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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving
 
This is the time of year when we celebrate Thanksgiving and stop to give thanks to God for all His faithfulness and His care and gifts.  But do we remember to be thankful only once a year?  Or are we in the habit of being thankful to God all year round?
 
Fussing and finding fault seems to come naturally to me.  Learning to have a thankful spirit is the only thing I can do to stop my complaining spirit. So, I often must try to stop my old habit of complaining by learning a new habit of thanksgiving.  And of thanking and praising God. Thanking Him for His faithfulness and love and thanking Him for all His good gifts!
 
Scripture says: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”   (1Thessalonians 5:18) This is one of hundreds of verses where our heavenly Father asks us to have thankful hearts to Him.  Scripture tells us that our grateful heart means so much to God. Gratitude is a way of living and a way of seeing our world.  You could call it “thanks living”. 
 
Something happens! It’s a mystery but there is power released in thanksgiving and praise to God!  Power in giving God the glory! Power in the humility to not think that we did it all by ourselves! Praise creates an opening in the spiritual atmosphere where people can better hear the Word and hold onto it through faith.
 
We can also remember to thank the people around us – our loved ones and our neighbors and friends. We can make gratitude a way of living.  And a way of seeing.  Always looking for the good in others and giving thanks. We might be surprised at how much love others are showing us if we start looking for it. 
 
When a family member or friend doesn’t take time to thank us for a gift we have given them, it can take some of the joy out of our giving gifts to that one in the future.  And when we only find fault and seldom remember the good in a family member or a friend, it also takes some of the joy out of the relationship. God meant for our close relationships to bring us joy. But we can kill that joy if we don’t keep an attitude of gratitude.
 
 
A story is told in the Bible of Jesus healing ten lepers. (Luke 17:11-19) Ten people dying of a painful dreaded disease.  A disease that was contagious.  So contagious that lepers in that day had to live outside of the town and away from their loved ones. All ten lepers left Jesus rejoicing that they had been miraculously healed!
 
 But only one of the ten lepers came back to Jesus to thank Him.  This one healed man fell at Jesus’ feet and loudly thanked Him and praised God for his healing.  “Where are the other nine?” Jesus asked.   When the healed leper finished thanking Jesus and was leaving, Jesus told him: “Your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:19) When Jesus said that, did He mean that the healed leper’s thankful spirit had something to do with his faith?  Does our faith in God grow when we learn to thank Him for His goodness?  
 
This story, as well as many others in Scripture, remind us that God desires that we be thankful people.  He waits for our praise and our thanksgiving.  Jesus was glad when the one leper returned to give thanks, but He missed the other nine when they were too busy or forgot.  Do we thank God each day for His blessings to us or are we too busy to be thankful?
 
So many people are living with depression today.  We have so many troubles that sometimes we can feel depressed and overwhelmed.  We try to take care of our problems on our own and often fail.  It can feel like it is all too much for us to handle.
 
But when we stop and give our problems to God and praise and thank Him for the help that He is giving us, hope and joy in God replaces our depression.  Singing and praising God with thanks can break the power of fear off us and help us to get rid of unbelief and doubt.  Praising and thanking God is not only powerful, but it is warfare!
 
My grandmother was only 30 years old when her husband, my grandfather, died of meningitis.   Grief stricken, lonely and depressed. She told me she didn’t want to live. Frightened because she had so little money, she worried that she would never be able to raise her two small children by herself.
 
 Then one Sunday in her little church the Lord spoke to her.  They were singing the old hymn, “Count Your Blessings.”   The words go: “Count your blessings name them one by one.  Count your blessings, see what God has done.  Count your blessings.  Name them one by one.  Count your many blessings see what God has done.”   The Lord spoke to my Grandmother and told her to start counting all that He was doing for her. She started counting her blessings and she kept on counting and thanking God. And she found the strength to move on and run her farm by herself and successfully raise her two children. She was a great strength in my life because she was a woman of joy and faith and thanksgiving to God. 
 
If learning to count her blessings could help my Grandmother years ago in her darkest hour, it could help you and me too.  Let’s learn to be more thankful all year round.  Scripture says: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say, rejoice.”  (Philippians 4:4) 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 


 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 
 

 
 
 

 

 
 


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Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Bible and Sexual Morality

The Bible and Sexual Morality
 
The Bible starts right out by telling us that God created humans and He created us in His own image. He created us as sexual beings, male and female, and with a free will to do whatever we want to do.  Already that sounds dangerous, doesn’t it?  And God said that that was all very good!
 
Scripture says that the first man God created was named “Adam”.  (Genesis 2) God loved Adam and said that it was not good for man (Adam) to be alone.  So, God gave Adam a woman (Eve) to love and to become his wife. And God told Adam and Eve to have children and take care of the earth. (Genesis 2) God, the Creator, Father and Giver of all good gifts, gave Adam and Eve and all us humans the gift of marriage and sex and love and responsibility and family. And God said that that was all very good. 
 
But along with God’s good gifts of sex and marriage, God also gives us boundaries and rules for how we are to use these sexual gifts of His. God loves us and knows what is best for us. He wants to protect us and our loved ones from harm.  And warn us that our sexuality can be used the wrong way. As a fire burning out of bounds can cause great destruction, burning up everything in its path, so our sexuality, burning out of bounds, can destroy our families, harm our children and weaken our communities.  And leave us and our children alone and disillusioned as well.
 
But if we use our God given sexuality inside of His boundaries, we and our loved ones can live the good life!  The life God desires for us.  He desires that we find “true love” if we want it and that our sexual love, like a fire, will brighten and warm our families and influence and bless our communities.
 
God plans for us to enjoy a strong loving marriage and share our life with a faithful husband or wife, if we wish.  God gives us our sexuality to help make this happen and to bond us together in a great love affair and marriage union and children. A marriage union that He personally blesses (Proverbs 5:3-20, Malachi 2:14) God dreams such big dreams for us, but to make those dreams happen we need to do our part and stay within His boundaries and obey His laws.
 
There are good reasons why the Bible is full of prohibitions against any sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and a woman.  God’s Word forbids sexual prostitution. (Leviticus 19:29; Deuteronomy 22:25-27; Proverbs 6:25-26 and sexual violence (Deuteronomy 22:25-27) God’s Word forbids sex with animals (Leviticus 18:23; 20:15-16) and forbids sex with relatives (Leviticus 18:23: 20:15-16) and other laws regarding sex outside of His boundaries. (Leviticus 18:22: Romans 1:26-27)  
 
The Bible also forbids sex between a man and a woman who are not married to each other. Sex between a man and woman who are unmarried is called “fornication” in the Bible.  Whereas sex between a married person with anyone other than their spouse is called “adultery.” This command not to commit adultery is one of the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 20:14) These commands were given by God during Old Testament times, but they were given again by Jesus and the writers of the New Testament.  (Matthew 19:7-9; Romans 13:9; Hebrews 13:4) These laws were given to add joy and romance to our lives and to protect and stabilize marriage and family and community. 
 
Jesus even spoke against a man looking at a woman with lustful intent.  (Matthew5:28) The Bible speaks against wearing immodest clothing (1 Timothy 2:9-10) and using seductive speech (Proverbs 5:1-23: 7:1-27) Scripture even speaks against crude speech or entertainment that revolves around sexual immorality.  Ephesians 53-5 says: “Sexual immorality and all impurity and covetousness must not even be named among you…”   I would think that porn on the internet would fit into these forbidden categories. How many marriages have been damaged by pornography?
 
Scripture also says that God hates divorce. (Malachi 2:16)  Jesus said that, unless there is unfaithfulness in the marriage, we should not divorce. (Matthew 19:9) I do not believe that God wants a person to stay in an abusive marriage.  Scripture says that God also hates war and killing, but when a warring nation attacked the Jewish people, God would fight and help His people in their battles. We live in a sinful world where wars and divorce happen.  We cannot stop what others do, but we can do our best to try to avoid divorce – (and war) when that is possible.
Sex sells, and big businesses often do not want to stop selling sex when it is so profitable.   But Scripture says: “You cannot serve two masters, either he will hate the one and love the other, you cannot serve God and money.”  (Matthew 6:24) God planned for our marriages to be grand love affairs. But they may never become what they were meant to be if we spend time entertaining ourselves with cheap sex and pornography and lusting after young air brushed bodies.   
God prohibits sexual worship – or the idolization of sex and sexual activity, expecting it to bring us ultimate satisfaction.  The first commandment of the Ten Commandments in the Bible says that God wants first place in our lives for Himself. (Exodus 20:3) Sex is good, but sex is not God.  And it will not ultimately fulfill.  There is an empty hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God! 
You may be thinking that there are too many sexual prohibitions in the Bible.  That God seems to want to take all our fun away.  But God, the Creator of sex, and our loving heavenly Father, gives us these laws to protect us and our loved ones from pain and sorrow.  Sex is not a mechanical act between two objects: but a relational God given bond between a husband and wife who have committed their lives to one another in a covenant relationship.  (Proverbs 5:3-20: Malachi 2:14)
 
The Bible emphasizes the importance of our bodies when it says “the body is not made for sexual immorality but for the Lord.  And the Lord is for the body.” …Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ Himself? “(I Corinthians 6:13,15) Scripture says that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, if we follow Christ. 
 
Our sexual activity is a moral decision.  But some people argue that infidelity is in our genes. If that were true would that mean that if a person desires to be unfaithful to their marriage partner that he must fulfill his desires to be true to himself or to be fully himself?  As followers of Christ we are not to act out on every bad thought or desire we have!  Adultery is not inevitable.  It is immoral.  We are not pre-programmed robots. We choose our reactions to our temptations.  And God promises to make a way out of our temptation if we will take it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Scripture says: “Flee from sexual immorality.”  It’s as simple as that!  Run the other way!  Just say “no”. And God says: “for you were bought with a price. (the blood of Jesus)” (1 Corinthians 6:18,20) As Christians we all have sinned.  But God in Christ has forgiven us and we are headed in a new direction through Christ. 
 
Jesus calls us to a new direction when He says: “If anyone of you would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) One of the things we are to deny ourselves in this life as Christians is any sexuality outside of God’s boundaries. Repentance is costly.  But Jesus is asking us to say “no” to who we are in our sin; in order to find an entirely new identity of who we are in Him!  Jesus is calling you!  What will your answer be?
 


Many ideas in this blog were taken from David Platt’s book, “Counter Culture” 
 

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Healing Light


The Healing Light
 
Agnes Sanford was born in 1897, married an Episcopalian priest in New Jersey and had three children.  Agnes Sanford loved God and she loved people.  And her love and concern for people drove her to pray for sick people, in her church and wherever she found them. The word got out that when Agnes Sanford prayed for sick people, they most often recovered. Miraculous healings occurred and over the years thousands flocked to her for prayer. She became known as someone God could use to bring healing to many.
 
Agnes Sanford was the author of a book titled “The Healing Light”.  In her book she tries to pass on her secrets of how she was able to be a channel for God’s healing. She starts by reminding us that Scripture says that God is a loving Father who delights to give good gifts and healing to His children.  But some of us miss His healing power because God usually operates through us humans to get His work done. His healing and creating power is always here for us.  We can ask Him for His light to shine through us and He will answer that prayer and give it to us. All we need is faith to receive it. Faith that God delights to give us good gifts. In her book Ms. Sanford gives us helpful hints as to how to fan the flames of our faith in God and keep that faith burning so that we can be used to pass God’s healing on to the sick.  
 
Jesus said: “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  (John 8:12) According to Scripture Jesus is the light of the world and His light shines through us.  Other Bible passages tell us that we carry this ‘Jesus light’ with us into a dark world.  Jesus’ words are also recorded here: “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:16)
 
Agnes Sanford tells us how to turn on this healing light of Jesus in our lives. And how to keep this healing light on and flowing out of our lives!  The Bible teaches that God only works through faith. Our faith opens our hearts to receive His light. God is the healer and we are the open channel. But only an open channel because we believe.   
 
She says there are four steps we can take to keep God’s light and life flowing through us and blessing others.  Four little games to perhaps help us develop our precious faith.  First (1) She asks us to imagine or visualize God’s light glowing like a fire and shinning like a light and always there with us.  We can often grow our faith in God’s healing power when we can picture it.  And (2) second, she instructs us to continue thanking God throughout our day that His light (and life) is working through us.  Also we can stand on the Scriptures that promise us this light.
 
Her (3) third instruction is for us to remember to keep on believing in God’s promise of light and to keep on having faith in Christ.  “Through the door of faith, Christ enters in.” she says. And her (4) fourth instruction to keep the power of God flowing through our lives is for us to continue to give thanks for it all through our day. Agnes says that this is her special secret for keeping God’s healing light shining through her.  Constantly giving praise and thanksgiving for His light in her.
 
She reminds us that Jesus has promised His Spirit to us.  And that we can be a channel for His Spirit to bless and heal others.  And we can be a channel for His saving love to flow out into the world.  Such an exciting way to live! But when our channels get blocked, His love and healing cannot go through us as effectively.  One big way our channels can become clogged is by us refusing to forgive others and by us not loving others.  Many Scriptures warn us not to let a spirit of bitterness take hold in our lives.   
 
Love is a serious assignment in life that we have all been given and this assignment of ours is from God.  (John 13:34) (1 Corinthians 13) We do not take it seriously enough.  In Scriptures we are given a very high standard of how to love.  We are commanded to love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves.  And in the Lords’ Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) we are commanded to forgive others as we have been forgiven by God.  As the living waters of love flow through us to others they complete the circuit and flow back to us again from God. Most of us need to practice love.
 
 To practice love Agnes Sanford suggests that we first of all (1) Think of a person that you don’t love and select that person for the day’s assignment.  And secondly (2) All day hold that person up in your mind and picture Jesus with this person you have problems loving.  Third (3) Speak to the person (in your heart) and say: “I forgive you in the Name of Jesus Christ.  And I give thanks to God because you are now forgiven.” Amen.  Then (4) Keep on thanking God that this is so.  Trust God to work this forgiveness and love into your Spirit.  The person is forgiven no matter how you feel. 
 
Ms. Sanford gives more hints on healing. She believes that we may have picked up common worldly habits of unforgiveness and judgment.  In order to obey God’s command that we forgive and love and give to one another we must train (practice) new thought patterns of love and forgiveness to replace the old ones.  Practice loving and giving until the new thought pattern becomes stronger than the old thought habit of dislike and selfishness.
 
Next, she suggests that we pray and ask the Lord to bless the person we had trouble loving. Ask our heavenly Father to bring out his hidden goodness and strengthen it.  Then next picture the problem person the way God might want him/her – forgiven, loving and good.  And pray for this for him/her.  God is Creator and He allows us to pray for good and then He does that good through us.  He is looking for people He can use!  Such a privilege to be able to be a part of God’s creative work.
 
We can make these practice sessions (experiments) light and joyful and fun she insists.  Agnes Sanford insists that without love in our hearts for others we cannot be as useful  instruments of God’s healing.  Only love can generate a healing fire! And when we connect our human love with the divine love of Jesus Christ, our human love is charged with power!
 
Agnes Sanford tells us how she was able to become God’s instrument for healing to so many.  First, she believed Scripture where it describes God as a loving Father who delights to give good gifts to His children.  Then if she is sick and praying for herself she asks for the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit in her body.  If she has pneumonia she imagines God’s light and life glowing like a fire in her diseased lung.  And all through the rest of the day she gives thanks that His life is at work within her healing the lung.  Scripture says to “Pray without ceasing” and we need to pray often to keep ourselves open to the continuous inflow of God’s power.  We do this by continually giving thanks for the ongoing healing. 
 
She also says that many a healing is not finished because the one who prays does not hold his or her faith long enough.  In most cases she says that it is necessary to hold faith because the healing takes place gradually.  We can pray “Thank you Lord, your power is working in this person for a healing.” We keep a picture of the sick person we are praying for as being well and keep that picture in our minds until it happens.  Scripture says that to be used of God we must believe or have faith.  Picturing it helps us keep our faith strong.
 
Jesus, who is our friend and Savior, is the most loving Son of Man.  He stands before us as light and life when we think of Him, and He transmits that life and light to us through love.  He has given us His Name to use.  Let us ask in His Name that the life and light of God may be increased in us.  That we can be a channel for healing through Him. 
 
 
 
 



 



 


   
 

 
 



 


 

 
 

 

 
 
 
  
 



 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 

 
  
 

 
 

 
  
 
 
 
  
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 






Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Social Gospel


The Social Gospel
 
In the late 19th century, many Christians in the United States and Canada were upset and concerned by the poverty level and the low quality of living that people endured in their neighborhood slums.  The social gospel movement began in the Protestant Church.  It started with hopes that public health measures and new laws enforcing schooling for children could make a difference.  That the poor could develop skills and improve the quality of their lives. 
 
Workers a century ago were working 12- hour days, six days a week often in factories where safety was not a concern.  Many children were also forced to work long hours.  Liberal Christians in the social gospel movement worked to outlaw child labor. A Baptist pastor, Walter Rauschenbusch, railed against the selfishness of capitalism and promoted a form of Christian Socialism that supported the creation of labor unions.  And Washington Gladden, another American pastor, spoke up for workers and their right to organize labor unions.  Many employers and wealthy owners of large corporations and businesses were outraged. 
 
While many liberal mainline Christian churches in the United States became involved by starting orphanages and hospitals and free clinics for the poor. And they provided food and shelter for the homeless, other Christian churches refused to preach about social problems.  Dwight L. Moody, a prominent conservative Evangelical minister of that day rejected the social gospel ministry claiming that helping the poor distracted people from the life-saving message of the Gospel. He held revival meetings and many people were brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Dr. Moody was effective in influencing the middle class against safety nets for the poor. 
 
Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist minister, wrote several books stating that the Protestant church preaches to the individual and calls him or her to repent of sin.  But none of the churches shed light on the sinfulness of institutions and monopolies that oppressed their workers.  Many Christian reformers were inspired by these ideas and the social gospel movement began to grow. 
 
The AFL (American Federation of Labor) was a pro-Christian group that preached unionization with much enthusiasm.  They worked tirelessly to improve the day-to-day life of the American worker.  This movement was countered in Philadelphia by Christians bringing in Billy Sunday, a famous conservative preacher, to preach against labor unions.  Billy Sunday believed “that the organized labor shops destroyed individual freedom.” 
 
Many of the mainline churches in the U.S. began programs for social reform. Settlement houses sprung up offering services such as daycare, education, women’s suffrage, and health care to needy people in slum neighborhoods.  The Y.M.C.A. and the Salvation Army were started because liberal Christians believed that God was calling them to meet the needs of the least and the lost. But many churches opposed these actions and called them “Godless” communism or socialism.
 
Many of the churches that were deeply involved in the social gospel movement were also liberal theologically.  Many of them did not believe that all of the stories in the Bible were actually true. And of course many churches that were less interested in the social gospel movement were more conservative theologically and believed and still believe that the Bible is God’s Word.  And these differences can still be observed today. 
 
Franklin D. Roosevelt, U.S. president from 1932 to 1945, was an Episcopalian Christian who claimed that his main purpose as president was to help make life better for the average man, woman and child.  And he believed that God had called him to do this work.  He made the federal government a powerful instrument of social justice and equality.  His New Deal recognized rights never before granted to African American. 
 
Roosevelt passed the first national minimum wage and he restricted child labor.  With the Social Security Act, he gave Americans security in old age.  His unemployment insurance gave those who lost their jobs help until they found new employment.  His Glass-Steagall Act created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and provided federal protection for Americans who have savings accounts.
 
 He set up the Securities and Exchange Commission to regulate Wall Street.  And he gave veterans the G.I. Bill to guarantee war veterans a way to go to college.  Millions of Americans were able to go to college and this may have created the American middle class. The Rural Electrification Act gave lights and heat to rural America.  And the Tennessee Valley Authority helped bring prosperity to rural areas in seven states through flood control and electricity.  The conservatives opposed Roosevelt’s work but the liberals believed that he was one of our greatest presidents.
 
I believe that we can believe the Bible to be God’s Word and also believe in the social gospel. I think those two things go together. When Jesus taught us the Lord’s Prayer, He taught us to pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-13)   When we try to relieve hunger and homelessness, or stop slavery or unfair practices, it would seem that we are doing God’s will in making our world a little more like His kingdom. 
 
After Jesus died and rose from the dead He spent some time with His disciples.  One day while they were all together Jesus stopped to have a conversation with Peter. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him.  And three times Peter insisted that he did love Jesus. And then three times Jesus asked Peter to “Feed My sheep”.  (John 21:15-17)
 
It seemed that Jesus was saying that Peter could show his love for Him by feeding His sheep.  And I believe that we can do that too.  We can show our love for our Savior by feeding the hungry and by giving to the poor.  Jesus tells us that: “Whatever you do for one of the least of these, my brothers, you do for Me…” (Matthew 25:40)