God-devotion makes a country strong; God-avoidance leaves people weak.

Proverbs 14:34—Righteousness exalts a nation,

But sin is a disgrace to any people.

 

On its own merit this Proverb speaks volumes, especially to a Christian nation that has turned her back on the Lord. While America is a Christian nation, she no longer looks to the Lord for her guidance. Today we celebrate the birth of our great nation, birthed by some of the greatest and godliest men in the history.

When you read Pr. 14:34 in context you begin to see the difference between America our Founding Fathers envisioned and the one we live in today.

33 Wisdom rests in the heart of one who has understanding,

But in the hearts of fools it is made known.

34 Righteousness exalts a nation,

But sin is a disgrace to any people.

35 The [leaders] favor is toward a servant who acts wisely,

But his anger is toward him who acts shamefully.[1]

 33Lady Wisdom is at home in an understanding heart—fools never even get to say hello.34 God-devotion makes a country strong;

God-avoidance leaves people weak.

35 Diligent work gets a warm commendation;

shiftless work earns an angry rebuke.[2]

So let’s take it one verse at a time. Wisdom finds itself “at home” in the heart of someone who understands. Godly wisdom is accepted by choice, not forced upon anyone. God meets the needs of others; sometimes they believe in Him, sometimes they don’t. Either way when God sees a need He makes every effort to make sure it is met. The heart of someone who chooses to let it in can only accept God’s wisdom. This is a heart just like God’s, open to do what is right and just without regard to person. The fool on the other hand closes his or her heart, depending on themselves or others to provide for their need. For this reason the fool has no idea that wisdom is even knocking at the door.

Up until 1962 America routinely taught God’s wisdom to our young minds. Now after 49 years without God in the classroom, we have leaders claiming to be godly in their decision making, and a future looking even bleaker. Our national righteousness began to erode at light-speed in the 1980’s and has never looked back. The result, exactly what v34b states—we have become weak, and a disgrace to what America has stood for longer than any other nation. At one time American exceptionalism was the driving force behind industry, ingenuity, and growth. We were so exceptional; people came in droves to become Americans.

Towns and cities were built around churches and everyone worked hard at their trade, “One nation under God, Indivisible.” Today we have become a nation of groups, divided, and unwilling to work to get ahead. The apostle Paul warned that sin abounds when hands are left idle. Jesus taught money is at the root of all evil, not that it is evil, which is why when asked what needed to be done to follow him he told the young prince to sell everything, and give the money to the poor. He was demonstrating what hard work could do for society. It will not only provide for you and your family, but also after that provision it can help those who can’t work themselves—the widows and orphans. In other words we are to take care of our fellow men, women, and children; not the government.

The Founders envisioned a nation of people independent from the government, leading a government dependent upon the people. That is precisely what America has been, rising up against the oppressive dictatorial leadership of nations like Iraq, Germany (twice), Russia, Korea, Vietnam, and Mexico. We have forgotten what happens when the economic policies designed to bring equality to the people are allowed to exist. These policies work to suppress the Word of God, and eventually in every circumstance lead to a controlling class, who believe they are better than anyone else (Israel, Rome, The British Empire, Germany under the Kaisers and Hitler, Soviet Russia, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Iraq…). The freedom the Founders wanted for America is found rooted in the Word of God, and when we turn our backs on God’s Word, we turn our backs on freedom.


[1] The Lockman Foundation, New American Standard Bible, iPad, prod. Olive Tree (Olive Tree, 2011).

[2] H Eugene Peterson, The Message Bible, 2002, http://www.biblegateway.com. (Accessed July 3, 2012).

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Hope In The Midst of Distress

Yesterday we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. In both his death and resurrection we can find hope. Loosing a loved one is probably the most difficult experience we have, especially those with whom we spend a great deal of time. Jesus’ disciples and his mother experienced this just hours before his conquering of death. Even in his death Jesus offered hope to all people. His first words spoken from the cross show us that we can rest in the knowledge that God’s gift of grace overcomes all our failures, every stumble, our humanity.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Luke 23:34 (NIV)

revelationculture.com

Our faults and failures sent him to the cross, and he prayed to God for our forgiveness. What kind of love is that? It is a love we should all strive to offer to our neighbor. But back to the hope of grace. You don’t believe he can love you, or would be willing to be with you? Let’s go back to the cross where he shows us this everlasting love. Hanging nest to him on the cross (a neighbor) was a man who had committed capital crimes, a man who understood he deserved to die for all he had done. Yet, at some point he came to know who Jesus is. We don’t know when this transformation started, but when it counted most he allowed Jesus into his heart. Unlike all of Israel who had betrayed Jesus, he became the first to publicly declare Jesus as the Messiah. In recognizing this he confessed more than his crimes. He confessed Jesus as the Son of God, his Savior. The result of this confession, God pardoned his sins allowing him into the Kingdom.

Confession of Christ is more that saying the words. It is a confession that comes from the heart, not the head. It is easy to say, “Jesus is my Savior.” Without living that out, without following his commands to love God and love your neighbor that confession is meaningless. You may question how that thief showed this when he die so quickly. God knows what is in our hearts. He knows when we just say words, and when we make a statement for Him. I cannot say what he would have done had he survived, but if Jesus told him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43, NIV) I can only believe he would have been a disciple, living out the Great Commission (Mt. 22:34-40; Mk. 12:28-31; Lk. 10:27).

Jesus wants to be with you. He wants you to be with him. You can have both. No failure is too be that it can keep you from his love and grace. All it takes is a willingness to come to him, and let him carry you sins, let him wrap his arms around you and say welcome to the family sister/brother. God’s grace is a gift, given free of charge to all people. All we have to do is accept it by acknowledging our failures, working to avoid them and others in the future, and accepting Jesus as Savior.

Scraps Are Better Than Nothing

Why did Jesus come? The answer is neither as easy nor as difficult as some contend. However, the real question is, for whom did he come? Right in the middle of Mark’s Gospel we find the answer, mixed in with some kingdom truths and warnings, for those people. Really, chapters 7-9 provide guidance for who gets to enter the kingdom of God. Keep in mind, Mark opens his gospelwith Jesus announcing “the kin to the chagrin of Israel.

What may be the most important lesson in this section is for Gentiles, much to the chagrin of Israel. A lesson taught by a Gentile. A Greek woman crashes the line wanting Jesus to heal her sick daughter. He quickly rebukes her, telling her Israel must come first. However, she shows Jesus her faith through her understanding thatGood blesses the world through Israel. Her display of faith is greater than anything Israel has shown. You see, the Israelites present were there because they had seen God work, she was there because she knew without seeing. There are three other stories like this showing faith as the precursor to God working in Gentle’s lives.

These lessons come with some warnings. The first, be more careful about what comes out of your mouth than what you put in it. The second, take care about to whom you listen. Jesus come for all people, though Israel gets first dibs. We may not get the first fruits, but we get the exact same fruits as Israel.

Who Dat?!?

“Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand?

~Mark 4:21

Too often this is exactly what we do. We end up in the dark, and don’t turn on the light to see. The result then we stumble and fall hurting ourselves over and over again. We live our lives in the dark, stuck in the idea we cannot get out. When we were kids, we would cry out for our dads, knowing he would protect us. Some how as we grow up, we forget we have a Father to whom we can cry out , and He will turn on the lights.

Actually, He sent that light to us a long time ago. Jesus is that light, sent to help us find our way out of our darkest moments. Darkness hates the light, because we can see our way out. The light allows us to see the darkness in our lives, whether caused by others or, and is more likely the case, the darkness we bring on ourselves.

Either way, darkness creates anxiety and despair in one lives. Often darkness creeps up on us so we don’t even realize the light is gone. This makes it difficult for us to recognize the light and what it does for us. When we put the Light where it will light the room we get to see wit others that cause us pain.

The Light lets us see the sinful behavior of ourselves and others that cause us pain. I say this not to draw attention to sin, but to illuminate how sin affects us. Take the young person who is bullied because he stutters. The hurtful words of others, pens, parents, etc, lead to feelings of incompetence and /or self-loathing. Eventually, believing he is no good. However, when seen in the Light (that is Jesus) he gets to see his value and how he let the darkness of the words keep him in the dark. The Light also allows us to see our own faults, mistakes, and misunderstanding. When we see them we can then fix them.

Without the Light, we can’t see what hurts us. but in the light we know what can hurt us because we can see it. Jesus is the Light, sent to help us out of the darkness, showing us he is here to serve us. He is both our Lord and our Servant, lighting our path.

Eat’s With Sinners

So many times we find ourselves dazed and confused, staring out someone or something like a deer in the headlights. Just the other day I gave instructions to a co-worker to complete aproject I began. I could see by the look on her face, she had no clue what I was doing. Frequently, Jesus experienced such confusion regarding his mission.

One group particularly confused were the Scribes and Pharisees. There were many reasons, including their idea about who or what the Messiah is. In this case however, it was their pride and misguided understanding of Salvation

We see this most clearly in Mark’s account of Jesus’ calling of Levi (Matthew) (Mark 2:14-20). Blinded by their own pride and self-imposed righteousness, the Pharisees could not grasp the concept that God’s love is for all His children. According to their beliefs, sinners could not receive Salvation because they cannot be righteous, even with offering sacrifices for attonement. Le vi was the worst of sinners, because he worked for Rome. He caused harm to Israel, therefore h e and his family were social outcasts, e accepted invitation to dinner

An accepted invitation to dinner, generated two promises. The first from Levi to pledge his loyalty and protection to Jesus. The second from Jesus, calling Levi friend. Levi was telling Jesus I accept you and want to follow your teaching, I want to be your disciple. Jesus told Matthew and his family you are forgiven. For the religious leaders, they could not tolerate Levi, to dine with him made you a sinner. They were incapable of bringing together the miracles showing him to be of God and his willingness to be associated with the unclean. They did not realize their true role in God’s plan.

All of Jesus’ miracles to this point showed he is more than a prophet. They were evidence of him being the Messiah. For the first time in Marks’ account, Jesus identifies himself as God. The same God who promised Israel He would not bring the “disease”he brought upon Egypt (Exodus 15:26). In his final statement to then, Jesus calls himself healer. The only way to bring healing is to go where the sick are. Jesus, went to the sick, at least those who wanted to be healed., and brought them the antidote. In this case a simplified version of the Law- Love God, Love People. In dining with Levi he was showing the people, sinners in particular, God loves them and they can receive Salvation. All you home to do is follow the Messiah’s invitation and his teaching.

There was confusion during Jesus’ ministry about what was going on. Sadly, that confusion still exists today. In fact it may be worse, and it is our own doing. To many believers see themselves through the eyes of a Pharisee. They are quick to criticize. They open their mouth without ever engaging thin ears, hands and feet. Rather than listening, to find out what has lead them to where they are and what they need to fix it. We need to be presentin the world, like Jesus, showing people they matter. Levi was shown he matters, in that he knew he could trust and follow the Messiah. Lets’ go and eat with sinners!

Mary: A Picture of Obedient Faith

Luke 1:26-38

I am the Lord’s servant, Mary answered, May your word to me be fulfilled.

Who is this young lady? What did she do to merit being “highly favored” by God? Why choose her to be the Messiah’s mother? These are just a few of the questions people have concerning Mary.

She was a simple teenager, from a simple family, and community. Until this moment, she was unknown to anyone except her friends and family. Yet, God chose her to usher in a world changing person and event. Her family lived in a town 70 miles from any significant city. Odds are she had little if any education, other than what she learned from visiting the Synagogue. None of the Gospels provide us with much information about Mary. So why would God choose her?

The answer is simple, despite everything that may have been against her, Mary had a deep faith, which God knew would allow her to be the mother of His Son. We see how strong her faith was in verse 38 of Luke 1, “I am the Lord’s servant…May Your word to me be fulfilled.” She offered herself up to serve, even after hearing what God had in place for her. Gabriel came to her calling her highly favored, then promptly deflated that balloon informing her, she would become pregnant though she was not married. Undaunted by what could happen to her because of the pregnancy — social ridicule, divorce, even death — Mary’s faith told her God would take care of her.

Despite her questions, Mary put her faith before everything else. You see, faith and obedience go hand in hand. Following God’s plan if we know the whole story doesn’t require any faith, we as make a decision based having all the facts. Mary understood that God can see in ways we can’t. It is okay to have questions. In fact, it is good to have questions for God. Questions mean we do not have all the details, and in faith we are still obedient to His guidance and leadership.

Can you respond like Mary when God calls? We all have a choice to respond in worship or worry, fear or excitement. Mary focused on God, rather than man. In doing so, she could respond with worship and excitement to Gabriel’s announcement. Life does not always go as planned, and questions help us to light the path God paves. Seek information, not proof when asking questions, and be willing to wait out God’s working in our lives. Mary saw His plan unfold over 30 plus years, before she knew what Jesus would mean to the world, and her role in his life.

Mary teaches us three things about our relationship with God:

1. It is important to understand God’s plan for our life will not provide us with the whole picture up front.

2. Believe that God will do great things through our life.

3. When God calls, we are to submit to Him 100%, even though we may have questions.

Be Faithful In Giving Grace to All

For those who missed out on my lesson this week, we learned from Titus 2 that we need to keep all generations working together. Essentially, Paul wanted to make sure Ministers, whether older or younger made it a point to keep the other generation involved in and supportive of the lives of the opposite generation. If the Church is to fulfill it’s purpose, we must have all generations working together; encouraging and exhorting each other to be Christlike in all that we do.

However, if we are to truly do good for the Gospel, we need to expand our teaching and life example beyond our churches and families. Those same principles Paul listed must be expanded into our places of work (older) and school (younger). Until recently, the Church has been under the misinformed idea it cannot be present in [public] schools. However, over the past 37 years, See-You-At-The-Pole, and other organizations have helped students to know the truth about living out their faith at school. Some of that has also worked its way into the workforce.

By including “slaves” [employees] in his letter, Paul was emphasizing the point that all people should be treated with dignity and grace, just as God has treated us. Even though we do not deserve His grace, He has given it to us as a gift. How we treat those different from ourselves can make all the difference in how people view the church. If we include this passage with the passage from Ephesians 6, that expression of grace and love is a two-way street; [employers] are to show their [employees]. Regardless of where we are on the socioeconomic ladder, those whom you meet deserve to receive the grace God first gave you.

The question many of us have, might be, “How do I show grace to someone who does not behave in a godly manner?” It is often difficult to love those who have or continue to hurt you, but think for a moment how many times we “hurt” God by our words and actions. By living a self-controlled, upright and godly life, we say “No” to ungodliness and things important to the world (Titus 2:13). In doing so we are able to forgive, and offer grace and love. When we live such a life, no one has any means by which to accuse of hypocrisy.

Father God,

Thank you for the gift of grace you have given me. I know I do not deserve it, and I often trip and stumble on my walk with you. Please give me the strength and wisdom to live a life others cannot use against me, or the Church. I want to show others healthy doctrine with my words and actions.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

Be A Faithful Minister – Defend the Faith

This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. 

1 Timothy 1:18-20 (ESV)
In his final directive to Timothy, Paul calls him to fight and defend the Faith. In doing so Paul utilizes two military references. The first provides Timothy with a direct order, “This I charge…” He give this order to Timothy both as a teacher and as a “father.” Though he was not Paul’s son, Paul considered Timothy as his son, for he had “raised” Timothy in the faith building on what his mother and grandmother had begun. The prophecy regarding Timothy raises some questions, however it more than likely refers to the moment laid hands on him before leaving to join Paul. It was customary for elders to lay hands, and anoint those they were sending out (Acts 13:3). At any rate, Paul called on Timothy to keep fighting the good fight (1 Tim. 1:18) in faith and good conscience (v. 19). These verses reminded me of Alan Rickman’s line in Galaxy Quest, “Never give up, never surrender!” Although Rickman’s character hated that line, it spoke to the aliens the crew was trying to help, and it really summarizes Paul’s intentions. 

Verse 19 speaks of fighting by holding on to one’s faith, and maintaining a conscience abover reproach. Faith and good conscience are acting as rudders and sails, guiding us through the rough seas of life caused by those wanting to discredit the Church. They provide us with the direction and power we need to “wage the good warfare.” If a sailor allows his or her sails and rudder to work themselves, they will end up crashing on the rocky shore, or being crushed by the waves that through them to and fro. As the hymn states, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” Paul wanted Timothy (and us) to be careful we did not let go of our faith (sail) or good conscience (rudder). Those who already he declares have, “shipwrecked” their faith. Whether this was unintentional or by design, does not matter. In the end, when we let go of our faith and do not listen to our conscience, we damage our witness and our credibility, as well as that of the Church’s. 

In my first Be A Faithful Minister post, I spoke of the world’s tendency to want universal agreement, that we all have to be nice to each other all the time. Unfortunately, that is not what love is about. Love and compassion sometimes require us to do difficult things; like criticize, and confront others when they are wrong or teaching false doctrine. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus teaches that we are to confront teachers of false doctrine, and how to do it. Though we may need to end a relationship with someone becasue of their false teaching, we still need to pray for them to see the err of their way, and for God to guide them to redemption. 

This entire first chapter, Paul dedicates to countering teachers of false doctrine. Although it is written from one Pastor to another, because of The Great Commission, we are all ministers of the Gospel. Jesus commanded all believers to go forth with what they have learned from him and teach it to everyone else. Therefore, we must be careful to not allow ourselves to become distracted, and blown off course. Each of us needs to be teach sound doctrine, that is the hope that is found in the grace and mercy of God, only through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Our lives are to preach the gospel, Jesus came to save sinners!, to all we meet. Sometimes you may have the opportunity to speak with someone about Christ, but most of the time you only get to demonstrate his love and grace as we pass each other on the street. Finally, be prepared to defend your faith. Live out the gospel, regardless of what others may say or do. Do not let anyone keep you from providing God’s aboundant love and grace to a lost world. Be willing to confront those who alter the Word of God to defend their actions. 

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for sending Jesus so that I can have an intimate relationship with you. You are an awesome God, who wants to see all Your children saved. Humbly we ask for you to give us the strength and words to fight the good fight. May I teach healthy doctrine, and my life tell the gospel story. 

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen