Month: December 2013

The Third Word from the Cross

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John 19:26–27
26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, z“Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

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Jesus’ Willingness to Care for You

There are at least three reasons that this word of Jesus to his mother and to the beloved disciple is a tremendous encouragement to our faith. The first reason is this: if Jesus was so eager to care for his mother in her hour of need, how much more is he eager to care for his disciples who hear the Word of God today and do it. Ordinarily one would reason just the opposite: if he loved his disciples who were not his relatives, how much more would he love his own mother. But Jesus didn’t view things in an ordinary way. With him it was strangely true: if he loved his mother with a natural affection, how much more can his obedient disciples bank on his love.

We know this because of an incident recorded for us in Luke 8:19–21:

His mother came to him and his brothers also, and they were unable to get to him because of the crowds. And it was reported to him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wishing to see you.” But he answered and said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

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That was not a depreciation of his mother and brothers, but an exaltation of obedience. It means very clearly, those who hear the Word of God and do it have a more ready access to Jesus’ fellowship and help than do his own family members.

In one sense it is very risky to hear and do the Word of God. For the Word of God is always calling us to sacrificial acts of love. “He who would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his own cross and follow me” (Luke 9:23). But in another sense there is nothing safer and more rewarding than to hear and do the Word of God, because Jesus said, those who hear and do the Word of God are my mother and my brothers. Loving obedience to the Word of God puts us in a relationship to Jesus which is more intimate and more certain to be heard and helped than his nearest family relations.

So you can see now what a tremendous encouragement it is to our faith when Jesus makes provision for the needs of his mother at Calvary. Those who hear and do the Word of God have an even greater claim on Jesus’ care than she. So if he took care of her, will he not much more provide for all your needs, “O ye of little faith”?

Jesus’ Ability to Take Care of You

The second reason that this word to Jesus’ mother is an encouragement to our faith is this: if Jesus could provide for the needs of his own in a moment of his deepest weakness and humiliation, how much more can he provide for your need in his present power and exaltation! Not only are you, as an obedient disciple, in a better position than Jesus’ own mother to receive blessing at the hand of the Lord, but he is now in a better position to give it to you than he was to her then.

According to Ephesians 1:19, 20 the greatness of God’s power which is working on behalf of us who believe “accords with the working of the strength of his might which God generated by raising Christ from the dead and seating him at his right hand in heaven.” The satisfaction made for our sin at Calvary was so complete that God honored this sacrifice by raising Jesus from the dead and giving him incomparable glory and power and wealth of all things. And so when the apostle contemplates whether we can bank on Christ for the provision of our need, it is this wealth of glory that gives him assurance. He says, “My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). The risen Christ is so full of glorious riches that he need not turn anyone away. As Paul says in Romans 10:12: “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches to all who call upon him.”

Therefore, the word of Jesus to his mother from the cross is a great encouragement to our faith. For if he could provide for his own in the moment of his weakness and humiliation, how much more can he meet all our needs today from the right hand of God, full of power and wealth and glory.

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The Church as a New Spiritual Family

The third reason Jesus’ word to his mother encourages our faith is that it illustrates for us the benefits of the church, the body of Christ. Notice that contrary to custom and expectation, Jesus did not admonish his own brothers to care for their mother. Whatever the reason for not putting Mary in the care of her other sons, the new relationship between Mary and John illustrates for us the provision made for us in the body of Christ.

You recall how Jesus told the rich man to sell all he had and follow him. The man turned away, and Jesus said, “How hard it will be for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And Peter said, “Behold we have left everything and followed you.” And Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms for my sake and the gospel’s, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.” Now where in this life are we going to receive 100 children and 100 mothers? Answer: in the church, the family of God.

When Jesus says to Mary: “Look on John as your son”; and to John: “Look on Mary as your mother”; he is showing us how our needs are to be met when we have left everything to follow him. Paul said in Acts 20:28 that Christ “purchased the church of God with his own blood.” Therefore, one of the gifts Jesus gave to us from the cross was the church: a loving, caring, sustaining, encouraging family beyond family. And it is a great encouragement to our faith that he illustrates the meaning of the church the way he did in the relationship between John and Mary.

So let us all take courage in the care and power and provision of our Lord. If he was eager to care for his mother, how much more eager will he be today to care for those who hear and do the Word of God! If Jesus could provide for the needs of his own in the moment of his greatest weakness and humiliation, how much more can he provide for your need in his present wealth of power and exaltation. And if Jesus purchased the church with his own blood and ordained that in it bereft mothers find sons and sons find mothers, then no one should be without a caring family today in the body of Christ. Amen.

Are you the “Oil of God’s Joy” In this Life?

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Colossians 3:12
New International Version (NIV)
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

There is an old story of an elderly man who always carried a little can of oil with him everywhere he went, and when he would go through a door that squeaked, he would squirt a little oil on the hinges. If he encountered a gate that was hard to open, he would oil the latch. And so he went through life, lubricating all the difficult places, making it easier for all those who came after him. People called the man eccentric, strange, and crazy, but he went steadily on, often refilling his can of oil when it was nearly empty, and oiling all the difficult places he found.

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In this world, there are many lives that painfully creak and grate as they go about their daily work. Often it seems that nothing goes right with them and that they need lubricating with “the oil of joy”, gentleness, or thoughtfulness. Do you carry your own can of oil with you? Are you ready with your oil of helpfulness each morning? If you offer your oil to the person nearest you, it may just lubricate the entire day for him/her. Your oil of cheerfulness will mean more than you know to someone who is downhearted. Or the oil may be a word of encouragement to a person who is full of despair. Never fail to speak it, for our lives may touch others only once on the road of life. and then our paths may diverge, never to meet again.

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The oil of kindness has worn the sharp, hard edges off many a sin-hardened life and left it soft and pliable, ready to receive the redeeming grace of the Savior. A pleasant word is a bright ray of sunshine on a saddened heart. Therefore give others the sunshine and tell Jesus the rest.

We cannot know the grief
That men may borrow;
We cannot see the souls
Storm-swept by sorrow;
But love can shine upon the way
Today, tomorrow;
Let us be kind,
Upon the wheel of pain so many weary lives are broken,
So may our love with tender words be spoken.
Let us be kind.

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Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Romans 12:10

Follow the Blue Print of God Rather Than “You”

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“If we are to understand the point of this section as a whole, we must recognize that the phrase ‘whose faith is weak’ has a special nuance in this context. ‘Faith’ refers not directly to one’s belief generally but to one’s convictions about what that faith allows him or her to do. The weak in faith are not necessarily lesser Christians than the strong. They are simply those who do not think their faith allows them to do certain things that the strong feel free to do. What Paul wants the strong to do is not simply extend grudging tolerance to the weak, but to welcome them (the verb proslambano, used here, means to receive or accept into one’s society, home, circle of acquaintance). They should not allow differences over ‘disputable matters’ to interfere with full fellowship in the body of Christ.”

Romans 14:22 (New International Version)

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.

HOW TO GET ALONG WHEN YOU DON’T SEE EYE TO EYE

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It is said that when the British and French were fighting in Canada in the 1750s, Admiral Phipps, commander of the British fleet, was told to anchor outside Quebec. He was given orders to wait for the British land forces to arrive, then support them when they attacked the city. Phipps’ navy arrived early. As the admiral waited, he became annoyed by the statues of the saints that adorned the towers of a nearby cathedral, so he commanded his men to shoot at them with the ships’ cannons. No one knows how many rounds were fired or how many statues were knocked out, but when the land forces arrived and the signal was given to attack, the admiral was of no help. He had used up all his ammunition shooting at the “saints.” (Daily Bread) Unfortunately, the same could be said for many Christians today. When God calls on them to do something great for Him they have nothing left to give for they have used up their ammunition shooting at the saints.

Throughout church history churches have split for the stupidest of reasons. Some have split over the issue of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Locally some have split over whether it is spelled Immanuel or Emmanuel. Some churches have split over whether to sit on pews or chairs. Surely there has to be something of more significance in the church today than what type of furniture we will park our “duffs” on. Surely there has to be for if there is not then the church is finished.
An issue of National Geographic included a photograph of the fossil remains of two saber-tooth cats locked in combat. To quote the article: “One had bitten deep into the leg bone of the other, a thrust that trapped both in a common fate.” The cause of the death of the two cats is as clear as the cause of the extinction of their species. They could not survive because they were too busy fighting each other and the same can be said of the church today. As the apostle Paul put it: “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15).

Satan is a master at using controversial issues to distract the church from her true mission in the world. A former police officer tells of the tactics of a group of thieves: “They enter the store as a group. One or two separate themselves from the group, and the others start a loud commotion in another section of the store. This grabs the attention of the clerks and customers. As all eyes are turned to the disturbance, the accomplices fill their pockets with merchandise and cash, leaving before anyone suspects. Hours — sometimes even days — later, the victimized merchant realizes things are missing and calls the police. Too late.” (Tom McHaffie) How often this strategy is used by the Evil One! We are seduced into paying attention to the distractions, while our churches are ransacked. In this case we have lost not our merchandise, but our mission. And a church without a mission will soon be out of commission.

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Paul tells us that we are to “Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16). But how can we live in harmony when there are so many controversial issues that divide us? Paul gave the church in Rome some practical, step-by-step instructions on how to be in H.A.R.M.O.N.Y. with one another in Romans 14:1-15:7. We can learn from this information because we today have much in common with the Roman church. The Roman church was not divided in their faith. They all believed that Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life and that as such He was the only way to get to heaven. They believed that there was only one God and that Jesus Christ was His Son. They believed that Jesus died for their sins and that He rose again on the third day and that He was coming back again one day. However, they were divided on many nonessential details of the Christian life. There were some in the church who had some very strict convictions concerning things like particular days of worship and types of diets and they considered those who disagreed to be too liberal. Others, however, had an equally strong conviction that in Christ they were free from such constraints and they considered the others to be narrow minded. And so the Roman problem becomes all too familiar. Paul says that the solution to all of this is to stop condemning one another and start excepting one another. As we study today’s passage together we will discover Paul’s seven steps to H.A.R.M.O.N.Y.

SEVEN STEPS TO H.A.R.M.O.N.Y.

1.Hold Back Judgment on Disputable Matters. (14:1)

Here we see that the Bible forbids us to pass judgment on matters that are disputable. What is a disputable matter? A disputable matter is an issue on which scripture is not clear. The disputable matters to which Paul speaks are concerning diet and dates. Some believed that certain days like the Sabbath or other religious holidays were to be considered more sacred than others. They also held to certain dietary rules like not eating meat — probably because the meat in the market place had been offered to idols. The other group believed that all days were the same and that if you gave thanks to God for the food there was no problem with eating it and enjoying it. Who was right and who was wrong? Paul says that neither group is wrong because these issues are nonessential to Christian faith and practice.

What are some other examples of disputable matters? Frequency of taking the Lord’s Supper, modes of baptism, styles (of clothing, hair, music, ect.) and end times scenarios are all examples of issues that are nonessential to the Christian faith. And yet all of these issues have been sources of division among Christians. There was a time when Christians killed other Christians because they believed the others baptized incorrectly. One of my former pastors told me of a time a guest evangelist in his church taught that Christians would have to go through the Tribulation period and that another pastor from that town who was at the meeting became irate and insisted that he not allow the evangelist to continue his series of meetings. When it comes to styles you don’t have to like it, listen to it, or look like it but you cannot judge it. You don’t have to support it, agree with it, or propagate it but you cannot condemn it.

If the scriptures do not speak clearly on an issue it is because God has given us freedom to choose in this area. The Roman Christians were free to choose to keep the Sabbath as a sacred day but they were also free to choose to hold days as being the same. The Roman Christians were free to choose not to eat meat but they were also free to choose to eat meat. There are many things that Christians are free to do or free not to do, but the one thing we are not free to do is to pass judgment on disputable matters.

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2.Avoid Looking Down on Those Who Don’t Share Your Convictions. (14:2-4)

Paul says that the one who is strong in the faith and therefore understands that he is free from legalistic constraints in disputable matters must not look down on those who don’t believe they have such freedom. He also says that those who are weak in the faith and therefore feel that they must follow certain rules must not condemn those who don’t follow their rules. Why not? Because the other person is not your servant, but God’s. And so they answer not to you, but to God. And furthermore we see that God has accepted them both. Therefore, we dare not look down on the one whom God has accepted.
Of course, it is man’s tendency to look down on those who hold different views than himself whether those views be religious or political. So the next time you are tempted to look down on someone either because they do not share your freedom or because they don’t share your strict convictions remind yourself that you are not better than them nor are they better than you. Remind yourself of what the apostle Paul had to say about himself. “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle” (1 Corinthians 15:9). “I am less than the least of all God’s people” (Ephesians 3:8). “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). If that was true of the apostle Paul then it is certainly true of you and so you have no right to look down on anyone.

3.Realize That You Must Live for the Lord Alone. (14:5-12)

It was the final hole of the 1961 Masters tournament, and golf legend Arnold Palmer had a one-stroke lead and had just hit a very satisfying tee shot. He felt he was in pretty good shape. As he approached his ball, he saw an old friend standing at the edge of the gallery. The friend motioned him over, stuck out his hand and said, “Congratulations.” Arnold later said, “I took his hand and shook it, but as soon as I did, I knew I had lost my focus.” On his next two shots, he hit the ball into a sand trap, then put it over the edge of the green. He missed the putt and lost the Master’s because he had first lost his focus. (Carol Mann, The 19th Hole, [Longmeadow], quoted in Reader’s Digest) Arnold Palmer was not on that golf course that day to renew old acquaintances. He was not there to accept congratulations. He was there for one purpose and one purpose only — to put the ball in the hole.
We are not on this earth for the purpose of exercising our freedoms. Nor are we here for the purpose of adhering to strict religious convictions. We are here for one purpose and one purpose only — to live for the Lord. If we exercise our freedoms, we do so for the Lord. If we adhere to strict religious convictions, we so do for the Lord. If we live, we live for the Lord. If we die, we die for the Lord. And if we ever lose focus on that purpose then we, like Arnold Palmer, are in serious trouble. Arnold Palmer’s old friend may have been offended if Arnold had ignored him that day back in 1961, but Arnold would have fulfilled his purpose. Some people may be offended if you are more concerned with pleasing the Lord than you are with pleasing them, but at least you will have fulfilled your purpose. If you can please people and please the Lord at the same time, that is wonderful. But, if you can’t, make sure that you please the Lord. Paul said, “We make it our goal to please him [God]” (2 Corinthians 5:9). He also said, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

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4.Make Sure You Don’t Put Obstacles in the Way of Others. (14:13-18)

It is true that in Christ we have been set free from the law and legalism, however, we must not flaunt this freedom in the faces of those who are weak in the faith. Also those who have strong convictions are not to beat others over the head with those convictions. We are to exercise our freedoms and carry out our convictions in ways that do not cause our fellow Christians to stumble.
This section is primarily addressed to those who are strong in the faith and have freedom in disputable matters. You see faith results in freedom. The stronger the faith, the greater the freedom. The weaker the faith, the smaller the freedom. It is important to notice that Paul says that both groups have faith. In other words both groups have saving faith and are, therefore, true Christians. It is just that some are stronger in faith than others and those who are stronger in faith must be careful about exercising their freedoms in the presence of those who don’t have such freedom. The danger is that those who are weak in the faith may be tempted to participate in the freedoms of those strong in the faith when they themselves do not have that faith. This is dangerous because if anyone believes something to be wrong then it is wrong for them even if it is not something God’s word forbids. You see, it is a sin to violate your conscience. You must be, as Paul says, “fully convinced.” Because “everything that does not come from faith is sin” (v. 23). So if the exercise of your freedom causes a fellow believer to violate their conscience and sin you have “destroyed your brother for whom Christ died.” Paul includes himself in the group who are strong in the faith and have the freedom to eat anything, but he says that it is better to voluntarily restrict one’s freedom than to cause others to stumble by exercising it. In 1 Corinthians 8:13 he puts it this way: “If what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”

Before we move on I want to share a word with those of you who may have had an obstacle placed in your way by someone. The greatness of our lives is often determined by the size of the obstacles we have had to overcome. If we can face an obstacle and overcome it, we become better, stronger people because of it. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that you can put an obstacle in someone’s way and justify it by saying you are just trying to make them stronger. What is does mean is that if someone has put an obstacle in your way then with God’s help find a way over it, around it, or through it.

Bette Nesmith had a good secretarial job in a Dallas bank when she ran across a problem that interested her. Wasn’t there a better way to correct the errors she made on her electric typewriter? Bette had some art experience and she knew that artists who worked in oils just painted over their error. Maybe that would work for her too. So she concocted a fluid to paint over her typing errors. Before long, all the secretaries in her building were using what she then called “MistakeOut.” She attempted to sell the product idea to marketing agencies and various companies (including IBM), but they turned her down. However, secretaries continued to like her product, so Bette Nesmith’s kitchen became her first manufacturing facility and she started selling it on her own. When Bette Nesmith sold the enterprise, the tiny white bottles were earning $3.5 million annually on sales of $38 million. The buyer was Gillette Company and the sale price was $47.5 million (Crossroads, Issue No. 7, pp. 3-4). When it was all said and done that was one obstacle Bette Nesmith was glad she had to face.

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5.Only Do What Leads to Peace and Mutual Edification.

What is good is bad if it leads to disharmony and does not build up the church. In Romans 12:18 Paul writes: “If it is possible as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” He says, “if it is possible” because he knows that it is not always possible to please people. You know the old saying: “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Well it is also true of pleasing people — “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” But the point is you need to do your part — the part that “depends on you.”

I would like to share a poem with you titled “A Builder or a Wrecker.”
As I watched them tear a building down
A gang of men in a busy town
With a ho-heave-ho, and a lusty yell
They swung a beam and the side wall fell

I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled,
And the men you’d hire if you wanted to build?”
He gave a laugh and said, “No, indeed,
Just common labor is all I need.”

“I can easily wreck in a day or two,
What builders have taken years to do.”
And I thought to myself, as I went my way
Which of these roles have I tried to play?

Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by rule and square?
Am I shaping my work to a well-made plan Patiently doing the best I can?

Or am I a wrecker who walks to town
Content with the labor of tearing down?
“O Lord let my life and labors be
That which will build for eternity?”
-Author unknown

The only question is: “Will you be a builder or a wrecker?”

6.Never publicize your personal convictions.

Why does Paul tell us to keep our personal convictions concerning these matters between ourselves and God? Because our personal convictions are just that — personal. If they were meant to be corporate God would have put them in His word. But He didn’t. He gave them to you personally and they should stay between the two of you.
There was a woman in Charlotte, North Carolina who set a world record while playing a convenience store video game. After standing in front of the game for fourteen hours and scoring an unprecedented seven and a half million points on the game she was pleased to see a TV crew arriving to record her efforts for posterity. She continued to play while the crew, alerted by her fiance, prepared to shoot. However, she was appalled to see the video screen suddenly go blank. While setting up their lights, the camera team had accidentally unplugged the game, thus bringing her bid for ten million points to an untimely end! The effort to publicize her achievement became the agent of her ultimate failure. It is often unwise to go public.

7.Yield Personal Preferences for the Common Good.

Paul is saying here that we should not insist on doing things our way. Insisting on doing things my way is the world’s way, not the Christian’s way. Paul holds up Jesus Christ as the ultimate example of someone who, rather than pleasing Himself, gave up His personal preferences for the good of mankind. We know from the scriptures that it was not Jesus’ personal preference to suffer and die on the cross. When He was praying in the garden prior to His arrest He asked God if it would be possible for that cup of suffering to pass from Him. However, He also prayed, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” If Jesus didn’t insist on His way, who do you think you are to insist on your way.
In the summer of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea off the coast of Russia. Hundreds of passengers died as they were hurled into the icy waters below. News of the disaster was further darkened when an investigation revealed the cause of the accident. It wasn’t a technology problem like radar malfunction — or even thick fog. The cause was human stubbornness. Each captain was aware of the other ship’s presence nearby. Both could have steered clear, but according to news reports, neither captain wanted to give way to the other. Each was too proud to yield first. By the time they came to their senses, it was too late (Closer Walk, December, 1991). If we continue on our present course, we will share in their fate.

Selfish Christianity

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John 6:22-27
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
22 The next day the crowd that stood on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other small boat there, except one, and that Jesus had not entered with His disciples into the boat, but that His disciples had gone away alone. 23 There came other small boats from Tiberias near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the small boats, and came to Capernaum seeking Jesus. 25 When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?”

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Words to the People

26 Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.”

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Think honestly about this question: Which interests you more—who Jesus is or what He can do for you? I’m afraid that too many of us are more concerned about what the Lord can give us than we are about getting to know who He is.

But this is nothing new—Jesus had the same problem when He walked on earth. The crowds often sought Him out for what He could do for them. Even though their needs were quite often legitimate, Christ knew their motives.

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There is a fine line between selfishly trying to use the Lord to get what we want and humbly coming to Him with our needs and struggles. Some of the issues we bring to Him are so pressing and urgent in our minds that our desire for Him to take action in the way we want becomes greater than our willingness to submit to His will. At times, what we call “faith” is really a demanding spirit.

We must remember that our earthly needs will come to an end, but Jesus Christ will remain forever. If our prayers have dealt only with presenting our requests to the Lord, then we are missing a great opportunity to get to know the One with whom we are going to spend all eternity. Let’s invest time in pursuing intimacy with the great God who created us. Then we can enjoy all the benefits of that relationship forever.

How much of your communion with God is devoted to your needs—even legitimate ones? Are you spending any time getting to know the Lord? Although God delights in our prayers and tells us to pray about everything, He also wants us to come to Him just because we enjoy being with Him.

Am I blaming my Leaders for ‘The Culture’ for Our Distorted View of God?

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Never permit a dichotomy to rule your life, a dichotomy in which you hate what you do so you can have pleasure in your spare time. Look for a situation in which your work will give you as much happiness as your spare time.

Pablo Picasso

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Dichotomy
“In contrast to trichotomy, the view accepted by most scholars is that man is dichotomous, or consists of two parts; a material aspect, and a non-material aspect. The non-material part is called by many different names; soul, spirit, mind, life force, or any of a dozen or more equivalent Scriptural words. These are not separate parts of a person, but are just different words for the different aspects of the non-material aspect of man.” [1]

Relevant passages

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:23
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12
“For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.” – 1 Corinthians 14:14
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Matthew 10:28

David F. Wells has written his book again. Indeed, reading a new book by Wells is something like my experience of reading new books by Anne Lamott. About 15 pages in, I find myself asking: Isn’t this the same book, again?
Readers who pick up Wells’s latest, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World (Crossway), will find themselves covering the same ground he’s covered since No Place for Truth (1993).
Wells—a historical and systematic theologian at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary—has a fairly simple “big idea”: a tale of loss and recovery. Culture has corrupted the church, and renewal means returning to a set of views we have lost. The argument is couched in potted histories that paint thinly with broad brushes, highlighting how the church has been corrupted by modernity and, especially, post-modernity. For Wells, the word is shorthand for everything-wrong-with-the-world.
The genre is pitched somewhere between jeremiad and rant, with predictable protests, retreaded cliches, and lots of complaints about the 1960s. It’s like how I would expect a theological grandfather to harrumph about “kids these days.” It will convince no one who doesn’t already agree.

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Because we’ve listened to the culture rather than Scripture, we’ve been suckered into a therapeutic rather than a moral view of God: God is reduced to a Therapist and Concierge. Even many conservative evangelicals effectively worship the god of Oprah. On this point, Wells’s diagnosis is helpful.
False Dichotomies
But what’s the antidote? As in his previous books, God in the Whirlwind outlines the “view” that needs to be recovered. This view has two countercultural features.

First, we need to recover a sense of the objectivity of God, the otherness and transcendence of God. “God stands before us,” Wells emphasizes. “He summons us to come out of ourselves and to know him. And yet our culture is pushing us into exactly the opposite pattern. It is that we must go into ourselves to know God.” Elsewhere, Wells writes, “When God—the external God—dies, then the self immediately moves in to fill the vacuum.” God begins to look like us writ large.
Second, we need to learn to focus on the character of God, which Wells describes as “holy-love.” By doing so, he is trying to hold together what we too often separate: Our therapeutic gods are loving but not holy; and our moralistic and legalistic gods are holy but not loving. But the biblical understanding of God, revealed above all in Jesus Christ, is holy-love. Wells ranges across the Bible to show how this holy-love runs counter to the erroneous cultural habits we’ve acquired.
But this also locates the book’s limitations. Let me highlight two.
First, both the analysis and the prescription traffic in false dichotomies. “The shaping of our life is to come from Scripture and not from culture,” Wells writes. But isn’t Scripture itself the product of a culture (many cultures), and doesn’t the gospel invite us into the alternative culture of the body of Christ? Our goal is not a biblical viewpoint bereft of culture, but a cultural formation that’s biblically infused.

Perhaps the most puzzling (false) dichotomy is Wells’s emphasis on the objective versus the subjective. This would confuse Augustine, for instance, who wrote: “Do not go outside yourself, but enter into yourself, for truth dwells in the interior self.” Yet no one would confuse Augustine with Oprah.
Indeed, Augustine’s Confessions recount the interior journey of a soul toward the majesty of God, culminating in the meditations of Book 10: “Through my soul I will ascend to him.” By turning inward, Augustine’s self-confidence is destabilized. “People are moved to wonder by mountain peaks, by vast waves of the sea, by broad waterfalls on river, by the all-embracing extent of the ocean, by the revolutions of the stars. But in themselves they are uninterested.” Yet he finds his own interiority more awesome precisely because it is unfathomable: “I find my own self hard to grasp. . . . I never reach the end.”

But in this internal vertigo, he also finds the One who is greater: “You are my true life.” “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you.”
Instead of reverting to Wells’s dichotomy of the objective versus the subjective, what if we engaged modernity with this kind of Augustinian strategy? What if we invited our neighbors (who are, admittedly, focused on the self) to honestly probe their depths? Might they learn to recognize—yes, even feel—the Creator who beckons from within?
The inward turn is not the problem. It’s that people don’t go far enough to experience the inadequacy of the self. They might be better served by exploring the writings of David Foster Wallace than by reading God in the Whirlwind.
Beat of a Different Drummer
If the book’s diagnosis of our cultural situation is off the mark, so too is its prescription. Wells rightly appreciates that we Christians have absorbed the cult of the self by osmosis. Nobody convinced us to view God as our concierge; to the contrary, this is more like what the philosopher Charles Taylor calls a “social imaginary” that we absorb unconsciously through the stories, images, and mythologies that suffuse our cultural milieu.
In other words, we are not just “thinking things” who have been “taught” to see God this way; we are desiring creatures who have been trained to “imagine” God this way. And our imagination is formed on a visceral, even unconscious level. It doesn’t just change how we think; it shapes how we love.

Yet while Wells is attentive to the dynamics of our cultural deformation, he is oddly flatfooted when it comes to imagining reformation. He prescribes an intellectual antidote for an imaginative disorder.
Late in the book, he introduces a metaphor that actually touches on this point. As Wells puts it, believers “live in the midst of their culture,” but “they live by the beat of a different Drummer. They must hear the sounds of a different time, an eternal time, [and] listen for the music from a different place.” The challenge is one of attunement: “How are we going to hear this music? How are we going to hear the Drummer whose beat gets lost in all of the noise of our modern world?” Indeed, this is the psalmist’s question, too: “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (137:4, NASB).

But the metaphor is better than Wells’s actual prescription. Instead of inviting us to absorb the rhythm of the Spirit, he prescribes a regimen of music theory, “a framework of ideas.” But if we’ve been following the wrong drummers, isn’t that because their beat got our toes tapping and captivated our imaginations?
The Spirit reforms our imaginations by a similar dynamic. By inviting us to inhabit the rhythms of embodied, intentional Christian worship, God not only informs our intellects but retrains our heart’s desires. Worship, then, is not just how we express what we already believe. It is also formative—an incubator for a biblical imagination.
Amid the whirlwind of modern culture, what we need most is not a better message, but a fresh encounter with the holy-lover of our souls, who will sweep us off our feet.

Will Obama Model Mandela and Free the Over-Criminalized and change Mandatory Sentencing Laws?

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In seeing the humanity of his oppressors, he displayed rare moral discernment.

The death of Nelson Mandela should prompt us all to reflect on the extraordinary and enduring power of his life. Mandela forgave his oppressors and forged a legacy for himself through overcoming hatred. His stigma’s [Felon] a terrorist. It is my hope that President Obama will make the remaining years in office a pledge to change the culture of America being a nation locked-Up and it’s people disenfranchised and living in a different Apartheid.

I pray and maintain a posture humility so my difference will make a difference in pursuit of changing the hiring practices of disenfranchised individuals and the bias practices being used to disqualify felon’s for housing and other social economics. It will not hurt President Obama to not compromise, but to implement change for a group of human being as Nelson Mandela has done with his life and trials as a leader of a nation that has been through what America is now embracing by way of disguise and descriptive practices.

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In seeing the humanity of his oppressors, he displayed rare moral discernment.

The tour guide had explained the humiliations and deprivations of Mandela’s long imprisonment, but what seemed beyond explaining is the strength of character that enabled a man to endure such things for so long and then to emerge as a national leader possessed of optimism, generosity of spirit, and a commitment to reconciliation rather than revenge. How is this possible?

When Nazi survivor Elie Wiesel spoke to the first year students in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences, he emphasized that hatred is as poisonous when one faces one’s tormentors as at any other time. Like Mandela, Wiesel suffered unfathomable personal losses that could easily have crushed his spirit or bred a blazing vindictiveness. Yet each of these men became a force for the power of love, tolerance, respect for difference — for the joy of human potential even in the face of dreadful human realities.

Here is some of what I learned about how Mandela did it: On Robben Island, just outside Table Bay at Cape Town, South Africa, there’s a lime quarry. In the brilliant sun, its white walls glare with painful brightness. Mandela, and the other prisoners forced to work long hours there, were not allowed dark glasses. The fine lime dust from their back-breaking work pervaded their clothes, invaded their lungs, and irritated their squinting eyes. Some of them, like Mandela, were educated men who knew that even as their bodies labored and suffered, their minds were free and strong. But many other prisoners were uneducated — even illiterate. So the quarry became a place of teaching and learning.

Writing in the dust with sticks, the educated prisoners brought a reverence for the power of knowledge to those who had never had the opportunity to develop their minds. Even prisoners who were criminals, rather than political prisoners, came to understand that grinding poverty, discrimination, ignorance, and lack of opportunity — the wellsprings of crime — were best addressed by empowering their own minds. Some of them became students, too.

This happened before the watchful eyes of prison guards, many of whom were untutored louts. Yet, louts though they were, they saw something valuable that attracted them more than it threatened them. So they also became students, and Mandela and the others taught them out of respect for their humanity and their interest in learning. Those guards experienced affirmations both of mind and of heart — in sharing their knowledge, the educated prisoners displayed a generosity of spirit that prompted both admiration and growing respect from the guards.

For Mandela this was an early stage of the movement toward reconciliation. We marvel at the tenacity and endurance of Ernest Shackleton, whose failed Antarctic exploration in 1914 threatened the lives of his 21 stranded crewmen. Shackleton persevered for 14 months, in the end saving all against very long odds. How much more ought we marvel at Mandela, who persevered for more than 18 years, saving his entire nation!

Preachers Self Worth; Methodology Gospels

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I’ve said many times before that I believe that some people who were Christians and left the faith or those who reject Christianity altogether do so not because of any objection to the teachings of Jesus Christ. They object to the actions of Christians themselves

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The Christian Post recently reported that mega church minister, Bishop, I.V. Hilliard, of the New Light Christian Center in Houston, made an interesting proposition to his congregation. According to the article, the church’s “Aviation Department” (yes, you read that correctly — aviation department) declared that the pastor’s helicopter (yes, you read that correctly — pastor’s helicopter) needed new blades. Click here to read the appeal letter.

This event is the same song but different verse of the prosperity gospel; this gospel promotes a tit-for-tat relationship with God. Since God wants you to be blessed and rich and prosperous, then giving to God will active that divine power within your life. At issue here is not only Bishop Hilliard’s request of money from the congregation for new helicopter blades, but also that Bishop Hilliard says that you will have divine favor in 52 days or 52 weeks if you donate $52. My initial reaction was “why not $40; that at least is a Biblical number?” Also, that’s quite a lengthy time frame — either a little over seven weeks or an entire calendar year. The problem with this mentality is that you will then start to look for it even if it is nowhere to be found.

It’s like having a pain in your leg and thinking that you have a serious medical condition because one article on WebMD or some forum post confirmed your suspicion. When we do that, we often disregard the mountain of other articles that state that your leg pain is merely a muscle pull. We want it to be one way so badly we are willing to disregard everything else. After those seven weeks are up and there still is no brand new Cadillac with a sun roof, XM Radio, and a V-8, then we are going to use the remaining time of our year to make the puzzle piece fit. This is not what God called the church to do; God does not call the church to try to solve the puzzle of whether something is a blessing because the church bought new helicopter blades.

What about that single parent who is faithful to their God and needs a car for work or school but can’t fork over $52? Are they just up a creek? Do they not reap the rewards of God’s blessing under this theological framework?

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This type of theology is predicated on the notion that God only does for you when you do for God. Last time I checked, that is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Giving to God does not mean that one will receive back from God. Giving in all of its many forms is about one’s response to God. God has gifted humanity with many different things, and our understanding of God and our relationship with God dictates our type of giving. We use the rule of giving 10 percent of income or goods, but study after study show that this is not the case for much of the Christian populace.

Is this the reason so many people have joined the Christian faith over the centuries? Is a relationship with God and with Christ merely about a new car and a financial stability? If this is the case then I believe we have missed the point of the Gospel. The Gospel compels followers of Christ to be selfless and to give up our possessions that can rust and break down. The Gospel is centered on the notion of the other, the lonely, the downtrodden, the outcast; they are the ones we are called to serve. Our faith should not be dictated on giving just because we want something. Our giving should be an expression of our faith in thanksgiving for what God has done for us. God does not care how big or how small it might be.

Bishop Hilliard did release a statement in response to the uproar. He mentions a few scriptures here and there but the one that he discarded was the one where Christ said one cannot serve God and money.

I’m not a minister of a mega church but I hope that if I were, I would not have a helicopter but rather use the money to feed the homeless or dig wells in Africa or something else more useful. This type of theology is appealing to some but some see the plight of the world — the hungry, the struggling, the hurting — and believe a helicopter for a minister is a waste of money. If the minister has nicer suits and transportation that most of his/her congregation, then is there disconnect between the printed words of Christ and the real world.

If Christianity is about giving to get … then it is doomed to fail.

Help Make a Change;Unjust Mandatory Minimums

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Mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines require defendants successfully convicted of a crime to be sentenced to a minimum length of time in prison. They eliminate judicial discretion in the determination of punishments for particular crimes. In cases involving mandatory minimum sentences, judges cannot reduce the sentence for any reason. Juries determining guilt or innocence in mandatory minimum sentences are often not informed of the mandatory sentence in order to prevent sentencing requirements from interfering in their decision. Mandatory minimum sentencing was initially developed by Congress and applied to the use and possession of marijuana. California’s “Three Strikes” rule is one example of a mandatory minimum sentencing requirement.

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Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. recently said that his top priority is to improve the criminal justice system. He can start by pushing Congress and the United States Sentencing Commission to fix the unfair problem of excessive mandatory minimum sentences.

The commission reported recently that in the 16-year period through fiscal year 2011, the annual number of federal offenders “increased substantially,” from 37,091 to 76,216. The commission previously explained that “excessively severe” mandatory minimum sentences added heavily to this increase and to overcrowding in prisons.

Federal judges are acutely aware of this issue. Judge John Gleeson of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, for one, has been a vigorous critic of mandatory minimum sentences. In an opinion last year, he criticized federal prosecutors for seeking those sentences against defendants who are not “leaders and managers of drug enterprises” and Congress for laws that focus too heavily on the type and quantity of the drugs involved in a crime rather than the role the defendant played. This has meant that low-level offenders are often given sentences equal to those of major offenders.

Dear Aaron–

The time is NOW to support federal sentencing reform. We need your support on Tuesday, December 10. All it will involve is five minutes and picking up your phone – but your help could make a big difference!

On Thursday, December 12, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will meet to begin discussing mandatory minimum sentencing reform and the Smarter Sentencing Act, S. 1410. If passed, that bill would benefit thousands of nonviolent federal offenders facing mandatory minimum sentences (including some crack offenders who are already in federal prison).

If you live in one of the states listed below, now is the time to call your U.S. Senator(s) on the Judiciary Committee and tell them to vote in favor of the Smarter Sentencing Act or, if they are already supporting the bill, to thank them for doing so. Please participate in our national call-in day on December 10 if you live in one of the states listed below. Here’s how it works:

1. On Tuesday, December 10, 2013, call 202-224-3121. Ask to speak with your Senator. You will be transferred to your Senator’s office. Only people who live in one of the states listed below should make the phone calls.

Your State

Senator(s) to Call

Message to Use (see below for script)

Day to Call:

Tuesday,

December 10, 2013

Alabama

Jeff Sessions

Support S. 1410

Arizona

Jeff Flake

Support S. 1410

California

Dianne Feinstein

Support S. 1410

Connecticut

Richard Blumenthal

Support S. 1410

Delaware

Christopher Coons

Support S. 1410

Hawaii

Mazie Hirono

Support S. 1410

Illinois

Richard Durbin

Thank you

Iowa

Charles Grassley

Support S. 1410

Minnesota

Amy Klobuchar

Support S. 1410

Minnesota

Al Franken

Support S. 1410

New York

Chuck Schumer

Support S. 1410

Rhode Island

Sheldon Whitehouse

Thank you

South Carolina

Lindsey Graham

Support S. 1410

Texas

John Cornyn

Support S. 1410

Texas

Ted Cruz

Support S. 1410

Utah

Orrin Hatch

Support S. 1410

Utah

Mike Lee

Thank you

Vermont

Patrick Leahy

Thank you

2. Share your message. When you are transferred to your U.S. Senator’s office, speak with the person who answers the phone (you won’t be able to speak directly to the Senator). Using the chart above, pick the appropriate message to use with your Senator:

Support S. 1410 Message:

Hello, I’m a constituent, and I’m calling to ask the Senator to vote in favor of mandatory minimum sentencing reform like the Smarter Sentencing Act, S. 1410, at this Thursday’s Judiciary Committee markup. The Senator should vote to reform mandatory minimums because they are unfair, expensive, and don’t keep us safe. Thank you for considering my views. [Optional: share your story of how mandatory minimum sentencing laws have impacted you or your family.]

OR

Thank You Message:

Hello, I’m a constituent, and I’m calling to thank the Senator for supporting mandatory minimum sentencing reform and the Smarter Sentencing Act, S. 1410. The Senate should vote to reform mandatory minimums because they are unfair, expensive, and don’t keep us safe. Thank you for considering my views. [Optional: share your story of how mandatory minimum sentencing laws have impacted you or your family.]

3. If you are calling more than one U.S. Senator from your state, repeat Steps 1 and 2 with your other U.S. Senator.

We do not expect the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to vote on the Smarter Sentencing Act or any other bills on December 12 – but that hearing is the beginning of the debate on what mandatory minimum sentencing reform will look like. It is very important that the Senators go into the hearing knowing that their voters support sentencing reform. Remember: Your U.S. Senators won’t support sentencing reform unless they know that you do!

So, mark your calendars and plan to call the U.S. Senate on December 10, 2013!

Thank you for your support and your help. Together, let’s tell the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that we want mandatory minimum sentencing reform!

Sincerely,

Molly

Molly Gill

Government Affairs Counsel, FAMM

Overcoming Disappointment – Ezra 3

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The year is 537 B.C. The place is Jerusalem. The Jews have just returned from a long captivity in Babylon. Some have been gone from their homeland for 70 years. Others have been gone for 50 years. They were sent into captivity as part of God’s judgment on generations of disobedience. Now at last the first wave of Jews is returning to the land. But everything has changed. The countryside is in the hands of their enemies. The city of Jerusalem lies in ruins. The walls have been torn down and buildings have been looted. And worst of all, the temple built by Solomon 500 years earlier is no more. It’s gone. Vanished. Utterly destroyed. So complete was the work that it seemed as if the temple and all its glory had been some strange dream. The Babylonians took the gold and the silver and everything else of value. The temple itself was razed. The Ark of the Covenant is gone, the altar of sacrifice is gone, and the temple implements are gone. In its place lies a field of rubble.

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So the Jews go to work with vigor and determination. First, they rebuild the altar (vs. 1-6). Second, they relay the foundation of the temple (vs.7-9). Then they pause for a public praise celebration (vs. 10-11). In the midst of the cheering and the singing, a strange thing happens: “But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away” (Ezra 3:12-13). The young folks danced and cheered while the old folks wept bitter tears. And the shouts of joy mixed with the weeping so that no one could tell them apart. What a strange scene.

If you do the math, it all makes sense. The temple had been destroyed in 586 B.C. Fifty years later the Jews return from captivity and begin to rebuild it. The older folks who could remember Solomon’s temple were at least 65 years old. Meanwhile, two whole generations had been born in Babylon. Those young people had no memory of the glories of Solomon’s temple. Having grown up in pagan Babylon, they cheered the beginning of a new temple. But to the old folks, it was like comparing a tar paper shack to the Taj Mahal. How pitifully small it seemed to them when compared with what they once had known. Their disappointment was so great that they wept while others rejoiced.

Misplaced Expectations

Everyone knows disappointment sooner or later. Friends break their word, marriages end in divorce, our children move away and never call us, colleagues betray us, the company lays us off, doctors can’t cure us, our investments disappear, our dreams are shattered, the best-laid plans go astray, other Christians disappoint us, and very often, we disappoint ourselves. We live in a world of disappointment, and if we do not come to grips with this truth, we are doomed to be unhappier tomorrow than we are today.

English author Joseph Addison declared, “Our real blessings often appear to us in the shape of pains, losses and disappointments.” We have all heard the story of Alexander the Great who wept because there were no more worlds to conquer. Hugo Grotius, the father of modern international law, said, “I have accomplished nothing worthwhile in my life.” John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the U.S.—wrote in his diary: “My life has been spent in vain and idle aspirations.” And this is the epitaph written by famed author Robert Louis Stevenson: “Here lies one who meant well, who tried a little, and failed much.” Cecil Rhodes opened up Africa and established an empire, but what were his dying words? “So little done, so much to do.” Joe Torre is the manager of the New York Yankees. Years ago he was the broadcaster for the California Angels (now the Anaheim Angels). During a broadcast one night, he mentioned that a little boy had asked him before the game, “Didn’t you used to be somebody?” And perhaps you’ve heard Abraham Lincoln’s reply when he was asked how it felt to lose the race for U.S. Senator to Stephen Douglas in 1858: “I feel like the boy who stubbed his toe: I am too big to cry and too badly hurt to laugh.”

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Dr. Jerome Frank at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore talks about “our assumptive world.” He means that we all make certain assumptions about life. Often our assumptions are unstated. Deep down, we believe that if we do certain things, others will treat us in a certain way. We assume that we have earned certain things out of life. If those expectations are not met, we are disappointed. There is a strong correlation between good mental health and having assumptions that match reality. And there is a high correlation between misplaced assumptions and a variety of emotional problems, including depression. Put simply, we are disappointed when things don’t go the way we thought they were going to go. Wrong expectations lead to disappointment, and disappointment leads to despair.

Why were the old people disappointed? They remembered how good things used to be. And because they were living in the past with all its glory, they could not deal with the present reality. If we are ever going to overcome that sort of disappointment, three things are necessary. We must do what the Jews did in Ezra 3.

I. A New Dedication—Rebuild the Altar
The returning exiles began by rebuilding the altar so they could offer sacrifices to God. Verse 1 notes that all the people (“as one man”) assembled in Jerusalem. The two key leaders knew what to do. Jeshua the high priest and Zerubbabel (the man who led the exiles back from Babylon) led the people in reconstructing the altar of God. When it was finished, they began to offer the morning and evening sacrifices as God had mandated in the book of Leviticus. Then they made offerings for the Feast of Tabernacles (v. 4). “After that, they presented the regular burnt offerings, the New Moon sacrifices and the sacrifices for all the appointed sacred feasts of the LORD, as well as those brought as freewill offerings to the LORD. On the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD, though the foundation of the LORD’s temple had not yet been laid” (Ezra 3:5-6).

They built the altar even before they started rebuilding the temple. Why? Worship must always come first. Out of the rubble of their past disobedience, they first made sure they were right with God. In a sense, by making sacrifices first, they were saying, “Lord, we want to get right with you.” The altar was the symbolic center of Old Testament religion. It was the place where they brought their lambs, goats and bulls to be offered to the Lord. They killed the animal, poured out its blood, and burned the flesh before the Lord. Without the altar there could be no proper worship, no assurance of divine protection, no guarantee of forgiveness, no access to God, and no lifting of the burden of guilt and failure. The altar was the link between God and man. During all the years in Babylon, the people had no altar and thus no clear access to God and no assurance of forgiveness. Their disobedience had taken the altar away and broken their fellowship with God.

There are times when we all need a new beginning with God. Sometimes we need a new beginning because of our own sin. Sometimes the circumstances of life have so defeated us that we need a fresh start. Sometimes we feel that hope is gone forever. And in those moments, we must do what the Jews did. We must return to the altar of sacrifice. For Christians, that means returning to the cross of Jesus Christ where his blood was shed for our sins. That’s why I often say, “Run to the cross!” And not just for the unsaved but for Christians, too. We all need the healing that comes from the cross of Jesus Christ. And we need it every day.

The Man Who Denied God

Often we wonder if God will take us back, or will he turn us away? The answer is yes, he’ll take you back, but you’ll never know until you make that journey on your own. Several months ago I was the guest host on Open Line, the question-and-answer program headed up bu a wonderful spirit filled “Woman of God”. With about three minutes left in the program, I took one final call. As soon as I heard the man’s voice, I knew he was distraught. He proceeded to tell me a story unlike anything I have ever heard before. “I used to be a Christian but my wife left me for another man. When she told me she was leaving, I got angry and ripped up the Bible in front of her. Then I denied God in the name of the Trinity.” His voice broke and he started weeping. “I know it was wrong to do that, but I don’t think God will ever take me back. What can I do?” I glanced at the clock and saw that we had about 90 seconds left in the program. It was a dilemma because this was the kind of call you wish you had a whole hour to discuss. But the seconds were ticking away and I had to say something quickly. “Sir, I don’t have much time, so let me tell you this one thing. I know God loves you just the way you are and he will take you back.” “But I ripped up the Bible in front of my wife.” “Sir, I know God loves you and he will take you back.” “But I denied God in the name of the Trinity.” “God loves you and he will take you back.” The man wept openly as I said those words. Now we were down to the last 30 seconds. “We’re almost out of time so I want you to listen carefully. Your broken heart tells me that God will take you back. The Lord never turns away a broken heart. When this program is over, I want you to get on your knees, put the Bible in front of you, tell the Lord you know the Bible is the Word of God, and ask him to forgive you. And I want you to renounce your denial of faith. Tell the Lord that you know he is God, and ask the Lord Jesus to forgive you. Ask him for a fresh start. If you do that, you will not be turned away.” With that, our time ran out and the program was over. I never heard from the man again. I don’t know if he took my counsel or not. But I am sure I told him the truth. No matter how great sin may be, if we turn to the Lord, he will abundantly pardon. “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18).

II. A New Obedience—Relaid the Foundation
Having rebuilt the altar, and thus re-established their relationship with God, the Jews proceeded to relay the foundation of the temple. This involved a massive cleanup effort. Remember that when they came back, they found a city basically turned into rubble, like Berlin at the end of World War II. And where Solomon’s temple had been, they found a field of rubble—piles of rocks, smashed bits of wood, with weeds and bushes growing up amid the debris. When they first saw it, there was nothing that looked like a temple. Nothing. All had been destroyed, torn down, and then burned. “Then they gave money to the masons and carpenters, and gave food and drink and oil to the people of Sidon and Tyre, so that they would bring cedar logs by sea from Lebanon to Joppa, as authorized by Cyrus king of Persia. In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the house of God in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Jeshua son of Jozadak and the rest of their brothers (the priests and the Levites and all who had returned from the captivity to Jerusalem) began the work, appointing Levites twenty years of age and older to supervise the building of the house of the LORD” (Ezra 3:7-8).

As I study this story in its larger context, I am struck by two facts: First, they committed themselves to follow the Lord in the details of life. Verses 2 and 4 emphasize that when they rebuilt the altar, they did it “according to the Law,” that is, they followed the details of what God told Moses to do. That’s significant because nearly 1,000 years had passed since God had spoken to Moses on Mount Sinai. Lots of water had passed under the bridge in the intervening centuries. Empires had come and gone, Israel itself had gone through the conquest, the period of the Judges, the reign of the three great kings, Saul, David and Solomon, then the bizarre period of the divided kingdom, and finally the humiliation of total defeat and exile in Babylon. Now it was time to start over. What do you do then? You go back to the basics, back to the drawing board, you go back and read the instruction manual so you don’t make the same mistakes all over again. That’s what they did in Ezra 3.

Second, they relaid the foundation in spite of the enemies all around them. As the story unfolds in the chapters that follow, those enemies will do everything they can to discourage them, to harass them, to oppose them, and to stop them altogether. And in fact, the enemies will succeed for a period of time. It takes courage to stand against a hostile world. When the enemy lines up against you, what will you do then? You put faith ahead of your fears.

Put it all together and it looks like this. In spite of the rubble and in spite of the opposition, and in spite of all that had happened in the past, the people of God banded together and got to work. They raised money to buy new cedar logs, they organized their workers into teams, and everyone pitched in and went to work. They picked up those huge boulders and dragged them to the side. They cut down the bushes, dug up the weeds, cleared out the broken timber and the jagged pieces of metal. Little by little, day by day, week by week, they worked to clean out a half-century of neglect.

Do not miss the point. When you are disappointed and don’t know what to do, take a lesson from the Jews.

Do what you know is right!

Do what you know is right!

Do what you know is right!

You can’t stay in bed forever. Someone has to mop the floor. Someone has to take out the trash. Someone has to open the office. Someone has to turn on the lights. Someone has to pay the bills. Someone has to fix the motor. Someone has to enter the data. Someone has to make the sales presentation. Someone has to review the charts. Someone has to make the lesson plans. Someone has to see the patients. Someone has to grade the papers.

Don’t let your discouragement keep you from doing what you know you have to do. If you can’t keep your big promises, keep your small ones. If you can’t follow the big plan, follow the small one. If you can’t see ten steps into the future, then take two or three steps. Or just take the next step in front of you. Motivational speaker John Maxwell said, “The smallest act of obedience is better that the greatest intention.” He’s right. Better to do a little than to sit around dreaming about doing a lot.

If you cannot obey God in some grand gesture, then obey him in the small things of life. Do what you know needs to be done, and do it for the glory of God.

III. A New Priority—Resolved to Praise the Lord
“When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD: ‘He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.’ And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid” (Ezra 3:10-11).

Once the foundation was laid, the people and their leaders stopped and gave thanks to God. This is united, public praise. It is intense, emotional and God-centered. When they sang, they declared, “He is good,” not “We are good.” They didn’t even say, “We did this with God’s help,” even though that would have been true. They openly gave God all the credit.

I am struck by the fact that they did not wait until the building was done to praise the Lord. Even though laying the foundation was significant, there was a mountain of work left to do. Years would pass before the temple was finished. This was only the first step, but they stopped anyway and gave thanks to the Lord. What a lesson that is for all of us.

Yesterday May and I were at the county hospital. We happened to tune in while a preacher was talking about the importance of praising the Lord. He made the point (loudly) that praise is a choice, not a feeling. “You aren’t supposed to wait until you feel like praising the Lord. You’re to praise the Lord at all times whether you feel like it or not. Many times you won’t feel like praising the Lord. That doesn’t matter. Praise isn’t about your feelings. Praise is a choice we make without regard to our feelings.” He was exactly right. Don’t wait until the victory is won to praise the Lord. Stop and praise him before the battle is begun. Then praise him in the midst of the conflict. And praise him even when things seem to be going against you. Do what the Jews did and praise him for a good beginning. That will put your soul in the right place to continue to work with joy in the days to come.

It is a great advance in the spiritual life if you can praise the Lord even when things are not going well. In the midst of the devastation of Jerusalem, with only the foundation of the temple relaid, with rubble on every hand, after returning to find their homeland controlled by their enemies, still the people said with one voice, “God is good.” That’s true faith. Anyone can praise God when the sun in shining, all the bills are paid, your marriage is strong, your kids are doing well, you just got a raise, and the future is bright. It’s something else to praise God when things are far from perfect. It’s a great thing to be able to look at your life and say, “It’s not what I wish it was, but God is still good to me.”

Why Young and Old Need Each Other

So why did the young people rejoice? Because Babylon was all they had known. They had never seen Solomon’s temple, didn’t remember its glory and hadn’t witnessed its destruction. All they knew about that, they had heard from their parents and their parents’ friends. The older generation told them tales of the glorious olden days. But they knew none of it by experience. So when they saw the temple foundation relaid, to them it was an amazing answer to prayer. It was the closest thing to a temple they had ever seen, and they saw no reason to weep. This was a time to celebrate the goodness of the Lord.

But I do not think we should be overly hard on the old folks. They remembered how good things had been, and they recalled what had been lost through disobedience. It was well that they should weep, and even better that they should pass on the lessons learned through bitter experience many years earlier. It is still true today:

The young need the old to remind them of the past.

The old need the young to encourage them about the future.

Four Life Lessons

As we stand back and survey this amazing, touching episode, four lessons stand out to help us overcome the disappointments of life.

A. Yield your memories and your dreams to the Lord.

Was your past better and happier than your present? Yield it to the Lord. Was your past filled with sadness and pain? Give that to the Lord, too. Do you have great dreams, bright hopes, big plans for the future? That’s wonderful. It’s good to dream big, but in all your dreaming, and all your hoping, and all your planning, yield it all to the Lord. Lay it at his feet and say, “Your will be done.” Take the past with its happiness and sadness, take the future with all its unlimited possibilities, and give it all, past and present, to the Lord who spans the generations. Say to him, “Lord, you are the God of yesterday and you are the God of tomorrow, I yield them both to you so that I may live for your glory today.”

B. Accept your present situation as from the Lord.

To “accept” does not mean passive resignation to the problems of life. This is not a call to give up and stop fighting for what you believe in. But it does mean accepting the reality that you are where you are right now because this is where God wants you to be, because if God wanted you to be somewhere else, you would be somewhere else. Only those who have a high view of God can come to this conclusion. Sometimes you must come to this certainty by a conscious choice of the heart. Blessed is the person who can say, “I am here by the sovereign choice of a loving God, and I know my Lord makes no mistakes.” This does not mean it is wrong to change your situation if you need to (and if you can), but it gives you the bedrock confidence that Higher Hands are at work in your life and that you are being led by the Lord. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 KJV).

C. Resolve to obey God right where you are.

Disappointment may cause us to become bitter, and bitterness may make us lethargic toward the duties of life. We may find a thousand excuses not to do the things we know we ought to do. And little by little things begin to slide, jobs are not done, chores are not finished, projects are left uncompleted, phone calls are not returned, appointments are not met, messages are not answered, papers are not written, goals are not met, and down we slide into a bottomless pit of despair. The answer is so simple that we often miss it. Resolve in your heart that you will obey God right where you are. No excuses. No delays. No hoping for better days, happier times, or more favorable circumstances. If things aren’t what you wish they were, roll up your sleeves anyway and go to work. Who knows? Your willingness to do what needs to be done may change the way things are. And even if the situation does not improve, you can hardly make it worse by doing what needs to be done. And if you somehow make it worse, at least you have the satisfaction of knowing that you made it worse by doing your duty, not by giving up and throwing in the towel. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10a).

D. Praise God for his goodness in spite of your circumstances.

This is what the people of God did in Ezra’s day. They rolled up their sleeves, got to work, and as they worked, with the fulfillment of their dreams still far in the future, they offered public praise to God. If this were a parable, I would say, “Go and do likewise.”

Rough Seas Make Great Sailors

And let this be the basis of your thanksgiving. God’s goodness is proved not only in what he gives, but also in what he allows. Hard times are hard precisely because they force you out of your comfort zone. They put you in a place where you are virtually forced to trust God. They move the spiritual life from theory to reality. You can hear all the sermons you want about how God takes care of his children, but it’s not until you experience it for yourself that those truths become the liberating foundation of a life that cannot be blown away by the winds of adversity. Here’s a quote I found this week: “One can learn about sailing in the classroom, but it takes rough seas to make a great sailor.” Well said. You can read about sailing until you know all the nautical terms by heart, but you’ll never learn how to sail, much less be a great sailor, until you take your turn at the helm while your sailboat fights through a squall off Cape Fear. When the waves are pounding, the wind is howling, and the rain rolls across the deck in horizontal sheets, then you’ll learn how to sail and how to survive. If you don’t learn at that point, you probably won’t survive. When the storm has passed, you will thank God for the knowledge and confidence that could not have come any other way. There are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity. So give thanks to God even though your circumstances are not the best.

Better to Begin Small

As we come to the end of this message, there is much we need to ponder. For one thing, God’s grace is so great that, no matter how great our sin, there is always the possibility of a new beginning with him. The very fact that the Jews returned from Babylon proves this fact. No matter how checkered your past may be, the grace of God is always greater than your sin. While the scars of the past may be with you forever, those scars do not determine what your future will be. So if you need a new beginning, turn to the Lord with all your heart because he will not turn you away. There is a second truth the flows from the first: When we have been humbled by God, our praise will be sweeter because it will be unmixed with sinful pride. The Jews could never say, “Look at us, we did it, we brought ourselves back from Babylon.” No way. God humbled them, he punished them, and when the time came, he brought them home again. And he gave them the strength to relay the foundation of the temple. Human pride had been crushed years earlier. Now God alone would get the glory.

Let’s close with two statements I would like you to repeat out loud. That’s right. Wherever you happen to be right now, I’d like you to say the next two sentences aloud:

It is better to begin small with God than not to begin at all.

It is better to rejoice over what you have than to weep over what you used to have.

Disappointment is a tricky emotion. It’s not wrong to remember the past and it’s certainly not wrong to grieve over what you lost. If our loss was caused by our own stupid choices, then grieving may keep us from making the same mistakes again. But eventually there comes a time when we must move on. At that point our beginnings are likely to be small and insignificant. Do not despair. From tiny acorns mighty oaks someday grow. When God wanted to save the world, he started with a baby in a manger. Small beginnings are no hindrance to the Lord. Go ahead and get started. You never know what God will do.

How long are you going to allow your future to be defined by your past? How long will you choose to stay in your disappointment? Don’t despise your present because it’s not what you wanted it to be or because it’s not what your past used to be. Lay your disappointments at the foot of the cross. Let Jesus have them. Take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there. Give thanks for all your blessings. Then by God’s grace, move forward with your life, determined to serve the Lord. Amen.

Perfect through Suffering!!!!

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Hebrews 2:10

New International Version (NIV)
10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.

Steel is the product of iron plus fire. Soil is rock plus heat and the crushing of glaciers. Linen is flax plus the water that cleans it, the comb that separates it, the flail that pounds it, and the shuttle that weaves it. In the same way, the development of human character requires a plus attached to it, for great character is made not through luxurious living but through suffering. And the world does not forget people of great character.

I once heard the story of a mother who brought a crippled boy with a hunched back into her home as a companion for her son. She warned her son to be very careful not to refer to the other boy’s deformity, since this was a sensitive matter to him. And she encouraged him to play with his new friend as if he were a normal child. But after listening to her son play with him for a few minutes, she heard him ask his companion, “Do you know what that is on your back?” The crippled boy was embarrassed, hesitated a moment, but before he could respond, his friend answered the question for him by saying, “It is the box that holds your wings, and someday God is going to break it open, and you will fly away to be an angel.”

Someday God is going to reveal this fact to every Christian: the very things they now rebel against are the instruments He has used to perfect their character and to mold them into Perfection, so they may later be used as polished stones in His heaven yet to come.

Suffering is a wonderful fertilizer for the roots of character. The great objective of this life is character, for it is the only thing we can carry with us into eternity. And gaining as much of the highest character possible is the purpose of our trials. The mountain of vision is won by no other road than the one covered with thorns. I went to court facing 24 years today, and God delivered me from the injustice of a corrupt system. The church prayed and my wife and I fasted and prayed and just like Daniel I was vindicated. This case has been pending for 2 years, we have struggled to maintain peace and positioning within my God. We suffered all the while we were trusting. This has built enormous character within our soul. Mine eyes have seen the rock that is higher than I.

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As White as Soapsuds…

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The challenge to us is to be maladjusted—as maladjusted as the prophet Amos who, in the midst of the injustices of his day, could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream;”…as maladjusted as Jesus who could say to the men and women of his generation, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despite-fully use you.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
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James 5:16
New International Version (NIV)

16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

The natural things of this life are a part of a world God admonishes us to separate ourselves from. It is so easy to be like the world and say He/She is going to be nothing in this life or it’s very much the costume of the naturalistic world we live in to disqualify others that just don’t seem to measure up to our perspectives and values. I am becoming “maladjusted” to this world and the things in it. The practices that are contrary to my God’s teachings are really becoming nasty to my sight and existence.

I am looking to God for the miracle of total restoration and the ability to help all that have been stamped invaluable for usefulness. I have an expectation to be able to house, re-educate, and empower 300 men and women to become self sufficient and able to reach out to 300 more to over come the stigma associated with being disenfranchised in this wicked and perverse world we now live in. I expect God to use May and Aaron to achieve these goals and visions in the name of Jesus.

“An old woman with a halo of silvered hair-the hot tears flowing down her furrowed cheeks-her worn hands busy over a washboard in a room of poverty-praying-for her son John-John who ran away from home in his teens to become a sailor-John of whom it was now reported that he had become a very wicked man-praying, praying always, that her son might be of service to God. The mother believed in two things, the power of prayer and the reformation of her son. God answered her prayer by working a miracle in the heart of John Newton.

“John Newton, the drunken sailor became John Newton, the sailor preacher [who wrote the words to “Amazing Grace’]. Among the thousands of men and women he brought to Christ was Thomas Scott…[who] used both his pen and voice to lead thousands of unbelieving hearts to Christ, among them William Cowper…[who] in a moment of inspiration wrote ‘There Is a Fountain Filled With Blood.’ And this song has brought countless thousands to the Man who died on Calvary. All this resulted because a mother took God at His word, became “maladjusted” to the naysayers and prayed that her son’s heart might become as white as the soapsuds in the washtub.”

When praying for your children, keep in mind that not only will your children’s lives be changed, but they will change the lives of others. Many a man has kept straight because his mother bent knees…

Actions and Results

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The D.B. Cooper investigation
( FBI / European Pressphoto Agency )
An artist’s impression from 1971 of the hijacking suspect known as D.B. Cooper. The FBI is looking into a tip from a witness who contends the hijacker died 10 years ago. The witness was brought to the FBI’s attention by a retired law enforcement officer. An FBI agent provided few details, but said the bureau considered the tip credible. The bureau is attempting to match fingerprints taken from belongings of the dead man to fingerprints gathered 40 years ago from the cabin of the jetliner that Cooper hijacked.

Romans 5:12-19
New International Version (NIV)
Death Through Adam, Life Through Christ

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

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On November 24, 1971, a man known today as D. B. Cooper hijacked a commercial flight between Portland and Seattle by threatening to blow up the plane unless he received $200,000. After landing to receive the ransom money, he ordered the plane back into the air. Then he lowered the rear stairs of the 727 aircraft and parachuted into the night. He was never captured, and the case is still unsolved. This act hastened the age of aircraft security in which trust and confidence have been replaced by suspicion and fear. What he did affected us all.

The Bible describes two actions that changed the world in a far more significant way. Through Adam’s choice, sin and death entered the world, “and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” ( Romans 5:12). But through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, God provided a remedy for the results of sin. “Through one man’s [Adam’s] offense judgement came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s [Christ’s] righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.”

Christ did what no one else could do when He broke the power of sin and death by His resurrection. He offers forgiveness and eternal life to all who will accept His gift. And for that we thank Him with all our hearts.

When Adam sinned, death spread to all
One act condemned the human race;
But Jesus’ death upon the cross
Provides mankind God’s saving grace.

The cross of Christ can cure the condemnation of Adam’s choice.