“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Friday, September 28, 2007

Patience

In my last post I addressed the lessons on humility that I learned through my recent illness. Today I would like to look at another fruit of the Spirit that I was schooled in -- that is, the fruit of Patience.

Now, anyone who knows me well, knows that I am not the most patient person in the world. I have (had) a tendency to run at a fairly fast rate, being a bi-vocational pastor, a motorcycle enthusiast, and an avid reader, plus many other things, I ran at my own pace and anyone who didn't, needed to get out of the way.

I had actually stopped praying for patience, because I had found that I would be put into situations that required this fruit to be displayed, and I really did not want to have to go through that! Yet, as I stood before the congregation on July 22nd, 2007, and spoke of God's answering prayer in His own way; little did I know that two days later, and for the next 60 days, I would be given a lesson in patience that I would never forget!

Patience sounds like such a wonderful fruit of the Spirit -- "Yes, I want that!" is what we exclaim; yet like humility, this is something that we rarely grasp in its fullness. Patience does not simply mean that we 'put up with' others without complaining. No, patience is much deeper, it is a heart thing -- we actually place OUR desires on the back burner and put others BEFORE us!

Sadly, the church today lacks patience, and it is displayed in the constant squabbling that is going on. Now, I am not talking about disagreeing on a position of doctrine -- I am talking about the squabbling that goes on as we put ourselves and our wants/needs BEFORE those around us.

Paul tells us in Philippians 2:1-4: So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

This is something hat I learned the hard way! When I was powerless to do anything on my own, I had to wait on other people to do for me. I was forced to exercise patience, and what I found was that I began to sense their love and concern for me in a fresh, new way. Maybe they did things in a different way, or at a different pace than I did, but in the end, it all worked out fine.

When we chafe against the fruit of patience, what we are in effect saying, is Look, I don't have time for you and your foolishness, let me SHOW you how this is to be done correctly! An impatient person (such as myself), can be a real boor to be around, and does not reflect the instructions found in many of the Epistles. HAVING to be right, or in charge, or setting the pace can leave many quieter, slower, more introspective people in the dust. These are the very people we need in our churches! No wonder Paul said "On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together..." [1st Corinthians 12:22-26]

How impatience short-changes the church -- the loud, charismatic, strong and controlling often overshadow the others. Now, I will say that being charismatic, or being louder than others is not wrong, but when we combine that with impatience, we find that it makes for a church that is unbalanced. We need each other, the loud fellow and the quiet one, the charismatic personality and the more introverted, the strong, and the weak. Just like the human body needs to have all parts working, so too the church does as well.

The lungs are a very delicate organ, whereas the skin is tougher, yet without both working a human being really cannot sustain life; so it goes in out fellowships! Let those of us who are impatient stop for a minute and look around us -- who are we stepping on, or over in our run to 'do things' for the Church? Let our churches become a place where ALL have a home, where all can be involved in ministry and where all feel like they are part of growing the Kingdom!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Humility

I wanted to go back a bit and discuss some of the things that I learned through the blindness that struck me for a few months.

The first thing I wanted to address is humility. When I was struck with my blindness, I had just preached on Matthew 6 where Jesus states that we should not pray to impress others, but go secretly into our secret place and pray to Him.

What is interesting about this was that I had been praying for humility, but I now look back on that and realize that I was probably asking for the humility that is recognized by others -- You know, that "What a humble guy Ray is..." type of praying. Now, I did not consciously pray in that way, but when God finally humbled me, I found myself asking a lot of hard questions.

First, I would not hesitate to say that most of us who pray for humility have no idea what true humility is -- if we did, we would not pray for it! What we are usually requesting is a spirit that is SLIGHTLY humble, just so that we can be recognized, as I stated earlier. In reality, true humility is often beyond anything that we may grasp.

Let me give some specifics: I am not the best husband in the world, and there are times when I think I know it all -- ask my wife. And so, there are many things that I do, or have always done, around our home that I simply KNEW I did better than her. Yet, when the blindness struck, my wife had to pick up the ball and run with it. You know what I found? She does a much better job at a lot of things that I thought I had 'mastered'. An example -- our bills are more organized and promptly paid than they ever have been with 'the boss' (me) running the show! So, I began to realize that I am not the end-all, be-all when it came to that.

Then I found that the church ran just fine without me. Oh yes, people missed me, but the Word was preached, the bills were paid, the kids were taken care of, etc. Now, I had many times said that I did not want our church to 'stop' should something happen to me, but in my heart, I had hoped there would be a hiccup (again, not consciously, but subconsciously), yet there they were moving forward. Another prideful chunk of my being was exorcised!

And I found that work just continued on, with people picking up the slack and keeping the ball rolling. This was no surprise to me, but as I surveyed my life, I found that.... GASP, I was NOT IRREPLACEABLE! And then I heard it -- "You prayed for humility, is there a problem?"

"YES, I didn't mean LIKE THIS!!! I meant the kind of humility they write about in the Banner of Truth Trust books, that humility that is ascribed to great, saintly men of old!", I found myself silently screaming. And the Holy Spirit illuminated the Scriptures for me, and I began to see, albeit imperfectly, just what was meant by humility. Wow, did I NOT want that!

But, now that I am here, at this place, I realize that the deep-seated pride in my heart was shaken by the Potter as His hands lovingly removed my sight so that I might, for the first time, see what humility meant.

Let me provide you with an illustration -- Here is humility: When you sit next to your wife and ask her to trim your fingernails as you cannot even see them. Or you ask her to walk you to the bathroom. Suddenly, you are filled with a deep and abiding sense of humility. And what is frightening, is that this is simply humility in the presence of other humans; imagine Isaiah -- Isaiah 6:1 - 5 -- In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory! And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!

Oh prideful man that I am, how my heart will melt when I stand before the King of Glory -- I will then say, with Paul, [Romans 7:24,25] -- Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Could it be..... Satan?





Remember the church lady from SNL? Dana Carvey's little old lady, (Enid Strict), would rant and rave about the evils of our day, usually venting her wrath on some 'guest' on her show. She would rail against the sin in others lives, and cap it off by saying.... Could it be.... Satan?

Unfortunately, there are far too many Christians today who follow Enid's mentality; i.e. everything is of Satan, except the good parts of life. These people will rail against John Piper when he writes of God's sovereignty; a sovereignty that is present even amidst crises.

I understand that the desire of these people is to 'protect' or 'defend' God against character assassination, but the sad truth is that many of these people have little understanding of God's nature and character, and therefore in their desire to 'protect' it, are actually diminishing it!

What brings all of this on? Well, we are currently finishing up 2nd Samuel in our daily devotions, and what you find in this book (chapter 13 and following) is a listing of the troubles that David experienced. David's life turns from the idyllic beloved of God who expanded the Kingdom, to a daytime soap opera:

1. - Amnon, lusts after Tamar, his half-sister and lures her into his home to rape her and then toss her out.
2. - Absalom, Tamar's full-brother, avenges his sister's defilement after David does nothing for two years. Amnon is fooled into attending a celebration feast held by Absalom for the expressed purpose of killing Amnon. Amnon is killed and Absalom goes into hiding out of country for two years.
3. - Absalom is convinced to return to Israel and reconcile with David, his father. After four years, Absalom decides that he is a more capable ruler than David and leads a revolt against David -- in which Joab and his men kill Absalom.
4. - There are several internal revolts following on the heels of David's victory over Absalom, and the Philistines raise their ugly heads again!

Bottom line, David's life is one of strife and pain, constantly at war. Now, many who would face this today would undoubtedly, like Enid, say Could it be... Satan?

But God makes it clear that it is He who declares that David will face these obstacles. 2nd Samuel 12:10 - 12 "...Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun."

We are so quick to assume that we are suffering because Satan is autonomously at work in our lives, yet throughout the Bible, even when Satan is involved, it is God who is thoroughly and completely in control (witness Job). People live in complete bondage to the myth that their every sin 'opens a door' for Satan, up to and including the words they speak! Now, I am not saying that Satan is not at work in this, but I am stating that it is the Father who has the reins of power, NOT Satan. If a door is 'opened' and things happen as a result of our sin, it is, (for those who are His children),the Potter whose loving hands rework the clay, it is the Master Smelter burning the dross off the lives of His Saints, NOT the schemings of an equally powerful 'evil force' who is capable of subverting the power of God. This is not Star Wars -- and the Jedi vs. the Dark Side -- which is the perspective of many Christians today. God is not Obie-Wan-Kenobi, and Satan is not Darth Vader.

My friends, to give Satan authority that he does not possess is wrong-headed, and makes for a life filled with dread and fear. God is omnipotent, and while we may not always understand His ways, we must NEVER assign His authority to Satan!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Who Commends You?

As my wife and I read through 2nd Corinthians, I find myself amazed at how false teachers, or as Paul labels them, false apostles, never change their tactics.

Paul speaks of how these false teachers brought letters of commendation to the church in Corinth; these letters were from OTHER false teachers! Today we find the same pattern. When a false teacher is exposed, immediately another false teacher will arise and say something along these lines -- "I have known X for many years and he/she is one of the most anointed people in the service of the kingdom now!"

Paul says that his commendation is not a written letter from man, but is the church in Corinth, in other words, his Gospel is proven true by the TRANSFORMATIONAL/REGENERATIONAL work of the Holy Spirit in the people of Corinth. These were people who were delivered from pagan lives to Christians lives, often at the cost of their lives, or jobs or homes!

How many false teachers today point to transformed lives as their commendation? Most of the time these false teachers point to their large following, (most often not changed lives, but the cult-like following of a man), or they point to the healings they have performed. Often these healings are proven to be false, or simply emotional reaction to the foolishness and theatrics of these snake-oil salesmen. NOTE: I believe that God still heals, and have witnessed such events, that is not what I am referencing here. This is more about the theatrical productions that many false teachers put on, bringing shame to the Body of Christ with their antics!)

Like the false teachers of Paul's day, these men spend much of their time, if not most of it, boasting in their own works. How many times I have heard, or read of these false teachers speaking of their anointing; never really mentioning the Gospel, the finished work of Christ, the Holiness of God, or anything else.

So, we see that false teachers never change their spots -- some signs of a false teacher (per Paul):

1. These false teachers pat each other on the back and commend on another, even in the face of exposed heresy.

2. These false teachers point to the size of their ministries, the number of healings, the amount of time they spend 'talking' with Jesus, or the 'power' of their anointing as validation of their ministry.

3. These false teachers spend much of their time talking about themselves, and their supposed powers, little, or no time is spent reflecting on the Gospel.

4. These false teachers focus on the here and now, "Jesus wants you rich and beautiful", and no time reflecting on eternity.

Paul is clear in his letter to the church in Corinth -- The commendation that we should be seeking is regenerated lives, not the praises of man. We are but jars of clay that have been entrusted with an incredible message of redemption, our validation will be when our Lord and Savior says "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master".

We should be as uncomfortable about boasting as Paul was -- we should never focus on ourselves, but on the cross. What do we have that was not given us? Boasting has no place in Christian ministry, and those who spend much of their time boasting are building THEIR ministry and not God's.

Our perspective should be an eternal one; as Paul says, we are going to one day put off these tents and put on a building made by God -- we may or may not have 'things' in this world, but we have something far greater awaiting us!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

For my Brother Dave

Hey, I am smiling!

:-)




Dave, I love ya brother!

Friday, September 21, 2007

News!



So, I just came back from the doctor -- the tested vision in my left eye is 20/25! This eye was not supposed to get much beyond 20/60... I am still stunned that my eyesight is that good...

My right eye -- that is the one that underwent all of the trauma, that one reads in at 20/40 (corrected). I am speechless -- The Lord is faithful even when I am not!

Thanks for the prayers, and everything... I still have a ways to go to stabilize the eyes, but praise be to God -- I am so far from where I started...

For Bugs




It's Loonie!

Congrats! :-)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wondering?

I was recently perusing the blogsphere, and came across a website that is one of the many 'discernment' websites out there. I will say that this website has some good information on it, and I do not doubt that the owners are attempting to inform the Christian community of abuses, heresies etc.

However, I do have a concern with some of these websites, especially this one. It seems that these folks scour the web for blasphemous, heretical, and/or ridiculous items that are being advertised, or practiced by the so-called 'church' in the West. While that may be OK, why do they link to the various photos, and videos that display these things? I found many of these links (which I stopped checking out after a few), are sensual and promote women in a less than acceptable light.

Some of the links are actually erotic in nature, and I found myself shocked that a 'discernment' website would link to these. I believe that having all of these links on one site is more conducive to giving people a central link to find them, as opposed to providing a warning to caring Christians.

We must be cautious in our desire to expose false teaching, and abuses -- let us not become just like the abuses we seek to expose, inadvertently advertising these sites, rather let us pursue "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." -- Philippians 4:8

Monday, September 17, 2007

Stuart Smalley is Wrong

We are so inundated with news and media 'stuff' that we either get overwhelmed, desensitized, or enamored with the goings on in our world; here is a sampling of things from the news...

No comments are really required -- however, should anyone think that we (mankind) are just getting better and better...

Child-Killers

Who needs God?

The 'Arts'?

Gender-Bending

And this is just a perusal of the recent 'news'...

Since I have been out of circulation for a while, I guess I am just shocked by the news that I have been reading about! How true is Paul's (God's) assessment of mankind!

Romans 1:16ff -- For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

And should you think that I am placing myself above all of this, I fit right in with the rest of humanity! Truly the need for a Savior is obvious. Paul recognized this in his struggles with his fallen nature:

Romans 7:18-25a -- For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

It is truly by grace ALONE through faith ALONE that we are saved, we could not bring anything to the table, and if we believe that we somehow need to 'contribute' we simply do not understand the nature of man, or the grace of God! And there is nothing we bring to the table to 'keep' us saved! Even Paul realized this as he stated in the Romans 7 passage quoted above.

Man is fallen and only a perfect Savior is capable of bringing salvation -- anything else is simply filthy rags....

Stuart Smalley is wrong -- remember his tag line? I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me! Sorry Stu -- none are good enough, save one...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Thoughts

In our reading, my wife and I have been going through 2nd Corinthians, a book that I really enjoy. We came to this passage, which I have read many times, but it seemed to have jumped out at me this time.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. 2nd Corinthians 2:14-17

How often we, (man), are worried about 'offending seekers' with the message of the Gospel, what with its emphasis on substitutionary death, blood and a Savior who took upon Himself our sins. According to some, who call themselves Christians, this is akin to 'cosmic child abuse'. The discussion of the barbarism of crucifixion and the sacrifice of our Savior is deemed 'too offensive' for the modern and advanced palate.

Yet, here, Paul says that the message of the Gospel is death to those who are perishing, and life to those who in Christ. Yes, the ENTIRE message, of a sinless, blemish-free Lamb of God being nailed to a tree and suffering, to die for my sins, IS offensive -- it makes us realize, as did the Israelites as they stood before a slain animal, that sin has consequences, and an innocent died for me.

We somehow think we are more 'civilized' than any generation before us. Yet, as I read through the New Testament, what I find is that the 'civilized' society of Paul's day was as offended by the death of a Savior as we are. Maybe the concept of 'blood' didn't make them as queasy as the modern genteel society we find ourselves in, but the concept of sacrifice was plain offensive.

The reason that the modern 'seeker' finds the message offensive is not because they are somehow more civilized than any before them, but because they are unwilling to take an honest look at themselves. If they accept that Christ died this gruesome death on the cross for them, this will imply that they are truly THAT bad. No one, especially in our modern, Oprah, Dr. Phil, therapeutic gospel society wants to look at the cross and realize the sin that placed our Savior upon it was OURS!

So, like Paul, pastors must steel themselves to the fact that our message will ALWAYS be death to the death for some, and life to life for others -- we are not called to be successful, or popular, rather we are called to be faithful jars of clay carrying about in our lives the inestimable message of the gospel!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Post-Op Day 1 (in many ways)



Well, I am at day one after my cataract surgery -- The doctor found a small retinal horseshoe tear, and repaired it via laser in his office. Other than that -- the surgery was successful so far. They predicted that I would have no better than 20/60 vision, yet at day 1 I have 20/50, and may continue to improve.

I am still healing in the right eye -- it is still quite fuzzy, but the doctor said it is getting better every visit -- I am probably looking at 2-3 months for complete return. This eye has also developed a trauma-induced cataract which my doctor will have to remove at a later date.

I CAN READ! Trust me -- this passage from Amos never struck me so hard -- Amos 8:11 Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord God... when I will send a famine on the land — not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord, They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.

I was hearing the Word of God (I will soon tell of the phenomenal preaching done in my absence!), but being able to pick up the Word and just READ IT was missing for the last 2 months.

I will be reflecting on this two months of blindness as strength allows -- I do not want to overdue it, as I am not out of the woods yet. Lots more gray in the hair, and a weight loss of 15 pounds is a reminder of the track that I have passed through... Yet God was faithful in SO MANY ways through it all...

Thank you all for your many prayers, and Bugs: it looks like I might actually SEE you while you are here! :-)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Color!




This week I finally got some good news. My pressure was stable enough to stop taking pressure meds. And 9 days between doctor visits.

Also began to see color in earnest. Some shapes visible as well. Not bad for 3 weeks post-op!

Psalm 42 has been echoing in my heart. Still have a long road, but can visually see improvement.