Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ending the Drought

 
It had not rained in Israel for three years. For a nation dependent on its agriculture and livestock for its survival, a three-year drought could be the end to life as they knew it.  The cause for the lack of rain was well-known to everyone, including the king, a morally corrupt man named Ahab.  Although most, including the king put the blame on a preacher named Elijah, God was behind it.

Three years earlier this prophet Elijah boldly proclaimed that the rain – the lifeblood of the nation - would cease until he said it would rain again.  I don’t know of any meteorologist or scientist that would be so brash.  But Elijah was because as a prophet he spoke for God.  So, you must be thinking the obvious: these people must have done something pretty bad for God to turn off the rain.

And you would be right.

When God gave His Law for this nation in its infancy He forbade the worship of other gods or the erection of idols representing those gods.  These people, the nation of Israel, belonged uniquely to God.  Their history was one of God, often though the miraculous, protecting the and preserving them against enemies seeking their obliteration.  He loved them. But He also demanded their loyalty.

Unfortunately, Israel’s leaders – many of its kings – led God’s people to abandon their relationship with the Lord and turn to idol worship.  It got so bad under Ahab and his queen, an idolaters named Jezebel, that God took the extreme measure of drought to get their attention and to turn their hearts back to Him.

As He had used Elijah to produce His judgment, He would use him to prove to the people that He, the Lord was truly God and the false god Baal was no god at all.

In a dramatic “competition” between God and Baal involving altars and fire falling from heaven, utilizing 450 of Baal’s prophet calling out to Baal and Elijah praying to God, it was proven irrefutably to the crowd that Baal was, indeed no God at all.

The apostle John wrote to the first century believers these simple words: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” in 1John 5::21. The New Living Translation renders his words, “Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God's place in your hearts.”

An idol is “anything that might take God's place in your hearts”.  Could be other people.  Could be ambition and career.  Could be possessions.  Could be lifestyle.  Could be recreation.  Anything.  It doesn't have to be a statue.  But no idol will do for you what Christ has done and will do. 

I sometimes wonder if the current track of our nation, one of abandoning the Judeo-Christian principles upon which our nation was founded, is not largely due to the church abandoning God. We say, “The Lord is our God”, while embracing our own “Baals”. 

If this generation of Christians is being pulled away by idols, what will be left for the next generation.  If the Holy Spirit right now spoke into your heart and revealed an idol in your life and said, “Choose.  You have to reject one and embrace the other.  Which is God in your life?”

We may still have time to choose and bring and end to the drought.

(Read the entire story in 1 Kings 17-18.)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

For Those Who Didn’t Come Home




The memory is still vivid in my mind.

It was a spring day fifty years ago.  I was ten years old when our family – mom, dad and four of us (of which I was the oldest) loaded up the Ford station wagon and drove from our home in rural Onslow County, NC to Rocky Mount.  Of the six who took the trip five would make the drive back home.

Previous family trips never had us stop in Rocky Mount.  We would always pass through on US Hwy 301.  Interstate 95 wasn’t yet built.  But Rocky Mount was never a destination for us, since our reason for heading that northerly direction was to go farther north to the Washington, D.C. area to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  This trip was different.

My memory doesn’t include some of the details.  I can’t recall if we were talkative or if we fought over our space in the back seat.  Most likely we did.  And maybe that was a good distraction for my parents.  Nor do I remember how long the trip lasted, although I know we were back home in the afternoon.  My guess is that I got to ride up front beside mom on the return trip, but I don’t remember her words or emotions.

But it had to be emotional for her.  We had taken Dad to the train depot in Rocky Mount, where he boarded a train.  Somewhere, I guess, he boarded a plane.  But he then spent a month in southern California training for survival.  When that month was up he got on another plane and wound up in southeast Asia – South Viet Nam – where he would spend the bulk, other than R(est) and R(elaxation) of the next twelve months. 

Dad is eighty years old now, but still very much a Marine.  He was just about to turn thirty when he deployed.  A father of 4 with one on the way.  Yet I don’t remember ever any regrets being expressed in my hearing, either before his time there or after.  Not a word. 

During those 13 months in absentia Dad missed some big events at home.  My first Little League season.  He wasn’t there to play catch or coach like he would in subsequent years.  My spiritual birth and then my baptism took place while he was gone. I joined the Scouts and went on my first camping trips without him.  He got word via the Red Cross that his number 5 child was born that fall. 

And I’m sure that there were other big happenings Dad missed out on in that year.  Honestly, everything he missed out on was a big deal to him.  And somehow my mother played the role of both parents those 13 months.  Four of us were in school.  A baby at home.  Yet, we never missed church.  I never missed a game or a Scout meeting.  I just missed having my dad at home. 

Am I resentful of that?  No way!  I knew from my earliest remembrances that my dad was a Marine  (and I was and am proud of his service) – that he had chosen this career that would take him from us not once, but twice for a year at a time in my childhood.  Mostly I have no regrets because at least my dad came home.

Monday is another Memorial Day, and with each one I remember my dad’s service, not because Memorial Day celebrates him.  It does not.  I think of Dad because of the stories he has told me of his Marine buddies who did not come home.  I see the tears well up in his eyes as he speaks of seeing “the bodies of Marines stacked up like cord wood”.

Fifty years ago I learned in a very personal way that freedom is not free.  I went to school with other Marine’s kids whose dads came home in flag-draped caskets.  It is for those Marines, sailors, soldiers, airmen and coasties – the ones who made the sacrifice of their own lives that others could be free – that we celebrated Monday. 

It might be easy to complain about the weather on Monday “ruining” our holiday.  But there would be no holiday had hundreds of thousands in our country’s history not laid down their lives so we could be free to celebrate. 

God bless the USA.  And thanks for all who gave it all.

I'm well aware that the little boy in the picture could have been me.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Using Jesus' Words (or not)

In the US politicians love to quote Jesus, especially when they take His words and apply them to their cause or agenda. 

Often those quotes are taken out of context and make it sound as though Jesus would support some modern social and moral issues when the entirety of Scripture shows that He would not.  The best known and misused words yanked out of context are probably "Judge not". 

Then when some Christian speaks up and says, "Hey!  That's not all that He said!", or "You got that all wrong", the Christian is chided for being "unchristian".  Happens all the time.

And then His instructions to His disciples about His kingdom are frequently and wrongly applied to man-made governments like ours.  That results in the government attempting to do the things Jesus gave to the church to do.  Then, as society accepts the government acting as a charitable organization the church and other charitable organizations are seen as unnecessary.  Taxes (compulsory) are raised to provide for these services, which takes away from the citizens' ability to contribute willingly to the church.

So, Jesus is convenient when His words can be used to support governmental social action.  But what about His words that don't support the cause?  Today I'm thinking of this parable, from Matthew 20 about a business man, his workers and equal wages.

“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard.He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.

“At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing.So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. So they went to work in the vineyard.  At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.

“At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’ They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’
“The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’


“That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage.  When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

“He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’

“So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”

I'm not hearing that parable quoted in the news by either the pundits or the agencies of government. 

I wonder what's wrong with it?  (I know the answer.)  It is against the law for the owner of the business to do what he wants with his money.  Apparently.



Monday, May 2, 2016

When Faulty Reasoning Wins

An important but difficult aspect of following Christ is being obedient to all He commanded.  One of the most common, well known of those commandments is frequently referred to as “The Golden Rule”: doing to others as we would have them do to us.  Certainly it is a simple rule to understand, but not so simple to follow. 

The founding of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845 was due to a disagreement strong enough to divide Christian brothers.  And the issue that brought the decision was slavery.  Baptists in the north did not believe slave owners should be qualified to serve overseas as missionaries.  They saw slavery as intrinsically evil and not a practice for Christians, especially those who would represent Christ to other cultures. The churches in the north said, “No!” 

The churches in the south disagreed,  and as a result separated from the northern Baptists, starting their own denomination that would allow slave owners to become foreign missionaries.  Why would Christians, including pastors defend something like slavery?  It’s not the kind of beginning that should have ever happened in a body of Christian people, but nonetheless it happened. 

I’ve recognized at least five poor reasons they, and others (even today) have used to justify choosing evil over righteousness.  All five led to such wrong then and do as well today when we seek to make wrong somehow right.

First, the dollar took precedence over godliness.  The economy of the south, with its large plantations had been built on the blood, sweat and tears of slaves.  It was for the sake of maintaining economic stability that slavery was seen as necessary.  The thought was, “If we condemn this practice our economy will suffer and likely collapse.”  Slavery was seen as “just the way it is down here.”  Somehow they missed Jesus’ words about the impossibility of serving God and money.  Only one can be God.

A second, while not likely a known phrase in 1845, was what we today know as “political correctness”.  Preachers bashing slavery would have rocked a boat they were unwilling to rock.  In many churches the greatest financial supporters were no doubt wealthy plantation owners.  Because slavery had been in practice at the time for about 200 years there was no one who could remember a time when slavery was unacceptable.  So, very few dared speak out against it because of its virtual universal acceptance below the Mason-Dixon. 

Because “everybody’s doing it” why challenge it and seem out of step.  That’s political correctness.  And history has shown that being PC and at the same time being morally correct is pretty much impossible.  They’re oil and water.

Third was a choice to redefine humanity.  The thought among the supporters of slavery was that whites were created to domineer over blacks.  It was a racist supremacy built on a lie that a black man was somehow less than fully human.  And, they reasoned, that is by the design of the Creator.  So, it must be the will of God to own other men and women.  Misguided, indeed.  But they bought their own lie.  They even preached it from their pulpits.

A fourth error was to twist the Scriptures so that they justified slavery.  After all, it’s true that you can find plenteous examples of slavery in the Bible, right?  (And you can find murder, torture, rape...) Yet they ignored the clear historic fact that biblical Christianity has always ended slavery in every culture in which the Gospel was free and adopted as the basis for civilization.

I’ll continue this next week.  And while it isn’t pretty, it is contemporary.  (And if you are wondering, yes, I am a Southern Baptist.  But, I came along a few years after 1845.)

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Freedom Has to Work Both Ways

Yesterday proved to be a "head scratching" day for me.  First, Dr. Carson endorsed Mr. Trump.  During the debates Trump had pounded Carson, as he did the others on the stage, with his crass attacks.  Yet, a week after dropping out of the race Carson said they had "buried the hatchet", and Trump was his man for the job.

While I'm all for forgiveness it just seemed out of character for Gentle Ben to throw his support to a man who seems to be polar opposite.  But that's the irritating beauty of America.  Any citizen can choose his/her candidate.  That's his/our right.  While I might disagree with Carson, I do not have the right to silence him.

Later in the evening, in Chicago a Trump rally was cancelled because protesters inside the venue were so loud and threatening that Trump would not have been heard and the potential for violence was too high.  Thus, in Chicago, the leading candidate of his party was silenced by those disagreeing with him. 

Our Constitution's 1st Amendment reads like this:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Like it or not, we all are guaranteed this "freedom of speech", even presidential candidates whose words or proposals we might find offensive or even immoral.  Some might defend the protesters by invoking their freedom of speech.  Don't they have the right to speak up and from the rooftops, if necessary shout their opposition.  Of course, they do.

But the same amendment also guarantees the right of a candidate's supporters to peacably assemble.  That right was denied them in Chicago by Trump's detractors.  It was not their intention to hear Trump, but to stop him from speaking.  And they succeeded.  But in doing so they trampled on the bedrock of our civilization.  And that makes their success an affront to all Americans, for it chips away at the liberties we all enjoy.

When the freedom of speech is attacked we should all be concerned.  I, perhaps more than most appreciate what that freedom provides.  My calling in life is to speak the Gospel of Christ.  The first amendment protects my ability as an American to do so.  It also prevents those who may not agree with the Gospel (and all it implies) from interrupting me or attempting to silence me or any other preacher.  My church is guaranteed the right to assemble peacefully.  It's the first amendment that provides that protection.

My concern is that if such attacks on the Constitution are allowed to continue in the political realm, it won't be long before they will be permitted in the religious as well.  So, it's for that reason that while I may personally disagree with Carson's endorsement and Trump's rhetoric, I will stand for their right to express them.  That freedom must work both ways or it ceases to be freedom. 

For those who want to silence a candidate, the Constitution provides a way to do that.  And it is equal across the board.  The 15th amendment says, The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

So, if you don't like a candidate don't vote for him or her!  Let your vote be your voice.  It's still your freedom and right as a citizen.  


 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Never Give Up!


Is there a greater college basketball rivalry than Carolina/Duke?  Probably not.  They played Wednesday night and like all their other games it was nip and tuck and literally down to the last possession and final shot.

Carolina is the better, more experienced and stronger team.  They were ranked #5, while Duke was way down at #20 nationally.  And they played at the Dean Dome, Carolina’s home court.  It was no wonder then, that Duke was always playing catch up.  I thought that when the UNC lead was at eight points late in the half that it was their win.

But Duke never quit.   

They began to whittle at that lead in the waning minutes, and with just over 15 seconds remaining took a 1 point lead.  Still, all the Tar Heels had to do was score one bucket to win.  But the Duke defense was tenacious, and the last shot from Carolina was an air ball that landed in the hands of the Blue Devils.  Game over.

The lesson for us today is never quit.  Don’t give up, even when it seems there is no hope.  Our God is our hope, and He is always with us.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Bringing Paris (Too) Close to Home

 
--> The world can be overturned in 32 minutes.

Like you, I watched in utter disbelief Friday night, as the news seemed to be “breaking” every other minute from Paris.  Explosions at the soccer stadium filled with fans.  Shootings at a cafĂ©.  And a concert hall filled with young people held hostage, then executed one by one until the police arrived.

Modern technology allows us to see such things in “real” time.  It’s both a blessing and a curse.  Yes, I want to know what is happening as it happens.  Not sure why, though.  But seeing actual death lying in the streets as it happens…I find that disturbing. 

In the days that have followed the spin masters have been hard at work, seeking to make some sense out of the atrocity.  Blame is cast in every imaginable direction.  Some claim it to be the fault of Western politicians.  In other corners it is the fault of open borders and wholesale immigration.  Or maybe it’s purely religious – whether it is Christianity or Islam, although France is largely a humanist society.  Or its blame is to be put on Israel.  I’ve even read where someone is saying it is a gun control problem! 

But the reality is closer to home.  Much closer.

Human wickedness is found everywhere.  That’s not to say in any way that you or I are guilty of what happened in Paris, or that what takes place regularly in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and other place on earth where barbarism regularly seems to act in cruelty.  But the ability to live wickedly isn’t far from any of us. 

The same innate sinfulness that possesses the terrorist and drives him to slaughter dwells in every human heart.  It just manifests itself differently.  And of course a person’s worldview comes into play.  The majority of us aren’t driven by our beliefs to destroy those with whom we disagree. 

But what makes me different than the man who strapped on a belt laden with explosives, fully intending to end others’ lives with his own death?

One thing.  Grace.

The God who created us dispenses that grace that changes hearts.  He alone is the source of that kind of grace.  The Bible tells us that it is “…by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift.”

“Saved”.  To some nothing more than an old-fashioned term from the vocabulary of a fire and brimstone preacher.  That’s unfortunate.  “Saved” from what?  From ourselves.

You see, it’s our nature that is damaged by our innate sin (rebellion against God) that causes us – you…me…anyone to do wrong.  Your “wrong” might be running a red light while in a hurry to get to work.  Someone else's wrong might be extortion or embezzlement.  For yet another it could be an act of heinous violence that takes life.
God says He has available grace to make the changes necessary in the life of anyone who will put their faith in His Son Jesus.  Those changes are the result of being “saved” by that grace.  It’s not anything I can drum up or produce by any religious efforts on my part.  It’s all about God.

And it’s the only thing that separates me from those deranged killers in Paris.  God’s grace.  That’s it.  That’s a humbling thought.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Without Ceasing...

The other night I woke up repeatedly.  No, it wasn't an old man thing.  I'm not there yet.  I think it was the Lord who kept interrupting my sleep.

And, no, I didn't here Him speak.  Didn't feel His touch.  It wasn't a wind coming through my window.  Each time I woke it was to pray. 

Pastors carry burdens for the sheep in their flocks.  When they hurt or are straying it weighs heavily on our hearts.  It's not something we can easily block from our minds, although that's probably not what we should be doing anyway.

I don't remember everyone I prayed for while lying in bed that night.  But I remember there were several.  And they don't know I prayed on their behalf.  That's not important. 

24/7 is this calling.  Sometimes the shepherd has to sleep with one eye open, so to speak.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Lesson from California's Redwoods

Every Christian needs to be connected in a healthy local church.  It can't be an option.  Here's one reason why.