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Apr 29, 2010

That Stinks to High Heaven

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That Stinks to High Heaven

Scriptural Basis:

“May my prayer be set before you like incense. Psalm 141:2


Application:

When I caught myself thinking these words last week I thought, “I wonder where that phrase came from? I “googled it and got over 35,000 hits; basically 35,000 quotes of people who have used it to voice their displeasure with something or other. When I sought out the origin of the phrase, online dictionaries would only give definitions for single words like “stinks, not the phrase itself. So I did my own exegesis. There are definitely some smells I abhor like stale cigarette smoke saturating the fabric in a hotel room where previous travelers disregarded the No Smoking sign, or the “aromas arising from rotting garbage dumps. You get the point. Opposite smells are enticing and refreshing rather than repulsive, like the cinnamon and cloves my wife keeps simmering on the stove, the variety of essences for our Lamp Bergere which fill the entire home, the aroma of bread baking in the oven, or the fresh pine smell blowing in the breeze by a mountain stream. But what really got me thinking were the thoughts that came to my mind of the God directed use of incense in Old Testament worship and the fragrant or detestable aroma, as the case may be, that rose into “high heaven or before the “nose of God.
God directed Moses, “Aaron must burn fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps. He must burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight so incense will burn regularly before the Lord for the generations to come. (Exodus 30:7) The analogy of incense with prayer and worship is unmistakable in the Scriptures. David wrote in the Psalms, “May my prayers be set before you like incense. And on the negative side God spoke to the people through Isaiah the Prophet, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings; your incense is detestable to me. In yet another instance God says through Ezekiel, “I will accept you as a fragrant incense when I bring you out from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will show myself holy among you in the sight of the nations. Then you will know that I am the Lord. So fragrant incense equated with the faithful and perpetual prayers of God’s people, coupled with their obedience, reverence, humility (a broken and contrite heart I will not despise) which was metaphorically a sweet savor in God’s “nostrils. As in Proverbs 27, “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel.
The fact that the use of incense is not a part of the believer’s practice of worship today, does not mean the truth of its Old Testament purposes of instruction should be neglected by us. Can it be said of us that our lives and our hearts “stink to high heaven or that they are a fragrant incense rising before the face and nose of the Lord? The truth is that our hearts and minds are continually “burning incense in the sense that they are never at rest in the message they send out. There is a perpetual spiritual aroma that emanates from them into the presence of our Heavenly Father and Mediating Savior. The fire of burning incense never goes out on the altar of any heart. There is either a pleasing and acceptable incense rising from it to God, or there is a detestable one that stinks to high heaven.


Encouragement:

“Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that thou art—thou my best thought by day or by night, waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
(1st verse of St. Patrick’s hymn, “Be Thou My Vision, ca. 8th century)


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Apr 22, 2010

Snitches Get Stitches

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Scriptural Basis:

“Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them. Genesis 37:2


Application:

Robert Tate, 17 years old, wasn’t ever going to snitch—not even when it came to his own murder, according to the Chicago Police. This young man had been shot in the chest as someone approached him on a West Side sidewalk just 10 days ago. The first policeman on the scene seeing he probably wasn’t going to make it, asked him: “Do you know who shot you? “I know, Tate told him. “But I ain’t telling you (expletive)! He died on the sidewalk as paramedics tried to save him. (Chicago Sun Times, April 20, 2010)
This young man had been in and out of school, in and out of the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, and as a teenager already had 14 arrests for drugs, weapons, and car theft. His motto, as is the motto of the gang members in his “hood is “snitches get stitches; apparently they also get killed even when they don’t snitch, while their committed silence paves the way to the ruin and demise of their “buddies. This attitude about snitching pervades the society up and down the socio-economic scale, especially among the younger generation; and it is a sacred “law with those who have little regard for the rule of Law. The young men who come to the PAYH are at first extremely committed to not snitching on any of their peers, even when such silence never leads in the long run to anything positive or beneficial for anyone. So why does “snitching have such a bad reputation with so many?
Even a teenager with Joseph’s integrity and mature godly character comes in for harsh treatment by modern Bible scholars, including evangelicals, for being a “bratty tattletale, as they call him. The action so often called snitching is so disliked and misunderstood that it is labeled with a word we think of in very derogatory terms. By the way, I believe their exegesis concerning Joseph is atrocious in this regard. This young man of 17 was loved by his father not so much because he was born to him and his beloved wife Rachel in his old age, but because Joseph was a son who behaved with “old age as a youth; that is, he was mature beyond his years. Such maturity showed itself in the way he honored his father with his obedience. When his father Jacob (Israel) foolishly placed him between a “rock and a hard place by sending him to bring back a report on his brothers’ behavior, what was Joseph supposed to do? Many have implied by their criticism of the young man that he should have lied and given his father a false report. In other words do not be a tattletale; at the very least “candy-coat the “truth.
If you study the entire history of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 you will see that in the end it is well proven that all along it was Joseph who truly loved his brothers with his behavior and in his obedience to his father, Israel; but especially in his obedience to his Father, God. He believed his dreams to be the very word of God (which they were), and though his brothers and parents would find this word from God offensive to their ears (obviously because of their pride, seeing every word absolutely came to pass) he would not remain silent in revealing it out of obedience to his heavenly Father. Joseph is perhaps the most Christ-like figure in the Old Testament.
To snitch or not to snitch is never the question of importance. Loving God and loving our neighbor is! If we love the Lord we will hold fast to the truth while at the same time loving our neighbor as we would love ourselves. Both of those loves must always be in sync. If they are not, both are out of whack and not really love at all. We do NOT love our neighbor if we allow him in our unloving silence to continue down a path not for his good in the eyes of God. It always takes real courage to “Speak the truth in love directly to a brother or sister. (Ephesians 4:15) But it is what real love is all about.


Encouragement:

“Let thy love my heart inflame; Keep thy fear before my sight; Be thy praise my highest aim; Be thy smile my chief delight, Be thy smile my chief delight.
(Verse 2 of Ralph Wardlaw’s hymn, “Christ of All My Hopes The Ground, 1817)


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Apr 15, 2010

Christ and Dark Energy

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Scriptural Basis:

“The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork. Psalm 19:1
“And He (Jesus Christ) is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17


Application:

You non-scientists or non-astronomers may never have heard of “dark energy, but prominent scientists today call it “the most profound mystery in all of science. Would you have ever thought with all the advances in science and technology, with telescopes like the powerful Hubble in outer space, with explorations to the Moon, and Mars, and Venus, and beyond our own galaxy; with astronomers and astronauts who watch the skies to its furthest visible reaches 24/7, even from places like the two poles where the skies are the clearest; all that we have ever seen is only 4% of what is actually out there! That is what the scientists say. (See Smithsonian Magazine, April 2010) Since they cannot really see it all, I am not so sure they can be dogmatic that it is as much as even 4%. But that it is only 4% in their estimation is astounding. It boggles the mind. The rest they call, for want of a better word, dark; 23 percent is something they call dark matter, and 73 percent is something even more mysterious, which they call dark energy. Have I lost your interest yet? Stick with me.
Scientists believe that the universe began in one spot at a single instant. They call it the “Big Bang. The theory is not antithetical to what we read in Scripture: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3) One of the reasons scientists believe in the “big bang theory is that as they have studied the universe and light, by which they measure distances and speed, they have seen that the universe is expanding steadily from its place of origin. At one point they wondered if this expansion would slow down the longer the universe was removed from the initial energy of the “big bang. But their observation has surprised them because they see the speed of this expansion (as outer stars move farther and faster away from us) actually increasing. The mystery is: (1) into what is the visible universe expanding and moving; and (2) what is the energy fueling this expansion and defying gravity? Even in the part of the universe we can see, there is, according to the theorems of physics and gravity, the necessity of dark matter and dark energy to explain what is happening. For example, the material which is visible in our galaxy does not explain by itself why our galaxy holds together and does not fling off its planets, simply because in all calculations it does not have the density of matter required to hold together as it does. Consequently, there must be the existence of “dark matter which is not visible, but nevertheless is required to hold our “little galaxy together in the universe.
So, in both the micro universe (what we see under the microscope) and the macro (what we observe with the human eye) there is no scientific knowledge today of the “glue that holds elements together in certain orderly micro configurations, nor the “glue that holds the macro universe together, nor the energy that fuels all this living and moving, not static, universe! The Apostle Paul in Colossians 1 and the Psalmist in Psalm 19, in concert with all the content of divine revelation, tell us plainly that Jesus Christ is the glue and energy of the universe. Faith-less human science has been unable to provide or figure out the answer. And whether or not it is believed, the Scriptures tell us plainly that in Christ all things consist, have their being, are organized, and are held together. When the disciples finally grasped this, even with their first century look at the universe, they were awe struck in the presence of the glory, majesty, and power of the Savior. This One who was the very glue and energy of the entire creation, a universe so incredible that 2000 years later we still have only seen 4% of it, if that; this One, they marveled, we have seen, and touched, and eaten with; this One we saw crucified unto death, and then we witnessed His resurrection from the grave and ascent into heaven. If we could by faith, with all the greater magnificence we have witnessed in His creation than they, capture in our own hearts their awe, wonder, and love, our own worship and adoration would be truly transformed. I pray to God in His name that such would be so for each one of us who claim to know and belong to Him.


Encouragement:
“Mighty God, while angels bless thee, May a mortal sing thy Name? Lord of men as well as angels, Thou art every creature’s theme.
“For the grandeur of thy nature, Grand beyond a seraph’s thought; for created works of power, Works with skill and kindness wrought.
“Brightness of the Father’s glory, Shall thy praise unuttered lie? Fly my tongue, such guilty silence, Sing the Lord who came to die:
“From the highest throne in glory, To the cross of deepest woe, All to ransom guilty captives, Flow my praise, forever flow.”
“Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.
(Verses 1,3,5,6 of Robert Robinson’s hymn, “Mighty God, While Angels Bless Thee, 1774)


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Apr 08, 2010

Get A Life! Resurrection Life

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Scriptural Basis:

“If Christ has not been raised our preaching is useless, and so is your faith. I Corinthians 15:14
“I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:10


Application:

In just a few weeks after the first Easter, Jesus cemented the fact of His resurrection in the minds and hearts of His disciples. They saw Him, touched Him, spoke with Him, ate with Him, and were taught by Him. Those who first doubted, like Thomas and James the Lord’s brother, were overwhelmed with the truth when confronted with the scars of their crucified, but living Lord. Even ardent enemies, like Saul/Paul, were transformed when encountering the risen Savior face to face, as Paul, or upon hearing the many eye-witness reports. An undeniable resurrection from the dead confirmed the truth of Jesus’ message and His self-declared identity to His apostles, all of His disciples, and even some of His detractors. Nothing less than what truly happened on that first Easter explains the veritable explosion of Christianity throughout the world from that time forward up to the present day.
Oh, there are those who deny it, as they deny the witness of the Scriptures and the coherent, consistent gospel message that runs from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. But these self-proclaimed “expert Biblical scholars today such as those who constructed the ill-named Jesus Seminar, have fabricated a “Jesus figure bearing absolutely no resemblance to the Christ of the Scriptures. Then to support this figure of their preconceived imaginations they have discombobulated the plain Biblical text with ludicrous theories. To their great misfortune they are unable to enter into the “burning-heart-experience of those two disciples on the first century Emmaus road (Luke 24) as millions of others have done in the intervening millenniums. It is to such muddled “scholars that the Main Stream Media today often turn for comment on religious or Biblical themes or to give their view of the resurrection. These pretenders have carved out a niche earning wealth and recognition on their “studies of the very sources they essentially claim to be nothing more than an ancient collection of fabrications, embellishments, and myths; a scam, they claim, that has blinded the eyes of the masses that make up the believing church of Christ. These dreamers as Jude refers to them are investing their life and energies in building a home built on sand. Both Jude and Peter in their New Testament epistles foretell their certain future.
But what of those today who claim to believe the fact of the resurrection? Those who sing with the hymn writer, “Because He lives I can face tomorrow. Because He lives all fear is gone. What difference does the resurrection make? Or better, what difference should it make? Go back and see the impact it made on the first century Christian. This truth was for them the lynch-pin of the gospel. It confirmed for them the veracity of every word they ever heard from the lips of Jesus. It brought to life the real meaning of Old Testament Scripture. It became the foundation for writing the New. Look at Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2; its power is in the fact of the resurrection! “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of this fact! (2:32)
It gave backbone to every true believer. Courage, not evident in their lives before the resurrection, now stood out in spades. As another hymn writer wrote, “Jesus lives, and so shall I. Death! thy sting is gone forever! You could see this truth pulsating in their veins. They loved the Word. They studied the Word. They preached the Word. They persuaded with the Word. And they lived the Word; all in the power of the resurrection! This is what Philippians 3:10 is about; just as its application will invigorate the lives of 21st century Christians. If you are “ho-hum about Jesus’ resurrection, and what it means for your own, you need to reexamine your faith and get a life! When that happens so will the resurrection power and the courage to face today, and every tomorrow.


Encouragement:

“Jesus lives and by His grace, victory o’er my passions giving, I will cleanse my heart and ways, ever to His glory living. Me, He raises from the dust; Jesus is my hope and trust.
(3rd verse of Christian Gellert’s hymn, “Jesus Lives, and So Shall I, 1757 )


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Apr 01, 2010

Tragedy!

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Scriptural Basis:

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? Job 2:10


Application:

Personal tragedy strikes most families in one way or another sometime in each of our lives. Many experience numbers of tragedies in a lifetime. It is a constant hope and for many a frequent prayer that harm will not come near to those we love and for whom we deeply care. Yet, when we feel least prepared tragedy strikes and loved ones are taken or severely impacted. It is the very thing that causes so many to question whether God is good, or even if he exists. Strangely enough, those who succumb to disbelief in God because of hardship, pain, tragedy or whatever, still find it somehow “reasonable to be angry with a God they have ceased to believe even exists. Or so they claim.
A dear friend of mine who owns a furniture store told me this week of a man who came into his store to buy a lounge chair. When my friend spoke to him about the Jesus he loves, the man stood back and let loose with all the curse words he could get out of his evil mouth in the crudest, fastest and loudest manner he could muster with his pea-sized brain. He demanded his *%@#!* money back and left the store still swearing, especially about his perception of Jesus. Now what are we to make of this? I mean, in rational terms, using something of the brain God or evolution (as some suppose) gave us?
Either this person does not believe in God or at least Jesus as God. Or, he does believe He exists and hates Him with a passion which immediately stirs up his pitiful vocabulary to extraordinary lows. There are not many other logical choices. But if he does not believe he exists why bust a blood vessel over NOTHING? Yet, on the other hand, if He does exist in this man’s mind and he simply hates Him, why get so exercised over One who is external to our world and humanity, apparently possesses super-human powers, has something to do with the air we breathe, and our existence, and on and on, while totally abhorring any examination of who this God is and whether or not He has communicated to us about Himself. If God is, and Jesus certainly made a clear claim to being God in the Bible, and we know tragedies happen, what do the two have to do with each other? If there is no God, and we are alone in the universe with life self-originating and evolving in space and time, and tragedy is but a fact of such evolution, anger is simply a foolish waste of effort! Accept tragedy as a fact of life, and move on, while hoping you avoid the next one. Just remember, the odds are not in your favor.
But man’s natural, universal reaction to tragedy denies the theory of agnostic evolution and says something about humanity’s innate belief that there is a God who might be able to do something about tragedy if only He would. And if He does not protect us or those we love from experiencing tragedy what can we learn about Him and ourselves as we confront it and try to recover from it. If God is, and our private self says He is, then He is the One to whom we must go for answers. He is the One with whom we have to do. No one else can satisfy your “whys or your cries. This is the true life lesson of Job. He wrestled with God, rejected the false view of his counselors, and God eventually showed him Himself. (Job 42:1-6) Job never gave up because he really knew he had nowhere else to go. He was just like the Apostle Peter who exclaimed to Jesus, “Where else can we go? You [alone] have the words of eternal life! (John 6:68)
There is a reason tragedy proliferates in the world in which we live. There is a purpose for the tragedies we endure. The answers are seldom readily at hand, as with Job. But the end proved to be far better than the beginning. Job was a different, wiser and better man than he was at the beginning of his tragedies.
This last week our family experienced personal tragedy. Yet today we are more convinced than ever that nothing; “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38) This is not blind or fatalistic faith. It is faith which has seen the love of God in Christ in the midst of our own tragedies, and we have been bound even more intimately to Him.


Encouragement:

“Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your side; bear patiently the cross of grief or pain; leave to your God to order and provide; in every change he faithful will remain. Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly Friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
(1st verse of Katharina von Schlegel’s hymn, “Be Still My Soul, 1752)


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