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Saturday, May 27, 2017

How do We Keep the Peace when War is All Around?

How do We Keep the Peace when War is All Around?
Most of us start out in life with so many dreams and ideals!  Dreams and ideals for our children, our families and our mission in life.  But then we watch our dreams crumble one by one and we become hurt and angry.  A close friend’s beloved child turns to drugs and they watch helplessly as this daughter is lost in another world.  Caught up in her alternate world the daughter harms her children and tears up other lives.  Another friend dedicates his lifetime tirelessly serving as a fireman, but then he finds when he is old and used up that his promised retirement fund has been stolen by the city he spent his life protecting.  Now his family has nothing to live on in their old age.
 Our workplaces, homes and communities are riddled with conflicts, fights and arguments.  Many of us find ourselves upset and angry at the unfairness.  We soon become prejudiced against other persons or races or groups.  And we have good reasons it seems. Jesus has called us to peace, but our hatred for another person or group can soon take that peace away.   And many of us find ourselves angry and upset.  And our hearts are not at peace but are shaken by war. What do we do about this? 
When we have a conflict or an argument we want a solution.  And the solution we want is for the person or group that is troubling us to change.  To do things our way. We often dig in our heels and justify our position.  Our position is right and the other position is wrong.  We tell the enemy how wrong they are. And how much they have made us suffer.  We complain and insist that they change and agree with our opinion.  We try to teach the offender the right way. Then we nag and badger them.  And then we wonder why they are so unreasonable when we haven’t convinced them that they are wrong!
We often don’t see the enemy as a person or try to see the conflict we are having with him  through his eyes.  We see the enemy as an object that is in our way. He or she is a bad person messing up our world. A person who has robed us of our peace.  Made us a victim. And has no right to do what he/she has done. And when we dehumanize the enemy long enough we have no trouble hurting him or her.  We can take our enemy to court and sue or we can gossip about him/her and ruin reputations. In our eyes our enemy is a looser. When we play these games, we are inviting the very thing that we are fighting against – a solution.  We have taken the argument from peace to war. 
Yes, we so often are choosing war.  We seem to have a need for war.  Being mad is invigorating.  We gather others around us to agree with our side and we all agree that he/she is a monster. We feel so superior and we go to extremes proving to others that we are right and good and he/she is wrong and bad. Inwardly our hearts are not at peace but at war.
Even though we humans have developed good strategies for negotiating conflicts, we still are often unable to settle disputes on our own.  Too often we build walls instead of bridges.  Without God’s supernatural help, we may often remain stuck in disputes, battles and arguments indefinitely.  But with God, all things are possible.     
Scripture tells us how to handle our conflicts and arguments. And God’s ways are not our ways.  God’s way for us is forgiveness. Our heavenly Father commands us to forgive others who have hurt us.  Forgiveness is a gift given to those who do not deserve it. God has freely forgiven us of our sins. Even when we didn’t deserve it. (1 John 1:9, Hebrews 10:17, Psalms 103:12) And because God has forgiven us, we are commanded to be children of our heavenly Father and follow His ways and freely forgive others. (Matthew 6:12, Mark 11:25, Matthew 18:21-22, Luke 6:37, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 2 Corinthians 2:7-11)  
Unforgiveness is a poison.  It poisons us if we hold onto it, causing us to become bitter and resentful. We cannot have good emotional health while we hold unforgiveness, resentment and bitterness in our hearts!  Our heavenly Father wants us to live out our lives with big warm  hearts full of love and peace and joy.  Not hard angry hearts full of unforgiveness and bitterness. We cannot be full of love and hate at the same time. 
But we cannot do what God asks us to do in our own power!  We will need to ask God to give us the power to love and forgive, especially when the enemy is truly evil.  So, we must learn to follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit.  Scripture says that: “God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5) We are to be “rooted and grounded in God’s love” (Ephesians 3:17-19)  
 Are we receiving God’s love?  We can’t give away what we don’t have!  We need to be filled with God’s love in order to pass it on.  We can pray for the Holy Spirit to give us a revelation of God’s love. The Holy Spirit has been given to believers to be our Teacher and Guide and Helper and God will answer that prayer and give us more love.  Also, perhaps we can memorize Scripture that describes God’s love for us and hide it in our hearts.
And if forgiving our enemies isn’t enough, we are called to go even further.  We are told to not only forgive those who harm us but to pray for our enemies and to bless them!  Let’s read these passages for ourselves: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  (Matthew 5:44)   Bless and pray for those who curse you, implore God’s blessings upon those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:28) And: “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them.” (Romans 12:14) We may see our enemies in a different light when we pray for them.  
We followers of Christ are also commanded not to take revenge on a person or group who has harmed us.  Scripture says: “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.  And again, the Lord will judge and determine and solve and settle the cause and the cases of His people.” (Hebrews 10:30.)  The Bible also says: “Judge not, lest you be judged…”  (Matthew 7:1-3) God in heaven is a God of love but also a God of justice and it is His to judge and to punish rebellious people.  Not ours. We are in over our heads when we try to do what only God can do. 
Jesus promised His followers peace.  “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  (John 14:27) Jesus also told us that if we followed Him, we would be persecuted and have problems and troubles in this life.  But we were not to be afraid or troubled.  We would have His promised peace. 
When troubles and conflicts and battles come our way, let’s try to resolve them God’s way - with love and patience. Let’s listen to the other with understanding but never give in to evil.   Let’s take the high road and forgive and pray for our enemies as God has commanded.  And let’s hold on to that wonderful peace that Jesus left us.  Even when there is war all around.
Some of the Scriptures and ideas in this blog have been taken from Joyce Meyer’s book, Beauty for Ashes”    

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Basic Beliefs that All Christians hold in Common

Basic Beliefs that All Christians hold in Common
Last Sunday our Sunday School class had a special speaker, a respected retired Methodist minister, a kind sweet man who had taught our class in the past and had blessed us with his teaching. So we all relaxed and settled in looking forward to the lesson he had for us. 
Our Methodist minister first started out by mentioning that he was a changed man from when he had taught our class earlier. He told the class that he was more liberal now in his faith. And then without warning, he loudly began announcing to the class in a dramatic way while pounding on the lectern that Jesus did not die for our sins.  That He is not our Savior.  That logically such a notion didn’t make sense. That God gave Jesus to us as a great teacher, an example. That God would be a terrible father if He were to send his son to die for us.  I was shocked beyond belief.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. 
Before we could stop this man, he denounced the Bible as the Word of God and assured us all that we were all good enough on our own and didn’t need a Savior, insisting that God was too loving to be bothered with the sin problem.
 I felt like this minister’s forceful words hit me in the gut and for the rest of the day I felt physically ill. This minister did not preach the beliefs of his church.  The Methodist Church believes that Jesus died for our sins and that He is the Son of God and Savior. Methodists, as well as all other Christian churches regularly observe the Lord’s supper where we take the bread and drink the wine to remember that our Lord’s body was broken for us and His blood was shed for us.  On nearly every Christian church we see a cross, reminding us of the sacrifice our Savior has made for us. In fact, believing that Christ is our Savior and Lord is the cornerstone belief of our Christian faith.  Everything else is built on this Cornerstone. If we remove our faith in Christ as Savior, we are not Christian.       
We Christians may disagree on many minor issues.  Whether we have infant baptism or not.  Whether we believe in the primacy of the Pope or not?   Evolution or creation?   Should we have liturgical church services or an informal church services? Do we have a high view of Scripture or a low view? We don’t have to agree with our brothers and sisters in Christ on these or many other issues to still be One in Christ.  But there are several basic beliefs of the Faith that all Christians believe. And these issues are non-negotiable.
So what are the beliefs that define the Christian faith?  Down through the ages the Church has always had to contend and fight for the Faith. There have always been people like our minister on Sunday who have tried to change the Faith around to their liking. In the third century, the leaders or bishops from all the Christian churches came together and with much fasting and  prayer and God’s guidance, these bishops agreed on the basic beliefs of the Christian Faith.  Together they wrote down the basic Christian beliefs in a document which is named the Nicene Creed.  And now for nearly the last two thousand years all the Christians around the world have adhered to this Nicene Creed.
 The central belief in this creed is the belief that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior and that He died for our sins.  These are the churches or denominations of Christians around the world that hold to the beliefs spelled out in the Nicene Creed: the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Baptist Church, the Pentecostal Church and the Methodist Church.  Many smaller denominations and churches also adhere to the Nicene Creed.  The Mormon Church, the Jehovah’s Witness Church and the Unity and Unitarian Churches do not believe in Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior and they do not adhere to the Nicene Creed so they are not part of the worldwide Christian Church. 
Here is a copy of the Nicene Creed:  We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.  We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father, through Him all things were made.  For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and became truly human.  For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate: He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day, He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures: He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.  We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father.  Who with the Father is worshipped and glorified, who has spoken through the Prophets.  We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.    
Scripture is full of warnings about false teachings, false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing.  (Matthew 7:15) Our minister last Sunday insisted that the belief that Jesus died for us was not logical and didn’t make sense! 
Scripture says: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the Wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23-25) 
We come to Jesus not through logical reasoning but through faith.  And only with faith are we able to see Him!  And when we believe that Jesus is our Savior a miracle occurs! The Holy Spirit comes into us and nothing is ever the same again!  We are born again! Jesus is ours!  What a foretaste of glory divine!   But there will always be those who come around and tell us that our Savior isn’t real.  Make sure you never listen to those folks.  

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Protect your Soul from Forces that Could Destroy It

Protect your Soul from Forces that Could Destroy It
Jesus gave us this warning: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul:  But rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) and (Luke 12:4-5) What does this warning mean?   How can our souls be destroyed?  And who should we fear might try to destroy them? 
We are all naturally concerned about our physical safety?  We know that our world is not always a safe place.  And that there are people and situations out there that can harm our health and our bodies. Enemies, thieves, murderers, stalkers, con-men, terrorists, arsonists and more.  But Jesus is telling us not to be afraid of the folks who can harm us physically or even kill us, but instead to be afraid of those who can harm us spiritually.  Or those who can destroy our soul.  And our body too.
Jesus is giving us the eternal perspective.  He sees the whole picture and we don’t.  When we die and our earthly mortal body is destroyed here on earth, it will be resurrected into an immortal body in heaven. But Jesus tells us instead of being afraid of those who can kill our mortal bodies, we are to fear those who can destroy our soul and body in hell.  The temporal death of our body is a small thing compared to the eternal death of our soul. Along with the body. 
In this world, we are faced with two different kinds of enemies. First there are the unseen spiritual enemies that can destroy the soul.  And second, there are the obvious enemies – the people or groups who may treat us badly and reject and harass us, and even kill us.  These are the enemies Jesus is telling us not to worry about.  Jesus sees the big picture and He promises that through Him we will someday be victorious over our all of our problems and enemies in heaven.  
 Jesus promises: “For everyone born of God overcomes the world.  This is the victory that has overcome the world, even your faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world.  Only he/she who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”  (1 John 5:4-5)   Scripture tells us that Jesus will be victorious over everything. (John 15:33) And we will share in His victory.  So Jesus is telling us that our most painful troubles will be taken care of when we are with Him in glory.  There’s light at the end of the tunnel!    
But the other darker spiritual enemies, have the power to kill the soul as well.  And Jesus tells us to be afraid of this enemy. An enemy or enemies who are battling for your soul even now.  And they are using the more obvious enemies (those people who persecute you) as their cover.  There is a spiritual battle going on in this world and we are in it whether we like it or not.
The Baker Deep End Blog speaks about this enemy who can destroy the soul with these words: “The demonic powers that are greedy for the soul of God’s people are using their very desire for justice and vengeance as the bait on the hook.  The people of light are never more at risk than when they are lured into fighting the darkness with more darkness.”   In other words, when someone is mean to you and hurts you, you are not to pay them back with that same spirit of meanness and hurtfulness.  Jesus commands us: “Do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek, also.”  (Matthew 5:39)  In other words, taking revenge against your enemy  is off the table for followers of Christ. 
We Christians have been given our marching orders. God has given us commandments telling us how to live our lives.  We are to march to a different drummer than the people in the secular world!  And we will always be out of step with the secular world on many issues. Jesus commands us to “Bear one another’s burdens, and forgive whatever grievances you have with one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  (Colossians 3:13) 
 And when Jesus was asked how many times we should forgive another person, He answered, “Forgive seventy times seven”.  (Matthew 18:22)  I don’t think Jesus wanted us to do the math!  I think He meant that we should always just keep on forgiving! 
We are commanded to honor our fathers and our mothers.  (Exodus 20:12)  And not to bear false witness against one another (Exodus 20:16)  Not to commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14) And not to covet or lust after what our neighbor has.  His wife, house, car, etc. (Exodus 20: 17) We are commanded to love God first and not put anything before our love for Him. (Exodus 20:3)  To remember the Sabbath and not work on it but enjoy it and rest in the Lord. (Exodus 20:8) We are to follow Jesus and serve one another in love.  Refuse to play the world’s games of one up-man’s ship. Walk gently and humbly through our days. God promises that “The meek will inherit the earth.”  (Matthew 5:5 and Psalm 37:11)  
Jesus says: “If you love Me keep My commandments!” (John 14:15) If we want to obey God’s commands in Scripture then the Holy Spirit will help us and make the way joyful. We are to be a peculiar people.  So peculiar that we don’t completely fit into our secular world. 
The secular world doesn’t go by our rules.  They can’t understand our spirit of humility because their spirit and values are different.  The secular world values the spirit of pride.  Power and competition.  The spirits of lust and greed.  Fame and fortune.  The freedom to do things our way, not God’s way.  We value our individuality and our money. And Scripture says that we cannot worship God and money at the same time.  (Matthew 6:24)
A few days ago, we watched some World War Two movies showing the Gestapo and German S.S. soldiers angrily rounding up villages of poor Jewish people at gun point. We watched in horror as the proud German soldiers strutted around screaming out orders and kicking and beating the terrified people while forcing them to dig their own graves.  The film continues rolling as these soldiers march around swearing and pulling crying children from their mother’s and then shooting all these vulnerable men, women and children.  And then they rush to bring in another group of cowering families and continue their bloody massacres. Did these soldiers sear their consciences when they bought into Hitler’s mentality?  Did they harm their souls when they committed these brutal crimes?
This genocide occurred because Hitler taught the German people that they were superior to all the other races.  That the Jewish people and other non- Arian races of people were inferior to them – that the world would be a better place by getting rid of the Jews and other people of so called inferior races. These soldiers chose to believe the lie that God was with them because they were superior.  And because they were superior they had the right to kill those inferior people and steal their lands and homes and riches! Millions of men, women and little children were massacred throughout Europe by Hitler’s soldiers.  And many of these soldiers who killed so many of these helpless people had these words written on their belt buckles: “Gott mit Uns” which means “God with Us”.  Was God really with them?  Not the God of the Bible.
I don’t know all that Jesus meant when He left us the warning that we should fear those who can destroy our souls.  But I wonder if it could possibly be that the ways of pride and brutality, unforgiveness and hard heartedness, lust and greed, - these vices may sicken our souls and ruin us and keep us from staying human?  Could these things be poison to our very soul?  Do we choose to go along with the pride and prejudice of our secular world or do we choose to follow Jesus on that joyful but narrow path of humility and love and forgiveness?  Which will it be? 

Friday, May 5, 2017

In Jesus' Name

In Jesus’ Name

Violent storms swept through North Texas a couple of nights ago, bringing hail, heavy rains and tornados.  During the storm a car is blown off the highway landing upside down, mostly underwater and sinking deeper by the minute into a nearby lake. 

Several cars driving by stop and six or seven people jump from their cars and rush to the scene.  Someone records what happens next on their cell phone and our local news station played it back for us last night.  We watched as the would-be rescuers in the darkness of night frantically try and fail and try again to save people from drowning in the sinking car.

“Don’t help us,” we can hear a hysterical woman screaming from the front seat of the sinking car.  “My babies are in the back.  Get them!  My babies, my babies!”  “Get the babies” a man’s cries could be heard joining the woman.  Both father and mother are in a panic and insist that their babies be saved first.  Several long minutes pass as we watch nervously. The group of good Samaritans struggle feverously to smash the back window and pull the two babies out from their watery grave. They try again and again.

Finally, one lifeless baby is pulled from the submerged car and then the other baby.  Neither baby is breathing and the frantic rescuers don’t waste a second.  Two of the rescuers start CPR on the two babies while the rest of the rescuers pray around them.  The mother and father pull themselves out of the submerged car and fall on the ground gasping.  One baby starts breathing and then stops again.  “Come on little one, come on” you can hear one of the rescuers begging as he works over the baby. 

“Father, in the Name of Jesus, give life back to this baby,” another rescuer prays aloud.  “Yes Jesus,” another agrees.  We watch nervously and we can hear the volunteer rescuer praying as he gives the baby CPR.  “In Jesus’ Name let this baby breathe” a woman begs.  “Yes, in Jesus Name,” other rescuers join in.   The babies are lifeless and not breathing.  We think the babies are dead.

We watch in tears as this group of volunteer rescuers who don’t know one another are now all praying and struggling together to get these two babies to breathe again.  This motely group suddenly thrown together in the night by this terrible accident are all praying and working together as One!  Two in the group are Hispanic, one black, one Asian and three white.  Four men and three women and all One.  One in the name of Jesus. On a dark and stormy night, the mystical and international Body of Christ shows up and comes together on a lone Texas highway to become the hands and feet of Jesus.

I am crying when the first baby starts to breathe again and really crying when the second baby starts breathing on his own. The parents are crying too.  “Praise God,” and “Thank You Jesus” can be heard around the group.  Two days later in the hospital where the baby girl is recuperating and doing well, the group comes together again to meet the mother and father of the babies under better conditions.  The T.V. cameras are rolling as they all exchange love and hugs and “thank yous”   And everyone is crying again.  But this time they are all crying tears of joy.

Why were these volunteer rescuers praying “in Jesus’ Name”?  Because Scripture teaches that we come to the Father through Jesus our Savior. And because we are told in Scripture to pray “in Jesus’ Name.” Scripture records Jesus’ words; “I (Jesus) will do whatever you ask in My Name so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  You may ask Me anything in My Name and I will do it.”  (John 14:13) This is just one of many Scriptures giving believers this precious promise that our prayers will be answered if they are in His Name and if they are in His will. 

But you may ask, if Jesus promises to answer our prayers, then why are so many of our prayers not answered the way we want them to be?   God sees the whole picture and we don’t. Sometimes we pray for wrong things that are not in “His Name” or in His will.  And other times we wait a long time for our prayers to finally be answered.   

Over and over in Scripture we read that we should have faith in God.  But what is faith?  Scripture gives “faith” this definition.  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  (Hebrews 11:11)  Wow!  How in the world can we have evidence (or know for sure) that our prayer will be answered when we can’t see the evidence or have it yet?  In this world we have been taught to only believe in what we see and feel. Biblical faith is believing what we haven’t seen or felt yet!  The definition of “faith” in the Bible is backwards from what we do naturally in this world. 

We believers in Christ are living in this world, but we are citizens of another world – the kingdom of God.  Instead of looking at the problems and troubles in this world and becoming discouraged, we look to our God and Father to be able to take care of our problems.
 Scripture says that one day Jesus was walking on the water and He invited Peter to walk out on the water to Him. Peter started out walking on the water to Jesus and he was doing just fine.  But then Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and looked down at the water.  And Peter began to sink when he looked down at the waves. But then Peter looked back to Jesus and he could walk on the water again.  (Matthew 14:22-36) It’s the same with us.  When we look to Jesus and we trust in God we can walk in faith through all of our problems.   But when we look at the waves (our problems) we often start doubting and sinking!  When we pray, it is important where we keep our attention. 

Other Scriptures tell us this: “And this is the confidence we have in Him (Jesus) that if we ask anything in His will, we know we have the petitions we desire of Him.”  (1 John 5:14-15)  Did you get that?  That Scripture verse is saying that we can KNOW that we will have the answers from God if we are praying for something that is in His will. We don’t always know what His will is.  But in some cases, we do know His will.

 Scripture says that “it isn’t Gods’ will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  (2 Peter 3:9) If we pray for a loved one or a friend to come to repentance and have eternal life, and we believe, then we know that God will give us what we are asking because we are praying in His will.  It may take a long time for the prayer to be answered but we can rest in the fact that it will be done.  It is one of our many precious promises! 

The Bible tells us: “Ask and it shall be given to you, Seek and you shall find: Knock and it shall be opened unto you.” (Matthew 7:7) And: “We have not because we ask not” (James 4:3)  Let’s start asking and seeking and knocking!  And let’s remember to ask ”In Jesus’ Name.”