Friday, August 29, 2014

The wicked and the blessed

Psalm 1
Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.
Not so the wicked!
    They are like chaff
    that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

This weekend, let's consider a few questions which could arise during a study of Psalm 1. You have the entire weekend to read the verses several times, make some application to your life, spend some time in prayer about your findings, and claim the promise of verse 6.  Here are your questions:

1.  Would you consider walking in the footsteps of the wicked, while delighting in the law of the Lord?

2.  Has there been a situation in your life which has ultimately caused you to meditate on God's law day and night?  Must you have such a situation to bring you to the Psalmist's description of  actually delighting in God's ordinances?

3.  Consider the healthy condition of trees planted by a stream of water.  Then think about where you "plant yourself" without taking into account the possibility your decision could disagree with God's direction.

4.  Do verses 4 and 5 bring a feeling of fear?

5.  Read verse 6 several times aloud as you consider the direction of your life. 
May God bless your study and meditation. 


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Meet Richard

Richard was an exceptional thinker, always trying to come up with new ideas and follow in the footsteps of his inventor father. His father was a plantation owner and worked in designing tools and equipment that would aid in farming techniques and ultimate crop success.  Richard wanted to be just like his dad. 

His first invention was a screw mechanism for propelling watercraft. He did follow his father's desire to help farmers when he invented a new kind of seeder for wheat and rice. His inventions to make existing products better was always on his mind, and he contributed greatly to new designs of bicycles, steam engines, toilets and more. 

There was a time when Richard became interested in medicine and decided to go to medical school.  He became a doctor but never practiced medicine because of his yearning to keep on inventing. His specialty was anything that involved, planting or harvesting crops. Tools had to be built by hand and used to construct the prototype of whatever he was inventing at the time.

You could say Richard was extremely wealthy with all the new inventions and innovations he had created.  The truth is, he did make lots of money, however investing his profits on the next invention, and the next, some of which amounted to nothing, kept him penniless at times. 

You know Richard by the invention he came up with in the mid-1800s. He devised a weapon with rotating barrels around a common firing chamber, which would fire about 350 rounds per minute. Later improvements he made to the weapon made it capable of firing 1,200 rounds per minute. You know Richard by the gun that bears his name, Gatling...Richard Jordan Gatling and his Gatling gun. The United States government and governments of numerous foreign countries purchased the guns and used them primarily in some smaller wars, and ultimately for their own national security. In 1911, our government declared the weapon obsolete and ceased using it. 

I did some further research on Richard but was unable to find any mention of his religious affiliation, and no mention of any personal relationship with God. While it would have been good to have learned all of that, it isn't the point of my story about Richard. 

There is no way to calculate the number of lives he touched with the things he invented which helped everything from farming to construction, and bicycling to steam powered ships and tractors.  I readily admit there is no way to calculate the number of lives terminated through the use of the weapons he designed, nor is there a way to calculate the number of lives saved with the military strength his weapons stood for. 

I wanted you to see a life that took a God-given talent and utilized it for the benefit of others. In seeing a life like that, I hope we can all come to appreciate the great or small abilities we are given by God, and use the encouragement of Richard's example to do something for the benefit of others. God blesses us in numerous ways. He loves us and desires that we can use the things we are given, to be a blessing to others. 


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Come as you are

At church last Sunday we sang one of the contemporary songs, one which incorporated as the chorus, an older, more traditional song.  Since I am a fan of both varieties I liked the song.  After church I heard someone say they liked the song, too, but didn't know the part that was contemporary. 

The traditional song which was a part of our worship was, "Just As I Am."  While we were singing that part of the song, it brought back memories of the hundreds of times I participated in singing the song at the end of a sermon, as the congregation was given a time for reflection, repentance, or some other decision which would bring them closer to God.  

How long as it been since you reflected on the words of "Just as I Am?"  They may seem routine since we have used that song for so many years, but they are powerful in the message they bring.

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Which verse relates to you, personally?  Perhaps more than one.  All of them?  As you read them again, feel the release from problems, worries, schedules, illness, even death, when we sing and pray, "O Lamb of God, I come, I come."


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sometimes I am Wrong (requested repost)

You have been told about my addiction to the television show N.C.I.S.  I am so excited for the beginning of the new fall season because I have watched and re-watched reruns this summer. The leader of the investigative team, Gibbs, is cool and has never been unable to figure out the bad guys in any crime. 

One of the things that makes the show a hit is the set of "rules" which govern Gibbs, and the others are supposed to follow those rules even if they haven't heard of them. Every rule has a number assigned to it so a lot of the communication between the investigative team consists of repeating the rule numbers and everyone is supposed to understand. 

In one episode I watched recently, Gibbs was in conflict with a female attorney who was representing one of the bad guys. Sure enough, Gibbs had a rule about avoiding attorneys. Throughout the hour-long show, Gibbs and the attorney confronted each other several times, but toward the end they had both mellowed a bit. The closing scene was Gibbs looking over a piece of scrap paper where he had written his rule about avoiding attorneys.  He turned the paper over and wrote "Rule 51 - Sometimes I am Wrong."

The new rule is in direct conflict with a rule that's been around throughout the TV series, the rule that says, "Never Apologize, It's a Sign of Weakness."  It took me a while to get over Gibbs admitting his mistake.  The star and hero of the show actually confessing that sometimes he is wrong. 

I have some news for Leroy Jethro Gibbs, we are all wrong at times and apologizing and attempting to make things right is a sign of strength.  One verse that comes to mind is from James 3:2 " We all make many mistakes but those who control their tongues can also control themselves in every other way."

The Bible is filled with the accounts of people who made mistakes. Look at Samson whose mistake was in telling the secret of his mighty strength, and then was captured by the Philistines.  Then there is Jonah who made the mistake of going in the direction totally opposite of where the Lord wanted him to go.  He learned fast that trying to run away from God leads to much sorrow.  In the New Testament, just before the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter was identified as being a follower of Christ, and he swore that he didn't know him at all.  I pray I will never make that mistake. 

We must be careful to avoid being judgmental of others who make mistakes, because we do a good enough job of making our own. Comparing the big mistakes of others to the much smaller mistakes we make can lead us to the point of self-righteousness.  We must never forget the God who forgives us is the God who forgives others as well. 

Here is your homework for today.  At some point today, take out a piece of paper and write Gibbs' rule number 51.  "Sometimes I am Wrong." I confess to you, those are hard words for me to write, but they are the very words that will lead us to stronger relationships in the body of Christ, and a deeper understanding of the God who loves us. 


Monday, August 25, 2014

Is the church on drugs?

Several months ago I started reading the blog articles of Tullian Tchividjian, a preacher from Florida. He serves at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale.  I read more of his writings after I learned he is a grandson of Billy Graham.   One of his articles quotes Robert Capon, who he describes as the author of some of the most mind-blowing articles on the subject of grace.   Here is the quote:


I think good preachers should be like bad kids. They ought to be naughty enough to tiptoe up on dozing congregations, steal their bottles of religion pills…and flush them all down the drain. The church, by and large, has drugged itself into thinking that proper human behavior is the key to its relationship with God. What preachers need to do is force it to go cold turkey with nothing but the word of the cross–and then be brave enough to stick around while [the congregation] goes through the inevitable withdrawal symptoms.

But preachers can’t be that naughty or brave unless they’re free from their own need for the dope of acceptance. And they wont be free of their need until they can trust the God who has already accepted them, in advance and dead as door-nails, in Jesus. Ergo, the absolute indispensability of trust in Jesus’ passion. Unless the faith of preachers is in that alone-and not in any other person, ecclesiastical institution, theological system, moral prescription, or master recipe for human loveliness–they will be of very little use in the pulpit.

So what do you think?  Is your bottle of religion pills missing? Have we been guilty of "drugging" ourselves into thinking proper human behavior is the key to a relationship with God?

First of all, the writer isn't proposing misbehavior or a license for us to start charting our own course for life. Being in a relationship with God calls for us to lead holy lives, continually loving God and loving everyone else, too.  But even as Christians, we know we fail, we slip up, we sin. So we throw ourselves before God, depending on his mercy and grace. 

As for Mr. Capon's analysis of those who occupy our pulpits, his language indicates they, too, can be motivated by the narcotic of their acceptance, and that plays into their actions and their teaching. He further wants us to know unless our preachers come to depend on God through their love and trust in Him, "they will be of very little use in the pulpit."  A big part of me likes that line about the preacher's dependence should not be "in any other person, ecclesiastical institution, theological system, moral prescription, or master recipe for human loveliness."

Robert Capon has hit the nail on the head when he directs our churches and our pulpit's leaders to place themselves under the banner of the cross of Jesus, and the grace of our Heavenly Father.  And may we all be freed from those religion pills, and from the dope of acceptance.  Only then can we be really free to be in an intimate relationship with the One who made us.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Our God will help us

One of the most exciting stories in the Bible is the story of Nehemiah, and the writing of the book is described in the very first verse as being his memoirs. To set the story, this was at the time when the walls and gates of Jerusalem had been destroyed.  Although Nehemiah was a long way from Jerusalem, his ancestors were buried there.  Because of the desecration of the city, Nehemiah carried the burden of wanting to do something, but knowing he could not accomplish much on his own. 

Nehemiah began his quest with a prayer to the Lord.  Scripture points out to us that the prayers were being prayed by those who honored God and specifically they were praying for success when they went to the king to ask a great favor. At the time, Nehemiah was the cup bearer to the king.

In the following spring Nehemiah was serving wine to the king one day when the king noticed there was something obviously troubling his servant. Upon questioning Nehemiah, the king learned of the wishes for Nehemiah to be a part in the rebuilding of Jerusalem's city walls and gates. The king asked, "What can I do to help? Remember that word "help."  We will see it again. 

Nehemiah told the king of his desire to be sent to Jerusalem, with letters from the king to the leaders of the places through which he must travel. Other letters from the king would be issued so Nehemiah could gather the materials necessary for the construction. The king granted these requests, knowing the hand of God was on Nehemiah. 

On arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah surveyed the ruins of the destroyed walls, gathered the religious and political leaders of the city, and told them of his intent to rebuild. They were all in agreement and dedicated to the rebuilding. Scripture inserts right here in the story, "So they began the good work."

Opposition arose from their enemies, even to the point where they were having to keep one hand on the tools they used for rebuilding, and their other hand on their sword or spears. But Nehemiah reminded them, "The God of heaven will help us succeed."

 The story contains the list of all those leaders that worked together, and some that did not. Opposition continued but Nehemiah said, "We prayed to God and he helped us in guarding our city day and night."  When they heard their enemies were going to attack, a trumpet was sounded for a warning, and as Nehemiah said again, "Our God will help us in the fight."

Through all the ups and downs, the wall was completed in fifty two days, and when the enemies and surrounding nations heard the news, they became frightened. They realized that this work had been done with the help of God.

Nehemiah, once a personal servant to the king, left all that behind to go to a faraway place to accomplish a work with God's blessing. He had a passion for prayer, a passion for the Word of God, a passion for his personal renewed devotion, and above all, a heart of sacrificial service.  If those become the priorities in our lives, we are going to see good things happen. God is longing to help us.

God bless, and have a great weekend.  <>

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sharing in the gift

If you could pinpoint the primary goal of the church you attend, what would that goal be? Why do churches exist?  Is it for the increasing numbers on the church roll? Is it for the money? Are we, as the Lord's church, giving our world a false impression for our existence?

Churches may be to blame for this, if they are more interested in the numbers than they are in being used by God to cultivate disciples. That is when we come up with churches full of members who have an altered concept of spiritual priorities. An example of this can be seen in the number of church members who feel like, "the church only wants my warm body to fill the pew on Sunday, and my money to fill the collection plate."  Lord, forgive us if that is the way we have made people feel in our churchs.

The church's stance on warm bodies filling the pew on Sunday should be  in line with the biblical pattern of Christians joining in a fellowship of worship and praise.  It is actually saved people getting together to encourage each other and glorify God.  It's not about what we wear or what we drive to church. It's not a social club where our presence will make us recognized as a vital part of the community. It's not a place to be seen to promote our business income.  It's a place for God's people and other sinners to gather and experience the presence of the Father while giving him praise for his love and grace. 

As far as the collection plate is concerned, yes, churches need funds to operate and pay the bills. They need dollars to maintain the physical structure of the church as well as those invisible things the church does in support of missions, teaching children, counseling the hopeless, and numerous ministries to serve the community and world.  And when are we going to get in through our heads that everything we have and everything we are already belongs to God anyway, and the gift we put in the plate on Sunday is a demonstration of our love toward him and our neighbors?  

If you are familiar with the biblical region of Macedonia, you know those people were poor. Long before entitlement programs people who could not afford to live, usually died. Paul describes them in 1 Corinthians 8:2, "They have been going through much trouble and hard times." But Paul continues his description of the Macedonians, "their wonderful joy and deep poverty have overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the gracious privilege of sharing in the gift for the Christians in Jerusalem."  How do people with so little give so much? Paul answers that in the following verse.....and that's the lesson we all need to learn. 

"Best of all, they went beyond our highest hopes, for their first action was to dedicate themselves to the Lord and to us for whatever directions God might give them."  1 Corinthians 8:5 (NLT)  When we are truly dedicated to the Lord and to his work, God blesses us with the resources to accomplish his will. 


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I've got confidence

It was my first year of high school.  The school was brand new, well part of it was.  The rest of it was still under construction.  We made out the best we could while construction continued.  The newness of the building was the awe of students, teachers and even visitors. 

Our football team that year was not ranked very high.  We literally had half a team to work with, because now we were the second high school in town, and both teams suffered as the student numbers were divided into two schools instead of one. 

The football uniforms were brand new, as were the band and cheerleader uniforms.  We had such high hopes for our new school.  We were proud with school spirit and couldn't wait for our first public appearance.  But the schedule called for us to face one of the toughest teams in the state. Everyone knew we would get beat..........bad!

Something quite different happened.  The ranked team we played was narrowly defeated by our new and untested team. The coach of the team we beat was quoted in just about every sports report in the state, saying, "We got beat because we were overconfident."

One thing our team didn't have was the confidence we could win, but the other team was overly confident they would win without any effort.  That's dangerous no matter what the game. 

Is the subject of our confidence connected to our Christianity?  The Bible has some things to say about it.  In Philippians 3:3 Paul warns us to avoid putting our confidence in the flesh.  He made that warning because some had their confidence in themselves, or their ancestry, or even in their financial status.

In Romans, this same Paul lets us in on a biblical truth, "Those who put their trust in the Lord will never be ashamed."  So these two references indicate being confident is good as long as our confidence is placed correctly. 

Here are some additional scriptural references on the subject. 

Psalm 118:8  "It is better to trust in the Lord rather than to put confidence in man."
1 John 3:2  "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know(have confidence) that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."
Philippians 1:6  "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ"
And in Galatians, Paul expressed his confidence that God would help them be strong in the truth.

Are you a confident person?  Upon what is your confidence based?  The Bible would have us to know our confidence is not in ourselves, but should always be placed in God.  This deserves more than lip-service.  It's a complete surrender our ourselves to God, while placing our lives under his direction.  After all, he made us, he gave his Son to save us, and he calls us into his eternal family.  There is your confidence.