Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Love Gets Near!

There is something different about the Samaritan man that compelled him into action…something that inspired him unlike the Priest and the Levite who did notice, but chose to keep moving along without rendering any aid.

The priest and Levite both "saw" the wounded victim, but (for whatever reason) didn't want to get near him (Luke 10:31-32). Perhaps they thought it was a set-up for them to be robbed as well? Maybe, they were sickened by the sight of blood, panicked and moved along? Or, sadly, I think they just felt no compassion whatsoever and felt they were under no obligation to help. After formulating their “excuse’ to justify their actions, they moved along without stopping.

The Samaritan, on the other hand, had no hesitation about getting involved and quickly came near the hurting and injured man. The Samaritan "approached him" (Luke 10:34) and "treated him with compassion" (Luke 10:37). In fact, he rendered “first aid” and put him on his own donkey, took him to an Inn, and continued to provide medical and humanitarian care.

In fact, the Samaritan spent the night with him…probably to make sure he “pulled through.” The next day, the Samaritan goes down to the front desk to not only pay for the night’s lodging, but to talk with the Manager to set up further care and lodging. No matter what that cost would amount to, he tells the Manager, “Look after him and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have” (verse 35).

What is missing in the story is why the Samaritan man was on that road. All Jesus mentioned was that he was traveling. Where was he going? What was he going to do? A job interview? Visit a family member? Going to work? Maybe to a funeral or to worship? Jesus doesn’t say….but whatever it was, it wasn’t as important as taking the time to help this man who had been beaten and robbed. This unknown part of the story is important!!!

Love has to get near and get involved regardless. Love by its very nature can't keep its distance or allow other pressing issues to be a “convenient excuse” not to engage or get involved. Jesus, Who is Love, could have remained in heaven in eternal bliss with His Father. However, His love impelled Him (2 Corinthians 5:14) to seek us out (Luke 19:10), be near us (Psalm 145:18), and even be “God-with-us,” Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23). Now He even is so near us that He dwells within us (John 6:56; 17:23).

Now it is YOUR turn!! Is there any person, group, or class of people you won't get near? Do you stay away from the poor, uneducated, crippled, aged, criminals, illegal, drug users,  LGBTQ+, unrepentant, or those of a different race or religion? Culturally speaking, are there “certain people” you won’t concern yourself with because they come “from the other side of the tracks?”

These may be your "wounded victims," your chance to be a good Samaritan. Jesus may be saying that as often as you neglected to get near these people, you neglected to get near Him. Jesus said in Matthew 25:45“…‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Jesus, never once kept His distance from anyone. He didn’t allow anything to act as a barrier from coming close to meet the needs of others. May I and all who follow Jesus and claim to be a Christian love as Jesus loves….to help as Jesus helped….to engage as Jesus engaged….to be as concerned for others as Jesus is concerned about us all. Love truly gets near!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Go and Do Likewise!

The story of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25–37) is a popular, yet fascinating, story in the Bible. Probably because it is shocking, against societal norms, and makes the “bad guy” out to be the hero and the “good guys” end up looking like real jerks.

To fully understand the story, one must first realize how despised and mistreated the Samaritans were in Bible-times. They were outcasts….literally, shunned “half-breeds” and hated with a passion.  Much like the Serbs and Muslims in Bosnia or the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland….there was definitely no love towards them at all.

That’s what makes this story of the “Good Samaritan” so special. It is a call for us to rise above ALL descriptions, labels, acronyms, races, religions and all other attributes given to humanity that segregates us into so many different categories and just simply love each other unconditionally. No matter what color….what country we’re from….whether they are even good, bad, illegal, or our out-right enemy….we love…unconditionally.

The Lawyer talking with Jesus in the “Good Samaritan” story (Luke 10:25-28) did answer correctly when asked to define “what the law says” about eternal life. It was all about loving! He stated, “…“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus tells His interrogator the same thing: “Do this and you will live.” The Lawyer, however, wants to know where he can draw the line…perhaps compromise…arbitrate the regulations….even be justified to exclude certain people. That’s the motive behind his question: “Who is my neighbor?”

In his compassion, the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable reveals the boundless mercy of God—who came down to us when we were fallen in sin, beaten up by the world, clobbered by our own self-inflicted choices, close to dead, unable to pick ourselves up.

Jesus is talking about God, but using the image of the Good Samaritan to explain the love that God has for us. It crosses all boundaries….of every nation and continent. In Him, the love of God has come very near to us.

Jesus gave His all for us. By the “blood of His Cross”—by bearing His neighbors’ sufferings in His own body, being Himself stripped and beaten and left for dead—He saved us from bonds of sin, reconciled us to God and to one another. He crossed over every boundary line known to humanity.

Like the Samaritan, He takes the initiative….He pays the price for us, heals the wounds of sin, pours out on us Himself through the sacraments, entrusts us to the care of His Church, until He comes back for us. Now, don’t you see it??? WE are the man lying on the road….Jesus is the Samaritan who came to save us….to pick us up off the road (this world) that so easily beats the life out of us and wants to lead us directly to Hell.

Here is an important lesson of the “Good Samaritan”….because His love has known no limits, ours cannot either. We are to love as we have been loved, to do for others what He has done for us—joining all things together in His Body, the Church.

It doesn’t matter who they are….what color they are….what part of town they’re from….what gender they identify with….illegal immigrants….ISIS terrorist….Iran…Afghanistan….no matter what, who or where….love passionately as Jesus loves you!

This is the love that leads to eternal life, the love Jesus commands today of each of us—“Go and do likewise.”

Monday, July 1, 2019

Lack of Wisdom Can Be Costly!

There are two things within the life of the Church that seem fascinating, yet sad, to me. I wanted to write about that this week and address those two issues because I see how the two concerns fit together.
The first issue (fascination): I have always wondered why the least supported and attended functions of the Church are always related to education. That is, the most dismal attendance figures always come from Sunday School, Bible studies, mentoring, counseling and topical studies offered by the Pastor/Church. Our problem should not be blank sign-up sheets, empty classrooms and the sound of crickets chirping.
The second fascination is when I see groups of people, who profess to be “Christians”, seemingly “plagued” by bad things, bad luck and challenging life events on a frequent basis. For some, it appears that their mantra is “when it rains, it pours” as it seems they are inundated with trouble and/or find ways to constantly have things “go wrong” in life.
This is the part of this blog where both the first and second issues “come together” in a clearer relationship. Although, I know I can’t “prove it” (and there are exceptions), but for those who “fit the description” it has amazed me at how many of these “Christians” aren’t living sold out, obedient, growing, educated and healthy faith-filled lives.
Yes, they go to Church and may go to religious events, but that is really just about “it” with their faith. In regards to “day to day living,” they would not say they pray daily, attend Sunday School or a Bible study, have personal study and reading of Scripture (devotions) or spend their time in healthy environments of leisure, friendships or social settings. In other words, they are probably more in the world than they are in their faith and Church. 
One of our strongest and most potent antidotes to the world and its godless influence is education….learning…embracing God’s Word and His instructions to us. As it says in Psalm 119:11, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
Perhaps, the most shocking Scripture is Proverbs 1:20-33 that really “socks it to us” that our lack of wisdom….lack of concern for God’s instructions…for ignoring how the Bible instructs us to live…and showing no interest in educating ourselves in Biblical knowledge could be (and probably is) the cause for a lot of our troubles in life. Here it is:

Proverbs 1:20-33

20 Wisdom shouts in the streets. She cries out in the public square. 21 She calls to the crowds along the main street, to those gathered in front of the city gate: 22 “How long, you simpletons, will you insist on being simpleminded? How long will you mockers relish your mocking? How long will you fools hate knowledge? 23 Come and listen to my counsel. I’ll share my heart with you and make you wise. 24 “I called you so often, but you wouldn’t come. I reached out to you, but you paid no attention. 25 You ignored my advice and rejected the correction I offered. 26 So I will laugh when you are in trouble! I will mock you when disaster overtakes you 27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster engulfs you like a cyclone,  and anguish and distress overwhelm you. 28 “When they cry for help, I will not answer. Though they anxiously search for me, they will not find me. 29 For they hated knowledge and chose not to fear the Lord. 30 They rejected my advice and paid no attention when I corrected them. 31 Therefore, they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way, choking on their own schemes. 32 For simpletons turn away from me—to death. Fools are destroyed by their own complacency. 33 But all who listen to me will live in peace, untroubled by fear of harm.”

You cannot ignore the fact that education, learning, digesting and living out God’s Word is a top priority in our lives. Yet, Christians still find no interest in Sunday School, Bible and topical Studies, and even having daily devotions. This is what gets us into a lot of trouble….and what gets us easily tricked by world philosophies, morality and its trends.

I am not implying or saying that the lack of these things in our life are the sole cause of issues we may be faced with in life. I am saying that the Bible is pretty clear on what can happen if we continue to reject and outright refuse to increase our wisdom and understanding of God’s Word. 

PLEASE UNDERSTAND: Wisdom has its origin in the fear of God. Therefore, lack of wisdom shows a lack of fear of God. That comes pretty close to blasphemy. That is, in turn, walking on thin ice.

We need, more than ever before, to get serious about every aspect of our faith. Seek God…learn His ways….learn His Word…deepen your relationship with God…pour our lives into Him and what His will is for our lives. And…get serious by letting go of the world.

By all means, don’t become stubborn towards this issue of “education” and scoff that “I know enough and I’m fine.” We should never stop learning….growing…and educating ourselves to an ever deepening faith. We simply cannot afford to get sucker-punched by the world’s definition of ethics, morality and faith because we didn’t know enough of God’s Word to know the difference! 

A good place to start is memorizing these two verses from Proverbs: Proverbs 4:5, “Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them.” Proverbs 4:7 “…Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Blessings to you as you increase your wisdom!!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Priority of Worship

Why do you go to Church? I am sure there are several reasons which all give us a comfort of connection, friendships, and community. Above all the “reasons” we give for “going to Church,” I hope the ultimate passion within us is to worship God and to seek an encounter with Him.

I think the book of Revelation reveals the priority of our worship. Some of you may be familiar with the song, “Revelation Song” (I like Kari Jobe’s version) and may have sung it in your Church as well. This song reflects the words of Revelation 4:8, “….day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.’” It is obvious that our greatest joy is to live a life filled with unceasing, resounding and reverberant praise to the Lamb of God (Jesus) and our Heavenly Father.

The question facing us today is “how much time do we engage in the exercise of worship?” Not just at Church on Sunday because we can worship God every day no matter where we are, what we are doing, or what we are facing in life. We have the time. We can find the time. We should make the time. It is that important.

Do you have a strong reverence for God that is obvious in your lifestyle and witness? Do you find it easy to stop, reflect and praise God for the moment and for your many blessings in life? Can we find ways to worship through silence, music, meditation of Scripture, service, gratefulness, and thanksgiving?

The role of worship in your life can be dramatically elevated when you focus and become intentional about your relationship with God. That means (from a human standpoint) we must take God “out of the box” of our limited thinking and allow Him to work outside the boundaries of time, space and dimension. God is not limited to the physics of our world. Isaiah 55:8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

We should never reduce God into a human-like god as if He is simply “the man upstairs” or treat Him as if he is merely a buddy from out of town. May we never lose sight of the majesty of God and His holiness.

The point is, the more highly you think of God, the more likely you will worship Him as He deserves. The more exalted your thoughts are of God, the more you will be aware of His presence in your life and will fully discover just how much He truly loves you.

Let us all spend more time praising, thanking, glorifying, singing, and exulting our God, our Heavenly Father through worship. Can you stop what you are doing, right now, and spend a few moments with your Heavenly Father? Let’s worship!

Monday, June 17, 2019

You Want Me to do WHAT?

We have to admit that there are some unusual and hard to understand Scripture passages. In the Gospels, we hear that it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” We’ve also read that we are to “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – and yes, even [our] own life.” These alone, are pretty deep and somewhat confusing.

One, in particular, found in Matthew 5:29-30, has always generated deep discussion. It says, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” If taken literally (in the English translation) one could easily misinterpret the passage and possibly take action that could cause great harm to themselves.

Does the Scripture really say that? Gouge out an eye? Cut off a hand? Yes, it says that! But, that is not what it means! This is hyperbole. Hyperbole is exaggeration to evoke strong feelings and to make a point (teach a lesson). It isn’t supposed to be taken literally and acted out word-for-word.

The point Jesus was trying to make wasn’t for us to think that self-inflicted, self-mutilation was to be a punishing and necessary step to holiness. The overall theme is that God craves and desires our holiness and for us to be a holy people. The purity and faithfulness that he intends for us are worth more, even, than a sound, well, and whole body.

God has called you, after all, to be holy as he is holy (1 Peter 1:15). Jesus’ life in you, his holiness, is a treasure you carry within yourself  and should be protected as such. And so, he says, if something threatens that holiness, get rid of it. Throw it away. It’s better to do without something than to have it and to sin because you do.

What does that look like? Well, for one thing, it does NOT mean we harm or injure ourselves. It can be something as simple as a book or magazine, a picture or movie—if lust rises up because of it, discard it…throw it away…cancel the subscription…don’t watch it or look at it ever again.

But holiness is not just about cutting things out of your life. There are other ways you can preserve and foster holiness. Pick up your Bible daily…on more than one occasion. Take the Scriptures and read—maybe the story of Jesus’ death or a passage that declares your worth in God’s sight (Matthew 26–28; Psalm 139).

Maybe you can write a note to remind yourself that you are “created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Ephesians 4:24). Or, perhaps, sit quietly in prayer and ask the Lord to show you something about the depth of his love for you. Load Christian music in your car and program your car radio to local Christian stations. There are plenty of “little things” we can do to empower our faith and relationship with Jesus!

Remember,  too, that God earnestly desires you to be holy, and so he is intent on reaching out to help you. So when you are facing temptation and the allure of sin, cry out to him. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you his grace and to help you grow in the fruit of self-control. Challenge yourself to memorize 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT), “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

And if you do fall to temptation, don’t despair. God still loves you. No distance, no depth of sin, is ever beyond his reach. He is always ready to forgive you, even if you commit the same sin again and again. Memorize Romans 8:38-39, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Never hesitate to run to him. He will shower you with his mercy—and the grace to live a holy life. We still need to make some critical decisions to do away with some of our lifestyle habits, but we can do it. Our relationship with Jesus is worth those sacrifices. Cut them out….cut them off….cancel them….walk away and stop allowing the things of the world to interfere with who you are in Christ Jesus, your pursuit of holiness and the relationship you have with Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Knowing this….what changes will you be making today? Can you make bigger strides towards holiness, starting now?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Fully Committed to the Lord

As a retired military chaplain, one thing that I learned about the Islamic faith was how ingrained and intertwined it was in the lives of each Muslim and within every level of Islamic business, law, and, of course, their religion.

Now, how that is accomplished and how they get people to go along with that is another story. But, the fact remains, everything about Islam centers around the faith. Nothing in their lives, community and government is absent from their faith. Their faith is the basis and final authority on every aspect of their existence.

Let’s now look at the American Church and the Christian faith. I can’t say it is the same way for us. Sadly, for most, “faith” and “being a Christian” is only one, small, compartmentalized component of their overall life.

In America, we seem to categorize and segregate things into individual subjects like work, school, business, leisure, hobbies, personal life, sports, and so on. For some, faith, religion, church and Scripture is not the center hub of their wheel….it is merely one of the many spokes in their “wheel of life.”

I hope we can reevaluate where we stand in our faith and how committed we are in living out, expressing, and growing our faith. I hope we are doing the same for our church community, and other believers. It is crucial that we adopt words into our vocabulary such as service, obedience, sacrifice, holiness and commitment.

Given the state of the World and how the tide seems to be shifting against the Christian Church, I think it is late, but not too late. We must stand firm, in love and genuine concern for the lost, and allow our light to shine and our voices to be heard. We must come back to the Church, strengthen our faith, and draw nearer to God than ever before. We must forsake the world and all its lure and attraction. Our faith must be the center hub that governs every aspect of our lives.

The words of 1 Peter 4:1-5 could not be easier to understand: “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”

The same is true in Colossians 3:5, “So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.  Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.”

We cannot afford to live modest, mediocre, silent, inactive and wavering lives of faith. Everything we do, pursue and spend our time doing must spring forth from a well grounded, intentional faith in Jesus Christ. We must be sold-out, radically obedient servants of Jesus Christ the Son of the Living God.

1 Kings 8:61, “And may your hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands….” May we adopt these words of Solomon. May we stop allowing the desires and enchantments of this world from drawing us away from the Church, God’s Word, and our personal ministry. We need to make a choice as to who is really our god. The God who is the great “I AM” or the gods of this world?

May we hear the words of Joshua once again (Joshua 24:15), “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

You cannot serve two masters (Luke 16:13). One has to give way. One must become greater and the other lesser. We pray that you will forsake the world (Romans 12:1-2) and seek, above all else, the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8). Let your faith become the center of you life once and for all!

Monday, June 3, 2019

You Have Been Subpoenaed!!

By now, due to the maddening issues involving our Federal Government, many of us have become well versed in the use and understanding of the word “subpoena.” 

Witnesses, committees, legal teams, and various elected officials have issued and received their share of subpoenas involving the affairs of various leaders within the Federal Government. It is quite challenging to keep it all straight.

As Christians, did you realize we have been subpoenaed? Yes! If you will just simply look throughout the book of Acts, the Lord repeatedly commands us to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8; 2:32; 3:15; 10:39; 13:31). In a spiritual context, we are being subpoenaed…we are being compelled to be a witness for Jesus Christ and the Gospel!

As we understand this context, I think it is appropriate to ask ourselves whether we have obeyed the Lord's command to be His witnesses and have adjusted our commitments to allow room to live out this command daily.  Hopefully, we are finding ways to do this more intentionally and with greater passion.

If you were subpoenaed as a witness by a human court, would you obey? If not, you would face contempt of court charges. Each Christian is subpoenaed daily and even more frequently to witness for Jesus. If we refuse to obey, we potentially face not contempt of court charges but contempt of God charges...and, one day, be held accountable for those decisions. We must obey and be witnesses.

Plain and simple….we are called to witness for Jesus and invite others to accept Jesus. Witnessing for Jesus is an essential part of God's plan. If we love Jesus and people, we must live as witnesses for Jesus. You have been subpoenaed! May you be compelled to respond and tell others this wonderful news of God’s love and salvation in Jesus Christ.

Love Gets Near!

There is something different about the Samaritan man that compelled him into action…something that inspired him unlike the Priest and th...