Monthly Archives: September 2015

Choices – our right to make I Samuel 8:1-22 Part I

(This blog is excerpted from a sermon preached 9/27/15.)

Offered a commission on April 18, 1861 to command Union armies, Robert E. Lee thought, pondered and decided NO.  For his home state of Virginia seceded from the Union that day.  His choice brought him deserved fame as military leader who chose to serve a wicked, doomed cause.

In his book Centennial, James Michener wrote of two groups of Indians in early America.  One group chose to move south in Mexico; the other remained in what is now Colorado.  The former became the Aztecs, the latter the Utes.

Choices.  In his mercy God gives us the freedom to make them.  And while they may not lead to the dramatic destinies experienced by General Lee and ancient American Indians, all choices lead to results or consequences.

Samuel’s leadership of Israel—surely close to 60 years—provided a long generation of peace and prosperity.  But, as always happens, mortality overtook him.  His strength gradually failed; he couldn’t continue his annual circuit; his influence waned.  And the sons he appointed as his surrogates expanded his ministry but didn’t imitate his spirit.  As a result Israel revered the father and loathed his offspring.

That led the lay leaders to choose a new point man in Israel.  It’s interesting that they didn’t consult Samuel for his input, and they didn’t seek God’s guidance on their decision.  They simply followed their own untutored impulses, proving how little worthy of leadership they were, proving that any choice they made would be flawed.

The next blog studies the two mistakes they made.  – End Part I –

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Science – pursues baseless, useless, sterile causes

In his opening remarks at the meeting carried by the Weather Channel, September 28, 2015, the lead scientist couldn’t contain his enthusiasm of finding possible water in some form on Mars.  He, and his scientific panel, boasting renowned intellectuals around the world, considered it one of the great scientific breakthroughs in history.  Among other things, he said that science is always searching for the answer to “where we came from.”

And they think to find the answer on Mars?  A planet whose sole qualification for possible life is its proximity to earth’s orbit around the sun?  That red planet will have answers to our origin not found on earth:  in God’s word, God’s Son, God’s church?

To think that way is to think Pope Francis had anything substantial to say on his American visit.  To think that way is to think politics has solid answers to our social, economic and spiritual issues.  To think that way is to think liberals who reject Jesus Christ as God’s Son have better solutions to humanity’s problems in their doubt, revisionism, skepticism and flagrant humanism!

Why would we put hope for an explanation of our origin and purpose in a created, lifeless thing, not in the Living Creator?  In soils and rocks that never speak, not in the Eternal God who has  spoken through Law, Prophets and Writings, then Personally through Jesus Christ.

Why would we consider any scientific discovery the “smoking gun” of anything in creation when the next scientific discovery may very well contradict this discovery?

While we never stop seeking help everywhere but in the Bible, God’s holy word, the one place where answers lie, where answers whisper, where answers shout, where answers warn us we’ll die in our sins if we don’t accept God in Christ, God never changes his creation account.  It remains the only rational explanation of WHO made us and WHY.

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Belief – the difference between declarations and expressions of

In any survey that asks, “Do you believe in God,” around 95% of those questioned will reply affirmatively.  “Of course, how could you not believe?”

Such a statistic should assure good relationships and honesty in business and government.  It should diminish misunderstanding, greed and inhumanity and provide a common respect for all people.  If 95% of the people believe in God, it should make a difference in everyday life.

Alas, such isn’t the case at all, and not at all in proportion.  To our great regret and humiliation, it isn’t.  How inhumanely we act.  How ferociously and irresponsibly.  How unkindly and thoughtlessly.

Which only proves that the faith in God often professed is nothing but verbal assent to a question.  It is not the life-changing commitment such a grand declaration should inspire.

If we say we believe in God, what difference will it make today:  at work, in our speech, in our habits?  If we say we believe in God, what difference will it make at home tonight with our children, our mate, our neighbors?  Will it make us honest and concerned, patient and loving?

The New Testament writer James says, “faith apart from works is dead” 2:26.  Will our behavior today prove that our faith is living?  Or otherwise, will it prove that our profession of faith is just words, without content?

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Laymen – involving in ministry the key to church growth – Part III

This blog concludes the impact of Acts 6:1-7 on the early church.  In essence, why lay people are essential to church growth.  The apostles took two significant steps to disarm the crisis in Jerusalem.

First, they retained their God-given priority as men of prayer and study.  Emphasizing the reason ministers must be students of God’s word.  Only by such study, reinforced with prayer, will preaching regain its rightful place in worship.

Second, to give the time those duties demanded, they put the laity in charge of daily church activity—in this case, feeding Grecian widows.  The men chosen had to be Spirit-filled disciples, even if they only served tables.  Any ministry needs Christ-like messengers because any ministry is a sacred trust.  Whatever giftedness may be needed to lead, Christ-centered life in the person is essential.

The apostles’ decision had astonishing results.  One, those who complained—the “Monday-morning quarterbacks”—were enlisted in the solution to problems they defined.  Nothing turns skeptics into believers like personal involvement.

Two, this pleased the people.  And why?  Because, for the first time in religious history, lay people assumed an active role in their faith.  They chose their own leaders, who determined a procedure to meet the need.

Three, RAPID growth occurred, as more-than-ever additions came to the church.  Even priests as a group converted.  An especially significant change since leaders of a religious faith are the last to surrender their theological position.

All this came from an administrative, not a doctrinal, change.  The apostles kept preaching Jesus Christ crucified!  A correction for ministers today who think a new message has to be employed to reach people.  Do not alter the Gospel message.  Change only methods.

A concluding thought.  It’s only natural for us to sink to whatever mediocrity is allowed OR to rise to whatever excellence is demanded.  Jesus constantly calls his people to their feet and forward in his cause.  Let us be reminded that people can find a church in the Yellow Pages, but find Christ only in Christians.  – Fini –

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Laymen – involving in ministry the key to church growth – Part II

This blog studies the impact of Acts 6:1-7 on early church growth.  In essence, why lay people are essential to church growth.

First, without involvement in church life, they will become a problem.  That happened in the Jerusalem church.  The communal life practiced in the early months collapsed under the addition of numbers.  Additions to membership that had stretched the organization snapped it like hurricanes snapping power lines.  In another figure, tires all blew on their Meals on Wheels program.

An “outside group” forced the break—the Grecian Jews.  A true-to-life result.  The “In” group in any assembly hardly ever feels irritation with procedures.  The “impatient” newcomers nearly always create the friction.  The Grecians felt their widows slighted by an apostolic corps manned by Hebraic Jews.  And, naturally, their complaint focused on unmet physical needs.  People will tolerate a lot of poor preaching and loud music, but leaders better be there when need arises.

Second, the apostles ingeniously disarmed the complaints.  Remember that prior to the Babylonian exile, Judaism had been a prophetic- and priest-driven religion.  After the return to Israel, it settled into a rabbi- and priest-controlled religion.  The early months of Christianity seemed to continue the trend by making it an apostolic-monopolized faith—a Christian Judaism—with clerical/laity distinctions evident.  After all, the Rabbi-disciple format Jesus established offered this model.

Therefore…the unexpected discomfiture imposed by Grecians must have been God’s will in re-directing church leadership.  Since no doctrinal issue was raised, God allowed the communal lifestyle to exist JUST SO it would fail.  That gave the Spirit-led apostles the opportunity to install a procedure that, like love, could expand exponentially with any numerical growth.  To disarm the crisis, the apostles took two significant steps.  – End Part II –   We’ll conclude this blog tomorrow.

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Laymen – involving in ministry the key to church growth – Part I

Read Acts 6:1-7 to appreciate this blog.  When Rick Warren’s runaway best-seller, The Purpose Driven Life, sold at least 19 million copies, he considered a spiritual awakening imminent.  He even traveled back east to consult with those he considered “cultural influencers”:  media, entertainment, business and university leaders.

Point of fact.  Meeting with those people had more apparent than real impacts on spiritual renewal.  It excited more admiration than change and produced more sentiment than substance. For a simple reason.  God seldom calls the politically- or socially-connected to ignite spiritual renewal, especially in a culture depraved by many of the very people Warren interviewed.

However, the spiritual impact of those 19 million books on the multiple millions who read them was, and remains, incalculable.  It could have by now heralded a revival like the pounding staccato of kettle drums heralding a symphony’s finale.

It didn’t, since America is deeper than ever in its depravity and subject to judgment, not renewal.  This may have been stated in previous blogs, but it bears re-reading.  Our nation has crossed the line between God’s patience and God’s wrath, and only tribulation awaits us.

While God shuns those important in their own eyes when looking for servants, he consistently uses Spirit-filled laymen as his ministers.  The text reveals four reasons lay people are essential to building and expanding a church’s ministry and mission.  That will be the subject of the next blog.  – End Part I –

Shepherd – sheep seek the, when trouble comes I Samuel 7

Thomas Edison experimented with six thousand materials before finding carbonized thread as the ideal material for his electric bulb.  From the time Madame Curie first isolated radium, it took four years to weigh it atomically and display it, GLOWING.

Success need not be achieved instantly or easily.  The opposite is almost always true.  AFTER effort and time, success comes, in various degrees.

Samuel found that true.  So far had Israel’s spiritual life fallen under Eli and his sons, it took 20 years of powerful preaching before effectual repentance came to Israel.  Read the story in I Samuel 7.

Evidence that Israel had repented of her perversions came in three proofs.  One, they put away the accessories of their pagan ways:  earrings, nose rings, idols and charms.  Like the Ephesian idolaters, they surrendered the symbols of their heathenism Acts 19:18-19.

Because Samuel persisted in preaching God’s word, Israel gradually, month by month and year by year, changed.  Spiritual momentum built and accumulated, incrementally turning Israel from an apostate into a repentant people.

Two, seeing the change Samuel, called for a public convocation and celebration, and the nation as a whole assembled at Mizpah.  When God’s people delight in obedience, they willingly gather for public worship.

The Philistines naturally watched the public gathering with alarm.  Entirely mistaking Israel’s intention by judging her by their own—Philistia gathered such numbers only for military purposes—they decided to preemptively strike before Israel could arm, even though innocent civilians would be casualties.  Total War!

Three, as the approaching Philistine column spread from marching-to attack-formation—infantry and cavalry phalanxes threatening the mayhem of spear and sword, Israel proved their changed lives.  Terror-stricken by the destruction thundering their way, they nevertheless fled TO their shepherd Samuel, beseeching his intercession with God.

What had Israel’s armies done in the previous battles with Philistia?  They fled precipitately, seeking no help, desiring only to save their hides any way possible.  What had their ancestors done when they lacked food or water?  They upbraided their shepherd Moses.

But here, with certain death encroaching, they pleaded for Samuel’s help.  That poses a question to us.  When we experience trouble, pain, disappointment, or the death of a loved one, do we FLY to God or FLEE from God?  Is our first question, “God, why did you let this happen?”, or “Father in Heaven, guard me through this or I’ll fail you”?

Remember:  sheep instinctively flee to their shepherd when danger approaches.  Given that reality, are we really Christ’s sheep when confronting unwelcome circumstances?

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God – don’t mess with, Acts 5:1-11 – Part III

Ananias and Sapphira fell to God’s judgment by making two fatal mistakes.  The first was to forget the voluntary nature of the communal life.  The second was infinitely worse since it pitted them against Jesus Christ’s Sovereignty.

By considering the apostles merely men, they felt deceit a minor infraction.  They didn’t calculate the Christ-appointed authority those men possessed as his earthly vicars.  Or that their lie offended Christ’s complete authority over life—the essence of spiritual criminality because it offends God’s absolute integrity.  And God will always defend his integrity.

Imagine the loss of respect the apostles would have suffered if the lie had gone unchallenged!  People TALK…and the guilty duo would have TALKED about how they deceived the apostles.  What kind of Christ did they serve if he couldn’t detect deceit?

The infallibility of the apostles as Christ’s own emissaries to the world was at stake.  The very spiritual authorities he selected and inspired to build the foundation of Christianity, to establish the doctrines essential to Biblical Christianity, to record his life and ministry.

Pity no one who feels that, since he can deceive others, or even himself, he can mask his sin from God.  Pity that person not at all, or we risk sharing his fate!

God knows.  God sees.  God repays each according to what we really are, and really do, not what we seem to be or do.

P.S.:  Many consider war the ultimate curse on any people. But war is a self-imposed curse because we insist on governing ourselves apart from God’s will.  But wait till God punishes us for pretending we don’t need him in our personal and national life.  That we can mess with God without penalty.

P.S.S.:  Should we mess with God, and nothing bad happens to us…remember the word YET!  Something bad will.  Guaranteed.  America:  take note!  -Fini-

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God – don’t mess with – Part II (Acts 5:1-11)

Ananias and Sapphira brought disaster on themselves by making two mistakes.  First, they forgot the voluntary nature of the communal life.

Propertied disciples voluntarily sold lands or houses, brought the proceeds and put them in apostolic care.  The dastardly duo sought the praise heaped on those benefactors without its attendant honesty.  Like Barnabas, they had wealth.  Unlike Barnabas, they had no spiritual grace.  They wanted to victimize for their own gain the economic process by which the early church survived.  They defrauded the pure desire to help others into a self-serving narcissism.

It was all unnecessary since all gifts were free-will.  No one forced them to sell what they owned.  That was the meaning of Peter’s question, “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold?”  No one made them give all the proceeds from whatever they sold.  That was the meaning of Peter’s question, “Wasn’t the money at your disposal after it was sold?”

The principle guiding acts of benevolence remains the same today.  The amount is decided strictly by the benefactor.  Even there, however, Barnabas served as the model.  He gave up ALL of whatever he sold.  Gave it ALL away.  As C.S. Lewis once wrote, we aren’t giving enough unless we do without something we want or need because we GIVE to others.

A caveat goes with this point.  The gifts of the propertied Christians were acts of charity, not the tithe paid to God.  That tithe couldn’t be compromised then, or now.  A tenth of our increase is always owed to God, beyond which our mature discipleship adds love offerings.  – End Part II –

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God – don’t mess with – Part I

In one of his Pensees, Blaise Pascal wrote that some people lie merely for the sake of lying.  Just before Nazi Ernst Kaltenbrunner was hanged at Nuremberg, he claimed that crimes had been committed for which he had no responsibility.  This very man signed the papers that gassed 3 million Jews at Auschwitz.  Yet he claimed no responsibility.  It is possible to lie instinctively by lying systematically for so long it becomes second nature.

The first apostolic confrontation with liars occurred in the early months of First Christian Church, Jerusalem.  Ananias and Sapphira tried to mess with God.  Acts 5:1-11 indicates that they sought the appearance of generosity without its substance.  That led them to make two fatal mistakes.

One, they forgot the voluntary nature of the communal life.  Some question why the early Jerusalem church would practice that lifestyle.  In reality, the Master’s own ministry prompted it.

With Pentecost’s harvest of conversions came the problem of caring for hundreds of Jews and God-fearing Gentiles from far-away places.  Many of them may have remained in Jerusalem after the Feast to participate in the excitement engendered by Christ’s resurrection.

What would be more natural?

That posed an unexpected problem for the apostles:  how to provide for hundreds of people who needed employment, food and housing?  Perhaps directed by the Holy Spirit to revive the communal life as a temporary measure, the Twelve re-instated the Teacher-disciple lifestyle.

Numbers in each case made it temporary.  It worked with Jesus and the Twelve.  While their number remained constant, the number of potential supporters increased.  The apostles, however, led a church of exponential growth:  3000 baptized on Pentecost; in months 5000 men, meaning several thousand more wives and children.  Those numbers necessitated a provisional arrangement.  For, as the number of propertied members reduced by attrition, reducing the capital available, the numbers of claims by new members grew.

To cast ahead…the persecution resulting from Stephen’s death, perhaps four years into the life of Christianity, scattered the Grecians Acts 8:1.  They either returned to their homelands or to new homelands.  That would have reduced the need of welfare, leading to the demise of the communal life.  While it lasted, it gave the incipient, then infant, church time to mature.  It allowed full-time evangelism by the apostles.  It educated Christians in the power and dominion of their faith.  – End Part I –

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