our love or lack thereof…and will want to be a part of our fellowship, particularly, based upon how willing we are to extend that love of the Lord. We need to be motivated by our love and respect for the Lord to fulfill the commission that he gives…not only with those who come our way…but with those whom we contact as we are going from place to place.

Blessings, Don

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sanctity of Human Life


God values all life, and so should we. I appreciate the efforts of Jerry Shirley in relationship to this message, as we combine thoughts to share a message concerning the sanctity of human life.

Haiti. Two years and one week ago, approximately 300,000 people lost their lives. This is a huge number of human lives. We still don’t know how many Americans died, but since tens of thousands were there, and are unaccounted for, it was certainly a large number. 1.5 million homeless people sounds like a large number as well…and it is. These are big numbers, and many of them were little ones, and God loved each and every one of them. Here is another number -- 50 million. That’s approximately how many have died in America since 1973 when the Supreme Court made the decision to make abortion legal, placing our official stamp of approval as a nation upon the death of the innocent. That’s a really huge number, and they are all little ones! And just as surely as those precious little ones over the last 37 years awoke in heaven with Jesus, may the babies yet to come this year and in future years awake to the life here on earth that God intended for them from the beginning of their life, which He placed in them at their conception! (Psalms 139:13-16)

In God’s eyes, life is sacred...it is sacred because God made it. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27). “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him” (Colossians 1:16). It is protected by God. “You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit” (Job 10:12). “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Psalms 91:11). It is valued by God. "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

In God’s eyes, life is sacred...it is sacred no matter what its condition might be.
Life is a challenge in a sin-tainted world. It would have been wonderful if God’s original plan had materialized, but unfortunately sin came into our world and with it came pain, imperfection, injustice, etc. God warned us of these challenges and enables those who trust in Jesus in order to be victorious through Him. “Cast all your care upon him; for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Jesus Himself says, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We must not overlook those who have challenges in this life. Jesus showed special concern for the lame, the blind, the woman with the issue of blood, the lepers. In our day we must not forget. Our Lord placed great value on those whom society has shuffled aside. While on his knees, the leper begged Jesus to make him clean, and He did so. The Bible says in Mark 1:41, “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man -- "I am willing," he said, "Be clean!"

In God’s eyes, life is sacred...it is sacred because of its eternal nature.
Our earthly life is simply a prelude to eternity. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). In other words, we can know and be assured of abundant life while on the earth…and everlasting life in eternity with Christ.

What can we do? Be informed. We can’t bury our heads in the sand. Ignorance is not bliss. Also, work and pray...for a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is possible if we speak up, vote, take our stand! Teach sexual morality in the home. We need to teach our kids a higher standard than “being safe”. Have more compassion for the unwed mother and the mother who has had an abortion. God loves them all! Speak out clearly without apology. Refuse to be swayed by the high sounding arguments of liberal politicians, and so-called “experts” in the scientific field who have no moral base to speak from. Pray for God to have mercy on America…and to bring national revival.

Blessings, Don

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Eagle Aurora


Over the past few days, the earth has been pounded by magnetic radiation from a massive solar flare. By the time these flares reach the earth, they display themselves as beautiful auroras in our atmosphere. Below is a picture taken by Bjørn Jørgensen in Norway. Enjoy God's wondrous blessings,


Friday, January 20, 2012

Whose Terms?, pt.2.


M. Scott Peck shares this story in his book, The Road Less Traveled…I spent much of my ninth summer on a bicycle. About a mile from our house the road went down a steep hill and turned sharply at the bottom. Coasting down the hill one morning, I felt my gathering speed to be ecstatic. To give up this ecstasy by applying brakes seemed an absurd self-punishment. So I resolved to simultaneously retain my speed and negotiate the corner. My ecstasy ended seconds later when I was propelled a dozen feet off the road into the woods. I was badly scratched and bleeding, and the front wheel of my new bike was twisted beyond use from its impact against a tree. I had been unwilling to suffer the pain of giving up my ecstatic speed in the interest of maintaining my balance around the corner. I learned, however, that the loss of balance is ultimately more painful than the giving up required to maintain balance. It is a lesson I have continually had to relearn. As must everyone, for as we negotiate the curves and corners of our lives, we must continually give up parts of ourselves. We all make mistakes…some of them are of lesser importance, while others make a significant impact on our lives. This next section of Leviticus is a sobering reminder of this fact.

As I shared previously, God set up the worship at the tabernacle the way that he wanted it to be done…it was on His terms. Aaron and his sons begin serving the Lord at His altar. They offer sacrifices on their own behalf, and then on behalf of the people. It is also the privilege of the high priest to give a blessing to the people on the first day of the feast. Aaron gives two blessings…a high priestly blessing…and another with Moses, which is a reminder of the people’s need for fellowship with God. Now, the glory of the Lord is seen by the people (9:23-24). As the fire of the Lord comes down and consumes the offerings, it puts the people on their knees...a powerful manifestation of the Lord's presence.

A day that should have ended with glorious worship of God is climaxed, unfortunately, with the funeral of two of Aaron’s sons. A brief aside is in order in relationship to the upcoming subject…if I had a dollar for all of the times I have heard Old Testament passages (like this one and the one concerning Uzzah, etc.) quoted over the years as argumentation for New Testament authorization, I would have enough money to take my wonderful wife out to a nice dinner at Olive Garden. Passages such as these have been the main proof-texting argument for those who would say that we must do everything according to a strict pattern as it relates to life and godliness....and this under the new covenant even, and not the old. Yet, I do not think taking such passages out of context in order to make questionable points is prudent, nor is it good Bible study. However, I will take the information at face value for what it is to God’s people at that time – a significant warning. Is it one that we can learn from? Yes. But it is not a covenantal concern...it is simply a principle for learning.

Everything that Nadab and Abihu do is wrong in relationship to their understanding and experience as priests of the Lord. They are the wrong people to be handling incense and be presenting it to the Lord. This was to be the task their father Aaron, the High Priest (Exodus 30). They also use the wrong instruments…their own censers and not the high priests. They also act at the wrong time…the task was only to be done on the annual Day of Atonement. They have the wrong authority, the wrong fire, the wrong motive…and finally, the wrong energy. Verses 9-10 imply that they are under the influence of alcohol when they performed their duty. How many poor to fatal decisions are made under the influence of too much alcohol? Here is an early, unfortunate, example. It isn’t enough that the priests merely taught the people the difference between that which was holy and unholy…they also had to practice it in their lives. There are some sad consequences as the result of the actions of Aaron’s sons. Aaron has to remain at his duty of ceremony ordination. He is not able to mourn; His nephews take care of the burial of his sons (See Exodus 6). Aaron is sincerely sorrowful before the Lord; he lays his soul before the Lord. The Lord knows his heart…and that he is an obedient servant. God’s understanding and grace are shown as He works with Aaron and his two younger sons, as he grieves for the two older sons.

How many warnings do we receive from the Lord that need to be heeded? More than ever, we live in a society where people seek to meet God on their own terms rather than His. Whether we are talking about His will for marriage or determining when life is conceived…His will is found in His Word not on the street or in the science lab. Even as it pertains to salvation, many people want to make up their own rules…and in many cases, it has little if anything to do with the blood of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Even more importantly in the experience of many of us…if believers live according to a set of religious rules that take them away from loving their neighbors and the love of their brothers and sisters in Christ, then they are living according to the wrong system. This story helps us to understand that as God’s servants, we need to be obedient to His will for our lives. As His priests, we have this responsibility…not only for ourselves…but also because we are setting an example for others to follow. It is God’s plan; He set the terms for us…and those terms were brought about because of the blood of his Son shed on the cross for us. Jesus Christ is our example of faith and obedience. He set the greatest example of obedience to His Father. He showed us how to live in a sacrificial way. We must follow Him. We are people who must be washed in the blood…baptized and obedient…to live in a loving relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ…and serving the needs of others. This is our high calling as God’s priests.

Blessings, Don

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Whose Terms?


Eugene Peterson, in his book, "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction" writes…"There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.” Holiness may be a lost virtue in certain respects, but it is, nonetheless, a critical virtue, and one that is as old as the Law. As with the first several chapters of Leviticus, there are some interesting connections between the old and new covenants in chapters 8-10. Under the old covenant, God’s people had a priesthood… while under the new covenant, God’s people are a holy and royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9). God wanted His people, the nation of Israel, to be His “kingdom of priests,” but they failed Him by becoming “a sinful nation full of iniquity” (Isaiah 1:4). The nation decayed morally and spiritually because its leaders failed to be holy and obedient to God. Ultimately, He sent Babylon to discipline Israel for her sins. But, this wasn’t supposed to be the case from the beginning.

Consider the message of the Lord to His leaders in this book of the Law. God sets up Aaron, the brother of Moses, as the high priest over His people, Israel…and Aaron is to be an example and leader for them. We find the word “commanded” frequently in this section, signifying that God is in control of the situation with Moses and Aaron, particularly, and here with the ordination ceremony, in general. We see in 8:1ff that an assembly is called of the elders and leaders, and Aaron and his sons are ceremonially washed in the laver, one time. Aaron, as the high priest, is clothed in some beautiful garments (vv. 7-9, see also Exodus 28). Then, Aaron and the tabernacle are anointed with special oil (vv.10-12). Finally, Aaron’s sons are clothed…not as splendidly as the high priest…and this all symbolizes their consecration to the Lord. They are holy before God! The sin offering and burnt offering are given for Aaron and his sons symbolizing their total dedication to the Lord. All of the priests are anointed…sprinkled with oil and blood of sacrifices taken from the altar. They are “set apart” by God for His use. The ordination ram is eaten…and for the next week Aaron and his sons remain in the tabernacle court. It is critical that they be obedient to all these things prescribed by the Lord. When the week is over they begin serving the Lord at His altar…just a bit different than the way we do it today. :-) There is a purposeful priority for all of these matters. The key purpose of the tabernacle ministry is to glorify God whose glory dwells on the mercy seat in the holy of holies. This is to be the catalyst for the people of God to be holy. When it is complete…all of the people are forgiven (atoned) and dedicated wholly and holy to the Lord and, therefore, are able to be in fellowship with Him. Sins atoned = possibility of fellowship. This is the importance of discipline in our lives…that we are obedient to the things that the Lord holds dear for us. Many times, we get confused about what these things should be. I do know that when we focus on the right priority for our lives, there will be strengthening, growth and blessings.

Ty Tamasaka shares this -- Jesus tells a parable of the fig tree and its inability to produce fruit (Luke 13:6-9). Apparently, the gardener came back again and again to see if fruit was growing on the tree. Unfortunately, there was none. Obviously, this story is symbolic of God coming to look for fruit to receive from His people. Jesus probably shares this story in reference to God’s own people Israel whom He had given special attention to, but was not producing the fruit that He sought. What kind of fruit does God look for from me? I assume He looks for the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). It is both encouraging and troublesome to note that although the gardener in the story sought fruit from the tree, he did also give it, "special attention and plenty of fertilizer." I like receiving special attention from God. That sounds, well, special. To hear that the master Himself will give me special attention in helping me produce the fruit of the Spirit that He wants from me is very comforting and encouraging. The troublesome part is what else He gives the tree in order to produce fruit. He gave it, "plenty of fertilizer." I often feel that I have plenty of fertilizer in my life, and I don’t find that all too encouraging. After all, what did they use as fertilizer in Jesus’ day? The same thing they use today. Maybe I need to redefine those times when I feel like I am surrounded by manure. Perhaps I need to recognize that it is specifically in those times that I am actually receiving special attention from God Himself. I have a tendency to reject the manure in my life. I don’t like the smell of it. I don’t like the situation. Perhaps God recognizes that in order to develop lasting fruit, one should be exposed to plenty of fertilizer. Verse 9 gives a sobering warning. "If we get figs next year, fine…if not, then you can cut it down." That is downright scary. Yes, God does give special attention. Yes, He does seek my growth and the fruit that I am to bear. Yes, He is merciful. He does offer grace. Still, there will come a time, when the talking ceases and the judgment comes. Have I experienced much manure in my life? Then I ought to be producing great fruit...

Moses, Aaron and his sons were to follow closely the instruction of the Lord. Everything that they were to do was on the Lord’s terms and not their own. Also, they were not to do so just to be keeping law for the law’s sake. God has a purpose in giving us the instruction that He does…and His instructions under the new covenant are not cumbersome as some believers like to make them. At the same time, we have no business dictating to God what it is that He should be doing for us…or what we should be doing for Him. Yet, this is, in reality, often what happens. Rather than adopting such a mindset…we are much better off if we submit…and listen. “It is for freedom that we have been set free” (Galatians 5:1 paraphrased)…and to do what? To do good…to bear fruit…to be purposeful. We have a responsibility to be disciplined disciples; otherwise we fall down (as we will see in the next message). We get into trouble because we neglect the matters that we need to tend to for the Lord. It is awfully easy to be an undisciplined disciple today…but God calls us to a much more meaningful, purposeful existence. It is up to you and to me to decide what we are going to allow the Lord to do to use us to be instruments to make a difference in the lives of the people around us. Choose to be a person who is going to make that difference.

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

James' Life and Ministry Challenge


I love James' epistle...and not just because he is the brother of Jesus, although this is significant. I have often called James "the Sermon on the Mount expanded," because much of what he shares reflects what Jesus shared in His pivotal sermon. Because there is much practical life and ministry wisdom found in James, it also reads like The Proverbs in certain respects. I want to focus on one verse that never very far from me, and for a number of reasons. "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:27, NIV). In this statement, James captures the root of theology, ministry and the heart of the gospel...it really is about loving God and loving your neighbor.

When we talk about loving others, it often communicates as some nebulous concept -- do we have them over to dinner? Do we take them gifts? We can and should do these things, but James gives us a more refined definition -- spend time loving those who are in particularly dire circumstances. This sounds easy, but is often easy to ignore in the busyness of our world that we live and work in. It is easier for believers to want to spend time with those who love them...and often this is all that people "have time for." In fact, Jesus says in His sermon that if we only spend time loving those who love us, what credit or benefit is it to us? (Matthew 5:46) This is not going beyond the call of duty...it is expected. But, it is challenging to get know people who may not be in the same position in life as us. Yet, this is precisely the point that Jesus and James are trying to make. No human being could be in the same position as Jesus...and James, even being the brother of Jesus, would be elite company...but, they both invested in the lowly, the struggling, and the downtrodden. This WAS Jesus ministry for three years. James picks up the mantle and carries it further throughout the course of his life. James, who once opposed Jesus, comes to know the full extent of his brother's life and ministry. So, what can we do? Involve ourselves in some ministry with children who are orphaned or struggling...and not just monetary involvement -- we need to be personally involved. We can invest time with our widows and widowers, because they often are in distress and need be loved and blessed. We can truly be amazed at how blessed we are by their love and wisdom. This is half of the equation...and this may be the easier half in the time in which we live.

It seems that since the beginning of the church, there has been some worldly presence led by the Satan, the world and the flesh that has tried to impose itself upon the church, whether gnosticism, hedonism, materialism or some other human pursuit. It seems that this spirit of the world has had much more success in recent years in taking believers' focus off of Christ and redirecting it to other places. The same opportunities to do good or to do evil are as they have always been, but many of the avenues have changed. With the advent and growth of the media, in general, and the internet, particularly, we have all such opportunities much more readily available to us. I believe that if James were speaking today, he would say to use the media and internet to change the world, rather than be overtaken by it. I am concerned that too many have fallen prey to the influence of dark forces through said media. We must not fall prey to the world and its influences, because its robs us of our love -- for God, for oursleves...and therefore, for others. We can't love God if we are torn between Him and the world system of immorality, greed, and pride. We will not love ourselves if we are confused or swallowed up in guilt or pride. And with such focus on ourselves, taking care of others...such as the widows and orphans...is going to be the last thing from our minds. We must continue to heed James' admonition to stand firm for that which is pure and holy. Much good can be accomplished for the Lord if we keep Him first in our lives. This is our challenge...and it is one that we must meet.

Blessings, Don