Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Watch Your Step!

"For we all stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body." James 3:2 ESV

I'm not one to see Scripture taken out of context at all. I think it's irresponsible for those who would consider themselves students of the Word to do so. We have a great responsibility to rightly divide the word of truth, being workmen who need not be ashamed. So, please understand my belief concerning this as I write briefly here today.

On Sunday morning, as usual, I stepped out of the house to be on my way to church. I leave my house just about every day, so leaving the house is not something I have to put much thought into. It's a very routine process. Well, that is until this Sunday.

When I walked out the front door, I noticed it was pretty wet outside. I thought to myself, "Maybe I should bring my umbrella with me today." But, then I remembered that my umbrella was in the car, so I was good...so I thought.

What I didn't realize was that on the second set of steps leading to the main sidewalk, was some ice...right on the edge of each of the two steps. Well, I slipped on the top step, falling backward and landing on that same step...back first. The "wind" went rushing right out of my body. The pain in my back, my chest, my right shoulder and right leg were all immediate. I couldn't breathe, couldn't call for help, couldn't do anything but lay on the ground, writhing in pain. It had been a while since I had the "wind" knocked out of me, so it was very scary not being able to breathe for about a minute or so (it seemed like forever!).

After a few minutes, I contemplated if I would continue on to church or if I would go back into the house, call my father, and see what to do next. Well, I decided that I would continue on to church. I really wanted to be there, worship with the body of Christ, and hear the Word of the Lord from my pastor. I was also looking forward to a Christmas social after church.

As I was driving to church, which is about a 20 minute drive for me, I was able to really think about what had just happened. The first thing that came to mind was that I should be very grateful to the Lord that nothing more serious happened. I could have easily hit my head on the concrete and died. I had a great uncle that had that happen to him when I was a child. So, I thanked the Lord for sparing me from that.

My next thought was to my own neglect in watching where I was stepping. I was so used to walking down those little steps that it never occurred to me that I should look where I was going. I hadn't prepared myself for what lied ahead.

How many times have we all done something so many times that it becomes so routine to us that we don't even think much about it? We go through life pretty much knowing what is being asked of us each day and what we need to accomplish. We usually have a pretty good idea of how we're going to accomplish it as well. But, how often do we consider variables that may change or challenge what we're setting out to do? Do we look at each task as a brand new task, or do we merely see it as something we need not pay much attention to? The Bible says that pride goes before destruction and haughtiness before a fall. How true!

My advice to us all today is to watch your step! Be careful where you step. Don't assume things are what you think they are. Sometimes things require further investigation. We all stumble in many ways. That's very true. Just be careful, brothers and sisters.

In Christ

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Life Together Under the Word

"Life together under the Word will remain sound and healthy only where it does not form itself into a movement, an order, a society... but rather where it understands itself as being a part of the one, holy, catholic (meaning universal, not Roman Catholicism, my explanation), Christian Church, where it shares actively and passively in the sufferings and struggles of the whole Church. Every principle of selection, every separation connected with it that is not necessitated quite objectively by common work, local conditions, or family connections is of the greatest danger to a Christian community.
When the way of intellectual or spiritual selection is taken, the human element always insinuates itself and robs the fellowship of its spiritual power and its effectiveness for the Church, and drives it into sectarianism."--Dietrich Bonhoeffer (bold, my emphasis)

For those who would seek to only focus on the struggles and sufferings of ONE group of people, but yet try to use the Bible to justify such partiality in concern, I think this quote speaks volumes. People need to see themselves as part of a larger body of believers and then take on the burdens of all believers everywhere, not just ones that look like us or experience the same struggles that we do.

There is much more to that can be said by this quote, but for now, I'll leave it here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Remember Them That Are In Bonds

"Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body" Hebrews 13:3 KJV

Hebrews 13 starts off by saying "Let brotherly love continue." I'm sure we have read this chapter of Hebrews and remember some very important things that the writer wrote for us so that we can "let brotherly love continue."

We usually remember that we should be sure to entertain strangers, because it says that we may have entertained angels when we weren't even aware. We tend to remember the fact that marriage is to be honourable and the bed to be undefiled. We remember that we are to be content, not covetous and to also honor those whom God has appointed over us.

But, how many of us remember verse 3 daily? Weekly? Monthly? Yearly? At all?

This verse tells us that we ought to remember those in bonds, even as if we were also in bonds with them. We should love and care for these brothers and sisters as we care for ourselves and our families. And in the case of those which suffer adversity, are we truly caring for them as we should? These people, mostly in other nations around the world that are hostile towards Christ and His gospel, are not simply foreigners. They are full-fledged members of the body of Christ, suffering for the sake of the gospel!

Are we praying for Evangelist Girmay Ambaye, who was arrested in Eritrea back in 2005 for witnessing about Christ to people on a city bus? This wasn't his first time being arrested. Evangelist Ambaye had been arrested at least twice before, yet he continued to preach Christ.

Evangelist Ambaye

How about Son Jong Nam? He was arrested in January 2006 for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in North Korea. He is now awaiting public execution for his "crime."

Son Jong Nam

There are many stories like this that the majority of us probably have no idea about. Are we praying for the persecuted church around the world? Are we even concerned to know what's going on with our brothers and sisters around the globe? Have we become so comfortable in our own Christianity in America that we don't look beyond the borders of our "free and democratic" society and really reach out to help our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ?

Let brotherly love continue!

How can we help? How can we be actively involved in the lives of our brothers and sisters? Well, thankfully, the Lord has provided a wonderful organization that seeks to do just that. I've been a supporter of this ministry, both financially and through prayer, for the last 2-3 years. The ministry I am referring to is Voice of the Martyrs. Many of you may have heard of this organization, but weren't sure if you'd get involved. I encourage you today to consider it, as it is a great way to "let brotherly love continue."

So, what is Voice of the Martyrs all about? (from http://www.prisoneralert.com/vompw_faq.htm):

Pastor Richard Wurmbrand founded VOM over 30 years ago. He was in prison in Romania for 14 years for his faith in Christ. In the `60s he and his family were ransomed out of Romania for $10,000 and came to the U.S. where he began traveling, educating the free world of the atrocities committed against Christians in Communist and other restricted countries. VOM's five main purposes are based on Hebrews 13:3. They are:

1. To encourage and empower Christians to fulfill the Great Commission in areas of the world where they are persecuted for their involvement in propagating the gospel of Jesus Christ. We accomplish this by providing Bibles, literature, radio broadcasts, and other forms of aid.

2. To give relief to the families of Christian martyrs in these areas of the world.

3. To equip local Christians to love and win to Christ their enemies who are opposed to the gospel in countries where believers are actively persecuted for their Christian witness.

4. To undertake projects of encouragement, helping believers rebuild their lives and Christian witness in countries that have formerly suffered Communist oppression.

5. To emphasize the fellowship of all believers by informing the world of atrocities committed against Christians and by remembering their courage and faith.

There are many ways we can help our brethren. Here are a few ways:

1. Prayer- We need to keep our brothers and sisters in prayer as they suffer though various trials for the sake of Christ. We need not only pray that persecution may decrease, but that their faith would increase as they endure the agonies of suffering at the hands of enemies.

2. Financially- I know we are going through tough economical times in America right now, but if you can still spend extra cash on items of entertainment, can you spare some extra money for those whose families have been severely burdened by the loss of a father/mother to imprisonment or death as a result of religious persecution? Many will go out this year, despite the economic recession, and spend lots of money on gifts. How much better would our time and money be spent praying and giving to those who need it?

3. Send encouraging letters to those imprisoned- VOM has a minsitry called Prisoner Alert (www.prisoneralert.com) in which they have set up a way for you to write to imprisoned Christians around the world. Each month they update the website with a profile of a Christian who is currently in bonds for preaching the gospel, or simply having Bibles in their possession. I highly encourage you to do this, if you can.

4. Send letters to government officials- Prisoner Alert also has an option to write short, to the point and respectful letters to government officials in countries who claim to promote religious freedom, yet deny those freedoms to Christians.

5. Preach the gospel- This is one thing that we really need to do more of, myself included. Here in America, we currently have no serious restrictions preventing us from freely and openly preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified to those who are lost. We need to be on our knees thanking God for such freedom, but we can't stay on our knees. We need to get up, get out, and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ! It is the power of God unto salvation to those who believe (Romans 1:16) and we ought not be ashamed of it. How better to prove that we care about the sufferings of our brothers and sisters than to risk that same type of suffering ourselves?

I believe if more people in America were concerned with evangelism, we would receive persecution. But, as it stands today, there's no real reason for our pluralistic society to be that concerned. There's only really a handful of us out on the frontlines. Perhaps fear of man and what he can do to us is what's really behind the lack of concern for evangelism. But why fear man, who after they kill us, can do nothing else to us? We need to fear God over man. We need to seek to please Him and not men.

So, today, I just want to encourage you to head over to Voice of the Martyrs' ministry Website at: http://www.persecution.com or to the Prisoner Alert Website at: http://www.prisoneralert.com

"Let the brotherly love continue!"

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Sinner of All Sinners, Saved By Grace!

One of my favorite parts in the movie "Amazing Grace", which is about English abolitionist/politician William Wilberforce, is where his former pastor, John Newton says something like, "There are two things I know. I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior."

That phrase sums it all up for me. When I think about where the Lord has brought me from, I can't help but agree. Even when I consider how terribly short I fall as a Christian, I know that there is still much work to be done for me to really look like Christ. Am I being sanctified? Absolutely. But there's still much to be done. Though I am a great sinner, Christ is a great Savior. He knows how to save His people completely and perfectly. Praise God for divine providence!

When I look back at my life prior to being saved by God's grace, I can truly say that I am the worst sinner I know. When I think about all the horrible thoughts I've had, horrible things I've done, and horrible things I've said, I know my own sin more than I know anyone else's. With other people, I can only know the sin they show me. I can't know or begin to know the very thoughts of their hearts. That isn't even my job. So, what I see from others, as far as sin is concerned, is limited.

Even when I consider notorious sinners like Adolph Hitler or Jeffrey Dahmer, I know that my crimes against God and humanity have not been any better than their's. Yes, if I compare myself to them, I'd look like a saint. But, comparing my personal sin against God's standard, we are equal. It's only God's grace that I did not commit the same atrocities. God detests all sin. His nature, being holy, cannot tolerate sin. We've all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and the wages we have earned is death (Romans 6:23). Oh, but the precious gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Oh, what a precious gift it is! When I consider my great sin, and then I consider the perfect righteousness of Christ, I know that I am truly unworthy even to be called a Christian. To bear the name of the One who lived a perfectly holy life and then laid down His life for His sheep, of which I am allowed to be a part of, seems so very unfair to Christ. Why should an innocent man die for such great sinners?

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever would believe in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16

God loved this great sinner! He was merciful to me and has been merciful to all who come to Him in truth, confessing and repenting of their sin and placing their faith in Christ alone! He chose us in Him (Christ) before the very foundations of the world. He foreloved us even before we knew ourselves. He loved us before we were born, our parents were born, and even before Adam was created.

I’m forgiven because You were forsaken,
I’m accepted, You were condemned.
I am alive and well, Your spirit is within me,
Because You died and rose again.

Amazing love,
How can it be
That You, my King, would die for me?
Amazing love,
I know it’s true.
It’s my joy to honor You,
In all I do, I honor You.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Lois Feldman: Victim?

By now, many of you may have heard or read the story of a 38 year old wife and mother of three from Iowa named Lois Feldman. It's a sad story for many reasons. If you're unfamiliar with the story, allow me to give a brief synopsis.

On Saturday, November 22, 2008, Lois Feldman, along with her husband, Kelly, went to Minnesota's Metrodome to cheer on their beloved Iowa Hawkeyes in the Iowa-Minnesota game. Before the game, however, she says that she was drinking heavily. That proved to be a very bad decision for Mrs. Feldman.

Just before halftime, Lois decided she needed to use the ladies room. No one is really clear as to what transpired from the time she left her husband watching the game to when police arrived at the scene of two people, Lois Feldman and Ross Walsh, being cheered on by onlookers as they were engaged in sexual intercourse in the handicapped stall of the men's restroom. Both were ticketed for indecent conduct and Feldman was released into the custody of her husband and Walsh to his girlfriend (probably ex-girlfriend now).

Feldman now claims that she was so drunk on wine that she doesn't remember anything about the incident at all and she has stated that it has "ruined my life" saying that it wasn't just the incident itself that ruined her life, but also the press coverage. She told the Des Moines Register that she was fired by the assisted living center she had been an administrator of.

Now, Mrs. Feldman says that she believes that SHE is the victim in this case. She believes she was a victim of foul play rather than a willing contributor. Could it be? Surely. Is it likely? I'm not sure. Speaking about the incident, she says:

"I would never ever do that...My kids are my life. I go to church every Sunday."

Her contention is that she may have been drugged or someone may have slipped something into her drink. Unfortunately, for her defense lawyer, she and Mr. Walsh refused to submit to toxicological testing, so the extent of her drunkenness or even if there were foreign substances in her drink is unknowable at this point.

As someone who used to drink quite often, and have experienced being drunk on many occasion in my life before Christ, I can certainly understand how this might have happened to Mrs. Feldman. I remember doing things I would have never done under normal circumstances, but for me, liquor (especially wine) provided "liquid courage" to an otherwise "safe" kind of guy like myself. I felt free from all inhibitions and I dared to do things I would have never actually done without the alcohol. Notice that I didn't say I had never "thought" about doing those things, but just that I never would have actually done them.

As I was discussing this with a close friend of mine yesterday, she said that she believes alcohol works as sort of a "truth serum" where things that are down within an individual eventually come to the top. I agree, as that has been my experience with being intoxicated. But, outside of experience, I now know it to be true because God's Word says so.

Proverbs 20:1 says:

"Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise."

Proverbs 23 has this to say:

29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?

The answer?

30 Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine.

The wounds I received, as well as Mrs. Feldman, are self-inflicted wounds. The woe and the sorrow, along with strife are because of our dealings with drunkenness. Notice that complaining accompanies it. "It's ruined my life," she proclaims. She complains that she is a victim. I agree, but not of anyone else. She is a victim of her own sinful inclination (Genesis 6:5) that led her to drink heavily in the first place.

31 Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. 32 In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.

33 Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things.

Mrs. Feldman says that she goes to church every Sunday. So, with that, I would assume she believes that she is a Christian, probably having made some sort of profession of faith at some point. Jesus told us in Matthew 7 that a good tree cannot bring forth corrupt fruit, nor can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. We will know those who are His by their fruit. But, what does the Bible say about those who engage in drunkenness and sexual immorality?

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 ESV

Please understand that my intent is not to pick on Mrs. Feldman. But, according to the accounts of this incident, she is guilty of at least all of the emboldened acts listed above. Am I saying that I know without a doubt that she's not a believer? No, I'm not saying that. However, her response to all of this is not one of a genuine believer who is grieved over their sin. It isn't one of a truly repentant person, who acknowleges their wrongdoing and takes responsibility for it. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, the natural tendency of the human heart is to shift blame to others.

Believers know that God is truth. We also know that God requires truth in the innermost parts of us. We believe, as God's Word teaches us, that God is spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. In order for us to have any kind of relationship with the Lord, we must be honest with ourselves and more importantly God, and take ownership of our wrongdoings and understand that we are responsible for our own sin. If we are unwilling to even acknowledge fault, we lie, and do not the truth.

That's really what this blog was all about today--personal responsibility. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at another way to deal with wrongdoings. I think you'll be surprised to see who I use as an example.

Until next time....

Monday, December 1, 2008

Defects and Defilements

Defects and defilements

(Letters of John Newton)

Dear friend,

You say that you are conscious of defects and defilements. But your heart could not be right--if you did not feel these things. To be conscious of them, and humbled for them--is one of the surest marks of grace; and to be more deeply sensible of them than formerly--is the best evidence of growth in grace!

Our righteousness is in Jesus alone; and our hope depends, not upon the exercise of grace in us--but upon the fullness of grace and love in Him, and upon His obedience unto death.

It is a mighty manifestation of His grace indeed--when it can live, and act, and conquer in such hearts as ours; when, in defiance of an evil nature and an evil world, and all the force and subtlety of Satan--a weak worm is still upheld; when a small spark is preserved through storms and floods!

In these circumstances, the work of grace is to be estimated, not merely from its imperfect appearance--but from the difficulties it has to struggle with and overcome. Therefore our holiness does not consist in great attainments--but in spiritual desires, in hungerings, thirstings, and mournings; in humiliation of heart, poverty of spirit, submission, and meekness; in hearty admiring thoughts of Jesus, and dependence upon Him alone for all we need. Indeed these may be said to be great attainments; but they who have most of them are most sensible that they, in and of themselves, are nothing, have nothing, can do nothing--and see daily cause for abhorring themselves and repenting in dust and ashes!