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Jan 30, 2014

The Great Global Divide

The Super Bowl is in a few days, as if most of you need to be reminded. Two young men playing in the game for the Denver Broncos started out life in rugged and rough circumstances, and it is a wonder they made it to this point in their lives. Demaryius Thomas, a star receiver, and Knowshon Moreno, a star runner, were raised by others rather than their own father and mother. Demaryius’ mother and grandmother are in prison; his mother for 20 years and his grandma 40 to life. They were taken out of his life at age 11, when just before they were arrested the young boy begged his mother to stop selling drugs out of their home.  After bouncing around from one unsuitable situation to another, he was taken in by his aunt and uncle who gave him love, structure, and took him to church where his uncle would preach. They loved him and taught him a work ethic from the first day. Knowshon was raised by his grandmother, a woman of faith, after spending an early life with his father, in and out of homeless shelters, until she asked the courts and received custody; she then was able to provide a home, love, and structure for Knowshon with help from others, like coaches, who were like a father to him along the way.
Both these young men received the hands-on love, kindness and action described by our Lord in the account of the sheep and the goats at the end of Matthew 25. Jesus concludes his parables in Matthew 24 and 25 in which he fixes in the minds of his hearers the preeminent necessity of being ready for his return, with this picture of the great white-throned judgment awaiting “all the nations (all humanity) after his return. What strikes the reader about Jesus’ means of discernment to separate the sheep from the goats, from his disciples on his right, and those who refused to hear and act on his words on his left, was that the action of obedience was hands-on; it was personally done, not by a surrogate or somehow removed from the personal engagement characterizing those who were the sheep on his right.
Many have contrived to make the words of Jesus refer strictly to care for the physically poor, since the apparent references are to the lack of physical necessities such as food, drink, welcome, clothing, health, and freedom. The careful reader of the Book of Matthew will remember the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, as well as the whole context of the gospels where Jesus puts preeminence on spiritual poverty over physical poverty, though spiritual poverty describes all stations in life; the physically poor are certainly included because they suffer in spiritual poverty as the non-poor do; still, Jesus said, “It is harder for a rich man to enter heaven than to pass through the eye of a needle. Nevertheless, Jesus “fed Nicodemus every bit as much as healing the poor leper who came to Him to be made “clean.
The point of Jesus’ disclosure of the global dividing of humanity before the Great Judgment Throne is that his true disciples were those who had been engaged in personally obeying his commandments, doing it with their own hands, lips, eyes, heart, strength, soul, and mind. Following Jesus means personal engagement.
The means by which some have sought “to care for the poor in our day and age and to possibly assuage the guilt of seeing the poor live so poorly in our society, is to legislate resources (taxes) of others while keeping at a personal distance; creating dependency, rather than transformation. These “big-government-solves-all-ills ideologues seldom are known for personal generosity of their own resources, much less their personal engagement in carrying out Christ’s commands. As the Scripture says,“Blessed is the man who wisely considers the poor man’s case. Thomas Chalmers, a godly saint and leader of the evangelical church in Scotland during the industrial revolution of the 1800s, engaged believers in his parish in urban Glasgow in ministering to the poor in that city. He did not abide those who had resources merely giving offerings to assist the poor. He insisted they give of their time in personal encouragement, instruction, mentoring, and evangelizing the poor who were suffering due to impoverishment. Thus a genuine obedience to Christ’s commands as he describes here and elsewhere was entered into; and the reward was greater joy.
The believer is to engage his whole person, not just his physical resources (those too) in following Jesus’ command to feed, clothe, befriend, visit, encourage, come alongside the spiritually poor, and win them into the Kingdom. It may involve ministry in the slums of the world, on Wall Street, the university campus, a youth home like PAYH, the halls of government, or to your own neighbor. This is the imprimatur of the sheep on the right of the throne. The global divide here of sheep and goats is eternal; only the sheep and goats Jesus has in view are the men and women you live among on this globe, including you.


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Jan 24, 2014

Planting Seeds Of Hope

 

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” Minnie Louise Haskins

Knowing what to do and where to turn can be daunting.  But we here at the Paul Anderson Youth Home are excited about helping those who need a seed of hope planted in their lives and the peace that comes with having a hand to hold onto.

This year we will serve:

  • Over 30 young men and their families who will come through our doors needing a second chance
  • More than 400 families who call looking for hope in the midst of difficult circumstances
  • Dozens of communities as we are providing resources, hosting conferences, and engaging families on how to navigate this current culture and the challenges in raising healthy youth.

And so today and throughout the year, you can help families here in Georgia and across this country by bringing light in the midst of a dark tunnel, and by planting seeds of hope, where they are most in need.

In 2014, you are making it possible for us to change the lives of families by extending a hand to those in need.

 


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Jan 23, 2014

Striking Oil, or Cultivating it?

“The foolish ones said to the wise. ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ Matthew 25:8


When I was growing up, many people who owned land, either a small amount or large, were hoping liquid gold might be found underneath it. Oil wells sprouted up in many places and small to large fortunes were made. Striking oil on your land could make you rich overnight.  But if you were to produce your own oil, it is another proposition altogether. In the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25) which Jesus told the week of His crucifixion, there is a relevant analogy between the five foolish virgins and the five wise concerning their procurement of oil.
Striking oil is something which happens suddenly, a gusher, when the land is drilled and an oil pocket is tapped. Oil is there if God, through His provident nature, has created a pocket of it due to the natural processes of pressure upon the ingredients of once living matter, coupled with thousands of years. On the other hand, producing oil, such as the olive oil in view in the parable Jesus tells is a process that incorporates preparing the land, planting trees from seedlings or seeds, cultivating, watering, personally tending over years, picking the crop once the trees are mature, and extracting oil from the fruit. The producer of this oil is intimately involved in the process. This gets to the truth of what Jesus is conveying.
The audience to which He is speaking in His parable is the visible church. Remember, all ten virgins were going out to meet the Bridegroom. In other words, all ten were part of the life of the church at that time, Israel, God’s chosen people. Jesus describes some as wise, and some as foolish. The division of five and five is irrelevant; the point is there are some in each category within the visible church. Those who today are professing followers of Christ need to hear what He is saying, for He says it multiple times through other parables, though He really only needs to say it once. The visible church includes wheat and tares until the end of time, both genuine and false followers of Jesus mixed together.  In these multiple parables the Savior expresses in different manner how the grain will be divided from the chaff at His return. He who has ears to hear must listen and act on faith, when preparation for His return is preeminent. This is why Jesus tells these parables, and the Holy Spirit records them in the Bible so every generation may read, hear, and act upon them.
The five foolish virgins apparently anticipated in any crisis of personal oil shortage they would experience some sudden “strike of oil to suffice their need. The five wise virgins apparently cultivated a harvest of oil in intimate relationship with the oil-creator, receiving in their spirit the fruit of a sufficiency of oil ready to meet and welcome the Bridegroom; whenever He would come, especially, as He foretold, suddenly. Jesus is saying the church not only consists of the foolish, but those who take the Savior’s commandments, promises, and words seriously (genuinely), resulting in a spiritual transformation in their being from foolish to wise. The Holy Spirit is present within the wise making it evident to them as well as others: “The Spirit bears evidence with my spirit that I am a child of God.
So here it is impressed upon every professing follower of Jesus not to allow him or herself to live under the pernicious illusion he or she will receive a “strike of oil at the necessary time, ushering them into the banquet of heaven; an illusion based on a mischaracterization of a loving God they believe allows for spiritual laziness and false devotion. Be honest and humble in your self-analysis. This is Jesus’ teaching point in His parable of a not-to-be-ignored warning. The result: the wise entered into the wedding feast, and the foolish were locked outside with the words of the Bridegroom ringing in their ears, “I do not know you! (See Matthew 7:22-23)
I pray, do not count on an errantly anticipated, and disingenuous “strike of oil at the sudden return of the Savior; rather, defy procrastination, and cultivate your oil through an earnest pursuit of Jesus Christ. Pursue Him as the most important love of your life. “True love does not demand a reward, but it deserves one. Surely no one offers to pay for love; yet some recompense is due to one who loves, and if his love endures he will doubtless receive it (Bernard of Clairvaux) The oil of joy and gladness is the fruit of the true lover of the Bridegroom; oil which never runs out.


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Jan 16, 2014

Sticks and stones may break my bones…

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. We have all heard this rhyme. It is well intentioned. It is also wrong.
The intention of the rhyme is that we should not respond physically to cruel things people say. It is hard to argue with that sentiment. But there is another layer to this that is often neglected which is that words can be quite painful.  The scars inflicted by what people say often take far longer to heal than any broken bone or bruise we might incur. Why is that?
To some degree, it is because we are relational. People need people.  We are designed to be in relationships. So, if we need each other, then it is important to stop and define what is required to have a healthy, loving relationship.
Relationships are an investment and require multiple components: commitment, connection, listening, and trust. So, let’s tackle the first two; commitment and connection.
Commitment
This is an incredibly strong word for many reasons but in defining the word commitment, there are two key ways it can be used.

(1) It can be a declaration of what you will or will not do. For example, I will lose weight!

(2) Or it can be a promise of what you are going to do or give. For example, I am going to give you money to buy a car!

Declarations are easy to make and so, like with all things that are easy, it’s also easy to forget or quit on. Promises are far harder to back out of and when we do back out of a promise, it leaves a permanent impression. We see this in politics all the time as people make declarations and promises. There is a reason why 80% of our society does not trust the government.
Real commitment, in a relationship, is not simply a declaration and a promise. A real commitment requires an investment involving two parties, not just one. If our primary commitment in a relationship is to ourselves, our own needs and our own time, then we should not be particularly surprised that we only get back that which we have declared and promised ourselves. Our return is directly related to what we invest. Have you been true to your declarations?  Have you kept your promises?  If your relationships are lacking, check your level of commitment.
Connection
No matter how extroverted or introverted we are, there is still a need for each other. We see relationships on their largest scale in communities. We are all a part of something and there is a mutual need for each other. The health of one invariably affects the health of others.
It is obvious that an infant needs something radically different than a teenager or a spouse. That is because the level of connection is very different. For the infant, the level of connection is dependency. A small child can only have that which is given. For a teenager, the shared level of connection begins to become complex as a teen is transitioning from dependence to independence. In marriage, the level of connection is challenging as you have two independent people who are connected intimately, interpersonally, and morally.
Healthy, meaningful relationships are not solely based on a “reward” system.  Mutually satisfying relationships don’t come from what is being given to us; instead it comes from a relationship that has depth.  Connection implies multiple levels of need and complexity.
So while the scale, depth, breadth, and types of our relationships all vary, they are all critical because as human beings, we are shaped by all of the experiences we have in those various relationships. Out commitment and connection to others is often expressed in our words and actions.  That’s why words can hurt so badly.  This is the very truth we see in Proverbs 18:21: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
Some of the most important decisions we make in life are who we connect with.  God designed us to be in relationship with Him and each other. The genius of Jesus’ words still ring true, that we might love our neighbor as ourselves. It seems an impossible task as it requires us to take our focus of ourselves and place it onto someone else. All real relationships, those that are profoundly satisfying, require that. The investments that we make into others demonstrate our level of commitment and connection to what we value. The return is the quality of the relationships that you have with your Savior, spouse, children, and family. If your relationships are not satisfying, the first place to start is to check your level of commitment and connection. Change starts with you.


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Millennium Cross on a top of the Vodno mountain hill above Skopje, Macedonia
Jan 16, 2014

Buried Treasure

“But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. Matthew 25:18


For nearly four centuries numerous adventurers and treasure seekers have searched for the buried gold and silver cache in the Sierra Madre Mountains of New Mexico. It has yet to be found. Robert Lewis Stevenson’s novel, Treasure Island, has inspired many a young reader to wonder if they will ever discover buried pirate treasure in the sand of some remote island. Many more treasures rest in Davy Jones Locker, i.e. at the bottom of the sea. There are many buried treasures that have been reclaimed by the earth from whence they came and have been of no use for the ones who buried it with false visions of a splendid future dancing in their eyes.  In the story that Jesus told here the last of three servants dug up his buried treasure after hiding it in the ground, and gave it back to his master upon his sudden return after being away a long time. At least this servant did not lose this gift from his master, he thought, but it did nothing for anyone in its buried state while the master was away, and the master showed not only great displeasure, but meted out terrible punishment to this one he now regarded as a wicked servant.
This is one of six parables told by Jesus during the last week before his death, all with the theme of making ready and being ready for His return. To emphasize this so emphatically, Jesus must have had this foremost in His mind as He approached the cross, all out of great love for His followers; and yet the ones who have ears to hear their Savior have in these parables a measurement of their own love and obedience for Him, and a means of self-assurance they are genuine disciples of the Lord: possession of spiritual oil, putting their varied gifts to work on a daily basis, and regularly serving others as seeing Christ in them.
This middle parable of Matthew 25 teaches all professing Christians have been endowed by the Lord with at least one gift, and some with many gifts. We are not all equal in this; God is the giver of gifts according to His good pleasure. We have varying gifts in both their nature and number. Jesus teaches this here and elsewhere, i.e. “To whom much is given, much will be required. A greater number of gifts require greater responsibility. But all of us are required some responsibility, for all have been endowed with at least a gift.  If you bury your gift by never putting it to use, the sudden return of Christ will provide zero opportunity to engage that gift in service. All you can do if the Second Coming finds you unprepared is, as this wicked servant, hand back what was given to you having never been used for the purpose for which it was given; rendering it useless, and personally rejected, even if you have never given it any thought.
Two of the servants doubled the value of their talents, apparently by putting them to work. The Lord is not interested in a doubling of monetary value in the sense you hand back an increased bank account to him; it is rather the use of your gifts in the spiritual growth of your own soul, and in your invigoration of the souls of others by the working of the Holy Spirit in and through you. Profits gained by the usage of your gifts are measured by your part in the furtherance of His kingdom. The Apostle Paul said of the many he served, helped, and ushered into the kingdom that these saints were “his joy and his crown. This was the return with greater abundance of the gifts His Master had bestowed on and in him. No buried treasure in the ground, but gifts put to work to expand the Master’s Kingdom; the very purpose for which this master in this parable distributed talents to these three servants.
Devoting yourself to serving Christ in His Kingdom is NOT for later, whenever later is; it is for today, for none of us knows when the night is coming when no man can work. It is not a slow, obvious setting of the sun. Burying your gift is just another form of procrastination, lack of faith, and courage. Aim for this by your immediate service in the work of His Kingdom: hearing His voice spoken personally to you when He comes, “Well done good and faithful servant….come and share your master’s happiness! (Matthew 25:23)


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Jan 09, 2014

The Miserable Ones in 2014

“For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. Matthew 24:38-39


Les Miserables, translated the miserable, or wretched ones, could very well describe the perspective and condition of many in the world as well as America in 2014. Polls together with other circumstances point to a sense of foreboding as the New Year begins. The once popular American President now has a 39% approval rating after winning a large victory in 2012 where many more than 50% voted for his reelection; the vast majority in America believes the country is headed in the wrong direction; unemployment is much higher than the manipulated numbers state; millions have lost their medical insurance and tens of millions will in 2014 as employers drop new unsustainable coverage for their employees; health care costs are going through the roof; dependency rolls in the U.S. are multiplying dramatically; the middle class is rapidly shrinking; the poor class is growing; racial tensions are at their highest in many decades; economists are predicting a stock market collapse in 2014; al Qaeda terrorist activity is on the rise world-wide; and U.S. relations with foreign leaders and allies have fallen to its worst state ever.
However, the misery of many U.S. citizens, as well as many illegal aliens in America looking for legitimacy, does not nearly approach the misery of the Second and Third World, nor the many places where Christians are hated, persecuted, and martyred mercilessly on a regular basis. The world-wide press, and particularly aggravating, the American press and even America’s churches have remained largely silent to this holocaust. The so-called Arab Spring is rather an icy winter in its destructive, ruinous results. If not true for you, misery, nevertheless, abounds in this New Year.
The world in Jesus’ life time was similarly dark from the time of his birth and sudden flight into Egypt to escape a murderous tyrant, to the time of His crucifixion at the hands of the Jews and their Roman tyrants. Within a generation of His ascension into heaven Jerusalem was sacked, totally destroyed, and the remaining Jewish nation scattered to the four winds. In the final week before Jesus’ death on a cross, He spoke about this “precarious future, and with poignant stories, parables, pertaining to life ahead until His return, gave instructions for any who wished to survive this misery in each new year from then to 2014, and to the judgment to come for the whole world. If you have ears to hear, then you do well to hear what He has to say as you enter this new year.
There are six of these parables of Jesus from Matthew 24:36 to the end of Matthew 25. All of them project two primary time factors: delay and imminence. There is a delay to His return which contrives to lull people to sleep, to procrastinate what ought to be done now; and there is also an imminence to His return, a sudden event which no one but God the Father knows the day. Those who have not prepared their heart and soul in advance will have no last minute opportunity to be ready when Jesus comes in what is described as a flash of a stroke of lightening. This is the theme of each of the six parables which Jesus tells in the final days before His death, displaying a different emphasis in each, but the same lesson in all: readiness now, not put off!
The perspective of delay: the wicked servant believes his master is staying away a long time, the bridegroom was a long time in coming and all ten virgins fell asleep, the master who distributed talents to his servants delayed his return a long time. The perspective of imminence:  in each parable the return of the master or bridegroom was sudden, catching the unaware completely unprepared for his return, and, consequently, shut out into permanent darkness and dissociation from the master or the bridegroom. The parables Jesus tells are not told delicately. They are unequivocal in their judgment for the unready. “…the point is simply that readiness, whatever form it takes, is not something that can be achieved by a last-minute adjustment. It depends on long-term provision, and if that has been made, the wise disciple can sleep secure in the knowledge that everything is ready (R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew). It is unquestionably the point of Jesus in these parables that to count on and determine your course of action upon an assumption of delay while not giving immediate priority to readiness is to court disaster, a disaster from which you cannot recover!
In Les Miserables, just before his death in this life, the main character of Victor Hugo’s novel, Jean Valjean, displayed a readiness in his final song in the musical; not unlike the repentance seen throughout his life after his sin of stealing as a young man: “God on high, hear my prayer; take me now, to thy care. Where you are, let me be. Take me now, take me there. Bring me home, bring me home. It was not a last minute adjustment; it was genuinely appropriate to the life he had lived, an application of a life of faith in the gospel, and love, kindness, and forgiveness to others. As you enter a new year, make it your most important endeavor to be ready for the sudden return of Christ, not needing any scrambling for oil, or digging up your talent where you hid it. If you have ears to hear the Savior, hear him now.


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Jan 02, 2014

Gift Bearers from the Nations

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth. Isaiah 49:6


Many books have I read, and many studies have I done concerning the foreign strangers from “the East who as careful students of the stars and, perhaps, with knowledge gained centuries before from a former member of the Magi in Persia, Daniel, were assured that a King had been born somewhere in Judea, when a particular “star suddenly appeared where no star had been before. There is a light shining in the darkness, and there are Gentiles, Persian Magi, who see that light and are drawn to undertake an arduous, dangerous journey to worship the King whose birth it signifies. Such a journey is not undertaken casually or on a whim.
These scholars came with knowledge which assured them of their true and powerful expectation. The “star and its peculiar nature are still debated, the Magi’s number and home(s) are uncertain. Yet the record of the journey of the Magi in the Scripture is accurate, and the knowledge of King Herod and his murderous proclivity is spread on the pages of history. The foreigners brought gifts, of which three are mentioned, and probably were the full amount of the gifts presented. Three gifts do not prove three Magi, and certainly not three “kings, which tradition and carols contrive to present as fact. What is certain is that the Scriptures are fulfilled by the providence of God, who filled the ancient prophets’ mouths and pens with His own words, and brought them to pass in the “fullness of time.
This is not the first time by any means that Gentiles were drawn to the light of the true God. Numerous times throughout Old Testament Scripture there is record of “the nations being drawn to the light of the truth of the one and only God. And Paul’s testimony in Romans 1 assures all that God has left men and women without excuse in the knowledge of the truth of Himself and of a path to salvation through a Redeemer. How He does this is not within our full knowledge or observation. The belief that He does is demonstration that one accepts the mere word of God as true and trustworthy. Jesus says that the proof of being His disciple is hearing His word and doing it. And by “His Word He means every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God beginning with Eden, including every jot and tittle of the written Word, the Bible. This is Jesus’ own testimony.
From the biblical history we can infer from what we are told that the Magi began their journey when the “star first appeared, and they arrived in Jerusalem some multiple of months after Messiah’s birth. Herod who inquired of the Magi about the time when the star first appeared, and later, based on that information, ordered that all babies in Bethlehem two years old and under be slaughtered, not much different than abortionists and their supporters today slaughter infants up to the time they are due to be born, even killing those born by accident in a botched abortion. Granting that Herod included a “fudge factor in his order, Jesus could then have been anywhere between 1 and 1 and ¾ years old, old enough to manage a difficult trip to Egypt at such a young age. But there was no way the Magi were at the stable the night of Jesus’ birth as the shepherds were. Nativity scenes today are forgetful of this fact, while still serving a useful purpose.
These Magi, whom we will greet in heaven, are representative of all of us Gentiles, before and after Christ, who bring gifts and come to worship the Savior of our souls. The gifts he truly seeks are broken and contrite hearts; devotion of heart, strength, and mind; the gift of a willing spirit to be a servant obedient to His every command. These are YOUR gold and frankincense and myrrh!
The 6th of January is Epiphany in a centuries-long Church tradition signifying the journey and adoration of the Magi. It is useful in your own worship and meditation, as the church year provides a regular remembrance of the spiritual lessons learned from our Lord’s historical life on earth. Not only did Jesus passively suffer for your salvation with a willing heart, He actively pursued your salvation in the things He did, the law He fulfilled, and the prophecies He brought to fruition.
So bring your gifts to Him as the Magi did. Give Him your heart.


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