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Archive for February, 2012


A MAN HEARS WHAT HE WANTS TO HEAR.

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PCH #1 – Publisher’s Clearing House:

– I tell you that in the same way, there’ll be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. – Luke 15:7

– Those who love money will never have enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.  This too is meaningless. – Ecclesiastes 5:10

     His name is Arthur.  He is taking tomorrow off.  Why, you ask?  After all these years of sending in Publisher Clearing House entries, he is sure this is “the year”.  It has to be.  And February 29th is the date.  He even has his reaction all scripted.  The Prize Patrol van will pull up into his driveway, a stream of well-dressed men and women armed with balloons and banners will emerge – and one with a really big check – and he will drop to his knees in disbelief for starters after he answers the door.  This will be followed by an “Oh my God” and some near religious writhing on the floor.  To cap it off, he will run the Prize Patrol member gauntlet, hugging and high-fiving any of them who will let him. 

     Oh, I forgot to tell you that Arthur is a highly successful surgeon, who usually brings in about $300,000 a year from his practice.  But he tells himself he “needs” the money for a new addition to the house, a renovated vacation home near Lake Tahoe, and those season tickets for the Lakers (they raised the prices again, and he’s not happy about that). 

(fast forward to Feb 29th and)

PCH #2 – Prodigal Comes Home:

     Arthur wakes up promptly at 6 AM and begins to imagine all the new toys he can get with the grand prize check.  It would also come in handy in case of malpractice.  He tries not to appear too anxious but every noise from outside causes him to walk to the curtain and peer out.  Four noises in four hours but all false alarms.  Finally, a few hours later he’s heading back into the kitchen when he hears the knock.  He looks up at the clock – it’s noon.  His heart leaps.  Arthur returns to the window to peer out.  Hmm, no prize patrol – that’s strange.  He is sure he heard a knock.  So Arthur goes to the peephole. 

     A man with a scraggly beard and unkempt hair is standing there.  Arthur reluctantly opens the door, bothered with this interruption.  He makes sure the latch keeps the door from opening fully.  “Yes?” he asks.  The man pauses for a second and then says “Dad, it’s me, your son – I’ve come home”.  Deep within the blood starts to boil in Arthur.  “You’ve come home?”, he asks. “You had a home here – your dear late mother and me busted our butts to give you this home and to pay for your college, and what did you do?  You blew the money on beer and girls and parties … and wasted a chance at a good future … you “had” a home”.  Then you dropped out but tried to fake us out by creating fake transcripts to make us think you were still going and – using our hard-earned money to pay some computer geek buddy of yours to do it. 

     But the wearied man protests “But Dad, I’m so sorry – I made a mistake.  Please give me another chance.” “You had your chance young man – and you blew it”, Arthur yells. “And you want to talk about mistakes?  I’ll tell you about a mistake – you.  This is the thanks we get for raising you and providing for you … all those years and this is what happens?  I don’t know who you think you are to come back here but you’re not welcome – go out and see what your ingratitude and slothfulness will get you in this life”.  With that Arthur slams the door in his son’s face and looks back up at the clock. Good. Only 1 PM … there’s still plenty of time for that Prize Patrol to show up.   

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– For our rejoicing is this:  The testimony of our conscience … that is simplicity and godly sincerity, but by the grace of God we have had our conversation in the world … and more abundantly towards you. – 2 Corinthians 1:12

– “Sincere (Noun):” – The virtue of one who speak and acts truly about his or her own feelings, thoughts, and desires.
 
– “You can be sincere and still be wrong.” – Billy Graham

     Linus had the most sincere pumpkin patch around.  He was so absolutely positive about it. Surely that would be enough for him to give up a night of trick-or-treating fun with his friends, because the Great Pumpkin would surely see just how sincere it was.  That would be enough to bestow toys and gifts upon Linus from above.  He even said to Charlie Brown, “I don’t see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one.  You can look around and there’s no sign of hypocrisy.  Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.”

     Do we as Christians get like Linus sometimes?  We have our own pumpkin patches of ministry and mission work, for example.  It starts with the planting of the pumpkin seeds.  Then we hoe and weed and fertilize and water amd wait.  And all the pummpkins grow and grow to maturity, perfectly symmetric, and big and bright orange … all because of our hard work.  Year after year we go out and wait for the Great Pumpkin to bestow blessings upon us because of the sincerity of our efforts and the resulting “perfect” pumpkin patch.  But, it was our thought to plant it, we felt it was the right thing to do, and it was our desire to see it grow into the best pumpkin patch around.  Our sincerity.  Softly, slowly and surely, the doubt starts to seep in.  Where’s my blessing?  Surely God … er I mean the Great Pumpkin should have blessed me by now, right?

     In the Great Pumpkin TV special, Linus echoes this sentiment.  “It won’t be long now, Charlie Brown.  If the Great Pumpkin comes, I’ll put in a good word for you.”  Then there is a pause and a look of panic comes over Linus.  “If!! I meant “when” he comes. I’m doomed!!! One little slip like that could cause the Great Pumpkin to pass you by.”  (Calling out), “Oh, Great Pumpkin where are you?”

     Have your sincere efforts as a believer seemingly gone unrewarded?  Do you call out “Oh, God, where are you?” like Linus did with the Great Pumpkin?.  Years and years of ministry, years and years of mission work and finally near or total frustration sets in.  You sit in your pumpkin patch clutching your Bible and wait shivering in the cold alone for God to finally richly reward your years of dedication and sacrifice.  But did you do everythihg by your spirit or God’s?  Listen to these words from Zechariah 4:6: “Then He answered and spoke unto me saying this is the word of the Lord unto Zerubabbel saying “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord of hosts””.

     In “Be My Spirit” David DePra writes: “You are going to try to do for yourself what only God can do.  We think we are helping out God – the natural trying to do things only the Spirit can do. In the Bible, we see this time and time again.  When Abraham tried to help things along by birthing Ishmael.  We see it when Jacob stole the birthright blessing.  Moses tried to do things in his own strength when he killed the Egyptian.  Later, we see it when David put the Ark of the Covenant on a cart.  Helping out God again.  In the gospels, the disciples of Jesus continually tried to get Him to bring the kingdom THEN.  They did not want to wait.  Indeed, Satan himself was behind these suggestions.  The temptations in the wilderness, as well as through the life of Jesus, were geared to getting Him to by-pass the Cross, and to bring God’s will another way – through the natural.”
 
     We cannot force the issue with God.  Even with the most sincere pumpkin patch around.  I think we get afraid sometimes that if we really stopped to listen long enough to the rustling in the leaves … thinking “Is it him?” … not only will we find out that it’s just World War II Flying Ace Snoopy rising up between the pumpkins, but that the loveable beagle is actually delivering a message from the Great Pumpkin … that he had wanted you to plant a cabbage patch instead … from the very beginning.

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JOB SEARCH


– Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, “Who is this that darkens my counsel without knowledge?  Gird up your loins like a man for I will demand of you and you will answer me.  Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?  Declare, if you have any under-standing.  Who has laid the measures thereof … if you know … who has stretched the line upon it? Have the gates of death been opened unto you?  Or have you seen the doors of the shadow of death?” – Job 38:1-5,17

– Moreover, the Lord answered Job and said “Shall he that contends with the Almighty instruct Him?  He that reproves God, let him answer.” – Job 40:1-2

     Have you ever demanded answers from God?  Contended with Him?  Blamed and accused Him for things happening in your life?  Most know the story of Job … one of the most righteous men on earth during his time … a man who eschewed evil.  But without warning bad things started happening to Job and he really had done nothing wrong … at least from his viewpoint.  Has that ever happened to you?  Trials arose and things weren’t quite going the way you saw fit, but you could not think of anything you had done to “deserve” them?   Did you want to curse God and die – just like Job’s wife wanted him to do (Job 2:9) – because things were so bad?.  Did you maintain your integrity and keep on doing what was right despite all the difficult times? 

     In the span of one day, Job lost almost everything he had.  Four frightened messengers delivered terrible news.  Through them, Job learned his 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys, and 3,000 camels had been stolen in an enemy raid.  Seven thousand sheep and all of Job’s servants were killed by lightning.  All 10 of his children (seven sons and three daughters) were killed in a violent windstorm.  (Job 1:2-4, and 1:13-19).  How would you react to God if you only lost one child or maybe 100 sheep instead of 7,000?  Would you be like Job and simply fall to the ground and worship God, saying “Naked I came out of my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return?” (Job 1:21)  Or would you charge God foolishly and grieve His spirit?  (Job 1:22 and Ephesians 4:20)

      You see, Job did have a problem.  It’s a problem I still struggle with and it’s a pervasive problem in many churches and among many believers.  Job had an “I” problem.  Read Job 29.  Count how many personal pronouns you find, such as “I”, “me”, and “my”.   He comes right out in Job 29:14-16 and talks about his righteousness and good deeds:  “I put on righteousness and it clothed me; my judgement was as a robe and a diadem,  I was eyes to the blind and feet was I to the lame,  I was a father to the poor and the cause that I didn’t even know I searched out”.  Seven times in three verses Job uses those personal pronouns. 

     Job had to come to a complete and total understanding, acceptance, and belief of God’s sovereignty.  Have I?  Have you?  It starts in Job 40 where God speaks to him out of a whirlwind.  God demands an answer from Job to all the impossible questions He asks (Job 38, 39, 40:1-2).  And Job is humbled completely – right where God wants him.  Job says “I am vile, what will I answer you?  I will lay my hand upon my mouth”.  But God is not done!  The Almighty then demands another answer from Job to this question: “Will you also disannul my judgement?  Will you condemn me so that you may be righteous?” 

     God is in control of all things at all times.  He can do everything – we can’t.  No thought can be hid from Him (Job 42:2-3).  Nothing causes Him to be surprised, to catch Him off guard … for Him to say “didn’t see that one coming”.  Even the works of Satan are under God’s sovereign hand.  Some don’t like to believe that.  A view of Satan working independently is not Biblical.  Isaiah 45:7 says “I make peace and create evil; I the Lord do all these things.”  Lamentations 3:32-33 tells us that “Though He causes grief, he will still have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies.  For He does not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men”.  Amos 3:6-8 asks “If a calamity occurs in a city, has not the Lord done it?”.  Finally Colossians 1:18 sums it up: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or power … all things were created by Him and for Him”.  This is God’s sovereignty – this was what Job missed and what so many of us miss. 

     Outside of the Bible, Charles Stanley said it best to me: “You will never have peace until you are fully persuaded that God is in control of everything.  Leave all the consequences to Him.”  We don’t have to understand it or get it … we have to fully recognize it, accept it, believe it, and trust it … no matter what.

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STARRY, STARRY NIGHT


– For God, who said “Let light shine out of the darkness”. – 2 Corinthians 4:6

– “They would not listen, they’re not listening still … perhaps they never will”  – Don McLean, Vincent “Starry, Starry Night”, 1971

     He wanted to be a minister.  He wanted to spread the gospel to the whole world.  His grandfather had a degree of theology from the University of Leden.  His father?  A minister of the Dutch Reformed Church.   After an early life of various jobs, some within the art field and some not … he became increasingly isolated and fervent about religion following the rejection of an early love.   After moving to Paris in the late 1870’s, he became a Methodist minister’s assistant while working at a bookshop to support himself.  But he spent most of his time there either doodling or translating Bible passages into English, French, and German.   This zeal led him to what he thought was his true calling – a pastor.  To support this effort his family sent him to Amsterdam to study theology and prepare for an entance exam under the tutelage of his uncle Johannes Stricker, a respected theologian who published the first “Life of Jesus” in the Netherlands. 

     By now, you may have guessed this man was Vincent Van Gogh.  He failed his entrance exam and left his uncle’s house., then undertook and failed a 3-month course at the Vlaamsche Opleidingsschool … a Protestant missionary school near Brussels.  Undettered, he then took a temporary post as a missionary in the coal-mining village of Petit-Wasmes in Belgium.  This is where his desire to live as an example of Christ to others started raising eyebrows among the religious elite.  Van Gogh dove head first into the lives of the people he was ministering to.  He sold his clothing and belongings, and slept on a straw mat in the back room of a local miner.  Drawing sketches of the peasants, he became convinced this was the Biblical way to truly live and love people – by experiencing it firsthand.   Sadly, his choice of living in squalid conditions did not sit well with appalled church authorities who asked Van Gogh to leave his missionary post for “undermining the dignity of the priesthood”.  For someone who was struggling mentally, this must of come as a great shock to Van Gogh who was just wanting to give to and help others … to love them.  He once wrote his brother Theo and told him he felt “There was nothing more truly artistic than to love people”.

     Although he painted on many subjects, two of Van Gogh’s most famous works were produced in the last year of his life:  “Church at Auvers”, and “Starry, Starry Night”.   In Church at Auvers, a giant and dark cold-looking church sits in the middle of the canvas with no lights on and no warmth emanating from within.  The foreground is lit but not the church.  A path that seems to be leading to the front door diverges just before reaching it and passes by on either side.  In Starry, Starry Night, the heavens dominate the scene.  Down below is a peaceful little village.  Every building in the hamlet has lights on … except the church.  Besides the moon, there are eleven stars in the night sky, which some have suggested is a reference to the 11 disiciples who remained true to Christ and did not betray him.  On the far left of the painting is a dark, craggy outcropping  pointing up to the heavens that grows thinner and thinner as it rises, until a single finger of shadowy rock is left touching the sky. 

     Van Gogh associated light with life but not with the church.  Darkness from the church was what he saw coming from within.  Does this happen today?  Do unbelievers associate our church with light or darkenss?  Are we so concerned about attracting new members with wordly devices … and maintaining our religious checklists and performance, that we forget to feed and shepherd the flock with the Word and let some go astray like Van Gogh?   Are we so focused on our church position and reputation that we get uncomfortable with someone who seems extremely eager but a little “off” in our religious eyes?  And we never notice they are entering into “wolf-devouring” territory because we are so concerned with the 99 sheep that stay (Matthew 18:12)? 

     Do we get so focused on keeping the biggest tithers and keeping favor with those who can help us pursue and achieve our own personal goals and dreams in this life, that we not only forget and ignore the ones losing their way … but deep down inside we really don’t mind that it happens either.  Then something tragic occurs, like Van Gogh taking his own life, and we stand their shaking our heads in disbelief … wondering how it ever happened.

Sources for Van Gogh story:  (1) Wikipedia, and (2) geekery.com (Genius Outcast)

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– For the ear tries words as the mouth tastes meat. – Job 34:3

– But I hate him, for he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. – 1 Kings 22:8

– And Micaiah said,  “As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that will I speak”. – 1 Kings 22:14

– And the King of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, “Didn’t I tell you that he would not prophesy any good concerning me, but evil?” – 1 Kings 22:14

     In the classic 1970 song by Simon and Garfunkel called  “The Boxer”, Paul Simon wrote some words that ring true throughout history … even among many believers today … when it comes to obeying God and His counsel.   The line simply says, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”.  Sadly, this was the case with King Ahab of Israel back in the days of the Bible.  He didn’t hear what he wanted to hear.  And because of this, so began the “beginning of his end”,  predicted earlier by the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 21. 

      You see, King Ahab was not a happy camper.  He had consulted with King Jehoshaphat of Judah on whether go to war against Syria – specifically “wanting” to take the city of Ramoth in Gilead.  Ahab and Jehoshaphat had an alliance with each other through the marriage of their children (2 Chronicles 18:1).  But Jehoshaphat was suspicious of the so-called blanket approval Ahab had received from about 400 “prophets”;  who all agreed it was just a grand idea to do battle … and that the Lord would surely deliver the city into Ahab’s hands. (1 Kings 22:6).  So Jehoshaphat … a man who feared God, and who probably suspected these men were nothing more than false/house prophets who basically told Ahab what he wanted to hear … inquired of Ahab if there was not a true prophet of the Lord they might inquire of to get godly counsel.  I can imagine King Ahab … wanting to respect the bloodline alliance between himself and Jehoshaphat … sighing here and saying to Jehoshapat:  “Well, there is this one guy – his name is Micaiah, but I don’t like him very much because he never tells me anything good”.

           Micaiah told Ahab that if he went into battle, he would die.  But Ahab went right ahead anyways.  Even still, the words of the Lord through Micaiah must have been ringing in his ears because Ahab disguised himself as a regular soldier, not donning his kingly robes …and put Jehoshapat at great risk by telling him to put on his.  If any army can kill the opposing leader, it usually is quite demoralizing.  The King of Syria knew this and told his men to go after Ahab first.  And there they saw King Jehoshaphat of Judah and concluded he must actually be Ahab, King of Israel … because of the robes he was wearing (1 Kings 22:30-31). 

         So here we had two kings – one idolatrous and one godly, allied by marriage – and the one whose death had been predicted; decided to be deceitful in the heat of war so he could perhaps survive the battle at the expense of another, even someone he was aligned with.  But God knew exactly where Ahab was and what he had done.  After King Jehoshaphat sensed what was happening, he cried out to the Syrians that they had “the wrong guy” … and the Syrians too realized their mistake (1 Kings 22:32-33).  Shortly after, a “random” arrow shot into the air struck King Ahab, mortally wounding him (1 Kings 22:34).  And the dogs licked up his blood, just as Elijah said they would in 1 Kings 21:19.

         There are many lessons in this story.  One is that we all too often allow our cultural, social, professional and marital ties … even within the church … to persuade us as to what we should do in life, instead of seeking godly counsel first and abiding by it at all cost, even our life.  We frequently come up with what we think are great ideas because we see something we want … but don’t really need (King Ahab wanted the city of Ramoth to be his, but he did not need it) …then go searching for as many people as we can (King Ahab got almost 400) to agree with us and back us up (but not God) … even brothers/sisters, elders, and pastors.  Then we go out and act according to their recommendations and suggestions (usually, but not always well-meaning and intended), just like Ahab did with his supporters … some who may have actually believed they were prophets of the Lord themselves (see Zedekiah’s comments to Micaiah in 1 Kings 22:24).   We end up all over the place in our Christian life and we can’t understand it.  This often leads to finger-pointing at God as the source of blame when He doesn’t play along as we see fit.  

         A second lesson of 1 Kings 22 … is that the prophet of the Lord … Micaiah, wasn’t exactly forthright in presenting the truth at first.  Remember up above in 1 Kings 22:14 he said  “As the Lord lives, what the Lord says unto me, that will I speak”.  Did he?  Did Micaiah speak to Ahab what the Lord had told him?  Listen to what Micaiah said in the very next verse: “Go and prosper, for the Lord shall deliver Ramoth into the hand of the king”.  But Ahab sensed he was lying, mainly because Micaiah had never told him anything good.  So Ahab told Micaiah “How many times must I adjure (or command) you to tell me nothing but that which is true in the name of the Lord”? (1 Kings 22:16).  Sure enough, this time Micaiah spoke the truth and Ahab then told Jehoshaphat:  “See I told you so” – he only predicts bad things”.

         As believers, we should ask ourselves why Micaiah did not speak the truth at first to Ahab … right after he said he would.  Do we do the same thing?  A primary reason is that truth hurts.  Truth spoken “to us” from the Word of God may put us in a position where we must swallow a lot of pride and own up and confess to our  shortcomings and sin.  Truth spoken “from us” to others may cause us to lose friendships and favor – our so-called connections in this life.   Micaiah ended up in prison when he spoke it (1 Kings 22:26-27).   In some countries today it may cause us to be beaten, expelled, or killed.  Regardless of the circumstances or the outcome, we as believers must speak and live the truth of the Word between ourselves and to unbelievers wherever we are – no matter what – with every moment we have been given.  It is how God sanctifies us for His purposes (John 17:17).  If you don’t want to hear that, then you might be in for a long, tough, and confusing life road as a believer.

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– Sin is crouching at your door.  You can enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin for a season, but be sure … your sin will find you out.  And the wages of sin is death.  (Genesis 4:6-7, Hebrews 11:25, Numbers 32:23, and Romans 6:23)

– Sin will always take you farther than you want to go and keep you longer than you want to stay (seen on church marquee in Antioch TN)

     Sin is sin.  It is not color-coded.  The Bible does not rate it like a Letterman Top 10 List.  As Billy Graham so aptly put it once “Sin is nothing more than rebellion against God – and we’re all rebels.”  One of our problems in modern society is that so many want “Swift Justice”.  We want others to have to pay for every crime now, especially the ones committed against us.  Have them get what we know they so rightly deserve.    However, in God’s spiritual justice system of longsuffering, mercy, and grace … when the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of people are filled with schemes to do wrong (Ecclesiastes 8:11 (NIV)).  It may appear we’re getting away with sin af first. Then, because God does not carry out our sentence for that sin right away, we are often emboldened to sin again …  and sometimes again and again.   But remember, that the Lord is not slow in keeping His promise as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you , not wanting anyone to perish … but for everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9 NIV)).  What way will you choose?

      Whatever the sin is, it is a separation from God.  It is intentional disobeyance of His word and seeking our own independence, control, and authority in managing our lives at any level at any time, regardless of what that entails … finances, relationships, careers, etc..  It is relying on our own limited ways of reasoning and understanding to make decisions … and rejecting the perfect counsel of the Almighty through His holy Word.   Sin is downright deceitful.  Someone once wrote that Satan repackages and remarkets it constantly to make it look more appealing than it really is, much like a master fisherman disguises the deadly hook with cleverly placed bait.  The intent of Jesus was to make us fishers of men, but the devil wants us to be the actual fish.  He wants to disguise the deadly hook with the cleverly placed bait of pleasure, fun, and entertainment.   To reel you in and throw you in the frying pan.  His advertising campaign touts things like “It won’t hurt, not just this once”, or “Everyone else is doing it … be one of the crowd and be popular” is another.    Beer commercials are great at doing this.   And it is so easy to fall prey to because “man’s heart is desperately wicked and extremely deceitful” (Jeremiah 17:9).  Whatever we fill our hearts with is what comes out – the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored in his heart – and out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).

         We can never defeat sin until Christ returns, but we must master it before it masters us.  It desires to have us but we must rule over it (Genesis 4:6-7).  One way the Bible tells us how to is “encourage each other daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of us will be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13).  As  believers, we must no longer let sin reign in our mortal bodies that we may obey all its lusts (Romans 6:12)  Our union with Christ bans us from living in sin because it would inconsistent and contrary to the work of Christ on the cross.   We died and were crucified with Christ and we no longer live, but Christ lives in us (Galatians 2:20).  And because we have a newness of life in Christ, we must not let sin reign in our bodies.  Rather than present our bodies as servants of sin, we must offer them to God … as those who have been brought from death to life … as instruments of righteousness (Romans 6:13).  That’s a win-win situation.

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