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Jul 29, 2010

Is It Hot Enough Yet?

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Scriptural Basis:

“If the Spirit of Him who raised Christ from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you.
Romans 8:11


Application:

Some of you are sweltering under the summer sun and heat. It has been a scorcher for many. The heat, longed for when the temperatures are bitterly cold, can at other times become oppressive; and just as blooms of flowers wilt and bend over under her burning rays, our bodies yearn for refreshment. I have watched such shriveling blooms straighten and open up before my eyes, standing tall to the sun as I applied water to their roots. No less than the fact that our mortal bodies wilt under very high temperatures, especially when mixed with sauna like humidity, our spirit flags under the heat of sin and estrangement from the only relief available to the human soul.
The picture of Romans 3:10-18 is a picture of parched earth in the human soul, not unknown to any of us. It is the picture of death and dying, like a scorched plant to which water never comes. Even the believer, who has experienced the regenerating, life-producing energy of the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ, knows something of the scorching droughts that afflict the believer in the course of his pilgrimage. In a totally different analogy such droughts have also been called “the dark night of the soul. The history of the church rings out with the personal testimonies of saints who have borne the burden of a Valley (or valleys) of Baca (Psalm 84) in their life, or dark, agonizing nights of the soul(Psalm 6). In fact, I dare say, that I cannot think of one who has not.
Any reader and lover of God’s Word cannot escape the fact that the heirs of God, and co-heirs with Christ will share in his sufferings in order to share in His glory! (Romans 8:17) Romans chapter 8 is like a cool drink of water in a scorching desert. It is even more than that; it is a life giving stream with no end to its source. No less than 18 times the Spirit of God is spoken of in Romans 8, and seldom before in the book of Romans. That is why the chapter is often titled “Life Through the Spirit. The Spirit is the key when you do not know what to pray, when you do not even want to pray, when it is the last thing you want to do; yet still you are miserable and life is seemingly ebbing out of you as the sun continues to unmercifully beat down on your parched soul. This is the context of the soul’s “inward groaning. (Romans 8:23)
If the days of too hot sun and heat can become a physical reminder of the spiritual desert of your soul, then as you pursue a cool drink of water, or a plunge in the pool, or the inside air-conditioning, you should be reminded that these physical “inconveniences and “refreshments are comparatively trivial; but the life-giving and reviving Spirit is paramount in your life now! “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”


Encouragement:

“Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me. Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me. Break me! Melt me! Mold me! Fill me! Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me. (Daniel Iverson, 1926)


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Jul 22, 2010

Joseph: The Modern Anti-Hero

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Scriptural Basis:

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7


Application:

Modern heroes are those who sell magazines with their faces on covers, make millions in sports, sing or act their way into the hearts of swooning fans, become more popular after their infidelities, live the decadent life before a jealous world, and tell with panache bold lies received as truth. Traveling in Europe some years ago we found that the American President who repeatedly cheated on his wife was far more popular than the President who was faithful, and whose word meant something. Anti-heroes in the modern age are those who seek not popularity with the masses, but faithfulness to the One who made them and who is worthy of his creatures’ obedience.
The patriarch Joseph comes to mind as a penetrating example of a modern anti-hero because we come to know him as a teenager who was remarkable for his NOT following the crowd as teenagers are prone to do. Modern commentators, even evangelicals, call him a spoiled brat, as they misread the account of his early life in Genesis 37. Seemingly they would prefer that he dishonor his father and defend his scandalous brothers with their evil behavior (remember, snitches get stitches). It is apparent in the Biblical account that Jacob loved Joseph more than the rest of his sons because he displayed a maturity of character, a godliness, while still young in years (17) in contrast to his older brothers (in their 20s and 30s). It was not so much that Jacob loved Joseph more because he was born to him in his old age. If that were the case he would have loved Benjamin even more than Joseph, for Benjamin was truly the youngest son. But Jacob loved Joseph simply because he was mature beyond his years and he could trust him; a better reading of the text. Considering the outcome of Joseph’s life in Egypt, God prospered him because of his godly character, which was continually tested from the time he was a teenager.
Joseph brought his father a bad report of his brothers because it was an honest report. He would not lie or slight the truth to his father, even if such behavior would make him popular with his brothers. Jacob, who was not the best of fathers, seen already in the character of these sons who preceded Joseph, put Joseph in a position where he had to choose to lie for popularity’s sake or honor his father, which he knew to be God’s command. Nor was it merely popularity with his father which Joseph sought, which is something quite different than honoring his father. We see this in Joseph’s report of his dreams, which he clearly believed to be a word from God. The dreams which Joseph faithfully declared, though he knew their substance would not be pleasing to even his parents, much less his brothers, were told not for popularity, nor in arrogance, but because they were the Word of God. As it is they came to pass just as God had revealed them to Joseph for the ultimate blessing of his family and the glory of God.
The character of Joseph is revealed not only in his own family life in Palestine, but immediately upon his entrance into Egypt, after his harrowing escape from death at the hands of his own brothers and being sold as a slave, when he enters the household of a senior administrator in the land of Egypt. He refuses sexual seduction not because he fears his master, or his master’s wife, but because he fears God above all. He will not be ruled by his appetites; but rather by his love for his supreme Master. Such character and fidelity to His Father God marked Joseph’s life in Egypt as it had in Palestine. His behavior flies in the face of modern heroes. If such is the nature of modern heroes as we so obviously witness in this generation, these “heroes that most of this generation seek so brazenly to emulate, we need a whole lot more anti-heroes in the Joseph mold; because the Joseph mold is the Jesus mold; and the outcome of their way of life is not only far superior, it is the only life that leads to glory.


Encouragement:

“Faith of our fathers! living still in spite of dungeon, fire, and sword; O how our hearts beat high with joy when-e’er we hear God’s glorious Word: Faith of our fathers, holy faith! We will be true to thee till death.
(1st verse of Frederick Faber’s hymn, “Faith of our Fathers, 1849)


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Jul 15, 2010

The Deafness of God

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Prayer A Powerful Weapon

Scriptural Basis:

“When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen.
Isaiah 1:15


Application:

Surely at times it seems like God is deaf and cannot or will not hear my prayer; that He is blind and does not see my situation and come quickly to my rescue. There are those who have sought God in “foxhole circumstances or in less dire need out of mere spiritual curiosity, and have soon abandoned their quest for lack of an “answer. While yet others have pursued Him, for what seems like forever, seeking a specific response to their need and have finally determined He just will not hear, or He is not there. Whatever the Divine purpose for God’s inaccessibility at your moment in time, He has not been silent in telling His children why and when we are responsible for plugging His ears!
In Malachi 2 it is the condition of our marriage relationship that becomes the barrier to the throne of God. Even though we weep and wail, flooding our prayers with tears, God will not hear when we have broken faith with the partner of our marriage covenant. We have not guarded our spirit in the sacred relationship we have with our spouse in the presence of the One before whom we gave our vows. Our prayers are hindered when a husband is not considerate of his wife, respecting how God made her, and seeing her as a joint heir with him of the gracious gift of life(1 Peter 3:7). In Malachi 1 it is our unacceptable worship of God which in reality is so paltry that we give little more than the leftovers of ourselves, even though we call Him Lord. The words of our mouths do not portray the feelings and actions of our hearts. The Lord hears the one who is humble in spirit, and contrite in heart, and who trembles at His word (Isaiah 66); who does not choose his own way and relish his abominations. He is deaf to those who will not answer the phone when He calls (66:4), and show no desire to listen to Him.
I have twin nine year old grandsons who in somewhat typical fashion for their age can shut out your voice even though you are standing right next to them when you speak. You have to get a hold of their face, turn it toward you, make eye contact, and then speak….read my lips. You know what I am talking about. This is just how we are before our Father God. We do not hear Him even though He is shouting in our ear. Our deafness to God plugs His ears to us (Proverbs 1:28). When we hang on to secret sin in our life and are unwilling to repent and let it go, He tells us He will not hear our prayers (Psalm 66:18). When we show no mercy or compassion to the needs of those around us, He tells us He will not hear us (Proverbs 21:13). Stubborn refusal to hear Him, results in His own deaf ear to you (Zechariah 7:13). The Bible is saturated with God’s patient and persistent instruction on how we choose to close or open His ears. But in reality it is not His deafness; it is ours! One day the courts of heaven will be flung open and some will with dread behold the tragedy of their skeptical attitude toward prayer; while others will stand amazed in wonder that the prayers they persistently brought to the mercy seat were never unheard, forgotten, or discarded; but recorded and treasured forever. As Jesus commanded, “Pray, and don’t give up!


Encouragement:

“O may my hand forget her skill, My tongue be silent, cold, and still, This bounding heart forget to beat, If I forget the mercy seat!
(6th verse of Hugh Stowell’s hymn, “From Every Stormy Wind that Blows, 1828)


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Jul 08, 2010

The Blush Test

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Scriptural Basis:

“Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them, says the Lord. Jeremiah 6:15


Application:

Blushing is unique to humans. Did you ever think about it? Animals don’t blush; nor were they created in God’s image. Scientists have their theories about the phenomenon of blushing; but it remains a mystery to them to this day. They know blood rushes to the face; they know the central nervous system generates the adrenaline when it happens; and they also know blushing is quite involuntary. When was the last time you were able to stop a blush, or produce one on cue? Blushing is part of the human psyche and scientists are stumped. Apparently, God isn’t. He says here in Jeremiah that blushing can fade and disappear, as shame and embarrassment disappear in a person whose conscience is seared, feeling not even a pin prick from loathsome behavior. Have you lost your ability to blush, even when you are alone? If you have, you need to take inventory of who you are, what you have become, and ask why.
Blushing most often describes a reaction to something with a physical manifestation—a red face! But our souls can blush as well, especially when we are alone and not in the company of others, and we are ashamed. It is a good thing to have the conscience and the heart to blush. This is apparent when you consider the positive side of the Lord’s negative here in Jeremiah (6:15, 8:12). Loathsome conduct ought to produce shame, and the blushing of the face and of the soul. When it does not we are destined for a fall, and a place among the fallen. Your fall may not be immediate, but you can be certain it will happen in a time undisclosed to you now, when the Lord determines to bring the shameless down in punishment. There are numerous examples before our eyes, whether in a person’s life of wide notoriety, in our own social circles, or our own family. Repentance is still available now. One day the door to repentance will be closed, and the fall permanent.
Those who have lost the conscience and the heart of holiness to blush in face or in soul call those who do prudes, or Victorian or puritan, or whatever. Paul calls them imitators of God. He writes in Ephesians 5: “But among you [who imitate God] there must not be a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving…for it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. To the Corinthians he wrote: “For we have renounced secret and shameful ways. Do you quickly dismiss such prudish instruction as out of touch with where we have “evolved in the 21st century? Or is God the same, yesterday, today, and forever? Perhaps it is more likely that we have lost the imitating character of God that produces blushing in us. Is it time for you to take the blush test for your face and for your soul?


Encouragement:

“My sins, my sins, my Savior! They take such hold on me, I am not able to look up, save only Christ to thee; In thee is all forgiveness, In thee abundant grace, My shadow and my sunshine The brightness of thy face.
(1st verse of John Monsell’s hymn, 1863)


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Jul 06, 2010

Father's Day Revisited

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Scriptural Basis:

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4
“He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse. Malachi 4:6


Application:

Recently I was asked again the age-old question, “If God exists and God is good, why is there so much pain and misery in the world? Doesn’t the pain and misery we witness in this world argue for the non-existence of God rather than for His existence? Seekers, doubters, skeptics, atheists, even believers have wrestled with this question again and again ad infinitum. When a tragedy occurs more often than not the “victims, even those who claim to not believe in God, cry out, “Why God? Why did you cause or allow this to happen to me and mine? Answers to these questions exist in God’s Word though they are not always accepted or received as satisfying by those who ask.
When we contemplate such questions in relation to our belief or doubt that God is, and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him, which is the definition of faith as expressed in Hebrews 11:6, perhaps we should grapple with the meaning of these statistics concerning the failure of human fathers, before we throw darts at the Father in heaven.
From recent credible studies it has been shown that fatherless homes produce:
63% of youth suicides; 90% of all homeless and runaway children; 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders; 80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger; 71% of all high school dropouts; 75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers; 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions; 85% of all youths sitting in prisons.
Close to 30% of all children in the State of Georgia live in households without a father. An African American child’s chances of living with a single mother are more than 60%.
What do statistics like this say about man himself, rather than God, the Father, who has clearly warned what happens when the hearts of the fathers turn away from their children, resulting in the hearts of their children turning as well? Or fathers who by their absence, miserable example, and lack of nurture and admonition provoke their children to anger producing these results and countless more like them? Surely, God speaks truthfully when He warns, “or else I will come and strike the land with a curse! This is the awful cost of bondage to sin and hardened hearts which rush to blame God while refusing to see what they have produced in and of themselves.
Mothers are not blameless, but it is fathers who clearly carry the heaviest burden of guilt. The facts speak too loudly and drown out all excuses similar to Adam’s, “She made me do it! Father’s Day has been a time for giving thanks to fathers who in some measure have followed the example of the Heavenly Father; but it ought to be more fittingly a day of repentance. For those fathers willing to see the facts in front of their eyes it is never too late to do something about the failures of the past. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Jesus said it, and He meant it.


Encouragement:

“Come ye souls by sin afflicted, bowed with fruitless sorrow down; by the broken law convicted, through the cross behold the crown; Look to Jesus, mercy flows through Him alone.
“Take His easy yoke and wear it; love will make obedience sweet; Christ will give you strength to bear it, while His wisdom guides your feet Safe to glory, where His ransomed captives meet.
(Verses 1 and 2 of Joseph Swain’s hymn, “Come, Ye Souls by Sin Afflicted, 1792)


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