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Sep 30, 2010

Sunday Morning Coming Down

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First Baptist Steeple
Scriptural Basis:
“You are the God who sees me, for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.
“God sets the lonely in families. Psalm 68:6
“Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12
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Application:
Kris Kristopherson’s song has always intrigued me; certainly its memorable tune and Kristopherson’s and Johnny Cash’s renditions among others; but it is the realistic, sorrowful story that especially intrigues me. You will have to refresh your own memory of its verses, but here is the chorus:
“On the Sunday morning sidewalk, Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned, ‘Cos there’s something in a Sunday, Makes a body feel alone. And there’s nothing short of dying, half as lonesome as the sound, On the sleepin’ city sidewalks; Sunday morning coming down.
The unmistakable theme is the loneliness portrayed and felt as you listen to the song and perhaps are reminded of similar experiences in your own life. I dare say we have all experienced loneliness. From Adam in the garden to the present day, loneliness has haunted mankind. And its effect upon us is so profound that it produces a sense of hopelessness that devastates the soul. It certainly precipitates feelings and even, in time, acts of suicide, because the emotional pain is too great to bear.
But there is more to Kristopherson’s song as the loneliness is precipitated most by Sunday mornings and what they represent. Many would simply associate the emotion here with the hangover of a Saturday night bender; and Kristopherson does not deny that. But there are few if any critiques that see the peculiar meaning of Sunday morning other than that it is simply the day after Saturday night. The 3rd verse, however, speaks of stopping beside a Sunday school and listening to the song they were singing, and then in the distance hearing a lonely [church] bell ringing. This loneliness is not only associated with the internal guilt and emptiness which are vestiges of being stoned (or drunk), and of having no comfort from what one knows down deep is a life moving in the wrong direction; but it is a loneliness rising from the belief that there is really no one “out there to whom to relate in the depths of the soul. There is no person, no family, no friend who is able to remove the loneliness resulting from a powerlessness to change, to lead you to any lasting fulfillment, to give you genuine satisfaction in your existence, nor to give hope in an unknown future. Death, especially, is a great dread.
I have been reading Peter Hitchens, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith , May 2010. Peter’s brother is the famous atheist Christopher Hitchens, the author of God is Not Great among other books denying the existence of God. Peter’s book is worth the read if only for comparing the mind and heart of the two brothers. Christopher is very ill with cancer and his days may be short. He has family, friends, and colleagues, who will be relating to him in the time remaining. But none can encourage him about the future; none can give him hope, nor can he himself, for he has no hope of anything beyond his death. His belief is that death for him is the end; it is a state of nothingness. Everything for him stops abruptly; it is over. I can guarantee you that with such a perspective Christopher is lonely. What keeps him from considering the truth of his own brother’s pilgrimage, belief, and hope? Simply his pride! Hard as it is, he would rather cling to his life-long, self-built beliefs than face the inevitable Christ-less eternity. Christopher Hitchens has no scientific proof, which he claims as the foundation of his beliefs, for what comes after his last breath. In this his science and unbelieving scientist friends have no answers other than dissecting and burying the spiritless decaying flesh and bones that remain. Peter differs from his brother in that he is, in all honesty, neither lonely nor hopeless, but prays earnestly for his brother, even as he tries to still converse with him about the truth that is.
As I have watched the unbelieving die, I have sometimes thought of Kristopherson’s song. If you have no hope, if the words of the One who brings hope are scorned, then you might as well be “stoned to mask the loneliness. But take note of this: there will be no availability of substances in eternity with which to get stoned.
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Encouragement:
“From the depth of nature’s blindness, from the hard’ning power of sin, from all malice and unkindness, from the pride that lurks within, by thy mercy, O deliver us, good Lord.
(2nd verse of James Cummins hymn, “Jesus, Lord of Life and Glory, 1839)


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Sep 23, 2010

Who Did I Say That I Am?

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Scriptural Basis:

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice He judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns…He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is the Word of God…Out of His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations…On His robe and on His thigh He has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Revelation 19:11-16


Application:

Jesus once asked his disciples: “Who do people say that I am? and followed it up with “Who do you say that I am? Still today this is THE question, demanding an answer from every living person. Where do we get our answer? We have heard Him described as quite different than the God of the Old Testament. He is all too frequently in public discourse described only as meek, mild, tolerant, loving toward all; the master of turning the other cheek. Whatever caricature is assumed, the truth is that the Christ of the Scriptures, the picture drawn from the entirety of the Bible, is not the person most often bandied about in public, in the media, in political conversation, whenever the speaker dares to consider it appropriate to bring up His name or some semblance of what they think He taught. Any true student of the Bible will know it teaches clearly that Jesus was before His birth, He assisted His Father God in creating the world and the universe. He has been with the Father and the Spirit from all eternity. And the Christ of the gospels offers glimpses to the careful reader into the Christ of the Book of Revelation described in Chapters 1 and 19 as well as Old Testament appearances like the Warrior Commander who stood before Joshua with a sword in His hand prior to the Battle of Jericho (Joshua 3). These descriptions run quite contrary to the popular misconceptions of the Jesus of the Bible.
Years ago in Scotland in response to some inadequate descriptions of Christ, I read this passage from Revelation 19 of Him to my professor and a few other post-graduate students in my seminar group. I perceived they were totally surprised as if they did not know these verses existed. But make no bones about it, the Jesus of Revelation 1 and 19 is the same Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, as well as Psalm 23 or Colossians 1! To get an accurate picture in your heart and mind, you must bring all of Scripture to bear on your thinking and faith, if you are going to truly know the One of whom you speak. Do not rest upon what you may hear in the public square, have been taught by false teachers, or upon your failure to read and study the whole Bible on your own.
Yes, Jesus is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, led as a lamb to the slaughter, silent before His accusers. He is also the One in Revelation with a voice like the sound of rushing waters in the midst of a description of which Spurgeon says it is impossible to make a graven image. I once had an artist friend try to draw the description of Revelation 1 and the result was…well, let’s say less than understandable. I believe this is what God intended from this revelation of the person of Christ, His Son. It is intended for our heart and mind to wrestle with the various elements depicted here to grasp as much as we can of the true character of our Savior in all of His glory and all of His work, including what is to come. The Jesus Christ of the whole Bible is able to meet the true needs of anyone who earnestly seeks Him as well as the demands of any crisis. But for those who have questions of what they suffered in this life and many other difficult questions desiring answers, the future holds every expectation of complete clarity once the prophecy of Revelation comes to pass. It was revealed to us through John for our hearts and minds that any disciple of the Lord might not be caught unaware when these things come to pass, and to give hope to the one who precedes this time in death that a day of reckoning and consummation is on its way.


Encouragement:

“Christ, of all my hopes the ground, Christ the spring of all my joy, Still in thee may I be found, Still for thee my powers employ.
“Let thy love my heart inflame; Keep thy fear before my sight; Be thy praise my highest aim; Be thy smile my chief delight.
(1st and 2nd verse of Ralph Wardlaw’s hymn, “Christ of all my Hopes the Ground, 1817)


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Sep 16, 2010

A Daunting Book

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The Sacred Bible

Scriptural Basis:

“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants what must soon take place………Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. Revelation 1:1, 3


Application:

We celebrated the birthday of my 93 year old father last Friday. After 66 years of ordained ministry, surviving two wars, serving as a Chaplain to Marines in combat, founding and shepherding two churches over 27 years, and traveling the world for many more years to pastor chaplains and their families, he is still at this age teaching a weekly bible study to men in his retirement community. Today his study begins the seven trumpets of Revelation, which is not about the horn section of an orchestra; though many Christians today have little clue what the seals, trumpets, and bowls of Revelation are or whether they have any relevance to their life.
The book itself, except for portions of Daniel, is so different from the other books of the Bible, that some Bible scholars of the past even wondered whether it should have a place in the canon of Scripture. John Calvin, one of the most brilliant scholars of Scripture in Church history, wrote a commentary on every New Testament book except that of Revelation. He believed it to be an inspired book of the Bible, but leaving it (or avoiding it) to the last he ran out of time with his death in 1564. There is little argument that it is a daunting read; and few there are that rush to spend time in Revelation over other books of the Bible.
But consider this and please take note: it is Jesus Himself who personally trumpets Revelation’s vital importance for your life and unequivocally promises blessing for everyone who reads it, hears it, and takes it to heart! Though there are parts of it that are difficult to understand, as Peter describes portions of Paul’s Epistles, Jesus would never have revealed to us what He specifically commanded John to write unless He knew we needed it, would benefit from it, and would be able to understand it. Do not sell your God given faculties short; instead use them to be a student and workman that does not need to be ashamed, correctly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
Spend time in Revelation in developing your world-view, your understanding of the person of Christ, your fitness for heaven, your motivation to overcome in this world’s battle, God’s sovereignty in all of history, and the consummation of everything. Do not allow the various views of eschatology (the study of the end times) to deflect your personal reading of the text as you pray for the Holy Spirit to open its truths to your own heart and understanding. Take to heart what specifically speaks to your life in the admonitions and encouragements to the Seven Churches in the 2nd and 3rd chapters. Take seriously the description of eternal judgment, as well as the clear promise of reward for all who rest wholly in the person and work of Jesus Christ for their salvation. And then, get your vision and your mind on the Lord’s final exclamation: “Behold, I am coming soon! Finally, consider if you truly empathize with John’s passionate response to the Lord’s promise: “Even so. Come, Lord Jesus!


Encouragement:

“The sands of time are sinking, the dawn of heaven breaks, the summer morn I’ve sighed for, the fair sweet morn awakes; Dark, dark hath been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand, And glory, glory dwelleth in Emanuel’s land.
(1st verse of Samuel Rutherford’s and Anne Cousin’s hymn, “The Sands of Time Are Sinking, 1857)


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Sep 09, 2010

Look…and Listen

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Scriptural Basis:

“And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it shall live. Numbers 21:8


Application:

Can you see the Lord in our “scientific day designating this as THE solution to cancer, or to recovering from a lethal snake bite for which there is no antiserum available, or regaining health from terminal disease? Consider Moses’ dilemma in explaining God’s “strange instruction to the Israelites, tent by tent, family by family, snake bitten individual by snake bitten individual. Oh, there were some who crawled inch by miserable inch in weakness and pain through the door of their tent to a location where they could fix their eyes on the pole with the bronze serpent affixed to the top. There were others, already terribly weakened by the poison, who begged for family or friends to carry them within sight of the serpent on the pole. There were wives who pleaded with their husbands to comply with the Lord’s instruction, or husbands who implored their wives to look, and see, and be healed. There may have been children who cried for their bitten parents to just look! And parents with grave urgency that carried their children to a place where they could look for themselves and see and live. There should not have been one single person who died once Moses had done what God commanded, yet they did.
You can just hear the excuses for not looking! It’s not scientific, it’s irrational; how ridiculous, I will not stoop to such drivel; how can someone find relief and healing from something so, so simplistic; I will not give in to such nonsense; that is downright foolishness; what will my friends and neighbors think of me if I were to bow to such hocus pocus; we left Egypt with all its doctors, and hospitals, and medicines for this? No way, Jose! You won’t catch me participating in such inane antics! On and on the excuses roll.
The very same principle is at work when the Apostle Paul centuries later writes, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18) Every young man who comes to live at the Paul Anderson Youth Home hears the message of the cross, but not all of them see the cross for what it is: their only means and hope for salvation! The rebellious Israelites in the Sinai had but one means of surviving their painful and deadly snake bites and living to tell about it. Every one of us right now has only one means of experiencing the power of God unto salvation and escaping a fiery hell: the message of the cross! Jesus said it is the same message of the bronze snake on the pole in the desert (John 3:14).The “looking or “seeing of Numbers 21:8 is not a mere wayward glance. In fixing their eyes on the bronze snake they came to understand their rebellious spirit toward the Lord and His providence, and were moved to repentance. Countless excuses run through the minds of those who are proud, and hardened because of their self-perceived “brilliance. In actuality, one day that “brilliance, which is truly nothing more than sinful stupidity, will dawn on them (Psalm 73:18-20) and they will be startled by the truth they scorned and mocked………… when it’s too late!
The snake bitten and dying Israelites were told to look intently at the bronze snake Moses had lifted up in the desert, and they would be healed. The Book of Hebrews tells us to, “Fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb. 12:2-3) The sheer idiocy of a proud and hard heart which continually turns its eyes and life away from what will heal them is hard to fathom in the face of God’s incredible offer. But so it is.


Encouragement:

“Not the labors of my hands can fulfil thy law’s demands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone; thou must save, and thou alone.
“Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling; naked come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die.
(2nd and 3rd verses of Augustus Toplady’s hymn, “Rock of Ages Cleft for Me, 1776)


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Sep 02, 2010

Does This Promise Make Any Sense?

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Prayer is the language

Scriptural Basis:

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:31


Application:

Within the past week I have witnessed or become aware of terrible suffering in the lives of Christian men and women that would seem to call into question the truth of this verse from the hand of the “weeping prophet, Jeremiah. And that is just this week; it does not take into account a life time of accumulating numerous life stories which do not appear to correlate with this promise, if indeed it is universal in its application to all believers. This is the favorite and/or life verse of many who claim the Bible as their authority in faith and in life. But once an encouragement to your faith in the past, when seemingly inexplicable suffering falls on you or on those you love, how do you reconcile this declaration of the Lord with those horribly painful and wrenching realities? In fact, the problem of reconciling promises such as this with the evident pain and suffering in the world is the primary stumbling block of those who doubt and will not believe because of it; or, those who having once professed faith have become angry with God in the midst of suffering and loss from which they or theirs were not protected.
Though this promise was declared to God’s people Israel at a specific time in their history, it is not inconsistent with numerous promises throughout the Bible for the people of God in all generations; like the promise in Hebrews 13: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. So we say with confidence: “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? Or, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) Still, how do we reconcile such promises with suffering that is certainly not what we would rationally consider “prospering, and which can hardly be construed as anything other than grievous “harm to ourselves or those we love. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit saw fit to include the story of the suffering of Job in the Bible to aid our understanding of “what God is about in these things that provoke the cry from deep within: WHY GOD, WHY? Still, Job saw his answer, a doubled restoration, and the renewal of prosperity in this life! Many others die with no real clarity of God’s purposes in the suffering that accompanied them to the grave. Of course, it is those of us who remain who wonder why; not those who have passed over into eternity. Their eyes are now clear and they see as they have never seen before.
Our problems, questions, and consternation with God’s providence and plans arise primarily from myopic vision in two areas: (1) We fail to see beyond this world to what lies “over Jordan and consequently view this world in that light (or rather, darkness); and (2) we fail to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, to understand what God is about in our lives now. The London Times once asked various writers for essays on the topic “What’s Wrong with the World? G.K. Chesterton’s contribution was perhaps the shortest essay in history.
Dear Sirs:
I am.
Sincerely yours,
G. K. Chesterton
Our questions and struggles with God’s providential turns and agonizing surprises in our lives and in the lives of those we love, needs to seek solution in examining our own shortsightedness, not questioning God’s faithfulness. Such is actually our default vision: shortsightedness! We fall back into it at seemingly every bump in the road. We are so conformed to this world we interpret everything in it without the lenses of eternity. And furthermore, our vision is blurry looking at suffering and pain until we focus it the only way possible: fixing our eyes on Jesus. Suffering can neither be grasped nor overcome without intently studying the Savior. Apart from these two corrective measures to our shortsightedness, the promise in Jeremiah makes no sense. Properly understood, we can’t do without it.


Encouragement:

“Whate’er my God ordains is right: Here shall my stand be taken; Though sorrow, need, or death be mine, Yet I am not forsaken; My Father’s care is round me there; He holds me that I shall not fall: And so to Him I leave it all
(4th verse of Samuel Rodigast’s hymn, “Whate’er My God Ordains is Right, 1675)


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