Thursday, March 29, 2012

Milky Way Minus Dust


Here is an intensive picture of the Milky Way by Mike Reid showing, literally, more than a billion stars. I am not certain how they figure such matters, but we'll take the experts' word for it. :-) Our galaxy has at least 100 billion stars in it, so this is truly a infinitely small sample. Suddenly, I am feeling mighty small. Nonetheless, I have never seen anything like this photo. It was was taken with a special infrared filter than cuts through much of the galactic dust that regularly obscures atronomers' views, so much, much more can be seen.

Blessings, Don

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jesus to the World


Mark Buchanan writes the following in, “Your God Is Too Safe” -- The Lord is deeply and passionately committed to our joy. Where did we get the idea that religion is a stiff, dull, flat business, all pursed lips, furrowed brows and gloomy outlooks? Where did we get that portrait of the religious type as sour, harsh, brooding, scolding? However did we forget to dance and laugh and play and live? We can actually see religion, of course, as gloominess in the Pharisees and religious rulers of Jesus’ day. The people came into town alongside Jesus, singing and skipping and clapping their hands. “Shut these people up,” the chief priest ordered. Jesus said, “If they remain silent, the rocks themselves will sing.” The Pharisees accused Jesus of hanging out with the wrong people, going to all the wrong places. “He eats with sinners,” they said, aghast. They called him “a drunkard and a glutton.” He kept comparing himself to the groom at a wedding feast, said that now was the time to party. The religious leaders of the day hated it (as some do today). They found Jesus irreverent, frivolous and irresponsible…a threat to public order and decency. Stop that dancing! Stop that laughing! Stop that singing! Stop that eating! Stop the playing! Stop having fun! Stop it! Stop It! Buchanan concludes – who is it that we imitate?

In Luke 15:1-7, Jesus tells a parable concerning a lost sheep, but the parable really is secondary to the drama that is revealed through the parable. In the parable, He is teaching concerning the Kingdom of God, in general, and "believers" in least what "believers" are supposed to look like. For the record, He is “receiving sinners and eating with them.” He met people where they were at and invited them to come to know God. He didn’t “go out of His way” to do these things – it was His way. It is not insignificant to note that Jesus attracts sinners to Him, while the Pharisees repel them. Lost sinners come to Jesus, not because He caters to them or compromises His message…but, because He cares for them. They know that He will love them in a genuine and unbiased way. Among some of these people, the tax-collectors, are not highly regarded...for they not only help the hated Romans in their dealings with conquered lands, they also enrich themselves at the expense of their own people. The sinners are “the immoral people” or those who work in occupations that the religious regard as "incompatible with the Law." Jesus understands their needs and tries to help them, while the Pharisees criticize them and keep their distance. The Pharisees have knowledge of the Law and a desire for personal purity, yet have no love for lost souls.

The big picture here is that Jesus is sharing the parables in order to answer the accusations of the Pharisees and Scribes who are "being caused to stumble" because of His behavior. It is bad enough that Jesus welcomes these outcasts and teaches them, but He goes so far as “to eat with them”…which to the religious leaders implies recognizing them as legitimate people; it also signifies fellowship. The Pharisees do not understand that Jesus has come “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Even more so, they are still blind to the fact that they themselves are among the lost. This is an important point of fact. One thing is clear…there is one message of salvation – God welcomes and forgives repentant sinners. Whatever is the case with these Pharisees, etc….these sinners have heard Jesus’ uncompromising demand for whole-heartedness -- He has shown them what it means to follow Him (Luke 14). They have been challenged to come to hear and understand the meaning of discipleship!

Understanding all of this, we now come to the actual story of the lost sheep. It is a story that touches all people, because it is about “joy”. Everyone can rejoice, because a sheep that once was lost now is found. Why was the sheep lost? Because it is a sheep. Sheep have a tendency to wander away and this is why they need a shepherd to provide guidance for them (Isaiah 53). The Pharisees have no difficulty seeing publicans and sinners as “lost sheep.” But, they can not apply the message to themselves…because they think they are “good, godly people.” In reality, they are arrogant and self-centered; they are more concerned about keeping traditions than caring for people. The true shepherd is responsible for each sheep. If a sheep is missing, the shepherd has to pay for it, unless he can prove that it has been killed by a predator. This is the important reason why he leaves the flock and goes to search for the missing animal. He begins his search, and makes more than a token search – he looks for the sheep until he finds it. The ninety-nine left behind are safe…they are not in danger, but the stray most certainly is in trouble, because it is alone where the predators can attack it. The fact that the shepherd goes after one sheep proves that each animal is dear to him. Jesus rejoices over the returning sinner more than the over those safely in the fold. There is joy when the lost sinner comes to the Savior. There is joy for the person who has done the finding, and there is certainly joy in the heart of the person who has been found. In addition to all of this – there is great rejoicing in heaven.

Passages such as this tend to make people uncomfortable. The fact that many “sinners” today are repelled by churches instead of feeling welcomed says far more about the churches than it does the sinners. Some churches have a “country club” mentality…they will welcome people who look like them, talk like them, and have a similar economic status. Many Christians have forgotten that they are lowly sinners saved by grace. And so, this is why so many of our churches are declining, because they are better at being "exclusive" with one another and others, than they are at being "inclusive." In short, whether they really believe they are or not... by their attitudes and practices...they give people the "stiff arm" rather than "open arms." We can see over and over again that Jesus is constantly battling religious people (scribes and Pharisees) who are just like this themselves in their practices, while Jesus Himself is continually in the presence of and loving people who were very different from Himself. He, likewise, wants his people to be ministering to all people…those who are like us and those who are different from us. This is Jesus’ way. I think we have a lot to learn.

The great news, as we see, is that when a person who is “lost” comes to Jesus, there is great rejoicing for everyone! Likewise, whenever we help one who has wandered away from the Lord to find His way back home to Christ, there is, once again, great joy. You may be lost – God is searching for you. He wants to find you. Seek Him and He will find you…and you will find salvation in the Good Shepherd. For us, let us make the most of opportunities with those the Lord brings our way, and let us continue to make it our way to be Jesus to them…to be Jesus to the world.

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Parable of the Sideline


I wanted to rerun a message that was lost in the blog shuffle, but is still an important message.

I have been privileged to play a lot of team sports in my life -- soccer, football, softball, track and field -- to name a few. In each of these sports, there was always some significant effort involved in order to excel. In relationship to some of my sporting ventures, I had more natural with soccer. Yet, with some of the other sports, I may have worked hard at times, but not as hard as I could have worked, perhaps. I remember being upset with a coach one time, because I was "sitting on the sideline" a lot, but I wanted to be playing. Yet, I wasn't really willing to put forth the effort in order to be able "to get on the playing field." Instead of finding some inner strength of will or spirit in order to excel, I allowed myself to develop a poor attitude. Such is life took me some time to be able to look in the mirror and realize that it wasn't life that was being unfair, but that I finally had to come to terms with the fact that, I had met the enemy...and it was me. This was pretty humbling realization...but, it was, nonetheless, a good understanding.

I believe that we live in a society where individuals experience the feeling of entitlement, perhaps more than at any other time in history. It affects people in their work, at church and in other social environments. I really do not think the solution to this is any harder than what I had to discover...the reason that I was sitting on the sideline -- I needed to look in the mirror. Things are generally not going to be handed to us, unless it is a unique situation. We need to be willing to work, serve, do whatever is necessary to make our mark. I have known people on the sideline in my life, and like myself, they have exercised one of three different attitudes. One, they are not content to be on the sideline -- no matter what -- and are going to work hard or serve selflessly in order to get involved and be involved. Others are not able to get off the sideline, because they just gripe and complain rather than jump in and try to make a difference. The third group may be the most mature -- these individuals may work hard and do their best, but are not necessarily ever going to get on the playing field, but they continue to be a good support for others on the sideline, as well as to those who are starting. These people are invaluable, because they know their place...they understand the meaning of "team"...and while they do not cease to work hard, they can see the big picture. This picture is to be the best that they can be...and if they are ever called upon to get in the game, they are ready to go.

Here is to hoping that we can have more people to set an example...where people can take a good look at the big picture and prepare themselves to be the best that they can be at whatever it is that they aspire to be or become. And that these people, regardless of whether they are ever going to be able to get in the game or not, are going to be helpful and be a blessing. And one other thing...we are likely going to get on the playing field at some point if we are willing to work hard or serve selflessly. As with so many other things in life, whether we are on the sideline or on the playing field is very much a matter of perspective and attitude.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Committed to the Cause


Here are some timely thoughts from Jerry Williams concerning the work that needs to take place in the kingdom today.

Blessings, Don


"All these men of war, who could keep ranks, came to Hebron with a loyal heart, to make David king over all Israel." (1 Chronicles 12:38, NKJV)

We are living in an age of ‘throw away’ relationships wherein it is a rare thing indeed to find those who will fully commit themselves first to the Lord. In a moment’s notice people will ‘unfriend’ you for doing or saying anything they don’t ‘feel’ or ‘believe’ is best for them. They give little or no thought how their actions might effect your life, but only consider how your actions have effected them. Consequently, there is little accountability in the ranks of the righteous and precious little territory being taken back from the enemy by those who are united in heart and spirit. This is a true statement: You will never possess with hirelings, what the Lord has assigned for sons. We need a WORD from God – unless the Lord has ordained what we are endeavoring to ‘do’, then it’s nothing more than a man size work. We need the anointing and power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish His WORD – any attempts to accomplish His Work through our power will result in certain failure of the work. Unless the Lord builds the house they labor in vain who build it. We need men and women who are loyal in heart and able to hold rank.

From the earliest days of my salvation I have prayed (as many of you have) for a heart like David’s, a heart after God’s heart. David was a man with amazing qualities and a heart that hungered for God more than any other man of his generation. However, he also possessed staggering flaws and weaknesses that at times endangered the safety and protection of all Israel. As his flaws manifested many of those who were loyal to him when he first became King did abandoned their loyalty and turned their hearts against the king. Listen to the anguish in his heart in Psalms 55 as he describes who has risen up against him: "It is not an enemy who reproaches me, then I could bear it. Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me, then I could hide from him. But it was you, a man my equal, my companion and my acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in the throng." (vs.12-14) Do you see it was someone who was once a friend who has now turned against him? This was someone who clearly knew his heart for God, yet threw their relationship with David away because of other reasons. It’s easy to ‘hold rank’ when your friend is exercising their best qualities. However, to ‘hold rank’ when their flaws and weaknesses manifest is entirely another matter. (Note: This does not suggest you are to stand with anyone who is in willful sin and unwilling to repent.) Although David was plagued with flaws and weaknesses, his life was one of constant repentance and acknowledgment of his sin, weakness and rebellion. Yet, even that was not enough to keep some of his closest brothers in arms loyal during his reign.

I recently read something the late David Wilkerson wrote which stated, ‘You will never take up the towel of mercy if you are wearing the robe of judgment’. Those who are loyal in heart and able to keep ranks are those who have learned to daily carry the towel of mercy. I pray God would so work in each of our hearts none of us will ever again break ranks with anyone God has placed in our lives as a comrade in arms. Not one of us is without guilt in this matter. We all can testify how judgments we’ve rendered toward others in the past, even though they seemed completely justifiable, in the end were exposed as merciless and unrighteous in the presence of God. May God give us all a loyal heart and teach us how to keep ranks until He comes.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spiritual Growth Is Not an Option, But a Necessity


Jesus explains concerning the kingdom of God by teaching a parable concerning a sower and seed (Matthew 13:1ff). There are some important matters to consider before we actually come to the parable itself. One is that the reason Jesus spoke in parables; it was because of the spiritual malaise of people. I believe the mid-section of the passage has to do with the primary context of His audience…that being the Jews. This seems to be the case, especially in light of His Isaiah quote (vv.14-15). Those who were going to seek Him and understand Him were going to find Him...but, those who did not long to understand Him, "feed on His words," were not going to understand Him. A second thing to understand is that Jesus seems to indicate that only in one in four cases is the seed going to truly grow and ultimately bear fruit. He knew that many of the people following Him were not going to be true disciples, but were fair-weather followers. I do not believe that Jesus is not describing a place, people or a time where there is going to be a “great harvest” where 75-100% of the people listening, respond. In fact, most are going to reject the Word of God, as described in “wide and narrow gates” (Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:13-14).

When it comes down to the message itself, many of Jesus’ parables start with the expression, “the kingdom of God is like…” This is not the case here. He is describing the beginning of the kingdom. It begins with the sharing of the message of God…this is the seed. The seed is planted in the hearts of people…and the various soils represent different kinds of hearts. The various responses represent the different responses that people have to the Word of God. What is interesting is that Jesus provides an explanation for this parable, so there could be no mistaking the meaning. He wanted his disciples to understand what happens when people are exposed to the message of God in the Word. But why does Jesus compare God’s Word to a seed? Like a seed, the Word of God is inert until it is planted. Just as a seed has to planted in the ground in order to come alive…so, the Word of God must be planted in the hearts of men and women in order to germinate and grow. This doesn’t mean that the Word of God isn’t powerful on its own…but its true purpose is that it was given in order to change lives of those who would come into contact with it. It is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12)…the Holy Spirit brings God’s message to life in us. If the Word does germinate and start growing, it must also be cultivated with prayer, worship, fellowship wrapped in love and other virtues, practices. The ultimate outcome is to be -- fruit. This is the proof of growth in the above areas…disciplining our lives for the Lord. As Jesus says, some are flatly going to reject this message; they are represented by the hard pan. Nothing of a true spiritual nature is going to penetrate their hearts until their soil gets softened up. Religious people can be represented by this today, just as they did during the time of Christ. Church attendance doesn't necessarily mean everyone is tuned in to Jesus...or even that they know Him at all. The scorching sun in the parable represents persecution or temptation. The sun is that which tests believers to see whether or not their faith will sustain them. Believers with shallow roots, who have not invested in spiritual development, are going to wither away. The thorns represent the cares of the world that poke and bleed the spiritual life out of younger believers. Their priorities keep them from spiritual growth and development. We have great opportunities afforded us by the Lord. It seems like many in our current culture are content with enough growth to “get by,” but not enough to make a significant difference for Jesus…and this is unfortunate. Still, there are others who grow and prosper!

When we consider the story of Elijah from 1 Kings 17, he predicts a drought upon the land that would last for three-and-a-half years. Without rain the crops were not going to grow and soon there would be a famine. The famine represented the dryness of spirit in God’s people at that time. As James says, because of Elijah’s faithfulness, God answered his prayers three-and-a-half years later and the rains came (James 5:17-18). We certainly don’t have to look very hard or go very far to see the effects of drought upon our own land over the past few years (although the recent rains have certainly been welcome). I am not certain if a spiritual parallel can be drawn to the faithfulness of the people of the land in this time or not, but there are certainly some who would surmise such. What I do know is that each and every one of us has ultimate control over whether our spiritual lives our growing and producing fruit or drying up…and it because of our choices. This kingdom parable pretty much tells the story. There is no hiding it…the results will be known for each of us…and they will be good or poor. I hope and pray that your desire is to among those are producing good fruit for the Lord. I close with this thought, “The fatal metaphor of progress, which means leaving things behind us, has utterly obscured the real idea of growth, which means leaving things inside us.” - G.K. Chesterton

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Pondering Peyton


As baseball season is about to begin, today was a monumental football news day. Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, has chosen to part ways with future hall-of-fame quarterback, Peyton Manning. Irsay and Manning hosted a melancholy news conference in order to announce Manning's release. One could also detect the sincere distress that this whole situation has caused Irsay...and it could have been so much worse. Peyton was simply a class act....I mean, I believe Manning saved his owner's bacon--a heavy public relations hit--by taking about the highest road I have ever seen. The only other thing lessening the blow has been Manning's health. In fact, Manning's neck injury is the main reason for the whole situation. If he had played last year, the Colts would not have been the worst team in the NFL...and none of this is even taking place. It was entirely circumstancial.

There were many hoping that Manning would still be able to stay with the Colts. Yet, with some question marks concerning the neck, and a number one draft pick coming up, there were too many warning signs to suggest otherwise. So now, the Colts get their new "franchise" quarterback in Andrew Luck. I believe he will be a good quarterback....but to rival Manning's accomplishments will be very difficult. Yet, if he wins a Super Bowl or two, he will be mentioned with Johnny U and Peyton as among the Colt all-time greats -- we'll see. As for Manning, it is now an open lottery. He can choose wherever he wants to go, because he is an unrestricted free agent. This mean Manning gets a very large pay day soon, and some team is going to get a potential Super Bowl quarterback...that is, if his health holds true. It is all a very intriguing story, which will be fascinating to watch unfold. Needless to say, it will make for a great post-season. He says he will make his decision as to which team he wants to play for soon. This, in turn, will affect other free agent dominoes and the NFL draft itself. I hope that he can stay healthy and play for a few more seaons at a high level...we would expect nothing less, and neither would Peyton.

Blessings, Don

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cleanliness and Godliness


All right…Bible Quiz time. Book chapter and verse for the phrase, “Cleanliness is next to godliness”. Good luck…you aren’t going to find that one. It is funny how we get sayings in our heads that sound biblical, but they are nowhere to be found. And by the way, “confession is good for the soul,” likewise cannot be found. Yet, there are some principles found in the Word that are closely related to such statements...and this is where are going to focus our attention today. Holiness is a prominent theme in the book of Leviticus. God placed a high emphasis on this principle…and it is seen here in Leviticus 11-12. For the Jews, cleanliness and godliness were closely tied together. They were always cautious so that they would not become ceremonially unclean because of something they had touched or eaten. This was more than just simply health concern…it was their religion. Whether it was selecting food, preparing food, caring for a mother and new baby, diagnosing a disease, or disposing of waste…nothing was left to chance.

Someone might ask…how do these principles apply today? I am not certain that they all do, per se, but they lead us to a greater discussion concerning morality and spirituality that is relevant for us. Today, we live in a society that rejects moral absolutes and promotes a “fluid,” “humanistic” morality that isn’t really morality at all. The excuses for immorality are rampant in our current culture…to our detriment. A popular magazine writer or newspaper columnist can excuse and defend immorality…and be applauded for a skillful diagnosis. Why? “The heart is deceitful and beyond cure. Who can understand it”? (Jeremiah 17:9) People “love the darkness rather than light” (John 3:19). The traps of the world are numerous…how many are easily recognized and avoided…and how many others do people willing step right into -- it is a serious concern.

Working at being clean means, in part, avoiding that which is unclean…but also clinging to that which is clean, pure. When we consider Genesis 7, Noah knew clean animals from unclean. The tradition goes back to before Moses here in Leviticus. “Clean” and “unclean” had nothing to with the quality of the beast, but concerning what God said about the animal. The Lord has the health of His people in mind when giving these laws. It is easy to see certain hygienic reasons behind the regulations. It helps the Jews avoid sickness, contamination. But, the main purpose is to remind them that they belong to Him and that they are to remain undefiled.

There are four categories of creatures that Moses gives information about, whether clean or unclean – land animals (vv.1-8), water creatures (vv.9-12), fowl (vv.13-19), and flying insects (vv.20-25). In the New Testament, Jesus makes it clear to His disciples that all foods are clean (Mark 7:1ff). God teaches this lesson to Peter before He sends him to minister to the “unclean” Gentiles (Acts 10:9-16). (See also Romans 14:1ff). The emphasis here is avoiding defilement caused by touching certain dead creatures…both clean and unclean. If a person did become defiled, it was so until the end of the day. He or she would have to wash completely, including clothes, and could not enter the camp until sunset. If the Jewish people are going to keep themselves clean and pleasing to the Lord, they need to exercise discernment. They must respect and obey the message of the Lord. It was when Israel rejected His message and refused to obey it that His people began to follow the abominable practices of the heathen nations that led to their discipline and defeat. It is not any different in relationship to the church today. Being able to walk in love, distinguish between right and wrong are among the marks of spiritual maturity.

Considering chapter 12, God graciously makes provisions for the cleansing and restoration of anyone who might become defiled. In the case of childbirth, a mother would experience the loss of body fluids, which would make her ceremonially unclean. This is not about personal holiness…all is well with mom and baby…but it is about ritual purification in order that mom could return to normal life. Circumcision would follow for a baby boy…a special mark of the covenant God had with the people of Israel. This symbolizes the “spiritual surgery” God wants to perform on the human heart (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4). Finally, after the birth of a son or daughter, the parents were required to go to the sanctuary and offer sacrifices for the mother’s cleansing, dedication to God. All of these regulations were to be closely followed for the good of the people

James Wilson shares this story about his friend Roger Williams III. He was sitting in the window seat on a plane and was looking forward to thumbing through a magazine on a short flight from Sacramento to attend a National Youth Ministry Conference in San Diego, CA. He’d fastened his seat belt, made sure his chair was in the full upright position, his tray table was locked and that his luggage was properly stowed when two well-dressed Ally McBeal look-a-likes sat down next to him. Their conversation competed for attention with his magazine. They talked about the club scene -- what they enjoyed drinking, who they were "dating," their intimate relationships with men…both single and married. Then it turned into a gripe session. "Why do guys have such a hard time committing?" One asked. "And why don’t they ever leave their wives like they promise to?" Another complained. They talked about work for a while, and about the time Williams was tuning out, one of them said, "But you know, if it wasn’t for church, my life would really be terrible." By now, Williams was only pretending to read his magazine, they had his full attention. "Wow, you go to church too. I know exactly how you feel. If it wasn’t for church, I don’t know where I’d be." "Yeah, I know what you mean," the other lady said, "if I miss more than two weeks of church everything in my life goes nuts." The plane started its descent into San Diego and everything got quiet, and Williams sat still…stunned by what he’d just heard. He concluded that worship, to these ladies, was simply a "religious fix."

This “Christian experience” is altogether too common in our current culture. Many times, people think that they can live however filthy that they want to live…and somehow that they can and will still be pleasing to God, Jesus Christ. This is truly self-deception at its worst. Many Christians do not live much different than the worldly society around them. It is easy for people to excuse sin, as if it is acceptable to some degree, when in fact it is an abomination that hurts the Lord, the church, as well as their own spirits, souls. God desires that we remain clean, as He commanded His people under the old covenant. Do we have all of the tedious regulations associated with cleanliness and godliness that they had to observe? No. But, the principle is simple – if we truly love the Lord, we are going to seek to be clean, pure, holy…and remain unstained by the world. If we are growing, maturing, we will identify that which is clean from that which is unclean…avoiding the impure and cling to that which is good, pure. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV)

Blessings, Don