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Feb 23, 2012

Vigilance in the Face of the Lion

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 Strength For The Day

43 years ago I was a rifle platoon leader engaged in battle in Viet Nam. Fortunately, I was but 23 years old. I know I do not have the same physical energy four decades later. There were no front lines in this war. The Viet Cong, unlike the North Viet Nam Army, wore civilian clothes. The enemy was all around, and their mostly undetectable booby traps could be unleashed anywhere, anytime. All of this required an incredible intensity of awareness and vigilance, especially when you were responsible for 44 of your own men. But no human being can keep such vigilance indefinitely. There has to be a time to let-down, rejuvenate, and renew to survive the grueling grind of combat. This is the very reason for the critical necessity of unit cohesion in battle. Your fellow soldiers must at times be your ears, eyes, and arms. Uriah, an excellent soldier in King David’s army, found this out the hard way when his fellow warriors withdrew from him in the pitch of battle, and he fell to the enemy. We simply do not believe the Lord in our present environment when He tells us graphically of the severity of the battle and enemy which wars against your soul, fiercely seeking your humiliation, shame, and ruin. Just look at his spoils spread around you in the culture, so close to your doorstep.
Our text tells us the environment in which we live and work and play is no less deadly than the Viet Nam jungles, or any other field of physical battle. There are no frontlines and the enemy surrounds us, as it were, in civilian clothes; shrewdly masquerading as angels of light. The intensity and energy of vigilance and alertness is required far more to overcome this unwearied enemy. The Christian’s greatest protection is God Himself; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But He has provided means for you to wrap yourself in His grace; namely, undiminished prayer, Bible study and meditation; the Sacraments: improving your baptism and feeding on the real presence of Christ in the Supper; and hearing the Word preached, repenting, and obeying. But God has also given you your fellow believers as a means of protection against Satan and his fallen angels.
The writer of Hebrews wrote: “And let us consider how we may spur each other on to love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as we see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)There is the strongest implication that the enemy’s attacks will increase in intensity as the Day of the Lord’s return draws closer. I believe the focus of the proper application of this instruction is the more intimate, accountable relationship of one or a few fellow believers rather than the relative anonymity and distance permitted in the larger crowd that constitutes the church. Peter spoke in the same chapter as the above verses of his close relationship with fellow elders and particularly with Silas and Mark (see vs. 1, 12, 13); Paul at the end of his epistles always made mention of the few who stood closely by him in the faith and in his work. Jesus gathered 12 around him for a more intensive relationship than with the crowds who constantly sought him out.
James tells us we are to have a relationship with some believers in which we confess our sins to one another; a relationship where you have the confidence to ask the right questions and in turn give forthright, non-glossed-over answers. Our text tells us that the biggest obstacle in calling on a few to draw near to is our own pride. It is precisely why humility is a necessity to a successful defense against the lion that stalks you. Peter reminds us, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble! Close, honest, accountable relationships require humility, which produces a heart in which there is no guile. Truth dies in the face of pride, but flourishes in the heart of humility. Our spouses ought to be our greatest human confidant and fellow warrior in this fight, but there is increased strength in one, two or three others of your gender to encourage you in the battle. It is worth your earnest prayer and search that God would bless you with such fellow warriors.


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Feb 19, 2012

Am I A Good Parent?

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Have you ever asked yourself the question: Am I A Good Parent?  The first question to ask is: are you a good parental steward?
Key verse: Luke 12:42   “Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?  Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. 
The principle of stewardship begins in the mind.  It is a perspective of realizing that everything we have was given to us by God.  When we think of “stewardship,” we normally think about money.  There is nothing wrong with money, and in the Luke parable, the Lord commends us when we are good stewards of it.  Take the average investor, for example, and how diligently he/she applies himself/herself to his task.  He/she faithfully studies the stock market, analyzes and re-analyzes his/her portfolio, sells the weaker investments and buys the promising ones. He/she keeps up with the latest journals and business articles that contain the experts’ recommendations.  He/she reads The Wall Street Journal, logs onto the Internet, and watches every market variation.  His/her mind is totally engaged in his/her task: the pursuit of wealth.
If God has given us money, then we should be diligent in how we manage and share it.   What about our stewardship of the children we are given?  They, too, are gifts, entrusted to us by God.  Yes, the Lord will ask us to give account of how we are caring for these precious ones:

  1. Are we as diligent in practicing consistent parenting skills as we are in earning more money or pursuing our hobbies?
  2. Do we study the Scriptures and daily ask God to make us better parents?
  3. Do we take time to pray and play with our child?
  4. Do we regularly take him/her to a worship service?
  5. Do we read books or listen to tapes that offer tips about becoming better parents?
  6. Are we involved in his/her schoolwork?
  7. Do we know and spend time with him/her and his/her friends?
  8. Do we encourage him/her to participate in extracurricular activities?
  9. Do we stop whatever we are doing, give him/her our eyes, and LISTEN to him/her?  If we do not, he/she will find someone who will, and that person will have more influence in his/her life than we.

Each of the above takes time, and self-sacrifice.  Being a good parent is a task that requires a great deal of effort.  That is being a diligent parental steward.  There are no shortcuts.


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Feb 09, 2012

The Pragmatic Christian

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A very dear friend of mine told me about an encounter he had many years ago. He was running an errand one day at a large retail store when he overheard what appeared to be a husband and wife arguing with one another. It was difficult not to notice as the argument grew in intensity and hateful words. He sensed in his spirit, perhaps being prompted within by the Holy Spirit, that he ought to speak to them and offer to help. Being a pastor he was wise and experienced in marital counseling. But since they did not know him from Adam, he passed the moment by, bought what he had come to get, and proceeded to his car in the parking lot, wrestling in his mind if he had done the right thing to not try and intervene. As he unlocked his car and began to get in the sense that he should return filled his spirit. Retracing his steps he looked for the couple in the same part of the store and located the woman, now by herself and in tears. Approaching her he introduced himself, gave her his card, said he had overheard the argument, and offered to help. The woman looked up at him and responded, “Bug off!
I imagine you expected to hear a success story, especially when a believer senses the compulsion of the Holy Spirit and obeys. Indeed, we expect to see success when we believe the Holy Spirit is speaking to us, and though somewhat hesitant, we finally do it. If we get a different result than we expect, we probably think, “Well, that didn’t work; I’ll think twice before I do that again! What is the problem with this scenario, which may seem quite familiar to you? If it is successful, we may have greater courage to try it again, right? But if it is not . . . ? The question we need to ask ourselves is: do we do what we do in life because it is right, regardless of the outcome; or do we do what we do because it works in our eyes? The pragmatic Christian does what appears in his eyes to work out well for him. The faithful Christian does what he does because God said it, regardless of the outcome. It does not mean that obedience of God’s precepts does not lead to success, but it is not always immediately obvious, and possibly not for a long period of time. To seek the glory that comes from the only God, and not from man, or the observing world, is to act and obey because God asks it of you, and calls you to do it, regardless of the result. In truth the glory we seek from God is when we do His will merely to do His will, and not for the measure of the result we expect or hope will follow.
Is this not the way of our Lord? Did Jesus obey the Father’s will to avoid what resulted in the torture of the cross? Did Paul craft his message to escape ridicule, or unpopularity, or jail? Sometimes it was received with great joy, and many other times the result was quite the opposite. Yet his message did not change from what was “first delivered to the saints. Are your words and actions the result of seeking the glory that comes from God, and not your own or from some other? Can you be satisfied in doing what you know to be His will if the outcome does not bring you satisfaction? It is a question worth your asking. God does not call you to be a pragmatic Christian. He calls you to delight in doing His will regardless of what He sovereignly produces from it.


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Feb 02, 2012

Sick To Death

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“Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that He will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things. No one calls for justice; no one pleads his case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments and speak lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil. . .Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like dead. We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away. Isaiah 59: 1-11


This passage from Isaiah 59 is a lot longer, but I have shortened it here. It always reminds me that we do not nearly appreciate the power and ugliness of sin. We have little respect for what it is and what it does. The more we think little of it, the worse we immerse ourselves in it. Heaven will be a shock for even the most holy when all get a full picture of sin. Were we to here and now appreciate more fully the death spiral it creates for those who dwell in it, we would flee more consistently and urgently to its remedy. We would recognize more readily the desperate need of His mercies EVERY morning in each of our lives.
This week I went to visit my father who was sick. He lives in an assisted living facility. I was careful not to get too close to him. Soon after leaving him, I found out that the entire building with its dining hall was now to be shut down. Residents were to remain in their apartments and no visitors would be allowed to come. Fortunately, my father’s fever and sore throat was more palatable for him to bear than the GI tract infection that hit all the other residents. It was the worst of the two that I picked up by germs in the air merely by stepping into the facility. The next morning, the day I was to have long scheduled surgery performed, I was as sick as a dog (another idiom we frequently employ). I was literally sick to death. And I was reminded in this death-like illness that what some germs do to you physically, sin will do to you spiritually, and Isaiah the Prophet verifies it. I was so sick that at times death was almost more desirable. And yes I moaned out loud from the nauseating and physical pain as the above passage says in regard to sin.
One of the effects of sin spiritually is to blind you to its presence in your life, that is, until it’s terrible consequences descend on you as suddenly as if you were waking from a dream. The death and destruction spread in your sin’s path is more often irreversible than not, even though you yourself may be saved like a brand plucked from the fire. But the chances of that are slim when you still have no acknowledgment of your own culpability. People in this predicament, even when they do not believe in God, blame Him and cry out why He caused this to happen; they don’t deserve this, or so they ignorantly claim. Whether they accept it or not, they are without excuse; their own consciences condemn them.
As basic as the knowledge of sin is to many Christians, it is the very snare that besets all of our lives from the most noteworthy Christians to the least. Sin is indiscriminate. It does not avoid any Christian. One of the worst subtleties of sin is your proclivity to compare yourself with others. The Apostle Paul calls this foolishness. Rather, compare yourself to Christ. And to do that you have to know Him. Therein lays your remedy. But like many medicines or supplements you need to take every day to realize any benefit, you require a daily dose of Christ and His mercy to overcome the power, shrewdness, and ugliness of sin and Satan!


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