Posts Tagged ‘Prayer’

The Unspeakable: Sin and the Devil

America has entered a post-Christian era. Christians are now a minority with diminishing cultural and political influence. Gallup conducts a poll on American morals and beliefs annually. Polling data over the past decade indicates a significant shift to the left on a number of polarizing social issues, including divorce, abortion, doctor-assisted suicide, gay marriage, human embryonic stem cell research and many others. This shift is, at least in part, a product of the moral relativism that has permeated the American media and many American Christian denominations at least since the free love movement of the 1960’s.

 “Post-Christian era” describes a paradigm shift from the completeness of Christian Scripture to so-called progressive revelation. Relativism insists that the Scriptures did not fully provide theological, legal, moral, scientific, medical and other knowledge from the beginning. Instead, God gradually reveals new truths over time. This philosophy is splitting many mainstream Christian denominations today through a continual reinterpretation of the scriptures that increasingly waters down God’s word to the point it becomes socially irrelevant. Moral relativism enables the social justification of anything and everything, from immodest clothing and casual sex to the worst extremes like after-birth abortion, euthanasia and Satan worship.

Advocates of social change in America, on both the left and right, need to recognize that freedom is not the ability to do whatever one pleases. That is the classic definition of anarchy. Freedom is the ability for people to coexist by following a set of rules based upon an accepted moral code—universal truths if you will.

If morals in America are not to be based upon Christian beliefs, then upon whose beliefs will they be based? In this new era, Satan is morally equal to Jesus.  Some people will tell you they would prefer to live under a moral code of Satan, rather than under a Christian code. That because Satan’s code eliminates the concepts of sin and universal truths. Under Satan’s code, God goes by the wayside while each individual becomes the god of his or her own world.  In these personal worlds, anything goes as long as you’re not hurting somebody else. Live and let live.

The situation in America is dire. As evidence of this, in the past few years, we have even seen the rise of Satan clubs in public schools while clubs focused on traditional American moral values, like scouting groups, are pushed away. Christians who openly profess their faith increasingly risk being subjected to ridicule, criticism and even violence.

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. —Isaiah 59:14-15

Satan isn’t a character in a Christian folktale.  He is a spiritual being who rebelled against God and was subsequently cast out of heaven by God.  Jesus said in Luke 10:18, “I saw Satan falling like lightning from heaven.”  At least three times in the Gospels Jesus refers to Satan as “the prince of this world,” thus acknowledging Satan’s role as the principal purveyor of sin, chaos, sadness, and misery for mankind. Second Corinthians 11:14 says that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light,” highlighting his ability to deceive. Satan has deceived mankind for thousands of years and continues to do so today here in post-Christian America.

Scripture’s message from God is extensive, touching man’s life at every important point. The essence of it is simple. It tells us that we were created by God in His own image—we are fearfully and wonderfully made, but altogether dependent on God. It tells us of God’s living orders for man: man must be perfect. It tells us of man disobedience: man sins. And it tells us of God’s justice: ’the wages of sin is death’—eternal death. And then it tells us of God’s remedy, ‘but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 6:23). In this divine gift of love for mankind, God is ready to forgive us all for Jesus’ sake—and for Jesus’ sake alone. —Rev. Dr. Armin Oldsen, former Speaker of The Lutheran Hour

Following Jesus is the only way to curb the moral decay and decline America is experiencing. As Dr. Kari Vo of the Lutheran Hour so clearly explains, “He (Jesus) is the One who saw us groaning under the power of evil, helpless and exploited. He did not leave us that way—He came to us. He shared our life, being born into a world full of hardship and injustice and downright wickedness. He took all of that into His own life, into His own body, being tortured and killed on a cross for us—the innocent for the not-so-innocent, the harmless One for those who harm and those who are harmed alike. And then Jesus rose from the dead, breaking the power of sin, death, and the devil over the whole human race. He has put the powers of evil on notice—things will not stay that way forever. They will not win. He has already struck the decisive blow against all evil powers, and He will bring them all to a complete end when He returns on the Last Day. That goes for human evil and for supernatural evil. God does notice—and He is taking action.”

*All Bible quotes are NIV.

Political Solutions

The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance.  –Psalm 33:10-12*

The November midterm elections will soon be here and the political theater being played out in the media is growing more intense by the day. We live in an age of great political division. Many national leaders and prominent politicians think that they have all the answers, but they’re wrong. As the above passage from Psalm 33 notes, “The Lord foils the plans of the nations.” God remains in charge. There are no political solutions to America’s woes.  What we need is more Jesus!

Here in America, those on the political right condemn the activities of the political left. Those on the left condemn the right.  We hear and see it every day.  “Our way is best for the American people.” “They’re weak on defense.” “They trample on the Constitution.” “They only know how to tax and spend.”  “Their policies are destroying the environment.” “Their policies are destroying the economy.”  Politics pits friend against friend, men against women, husbands against wives, parents against children, nation against nation, religion against religion, and Christian against Christian.  The latter saddens me deeply—it just shouldn’t be. Christians should be kind to everyone, especially fellow believers. The Apostle Paul tells us:

“There is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, (insert Republican or Democrat), but we are one in Christ Jesus.”  Galatians 3:28

Jesus told Pontius Pilate in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world.” This wisdom reminds all Christians that we, including politicians, answer to a higher authority than the government or political leaders.  In 1 Kings 22, the story is told of the time the King of Israel had to decide whether or not to go to war against Syria. Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, advised his fellow ruler, “First seek the counsel of the Lord” before making a decision,” (verse 5). This is sound advice that Christians, and especially Christian politicians, would do well to take to heart. Seek God’s guidance before seeking the guidance of man.  We should also note Matthew 5:16, “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Christians should be the living face and hands of Christ to the world.

God “makes nations great, and He destroys them; He enlarges nations, and leads them away,” (Job 12:23). Political leaders rule because God allows them to, “for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God,” (Romans 13:1b). God can upset human plans, but no one can thwart His plans or purpose. God loves the world and sent His only begotten Son to suffer and die to atone for the sins of every person of every political ilk.

Pastor Eugene Cho is CEO of Bread for the World, a non-partisan, Christian advocacy organization based in the USA. I highly recommend an article he penned a decade ago titled, “The 10 Commandments of Engaging Politics.” It contains a wealth of sound advice for Christians today as we approach the November elections. His article is available at this safe link:

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.  –Psalm 105:1-4

*All Bible quotes are NIV.

Give thanks to God

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  –Psalm 107:1*

Recently I’ve been pondering what it means to give thanks to God. The Bible is full of examples of thanksgiving being lifted up to the Lord.  After giving it much thought, I’ve come to several conclusions. First and foremost, thanking God is my way of acknowledging His supreme authority and position in my life.  God gave me life! Everything that is good in my life is a gift from Him.

I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. –Psalm 69:30

Second, there are multiple ways to give thanks to God.  These include praying; through the written, recorded and spoken work; in song; in giving of one’s time and treasure; and in prayerfully doing good works for others with no motive other than serving God. I write this blog as a thank offering to God. There are many other ways of thanking God that area not listed here. It occurs to me that we can thank God in almost any situation we encounter throughout the day. Continually thanking God can help one remain cognizant of God’s endless presence in his or her life.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  –I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Third, we are to thank God in all circumstances, both the easy times, the difficult ones and those in between.  In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul tells us he has learned to be content whatever his circumstances. This is a tough one. In my lifetime I’ve had some real tragedies. When tragedy strikes, it is particularly difficult to discern any good at the time.  Over the years I’ve learned to pray to God for strength to get me though the difficulties and to give me wisdom to understand.  While it was difficult to discern the good at the time, in retrospect each difficult period of my life was a time of learning and spiritual growth that helped prepare me for God’s eternal kingdom.   

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!  –2 Corinthians 9:15

Finally, give thanks to the lord for his grace in offering us salvation through Jesus Christ.

Doxology

I thank you, God, for your grace, the gift of life and my salvation through Jesus Christ.  Thank you for the Godly women who helped lead me to the Savior in my childhood. Thank you for loving aunts, uncles, and grandparents who helped raise and care for me after my parents divorced. Thank you for the churches and teachers who helped nurture and train me along the way. Thank you for giving me a godly wife to share my life with. Thank you for my children and grandchildren who bring joy to my life. Thank you for friends and family who have added richness to my life. Thank you for protecting and shielding me during times of trouble. Thank you for the work that enables me to sustain my family. Thank you for this day and all my days to come. Thanks be to God!

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,

Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;

Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way,

With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today. 

Hymn – Now Thank We All Our God:

*All Bible quotes are NIV.

Lessons Learned

As I reported in April, I recently underwent major surgery.  Having never been under general anesthesia before, I was more than a little bit anxious about the entire procedure. It has been nearly two months since the surgery and I’m still in the healing process.  The procedure was conducted robotically and left seven scars on my abdomen.  The first time I showed the scars to my youngest grandson he said it looks like I was in a gunfight. I try to learn from every experience, whether good or bad.

I spent 24 years of my adult life as a commissioned officer in the US Army. During my military career, I learned a lot of life lessons—things that continue to help me today.  A wise Field Artillery battalion commander once told me, “It’s ok to make mistakes, but learn from them and avoid repeating them.”  Imagine a world where everyone lived by this axiom!

A lot of Army training events and operations conclude an After-Action Review, or AAR.  The AAR is a very open discussion about how the execution of an event went. The ultimate aim is to do better next time. AARs can be soul searching experiences. To understand my surgery experience, I ended up doing a lot of soul and scripture searching. Here’s what I learned from my surgery and the leadup to it.    

I spent a lot of time praying about this surgery. I suffered doubt more than once.  Should I do it?  Will it work?  Could I die on the operating table?  My faith was put to the test. Knowing my prayers were insufficient, I enlisted the support from a host of prayer warriors I knew I could count on.  I received many words of encouragement from these friends and I was comforted just knowing they were praying for me.  Lesson learned – don’t worry!

God is in Control: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6*

Psalm 55

22 Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.

God shows Himself in many ways and places.  You never know when He’s going to pop up and remind you that he’s present.  As I lay in the surgical ward around 9pm, still a little groggy from the lingering effects of anesthesia, I was surprised when a beep sounded from the hospital intercom and some kind soul began reading an evening prayer—I was in a Catholic hospital. What a wonderful way to mark my first night in hospital. Lesson learned – we shouldn’t need an intercom announcement to remind us that God is always there.  Just stop, look and listen.

Psalm 139

Where can I go from your Spirit?
   Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Within six weeks of highly invasive surgery, I was nearly back to normal. Lesson learned: The human body’s ability to heal itself is remarkable. God’s incredible design of the human body is so amazing that it is beyond human comprehension. The hand of God our creator is clearly evident in human anatomy.

            Psalm 139

13For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

My wonderful wife was my sole caregiver for nearly a month, while I was significantly incapacitated from the surgery. I could not have survived on my own. Early Christians stood out in Roman society for their willingness to serve the sick and outcast, including lepers.  Lesson learned: Christians are called to be caregivers.

            Psalm 2

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.                                                                         Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 

4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

The robotic surgery performed by my surgeon was truly remarkable, but it pales in comparison to the abilities of our Lord. While a surgeon can help your physical needs, Jesus offers spiritual healing for broken hearts and souls. He is truly the “Great Physician.”

The Great Physician Now is Near – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDfHFaJaTwk

*All Bible quotations are from the NIV.

Enduring truths for recent graduates

Across the country it’s graduation time. Here in South Dakota many schools have already closed for the summer. Most of those that remain open will close in the coming days. Everywhere one turns there’s another grad party. What awaits all these new grads? A decade ago I wrote an article  for my newspaper column with some advice for recent graduates. While it was aimed at high school graduates, it is also highly relevant to recent college grads. The article has become one of the most popular pieces I ever wrote. I’ve received hundreds of emails thanking me for taking the time to share it.  Therefore, I decided to  republish it annually around graduation time.  I hope some of you might find it useful.  You can view the original article in the Tribune-Democrat news at this link: http://goo.gl/LtN72

For those who are graduating high school this year and beginning the long transition into adulthood, I’d like to offer you a gift. Here are five enduring truths I have learned. They will help you through life’s journey.

Choices

“If you decide to just go with the flow, you’ll end up where the flow goes, which is usually downhill, often leading to a big pile of sludge and a life of unhappiness. You’ll end up doing what everyone else is doing.” ― Sean Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

 Life will deal you an endless string of choices along the way.  Some will be trivial, like deciding what to wear today.  Others will be weighty and their outcomes will affect you forever.  Weighty decisions should always be preceded by much thought and soul searching.  This includes decisions about who you date or marry, what you put into your body, bringing children into the world, what you do for a living, how much debt you incur and who you associate with.

All of these decisions will have a lasting effect on your life. Therefore, make them slowly and deliberately. Often you’ll discover that the right choice is not the easiest one.  A habit of making poor choices will, as the Sean Covey quote suggests, drag your life downhill.

I was recently contacted by a young man who had just received a bad conduct discharge from the Navy.  He asked me how the discharge would impact his future employability.  His mistake was choosing to drive a car while intoxicated and hitting a pedestrian. Fortunately, the victim wasn’t seriously injured. Had it been otherwise, the young sailor would probably be in prison.  It was my sad responsibility to inform him that with some employers the discharge would be a black mark for life. Choices matter!

 Learning

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.”    ―Vernon Saunders Law, former professional baseball pitcher and Cy Young Award winner

Some of you will go on to college or technical school.  Others will enter the workforce.  Even if your formal education is over, don’t quit learning. Make learning a lifelong adventure.  I did my undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky.  The school offers a fellowship program for individuals aged 65 and older to attend classes tuition free. Every year numerous senior citizens walk the stage to receive degrees ranging from Associate of Arts to Doctor of Philosophy.  It’s never too late to learn.

Even if you don’t choose to continue formal learning, make it point to learn from life. Observe others; note their successes and failures; then learn from their experiences.  More importantly, learn from your own mistakes.

Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned, particularly those while serving in uniform, were the result of having made a terrible mistake.  This sort of lesson sticks, like the first time you grab the handle of a hot iron skillet with your bare hand.  The key to learning from mistakes is owning them.  Admit your mistakes and then move on, having learned something from the experience.  Don’t let, “It wasn’t my fault,” be part of your vocabulary.

 Work

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”  ―Colin Powell, retired U.S. Army four-star general and former U.S. Secretary of State

Work isn’t always fun. If it were, they’d call it play.  Work can be downright unpleasant, but it’s an essential element of life! Along the way you’re going to have jobs you won’t like. Note what you don’t like and make it a point to improve yourself, so you’ll never again have to work at such a job.

Accepting a job means submitting to the authority of those placed over you.  Learn to work within this system.   You’ll inevitably have bosses you don’t like.  Learn to respect the position, if not the individual.

Fairness

Life is not fair; get used to it.” ―Bill Gates, founder and former CEO, Microsoft Corporation

You will hear much discussion about fairness in this life. It’s all hot air.  Life isn’t fair.  Some good people die young, while some bad people live a long life.   Disease sometimes strikes arbitrarily, for no apparent reason.  Some people prosper while others suffer failure. A death or accident can change your life forever.

There is randomness to life that can’t be avoided.  Don’t expect kindness to be returned with kindness.  Don’t expect generosity to be returned with generosity.  The best choice is to be fair and kind to others and learn to accept what they return to you.

A wise man named Harry Browne ran for president of the United States on the Libertarian Party ticket. On Christmas day in 1966, Browne wrote his young daughter a letter aptly titled, “A Gift for My Daughter.”  I encourage every graduating senior to read it and digest it. In the letter, he explains to his daughter that, “Nobody owes you anything.”  Understanding what Browne meant can truly bless you. You can find it here. https://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2009/12/22/a-gift-for-my-daughter/

Faith

“A faith is a necessity to a man. Woe to him who believes in nothing.”  ―Victor Hugo

I once had a senior Army officer tell me he preferred to work with men who possessed spiritual values, regardless of their religion.  He explained that having faith in a power higher than one’s self was an indicator of how one will perform under pressure; in this instance, the pressure meant combat.

Too many people place their faith in all the wrong places.  It might be in wealth, celebrity, good looks, talent, or even government.  Whatever the case, misplaced faith leads to disappointment after disappointment.

To avoid these disappointments, put your faith in God alone.  You, your loved ones and your friends will all inevitably let you down, but God will never fail you.

Growing old and grateful

He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord. –Proverbs 18:22*

*All bible quotes are NIV.

I’m old enough to get senior discounts in restaurants and movie theaters, and AARP rates on hotel rooms. These are all good, but one of the greatest benefits of getting older is that I’ve developed a clearer understanding of what really matters in my life. When I was young, most of my attention was focused inwardly, which I suppose if fairly normal. 

I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army in May 1977, at the tender age of 21. Fresh out of college and newly married, I loved the excitement of a soldier’s life.  I loved the comradery and having fun with friends. I also enjoyed playing all kinds of sports and outdoor recreation like skiing and cycling. Sadly, there were many things I neglected during this phase of my life. One of these was my sweet wife.

As I grew a bit older, I began to pay more attention to the incredible woman I married. I grew to realize that Linda’s physical beauty was exceeded by even greater inner beauty. I grew to admire her patience—especially with me and my antics—and her fortitude.  When she sets her mind on something, it’s going to get done.  I also began to comprehend how wise Linda is—blessed with more common sense than anyone I’ve ever known. She is also blessed with the gift of spiritual discernment. On top of all this, Linda is one of the humblest and most generous people I’ve ever known.

For me, having our first child was a wake-up call greater than any drill instructor ever delivered to a barracks full of sleepy-eyed soldiers.  It was one of those ‘blinding glimpse of the obvious’ moments when selfish me suddenly realized I’m responsible for more than just myself.  While a wife is easily neglected, a screaming newborn is an entirely different matter.  Sad that I didn’t figure this out earlier!

My newfound sense of responsibility led me back to the Church, something I’d managed to neglect since the time I entered college some seven years earlier. This sudden change of direction came as quite a surprise to my then, non-Christian wife.  Thankfully, she was eventually steered towards God. Sadly, it happened without much help on my part.  Thank you, Holy Spirit!

Over the course of my 24-year Army career there were many long deployments and other periods away from home.  During these busy years Linda faithfully kept the home fires burning, managing a busy household and doing the lion’s share of parenting our two daughters. My military travels around the world helped me develop a deep appreciation for the blessings we enjoy as Americans—something that many of us simply don’t recognize.

Fast forward to the present and I feel blessed. I thank God daily for my family, friends, freedom, and faith.  Linda and I are reaping the benefits of having honored our marriage vows all these years; we recently celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary. Our amazing daughters are both grown and successful; we have a wonderful son-in-law who is a pastor; and we’ve been blessed with three delightful grandsons. We’re fortunate to be able to see our grandsons daily. We have loving, extended families living in diverse locations around the world. We’ve made many lifelong friends along the way, all of whom have blessed and enriched our lives. Most of all, we’ve been blessed by a loving God who was willing to sacrifice His only Son to redeem our souls.

Proverbs 31:10b-31

[b]A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
    and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
    for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
    and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Hitting the Jackpot*

* All Bible citations are NIV

What would you do if suddenly you became very wealthy?  What, you say you’re already very wealthy?  Then I urge you to read on anyway. Imagine hitting a big jackpot.  Maybe you pull the arm on a slot machine in Las Vegas and suddenly the grand prize lights start flashing and bells start ringing. Or could it be that the white Publishers Clearing House van turns into your driveway carrying a very large check with your name on it. Perhaps you hit all the numbers in the Powerball drawing.  Or maybe you won the multimillion dollar “Dream House” giveaway on the HGTV network.

I’ve tried to imagine what it would be like to hit it big.  With no more concerns for my personal financial needs, I’d share some of the winnings with family members to pay off mortgages, car loans, student debt and such.  Then I’d set up a nonprofit foundation to help the needy and give it all away.  What fun it would be to help change lives for the better. How easy it would be to give away money from an abundance of wealth.  Jesus commented on this to his disciples in the story of the Widow’s Mite.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”  –Mark 12:41-44

I’ve wondered how being rich might change me.  Would I become more materialistic and spend on a massive house (or houses) and expensive cars?  Would I travel the world? Would I suddenly doubt the motives of people who tried to be friendly with me?  Would I change my phone number, delete this blog, delete my LinkedIn and Facebook accounts, and seek anonymity? Would I play the stock market and try to make even more money?  How much more would I need to satisfy me? Would I become miserly and try to hold on to all my wealth? Jesus cautioned about hoarding wealth in what is sometimes called as the parable of the Rich Fool.

And he (Jesus) told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”  –Luke 12:16-21

An abundance of wealth can make one feel very content, very secure, and very self-reliant. How easy would it be to lose touch with God in such circumstances—to forgo daily communion with God through prayer and the reading of the Word? If all my worldly needs were already provided for, would I still be inclined to pray to the Father, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Perhaps that’s why Jesus taught his disciples:

“Again, I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24

It is a blessing to kneel and sincerely ask God to provide for one’s daily needs.  I am an Anglican. Anglicans follow a Christian tradition that evolved out of the practices, liturgy and identity of the Church of England following the Protestant Reformation. It should come as no surprise that the fastest growing group of Anglicans in the world are in the African churches—places like Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa. Many African Anglicans have suffered terribly from poverty, disease, famine, ethnic cleansing, and multiple forms of discrimination. Some were forced from their homes and lived for a time as displaced persons in their own countries or even spent long periods in refugee camps in a neighboring country.  

Many of these people became believers when they discovered hope in God when they had little else remaining. For many of them, losing everything led to a deep-rooted faith in God. How sweet it is to depend upon the Father for one’s daily needs.

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  Matthew 6:28-34

Do we expect God to come to us with His blessings and save us? He says, “Look to Me, and be saved….” The greatest difficulty spiritually is to concentrate on God, and His blessings are what make it so difficult. Troubles almost always make us look to God, but His blessings tend to divert our attention elsewhere. The basic lesson of the Sermon on the Mount is to narrow all your interests until your mind, heart, and body are focused on Jesus Christ. –Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest

Follow me!

*All Bible quotes are ESV

The motto of the US Infantry is “Follow Me.”  From day one, infantry soldiers are taught to lead. The most effective leaders “lead from the front,” which means leading by personal example. Audie Leon Murphy was a popular Hollywood actor in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but he was a skinny, baby-faced, five-foot five-inch teenager from Texas when he joined the US Army in 1942. No one could have imagined that this lad would become his country’s most decorated service member of World War II. Time and again, Murphy proved himself fearless under fire. By October 1944, he was a highly decorated combat infantryman fighting in the European campaign. Murphy was given a battle commission to second lieutenant in the same month.

On January 26, 1945 Murphy’s conspicuous bravery would earn him the Congressional Medal of Honor (MOH). Murphy knew about leading from the front. An excerpt from his MOH citation reads as follows:

2d Lt. Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. 2d Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to prepared positions in a woods, while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him, to his right, one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. 2d Lt. Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2d Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate 2d Lt. Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards, only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound, but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw.

Audie Murphy was a selfless, sacrificial leader who always led from the front.  Time and again he put his life on line for his friends and the men he led. Although wounded multiple times, Murphy miraculously survived the war. 

Jesus was the ultimate example of selfless sacrifice and leading from the front. In Matthew 4:18-22, Jesus calls his disciples for the first time with the words “follow me.” Immediately they dropped what they were doing and followed him. The call to follow Jesus means now, not later. If you hear him calling, don’t resist.

In Luke 18, a rich young man who had always tried to live a righteous life asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds in verse 22, “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The young man went away very sad, because he was very wealthy.

Jesus restored the sight of a blind beggar named Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52.  Mark tells us that Bartimaeus, once his vision is restored, “followed him (Jesus) on the way.

Mark 9:35 tells us that when Jesus observed his disciples arguing about their personal status in the group of disciples, Jesus told them ““If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

In John 13, on the night of the Passover feast just a short time before Jesus’ crucifixion, he displays a remarkable act of servitude by washing his disciples’ feet. When he is finished, he says to them in verses 14-15, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Jesus calls us to a sacrificial life, placing others before ourselves.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” –John 15:23

Most important of all, Jesus gave up the splendor of heaven to be born of the Virgin Mary and lived as a man among us, understanding our weaknesses and struggles, so that he could give his life to save us all from our sins and death.

“Since Adam’s sin, mankind had been separated from God, but through Christ’s sacrifice we have been reconciled to the Lord. Jesus is ’the Lamb of God,’—the final and permanent sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and under God’s New Covenant he is now the one mediator through whom we can come to God, for God will accept and forgive everyone who professes by word and life their belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and depends upon his death as the sacrifice for their personal salvation.” (Source: Bibleforce.net)

“The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.” John Stott

Do not fear!

I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. —Isaiah 41:13 (ESV)

Note: I periodically turn to previous blog entries for content that is relevant today. This entry is based upon an article I wrote in 2015.

Many people today are scared. Constant fear is slowly become part of the human condition. It’s running rampant right here in America. The majority of Americans now believe that their children’s lives will be harder than their own. They worry about unemployment and the economy. Many fear illegal immigrants. Others are afraid to gather in public places for fear of violence. Why wouldn’t people be afraid? Many media outlets and politicians survive by instilling fear in the public.

On a cosmic scale we hear about giant solar flares that could destroy technology, pushing humankind back into the Stone Age. A large meteor or asteroid collisions could destroy the Earth.

In the natural world, super volcanoes threaten to cause destruction on a planetary scale. Earthquakes like the recent one in Haiti and tsunamis in diverse places threaten thousands of lives. Many fear that global warming will cause killer storms, droughts, melting polar ice, coastal flooding and forest fires.

On the human plane, we have just just witnessed the rapid collapse of the US-backed government in Afghanistan and the ensuing chaos and death. Many fear the threat of terrorism in the homeland as a result of Afghanistan’s demise. Others fear home grown terrorists. Yet others worry about flesh eating bacteria, brain eating amoebas, the CORONA-virus Delta variant, and a growing list of drug resistant bacteria and viruses. Some hunker down in their homes, worried about wearing masks, riots, violence by/against the police, and mass murders making public places unsafe. Some fear that computer hackers will steal their identities and wealth.  Others fear hackers will disrupt our critical national infrastructure, as we recently saw with the hack on the Colonial pipeline.  There are wars and rumors of wars. Religious persecution is increasing around the globe. It can all be paralyzing.

Do not fear.

There are two types of fear mentioned in the Bible. The first is fear of the Lord. This fear is not associated with being frightened. It is a reverential awe of God and is to be encouraged. According to Psalm 111, fear of the Lord is the “beginning of wisdom” and leads to rest and peace.

The second type of fear is detrimental. In the first chapter of 2 Timothy it is described as a “spirit of fear.” A person can be completely overcome by a spirit of fear, virtually frozen and unable to function. Such fear weighs a person down physically, emotionally and mentally.

Unfortunately, many Christians have succumbed to a spirit of fear. Some fear those of other religions and are reluctant to reach out to them in Christian love. Some fear those who are different from them culturally or racially. Some of us are hesitant to invite those in need into their lives for fear they might lose something or it might cost something. Some are afraid to leave the comfort of their homes and familiar surroundings in order to reach out to the needy. Others are hesitant to give of their wealth for fear they might later find themselves in need. A few are afraid of just about everything.

Christian fears often boils down to a fear of losing something—possessions, comfort, safety, security. In Philippians chapter 3, verses 7-8 (ESV), St. Paul describes how he has let go of the things of this world in order to focus on what is truly important: ” But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

It is impossible to grasp the outstretched hand of Christ as long as we tightly cling to things of this world. David tells us in Psalm 34 verses 4-7 (ESV):

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.”

Take the fears before you today and give them to the Lord. You may paralyzed by a fearful nature, facing a health crisis, unemployment, divorce, a call to missionary service, or other difficult challenges. The best first step in any situation is to cast aside your fears—let go and let God!

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6: 10-12 (ESV)

“The remarkable thing about God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.”    —Oswald Chambers

Guard your heart

Sacred Heart of Jesus

“When a man’s heart is right with God the mysterious utterances of the Bible are spirit and life to him. Spiritual truth is discernible only to a pure heart, not to a keen intellect. It is not a question of profundity of intellect, but of purity of heart.”  Oswald Chambers

The word “heart”, as used in the Old Testament, is frequently translated from the Hebrew “לב (sounds like “leb”). It describes a person’s inner being—specifically their will, mind, consciousness, emotions and understanding. It can also refer to moral character and determination. The Hebrew people of Biblical times believed the heart was a body’s place of knowledge, memory and thought. From a holistic viewpoint, the Hebrews saw the heart as the predominant force behind a person’s character, decisions, words and deeds.

The word “heart” as used in the Greek New Testament is καρδία” (sounds like “cardia”). It is the root of the modern English “cardiac.” Like the Hebrew word for “heart,” καρδία has multiple interpretations. It represents the origin of one’s spiritual life and includes emotions. thoughts and one’s personal will. It also describes the center of one’s longings, desires and feelings.

In Roman Catholicism, the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion recalls Jesus’ infinite love for all mankind. Saint Matthew reminds us that we are to return Jesus’ love for us.  In Matthew 22:37-38(a), Jesus tells us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” Christian writer Witness Lee was born to a Christian family in North China in 1905. In his book The Economy of God, which was published in 1968, Lee examines the role of the heart in a Christian’s life. He says:

“Our relationship with the Lord is always begun and maintained by the heart. Of course, to contact the Lord is a matter of the spirit, but this must be initiated and maintained by the heart, for our heart is the gateway of our whole being.” He continues, “In other words, the heart becomes both the entrance and the exit of our being. Whatever enters into us must enter through the heart. Whatever comes out from us must proceed through the heart.”

There are many worldly forces competing for our hearts. The Bible is full of examples and warnings about idols, false prophets and false teachers.  We find these deceivers all around us today. Idols manifest themselves in the forms of power, wealth, fame, celebrity, self-indulgence and the like—things we choose to worship in place of God. False prophets sometimes appear in the form of politicians, governments, religious leaders and, more recently, some social media outlets. They plant seeds of fears and confusion with words running contrary to the teaching of Christ. 18th century Welsh theologian Matthew Henry’s comprehensive Bible commentary has much to say on false prophets and teachers. For example:

“Our Saviour cautions his disciples to stand on their guard against false teachers. And he foretells wars and great commotions among nations. From the time that the Jews rejected Christ, and he left their house desolate, the sword never departed from them. See what comes of refusing the gospel. Those who will not hear the messengers of peace, shall be made to hear the messengers of war. But where the heart is fixed, trusting in God, it is kept in peace, and is not afraid. It is against the mind of Christ, that his people should have troubled hearts, even in troublous times.”  Commentary on Matthew 24

Psalm 1 tells us to meditate on the Law (instruction) of the Lord. If your heart is fixed on the Word of God, you are not likely to go astray. The Word of God is “at work” in believers who hear and meditate on it (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The Word of God helps us to work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12). The working of the Word of God is evident in true believers.  My mom spent the last few months of her life in a dementia facility.  One of the residents was a believer who was probably close to 90 years old. This blessed man, overcome by Alzheimer’s Disease, daily recited the Roman Catholic Missal for hours on end. Even in his diminished state, the Word of God was at work in this old Saint’s heart.

The Word of God helps us avoid the temptations of idolatry and false prophets.  As Corinthians 10:13 tells us. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (ESV)

So how can Christians respond to temptations that tear at their hearts? Naturally, Jesus provides the answer.  In Matthew 4:1-11, we find the story of Jesus’s temptation by Satan. In this passage, Jesus is tempted (tested) in the wilderness and responds with the Word of God, reciting scripture to Satan:

            Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

            You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

            You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.

Ephesians 6:17 calls the Word of God “the sword of the Spirit.” Like a sword, the Word can be used for both defensive and offensive purposes—defensive as when Jesus responds to the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, and offensive as when we see the triumphant Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, in Revelation 1:17-18, where he proclaims, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”  Study the Holy Scriptures and receive the Word of God!

Today, Jesus calls to each of us, “Come, leave behind your life of sin and sorrow. Come to the cross, find forgiveness for your sins, and join me in resurrection victory. Come, be My disciple. Come and know the joy of a loving Father. Come, before it is too late.” –Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker emeritus of the Lutheran Hour.

…I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. –1 Timothy 1:12(b)-14