Thursday, October 31, 2013

I AM sent me to tell you

One of the eeriest things happened to me several years ago when I bought the contents of a house in the town where I live.  I have cleared lots of houses before and I was assuming the contents of this house would be pretty much like all the others.  That is, until I got to the garage.

The garage had lots of the same things, like a partial can of brake fluid, some plastic lawn trimmer wire, a few empty boxes, and some assorted tools.  As I came close to finishing the clean-up job, I noticed a flat, long box which was leaned against the wall between to boards.  I started to remove the box, grabbing it with one hand, and suddenly realized there was something heavy inside.  To my surprise, and a little bit of shock, the box contained a bronze grave marker which belonged to the people who owned the house, before their death.  The husband's name on one side, and the wife's name on the other, and across the top, covering the entire length of the marker, was their last name.  Then I noticed each of them had their date of birth, but the date of death for each was blank.

A member of the surviving family told me they had bought the marker and had plans to be buried in the city where they had spent most of their lives.  When they retired and moved here, they changed their plans and decided to be cremated when they died, then their ashes scattered in a selected place. 

So there I was, having bought the entire contents of a house, and now the owner of a grave marker with someone else's name on it, making it virtually worthless to anyone that didn't have that name.  I displayed the marker in my antique shows, but no one was interested in buying it.  I even came up with a story, telling people they could get a lawyer and change their names to the names on the marker, and that would be cheaper than having a marker made with their current names.   It was a joke, but was also funny seeing the expressions of people when they studied the marker. 

 Moses was instructed by God to go and make demands of Pharaoh to release the Israelites from their slavery. He tried to weasel out of the task and even asked God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”  God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”  Exodus 3:13-14

What kind of a name is that?  Whatever clan you are from, and whatever era in which you live or lived, that would be a strange name.  We are more accustomed to John and Jane Doe.  What can we come to know from the name God chose to reveal himself?

For one thing, the easiest answer to the question is that it means what it says.  There has never been a time nor will there ever be a time when God cannot say, "I AM."  Even when we have a wavering faith and our doubts try to control us, God still is God.  We can travel to the farthest corners of the world or even to the outer limits of space, God still is God.  We may live only a few years or lots of years and he remains God. 

The most important answer to our question about God's name comes from our relationship with him.  To be the child of I AM, makes you the recipient of his grace and forgiveness, and you will share in his eternal nature.  There really is something in a name.  I AM has sent me to tell you. 


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween on Franklin Street

Trick or treating on Franklin Street was always without incident.  In those days the residents of just about every house knew the neighborhood kids would be coming by, so we did.  The best I can remember we had permission to knock on all the doors in our block and in the next block, but since mom and dad didn't know many people on Franklin Street beyond those two blocks, we didn't go.

As a kid, I never challenged the parental decision for our fun-trek on Franklin Street to only include those two blocks of houses.  I do know they were safer days for the Halloween activities back then. We didn't worry about being kidnapped or any other malicious crimes being committed.  The main "sermon" we got before Trick-or-Treating was to watch out for cars and don't get run over. 

I have spent some time looking at the Halloween tradition this week.  To make my mind more muddy than usual, I visited websites describing the events and origin of Halloween. To my surprise, the actual origin is a cause for major disagreement.  While some argue it was started by the pagans as a celebration things associated with death, there are others who actually claim its origin was Christian in nature.  I am not going to argue nor debate either side, mainly because I found another website which actually made some sense to me. 

I know there is some fear in the parents of younger children, that the violence and gore associated with Halloween and its decorations, goes too far beyond the cute little Casper the Friendly Ghost costumes.  I, myself, do not like those decorations and costumes which are so graphic concerning mutilated bodies and such.  The website I found which made some sense to me causes me to be aware of those gruesome visuals and avoid them for the sake of the little children. 

That being said, the costume of Superman or Snow White on a four-year old is cute.  It's an exciting time for the kids to go knocking on the neighbors' doors and get a treat of some kind while showing off their costumes.  That is one night in the year we leave the porch lights on and welcome the kids to knock on our door so we can give them some candy or other treat.  The other 364 nights during the year, we leave our porch lights off, and do not want a bunch of kids on our porches, because we are inside our domain and do not wish to be interrupted. 

That's what I got from the other website.  Halloween could be a fun time for neighbors to enjoy meeting and visiting with each other, getting to know the people who live close by, and even establishing a friendly relationship by learning their names, their kid's names, and even their pet's name.  The writer of that website has uncovered an interesting concept that is almost identical to the way we are to be toward each other in the church.

I suppose I can summarize the Halloween controversy by saying if you are comfortable with the things associated with death and evil spirits, Halloween is your day.  As a better suggestion, and since this is another of the holidays that is really "for the kids," let's make an exerted effort to see that the kids have a fun experience, a happy memory of home, and relate it with the night the whole neighborhood was having a good time together. 


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How Discipline Works

Hebrews 12:5-11
 "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."

It may be difficult to believe, but discipline is an example of love. If you are like me, when discipline comes my way I am not feeling very loved. However, if we are to believe the above verses, then we come to know God the Father as one who "disciplines those he loves."  Not only that, the scripture lets us know that God "punishes everyone he accepts as a son."

Most of the time when we think of discipline, we think in terms of parent's role to discipline their children.  The Bible does address that and there are verses to support the concept of parental discipline.

 Proverbs 13:24, TLB. "If you refuse to discipline your son, it proves you don't love him; for if you love him, you will be prompt to punish him."
Proverbs 19:18, TLB. "Discipline your son in his early years while there is hope. If you don't you will ruin his life."

Certainly the discipline of children is a responsibility parents cannot deny nor avoid. As parents we understand these actions are based on our love for children as they learn and mature. And remember, the Bible says if we don't discipline our children we will be responsible for ruining their lives.
In like manner, God administers his discipline on his children, and it is always for their own good. While discipline hurts, we are encouraged to accept it because it is God treating us as sons. It becomes easy to understand if God withholds his discipline, we are like the child from the Proverbs, and our lives will be ruined. 

Look at it like this, if God loves you enough to give his Son to die for you, then he loves you enough to discipline you.  Here is the good part. The scripture from Hebrews assures us that God's discipline is for "our good, that we may share in his holiness."  And then," Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."


Monday, October 28, 2013

Listening to God

Psalm 81 begins with encouragement for the people of God to

Sing for joy to God our strength;
    shout aloud to the God of Jacob!

The next verses continue to describe the worship, the celebration, and especially to know the goodness and faithfulness of God.  Then beginning at the latter part of verse 5,

I heard an unknown voice say:
“I removed the burden from their shoulders;
    their hands were set free from the basket.
In your distress you called and I rescued you,
    I answered you out of a thundercloud;
    I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
Hear me, my people, and I will warn you—
    if you would only listen to me, Israel!
You shall have no foreign god among you;
    you shall not worship any god other than me.
10 I am the Lord your God,
    who brought you up out of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.

Those sound like the words of a god who longs to provide for those who follow him, like our God.  All those things that God had done for his people are for their good, just like he still establishes and maintains our good.  Look closely at verse 8,  "if you would only listen to me, Israel!"  Herein lies the problem because we, like Israel, choose our own way rather than God's way.  Can you, as a parent, relate to the mistakes of your children with those same words?  You can understand some of what it must be like to be God.  Continue reading  in verse 11,

11 “But my people would not listen to me;
    Israel would not submit to me.
12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts

  to follow their own devices.

Hear the word of God in the last verses of Psalm 81 and see how God longs to bless you and bring about good things for you.  We need Him.  Our country and its leaders need Him. 

13 “If my people would only listen to me,
    if Israel would only follow my ways,
14 how quickly I would subdue their enemies
    and turn my hand against their foes!
15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him,
    and their punishment would last forever.
16 But you would be fed with the finest of wheat;
    with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”


Friday, October 25, 2013

We are what?

Romans 5:1-6
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
For those who have studied or even read Paul's letter to the Roman Christians, you recognize this is an important and pivotal point in the writing. Earlier in the letter Paul was stepping on toes with a convicting message that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  Then the swing of directions in the letter as he says to his Christian brothers, "we have been justified through faith."
This is where we all need to be reminded that Christians are not perfect.  We still sin, and as much as we wish that were not true, even the writer of this Bible letter confessed that at times he knew the right thing to do and ended up doing the wrong thing! Sound familiar? 
The good news is that Christians are forgiven because of Jesus giving his life on the cross as a sacrifice for us all.  He took the sins of mankind with him to his death.  The punishment we deserved, is forgiven because Jesus washes us clean with his blood which was shed on Calvary. 
So Paul comes to this point in the letter and says, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith,"   I know you just read that at the top of the page, but what if you were told those words and didn't know what would follow?  What would you be expecting?
Would you be given further instructions? Would you be given further requirements before you could be "accepted" by other believers? Let's see what Paul said in his letter.  "....we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."  That's the good news of Jesus applied to us!   But even that isn't all.
Paul continues and says it is through Jesus "we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand."  In Jesus we have escaped the condemnation of the law, and now we are under God's grace. This brings rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God. 
Then Paul reminds us, "we also rejoice in our sufferings."  Wait!  We have to suffer to be a Christian? We do if we are committing our lives to the Lord. Here is why: "suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts b the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."  Those verses are not only pivotal in the lives of the Roman Christians, but in our lives, too.  Praise God for the completeness of the salvation he provides. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

It's what got us here...

I'm writing tonight while watching the opening game of  the World Series.  I don't know why I am watching it since MY team was eliminated in the earliest stages of the playoffs, but it's baseball and it's the World Series, and something about the event causes me to show some support for the game that has meant so much to our country.

My earliest remembrance of baseball was in my early childhood when my dad and a bunch of guys that just wanted to play ball, played at the old Cole Park in Midland.  We always enjoyed going to the park and getting to see the games.  Then, Midland's own version of the "green monster" was the old wooden constructed ballpark that was just down the street from our house.  We thought we had made it big when dad would take us to a game, and it was still exciting when we couldn't buy a ticket, but got to watch the game by looking over the outfield fence. 

Then in Little League days, baseball was always an exciting time.  I never made it to the A team but playing on the B team each year was fun.  Baseball was an exciting pastime and all the guys seemed to be interested in playing. 

Saturday afternoons were spent in front of the black and white TV watching the Game of the Week. At our house there were usually two boys laying in the floor watching the game and dad was in the recliner while we watched some of the baseball greats.  Those Saturday games featured Dizzy Dean and Peewee Reese as the commentators and they always made the games interesting and exciting. 

Baseball is a part of America and her heritage.  It was grouped with hot dogs and apple pie in the phrase of the things which America is all about.  Sometime later, that phrase was picked up by some advertising agency and Chevrolet, by virtue of the jingle that accompanied their advertising, led us to believe nothing could be more American than baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.

You may think I am reminiscing only of days gone by, but all of those basics are still around today. True, there are new Chevys that come out every year, but the roots go deep into the core of our country and the traditions and a lifestyle that was much more simple than today.  

The same can be said of our spiritual heritage, too.  Prayer, worship, evangelism, and missions have always been the core of our existence as churches.  Whatever we engaged ourselves in back in those days, there was also a spiritual influence that was associated.  I swell with pride in our country when the National Anthem is played before each game, and again now that "God Bless America" has been added to baseball's seventh inning stretch. 

I am always ready for progress and moving forward, but consider with me the possibility that some of the things we have left behind, need to be brought to the forefront again.  Things like baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.  And things like prayer and Bible reading, and listening to sermons, and telling our neighbor about the good news of the gospel.  Maybe.....just maybe, the things that brought solidarity to our country and unity in our spirituality, could do it again.