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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Is It Persecution or Is It a Random Act of Circumstance?

Imagine having spoiled milk in your refrigerator. You want a glass of milk so you go to the frig. The smell tells you right away that you shouldn't drink it. But instead of throwing it away, you put it back in the refrigerator. Guess what happens the next time you want a glass of milk? The milk is still spoiled.

Sometimes I forget that the world is fallen. It has been corrupted by sin. All of creation suffered in the Fall. The world still has a remnant of its "good" creation but also contains the evil brought in by the Fall. Thus, you cannot count on the world to give you good. It continues to produce bad. No matter how many times you ask the world for something good, you have to remember that it has yet to be redeemed. It has been spoiled and will remain spoiled until it is redeemed.

Those who wish to live godly lives will find the world persecuting them. It may be through the greed of their employers. It may be the hatred of their neighbors. It may be through what appears to be random acts of evil. Yet, the world hunts down the godly to discourage and end their godliness. The world seeks to have each person like it is. The world is corrupted and getting worse.

I used to think that persecution had to be volitional. Many times it is. But sometimes things happen which knock you don't to your knees that seem like random acts. You set out to live a godly life and you lose your job. Your former employer doesn't have a vendetta against you. He or she is merely downsizing without regard to your status. Your employer doesn't know that you have recently made a commitment to tithe. It sure feels like persecution. It feels like there is someone who knows when and how to hit me. It feels like there is someone who wants me to forget my faith and live a life apart from God. Do seemingly random events have a purpose? Is this persecution? Is the time these things happen precise or is it merely random circumstances?

Of course, there is a danger in saying that every unwanted event is an act of Satan. Therefore, Satan gave me a flat on the way to work today and Satan caused it to rain on my wedding day, etc. But on the other hand why should I praise God when I see someone healed if the world only contains activities of  coincidences? When are events seen as the acts of God or Satan?

Job interpreted his hardship to God. He had lived a godly life yet his family, wealth and health were taken from him. He didn't understand why these things had happened but he didn't see them as merely random acts. He knew that God had blessed him. He knew that he no longer had God's blessing. Was Job being persecuted? It sure seems so.

So, when do you see hardship as persecution? This requires godly discernment. The same set of circumstances may produce different results. A tornado may just be the result of a fallen world. The loss of a job may be the work of the world's persecution. One is something that happens to everyone. The other is particularly for you.

This must be the wisdom of the Spirit. No earthly wisdom can discern whether an event is from the world, Satan or even from God. What appears to be a blessing may, in fact, turn out to be something very bad. What looked like destruction reveals the grace of God. Sure, they are easier to discern in the rear view mirror but God doesn't want us floundering around wondering if there is any meaning in the things which befall us.

Suppose you have lived a godly life and get cancer. You suffer through the chemotherapy and radiation treatments. You endure the surgeries. Things continually get worse no matter what you do. You may not know why you are going through this. You have prayed and had countless others praying for you. Yet, you do not realize those who are watching you. The grandson or granddaughter whose faith is in doubt is taking note of your faith as you go through your difficulty. Is this persecution or an opportunity to give a final strong witness to those whom you love? The answer is not one or the other. The answer is "yes." That must be revealed by the Spirit.

So the world will remain fallen. There will be tribulation in it. There will be persecution through it. and God, by the Spirit, reveals what is going on.

1 Corinthians 2:6-13 (ESV)
6  Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7  But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8  None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9  But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10  these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11  For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Christian Life Is a Changed Life

I thank God that the church admits sinners. I would not have been able to enter if this was not so. I have acted like Paul predicted people would act in the last days. Yet, I am being changed and these characteristics are seen less in me than they once were. I can only praise God that He is changing me.

This morning I spoke with a young lady in my church. I told her that she gets it. I don't know her life before coming to my church other than what she has told me. Her own testimony reveals that God is changing her too. She, like me, is coming to the knowledge of the truth. I wish there were more people like her.

I see many people who come to church, attend Sunday School and give every outward appearance of knowing the Lord who never change. It is like they live too different lives. They act one way at church with service and dedication to the Lord and go home to live very secular lives in which none of what they should have known from their relationship with Jesus is ever seen. Sure, there are a few words of spiritual correctness given occasionally but it isn't enough evidence to determine whether or not they are truly Christians.

In fact, you will find that most people who call themselves Christians are acting like Paul's last day prediction. They love themselves, use nearly all their money on themselves, disrespect their parents in one way or another, care very little for others and certainly lack a true love for God.

Truthfully, I preach ever week and see very few being changed. They are happy to be the same people they have always been. They are happy to pretend to be everything the Lord wants them to be. It is as if they have chosen avatars to live at church. This is the life they imagine but their real life is much different.

So, no matter how much they come to church, no matter how many discipleship courses they take, no matter how many times they work in Vacation Bible School, there is never any significant change. They have learned the books of the Bible, know the stories and can recite John 3:16 but they never really come to the knowledge of the truth. Coming to this knowledge will never be intellectual. It will always be a matter of spiritual maturity.

I have met a few reasonably famous people during my life. I have had private conversations with some of them. But I know that I would be kidding myself to say that I know them. I wonder if that is what it is like for these people who call themselves Christians but never change. Are they basing their salvation on one conversation? Do they think that their faith is something that is ritualistic rather than life changing? Do they think its like a membership in a club? You pay your dues and get your privileges but that's as far as the commitment goes.

I guess I always thought that Paul was speaking of people being outside the church when he made his prediction of the last days. I never dreamed that the people would be in the church.

2 Timothy 3:1-7 (ESV)
1  But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3  heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4  treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5  having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6  For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7  always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.  

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Value of a Child

I have read stories of people who have accomplished much for humanity whose mothers considered abortion. The world is a better place because of them. I thank God that they weren't aborted but I also wonder why people think that these non-aborted people make a stronger statement about pro-life than the non-aborted children who remain anonymous.

Don't get me wrong. I love the stories from people who could have been aborted. I love to hear of their accomplishments. I just don't like saying that this child was more important than any other child who wasn't aborted. Why not a story of a child who became a bus driver or a steel worker or someone who assembles cars in Detroit? Do the people giving these statements realize that they are inadvertently supporting the idea that one life is more important than another?

The pro-choice people want to say that the freedom of the mother is more important than an unborn child. They give the mother's life more value than the child's. They have made a leap from preserving the mother's life to making sure that the mother has a future she has planned for.

Aborting a pregnancy has always been legal when it was done to save the life of the mother. The doctors performing the procedure would have liked to saved both mother and child but could not because of dire circumstances. Some see this as making the mother's life more important than the child's. The doctors know that the child will not live if the mother dies. It is not a matter of giving a greater value to the mother than the child. It is an effort to save one life.

This is where the leap is made though. The mother should not have to suffer the consequences of the pregnancy. They see this as giving the mother the same footing as the father. They give her more value than the child. Thus, it is okay to abort this child's life.

That's why we can't ask pro-choice people to consider whether or not their unborn children might become famous and make significant contributions to society and possibly humanity as a whole. That's their argument. We are simply saying that you might have a child that is more valuable than others. They are saying that the mother is the one who is more valuable. We are making the case for them.

No, the actual value of a person isn't determined by mankind. It is determined by the Creator Himself.
He is the One who knits each person together. It is His work that is interrupted by abortion. A person's worth is determined by God's love. That love is neither more or less because the person has great accomplishments for humanity.

A fallen humanity gives a greater value to one person over another. A revived believer loves each one that God loves. The value of the person is found in love.

Psalm 139:13-14 (ESV)
13  For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

So, You Want to Be a Rock Star (for Jesus of course)

Everybody wants to be somebody. It is in our nature. Maybe its part of the reason I write this blog. . . no, I am sure its part of the reason I write this blog. It's okay because I am doing it for Jesus, right?

On one hand, most of us don't want to be ignored. On the other, we have heard that it is wrong to want to be noticed (unless its for Jesus, again). So, we deny that anything we do is done in our own power or greatness when things go right and pound ourselves to pieces if things go wrong. We take pleasure in the success and extreme pain in the failure.

So, do I fade into obscurity when I fail to be faithful and turn up the lights when I am? Am I saying that the faithful Christian life will bring me fame and fortune while any deviation from this life will cause me to crash in flames?

Honestly, I feel better about myself when the church is packed. I love it when they laugh at my terrible jokes. I revel in people walking down the aisles after a sermon. I hang on every word I hear from people who tell my how much their lives have changed since hearing my sermons.

And I say, "Thanks for your kind words but I have to give all the glory to Jesus." If that is true then why do I feel so much better about myself? Shouldn't I be more neutral? The rock star sings someone else's songs and revels in the applause.

I am not saying that we should be joyous about our own faithfulness. I am saying that you can be perfectly faithful and still get crucified. Shouldn't my joy come from the faithfulness rather than the applause?

Some of you reading this blog already know what the problem is. There is nothing wrong with desiring applause. The error comes in whom I seek to give me applause. Do I desire the applause from a fallen humanity or a holy God?

What happens if I fade into human obscurity? What if no one remembers my name nor what I have said? What if no one reads my blog? In fact, what happens if I am castigated, criticized and abhorred for what I have done even though it was all done because I have been faithful to the Lord?

Yes, all this happens but I find that upon entering heaven the Lord says, "My joy has been in you. Well done!" What good would an earthly rock star status be then?

John 15:11 (ESV)
11  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What Are You Doing about It?

This morning I rode my bicycle to work. I admit that I enjoyed the ride. The temperature was cool, the breeze was with me and the traffic was relatively light. I saw one other cyclist who looked like he might also be commuting. Traffic picked up as I went along.

I wondered: Do these one-person-per-car commuters understand what they are doing to the environment? Exhaust fumes flew all around. I really don't know what the drive to work costs our environment. I also wondered whether or not these people would say that the environment needed to be protected.

Before I go on I must admit something to you. I don't believe that mankind is the major contributor to global warming. In fact, there are some dubious findings which support this theory. I believe that, like many scientific theories, that anthropomorphic global warming theory is faith based. A faith based theory gathers whatever information necessary to prove the basic tenet of the faith and either disregards or ignores anything that doesn't fit into that tenet. (Yes, I realize that my own faith system does the exact same thing. I just want those who claim to be so factually scientific to realize they are acting on faith too.)

That being said, I still believe very strongly in preserving the environment. I recycle, turn my thermostat to a warmer temperature in the summer and ride my bicycle to work. I believe that there are better sources of energy that may have not been utilized effectively as yet. I understand that burning fossil fuels fills our planet with pollution. I just don't have to be scared by wild stories of New York sinking in a rising ocean to act conservatively.

So, here's my thing: If the majority of people believe that Global Warming is true, why don't they do something about it rather than just talking about it? You see, I may be wrong and the planet will not suffer because of my view of Global Warming. But if the Global Warming believers are right, the planet won't be in better because of their belief if they don't do something about it.

So, I am forced to believe that there are a lot of people who say they believe but they really don't. A small group of people actually believe.

Now, if I take that same logic to my own faith in Jesus Christ, would I come up with the same conclusion? I think so. There are a lot of people who say they believe, buy the shirts and bumper stickers and go to church but aren't doing one thing to bring others to Christ.

I really understand what James said. Evidently, this saying you believe and doing nothing about it has lasted for a very long time.

James 2:18 (ESV)
18  But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Defined by God

Our civilization cannot exist without definitions.  Our communication depends upon our definitions. How would you read this blog if there weren't commonly understood definitions of each of these words? Every word has a definition or it is nonsense. Even the word nonsense has a definition.

Definitions within themselves are neither right nor wrong. They are simply means of communication and carrying on our lives. I am fascinated in the etymology of some words. The roots of these words reveal the cultures in which that have come. Knowing their backgrounds gives me a deeper definition. This knowledge does not make the words holy or evil. They are just words.

Organizations also have definitions. The United States government is defined by her constitution. The USA will not be the country the founding fathers intended her to be if the definition is changed. The constitution has given the people the right to change the definition. Thus, there are amendments to the constitution. Each has been seen as an improvement over the previous definition. While the constitution is an amazing document, it is the creation of human beings. While those who wrote it and others who have followed it may revere it, our constitution is not inherently better than the form of government of many other countries. However, as flawed as it might be, it still appears to function better with more compassion and justice that many other countries' constitutions.

Lately, I have been reading a historical novel telling the story of totalitarian government under the Russian tzars. The country revolted and replace it with communism. It was certainly a different definition of government but it doesn't appear to be an improvement. Some within the revolution were trying to create a democracy. They failed to understand the need for a balance of power. They failed to understand the nature of mankind as a fallen people who have a tendency to want power, wealth and pleasure at the expense of others.

Some things are defined by God. A human being is defined by God. The Bible says that God put humans together in their mothers' wombs. (It is at this point that a lot of people want to ask, "Then, why are some people born with deformities? It is a good question and I don't know the answer. That doesn't change what has happened though any more than asking about any other tragedy. After all, God knows what will happen and doesn't stop these things from happening. We live in a fallen world and all of His creation in this world is fallen.) It is a definition of the beginning of human life. Man has tried to redefine that definition in order to legalize abortions.

Marriage has been defined by God too. It is intended to be a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman to each other and God. That definition has been changed by some more than a few years ago. For many, the marriages that they have today are temporary agreements to live together and mingle their finances as they raise children. The latter is more unstable than the former. A couple who are led daily by God will see their marriages last. There is certainly a tension because each day means a new commitment must be made. It is as tedious as it is necessary.

Recently, the US Supreme Court has considered whether or not homosexual couples should be allowed to be married. (Actually, they are deciding whether or not it is constitutional to ban their marriages.) This, of course, would change the definition of marriage whether they realize what they are doing or not. I wonder if they have considered calling these unions something else. What happens once the present definition is destroyed? Anything can be a marriage when there is no clear definition. How will they define marriage? What can be the criteria? I heard that a lady in another country married a bridge.

I personally stand with the biblical definition of marriage. It distresses me that I and others like me haven't defined it so clearly that the definition hasn't been understood as biblical rather than man made. Once I turn myself over to my emotions, I will change definitions to fit my emotions. I cannot do this as long as I place myself under the truth. The truth is found in the presence of God. God is always found in His Word.

Unfortunately, we cannot be trusted to do what is right apart from God. We must take His definitions of right and wrong. We must take His definitions of human, marriage, love, forgiveness, hope and any other word or organization He has defined and stand by His definition.

Taking our own road on our own is simply a dead end.

Proverbs 16:25 (ESV)
25  There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.