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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Oswald Chambers


For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16

God has allowed the finger of decay to come to your body and lay you completely aside, and you begin to see what a slight hold you have on life, and the thought comes -- "Well, I expect I will have to cave in. I have not the strength I once had; I can never do the things I thought I would for God."

It may come in a hundred and one ways and you realize that the outward man is wasting, that you have not the might you once had, and this is where the cowardly surrender is apt to come in - only we give it another name. The great craze today is to be healthy - "a sound mind in a sound body." Very often the soundest minds have not been in sound bodies, but in very shaky tabernacles, and the word comes "though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.

Paul faces the possibility of old age, decay, and death with no rebellion and no sadness. Paul never hid from himself the effect which his work had upon him; he knew it was killing him, and, like his Master, he was old before his time; but there was no whining and no retiring from the work. Paul was not a fool; he did not waste his energy ridiculously, neither did he ignore the fact that it was his genuine apostolic work and nothing else that was wearing him out. Every wasting of nerve and brain in work for God brings a corresponding uplifting and strengthening to spiritual muscle and fiber. 

If the outward man is perishing because of an injudicious waste of physical strength or because of wrong habits, then it will always make us faint, or cave in; and if we give up prayer and communion with God, then the decay goes on to a terrible extent; there is no corresponding inward weight of glory, no inner winging.

The apostle Paul continually had external depression, he had agonies and distresses, terrible persecution and tumults in his life, but he never had the "blues," simply because he had learned the secret that the measure of the inner glory is the wasting of the outward man. The outer man was being wasted. Paul knew it and felt it but the inner man was being renewed. Every wasting meant a corresponding winging on the inside. Some of us are so amazingly lazy, so comfortably placed in life, that we get no inner winging. The natural life, apart altogether from sin, must be sacrificed to the will and the word of God, otherwise there is no spiritual glory for the individual. With some of us the body is not wearing away. Our souls are stagnant and the vision spiritually is not getting brighter. But once we get into the heavenlies, live there, and work from that standpoint, we find we have the glorious opportunity of spending all our bodily energies in God's service and corresponding weight of moral and spiritual glory remains all the time. No matter how wearied or expended the body may be in God's work, there is the winging of the inner man into a higher grasp of God.

We have to beware of the pagan notion that our spirit develops in spite of our body; it develops with our body, and the way that spiritual insight develops in the worker is, as Paul states here, in the wasting of energy for God, because in this way the inner man is renewed. It is not a question of saying "Oh, my body is so lazy, I must drag it up to do something," but a question of working on God's line to the last lap, spending and being spent for one purpose only, and that purpose God's. If we put the body and the concerns of the body before the eternal weight of glory, we will never have any inner winging at all. We will always be asking God to patch up this old tabernacle and keep it in repair. But when the heart sees what God wants, and knows that the body must be willing to spend and be spent for that cause and that cause alone, then the inner man gets wings.

Oswald Chambers, The Love of God



Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Streams in the Desert - July 19


L.B. Cowman



The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? (John 18:11)

This was a greater thing to say and do than to calm the seas or raise the dead. Prophets and apostles could work wondrous miracles, but they could not always do and suffer the will of God. To do and suffer God's will is still the highest form of faith, the most sublime Christian achievement.

To have the bright aspirations of a young life forever blasted; to bear a daily burden never congenial and to see no relief; to be pinched by poverty when you only desire a competency for the good and comfort of loved ones; to be fettered by some incurable physical disability; to be stripped bare of loved ones until you stand alone to meet the shocks of life--to be able to say in such a school of discipline, "The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?'--this is faith at its highest and spiritual success at the crowning point.

Great faith is exhibited not so much in ability to do as to suffer.
--Dr. Charles Parkhurst

To have a sympathizing God we must have a suffering Saviour, and there is no true fellow-feeling with another save in the heart of him who has been afflicted like him. We cannot do good to others save at a cost to ourselves, and our afflictions are the price we pay for our ability to sympathize. He who would be a helper, must first be a sufferer. He who would be a saviour must somewhere and somehow have been upon a cross; and we cannot have the highest happiness of life in succoring others without tasting the cup which Jesus drank, and submitting to the baptism wherewith He was baptized.

The most comforting of David's psalms were pressed out by suffering; and if Paul had not had his thorn in the flesh we had missed much of that tenderness which quivers in so many of his letters.

The present circumstance, which presses so hard against you (if surrendered to Christ), is the best shaped tool in the Father's hand to chisel you for eternity. Trust Him, then. Do not push away the instrument lest you lose its work.

Strange and difficult indeed
We may find it,
But the blessing that we need
Is behind it.

The school of suffering graduates rare scholars.



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Virtue of Simplicity


For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.  
                                                               2 Corinthians 11:2-4

Alfred Plummer, a fine New Testament commentator, pointed out that the apostle's fear was that the community would be seduced by the promise of increased knowledge. "Like the serpent, the false teachers were promising enlightenment as a reward of disloyalty and disobedience." Sounds a lot like what seduced Eve in Genesis 3, doesn't it?

In many ways, we're seeing that today. Many seducers clutter the simple message of the gospel with legalistic additions, with convoluted attempts to legitimize moral compromise, and with psychological theories that turn churches into relational support groups instead of houses of worship. The message of Christianity is quickly becoming a system of enlightened thinking instead of a simple call to turn from sin and pursue a relationship with God. The desire for greater theological knowledge (as good as that is) has supplanted the simple call to know Him intimately............in the power of His resurrection and in sharing His suffering. The simple message that Jesus proclaimed doesn't require a giant theological intellect in order to receive it and implement it. If generations of illiterate peasants throughout the centuries before us could do it, so can we - as long as we aren't seduced by the contemporary "enlightenment" surrounding us, enticing us to abandon what God has made simple. 

Charles Swindoll,  So, You Want To Be Like Christ?



Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Reaping What We Sow

In the grand scheme of things, a play in the park is certainly nothing to get up in arms over. There are wars, rumor of wars, abortions, murders and mayhem around the world and here in the U.S. that are certainly more alarming than a little Shakespeare play in NYC.  After all, it's "art" so it is just an expression of someone's creativity. Don't squelch the artist's rendition of Caesar being murdered. Just because it's portrayed as being in the 21st century and Caesar looks amazingly like President Trump - our current president. It's all done in the name of "art."  And a comedian holding a severed, bloodied head of our president is considered "comedy." We do have freedom of speech in this country so who would dream of shutting down any of this freedom of expression? And while I am not advocating for a shut down of free speech either, I do believe all should be aware of the consequences we will incur. Wars, murders and rapes are perpetrated by an element of society we generally consider outcasts. Consequences for these people are determined and accepted by the majority of our society. However we don't often stop to consider the consequences of the actions from the other part of society - the "normal" part - the rest of us -  business people, teachers, doctors, artists, musicians, athletes, etc. There ARE consequences for everything we do - good and bad. I believe a lot can be gleaned about a society from it's art and music - whether it's healthy and vibrant or sick and decaying.

The article below is lengthy but worth the time it will take to read it. We will not be able to feign ignorance. There will be no "I didn't know!" We each are individually responsible. The mantra "as long as it doesn't hurt anyone it's okay" is a cop out. Our laissez faire attitude will not hold up in court - and there will be a judgment day.


The Decay of Society
Sad Days



By Dr. David R. Reagan


[Editor’s note: This article is extracted in part from a chapter in Dr. Reagan’s book, Living for Christ in the End Times.]


An American sports legend, Magic Johnson, reveals that he has AIDS. Rumors begin to fly that he is bi-sexual. He is confronted on national television about the rumors. Instead of simply denying them, he begins to boast about how macho he is, claiming to have been to bed with as many as six women at one time! Is America outraged? No. President Bush appoints him to serve on a national AIDS commission.1


The actress, Suzanne Somers, appears on the TV program, Good Morning, America. She is trying to jump-start her flagging career. The appearance is prompted by her agreement to pose nude for Playboy magazine. The interviewer asks, “Why would you pose nude for Playboy now, when you sued them several years ago for publishing nude photos of you?”


Ms. Somers explains that the previous photos were taken by an amateur photographer and were published without her consent. “I decided that since there were bad nude photos of me that had already been published, I might as well get some good ones published.”


She proceeds to explain that she laid down two conditions for the new photo spread in Playboy. “First, they had to let me select the photographer. And second, they had to let me select the photos to be used.” She then makes the announcement that she decided to get her son (who was 19 at the time) involved in the project. “I spread out the photos on the floor and let him select the ones to be used in the magazine.”


“Oh, that was so thoughtful of you,” replies the interviewer.2
 
The Rapid Decay of Our Nation


What’s the point? A nation that once honored God has plunged into a moral abyss. And the decay has reached the point where, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, the nation “does not even know how to blush” (Jeremiah 6:15).

The descent has been swift. When I was born in 1938 —
Abortionists were considered the scum of the earth and were sent to prison.
Homosexuals were still in the closet and were thought of as queer.
Pregnancy out of wedlock was thought of as scandalous, and “living together” was unthinkable.
Drugs were something you bought at a pharmacy (or “drug store”).
Alcoholism was considered a sin, not a disease.
Popular music was free of demonic beats and words.
Movies were devoid of nudity, passionate love scenes, mindless violence, and filthy language.
Eastern religion was still in the East.
The corrupting influence of television was non-existent.
Pornography was something that circulated underground.
Public school students prayed in their classes and read the Bible, and creation could still be taught as an alternative to evolution.
High school graduates could read their diplomas.
The Ten Commandments were still legal.
AIDS was a gift of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:28 refers to the gift of aids or helps, depending on the translation).
Our governments — local, state and national — still promoted Judeo-Christian values rather than lotteries, horse racing, and casino gambling.
Christian teaching focused on sacrificing for Christ rather than confessing materialistic success.
Governmental authority was respected. Police were held in high esteem.
Houses and cars were never locked.
Social security was a job. Living on welfare was considered a disgrace.
Language was civil. Manners still prevailed. Women were treated with dignity and respect. 

Reaping What We Have Sown

Looking back over the last 60 years, the old Virginia Slims cigarette ad seems to sum it up best: “We’ve come a long way, baby!” Yes, we have, and it has been in the wrong direction.
Today, we are murdering 4,000 babies a day in the name of “freedom of choice” for women.
We spend more on gambling each year than we do on food.
We are assaulted by a glut of pornography in books and movies and on the Internet.
We are consuming 55% of all the illegal drugs in the world, even though we constitute only 5% of the world’s population.
Our families are being destroyed by an epidemic of spousal violence, child abuse, and divorce.
Our prisons are overflowing because of a breakdown of law and order.
Our cities are jungles of violence where people dare not venture out at night.
Our homes are fortresses with bars on the windows, guns in the cabinets, and electronic security systems monitoring the doors and windows.
Our schools are filled with drugs, rebellion and violence.
Our governing bodies are shot full of corruption.
Our churches are apathetic and compromised by worldliness.
Our entertainment industry has become a purveyor of violence and immorality, and as we export its products abroad, we serve as the moral polluter of planet earth. 

Our Schools as a Mirror of Society

The best way I can think of to summarize the decay of American society is to consider the results of a public school survey that was conducted in the mid-1940’s and again in the mid-1980’s. The survey was taken by the Fullerton, California Police Department in conjunction with the California Department of Education. The purpose was to determine the major disciplinary problems in the schools. The comparative results speak volumes (see the comparative chart below).3

Leading Public School Disciplinary Problems
Mid-1940’s
Mid-1980’s
1) Talking1) Drug abuse
2) Chewing Gum2) Alcohol abuse
3) Making noise3) Pregnancy
4) Running in the hallways4) Suicide
5) Getting out of place in line5) Rape
6) Wearing improper clothing6) Robbery
7) Not putting paper in wastebaskets7) Assault

In January 1993, Time magazine reported some sobering statistics from the National Education Association that affirm the deterioration of our schools. According to the NEA report, every school day:4
100,000 students tote guns to school
160,000 skip classes because they fear physical harm
40 are hurt or killed by firearms
6,250 teachers are threatened with bodily injury
260 teachers are actually assaulted

That’s every day!

An insightful commentary about what has happened to the children of America was posted on the Internet recently:5

What a Concept!

Whoa! What in the world is happening with our kids today? Let’s see… I think it started when Madalyn Murray O’Hare complained that she didn’t want any prayer in our schools, and we said, “OK.”

Then someone said you had better not read the Bible in school. After all, it says: “Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself.” And we said, “OK.”

Then the Supreme Court said that we could no longer post the Ten Commandments in our classrooms because they might influence our children, in violation of the concept called “separation of church and state.” And we said, “OK.”

Remember Dr. Benjamin Spock, who said we shouldn’t spank our children when they misbehave, because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem? And we said, “OK.”

Then someone said that teachers and principals better not discipline our children when they misbehave. And our administrators said, “Whoa, no one in this school better touch a student when they misbehave because we don’t want any bad publicity, and we surely don’t want to be sued.”

Then someone said, “Let’s let our daughters have abortions if they want, and we won’t even tell their parents.” And we said, “OK.”

Then someone else said, “Let’s give our sons all the condoms they want so they can have all the ‘fun’ they desire, and we won’t tell their parents.” And we said, “That’s another great idea!”

And then some of our top officials said, “It doesn’t matter what we do in private as long as we do our jobs.” And we said, “As long as I have a job and the economy is good, it doesn’t matter to me what anyone does in private.”

So now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with “we reap what we sow.”

Whoa! What a concept! 

Rejecting the Ten Commandments

In 1980 in the case of Stone v. Gramm, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to hang the Ten Commandments on the wall of a school room.6

Think about that for a moment. The Ten Commandments are the foundation of Western Civilization. Our entire legal system is rooted in them.

The reasoning of the Court was right out of the “Twilight Zone.” The Court stated that “if the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the school children to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments.” The Court then proceeded to state that these were not “permissible objectives.” Is it any wonder that so many of our schools have become jungles of drugs and violence? 

Modernizing the Commandments

A man by the name of Ken Matto has revised the Ten Commandments to reflect current values. He calls his revision “The Ten Replacements.”7
Thou shalt create gods in man’s image to confirm the deity of man and the evolution of intelligence. Your gods may be created according to self-revelation.
Thou shalt make unto thyself images and symbols of your beliefs. If your image is a cow or a rock star or a pentagram, that is fine. All things are relative in the evolution of the species.
Thou shalt take the name of God and Jesus in vain since Jesus was not God, and God is anything you care to make him — or her.
Thou shalt profane the Sabbath Day because you get double time on Sunday, and your family need not be in church since it is full of hypocrites. And furthermore, isn’t making money the important thing?
Thou shalt dishonor thy father and mother because they are only good to bail you out of jail or put a roof over your head. Too bad they don’t possess the wisdom and knowledge of the years like you do, being a 13 year old.
Thou shalt kill since you will only be acting on pent up rage because your father disciplined you one time when you were 5.
Thou shalt commit adultery. After all, we have a free thinking and open society, and since your faith is in science, you know they will soon come up with a cure for AIDS or Herpes Simplex II.
Thou shalt steal, for isn’t everybody doing it? When you get out into the workplace you can steal time, pencils, products, and anything else you deserve. After all, didn’t you have a deprived childhood because daddy and mommy refused to buy you $90 attitude pants with the crotch down to your knees?
Thou shalt bear false witness. After all, it really isn’t false witness; it is just looking out for number one. If a good lie at the right time saves your hide, come on, why not?
Thou shalt always covet your neighbor’s things because if you outdo them, your self-esteem will skyrocket, and you will finally be someone special. Remember, your pride is the most important thing.

The amazing thing is that in the midst of all this moral depravity, we have the audacity to call ourselves a “Christian nation”! The fact of the matter is that we are a post-Christian nation that is now wallowing in secularism and paganism. The comedian Steve Allen summed it up well in a remark he often made about the American entertainment industry: “We have vulgarians entertaining barbarians.”

Where did America get off course? How have we managed to move so quickly from a God-fearing nation to one that thumbs its nose at God? 

The Road to Depravity

An outline of our course to depravity can be found in the writings of the Apostle Paul. In Romans chapter one he states that the road to destruction for a nation begins when its institutions decide to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” an action that will ultimately lead to people worshiping the creation rather than the Creator (Romans 1:18, 25).

The decade of the 1960’s proved to be the turning point for America. But the cultural revolution against God that characterized that decade was rooted in developments that occurred early in the 20th Century. The two most influential were intellectual tides that swept into America from Europe. They arrived almost simultaneously.

One was Darwinism with its atheistic attack on the very concept of God. The origin and purpose of Man was called into question. Man was reduced to a mere animal, a product of chance with no particular purpose.

The other was the German School of Higher Criticism which challenged the Bible as the infallible revelation of God. The Bible was viewed instead as Man’s search for God and was therefore considered to be full of myth, legend and superstition.

The Christian worldview suddenly came under attack from without and within the Church. The faith of many was shattered. 

Embracing Moral Relativism

As the authority of God’s Word was undermined, and Man’s purpose became meaningless, moral relativism gradually took center stage. People began to challenge traditional concepts of right and wrong. As in the days of the Judges of Israel, people began to do what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). They called it, “different strokes for different folks.” Each man became a god unto himself, able to determine for himself his own values and ethics, if any. And anyone who would dare judge someone else’s actions was declared “intolerant.”

By the 1980’s America had reached the point referred to in Judges 2:10 — we had produced a whole generation “who did not know the Lord…”

We had “suppressed the truth in unrighteousness” by banning prayer from public schools, prohibiting the posting of the Ten Commandments, and declaring that evolution was the only theory that could be taught about the origin of the universe.

Suddenly government was actively promoting all sorts of abominable activity such as gambling, abortion, and homosexuality. Eastern religions and mystical intellectual philosophies like the New Age Movement began to penetrate Christianity.

Earth Day became a national celebration. People gathered to worship “Mother Earth” rather than the Father God who created the earth. They joined hands and hummed to get synchronized with the rhythm of “Mother Earth.” They further celebrated their new religion by hugging a tree or stroking a salmon.

Millions of people paid hundreds of dollars each to attend self-discovery seminars of various types. What they all had in common was the teaching that God resides in each of us, and that we must learn how to release our “god power.” 

Wallowing in Despair

By the 1990’s, America had fulfilled another prophecy of the Apostle Paul about the end times. It is found in 2 Timothy 3:1-5:

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power…

Notice that this prophecy predicts that the society of the end times will love three things: self, money and pleasure. The love of self is Humanism, the religion of America today. The love of money is Materialism, America’s god.

When your religion is focused on self, and your god is money, the result is always a lifestyle based on the love of pleasure, which is Hedonism. Needless to say, that is the lifestyle of the “liberated” American as he enters the 21st Century.

But God cannot be mocked (Galatians 6:7). Humanism, Materialism and Hedonism constitute a deadly combination. They always produce the same pay-off. It is what philosophers call Nihilism, which is a sixty-four dollar word for despair.

Look again at 2 Timothy 3:1-5. The passage describes a society wallowing in despair. The description reads like the news that we witness on TV every evening. The news reports are full of boastful, arrogant revilers who are ungrateful and unholy — as well as stories about rebellious children and reckless, conceited haters of good. And we are constantly bombarded with the opinions of those “professing to be wise” but who in reality are fools (Romans 1:22). 

God’s Discipline for Nations

In Romans, Paul tells us how God deals with people in rebellious nations. He says that God “gives them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (Romans 1:24). In other words, God steps back, lowers His hedge of protection around the nation, and allows sin to multiply as a judgment upon the nation.

The first consequence is a sexual revolution like the one that occurred in America in the 1960’s. Paul refers to it as the “dishonoring of their bodies” (Romans 1:24).

Paul says that if this judgment does not produce repentance, God will take another step back and lower His hedge of protection even further. In this second stage, He will deliver the nation to “degrading passions” (Romans 1:26). Paul explains that this judgment will be manifested in a plague of homosexuality. He says women will exchange the natural function for that which is unnatural, and men will abandon the natural function of the woman and burn in their desire toward one another, “men with men committing indecent acts” (Romans 1:26-27). Paul even mentions that those who participate in such evil will receive in their own bodies “the due penalty of their error” (Romans 1:27). Thus, the modern day AIDS epidemic is portrayed clearly as a judgment of God.

Nor is that the end of the process. Again, Paul notes that if the society persists in its rebellion, God will take another step back and lower His hedge of protection even further, giving them over “to a depraved mind” (Romans 1:28). At that point Paul says the society will become like the one he describes in 2 Timothy 3 — “filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful…” (Romans 1:29-31).

He then adds a sobering thought: “We know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things” (Romans 2:2).
 
Teetering on the Edge of Destruction


America has reached the third and final stage that leads from judgment to destruction. God has placed judgment after judgment on our nation in an attempt to call us to repentance — judgments like the war in Vietnam, the drug epidemic, the AIDS plague, the disintegration of the family, civil riots, violence in the schools, and natural disasters.

But we have refused to repent. We have, in fact, set our jaw against God, determined to go our own way and do our own thing. This attitude was manifested in the incredible proclamation issued by President Bill Clinton in June of 1999 when he called for Americans to “celebrate” homosexuality. He declared June 1999 to be Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.8 I responded by sending him an email message in which I asked, “What will you ask us to ‘celebrate’ next? Will you proclaim Adultery Pride Month? What about a month honoring prostitutes or pedophiles?” President Obama resumed this practice of designating the month of June to celebrate sexual perversion, but he has expanded it to include the LGBT community (lesbians, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered).

[The following paragraph was written in the year 2000.] The interesting thing is that despite our continuing rebellion, God has not yet touched our false god — the Almighty Dollar. I suspect He is still patiently waiting for us to repent, and if we fail to do so, He will destroy our god with the greatest economic collapse in recorded history, one that will reduce us to Third World status and remove us from our position as the world’s only super power.

God brought the Soviet Union down overnight, and He can do the same to us, just as He did to the super power Babylon in ancient history. At the time He touched the Soviet Union, it was the world’s greatest military power. But all its nuclear weapons and missiles could not protect it from the hand of God. Overnight the Soviet Union was reduced to political and economic chaos. 

Begging for Judgment

The destruction that will fall upon us will be much worse, “for to those to whom much is given, much is expected” (Luke 12:48). The Russian people can say, “We did not know.” But what can Americans say? We have been blessed like no other nation since ancient Israel. In addition to our political and economic blessings, we have been blessed spiritually with a saturation of the Gospel. We have an average of five Bibles in each home, we have radio and television evangelists, and we have an over abundance of churches. We have no excuse before God.

The Bible teaches that God never pours out His wrath without warning. He has been warning America for three decades through His judgments and His prophets. He has raised up prophetic voices throughout the land to warn the people of impending judgment — voices like Dave Wilkerson in New York City, whom I considered to be God’s Jeremiah to America. [Wilkerson was killed in a car accident in 2011.]

Non-Christians have understandably mocked these warnings as “millennial madness.” What is tragic is that many Christian leaders have also responded with ridicule. Many Christians seem to believe that God sits on His throne draped in an American flag, and that He would never touch His “anointed nation.” After all, isn’t He dependent on the wealth and influence and technology of America to spread the Gospel all over the world? 

A Biblical Example of National Arrogance

It has happened before. When God got ready to pour out His wrath on ancient Judah, He raised up prophets like Micah and Jeremiah to warn the people of their impending doom. And what was their response? They pointed to the Lord’s Temple and assured the prophets that God would never allow anything to happen to it (Jeremiah 7:1-4). They were safe, they thought, because the Shekinah glory of God resided in their Temple. The prophets were “full of wind,” they argued, because God would protect His Temple and the nation to which He had entrusted it (Jeremiah 5:13). Their attitude was arrogance gone to seed.

And so it is in America today. We are a proud nation. After all, we are “number one.” In our pride we have turned our back on God. Like the Jews of biblical times, we want the blessings of God but not the God of the blessings. 

A Biblical Type of America

Our prophetic type in the Bible is the nation of Judah. If you want to read about America in Bible prophecy, read Isaiah 5 and Jeremiah 5 and 6. These two prophets list the sins that motivated God to destroy that nation. The sobering reality is that they are the same sins that characterize America today.

Isaiah speaks of injustice, greed, pleasure seeking, blasphemy, moral perversion, intellectual pride, intemperance, and political corruption. Regarding moral perversion, Isaiah says people were “calling evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). That’s precisely what we are doing in America today regarding abortion, homosexuality and gambling. Isaiah sums up the root of his nation’s decay (and America’s) by asserting, “They have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 5:24).

Jeremiah, writing about 75 years later (God is so patient!), lists the same sins as still prevailing in the land. But he adds some new ones to the list: immorality and religious corruption. His summary statements are very revealing:

“They have made their faces harder than rock” (Jeremiah 5:3).

“They have refused to repent” (Jeremiah 5:3).

“This people has a stubborn and rebellious heart” (Jeremiah 5:23).

“They do not even know how to blush” (Jeremiah 6:15).

God destroyed this nation. Why would He deal any differently with a modern day clone? God “is the same yesterday and today, yes, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Or, as it is stated in Malachi 3:6, “I, the Lord do not change.”

As America descends further into a moral abyss, Christians are going to come under increasing attack. Already society has written off evangelical Christians as “intolerant bigots” because they are the only ones speaking out today in behalf of righteousness.

The media have declared open season on Christians. Christianity, the Bible and Jesus are openly mocked in movies, books, television programs and the arts. Similar attacks on blacks, homosexuals, Jews, or even Muslims would not be tolerated. But everything sacred to Christians can be trampled. There is no escaping the fact that we are in the midst of a culture war in America. The forces of paganism, secularism, atheism and humanism have launched an all-out attack on Judeo-Christian values.

The two sides in this war were well represented in the responses to the Columbine High School massacre in the spring of 1999.

Speaking from a Judeo-Christian perspective, Billy Graham said:9

I agree with those who have remarked that the problem is not guns. Rather, it is the hearts of people which need to be changed. I would add that only God can change our hearts. That is the reason Jesus said, “You must be born again.” Only God can give us a new nature that is demonstrated by love.

Speaking from the pagan perspective, Howard Stern, the radio “shock-jock” said:10

There were some really good-looking girls running out with their hands over their heads. Did those kids [the killers] try to have sex with any of the good-looking girls? They didn’t even do that? At least if you’re going to kill yourself and kill all the kids, why wouldn’t you have some sex? 

A Double Standard

As the culture war intensifies, the press is practicing a double standard. For example, when reporting acts of violence against blacks, homosexuals or Jews, the deeds are instantly categorized as “hate crimes.” But with regard to the acts of violence specifically aimed at Christians, these are written off as “random acts of violence.”

Nationwide, people are being discriminated against in job hirings and promotions simply because they are Christians, something that would have been unthinkable in this country just a few years ago. Churches are being harassed as never before by zoning boards and building inspectors.

The situation is going to get worse rather than better. Jesus told His disciples that the world would hate them just as it hated Him (John 15:18-19). Jesus also prophesied that in the end times, right before His return, all true believers would be hated on account of His name and would be persecuted (Matthew 24:9). The only reason more professing Christians are not being persecuted today is because most have become so compromised by the world that it would be hard to find enough evidence to convict them of being Christians! 

The Prospect of Suffering

In addition to specific persecution, we as Christians face the suffering that is going to engulf our nation if Jesus tarries and delays His return until after America is judged for its rebellion. When God judges a nation, the rain falls on the just and the unjust. Believers are not immune to the suffering, but they are promised that God will walk with them through the suffering and sustain them. As God got ready to destroy Judah, He spoke reassuring words to the true believers in the land (Isaiah 43:2-3):

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, Your Savior.

Many of the believers who heard these words suffered terribly from the long siege of Jerusalem. Many were carried into captivity. But the Lord was always there to encourage them and to see to it that their basic needs were met. 

Crucial Questions

As those of us who are Christians face both focused persecution and generalized suffering, how then should we live? How can we live victorious lives in the midst of societal chaos? How can we endure persecution and suffering? How can we remain faithful to the Lord? Are we to withdraw from the world? Are we to arm ourselves, flee to the wilderness, and hunker down in bunkers?

No! A thousand times, No! We are to stand up for Jesus and speak out for righteousness. 

Notes

1) Interview of Magic Johnson by Roger Mudd on the program, 20/20, produced by ABC Television, 1992. Exact date of the broadcast is unknown. The interview was witnessed by the author.

2) Interview of Suzanne Somers on the program, Good Morning America, produced by ABC Television, 1984. Exact date of the broadcast is unknown. The interview was witnessed by the author. The Playboy spread of her photos was published in the December 1984 issue.

3) Ezra Brown, “Getting Tough: New Jersey Principal Joe Clark kicks up a storm about discipline in city schools,” Time, February 1, 1988, p. 54.

4) “The Week, January 10-16, 1993,” Time, January 25, 1993, p. 23. Time cites the source of the statistics as the National Education Association.

5) An item taken from the Internet in the summer of 1999. Widely circulated, with no date or author indicated.

6) Stone v. Graham, 449, U.S. 39 (1980). For a good survey of court decisions that have impacted America’s schools in a negative way, see David Barton’s book, America: To Pray or Not to Pray, (Aledo, Texas: WallBuilder Press, 1991).

7) Mailed to the author in 1997 by Ken Matto. Ken lives in Edison, New Jersey where he works as a production planner in a coffee company. He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Bethany Theological Seminary.

8) Bill Clinton, “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, 1999,” June 11, 1999. A proclamation by the President of the United States of America. Presidential proclamations are available on the Internet at http://www.whitehouse.gov.

9) The Lamplighter magazine, June-July 1999, p.13.

10) “Stern blasted for comments about Colorado tragedy,” AFA Journal, June 1999,

http://www.afajournal.org/archives/23060000005.asp.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Are we paying attention?



God wants our attention and devotion more than he wants our accomplishments for the kingdom. Otherwise, we've set our devotion to our accomplishments over our devotion to God. When this happens, God himself may become the force that hinders our success. Accomplishments without his Spirit and leading will be empty, lacking both his power and anointing. Therefore, we must carefully avoid worshiping our work and work to abide with Christ.

Linda Evans Shepherd
           Praying through Hard Times







Friday, May 26, 2017

Dear Church, Here’s Why People Are Really Leaving You


A hard, honest look at why people are really walking away from church.



Being on the other side of the Exodus sucks, don’t it?
I see the panic on your face, Church.

I know the internal terror as you see the statistics and hear the stories and scan the exit polls.

I see you desperately scrambling to do damage control for the fence-sitters, and manufacture passion from the shrinking faithful, and I want to help you.

You may think you know why people are leaving you, but I’m not sure you do.

You think it’s because “the culture” is so lost, so perverse, so beyond help that they are all walking away.

You believe that they’ve turned a deaf ear to the voice of God; chasing money, and sex, and material things.

You think that the gays and the Muslims and the Atheists and the pop stars have so screwed up the morality of the world that everyone is abandoning faith in droves.

But those aren’t the reasons people are leaving you.

They aren’t the problem, Church.
You are the problem.

Let me elaborate in five ways …

1. Your Sunday productions have worn thin.
The stage, and the lights, and the bands, and the video screens, have all just become white noise to those really seeking to encounter God. They’re ear and eye candy for an hour, but they have so little relevance in people’s daily lives that more and more of them are taking a pass.
Yeah, the songs are cool and the show is great, but ultimately Sunday morning isn’t really making a difference on Tuesday afternoon or Thursday evening, when people are wrestling with the awkward, messy, painful stuff in the trenches of life; the places where rock shows don’t help.
We can be entertained anywhere. Until you can give us something more than a Christian-themed performance piece—something that allows us space and breath and conversation and relationship—many of us are going to sleep in and stay away.

2. You speak in a foreign tongue.
Church, you talk and talk and talk, but you do so using a dead language. You’re holding onto dusty words that have no resonance in people’s ears, not realizing that just saying those words louder isn’t the answer. All the religious buzzwords that used to work 20 years ago no longer do.

This spiritualized insider-language may give you some comfort in an outside world that is changing, but that stuff’s just lazy religious shorthand, and it keeps regular people at a distance. They need you to speak in a language that they can understand. There’s a message there worth sharing, but it’s hard to hear above your verbal pyrotechnics.

People don’t need to be dazzled with big, churchy words and about eschatological frameworks and theological systems. Talk to them plainly about love, and joy, and forgiveness, and death, and peace, and God, and they’ll be all ears. Keep up the church-speak, and you’ll be talking to an empty room soon.

3. Your vision can’t see past your building.
The coffee bar, the cushy couches, the high-tech lights, the funky Children’s wing and the uber-cool Teen Center are all top-notch … and costly. In fact, most of your time, money and energy seems to be about luring people to where you are instead of reaching people where they already are.

Rather than simply stepping out into the neighborhoods around you and partnering with the amazing things already happening, and the beautiful stuff God is already doing, you seem content to franchise out your particular brand of Jesus-stuff, and wait for the sinful world to beat down your door.

Your greatest mission field is just a few miles, (or a few feet) off your campus and you don’t even realize it. You wanna reach the people you’re missing?
Leave the building.

4. You choose lousy battles.
We know you like to fight, Church. That’s obvious.
When you want to, you can go to war with the best of them. The problem is, your battles are too darn small. Fast food protests, hobby store outrage and duck-calling Reality TV show campaigns may manufacture some urgency and Twitter activity on the inside for the already-convinced, but they’re paper tigers to people out here with bloody boots on the ground.

Every day we see a world suffocated by poverty, and racism, and violence, and bigotry, and hunger; and in the face of that stuff, you get awfully, frighteningly quiet. We wish you were as courageous in those fights, because then we’d feel like coming alongside you; then we’d feel like going to war with you.

Church, we need you to stop being warmongers with the trivial and pacifists in the face of the terrible.

5. Your love doesn’t look like love.

Love seems to be a pretty big deal to you, but we’re not getting that when the rubber meets the road. In fact, more and more, your brand of love seems incredibly selective and decidedly narrow; filtering out all the spiritual riff-raff, which sadly includes far too many of us.

It feels like a big bait-and-switch sucker-deal; advertising a “Come as You Are” party, but letting us know once we’re in the door that we can’t really come as we are. We see a Jesus in the Bible who hung out with lowlifes and prostitutes and outcasts, and loved them right there, but that doesn’t seem to be your cup of tea.
Church, can you love us if we don’t check all the doctrinal boxes and don’t have our theology all figured out? It doesn’t seem so.
Can you love us if we cuss and drink and get tattoos, and God forbid, vote Democrat? We’re doubtful.

Can you love us if we’re not sure how we define love, and marriage, and Heaven, and Hell? It sure doesn’t feel that way.
From what we know about Jesus, we think he looks like love. The unfortunate thing is, you don’t look much like him.

That’s part of the reason people are leaving you, Church.

These words may get you really, really angry, and you may want to jump in a knee-jerk move to defend yourself or attack these positions line-by-line, but we hope that you won’t.

We hope that you’ll just sit in stillness with these words for a while, because whether you believe they’re right or wrong, they’re real to us, and that’s the whole point.

We’re the ones walking away.

We want to matter to you.

We want you to hear us before you debate us.

Show us that your love and your God are real.

Church, give us a reason to stay.

It’s not you, it’s me.

That’s what you seem to be saying, Church.

I tried to share my heart with you; the heart of me and thousands and thousands of people like me who are walking away, to let you know of the damage you’re doing and the painful legacy you’re leaving, and apparently, you’re not the problem.
(Which, of course, is still a problem).

I’ve relayed my frustration with your insider, religious rhetoric, and you responded by cut-and-pasting random Scripture soundbytes about the “Bride of Christ” and the “blood of the Lamb,” insisting that the real issue is simply my “biblical ignorance,” and suggesting that I just need to repent and get a good Concordance (whatever that is).

I let you know how judged and ridiculed I feel when I’m with you, how much like a hopeless, failing outsider I feel on the periphery of your often inward, judgmental communities, and you proceeded to tell me how “lost” I am, how hopelessly “in love with my sin” I must be to leave you, reminding me that I never really belonged with you anyway.

In the face of every complaint and every grievance, you’ve made it clear that the real issue is that I’m either sinful, heretical, immoral, foolish, unenlightened, selfish, consumerist or ignorant.

Heck, many days I’m not even sure I disagree with you.

Maybe you’re right, Church.

Maybe I am the problem.

Maybe it is me, but me is all I’m capable of being right now, and that’s where I was really hoping you would meet me.

It’s here, in my flawed, screwed-up, wounded, shell-shocked, doubting, disillusioned me-ness that I’ve been waiting for you to step in with this whole supposedly relentless, audacious “love of Jesus” thing I hear so much about, and make it real.

Church, I know how much you despise the word Tolerance, but right now, I really need you to tolerate me; to tolerate those of us who, for all sorts of reasons you may feel aren’t justified, are struggling to stay.

We’re so weary of feeling like nothing more than a religious agenda; an argument to win, a point to make, a cause to defend, a soul to save.

We want to be more than a notch on your Salvation belt; another number to pad your Twitter posts and end-of-year stat sheets.
We need to be more than altar call props, who are applauded and high-fived down the aisle, and then forgotten once the song ends.
We’ve been praying for you to stop evangelizing us, and preaching at us, and fighting us, and judging us, and sin-diagnosing us, long enough to simply hear us …
… even if we are the problem.

Even if we are the woman in adultery, or the doubting follower, or the rebellious prodigal, or the demon-riddled young man, we can’t be anything else right now in this moment; and in this moment, we need a Church big enough, and tough enough, and loving enough; not just for us as we might one day be then, but for us as we are, now.

We still believe that God is big enough, and tough enough, and loving enough, even if you won’t be, and that’s why even if we do walk away, it doesn’t mean we’re walking away from faith; it’s just that faith right now seems more reachable elsewhere.

I know you’ll argue that you’re doing all these things and saying all these things because you love and care for us, but from the shoes we’re standing in, you need to know that it feels less like love and care, and more like space and silence:

If someone is frustrated, telling them that they’re wrong to be frustrated is, well, pretty freakin’ frustrating.

It only breeds distance.

If someone shares that their heart is hurting, they don’t want to hear that they’re not right to be hurt.

It’s a conversation-stopper.

If someone tells you they are starving for compassion, and relationship, and authenticity, the last thing they need is to be corrected for that hunger.

It’s a kick in the rear on the way out the door.

So yes, Church, even if you’re right, even if we’re totally wrong—even if we’re all petty, and self-centered, and hypocritical, and critical, and (I’ll say it), “sinful”—we’re still the ones searching for a place where we can be known and belong; a place where it feels like God lives, and you’re the ones who can show it to us.
Even if the problem is me, it’s me who you’re supposed to be reaching, Church.

So, for the love of God; reach already.

By John Pavlovitz

John Pavlovitz is a pastor/blogger from Wake Forest, North Carolina. An 18-year veteran of local church ministry, he currently writes a blog called Stuff That Needs To Be Said, and in January is launching an online Christian community called The Table.







Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Meaning of Fellowship



Fellowship. 

What does that word mean in the context of a Christian life?  Potluck dinners?  Church programs? Building cleanup days? Christmas plays and cantatas? Could the meaning in today's culture look different than it did in the time that Jesus walked the earth? What do you think it means?

Read the original meaning David Mathis believes God intended for His church below and contemplate. How far is your church and/or small group from this meaning? And how can we facilitate change? 

In no way am I saying potluck dinners should be abolished (no way - so many great cooks in every church!). But are we sharing a meal or a mission?  Instead of looking at it as taking something away, maybe we could look at it as adding on to what is already in place.  



It’s a shame that the word fellowship has fallen on hard times in many church circles. Nowadays, fellowship means you’re just doing something social together and you just happen to be Christians. That's not at all what is meant by the richness and the strength of the New Testament word often translated as fellowship.

Maybe you hear people pronounce the Greek word as "koinonia." In the New Testament, fellowship refers to a partnership, a collective, a mission where everyone is all in together. They’re risking life. They’re risking all of their possessions. They’re risking their money, to put it in a shared venture together and to have that shared mission and enterprise.

The first thing to say about the fellowship as a means of grace is that it is a mission. Rightly did J. R. R Tolkien call his first book The Fellowship of the Ring. Because there was a lot at stake; they were on a mission together. They weren't just sitting back and having a pipe, sipping on the Gaffer's Old Winyards, and just shooting the breeze in a social situation. The world is at stake and they’ve got to get the ring to Mount Doom. This is what’s involved in a fellowship.

So, when I say fellowship as a means of grace, I don’t mean just Christian social situations but rather a shared mission together. Jesus put his church on mission in the declaration of the great commission—the commission to make disciples of all the nations. That begins locally but then extends internationally. We are on mission together in the gospel. So the first aspect of fellowship is being on mission together.

Another aspect of the fellowship is worshipping together. Let me give you a verse to go with that: Hebrews 10:24-25, where the author says,


And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

He's encouraging his readers to come together, strengthen each other, and do that in a context of worship. And so, in that context of fellowship as corporate worship together, we will get various means of grace like sitting together under the preaching of God’s Word and the corporate interactions that happen before, during, and after those gatherings. There's also taking the Lord’s Table together as a means of grace. There's being baptized or watching in faith as others are baptized as a means of grace.

The third aspect of fellowship is our life together as Christians. The text for this one is Hebrews 3:12-13:


Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12-15)

And the amazing thing about that passage is that it’s not an exhortation to individuals to watch out that their own hearts might not become hardened. Rather, it’s an exhortation to the community to be on the lookout for other people in the community who don’t have the spiritual strength—who don’t have the spiritual wherewithal—to watch out for their own souls. And so, healthy Christians are being encouraged to take notice of others—to be aware enough of others—that they'd be able to speak a gospel-word into their brother or sister's life—encouraging that person in a season of difficulty, dryness, depression, or suffering.

An important aspect of the fellowship is our external mission together, our vertical worship together, and then internal care and love for one another—our being a means of grace to someone else. One of the first questions to ask about fellowship is not "What is this body doing for me? What is this local church doing for me? What is this Christian community doing for me?" The local church will be a means of grace in your life. However, a very important question to ask first is, "How can I be a means of grace to others in this community?"

We need to think not only about how to receive God’s Word in Bible intake and how to speak to God and receive the blessing of being in communication with him in prayer, but also how to be a means of grace to someone else. How can my life in Christ be a means of grace to someone else?

Here's one way to think about it: it’s amazing that God put these holes in the side of our head. And what you can do is you can put words in those holes for somebody who’s struggling or for someone who’s dry. What that person needs is a good word—a manifestation of the gospel. Perhaps they’re so spiritually lethargic that they’re not ingesting the Bible well for themselves via reading and studying and meditation. Maybe they don’t have the heart to pray. But what they do have, typically, are holes in the side of their heads. And you can put gospel words into those holes, so that even when they're is not doing well spiritually, you can help them by speaking a word of grace into their lives.

Rooted in the Local Church

God has often used this to bring people back from dangerous spiritual situations. Bringing back a sinner from his wandering as James 5:19-20 talks about. This is being a means of grace to others. It’s most important that this would happen in covenant contexts. A lot of grace can flow in situations where it’s a Christian community. But where there is covenant membership in the local church is the place where lives flourish as we experience receive God's grace through significant relationships.

So, for instance, we wouldn’t say, "Well I love these people enough, I don’t need to commit to them." Rather, we’d say, "I love these people enough that I’m willing to commit to them in sickness and in health, when times are joyful and when times are sorrowful," as you would do in a marriage. Hopefully you wouldn’t say, "I love her enough; we don’t need a commitment and we don’t need a piece of paper." No! The question is, "Do you love her enough to commit; to be there in sorrow, in pain, and in sickness?"

That’s the opportunity we have in covenant fellowship. We say, "I love these people enough that I’m going to commit to be there in the hardest of times. In the worst of times. When they’re the driest. When they’re the most depressed. When they the most need help, I want to be there and I want to be God’s means of grace in their life. And I want to be that means of grace in my life as well."

To listen and watch the video click here.