Tuesday, June 16, 2015

No Such Thing as Coincidences

I had the most amazing experience just an hour or so ago at Publix in the produce section. I got to pray for healing from cancer with a man named Jay. What's that got to do with this meme? I struck up a conversation with Jay because I heard him say something about his upcoming 53rd wedding anniversary, so I congratulated him and his wife, and added, "That's quite a testimony, sir, ma'am." His face lit up like the sun when he answered, "Son, it takes three to make a marriage work this long. Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior?" "Yes sir, I do - it wil be 50 years come this November 21st."

We spoke some more, and he told me about his recently diagnosed bone cancer, and just wanting to Glorify the Lord with what time he had left. I asked if it would be too presumptuous of me to pray for him right there in the produce section, and he smiled and said not at all. I imagine we may have offended some people, but Paul once said "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17 NKJV.

I believe God just might work another miracle in this kind gentleman's life. He knows Jesus, He's been blessed with 53 years of marriage to a godly woman, he was a blessing and encouragement to me today even as we prayed together standing there between the frozen waffles and the Vidalia onions. I don't believe in coincidences, but I do believe in the power of prayer and a God of miracles.

 The whole point of this wee little missive is maybe to just remind us of Paul's instructions to his young protégé, Timothy:

 "I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." 2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NKJV)

Or, there’s that other thing. Maybe with God, there just aren’t any such things as coincidences.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The World, The Flesh, and The Church - Part 3 "WWJD?"

Do you remember when that became popular? WWJD? What Would Jesus Do? For most of us, the awareness of the acronym probably occurred when our kids discovered this popular creation of a youth group leader in Holland, Michigan, named Janie Tinklenberg, who created the idea to help the teenagers in her group remember the phrase. It spread nationwide in the 1990s among Christian youth, who wore bracelets, T-shirts, ball-caps and jewelry bearing the initials “W.W. J. D.” Later, a sequel bracelet was generated with the initials "FROG," to provide an answer to the "WWJD” question. FROG was another acronym which posited that Jesus would, in all likelihood, "Fully Rely On God." The obvious implication being, therefore, so should we.

The phrase is much older than that, however. London preacher Charles Spurgeon probably first used it publically in a sermon he preached on June 28, 1891. But the phrase is older still. In his sermon, Spurgeon cites as source of the phrase, a book written in Latin by Thomas à Kempis between 1418 and 1427, Imitatio Christi (The Imitation of Christ).

Novelist/preacher Charles Sheldon's 1896 book, In His Steps was subtitled "What Would Jesus Do?" Sheldon's novel grew out of a series of sermons he delivered in his Congregationalist church in Topeka, Kansas. Unlike Spurgeon’s more evangelistic approach and use of the phrase, Sheldon's theology was shaped by a commitment to Christian Socialism.

Which brings us back to the present and the place where I can tell you to throw your notes away unless you’re a history buff. There won’t be a test on the first portion of this missive. I make no such promises for what follows, however, because, not to put too fine a point on it, it actually does follow the last thrilling episode where our dedicated writing staff, me, actually, left you hanging on the edge of your seat, questioning your attention span, ability to listen, and what exactly did Jesus mean by “GO”?

Or, to put it another way, when faced with the single, albeit multi-layered command: “GO, WWJD?

Let’s see, shall we?

Of the face of it, it would seem the answer’s really straight forward. I mean, come on – what part of GO is confusing you? Or have you forgotten last week’s lesson already and need a refresher? Parenthetically, did you know that researchers say that the average American adult in the 21st century has roughly the attention span of a gnat? Unless you’re trying to write a thesis of some sort, or read the research material: then the little buggers can’t seem to get enough of you. They’re like, well, Baptists at a barbeque! You just can’t get rid of them. Oh, but bring out an offering plate and then the pesky little fellas vanish in the twinkling of an eye. There’s a nice Religious sounding reference to hold your attention until I get to the point.

Attention spans. Any preachers in the audience? I’m about to break your heart. The research says if you can’t say it in 20 minutes, you’ve lost them. Using a lot of cool PowerPoint stuff in your messages? Down to about 12 minutes. Your technology is working against you because the odds are whoever taught you how to use all the flashy cool stuff never taught you about restraint – that too much is way too much and for your audience, less is more. Start looking up at them at about the 10 minute mark and pay attention to the reactions you see around the room. Of course, if Sunday Morning your people are watching you from last night because of all your cool tech, you have no idea, do you.

Here’s the problem: we humans have two kind of attention spans. Transient Attention, or short term response to stimulus, which thanks to all the tech, is down to about 8 seconds in adult humans.  Less than a goldfish, by the way. The other kind is Selective sustained attention, also known as focused attention, the level of attention that produces the consistent results on a task over time. Like keeping an audience interested to your sermon for 20 minutes. It, too is the victim of tech. To put this into perspective, when my grandparents were my age, the average adult attention spans were 2 minutes and 30-45 minutes.

Admit it. You get antsy if your preacher goes more than 15-20 minutes. Yet, somehow you made it all the way through all two hours, four minutes of Jurassic World last Friday with nary a twinge! Why is that? Because it was 124 minutes of nibbles. Action packed bite sized sound and visual slices of brain stimulant your preacher can’t possibly begin to compete against, nor should he!

His job is to answer the question, WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? To quote John Hammond from the first Jurassic Park movie, “Let me show you.”

WWJD? To begin with, Paul answers this question in Romans 12:1-2.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Just what is Paul saying here? I won’t weigh you down with all the first century Greek. Most of us are struggling with 21st century English, so I’ll make this as basic as I can. Beseech is Paul’s humble way if combining “I beg you”, “I strongly urge you”, and “I hope you’ve been paying attention because I’m lovingly warning you on behalf of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”. To do what? Present your bodies, which he has already revealed to us in 1 Corinthians 6:19, are the Church Age Temple of God and as such are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit on earth, as living sacrifice. Many translate the rest of verse 1 to mean “this is your first service of worship”.

It’s the rest - verse 2 – that is the meat of WWJD, and there are two parts to it. A DON’T and a DO. First, the DON’T: don’t behave like the carnal, unsaved world around you. That’s less than 8 seconds. You can get that. Stop acting like the world! It wasn’t a suggestion!

Now the “DO” part. Hang on to this. It’s more than 8 seconds. In fact, it’s a lifelong adventure. Think caterpillar to Butterfly. Think tadpole to frog. It’s the same word, but the verb tense Paul uses means keep on doing it over and over from the moment you become born again until the day you die. It really reads “but be being transformed”. How? By the re-renewing of your mind through work of the Holy Spirit in you.

So you look at your life, you look at your church, you ask WWJD? STOP IMMITATING THE WORLD! That’s the first thing. What else? You. Personally. Be changed! Paul also wrote Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”. (2 Corinthians 5:17) Pay attention to this, because Paul is saying, at the behest of Jesus Himself Who inspired ALL Scripture, if you haven’t changed, you are not IN CHRIST! If you are completely content with the things of the world, the ways of the world, the behavior of the world, the clothing and music of the world, the entertainment of the world (and no, it isn’t all bad), but if nothing about any of it has changed in you, and you ask yourself WWJD, I think perhaps He would say

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

The other lesson to learn from Jesus in reference to “GO and WWJD? Is best seen by reading the Gospels. I recommend John. Then the Book of Acts to see the Apostles interpretation of GO. You see, you didn’t see Jesus or the Apostles pitching tents, passing out flyers and saying “YA’LL COME”. By example, Jesus and the Apostles went to wherever there were people to be found and preached the Gospel to them there! They reserved “church” as we have previously defined it, namely, the body of Christ; the fellowship of believers; the coming together of believers for worship, edification, meeting the social needs of the fellowship, communion, baptism, teaching, training their own replacement leadership and missionaries. Evangelism was primarily outside the gathered fellowship. Evangelism was GO! As far as I can tell, my friends, That’s What Jesus Would Do.

And another thing Jesus would do – DID DO! Jesus would invite you to become a part of this church He gave His life for! In John 3:16 Jesus said “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life” and in John 14:6 Jesus said “I am the way I am the truth, I am the life. No man can come to the father but by me.” And in 1st  John 1:9, John wrote “If we confess our sin he meaning Jesus he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.

In other places the Bible tells us that it is not God’s will that anyone should perish. You see, Jesus came to this earth to live a sinless life, to die on the cross. To be raised from the dead on the third day as proof the Father accepted His sacrifice to be the substitutionary sacrificial of atonement – the final payment for our sins - so we wouldn’t have to spend eternity in hell.

If you want to take part in the discussion about the church, doesn’t it make sense to you to be a part of the church? I hope you noticed that I haven’t been singling out denominations in this discussion. They don’t really matter. While the church is made up of members of different religious denominations, the church isn’t any particular religious denomination. In fact Christianity is not even a religion at all!

To be a Christian means to be a Christ follower! Not a member of man-made religion.

We’re going to be talking about the church over the course of the next several blogs. I’d like to invite you to be a part of that discussion, by being a part of His church. You might ask, “How do I do that?” It’s simple. Invite Jesus into your heart. You see the Scripture that I posted a few paragraphs above? You do it by first confessing your sins to Jesus. Then by repenting of your sins. That word repenting means turning completely around and going in the opposite direction from the one you’re headed now. Changing your mind about sin is another way to put it. Then ask Jesus Christ to come and live in your heart and forgive you of your sins and be your Savior and Lord

You can do that by saying a simple prayer like this one. In your own words, say something like this: Dear Jesus, I know I’m a sinner. I confess my sins before you today. I repent of my sins and I ask you to come into my heart and forgive me of my sins. Be my Lord and my Savior and I claim your promise that you will forgive my sins; you will live in my life and I will live with you in Heaven forever! In Jesus Name I pray, Amen.

That’s all there is to it. It really is that simple. But it’s life-changing. And It’s What Jesus Wants You To Do!

Friday, June 12, 2015

He's My President, Too - Reprinted from 16.9.2009

I don’t care for the man.  It’s as simple as that.  I didn’t vote for him, and so far nothing he has done would make me think twice about that decision.  To the contrary, he seems to have gone out of the way to demonstrate that I got it right, and the American electorate got it wrong.
That’s normal for me.  The getting it right when the rest of you got it wrong bit.  Like the guy driving down the freeway during rush hour when his wife calls him on his cell phone.  Being a careful sort of guy he activates his hands free and when his wife warns him that she heard that there’s some lunatic going the wrong way on the freeway, ha replies that there isn’t just one, but hundreds of them!
Really – it feels like that some days.  “All the world is a little strange but me and thee…and some days I’m not so sure about thee!”  That sort of thing.
I know I got it right, but I just can’t prove it.  On the plus side…no wait, I won’t go there.
I struggle with the idea that the President says - wrongly - that my country is one of the world’s largest Muslim nations – “in God We Trust” notwithstanding.
I struggle with the notion that he feels the need to apologize for the country that gave him the platform he is using to apologize.
I disagree with his notions, his policies, his racism, his naivety (even more naïve than Jimmy Carter, I think) and his big government throw money at the problem approach.
But, and it’s a big ‘but’, he IS the president!  If I don’t like it, well, this nation has a built in term limitation program even better than the two tem thing for Presidents.  Ronald Regan called it “Throw the bums out!”  I call it the election cycle.  It applies to every single elected office in this Republic of the United States.  If you don’t like the person you elected – don’t re-elect him!  That’s term limitation at its finest!
Now – here’s a key bit of the idea- he’s my president, too.  I am bothered by the idea of Americans who shout from whatever portal they can find, things like “Now WE have a president – he’s My president” because of a perceived notion of commonality due to a perceived common heritage based on skin color.
Newsflash – the individual in the Oval Office has more African-Arab blood than Negro blood, my friend, and strangely enough, I haven’t noticed bin Laden shouting “He’s my president!”  Your perception has more to do with gene dominance than heritage.
Even so, if your ancestors came to this country 200 years ago, regardless of the circumstances, while there is an ancestry of foreign derivation in your past, the fact remains that in all likelihood for five of the last 6 generations, your heritage is that of mixed race American; born in the USA!  Just like most of the rest of us.
Here’s where the rubber hits the road, my friend.  Mr. Obama is MY President too!  Every bit as much as he is yours!  And that is what makes America great!  An American born (let’s just assume that, shall we?) citizen was elected to be President of the nation of his birth in a free election.  If you don’t like it, in just over three years you can activate the built in term limitation system and unelect him.
But until then, he is ALL of our President!
As I said to start this off, I don‘t much care for the man, but he IS MY president, too, and I respect the OFFICE of The President of the United States of America, if not the office holder, and if you’re a long time reader, you already know my opinion of his predecessor was also remarkably less than 5-star!
And as a Christian, I am still compelled to remember the words of the prophet Daniel in far more dire political circumstances than the ones I face:
“He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” Daniel 2:21 NIV
God is still in control as regards this ‘one nation under God.’ Mr. Obama may be confused on that issue, having spoken of his Christianity and his Muslim heritage, but the Bible is strikingly clear on the subject. There is only one God. He is Jehovah, not Allah, and one day every knee will bow to Him, and every tongue will proclaim that He is Lord! (Philippians 2:9-11)
NOTE: Many of the issues that concerned me when I wrote this post originally for my blog on 16th September, 2009, remain unanswered. My inspiration to write was twofold: first, the number of black friends, not a one of whom I would label as racist or race driven, were suddenly openly proclaiming Barack Obama as “Their” President based solely on the color of his skin, and second, the number of 2008 questions (birth certificate, school records, financial records, ties to foreign governments and entities who are enemies of our nation, and other questionable background claims that, still, almost six years hence, remain unanswered.
Now I am being challenged as being suddenly racist, and an Obama hater because of the color of his skin, as well as being guilty of “unwarranted disrespect” of the President. It is to that end, I am reposting a six-year old BLOG to reinforce two ideas:
1. These are old ideas simply rehashed, and the idea of posting negative op-ed where the President is concerned did not begin with Obama. I actually wrote sardonic pieces to the Miami Herald regarding Richard Nixon and Spirow Agnew while still in High school.
2. It is entirely possible to respect the Office of the POTUS while having absolutely no respect whatsoever for the POTUS, himself. Office and office holder are NOT synonyms, however poorly the one may be a reflection of the other.  One might argue that if Mr. Obama himself respected the office he holds, he would resign before further desecrating its image.