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Archive for January, 2012

REWARD POINTS


– Everyone loves gifts and follows after rewards. – Isaiah 1:23

– But love your enemies, and do good, and lend … expecting nothing in return and your reward will be great … and you will be the children of the Highest for He is kind to the unthankful and to the evil. – Luke 6:35

     “Earn more reward points for earning more reward points”.  That’s what stared at me in my e-mail inbox the other day.  I had to read it again to make sure it was for real.   It was.  An offer to join a program that provided rewards usually in the form of retail gift certificates, sometimes just from accumulating points by reading e-mails.  But, if I earned “x” number of reward points in “x” number of days, then I would get additional reward points as a bonus simply from doing that.  My head hurt. 

      I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that every airline, credit/debit card, or any store that offers loyalty cards, has some sort of rewards program built into their respective systems.  Unfortunately, these programs enitce many of us who probably can’t afford it, to spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need, merely to earn more reward points and thereby justifying purchases to ourseleves because they move us closer to that “free/discounted trip, free/discounted gas, or free/discounted items we shop for such as groceries. ”  A local supermarket chain here in Nashville offers “free turkeys” every Thanksgiving if one spends “x” number of dollars in the days leading up to the holiday.  And people buy (no pun intended) into it. 

      The problem with all of this is that it’s not in line with the teachings of Scripture and goes against God’s commandments as to why we should be good, as the verse above from Luke 6:35 indicates.  We all love rewards and we all love a thank-you or pat on the back every once in a while.  But they should never be the driving motive behind our deeds, actions, or words.   As believers, we are to set our minds on things eternal (Colossians 3:2).  Ingratitude is a sin (2 Timothy 3:2) but God will deal with the ungrateful person accordingly … not you or me … just as He does with any other sin.   Nobody “owes” us a thank-you.  This mindset implies we did our good deed or action for no other reason but to get praise or blessings in return … and if we don’t, or even if we do but it’s not done the way we would have liked (i.e. it wasn’t sincere or soon enough, etc.) … well then, by golly, we are not going to anything again for anyone else until they do.  Let God handle all of the people we perceive as being ungrateful. 

      Along these same lines, part of the problem in Jerusalem in Isaiah, Chapter 1 (see above verse), especially among leaders, was that seemingly everyone had gone back to their old ways once again.  Places of worship were being turned into dens of thieves and judges were gladly accepting bribes … either monetary or in the way of expensive gifts … to pervert justice in favor of the highest bidders.   They could no longer plead the cases of the widows or orphans because those kinds of people did not have any money to sway the judges with.   Actions were done merely to get something in return.  Kind of a Biblical, “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” mentality.  Even sacrifices were being made to the Lord to get favor.  In Matthew Henry’s Isaiah 1 Commentary, he writes “Many readily parted with their sacrifices, but were not ready to part with their sins.  They relied on the mere form as a service deserving a reward.  The most costly devotions of wicked people, without thorough reformation of the heart and life, cannot be acceptible to God.   He only did not accept the sacrifices, He abhorred them.”. 

         Whatever our reasons for wanting reward points … or just rewards, whether it be frequent flyer miles, discounted gas, or a free turkey at Thanksgiving from the local supermarket … or getting a special blessing from the Lord because we sacrificed a couple extra bucks for the homeless guy on the corner or helped an old lady across the street, always remember that whatever “sacrifice” you think you are making for God, it will always pale in comparison to the ultimate sacrifice made for us at Calvary … and the only one who ever truly deserves a thank-you for anything is God.  For giving us the gift of eternal life.  And if you’re not showing Him your gratitude by what you do … not by what you get …. are you not being ungrateful as well?  Rewards in this life are temporary and passing, but rewards in heaven are eternal and permanent. 

     You have earned zero reward points for reading this post.

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(KJV and NKJV Scripture)

Near the end of 2003’s “Bruce Almighty”, news reporter Bruce Nolan (played by Jim Carrey) is “temporarily” in heaven with God (played by Morgan Freeman) after being struck by a semi.  Bruce is confused and afraid – he fears he has lost his girlfriend Grace (Jennifer Aniston) forever.  So God asks him to pray.  Bruce is not a prayerful man, but he tries.

He asks “Lord, feed the hungry … and bring peace to all mankind”.  Bruce looks up to God for approval and says “How’s that?”  God smiles and says “Great … if you want to be Miss America.”  His smile disappears and his tone turns very serious.  God says “Now, come on … what do you “really” want”.  What follows is an emptying of the heart and soul by Bruce:

Bruce: “Grace”.

God: “You want her back?”

Bruce:  “No … I want her to be happy, no matter what that means.  I want her to find someone to treat her with all the love that she deserved from me.  I want her to meet someone who’ll always see her as I do now … through your eyes.”

God smiles and nods in approval.  “Now … that’s a prayer”, he says.

When you pray, what do you pray for?  More importantly, who do you pray for?   Do you merely see a want, convince yourself it’s a “need” (Matthew 6:8) – and ask God for it … and expect Him to answer it accordingly to your wishes and in your timing?  Have you ever prayed for someone’s salvation, or humbled yourself and confessed transgressions and iniquity, or prayed nothing for yourself?

After the introductory words, consider these three prayers from the Bible showing us great ways to pray:

Do you know someone who is lost and troubled, someone you love … and who you hope finds faith in Jesus before it’s too late?  Have you prayed for them to find the Cross?  Not through you, but so God would draw them closer (John 6:44).  If you do are not sure what to pray or say to God, try this one from the book of Colossians.  Simply insert their name when you see the _____:

For this cause I also, since the day I heard it, do not cease to pray for _____, and to desire that _____ might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.   That _____ might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.  Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyousness.  (Colossians 1:9-11)

You may say this is not a prayer for a person’s salvation.  You’re right – it is not.  The heart must be made sorry and convicted of sin by God first before they can begin repenting unto salvation (2 Corinthians 7:8-10).  However, if this prayer is prayed with supplication – meaning humbly and earnestly – you might find the person suddenly starts asking a lot of question about God they never did before.

Have you ever just gone to God and said “I’m sorry.  I sinned against you today and please forgive me? Help me not do that again, so I don’t keep offending You (Job 34:31)?”  No wishes or wants within the prayer, just admitting weaknesses of the flesh and asking for more assistance in following His way each day.  Israel was in trouble, but Nehemiah knew the reason why.  Consider his prayer:  :

“I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God … You who keep Your covenant with          those who love you and observe your commandments … please let Your ear be attentive and Your ears open … that you may hear the prayer of your servant which I pray before you now, day and night, for the children of Israel which have sinned against you.

Both my fathers and I have sinned.  We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which you commanded Your servant Moses.  Remember, I beseech You, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying ‘If you transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations.’

But if you turn unto Me, and keep My commandments, and do them – though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of heaven – yet will I gather them from thence.  And will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set My name there.  Now these are Your servant, and Your people, whom you have redeemed by Your great power and Your strong hand (Nehemiah 1:5-10)”

Shortly after Bruce Nolan prayed that prayer for Grace, he wakes up in his hospital bed.  He is a changed man.  Grace comes to comfort him and stays by his side.  During his week having “the power” from God – he went around trying to right how people had wronged him.  Instead of confessing and asking God to help fix his wrongs – which were keeping him from having a right relationship with Grace.

During that last prayer in heaven mentioned above, Bruce asked God nothing for himself in the way of worldly riches, wealth, or honor.  He did not ask amiss (James 4:3).  It was all about wanting someone else to be happy – even if it meant her being happy without him anymore.  Bruce simply wanted God’s will to be done.  How often do we really pray like that – and abide by it (Luke 11:2)?

Consider this response by God to Solomon after Solomon prayed nothing for himself:

And God said to Solomon, “Because this was in your heart … and you have not asked for riches, wealth, or honor … nor the life of your enemies … neither have you asked for long life, but have asked wisdom and knowledge that you may judge my people over whom I have made you king.  Wisdom and knowledge Is granted unto you, and I will give you riches and wealth and honor, such as none of the kings have had that have been before you … neither shall any after you have the like  (2 Chronicles 1:11-12).”

Now, aren’t all those prayers!?

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FAITH LIFT


– And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anybody who comes to Him must believe He exists and that He rewards those earnestly seek Him, – Hebrews 11:6

– So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. – Romans 10:17

     How’s your faith today?  A little shaky?  Are you questioning it just a tad?  Wish you had just a little more … well, faith?  Do you have faith sometimes and not at other times?   Unfortunately, part-time faith leads to part-time fear.   The two get into a tug-of-war and … if we’re not meditating on God’s word day and night so that it is on our lips (Joshua 1:8-9) … we can let our own unpleasant situation or any uncertainty about anything give fear a stronghold.  When it does, our faith gets pulled down to the ground.  Fear triumphs and is declared the winner … and Satan steps in to award the trophy for anxiety, doubt, and distrust.

     Our faith cannot be conditional, nor can our love, trust, and belief in God be based solely on what we perceive He is or is not doing for any reason at any time in our lives … or the lives of others.   When any of these waiver, are we not denying the Almighty’s deity, holiness, and sovereignty?  Fluctuating faith comes from the world and not the Word.  Remember that James 1:6-8 says “But let him ask in faith with no doubting, for the one who asks in doubt is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose he will receive anything from Him … he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways”. 

     We must also bear in mind that any answer that does come from above must be in  accordance with God’s will and not ours.  “For this is the confidence we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us”. (1 John 5:14)  Just don’t impose human time constraints or limits on God as to when you feel the answer should come.  “For the vision is for an appointed time and it hastens to fulfillment … it will not deceive nor disappoint.  Though it tarries, wait earnestly for it, because it will surely come … it will not be behindhand on its appointed day”. (Habbakuk 2:3).   That day will be God’s decision – when He knows your ready for it; not your decision, when you think you are.  Always remember, “It is not for us to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority” (Acts 1:7)

       So, keep your faith by reading the Bible daily and if you are not doing so already, start praying to God and end each one with “If it is according to your will”.   See what happens!

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SEASONS


– To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. – Ecclesiastes 3:1

– He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times and dates the Father has set by His own authority” – Acts 1:7

– Never rush through the season you’re trying to get through – Joel Osteen

     Do you feel like your life is you being the star of a TV show called “I Can’t Wait”?  You’re in high school and you just can’t wait to graduate.  You can’t wait to be out on your own, to go to college or join the military, or just leave home.  Then the next “I Can’t Wait” episode begins, and you can’t wait to get that first job out of school and start making some real money.  Perhaps you can’t wait to find that special someone who will be your lifelong spouse, and then you can’t wait to start having kids.  And so it goes. 

    The kids start coming and you can’t wait for their first day of school, their first recital, their graduation.  You become so focused on the next show, you’re barely paying attention to the one that’s on.  Time passes and something strange happens. You start picking up the remote every now and then and start surfing the TV channels, looking for a series starring you called “I Miss When”.  But you can’t find it – maybe they shot the pilot, but the network executives didn’t like it – perhaps they were too caught up in their own “I Can’t Wait” show to think it had any chance in that time slot.  The kids get older and, as much as you love them dearly, you can’t wait for a little quiet time around the house.  You can’t wait to catch up on all the reading you have set aside or spend more time on that hobby.  Even while you are working hard throughout the years, you can’t wait until you retire so you can relax and enjoy a few years without all the noise and business of life.

    We as human beings have a tendency to get so focused on getting through one season … just to get to the next one, we forget to enjoy the one we’re in.  It even happens quite often with the four seasons of nature.  We can’t wait for spring, then summer, then fall … (okay, maybe not winter for many), and then as soon as we’re in them, we miss the previous one.  Our conversation tends to become one of the “I miss” summer, or “I miss fall” nature (no pun intended) … slowly and subtly we start mixing in the “I can’t believe it went by so fast”, observations, soon followed by the wistful “Why was I in such a hurry?” comments.  We start looking back instead of looking ahead.  We miss school, miss the kids … even work.  My mom couldn’t wait until she retired, then talked so often about it afterwards as if she were still working where she did.  She missed it.

   People frequently say “not me” while they’re in a season.  “I won’t miss this one bit!” they cry.  I think we do that sometimes because we don’t want to swallow our pride and admit to others we’re scared about what’s next.  We click the “info” button on our TV screen for the next episode, and it’s blank.  “To be announced” it may read.  At first, we’re not sure if we want to watch it or not without knowing what it’s about … but we do anyway because after all, it’s our favorite show. 

    Me?  I can’t wait to get to heaven.

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FOLLOW YOU, FOLLOW ME?

–  What I mean is this:  One of you says, “I follow Paul”, another says “I follow Apollos”, another says “I follow Cephas” … still another “I follow Christ”.  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” – 1 Corinthians 1:12-13

      Can you quote Joyce Meyer or Joel Osteen more than you can quote Scripture?  Do you eagerly await your latest Guideposts, In Touch (Charles Stanley), or Turning Points (David Jeremiah) monthly magazine in the mail … then you pour over almost every page … and then set it down on top of your unopened Bible?  Have you left,  or known anyone to leave a church just because the pastor retired or moved away?  Do you church-hop, hoping to find the one where the sermons best suit your current frame of mind?   Please don’t misunderstand me – all of the above men and women of God are wonderful teachers … just as the Apostle Paul was … but they are not your eternal teacher.  None of them were crucified or baptized for you. 

     In the first chapter of 1st Corinthians, the church there was failing.  It had originally been set in Corinth, but now Corinth was getting into the church.  As Henrietta Mears once wrote, “It’s a glorious sight to see a ship launched into the sea, but it is a tragic thing when the sea gets into the ship”.  Some leaders of the Corinth church, most likely the ones still trying to follow Christ, saw this and wrote Paul, asking his thoughts. 

     Greek party politics had entered the Corinth church.  Nothing will divide a church faster than party politics.  It had split into four factions, each group following and preferring a particular teacher, named above in verse 11.  Apollos was a very eloquent, well-versed man of Scripture, Paul tended to be mostly practical in nature, and Cephas (or Peter) was a more persuasive speaker than some others.

     So, Paul responds powerfully and beautifully, appealing for unity.  He asks them almost point blank, “Is Christ divided? Was I crucified and baptized for you?” (v13)  He tells them he came not to baptize, but to preach the gospel … not with the wisdom of words lest the cross of Christ become of no effect. (v17)  Paul adds that the world cannot know God by their wisdom, and that we cannot be saved by preaching. (v20, 21)  If that were the case, the Jews would then require some sort of sign, and the Gentiles would require some sort of wise sermon before coming to salvation. (v22)  But when we preach Christ crucified as the only way to salvation, then that becomes a stumbling block and foolishness to so many of us, just like it did with the Jews and Gentiles in Corinth. (v23)

     Is your church preaching Christ crucified?  Are you … are the members of your congregation following Christ?  Do you know people who come one Sunday when they know a particular pastor is preaching, and stay away the next when they find out it is someone else … someone’s style they may not personally like?  Is that you?  Would you consider changing churches or even stop going if your favorite pastor announced he/she were leaving or retiring?  Have you ever gone out to lunch after a service with friends and heard (or said yourself) comments about the sermon such as, “But I heard David Jeremiah say this last week,”, or “That’s not what John Hagee said this morning on TV”.?  No or little mention of Christ and the Bible anywhere?  Again, we can have great teachers, but Franklin Graham was not crucified for you, nor was his father baptized for you.

     There is only one leader and center of every church and that is Christ.  Henrietta Mears wrote about this passage of Scripture decades ago:

     – In effect, what Paul is saying here is, “Your factional nature is sin.  Can you follow a mere man, hoping that he can give you earthly and eternal life?”

Quoting and trusting what man says is foolishness.  Verse 18 reads, “The preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.”

     So many of us follow Christ to the cross and stop there ,… only to follow a preferred pastor, speaker, or author afterwards more than we do Him.  The cross was not being preached very much anymore in Corinth.  And when we remove the cross from the gospel because people don’t like it or are offended by it … we are rejecting our cornerstone of salvation (Acts 4:10-12), and Christianity crumbles into hundreds of pieces of shattered rock.  The rock which is Christ is destroyed.

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– As for us, our eyes failed for our vain help … in our watching we have waited for a nation that could not save us. – Lamentations 4:17

   The 2012 presidential campaign season entered full swing this past week with the Iowa Caucus.   Once again, voters cast ballots seeking a candidate much like they thought Obama was 4 years ago … someone to be America’s hope … someone who could put America back on the right track … someone who could save us.  When will we learn?  A nation that has forgotten God on so many levels stands little chance of righting itself merely by the presence of somebody new in Washington.  America has cried out to its idols … the politicians, the sports stars and celebrities, the American Dream.  They won’t save you and they won’t save this country. 

      In Judges 10:13-14, God is speaking to the Israelites … time and time again He has delivered them from troubles … time and time again the Israelites thanked the Lord … and time and time again they went right back to their idolatrous ways.  And God, in His longsuffering … finally had had it.   He warns them “Yet you have forsaken me and gone and served other gods, wherefore I will deliver you no more.  Go ahead and cry out to the gods which you have chosen … let them deliver you in the time of tribulation.”  America can only be delivered by God so many times before His patience runs out.  Psalm 9:17 warns, “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.”

       But there is still time.  In 2 Chronicles 7:14, we hear this from God – if only we would return to Him as a country! … “If my people, who are called by name, will humble themselves and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will heal and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”  Nothing else is going to save us.

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SPOT ON


SPOT ON:

     – These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you … feeding themselves without fear.  Clouds they are without water, carried about with winds … trees whose fruit withers.  – Jude 12

 

      America has more charitable organizations than any other country in the world.  This is admirable.  Nearly every major sports star, actor or actress, or Fortune 500 company supports some cause for the greater good.  But there are still hungry people here in this country and around the world, and our home and restaurant meal leftovers … plus the food we simply throw away … could go a long way to feed many.   This is a “spot” in our feasts of charity that Jude is referring to.  Ecclesiastes 5:9 reminds us that “The profit of the earth is for all”.  Charity begins at home.  It’s more than dropping a $20 in the collection plate at church on Sunday, writing out a check to the local food bank during the holidays, or throwing some loose change to a homeless person.  These too are “spots”. 

      It does not take a society or an organization as much as it takes you.  It does not consist of sitting around in meetings of like-minded people trying to collectively agree on how to best serve the less fortunate … as much as it takes the heart of yours that God searches and knows the secrets of (Jeremiah 17:10, Psalm 44:21).   Almost 50 years ago during his Chicago Crusade in 1962, Billy Graham said that charity involves going to visit patients in a hospital … alone.  It takes going to visit prisoners in jail … alone.  It takes going to visit residents of a homeless shelter … alone.   Not for your Christian resume or to improve your reputation among others, but simply as a humble servant of Christ, who came not to seek his own.glory (John 8:50) 

      True charity involves earthly risk, but with the promise of eternal reward (Colossians 3:2). And genuine charity is doing things that only you know about … and only God sees. 

 

 

 

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