Sunday, March 1, 2015

Pray Without Ceasing


I’ve always liked Luke’s writings to Theophilus, partly because it seems so personal – yet it can mean me since it’s Greek origins are θεός (God) and φιλία (friendship) can be translated as Friend of God. I’m not only God’s friend, but His child.  Luke offers what I see as personal viewpoints, too, as he adds explanation for Jesus’ words. For example:

And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; (Luke 18:1 KJV)

Jesus does not give a commandment for men to always pray and not faint, but Luke received messages in parables in chapter 18. The first sounds much as a nagging woman:

. . . There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? (Luke 18:2-7 KJV)

In this first example, we’re given the example of a judge who did not fear God, nor any other man, but gives in to a persistent petitioner. This could have been a current event His listeners would relate to. I believe most of us know of someone whose constant requests results in action. God hears our petitions for justice – but responds in His timing. We need to pray and not give up.

The second example is more personal. Which man’s prayer is for God to hear? Luke explains the answer in the verse preceding:

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18:10-14 KJV)

Attitude is extremely important. Isaiah made this clear centuries before:

Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2 KJV)

It’s not so much that He does not “hear”, for His omnipotence tells me He knows the requests from the unjustified, but His will is not sought and His response not anticipated. Unrepentant sinfulness separates me from God.  Even though Paul tells me to:

Pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17 KJV)

… the surrounding attitudinal verses are what determines my separation quotient.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Duration

temp
Soldiers were drafted in WWII for “the duration” - the time during which something continues. My Dad couldn’t pass the draft's required physical – he lost one eardrum in an automobile accident that cracked the other. Instead of heading for training, he worked as a fireman on the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe railroad. These four young men - in a Santa Fe railcar - obviously passed their physical. Though we have no idea what happened to them, I doubt their duration was comfortable.

When we accept Jesus as Christ, the promised Messiah, son of God, as our Redeemer, we sign up for the duration. And, “duration” to me means eternity.

That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:15-16 KJV)

That’s just part of a wonderful conversation Jesus held with Nicodemus. Apparently he signed up for the duration, working with Joseph of Arimathaea to see to Jesus’ burial:

And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. (John 19:38-40 KJV)

Under the circumstances, that’s a huge indication of faith on the part of these two men. Of course, they were influential, both in business and religion, placing them in a position to approach Pilate. But who would do that without faith in what Jesus taught? I wonder if his conversation with Jesus ran through his mind as Nicodemus gathered the spiced funeral mixture.

What is duration for a follower of Jesus? Not the few years of a war. Eternity, remember – eternal life. At the end of His ministry, He explained to His disciples:

And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: (Luke 24:44-46 KJV)

The duration for me is eternal, no matter if I forget my way for a while. Not because of anything I’ve done but because I trust Jesus and Paul wrote something I believe:

. . . for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 1:12b-13 KJV)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Socially Unacceptable Conversations

temp
Facebook is adding a “suicide prevention feature.” I do not find this harmful. An article discussing this quotes Holly Hetherington, Facebook content strategist:
Friends and family are concerned, but they’re worried about saying the wrong thing or somehow making it worse. Socially, mental illness and thoughts about suicide are just not something we talk about.
Facebook isn’t going to scan posts and locate those that appear to indicate suicide – that’s still left up to friends and family to notify Facebook, who will then send a message to the poster with suggestions of available help.

I found this interesting on a couple of levels – a very wide-open media acknowledges that there are some socially unacceptable conversations and offers to intercede to be of help. Family/friends could not approach the person because it is “not something we talk about.”

We can add politics and religion to the list of socially unacceptable conversations, can’t we? Why? Are these not some of the most life-altering aspects of our society? Why does our social structure decline to address these basics of social interaction? Because it might offend.

If you do a search on this blog for the word “offend”, you’ll find posts that include the word. It’s a good biblical word.

Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? (Matthew 15:12 KJV)

In the King James Version we find a form of the word in forty-seven different verses. Jesus used it many times. Once, that covers so much of today, He is quoted as saying:

And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. (Matthew 24:10 KJV)

That is evident today. The word “hate” has become descriptive of anyone who disagrees. The offended person calls them “haters.” That has become one of the most used descriptors, “They hate me because I’m (insert whatever describes differences).”

Unfortunately, it has been used to describe Christians who are seeking to live by what the Bible says God desires. Even the use of Bible verses is offensive. Why? The Bible tells us that, too:

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts. (Proverbs 21:2 KJV)

Not all wisdom is light-hearted and joking. Study the introduction to Proverbs which includes:

A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. (Proverbs 1:5-6 KJV)

Some of the “dark sayings” teach that we are not to look for “right” in our own eyes, but to seek God’s will. In all honesty, is that what is being done in our own lives? Are we less concerned than a software firm about another’s life?

I hear answers – of course we are concerned! We will help those in need! We will do . . . what? Consider what could be done for someone who is contemplating suicide. Then consider what is being done for those facing eternity without God – and we are not doing all we can to prevent that, are we? Why is it socially unacceptable to have this conversation? Can we talk about it with others?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Christ Died For ...?

temp
A pastor I follow on Facebook posted an interesting link on Wednesday, “4 Things Jesus Didn’t Die For.” I do not think the the list should be limited to the four items the author selected, but there is truth in what was written.

It appears the author is concerned about people equating patriotism or political causes with being Christ-like. In the middle of his article is a truth that I think should have led the discussion:
Christians have one message: the gospel of Jesus Christ’s atoning death, glorious resurrection, and coming Kingdom. Be defined by that; preach that and let everything else come second.
I do believe that a group of people that place God first and whose goals are to live within His will, doing the work He has set them to do, will be blessed abundantly -  but not necessarily as the world recognizes.

The verse I used yesterday would be a good lesson:

And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. (Deuteronomy 8:2 KJV)

One thing we have forgotten is how to be humble. Especially living under His proving what is in our hearts about keeping His commandments.  No, we have not been let through forty years in the wilderness as God’s chosen people – and we know they were chosen:

For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. (Deuteronomy 7:6 KJV)

No where does the Bible say that choice was removed from Israel. Yes, God’s promise was then and is now available to everyone who seeks Him:

That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:15-16 KJV)

“Whosoever” translates from the Greek πᾶς (Strong’s G3956)
Including all the forms of declension; apparently a primary word; all, any, every, the whole
The only requirement for belief is in Jesus – whom I see as Christ, Son of God, Savior – not an individual or a nation or a creed or a cause or commandments.

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:12 KJV)

Luke records Peter saying this while filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. I have not found where that message has been changed. Peter was able to deliver God’s message in a straightforward manner, unswayed by commitments to family, religion, nation or cause. He put God first, above all else.

That is the gospel message - the good news - that did, does and can in the future, change the world. It is our choice whether to believe it, or not; share it, or not.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

When We Can See “Why?”


And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. (Deuteronomy 8:2 KJV)

An entire generation roamed the wilderness, and here they are told specifically why. Now, I believe God in His omniscience knew what would happen – but the people had to know, too. He could have told them before the spies were sent in, but He has provided choices to us for very good reason.

We are not automatons. We have the ability to make choices based on reasoning. We can be told something is dangerous, and still determine to try it ourselves, testing the truth of the statement as well as our abilities. Mankind has been known to draw uncrossable lines, then make a way across them. So, why limit ourselves by keeping commandments?

Because we follow someone who crossed a line that still seems impossible – resurrection. And, we know why:

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 KJV)

All this came to mind in a lesson on Genesis 44 – Joseph’s second meeting with his brothers. The lesson and the chapter gave us three purposes for what choices we face:

To test our character, as Joseph tested his brothers character by putting the silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. He wanted to see their reaction to being judged guilty when they knew they were innocent. How would do we react when our character is tested?

To initiate self-examination, as Judah asked what they can do to prove their innocence. Yet he felt guilty, though of another crime, when in Genesis 44:16 he says “God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants.” Their guilt over selling Joseph into slavery remained.

To produce change, as Joseph wanted to see if his brothers would leave brother in slavery, again. Judah was the one who suggested selling Joseph, and here it is Judah who pleads for Benjamin – offering himself instead.

For me, the lesson goes way beyond these three bullet points, for it is Jesus, descendant of Judah, who offered Himself for me. And you. And whosoever:

That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:15-16 KJV)

When becoming a Christian – a follower of Christ – those three points are necessary. Is our character, our moral qualities, flawed? The way we can know is through self examination. What questions should we ask ourselves? The answers should lead us to Christ and a desire to follow Him. That will produce change.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:1-2 KJV)

Don’t stop here. Pick up a Bible and read the test of this one chapter to see what God inspired Paul to write about this transformed life, proving what is good, acceptable and the perfect will of God.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

It’s Old Stuff

addison_j
Sunday morning Pastor’s scripture took me right back to my junior choir days at Immanuel Baptist Church in Tulsa, where Mercer Shaw was our Music Director. He had us singing “The Spacious Firmament on High.” I looked it up.  In London, back in August of 1712, Joseph Addison published an essay in The Spectator - followed by a poem that was later put to music by Franz Haydn.
The Supreme Being has made the best arguments for his own existence in the formation of the heavens and the earth, and these are arguments which a man of sense cannot forbear attending to who is out of the noise and hurry of human affairs…The Psalmist has very beautiful strokes of poetry to this purpose in that exalted strain (Psalm xix). As such a bold and sublime manner of Thinking furnished out very noble Matter for an Ode, the Reader may see it wrought into the following one.

The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue ethereal sky,
And spangled heavens, a shining frame
Their great Original proclaim.
Th’unwearied sun, from day to day,
Does his creator’s powers display,
And publishes to every land
The work of an almighty hand.

Soon as the evening shades prevail
The moon takes up the wondrous tale,
And nightly to the listening earth
Repeats the story of her birth;
While all the stars that round her burn
And all the planets in their turn,
Confirm the tidings as they roll,
And spread the truth from pole to pole.

What though in solemn silence all
Move round the dark terrestrial ball?
What though no real voice nor sound
Amid the radiant orbs be found?
In reason’s ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice,
Forever singing as they shine,
"The hand that made us is divine."

Yes, Pastor’s scripture was Psalm XIX – ooops, 19. But he didn’t stop at the first six verses this poem covers – he continued to talk about conversion:

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. (Psalms 19:7 KJV)

You thought that was some new-fangled idea that came up in the New Testament. Sorry about that, converting the soul is old stuff.

There are other words in the following verses that we need to heed besides law – statutes, commandment, fear judgment. Why? David answered that question, too:

Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. (Psalms 19:11 KJV)

The Psalm ends with a verse that should be very familiar, and would be well for us to pray – often – for the Lord’s help to achieve the right attitude toward Him:

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. (Psalms 19:14 KJV)

May all that I say and do be acceptable to the Lord, my God, my redeemer.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Why “Christian”?

temp
We are reading a lot about Christians in current media – some good and some not so good. I was asked the question:
Christ never called himself a Christian, Christ never called his followers Christians. The apostles never called each other Christians. Christ never used an adjective to describe himself. So how are we to identify ourselves then?
I discovered the question was copied/pasted from an internet site that looks upon the word “Christian” as a pejorative, created by pagans to describe followers of Christ and not used by those followers to identify themselves. The author (no, I will not send you to the article – I did not find it uplifting, but somewhat divisive) suggests a number of other terms used in the books of the New Testament. Some I found applicable, some I did not.

So, why use the term “Christian” as a noun to describe a group of people? Go to the Greek used in the New Testament and find Matthew 1:1 – the first verse tells us Matthew was writing about the Messiah:

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1 KJV)

The Greek Χριστός which means “anointed” (Strong’s G5547) or the Hebrew משׁיח (Daniel 9:25) which also means “anointed” and is translated ”Messiah” (Strong’s H4899)

Acknowledging Jesus as the promised Jewish Messiah is part of believing His life carries God’s message to all mankind. Again in Matthew, we learn of Jesus calling to specific men:

And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. (Matthew 4:19 KJV)

They did what He asked, followed. For the next three years they learned from Him, by His examples, His words, His interactions with those who followed later. Not all considered Him the promised Messiah, but after the Resurrection, it became more evident. Those who followed Jesus began to spread the good news, the gospel message. As did Barnabas and Saul:

Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. (Acts 11:25-26 KJV)

The article originating the question makes the assumption that pagans in Antioch applied the term Χριστιανός (Strong’s 5546) “followers of Christ.” I do not see  that in this verse. Yes, Antioch was home to many pagans – but there were also people in a church, Barnabas and Saul were teaching “much people.” I believe it would be natural for those being taught to call these disciples “followers of Christ.” And, the word's definition explains why Jesus never referred to Himself as "Christian."

I pray that someone would look at my life and make the determination that I am a follower of Christ by the way I talk, the places I go, the things I do. For me there is no pejorative in being called a Christian. Though it can cause some problems, as Peter wrote:

Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. (1 Peter 4:16-19 KJV)

I appreciate the question's being copied and sent to me. It allowed me to research and learn more, confirming to me that being called Christian is humbling, knowing that I cannot match His life, but I can follow Him. The word describes what I want to do, how I would like to be remembered.