Lovingkindness and truth have met together

Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land. Lovingkindness and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other (Psalms 85:9-10).

Take some time to meditate upon Psalm 85 this morning. If God’s salvation is near to those who fear Him, then what qualities of God have to come together? If God only was a God of truth and righteousness, then we all would be hopelessly lost and condemned. Since we have all broken the laws of God, we have nothing to look forward to but punishment and justice.

It may go without saying, but His truth and His standards of righteousness are absolute. This is what defines sin, it is a breaking of the law (1 John 3:4), a violation of truth. The offer of salvation and mercy means nothing if there is no such thing as absolute truth. How could we be guilty of violating any law if there is no such thing as truth to establish laws? As C.S. Lewis said, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” Because God’s truth is asbolute, mankind is absolutely lost because of our wholesale departure from His truth.

Lovingkindness and truth have met together

Thankfully, God’s mercy met together with His truth, and His peace “kissed” righteousness, as the Psalmist wrote. That is such a beautiful concept. Righteousness and peace kissing. God’s mercy walking together with His rules. Our Lord looks upon us all and seeks to offer kindness and compassion, even though we all have broken His laws and forsaken His truth. He reached out to us through Jesus and the cross to be reconciled to us.

Let us give glory to God first and foremost for this indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15)!

But then, we must turn to our fellow man and ask if we are behaving like that to others? Are we all about the rules, with no mercy or does mercy walk with the rules in my heart? Have God’s standards kissed God’s peace in my life? Am I eager to reconcile with others or I am eager to deal out condemnation and judgment? It shows in how we treat others, doesn’t it?

Maybe God’s mercy needs to take a walk with the truth in our hearts today. We might need to take God’s rules out on a date with God’s compassion. They need to get to know each other better.

What Now Lord?

Thanks, Andy Harrison, for sharing this article about Ralph, entitled, What Now Lord?

 “Whom have I in heaven but You?  And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  Psalm 73:25-26

Over the last few years I’ve gotten to know an old man, let’s call him Ralph.  Don’t worry, he wouldn’t be offended, he’s in his 80s and calls himself an “old man”.  Ralph is really nothing special to look at and in many ways is just your average elderly person.  He’s got white hair and wrinkles and has been in a wheelchair for a number of years.  He is soft spoken and his voice can get a little shaky when he talks.  Ralph lives in a very modest assisted-living facility with a few other elderly people.

But when Ralph was younger…oh man, that was different!  He was a pilot in the Air Force and retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  For those who don’t know that is just a couple ranks away from a Brigadier General.  After his military service he found a home in the financial sector, responsible for significant sums of money.  One of Ralph’s passions in life was raising prize-winning Doberman Pinschers and he has pictures and trophies testifying to his accomplishments.  There was a lot about his life that one could envy.

But, as with all of us, time caught up with Ralph.  His wife got ill and died a number of years ago.  He started to lose muscle control in his legs and was forced to use a walker.  It wasn’t long until he deteriorated to the point of needing a wheelchair.  Because of Ralph’s physical condition, he was no longer able to take care of his dogs and he had to find them new homes.  Speaking of homes, he had to sell his and give up his freedom and space for a single room in a small assisted-living facility.

I suspect Ralph’s story is not that different than a lot of people in their 80s.  If I live long enough, I’m sure my decline will have a number of similarities.  What has impressed me (and humbled me) is his outlook and attitude throughout these stages of life.  So many people meet the loss of status and power and physical health and freedom with anger and bitterness but Ralph has embraced these changes with one simple question, “What now Lord?”  In every situation he sees opportunity to continue working for the Lord.

When he was forced to sell his house he spent time in prayer and decided that if the house sold he would use the money to support the preaching of the gospel.  He has confidently stated, “When I die I don’t want one cent left to my name.  I want it all used up for the Lord!”

When Ralph found himself lying in bed one night, shortly after moving into a small assisted-living facility he went to God in prayer and said, “Here I am.  What now, Lord?”  Shortly after that he realized that there were lonely people in that facility nearing the end of their lives and he could be a comfort and an encouragement to them.  He got busy and he shared Jesus.

After Ralph could no longer support his weight with the walker he was forced to stay in a wheelchair.  Many of us might consider this a greater restriction but Ralph turned it into an opportunity.  At worship he took his seat with him everywhere he went, all over the auditorium.  Instead of sitting in the same place, next to the same people, week after week, Ralph wheels around and sits by different people all the time.

Ralph is the very definition of a servant and he realizes that the Lord’s people don’t “retire”.  Wasn’t Moses 80 years old when God called him to lead Israel out of Egypt?  Ralph is not stuck on “how things should be” or “this wasn’t part of MY plan”, he simply does the work that is in front of him.

Now here is the kicker and a little bonus lesson in humility that I received.  I started my relationship with Ralph thinking, “Now there’s someone that could use some attention and encouragement.  I should be a ‘good Christian’ and help that lonely old man.”  Maybe it didn’t sound just like that in my head but you get the picture.  A few years have gone by and I don’t know if I’ve helped Ralph but one thing I do know:  I have learned a ton from him.

“Whom have I in heaven but You?  And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  Psalm 73:25-26

He inquired of them

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: ‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'” Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him” (Matthew 2:1-8).

Happy Holidays, men! Have a great time with your friends and family!

Here is one thought that I wanted to share with you today from the above passage. King Herod the Great was a wicked and paranoid man, and the news of a “King of the Jews” deeply troubled him.

What I find amazing is that even a man like Herod the Great knew where to find answers. He sent for the Jewish teachers and leaders and asked them where the Messiah was to be born. They quoted the prophet Micah who foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

Herod, trusting that 700 year old prophecy, sent the wise men to Bethlehem. To me, that’s saying something. Even Herod had enough understanding to trust the validity of Scripture!

He inquired of them

This is just a simple reminder for us that the answers are in God’s word. God’s word has given us “everything that pertains to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). We just have to search for it. You see, we can even learn a lesson in Bible study from a guy like Herod the Great.

I hope that you all have a wonderful holiday! Meet you in 2017! Happy New Year! The next post will come out, Lord willing, on January 2.

And stretching out His hand toward His disciples

While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50).

And stretching out His hand toward His disciples

Jesus’ mother and brothers were waiting outside to speak to Jesus. It is clear that at this point the brothers of Jesus did not believe Him (John 7:5). In fact, read Mark’s parallel account to the one you just read in Matthew 12. Mark points out that some of Jesus’ family thought He was out of His mind (Mark 3:21). They were trying to do an intervention! Jesus has gone looney and they needed to rescue Him from Himself.

In the midst of this scene, someone told Jesus that His mother and brothers were outside waiting to talk to Him. Note that Jesus stretched out His hand toward His disciples and called them His mother and brothers.

Disciples. The followers and students of Jesus are the ones who are the family of Jesus.

Here is more insight into what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. As Jesus was still pointing to His “disciples” He said,

“For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”

So how do you know who are Jesus’ disciples today in 2016? Notice that the family of Jesus is one and the same as the disciples of Jesus. How do you know who is related to Jesus? We all have heard of or seen clips of those ridiculous train wreck talk shows where somebody gets DNA results back to determine who is the father of which kid. Well, our spiritual DNA test comes down to one simple question. Who does what God says? Men, it really isn’t any more complicated that that. If you and I are both doing what God says, then we are family and we are the disciples of the Lord.

We don’t identify God’s family and Jesus’ disciples by a sign on a building, but by the behavior of the people claiming to be followers of Jesus. Does their behavior match the claim? If so, they are family, and they are disciples.

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed” (John 8:31).

Like Living Stones

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-5).

I was researching the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland this morning. Maybe some reading this article are familiar with it, but I was not. My computer puts these random images of nature on my screen, and one came up today about the Giant’s Causeway. Fascinating! It led me to do some research on it, and I would encourage you to do the same.

These basalt formations are amazing as you can see on any picture of the Giant’s Causeway. The stone columns are mostly hexagonal in shape, some of the interlocking columns are almost 40 feet tall from what I could gather.

According to legend, this formation was made by the Irish giant Finn McCool as he built a bridge to cross the water and battle a Scottish giant. He apparently left a “boot,” which turned to stone. There is a stone that looks like a boot there.

According to “science,” these formations were made 50-60 million years ago as a result of volcanic activity and erosion. By the way, there was an aggressive and militant push to remove any creationist explanation of these rock formations from the exhibits in Ireland. The creationist view was relegated to a traditional religious belief, not a competing explanation at all.

I look at these stones, and yes, you can call me biased, but I see the glory of God’s handiwork. How can you not see the order and design in the rocks? Various shapes are formed naturally by rocks and minerals depending on which elements make them up. Some may call that random, I call that design from the mind of the most amazing Engineer ever!

Like Living Stones

What’s the point? I saw the Giant’s Causeway as a collection of stones that make a monument to glorify the Creator. When we see the church of Jesus Christ, it is a collection of “living stones” which glorify the Savior.

You are a living stone, and it may seem ironic or weird to ascribe life to a lifeless thing. But we are building, according to Peter, a spiritual house. This house is not made of brick and stone, but of spirit-filled beings. We have been called out of darkness and death into God’s marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). He breathed life into what was lifeless.

Our existence as a church, an assembly of saved people, is a monument testifying daily to the grace and power of our Creator and Savior. If you are a Christian, then you are part of something very special, much more breathtaking than a rock formation in Northern Ireland.

Take time today to thank God for being a living stone in His spiritual house.

If every scam was this easy to spot

My phone was ringing Wednesday, and I looked at the caller ID, and it said, “Illegal Scam.” Of course, I did not answer the call. However, I instantly thought, “Wow, if every scam was this easy to spot!” I took a screenshot of that incoming call to use for this article.

Warning! Illegal Scam!

Even shampoo bottles come with warning labels, telling us that it is intended for “external use only.” You have to tell people this? But people don’t walk around with warning labels. No one has a sign on his forehead saying, “I’m a scam artist…don’t trust me.”

As men of God, we must be always on the watch, for the Lord warns us that wolves come in sheep’s clothing. Their “Caller ID” says “Completely harmless and docile,” but inwardly they are ravenous wolves (Matthew 7:15, see also Acts 20:28-32; Romans 16:17-18; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

This makes it critical for men of God to be on the watch. We are to be wise as serpents but harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16). It doesn’t mean that we are to be constantly critical and distrusting of people, but we are not to be naïve and gullible, either. Since we don’t have a clear warning label, Jesus said that we will all be known by “our fruits.” Over time a person will display his true ID (Matthew 7:20; 2 Timothy 3:9).

We also must commit our minds solely to the truth in God’s word. The light of truth will eventually sort out sheep from wolves. It will expose the pure hearts and good motives as well as the sinister.

If every scam was this easy to spot

Adapting to Change

Adapting to change. Today we may reach 70 degrees here in Michigan and we are looking at possible snow tomorrow night. That’s Michigan for you. If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes and it will change.

I remember the first winter we were living here in Michigan. It was great, but I was ready for it to be over! So, here we are in April, it is 70 degrees on a Friday, and I start getting out the lawn chairs and the summer stuff from storage. Boy was I excited! On the following Monday, we had two inches of snow. Boy was I deflated! That snow melted really fast, but my attitude about it stayed even after the snow was gone.

Adapting to change

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven…(Ecclesiastes 3:1)

There are seasons in life, Solomon said 3,000 years ago. Even in the days of Noah after the flood, God promised that there would always be seasons (Genesis 8:22).

“While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22).

My point with this is not about weather, but about life, of course. Things change. There is a time and a purpose for everything. Sometimes in life we have spring, full of promise and beginnings. Other times it is the dead of winter, cold winds, and blizzards. There are other occasions when it is like that weekend in April I mentioned, we are on top of the mountain and then it seems like someone shoved us from behind and we are rolling down to the valley. The reverse happens as well. You have a monsoon of a thunderstorm followed by a beautiful sunset and a rainbow.

How do you respond to change? Do we adapt well when our plans don’t work out like we expected? Am I the kind of person that curses the frigid temperatures, and then complains when it gets too hot? Do we get grumpy, rigid and inflexible when others try to bring up different ideas or other ways of doing things?

It is vital as men of God and leaders in the homes and churches that we be the kind of men who are flexible and adapt well to change.

Seasons change, God does not

Finally, I leave you with one passage from Hebrews about how things change but God does not. May we put our trust in that one simple concept.

And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end” (Hebrews 1:10-12).

Stirred up the crowd

If there is a violent riot or mob you need to look for who is stirring them up. Just like in the Bible times, someone is behind the scenes funding them, organizing them and keeping them agitated. Follow the money and the power, someone stirred up the crowd. I have three examples for you.

The Jewish leadership and Jesus

And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead (Mark 15:8-11).

Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus (Matthew 27:20).

Pilate was not a righteous man, but he was a shrewd man. He knew why the mobs were saying “crucify Him!” It was because of the chief priests who envied the power and influence Jesus had. Think of it, because of political envy and a lust for power, the leadership agitated the crowds to the point of calling for the death of Jesus.

Corporate Interests and the Apostle Paul

Acts 19:23-41 – Please read this passage today.

You have heard of big oil and big pharmaceutical, and the Silicon Valley titans. In Ephesus, it was big idolatry. There were men making a fortune from the worship of the goddess Diana (Artemis). Paul’s preaching directly threatened their lifestyle, and they were determined to shut him up.

Take note of how the crowd yelled and hollered, but many of them didn’t even know why they were there (vs. 32)!

It took someone with influence and power to “dismiss the assembly” (vs 41), and that is what we need today. Peaceful protests and the loyal opposition are the strength of our democracy, but violent riots destabilize it.

The Jews and the Apostle Paul

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead (Acts 14:19).

Crowds were persuaded to throw stones at Paul with the intent to kill him. They dragged his lifeless body out of the city and left it, assuming he was dead.

Today is Veteran’s Day, and thank you to all of our men and women who have faithfully served our country! Because of their sacrifice, we have unparalleled freedoms for which we thank God! However, our men and women did not devote their lives for our country so that people could smash windows, loot stores, beat up people and start fires.

As men of God, regardless of our political leanings, we should stand up and call for peaceful opposition. The rhetoric on both sides (please hear me) of the political aisle has been toxic and needs to stop.

In Dr. Martin Luther King’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”

For further reading, here is one of my previous posts, called “Poisoned.”

The Curse of the Billy Goat

The curse of the Bambino for the Boston Red Sox. The curse of the Billy Goat for the Chicago Cubs. If you follow even remotely Major League Baseball, you have heard of these two curses. Of course, both curses are “broken” because both franchises have since won the World Series.

So, is this curse thing for real? Can someone have the power to place a “curse” on a ball team and it actually work? Only if the players, coaches and managers on the team believe the curse to be true.

I remember watching the game in 2003 when the Chicago Cubs were in the 8th inning, up 3-0, less than two innings away from the World Series. Then came Mr. Bartman, the fan that interfered with a foul ball, and the Cubs just fell apart. They surrendered 8 runs and lost 8-3.  After that game the Cubs did not recover and the Marlins went on to the World Series.

The curse of the Billy Goat

Lots of people played up both Bartman and the Billy Goat. Bartman was a villain and many people wanted him to die. The Cubs are cursed. It must be true. They will never win the World Series again.

What I saw that night in 2003 was a team that mentally fell apart. I remember using the Cubs as a sermon illustration soon after that game. The point I made was how the mindset of a team can completely unravel and destroy any progress toward a goal. You can have the best talent around, but if you have a collective bad attitude, then you’re going nowhere in a hurry.

Individuals and organizations defeat themselves before they ever start because of their mindset. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). If you believe you will fail, then you are right. You can live like there is a curse over you and the results will confirm your negative outlook. When a group unravels mentally, it has absolutely nothing to do with a “curse” but with stinkin’ thinkin’ as Zig Ziglar put it. You become your own curse. Some call it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The 2016 Cubs chose not to believe the “curse.” They could have believed it a few days ago when they were down 3 games to 1, but they didn’t.

As Christian men, we have to understand the power of the mindset, both as individuals and as congregations. Are we truly blessed children of God? Then let’s act like it!

Pastors, Overseers and Elders, part 2

Last Friday, we looked at how three words are used to describe the same office in the local church. I want to look briefly at each word and why they are so important in describing the what these men do for the local church.

Pastor

A pastor is a shepherd. This word is used throughout the Scriptures to describe the kind of leadership God is looking for among His people. He even describes Himself as a shepherd (Psalm 23; Isaiah 40:11). The shepherd in the NT church is watching out over souls (Hebrews 13:17; Acts 20:28) because wolves come in among God’s church attempting to destroy and steal. These wolves teach false doctrines and are very deceptive in leading souls away from sound doctrine. Sheep easily wander and they need a shepherd.

Overseers

The word bishop in some versions is the same as overseer in other versions. These men are looking over the local congregation among whom God has appointed them to serve.  That may mean they are helping to oversee that the needy among them are cared for properly (Acts 11:29-30). The elders may oversee tense situations and try to diffuse them as they did in Jerusalem (Acts 21:18-26). As shepherds (pastors) they are overseeing that the flock of God is properly fed, so they will make sure the teaching and preaching offered is not only Biblical but also helpful for the growth of each member of the congregation. Sometimes they may have to oversee the discipline of an unruly brother or sister.

On a side note, there is no leadership in between the elders (overseers) of the local church and Jesus Christ. Men in their flawed wisdom have designed denominational structures that have no basis in Scripture and it has taken away from the simplicity of the New Testament pattern.

Elders

Elders by definition are older. They are seasoned men, both in life and in usage of the word of God. According to the requirements of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, these men are not to be novices. They have to be well equipped and able to teach God’s word, and also able to patiently confront those who contradict sound teaching. These men are married and have raised families, and have shepherded their own children to faith in Jesus. Peter commands the elders to live as examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:1-4), so their lives must have demonstrated over time that they are worthy of our followership.

Elders, Pastors, Overseers…three words for the same men who lead local churches. Wise, experienced men who love Jesus and His word. They also love God’s people and want nothing more than to see them all go to heaven.