Monthly Archives: October 2016

Confidence – how God develops our, Part 1

In three crises God called men to service:  Moses, a shepherd, to deliver Israel from Egypt; Gideon, a farmer, to deliver Israel from Midian; and Saul, a tall farmer, to deliver Israel from Philistia.  While God called them, none excitedly responded.  Instead, they uniformly unleashed torrents of self-debasing excuses why they shouldn’t comply.  Marked by what we call an inferiority complex, each in essence clamored, “I can’t; it’s too hard; it isn’t possible; get someone else.”

Sociologists might explain that Moses reacted from natural insecurity begotten by his slavery background.  (Don’t blacks still excuse their dependence on welfare by the ghosts of slavery?)  At least two problems contest that view.  One, ex-slaves like George Carver, Booker Washington and Frederick Douglass disprove it. Two, after age three Moses lived in privilege as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, not in slavery as Jochabed’s son.  That same sociologist would also excuse Gideon and Saul’s reaction as the little man’s fear facing the impossible challenge.  Except that peasant Joseph, the Savior’s step-father, readily accepted a far greater call than Gideon or Saul ever faced.

Naturally, if the trio had found time, they would have created other excuses as their rationale.  Like us, they expertly side-stepped responsibility instead of rising to leadership.  God’s call to servants, and their reluctance to obey, resonates throughout scripture.  From texts in Exodus 3, Judges 6 and I Samuel 9 we find two ways God develops our self-confidence.  End Part 1

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Politics – and business

A recent news article noted that Iran now follows a two-track policy.  One is its continued military aggression in the Middle East, led by their generals in Syria; using the Shiite militia in Iraq; sending arms to rebels in Yemen and other likely places.  Two is waving dollar signs at western businesses; welcoming western investments and tourists; creating phone and internet links with the West; even relaxing minor social restrictions on their own people. San Diego U-T, 10/26/16

Not knowing truth from lies, they falsely claim that their contradictory policies replicate what America has historically done.  In reality, the short-sighted agreement Obama brokered with Iran fueled the policy’s establishment.

However, understanding the economy-based interests of America, Iran knows it needs only to offer business agreements to distract us from its hatred of us and its political wickedness.  They need only trade their apparent friendship for our technical and economic advantages.  They know we’re fools once seeing dollar bills, especially when we see them counted by the multiple millions.

Such agreements have well-served us when establishing quid pro quo with partners with whom we share values:  America with Britain, Canada, Germany and liberated Eastern European countries offer advantages to both partners.  But the West, led by America, doesn’t have shared values with Iran.  We’re estranged by irreconcilably different religious systems.

Christians tolerate all beliefs in all people—even Moslems—because we have absolute confidence in Jesus Christ as God in the Flesh.  Iranians can never tolerate differing religious faiths in their country—no Moslem society can—because it has an inbred inferiority to Judaism and Christianity.  We say, “Let Christian and Jewish belief be laid beside Islam’s, and let the better Faith win.”  Iran’s leadership shouts that the “Great Satan—America—and her Little Satan Partner—Israel—have to be destroyed.”  How can such diametrically different approaches to religious faith, leading to different political decisions, ever establish harmony in a mutually-profitable business agreement?

Anyone unaware of reality, thinking common ground exists between Western democracies and Islamic authoritarianism, needs education.  Only the hard facts of experience will convince them—if even then.  The Iranians depend on Western somnolence of their true nature to continue pursuing their two-track policy.  Since it’s basically a spiritual, not an economic or political issue, don’t count on any conservative republican seeing it and knowing what to do.  And don’t ever plan on any liberal democratic to see and know.

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Leadership – Christian needs concern for all disciples

A daunting challenge faced a suddenly United Germany when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.  The change forced a shotgun wedding between a robust West German and an anemic Communist-inspired East German economy. Heeding the advice of critics, Germany combined institutional investment with innovative large and small business development to fuel vigorous nationwide recovery.  Germany as a whole progressed.  Building permits soared, real estate prices boomed, wages ranked among the highest in the European Union.

Nevertheless, according to 2013 statistics, former East Germany lagged behind former West Germany—with lower incomes, higher unemployment, less industrial infrastructure and fewer companies with corporate headquarters.  Most alarmingly, the East’s work force continued to shrink as employable citizens moved westward in the nation.  Internet, September, 2016.

Christian leaders can learn from this example.  First, churches that change directions upward seldom carry all their people with them at the same speed to the same level.  Which leaves a number of members lagging behind somewhere in the vacuum between the church’s stagnation and resurgence.

Second, leaders can respond in one of three ways.  They can see disciples as athletes in a race.  The fast get to maturity first, the slow eventually.  This has the disadvantage of unbridged gaps between the advanced and struggling Christian.  They can see disciples as ships in a convoy.  The fastest vessel travels only as fast as the slowest.  The danger in this view is the drag effect.  It gives God’s Enemy the opportunity to target slower members into dragging everyone else slower still.  Or, targeting the faster members into dismissing the importance of others.  The effect either develops a medium of little progress or divides the congregation into achievers and wannabees.

They can also forge a synthesis of the race and convoy figures.  That encourages those willing and able to mature in Christ.  It also gives pastoral help to those whose lifestyle, personal obstacles or downright laziness keeps them creeping along.  It involves the Holy Spirit in the maturation.  Where the Spirit works and leads, growth occurs inevitably, even if more slowly in some than in others.  It at least keeps the entire body moving toward greater maturity in Christ as it tolerates the differences in people.  Personal counsel will yield results, if pastors offer no-nonsense challenges to under-achievers.  If the person helped refuses to step livelier, only then should effort to encourage at least be suspended, if not abandoned.  God’s work advances even if we choose to be left behind.

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Enemy – when even they show mercy

Five months after General Haig said the machine gun would prove vastly overrated, the Battle of Loos proved him terribly wrong.  As the British advanced, and filled the grassy plain, German machine gunners took aim and swept murderous fire across their fire zone.  Hundreds of British soldiers fell, wounded and dead.

On one part of the field a British platoon raced perhaps 20 yards when their officer signaled them to dive for cover.  When he again whistled advance, and no one responded, he stood and bellowed, “Forward!”  No one responded.  When he cursed his men as cowards, a sergeant, mercifully alive, but with a broken shoulder, explained.  The prone men weren’t cowards; they were dead.  The devastation moved the German gunners enough that they refused to fire on the retreating British.  No further German firepower covered their front that day.  The First WW, 199.

In the spiritual warfare between Jesus and Satan, Jesus never gives an unwise order, never underrates the scale of the conflict, never misjudges the danger involved for those who serve and never fails to succor those harried physically, mentally or spiritually in any contest.

But our Enemy is different from those WWI German gunners.  Satan never shows mercy to anyone hurt or depressed or feeling abandoned by God.  He continues to fire all his deadly weapons of slander against God and accusation against mortals.  Satan:  the enemy who never feels sorry and always seeks vengeance.  His goal and his strategy remain singular:  he wants to send as many as possible to Hell now and take as many as possible with him into Hell after God pitches him into Hell and locks the gates forever.  Why would anyone live now for the one who wants only to harm them—when they could serve the Only One who wants to help them—and CAN?

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Christ – only his way as he teaches it

Many of the earliest polar explorers ignored Eskimo methods of travel.  Some tried to combine Eskimo and then-modern concepts of clothing and transportation to reach the Pole.  Instead of dogs, they hired sailors to lug boats.  Instead of sleds they hired carts.  They gradually discovered that curious native procedures, traditions, clothing, food and vehicles helped them reach their goals.  Stephanson, Great Adventures, 595.

Jesus Christ has experienced the same abuse from sinners.  Many lost people welcome forgiveness if they can have it on their own terms.  They long for confidence in life but think others can as easily give it as Jesus.  They certainly want to go to Heaven, but think it can easily be gained, with or without Jesus.

Though Jesus alone came to earth to be God’s Sacrifice to forgive sin.  Though he alone ROSE from the dead to which he had freely given himself.  Though he alone governs history at the Father’s pleasure.  Though he alone comes again to verify the victory he won in life, at death and over the grave.  Though he alone judges the fitness of every single mortal to enter Heaven.

At least some Arctic explorers admitted the wisdom of Eskimo ways and procedures.  Enough failures tempered their pride and they re-thought their former ego-driven conclusions.

 

Jesus has never had such a privilege from humanity as a whole.  From individuals, yes; from sometimes wholesale conversions, yes.  But in what nation of the world have congresses or parliaments finally agreed that politics and politicians are powerless before unresolved human issues?  In what human meeting of minds would a resolution be proposed and passed that God is right after all?  That Jesus is the True and Only way to God after all?  Even when Jesus Christ comes again, soaring on foaming iridescent clouds of Heaven, accompanied by trumpets blasting and Angels flying everywhere at his behest, most people wonder why God had to do THAT?

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Repentance – the lost emphasis in discipleship

John the Baptist began his preaching by declaring, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” Matthew 3:2.  Jesus began his preaching by declaring, “The time has come…the kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news” Mark 1:15.  Repentance—metanoia—means to “turn around.”  It means we can’t get into Christ until we turn from whatever we’re presently in.  To the Rich Young Ruler it meant turning from his wealth.  To Simon Peter, his business.  To Saul of Tarsus, his ancestry.  Whatever it is that we designate as our purpose, our goal, our life’s intent must be abandoned.  Repent…change your direction.

Human nature is neither awed nor disciplined by morality.  It’s sometimes only barely renewed by conversion.  Nevertheless, there stands the word we cannot avoid if we want forgiveness:  REPENT.  Change.  Turn around!

Unfortunately, preaching not emboldened by the Spirit has allowed the development of permanent cultural depravity not oppressed by morality, let alone converted by repentance.  That has led American society into a state of judgment before God.  Though some Christians feel revival in America is still possible, our ego-driven age has no interest in, let alone appetite for, repentance.  The flagrant wickedness in society isn’t an aberration followed by repentance.  It’s a permanent depravity followed by judgment.  Revival may come during judgment, when all our pleasant dreams dissolve into nightmarish realities.  Only when convinced that we’ve sinned against God’s grace and need to repent, will revival resurrect from blasted egotism.

Jesus neither compromises nor sacrifices this absolute for the expediency of interesting the unsaved in some relational contentment.  People can’t be separated from their ideas, good or bad.  Jesus never attempted the separation.  He did convert people by repentance so their ideas would be acceptable to God.

When Jesus saves us through repentance and baptism, we have no place to go but out of our sins.  No place to come but into his grace.  And no way to live except in self-denying obedience to his will.  In whose lives God is a household guest, not merely a household word.  If we want a summary of repentance, you just read it.

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Christ – always had time

A Houston, Texas emergency operator had a history of terminating phone conversations with those seeking her help.  Thousands of calls were short-circuited because, she said, she didn’t want to talk to anyone just then.  It took authorities 6 months to discover and verify her derelicton of duty.  If convicted she could receive a year in jail and a $4,000 fine on each count.  San Diego U-T, 10/16/16.  Talk about a misfit between job and occupant!

Thank God that nowhere in the life of Jesus, harried as he often was by thousands of seekers, did he ever truncate an appeal.  He occasionally wanted repose, not the never-ending calls for help, but he helped when they came, appealing.

Of all people, Christians need to be aware of human need.  And, aware, to be good listeners, with solid suggestions for change and resolution.  We need to be on duty wherever we go, so Christ can work through us to care.

We won’t be jailed if we fail to be like Jesus.  We won’t be fined.  Our punishment will be worse; we’ll have refused an opportunity to serve the Lord who loved and cared and helped.  Surely such a prospect should put us on our guard, and on our best Christ-like behavior.

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Treasure – anything can be

A veteran of the WWII Battle of Saipan, where he received a head wound, the soldier recovered and returned home to New York.  He wore a bracelet given him by his family.  Sometime during the years he lost the bracelet and couldn’t recover it.  He died in 2001.

 

Another man, trawling along the Hudson River with his metal detector had a hit.  He dug into the mud and found a bracelet with an 8-digit number on it.  Through a newspaper’s help, he returned the bracelet to the man’s son.  A family treasure found and returned.  San Diego U-T, 10/16/16.

God’s people have such an heirloom.  It’s called the Bible.  God’s Holy Book.  The Old Covenant and the New.  The words of God through Moses; the Word of God In Jesus Christ.  It belongs to every generation of Christians, including ours, though we don’t value it as previous generations did.

The Gospel has never been lost, but has often been overlooked, notably in our day.  It hasn’t lost any of its value, but it needs to be used to discover its worth.  Preachers read it, but don’t study it so they can preach it at some depth.  It has never been found wanting, and therefore laid aside.  It’s simply been too challenging, and therefore ignored for something not so rough on our egos.  It’s never rusty though unused by us; the Spirit maintains its gleaming, razor-sharp edge.  We simply haven’t kept our minds active enough in studying it; we even find ourselves out of our depth in the One book in which all Christens should swim comfortably, however fathomless it proves.

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Christ – said what he meant

And meant what he said.  In that regard, conductors know something about composers that many theologians and preachers don’t know about God.  Conductors know their task is to interpret exactly what the composer has written—whatever corrections they feel would improve the composition.

Many theologians and preachers mistakenly think they have the right to change God’s word to conform to what they, and others, like.  To make Christianity relevant, they say, listen to the music people hear, then adapt worship music to it.  Or take a survey of what they want to hear, then adapt preaching to it.  Whatever you don’t like about Bible teaching, alter it, soften it, ignore it!

We better listen to Jesus in Mark 10:17-22.  When he told the rich Young Ruler that only God was God, Jesus identified himself with God, not distinguished himself from God.  He was warning the man to understand that God uses words with distinct meaning; that Jesus spoke of God as God; and that whatever he said resonated as God’s final word on any subject.

As this writer continues to emphasize in his books Their Own Best Defense, we must understand that Jesus is Jehovah God in human form before we listen to him, change our perspectives, accept his word as final on any subject, and surrender to any teaching he offers.  Only in that context will we see that he rules life now and the after-life to come.  Only when affirming that will we stop hassling with him over what he said or demanded.  Only then will we admit he knows what’s necessary, and we don’t; he says what we need to believe, and we never could.

It isn’t left to us to alter, change or delete anything in the Bible.  It’s enough of a compliment that Jesus lets us preach his word as written, and like conductors, interpret exactly what the Holy Spirit composed.

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People – the kind Jesus thought worthy

Varian Fry traveled to Marseilles, France, in late summer 1940, to rescue Jews from Nazi terrors.  But not to think just any Jews were to be saved.  No, just those the American Committee considered important enough to merit such a cost, “distinguished people”, musicians, historians, language experts, art critics, et al.

Would our scales weigh differently if choosing those in society worth preserving?  Wouldn’t Doctors of Anything be preferable to High School graduates?  Wouldn’t industry leaders be saved in lieu of their workers?  Wouldn’t those in biological and earth sciences be considered absolutely first on the list of evacuees?  Wouldn’t those in the Arts be next in line?  And don’t forget the politicians!  If a religious leader is needed, be sure to include a world-famous representative of a recognized world religion.

Yet, the ministry Jesus Christ makes liars of everyone and lies of every position we value.  He spent significant blocks of time with Jewish leaders; he didn’t refuse to teach and help aristocrats; still, he felt a God-inspired affinity with the anonymous, the diseased, the crippled, the demon-possessed.  All of these, and many more like them, whom society sidelined or banished, Jesus sought, touched, taught, loved and helped!  Shouldn’t Christians be Christ-centered enough to follow his example, not that of a depraved culture?

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