Tuesday, July 29, 2014

From Birth, Differences

temp
This graphic comes from Wikimedia, taking figures from two Wikipedia articles that give membership counts for Christianity and Islam in the world. It reminds me how different these two religions are, even from birth.

A Muslim co-worker explained to me that everyone is born a Muslim. Some are born where they are immediately led astray and others are born where Islam is predominate and life is a struggle to retain the relationship with God. I have seen this elsewhere:
"No babe is born but upon Fitra (as a Muslim). It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Polytheist." (Sahih Muslim, Book 033, Number 6426) Source
Christians, on the other hand, believe mankind is born with a sin nature and that we all have gone astray. God tells us this and provides a solution:

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:5-7 KJV)

Centuries after Isaiah proclaimed this, Paul wrote in agreement:

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; (Romans 3:23 KJV)

Paul also tells us the result of sinfulness, and how to change our personal results:

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23 KJV)

My Muslim co-worker told me that life is a jihad, a spiritual struggle to do what is right in his life. That word has come to mean a war or struggle against unbelievers, too. Islam is not faith-based, it is works-based.

Christianity, on the other hand, requires faith first, with an expectation that good works will follow in a changed life:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (Ephesians 2:8 KJV)

Faith is an absolute necessity:

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 KJV)

Faith is tied so closely to love that it is almost impossible to separate them. James explains that faith is on display through our actions:

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. (James 2:17-18 KJV)

John in his letter gives a great truth that separates Christianity and Islam in one verse:

Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (1 John 2:23a KJV)

Jesus’ own words tells us what will happen when He is denied:

Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32-33 KJV)

From birth to heaven, there are differences between Christianity and Islam.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Royal Fashions



Looks a bit heavy, doesn’t it? Does this one look lighter?
temp
Lots of bling, isn’t there? Would you want the responsibilities that went with either one of these crowns, knowing the second belongs to Iran? Shakespeare tells us  in Henry IV, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” and many have found that to be true. Yet, we are promised more than one.

The gospels (Matthew 27:29, Mark 15:17, John 19:2,5) tell us the one Jesus wore was of braided thorns, and His jailers used it to mock Him. His followers tell us of one He wears upon His return:

And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. (Revelation 6:2 KJV) 

And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle. (Revelation 14:14 KJV)

I expect no less, for the Bible tells me so. I just don’t know when.

The Bible speaks of other crowns, too, as Paul wrote:

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. (1 Corinthians 9:24-25 KJV)

That’s my first goal – the incorruptible crown, though Paul saw people as crowns, too:

Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved. (Philippians 4:1 KJV)

Can we truly say that our brothers in Christ are a joy and crown for us? Can we do as the next verse asks and be of the same mind in the Lord?  If that is our hope, we have something to look forward to seeing:

For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? (1 Thessalonians 2:19 KJV)

If we truly love our Lord and look forward to seeing Him, we will receive a crown:

Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8 KJV)

That’s not the important one, though. There’s a very special one I’m praying for:

Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. (James 1:12 KJV)

There’s one that’s not available to everyone. I thought about it – mentioned it in yesterday’s blog – and know that it applies to those few who minister to the Shepherd’s flocks while here:

Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. (1 Peter 5:2-4 KJV)

The grace of God provides our salvation, nothing that we do. These pastors who spend their lives feeding God’s flock as examples of His love do earn a crown of glory – and we know it will not fade away.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ordained

temp
And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, (Mark 3:14 KJV)

Not all twelve did. One was a thief, liar and betrayed Him – and He knew that would happen. The rest of us don’t know when a man is ordained whether he will continue or preach, or not.

Friday night at our church, the last of our “Preacher Boys” was ordained and on his way to lead a church hours away. He will be missed here, but was welcomed by a new congregation. We know that because many made the trip to celebrate his ordination with us.

One of the scriptures read Friday tells us that Jesus ordained twelve out of many followers.

And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. (Mark 3:13 KJV)

He called them out to do specific tasks. He still does. Paul explains more about the type of man and the tasks as he explains to Titus:

For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: (Titus 1:5 KJV)

Then Paul gets specific – and as a preacher explained tonight, it’s a matter of priorities:

If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. (Titus 1:6 KJV)

Seek a good man who follows God’s plan of marriage and family. Family comes right after God, before the congregation. I had not noticed that before, but it’s a beautiful picture of how a Father loves His children, isn’t it? Paul continues repeating the first condition:

For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; (Titus 1:7 KJV)

That “selfwilled” means “self pleasing, arrogant.” I believe the easiest sin to fall into is pleasing ourselves rather than our Lord. “I will” instead of “Thy will” comes so quickly and easily, doesn’t it? Then Paul moves into positive territory:

But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; (Titus 1:8 KJV)

All of that is good for any of us to follow – blameless, one spouse, loving children, unselfish, even tempered, loving our fellow man, seeking holiness – but the next one is not a calling for all of us:

Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. (Titus 1:9 KJV)

Paul taught Titus, Titus was to teach others and the result should be sound doctrine that helped other believers mature as well as convince non-believers. That’s a huge task, but one the newly ordained must continue to accomplish in the Lord's service.

This new pastor answered doctrinal questions before the congregation Friday night. We heard him state his beliefs and we heard the testimony of his salvation as well as that of his wife. Every Christian should be able to answer such questions and explain why, but a pastor must be able to help non-believers not only understand, but reach a turning point in their lives. That’s a huge task, too.

There are failures. We read about some in national news, others quietly fade away. Most new pastors spend their lifetime doing the huge tasks Jesus laid out:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20 KJV)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

By Faith

temp
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

I’ve flown half-way around the world in two directions - along with other passengers, having faith that each plane would reach our destination. In the last week, that faith failed with three commercial aircraft. Weather appears to be involved in two of those, humans in the third.

That, along with another chapter in “The Choice Is Yours …”, made me think about where I place my faith. My neurosurgeon’s faith in an MRI reading is part of my faith in the treatment I receive. But, I’m reminded of my mother’s faith in a surgeon and the elective surgery that led to an infection that eventually killed her.

Billions of people have placed their faith in electronics – computers are an absolute necessity in businesses, telephones keep businesses humming – yet we know that electro-magnetic impulses could bring these to a halt. The financial impact of a “Carrington Event” is calculated in the trillions and would be world-wide.

We hope catastrophes won’t happen. They do. So, where do we put our faith. I personally like the examples given in Hebrews chapter 11, where we often read, “By faith …”, followed by a personal example of faith. It is also where we read:

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 KJV)

“By faith …” Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses’ parents (go ahead, look up Amram and Jochebed) and Moses himself – all had faith, but there were also problems, as you get to know their stories.

The writer of Hebrews knew many more examples:

And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: (Hebrews 11:32 KJV)

He writes of their many trials, imprisonments, torments, reaching the conclusion that the world was not worthy of them. What they faced over the years is included in Hebrews 11:33-38. He also gives us the end of each of their stories:

And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40 KJV)

We have the same opportunity as they did to be an example of faith. It is to our advantage to believe in that “some better thing for us,” though we only see its substance in hope, through unseen evidence. Thanks be to God, He also provides us with how to gain such faith:

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17 KJV)

His word – not mine. Hear the word of the Lord.

Friday, July 25, 2014

This is not an ad!!

temp

I know – I used this very same graphic – and the link to Amazon.com within the last two weeks. But it has so many things in it that speak to me that you may be seeing it again.

This time it’s a bit of “clarification”, early in her book. It has to do with “being real” and I quote, with one change:
Christians “sometimes confuse “being real” with not caring about appearances or transformation. One a few occasions, I’ve seen a lady lose her temper and shortly thereafter say, “Well, that’s just the way I am. It’s the real me.” It’s almost as if “being real” is an excuse for being wrong! She is implying that holding onto a grudge or struggle is okay as long as you don’t try to hide it.
I’m reminded of a family member whose mantra was, “That’s the way I was born and raised,” as though change was impossible. Many people will say, “God accepts me the way I am,” and to the extent that acceptability is all we’re looking for, that’s right.

God does ask for more – obedience. Before I give you a verse, let’s look at the background. Saul did not ask to become king. God sent Samuel to anoint him king in response to the people’s desire for a king. Eventually, Saul stopped seeking God’s will, substituting his own – even to the point of taking on priestly duties. Samuel explained that obedience is required over outward signs of sacrifice:

And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22 KJV)

“Being real” acknowledges this, recognizes sin for what it is – going against God’s will in our lives:

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. (Psalms 51:4 KJV)

David had changed the lives of many people in this sin – Bathsheba, Uriah, Joab, Nathan and David’s descendants:

Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. (2 Samuel 12:10 KJV)

David made a choice to fulfill is own desire without considering the consequences of that choice. As he attempted to cover it up, bad choices accumulated until entire generations lived with the results.

God knows we were sinners before we came to believe Him capable of forgiving our sins. He – and we – know that we continue to sin:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10 KJV)

Thanks be to God for that forgiveness! Do we appreciate it enough to not repeat the same errors? Do we ask Him for His help in removing us from sin? Can we remember that He promises we can overcome temptation?

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 KJV)

Do we seek His way to escape? Or do we yield, as the seed falls on rocky ground and we fall away?

They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. (Luke 8:13 KJV)

“The Choice Is Yours: Life Happens. Walking With God Is A Decision”

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Next Time

temp
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? (Matthew 24:3 KJV)

They’ve been walking with Him around Judea for three years. He’s almost at the end of His ministry – and they are looking past what is going to happen, asking for a sign about what they don’t understand.

Wait for it . . . . Wait for it . . . . and you’ll most likely be waiting for it through a lifetime (or several!) Let me assure you, I know He’s coming back, and I know there are signs that indicate it could be soon:

And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. (Matthew 24:6-7 KJV)

We certainly have wars – take your pick among several ongoing ones. And there are rumors of war – we wonder if/when things will escalate within many of the hot spots. We’ve had them for all time, not just now. These things are with us as much as the poor (only I’d rather be working for/with the poor instead of wars!)

Famines? Take your pick. The sub-Sahara has been in one since I was a child. Of course, there have been conflicts there since I was a child and famine has been used as a weapon of war. Pestilence accompanies poverty and war, but in the last hundred years we’ve bragged about wiping out some diseases (we haven’t) and groaned as we’ve found new ones.  Some old ones has followed migration paths and ended up in countries just now touched. As we intermingle around the globe, we share much more than we intend to.

Earthquakes are with us and there’s an app to keep us updated on the latest what/when/where, from the ring-of-fire Pacific rim to the most-likely-caused-by-fracking central plains. So, we have all the signs we were promised, don’t we. Problem is, we’ve had them all since Jesus described them. So, where is He?

That question rang out not too long after His resurrection:

And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. (2 Peter 3:4 KJV)

They couldn’t wait a generation without saying, “He said He was going to come. Since He hasn’t, He isn't.” That’s the logic many people use. We’re two thousand years past that point and the logic hasn’t changed at all, has it?

What Peter wrote tells me he believed what Jesus said in that Mount of Olives lesson:

But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9 KJV)

By those words, it’s just been a couple of days. So, what do we do in the meantime? Jesus gave us that answer, too:

Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. (Matthew 24:44-46 KJV)

That, my dear readers, is just one thread through Sunday’s sermon. Pastor took us through Matthew’s 24th chapter and I do believe I could write all week and not cover all that I learned or confirmed in that one worship hour. Eventually that sermon will be posted on our First Baptist Church of Cottondale website. When it is, it is going to be on my iPhone and iPod. It will make good listening!!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Confessing Before Men

temp
And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land. (Jonah 1:9 KJV)

In 2009 our Senior Saints made their first day trip, visiting a museum with early Christian artifacts. Among the many pieces of funerary items, several depicted Jonah as well as Christ. On one side would be Jonah and the great fish – the other would show Christ and the cross. It’s a story every Christian knows because of the book of Jonah and the sign Jesus said would be given - in Matthew 12:39, Matthew 16:4, Luke 11:29-30.

We aren’t the only ones who know the story – Muslims for centuries have tended what is purported to be Jonah’s grave. This month, the Islamic State damaged or destroyed it.  Today, Nineveh is in need of a prophet to proclaim what God sent Jonah to do:

Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. (Jonah 1:1-2 KJV)

However, I have not received God’s word to be that person. It doesn’t appear that another has, either. I have been instructed to do what Jonah did in confessing before men, for though I am not a Hebrew, I do worship the Lord who made the sea and the dry land.  His son gave instructions, too:

Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32-33 KJV)

Paul saw that confession was truly good for our soul:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:9-10 KJV)

At first Jonah turned his back on God’s instruction, to the point that he left town and headed in the opposite direction. I doubt he believed he would survive being thrown overboard, but that suggestion was his:

Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous. And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you. (Jonah 1:11-12 KJV)

His shipmates didn’t take that suggestion – at first, but eventually, to save their lives:

So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging. (Jonah 1:15 KJV)

There are many more good lessons in the four short chapters of Jonah. Running from God is just one of the examples we see in mankind today. The one I like best, though, is what happens when we do confess:

So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. . . . .  And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not. (Jonah 3:5 . . . . 10 KJV)

Things work so much better when we believe God and let people know that we do.