Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Praying For Las Vegas, But Then What?

  A few words about living in the aftermath of the Las Vegas Massacre.  I do not use that word without careful thought.  In its noun form, it massacre means the unnecessary indiscriminate killing of a large number of human beings.  In its verb form, it means to kill unnecessarily and indiscriminately, especially a large number of persons.  Massacre perfectly describes the carnage that occurred in Las Vegas at the hands of Stephen Paddock.  Most of us continue to pray for those who are grieving, those who are recovering, those who are still fighting for their lives, and those who survived but have traumatized by what happened.

But in reality, many of us are questioning what's going on in our nation.  Politicians are quick to co-opt the event as a platform for their agendas.  Some religious folks will use it as a platform for Armageddon.  Most just worry about the world, the culture, and the mess we seem to be leaving our kids and grandkids.  I write these words not to indict or criticize, but simply to offer some biblically based encouragement in the face of growing evil.  So, here a few thoughts.  

        Where was God when this was happening??  He was where He was when Cain killed Abel.  He was where He was when Moses killed the Egyptian slave supervisor and when Herod murdered the baby boys in Bethlehem.  He was where He was during the agonizing torture and crucifixion of Jesus.  HE WAS THERE!!  God is sovereign and rules over all of creation and more.  But, part of being made in His Image and after His Likeness is the freedom to choose.  In a culture that grows more secular by the day, human beings exercise the power of choice and far too often, we make bad choices.  Some seem fairly benign, but others impact scores or hundreds, or even millions
        We don't know why, Stephen Paddock made a choice on Sunday night, a choice that left 59 families and countless friends grieving, 500+ others who will carry the physical scars of his depravity for the rest of their lives, thousands who will carry the emotional scars for years to come, and a fractured nation that longs for an end to violence, injustice, and inequity.  The problem is that most of the nation rejects, outright or hypocritically, the only One Who can bring an end to those things. 
        God was there Sunday night!!  He was there in the rapid, heroic response of law enforcement, fire/rescue, and other first responders.  He was there in the scores of unnamed heroes who covered the helpless, aided the wounded, and gave comfort to the dying.  He was there in every chaplain, every counselor, and every blood donor.   HE WAS THERE!

        Why does God allow this kind of thing to happen??  See above regarding freedom of choice.  We all make choices.  Some of our choices are motivated by selflessness, sacrifice, and love.  Other choices are motivated by selfishness, self-promotion, and even hatred.  It comes with the territory known as free will.  God-given free will comes with responsibility and when we choose badly, we bear the consequences.  God is not the cause of evil, but He most certainly is the Cure.  When some folks make these terrible choices that do harm to others, God chooses to reveal Himself in the form of those who counter that evil with love, aid, and selfless sacrifice.  

        Will we ever be safe again???  What kind of world will my kids and grandkids inherit??  Unfortunately, according to the apostle Paul, it's only going to get worse.   In 2 Timothy 3:12-13, he writes, ""Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  But evil people and impostors will flourish.  They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived."  (NLT, My highlight)    But then he tells us what we should be doing in verses 14-17:  'But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught.  You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you . . . All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.  It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.  God uses it to prepare and equip His people to do every good work."    So knowing how things will go, we must be faithful to the Lord Jesus, trust the word of God as absolute truth, let that word be the authority in our lives regarding faith and practical issues.  We must teach it to our kids, model it before our kids and be busy doing HIS work.  We must trust the future to the God Who is already there.  

        Some will say, "I'm afraid," but God doesn't want us to live in fear.  He doesn't want us to live angrily, with constant disappointment, or fear.  So what do we combat those things?

1)  When we're angry with God, that's OK as long as we don't put down roots there.  Vent your anger to Him.  When we voice our anger in prayer and then submit to His will, He will strengthen us for whatever we face.  Let you faith in Him be the victory that overcomes your anger.

2)  When we're disappointed with God, that's OK as long as we don't stay there.  In Exodus 5:22-23, Moses first encounter with Pharaoh turned out so badly that Moses actually blamed God.  God listened and then simply recommissioned because God had a plan that Moses knew nothing about.  AND it would be spectacular.  (check out Isaiah 55:8-9)    There is an old cliche that says, "If God brings you to it, He will certainly bring you through it."  Down through the ages, millions of people have realized that life or death, sickness or health, prosperity or poverty, whether embraced or rejected -- Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.  (I John 5:4b)  Let your faith be the victory that overcomes your disappointment!

3)  Some folks react to the storms of life with fear.  In Matthew 8, Jesus and his disciples got into a small boat and started across the Sea of Galilee.  Then, one of those unexpected violent storms blew down from the mountains and the boat began to take on water.  Jesus was sleeping soundly until He was awakened to the sounds of twelve grown men shouting, 'Lord, save us!  We're going to die!'  Jesus, in the midst of that storm, before He even got up, says to them, "Why are you afraid?? You have so little faith!!"  Then He spoke to the wind and the sea and the storm was calmed.  Whatever the storm, Jesus is there!  So let your faith be the victory that overcomes your fears!

Perhaps this could be our manifesto for the future:
        As a follower of Jesus, I will not live in fear nor will I be intimidated into retreating into a comfort zone.  I am a follower of Christ.  I will deny myself, take up my cross daily and follow Him.  (Luke 9:23)  I acknowledge that the Way to follow Him is narrow and difficult, but I will persevere.  (Matthew 7:13-14)  I will encourage my children to follow me as I follow Christ.  (I Corinthians 11:1)  I will nurture my children in faith and encourage them to know Jesus intimately, love Him dearly, and serve Him with a whole heart.  (Ephesians 5:4)  I will pray every day that the Holy Spirit will empower me to be the salt of my environment, creating a thirst among my family, friends, co-workers and others to know the Living Water (John 4) that flows from me.  I will pray that I will be a light (Matthew 5:16) that shines on the darkness of loneliness, isolation, hatred, racism, sexual abuse, immorality, false teaching, and injustice of every sort.  I will because the Great I AM has redeemed me equipped me, empowered me, and deployed me to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that (HE) has commanded us."  (Matthew 28:18-20).  And the greatest promise of all is this -- HE is with us ALWAYS and EVERYWHERE!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Living Clean in a Corrupt Culture

I don't often write blogs that offend, but occasionally, it happens.  This might be one of those.  Why, you ask?  Well, this one is about holiness.  Not the holiness of God, but personal holiness that our holy God expects from His children.  
The pharisees of Jesus' day thought of themselves as holy.  In the "holy" zeal, they crucified their own Messiah. 

Over the centuries holiness has been equated with haircuts, mode of dress, the ability to speak in unknown tongues, and even belonging to certain churches or denominations.  The truth is that holiness has little to do with outward appearance or special knowledge.  Holiness is when the direction of our heart is focused toward God alone.  Andrew Murray said, "The greatest test of whether the holiness we profess to seek or to attain is truth and life will be whether it produces an increasing humility in us.  In humanity, humility is the one thing needed to allow God's holiness to dwell in us and through us.  The chief mark of counterfeit holiness is a LACK of humility.  The holiest will be the humblest."  

Some have sought to be holy by isolation.  But that isn't biblical because holiness cannot be adequately demonstrated in isolation.  In Philippians 2:14-15, Paul tells the church to "Do everything without grumbling and arguing so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars IN the world."  Jesus Himself prayed in John 17:14-15 - "I am NOT praying that You take them OUT of the world, but that You protect them from the evil one."  Jesus knew that the holiness His followers would develop as their relationship with Him deepened MUST be demonstrated IN a world of darkness and corruption.  

The problem we face in this great nation is a weakened church presence.  It happens when professing Christians and church folks live no differently from the lost and unchurched folks around them.  When we do that, we've embraced the world! Unfortunately, we don't hear much talk about worldliness in the church anymore and perhaps that's why we have so little impact on our culture.  Worldliness has weakened our churches from the inside out.  And now the trend is to move away from God's judgment and speak only about His grace, mercy, unconditional love and acceptance.  

What happened to us?  Why do we no longer teach our attenders about the costs of following Jesus?  Why do we no longer tell them that there is not only a Great White Throne judgment coming, but also a Bema Seat judgment where followers of Jesus will judged according to their works, not for salvation, but for rewards?  Why do we not challenge the practice of sin (I John 5:18-19) in ourselves and our fellow members and attenders?   In I Peter 1:15, we are reminded that WE are to be holy because our Father in heaven is holy.   That word, holy/hagios in the Greek, literally means to be set apart. When we repent of our sins, turn in faith to the Lord Jesus, and submit to the Father's plan for our lives, we are set apart from our previous lifestyles and set apart for His plan for our lives. To know that should motivate us to strive for moral purity in every part of our lives.  

But Peter doesn't just tell us that.  He gives us some idea as to HOW to it.

1)  He tells us to Discipline our Minds.  I Peter 1:13.  God imparts the righteousness of the Lord Jesus to us at the moment of salvation, BUT from that point on, we must guard that.   That's why Paul wrote in  Romans 12:2 - " Don't be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you might discern what is the good, pleasing and perfect will of God."  We can control what we feed our minds. What we read, what we watch, what we hear, WE CAN determine what goes in.  Peter also tells us to be sober-minded. That's clear thinking.  I like the phrase "discipline your thinking."  Everything we say or do begins in the mind.  So many people mess up their lives because of stinking thinking. We set our minds on the wrong things.  Some single folks think they can never have joy or fulfillment until they find the right mate, which is basically saying to God, 'You're not enough for me.'  Some folks who live paycheck to paycheck think, 'if only I had more money,' which is basically saying to God, 'You're not enough for me.'  That's stinking thinking and no one ever developed holiness or godliness with stinking thinking.  Check out Philippians 4:8.  

2)  Refuse to conform to the world around you.  v. 14   Those who live according to the senses, motivated by lusts, and have no real hope beyond THIS life -- don't be like them.  We have a living Hope in heaven.  His name is Jesus and He is at the right hand of God the Father as our Advocate as stumble and trip along this faith journey.  IF we are truly born again, God expects us to be in the process of becoming different and there are potholes and low shoulders along the road.  But the great thing is that it's NOT about us trying to do better.  It's about us submitting our lives to Him everyday so that He can live His life through us.  

3) Live Every Day with a Reverence and Awe of the God Who will one day judge the content and quality of our lives.  v. 17   There's that judgment thing.  It's coming for all of us who believe.  Standing there before Him as He reviews my life - every careless word, every missed opportunity to serve or witness or give, every hurt I've inflicted on others unjustly, every time that my actions or words or even stinking thinking brought dishonor to HIS Name.  That's why EVERY DAY, we must confess, repent, and submit to Him.

Now here's just a couple of other tips for developing a God-honoring holiness.  No one develops this Christlikeness without spending an abundant amount of time in the presence of God the Father.  This is your prayer time, your quiet time, your retreat into your war room.  To develop a godly character, you must get to know God more intimately.  It involves, first and foremost, a prayer life that involves meditation and listening as well as speaking.  
Second, no one develops this Christlikeness without spending an abundant amount of time in God's word.  This is still His primary method of speaking into our lives.  Both Old Testament and New are important.  Read it, Listen to it, memorize it, and apply it.  It will teach you, rebuke you, encourage you, challenge you, correct you, and bring your life in line with God's will and purpose.  

SO, what do you need to give up in order to pursue holiness?

What do you need to embrace in order to pursue holiness?  

True holiness is having our hearts so aligned with God that others see His Son, our Lord Jesus, in our language, our actions, and our priorities.   Romans 8:28-29

When that happens, our churches will be revived and we will become the salt and light that is needed in a corrupt culture.