PREDICTIONS, PREDICTIONS

Do you find it amazing that no matter what happens in the world and how often the predictions of the experts turn out to be completely wrong, it is never long before these same experts have a whole new set of predictions to offer? What is even more amazing is that no matter how many times the ones making the predictions totally miss it in what they predict people will still believe them the next time they make a prediction. It is a little like all the polls that are taken about everything. It seems that every day there is a new poll out telling everything we could want to know. There is really no reason for us to vote in the fall since the polls can tell us who will win anyway. Why not just take the polls and let that be the vote? But then I begin to think of the times when the polls were totally wrong. Also, I keep wondering why if these polls are so encompassing, why have I never been called to find out what I think in some of these matters. It should be clear that how one ask a question may often determine the answer they get and who I choose to ask my questions will certainly have a lot to do with the outcome.

What if it is true that no one really knows what the future holds except God and He hasn’t sent out any news releases that I’m aware of lately? I certainly find it intriguing that many go to the Bible and find predictions about what is going to happen next week when the Bible is nearly 2,000 years old and people have read those same predictions all down through the years and applied them to things going on in their own day. Did you know there have been people predicting the end of the world based on something they read in the Bible from the time the Bible was produced? I believe the Bible and I believe what it predicts happens just as it says, but I don’t have much faith in the ones who go to the Bible to find predictions about everything. It would always be helpful to ask the question, “What was the writer talking about and who was he talking to when he made the predictions?” The truth is the vast majority of the predictions people go to and apply to things happening today were fulfilled a long, long time ago and have nothing to do with events going on now.

I find it interesting that Peter in 2 Peter 3 focuses on the end of time and the second coming of Christ and what happens then. Look at some of his thoughts. “Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this coming he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years as like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”

I don’t know when this will all happen. I know it will happen and that whenever the Lord comes again it will be a surprise. The thing that matters is that we live holy and godly lives all the time. I don’t know what the new heaven and new earth will look like but I know it will be amazing and we will be in the presence of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit along with all the redeemed of the ages. We won’t have to worry about any pandemics then. Instead of worrying about when it will happen, I need to live as I should each day so that whenever it happens I will be welcomed into the eternal home with God.

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PRAISE GOD FOR THE FREEDOM

We are in a time when almost everything we hear about this country is negative. The notion of praising God for the freedoms we have as a nation seems out of place in so many ways today. Think of how many times in years past you heard someone praying in a church service and they thanked God for the freedom we have to gather as we are in worship to God without fear of being molested by anyone? It is a phenomenal freedom. So many parts of the world do not have such freedoms and demand that you worship only the god that they recognize as god. They don’t just discourage any other forms of worship. They will destroy everything and everyone that violates their ideas on who and what to worship. Many of the early settlers in this country risked their lives to cross the ocean and settle in this land because they were longing for the freedom to worship God as they believed His word taught. Strangely, some of those same settlers set up forms of worship in areas where they settled that demanded everyone worship as they understood. But as a whole they were determined to offer freedom to people to worship as they believed was right, with the clear understanding that anyone had the right to try to convert the other person to believe as they did.

One has to admire those Christians who are devoted to God completely, even though they live in countries that do everything in their power to keep them from worshiping God as they long to do. I’ve tried to imagine what it would be like to have to hide to worship God for fear that if you were caught you and your whole family would be executed for your faith. Many in that situation have fled to other countries where there is freedom of religion and many of those have come to this country for that freedom. But many have no way of leaving where they are or choose to stay in their home country in hopes of reaching friends and family for God and for change in that country. Thank God for these people of great faith.

Understand that the freedom of religion doesn’t make up for failings of our country in other areas. We need to use the freedom to worship God as we believe is right as a means of trying to improve the country in other ways as well. But, let’s not allow the failings of the country in some other areas to destroy the treasured freedom of religion or the freedom of speech. These two freedoms go hand in hand. If we lose the freedom to say something because what is said is offensive to someone else, then we lose the freedom of religion at the same time. Let’s face it, if we say there is one God, it is offensive to those who believe there are many gods. If we say that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died on the cross for us to have salvation in him it is certainly offensive to those who deny his deity and who think the very notion of God dying on a cross is insane. If we declare that Jesus is the one way to God and that no one can come to the Father except through him as he said in John 14:6 many would consider such a message to be offensive since they think one way is as good as another.

God challenges us to “Speak the truth in love.” But no matter how loving we are in telling someone some truths it will be taken by them to be hateful and thus labeled as “Hate speech.” Let me be clear, I am not defending saying things in a hateful way or condescending way to anyone. I don’t think we have the right to tear another person down because of their differences from us. But it is also true that many consider it hate-filled to tell them they are wrong or mistaken about anything. If one is living an immoral or dishonest life and we point out that such a life is wrong and condemned in the word of God, many would consider it hate speech. By that standard Jesus, the most compassionate, loving and forgiving person who ever walked on the earth would have had hate speech in tons of things that he said. It was in love that he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me, they cannot be my disciple.” It was in love that he said, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” It was in love he called the religious leaders of his day hypocrites who strained out gnats and swallowed camels. It was in love that he declared that it is hard for a rich person to be saved. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to be saved.” His love gave the greatest of invitations, “Come unto me all who are weary and burdened down and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

This week think of things about this country that you want to improve and begin to pray and work for those changes. But also, think of the freedoms we do have in this nation and praise God that we have such freedoms, including the freedom of worship and the freedom of speech. Don’t miss the blessings while focusing on the wrongs.

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HOW LONG?

Think of how many ways you hear the question being asked today, “How long?” It may be about the virus that people are asking how long it will go on and how long it will be before there is a vaccine or a cure of some kind to stop it from spreading all over the place. It may be how long it will be before the government acts on some of the issues that people are faced with today. It could be how long it will be before the police receive a different kind of training that leaves people less fearful. For many, it is how long must we go on as a nation before the problems between the races will be solved. Or you may think of a thousand different ways you might ask the same question of “how long” with regard to some personal problem or challenge in your own life.

Look at a time with me when God raised the question of “How long?” In I Samuel 16:1 “The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” Samuel had anointed Saul to be king of Israel on the charge of God himself. The people of Israel cried out for a king so they could be like the nations around them and God allowed them to have one. He appointed Saul when he was a man of humility and looked to God for the lead. But power, opportunity, or responsibility changed Saul and it wasn’t for the better. He stopped following God’s commands completely. There were always reasons for his disobedience to God and I am certain that he believed his reasons were legitimate. But God didn’t give his commands for him to decide which he would obey and which he would change to fit what he wanted. It started when God sent Saul to lead the army of Israelites in battle but he was to wait for Samuel to arrive in seven days to offer a sacrifice to God and then lead out in battle. He waited for the seven days and Samuel still hadn’t arrived and instead of waiting a little longer, he became afraid that all the men would forsake him since many were becoming overly discouraged that Samuel hadn’t arrived. He determined to go ahead and offer the sacrifice himself and not wait for Samuel any longer. No sooner had he made the offering when Samuel showed up. Later God had Samuel to tell Saul to lead the army out against the Amalekites and to completely destroy them for the evil they had done to the nation of Israel. Saul understood the command completely. But when in the battle and winning easily with God’s blessing, he decided to not destroy the animals there were healthy and to spare the life of king Agag.

When he returned God sent Samuel to meet him and told him that Saul had refused to follow the commands. Saul came out, it seems, cheerfully to say to Samuel that he had fully obeyed the Lord. Samuel asked, “When then is the meaning of the bleating of the sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of the cattle that I hear?” Saul blamed it on the men that they wanted to keep the animals and make them an offering to God. Samuel explained that obeying is better than sacrifice and to listen to God better than anything we could give the Lord as worship. God had Samuel to say to Saul that He was riping the kingdom away from him and would give it to a man more honorable than him.

Obviously, after that happened and Samuel went back home his reaction was one of mourning over Saul. He saw all the lost opportunity. Saul had so many chances to get things right. But he constantly sinned again and instead of repenting of the sin, he always had an excuse that usually involved blaming someone else for his problems. Samuel was an old man when he anointed Saul as king. He likely thought he would be the one who could take the lead in Israel that he had kept for many years now. But Saul failed. God’s point to Samuel was that it was now time to face the reality that Saul wasn’t going to make it and to get on with the job of anointing someone else for the job. So, get up and go to Bethlehem and anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the new king. He was afraid of Saul if it became known what he was doing so God told him just to say he was going to make an offering and to invite Jesse and his sons. David the youngest son, who was still a rather young teenager, was chosen by God and Samuel anointed him to become king. It would be some fifteen years before David would actually become king of Judah and another seven years before he became king of all Israel. So, God’s actions weren’t a quick change. It did lay out a plan that would bring them a king after his own heart.

There is a powerful lesson for us in this short story. it is easy when something we have done, believing it was God’s plan and will for us to do, and it doesn’t work out in a good way at all, to begin to grieve and mourn over the failure and give up doing anything to make things better. We can easily become crippled by past mistakes or poor judgments. This is especially true if we are criticized loudly for the past moves. It is good to look back at past mistakes and learn from them. But if instead of learning and moving on we simply grieve over the mistakes and do nothing else it becomes a devastating blow. The truth is everyone and every group of people make mistakes. If we are talking about the home then parents often realize they made poor judgments in raising their children. It’s hard to face that reality. But if I simply stop and mourn over the failures then nothing good can come from it. In church the elders are often stalled by the fact they made a poor decision in the past so now they simply avoid making any decision. In business, a board of directors or the CEO of a company can get stuck where they are because of a wrong decision that led to terrible press so now they sit and watch hoping for problems to solve themselves. School boards, principles and superintendents fall into the same trap. After making a bad decision they are too often thrown into a hole where they can’t make any decision, so they decide to utterly fail.

If you look back over the past in your life and realize you have made some horrible mistakes, don’t get stuck there. You can’t make better moves the next time by not making any move at all. Just prayerfully move on and strive to make better decisions in the future. David would become king and be the greatest king Israel ever had. He would actually become the standard by which they judged all future kings. Instead of grieving over the past mistakes, determined to make better ones in the future and who knows it might be the best one you could have made. Sitting and mourning works for a little while but soon action is needed.

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HONORING FATHER’S

There is something amazing about our relationship with our dads. We go through that era as a younger child, especially if you are of the male gender, when the common thought is, “My dad is bigger, stronger or can whip your dad.” Then we tend to go through some period of life when we look at our dad as being an embarrassment to us. it may be anything from them having some habit that seems to set them apart from other dads or your friend’s dads or them showing too much affection toward you in public. We tend to go through a time when we see everything that our dad did as being wrong, mistaken and something we want to avoid as we grow up. It isn’t at all uncommon for a boy, especially to say as they are growing up, “I’ll never do things like my dad.” It may be everything from how they discipline us to how they treat our mom. Usually at about this same period of life we can give a whole long list of things our dad got wrong in his life.

But, as the years roll by, our views of our dad tend to change. So many of the things we felt sure were wrong before now seem pretty smart and perhaps the best way of doing things. We tend to catch ourselves saying to our own children the very things that we once thought were so awful when our dad said them to us. Far too often it is after our dads have died that we suddenly begin to think of all the things we misunderstood about them or just plain got wrong about them. Someone has said that it is phenomenal how much smarter our dads become between our twenty-fifth birthday and our fortieth birthday.

My dad has been dead for almost forty years now. As the youngest of eight children he was almost forty when I came into the world so the dad I knew was likely very different from the dad that my older brothers and sisters knew. But there are common matters we would all say of him. Today, I am remembering things about him that have made a positive difference in my own life. I would suggest that it would be worthwhile for everyone, if you knew or know your dad at all to think back on some things that you remember that have made a positive difference in your life, your heart and your actions in the world.

Dad was a lover of God, of my mom, and of us as his children. His devotion to God was beyond question. As long as I remember he was a preacher. He was constantly trying to learn more about the Bible and to live by what he learned. It was common to see him early in the morning or late in the evening sitting with his Bible in his lap searching for God’s will in everything. He loved to sing praise to God and not just with a crowd of people. When he was working he was singing, and I don’t think it ever mattered whether anyone was listening or not. He sang in quartets, led singing schools, and just sang with his whole being. He was certainly a man of prayer. He would bow before the Lord at the table, in the gatherings of people to worship and in the woods or barn when he had no idea that anyone could see him. I have no doubt that his devotion to God made a huge difference in the lives of his children, mine included.

Dad enjoyed family and wanted to be around them. He overflowed with life when everyone could gather. He might well want to spend some of that time together singing praise to God. But he would enjoy the laughter and be in the middle of the conversation. I remember those times when he played basketball or baseball with us. Some of my special memories with dad were times when we walked through the woods or out in the field and he told stories of his life growing up. I suspect that I picked up from him the immense joy of being around family and sharing things about life with each other.

Dad would go to all lengths to help anyone he knew or even knew about that was struggling. He was a constant visitor at the local hospital and would even visit every room in the little hospital there. His care for people in tough times probably explains why in the last several years of his life he either preached or sang at over a hundred funerals each year. I remember far too many times when he was taken in by someone who gave him a sad story and he believed it, which led to him giving them money or whatever else the need was to take care of them. Too many times he would later learn and be frustrated to know it was a scam. He had a big heart and it was easy for him to cry with those in trouble. He believed that Jesus teaching about the Good Samaritan was a vital lesson for him and all of us to learn and imitate.

Could I list things about my dad that were not good? Certainly, just as my own children can about me. But I choose today to think about the things about him that I admire, love and want to imitate in life. It is a great time as Father’s Day approaches to remember and honor your dad.

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CONTEMPT FOR YOUR MAKER

I’m constantly amazed when reading the Bible that things I’ve read tons of times suddenly jump out as though I had never seen them before. I think that is especially true in reading from the Proverbs. Yesterday I was reading in Proverbs 14 when this verse caught my eye. “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” (Proverbs 14:31)

Now the point of this text is certainly not unique for Scripture. When Jesus pictured the Judgement in Matthew 25:31-46 he declared that those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick or imprisoned or took in strangers, and gave drink to the thirsty they were serving Him and when one failed to do those same things they failed to provide for the Lord. Another classic illustration of this same point is found in Acts 9 where Saul was persecuting the church. After holding the garnets for those who stoned Stephen to death he went into a mad rage against the Christians, taking both men and women from their homes and throwing them into prison. He wasn’t satisfied arresting those in Jerusalem where he was but asked for letters giving him permission to go to Damascus in Syria to arrest Christians there. But on the road, he was confronted with great light and knocked to the ground. Then a voice from heaven spoke to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? He asked who it was and the voice said, “I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.” He could well have responded, “No, I’m not persecuting you, but the ones who follow you.” But Jesus identified with his people. How we treat those who follow him is how we treat Jesus. How I treat those who are hurting is how I treat Jesus and how I deal with the poor and oppressed in the world is how we treat God, our maker.

That is the reason in the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus pictured the priest and Levite saw the man who had been robbed, beaten and left for dead lying beside the road and they passed by on the other side, was such a powerful point. They were leaders in the religion of the Jews. They were teachers, preachers, elders, or deacons in the church if we brought it into our own time. But their religion had become academic and not nearly enough action to care for the oppressed. Certainly, there were risks in going to the injured man to care for him. But there are entirely different kinds of risks in our relationship with God and our final judgment from God when we say the right things but they don’t change our actions toward others.

I can imagine the people responding in these different situations by saying, “Oh no, I have all kinds of admiration and respect for God and for Jesus. I would never neglect them in any way.” But God doesn’t judge our faith and devotion to him only on what goes on on Sundays when we gather for worship. He looks just as closely at how we live and act each day in the world.

Jesus said, we would have the poor with us always and I know He is right. We have had numerous government programs in my life time that were intended to eliminate poverty and oppression in the world, or at least in this country. No doubt some have been helped by such efforts. But there seems to always be a fresh supply of those who are poor and oppressed in the world. I am for every kind of program that people can come up with that may help those in need. But I would suggest it isn’t programs that will make the greatest difference but people who determine to be loving, considerate and helpful to the hurting they either know or have some contact with in life. What if the one who is hurting looked like Jesus as we have seen the paintings of Jesus? How would you react to their hurts?

We will stop the oppression and show devotion to God by being those who care for those who are oppressed and hurting in our world every day. Remember James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Also, consider the golden rule that Jesus gave to do to others as we would want them to do to us. If we follow that rule for life it certainly changes us through andt through.

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TURNING THE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN

Does it seem to you that our whole world has been turned upside down in the last few months? Nothing seems to be as it was just six months ago. The Covid-19 virus started the shift that led to everything being different. Go back in your mind six months and try to imagine someone telling you that in three months the world would change entirely. People would be wearing masks everywhere they went. You would be keeping social distances from others. Obviously they would have to explain what social distancing was since none of us had ever heard of it before these last few months. The economy would be turned upside down and thousands of people would lose their jobs and tons of businesses would close to never reopen. Be honest with me. Wouldn’t you have thought the person telling you such was some kind of nut? I find it interesting that none of the TV preachers who claim the gift of prophesy were prophesying anything like what has happened until it was already well under way. Then they came up with proclamations about how it fulfilled some obscure prophesy that 99 times out of 98 were referring to something entirely different when written.

But now we have had an additional flip of the world, at least in the United States. When four policemen in Minneapolis arrested a man on a minor offense that led to them executing him because he didn’t respond as they wanted him to it tipped the scales on a pot already at the boiling point. The fact the policemen that held his knee on the man’s neck that cut off his ability to breath and resulted in his death was a white man and the man murdered was black has led to protest and rioting in cities all over the country. I suspect the frustration of the pandemic added to the anger, frustration and the mindset, of “I’ve had all I can stand and something has to change now.” It is certainly difficult for one who is not black to grasp the degree of anger felt by those who are black. But if you have ever felt you were put down, had doors closed in your face and mistreated by people all around you just because of where you grew up or because of some family heritage you have, then you at least have a clue of what is involved. I just finished reading the book “Slavery’s long Shadow” that was recommended to me by a good friend and it certainly offers a world of insight into the whole thing. What is heart breaking to me is that far too often our Christian heritage has tried to justify the horrendous treatment of those who are black and even tried to justify slavery. When I read the quotes of preachers who tried to justify holding a whole race of people down and claiming they are inferior in some way I understand why so many are angry and much of the anger is pointed toward churches. I suspect the anger they feel toward churches is very similar to the anger the Lord feels toward those churches and preacher who tried to excuse ungodly actions and justify segregation.

When Paul and Silas were on the second missionary journey they were arrested and accused of turning the world upside down. But in their case, turning it upside down was really turning the world right side up. The world had gone in a totally wrong direction worshiping Caesar as a god and calling him their savior and lord. When God sent his one and only Son into the world to bring salvation to all who would come to him, he was largely rejected even by the religious teachers who had been foretelling the coming of the Messiah into the world. He didn’t fit the mold they had in mind for the Savior. He didn’t come as a military leader to go out with a white horse and sword to destroy the enemy. He came as one who was gentle and lowly of heart to provide rest to the souls of people. He reached out to the lowly, the suffering, the mistreated and the rejected of society. When a rejected leper came to him saying, “Lord if you are willing you can make me well.” Jesus response was to reach out and touch him that the world saw as untouchable and to say, “I am willing. Be cleansed.” The man was healed instantly. He healed the gentile woman’s little daughter, and a man named legion. His view was toward all people everywhere, not just those who looked like him. He loved the women and children just as he did the men.

Jesus looked at the religious leaders that the Jews thought had all the answers and called them a bunch of hypocrites who bound heavy burdens on others but did nothing to help them carry the load. The most shocking thing that Jesus did, was to submit to the ruling authorities and allow them to beat him and then nail him to a cross to die as though he were a criminal, thus paying the price for our sins so that we can be redeemed, forgiven and reconciled to God.

I passionately want to turn the world upside down again, but not by rioting, burning down buildings or destroying the property of those who had nothing to do with the crime against anyone. I want to turn it upside down so that we recognize that what really matters in life is love, compassion and grace from God and toward others. I want to turn it so that we can see that a person’s value isn’t based on their color, race or what they do for a living or how much money they have. They are valuable because they are made in the image and likeness of God. He loved everyone. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get the world right side up and have people to see things from a right point of view? Life would change.

The reality is, I can only change one person and that is me. I can change my heart and attitude and be the person God calls me to be. I can teach and love and share in the world in hope that others change. But I can only offer an example and the teaching. It is up to each person to determine how they will live in the world. What should lead us all to give it serious thought is the reality that a judgment day is coming in which God will bring all our works into judgment and our eternal destiny depends of that judgment.

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TWO ARE BETTER THAN ONE

The Book of Ecclesiastes is a very unusual book. It both has some of the most inspiring and encouraging statements found anywhere and some of the most discouraging statements that leave one wondering how this book got into the Bible. It is the story of a man’s search for meaning and purpose in life and how he went through all kinds of stress and heartache in his search. Our hearts are lifted when we read statements life this one from chapter three, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from the beginning to end.” In chapter four he discussed the frustration of being alone. “There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. For whom am I toiling,’he asked, and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’ This too is meaningless – a miserable business! Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Recently, a good friend of mine went to a local business to get some help at his house. When he arrived he didn’t see anyone and started down a flight of stairs to look for someone. Suddenly, a huge dog came rushing out from the bottom of the stairs, growling and looking like it was about to attack. My friend began to back up when the dog lunged up the stairs at him to attack him. He ran trying to get to his truck to get away from the dog, but either tripped or the dog got his foot and he fell on the pavement. He tried covering his neck and head expecting the dog to attack at any moment. A man drove up about that time and just stayed in his car, looking at him laying on the pavement. The dog didn’t attack anymore so my friend begin trying to get up but he had injured his knees and had knocked his shoulder out of joint. He struggled to get to his feet with the man in his car looking on but doing nothing to help. He finally got up and got to his truck and drove himself to the hospital. He had his shoulder put back into place and has suffered tons of pain from the whole incident. But, I’ve thought many times since, what a difference it would have made if he hadn’t been alone. Someone with him could have helped perhaps to protect him from the dog or to help him up from the fall. A friend could have driven him to the hospital and gotten people there to help quickly. Truly, two are better than one.

Think of God looking at Adam in the Garden of Eden. It was the absolutely beautiful home for Adam. He had everything a person could have wanted. But it wasn’t good for him to be alone. He needed a helper suitable for him, so God took a rib from his side from which he made the woman and brought her to him. Adam’s response was to be thrilled to have this one to be by his side. He said, “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. She will be called woman and for this reason will a man leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two will become one flesh.”

Think of Jesus sending out the apostles on the limited commission and then a little later sending out 72 disciples to go to different villages telling them about the coming kingdom. Notice the Lord sent them out two by two, not with anyone by themselves. Later when the Holy Spirit sent out Barnabas and Saul to go on the first missionary journey. God didn’t send Saul or Paul out by himself. Even when the partnership with Barnabas broke down he immediately chose Silas to go with him. We need someone to be with us and help us in our efforts in life.

I think of how easy it is to get discouraged and feel abandoned in our lives. In such times of discouragement, when we feel totally alone in the world, it is so easy to get down on life and become vulnerable to all kinds of temptations that the devil throws our way. Friends, family, and brothers and sisters in Christ are all vitally important as we face life’s challenges. In times like this when we are dealing a pandemic and feel boxed in, we all need that friend who is checking on us and whom we know cares about us. In such times it is worth a million dollars to think of those who are alone and facing life’s challenges alone and to reach out to them with love and encouragement. You may save their life and possibly their souls in the process. It is amazing that in reaching out to encourage another person in their struggles, we are built up ourselves. Let’s make sure no one we know is left alone with no one to show their care.

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ARE YOU FOR REAL

Do you ever wonder if you can trust anything you hear on the news or on any social media? It seems that every day there is some revealing of some news item that lets you see that everything you were told over a lengthy period of time was all made up and there were people manipulating the message all the time. We all seem to get phone calls and email appeals all along from groups of people raising money for some cause or some group that you would want to help. But over and over again, I’ve learned that some group that I sent money too turned out to be a fraud. It’s gotten to the point that anyone who calls asking for money, I question whether or not it is for real. My leaning is now toward not helping anyone that I don’t know in a personal way and can be somewhat certain that what is being claimed is for real.

Surely the amount of pretense has increased as time has gone by. I don’t question that there have always been deceivers and tricksters who took advantage of the naivety of others for their own profit. After all Jacob was a deceiver. He fooled his dad into giving him the blessing that his dad planned to give to his brother. It makes me wonder what it takes to unmask the deceiver and demonstrate what is for real.

There is a story in Acts 8 that I think illustrates some things about this whole point. Philip who had been one of the first deacons in the church in Jerusalem had gone down to Samaria to preach Christ to them after persecution arose in Jerusalem. He preached to the people about Jesus and the kingdom he established. When they heard him and saw the signs that he did they paid close attention and many believed and were baptized into Christ. “For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city. But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great.’ And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed” (Acts 8:9-13).

Simon was a deceiver. But, when he was confronted with the real thing in Philip and heard about the real power of God demonstrated through Jesus, he saw the difference himself and willingly turned from his life of deception to the Lord. He became one of Jesus disciples. But it’s difficult to change everything about us even when we see Jesus and turn to him, from our old way of life. When the word reached Jerusalem that the gospel had been powerfully accepted among the Samaritans, they sent Peter and John to visit them and to give them miraculous powers from the Lord. They were laying their hands on people and giving them miraculous abilities and “Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles hands.” His old ways came back to him. He offered Peter and John money to give him the power to lay his hands on people to give them such powers as well. Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity. And Simon answered. Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”

It took meeting someone who was the real thing for Simon to see himself correctly. He recognized Philip and his message as very different from what he had said and done and wanted the real thing in his life. But even after turning his life around and through faith committing his life to Christ he stumbled when he saw the power of God given through the Holy Spirit being given to others. He wasn’t just asking Peter and John for the power to do the miraculous himself but for the power God had given them to lay their hands on others and give them the Spirit as well. Old ways come back to inflict their wounds on us over and over again. Simon needed to repent and pray to God to be forgiven of his wrong heart and wrong actions. Thank God we serve loving and grace filled God who is ready and willing to forgive even when we mess up again and again.

Let’s face it we can get so deep into tricking others that we fool ourselves in the process. Even so, God offers us a way back to him if we face our sins and turn from them. Let’s strive to be the ones who are for real so that the tricksters may see the real thing and change even if it takes several times for the change to last.

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THAT’S NOT WHAT I MEANT

Communication can be frustrating. it doesn’t matter whether it is in personal conversation, face to face or if it’s by phone, email, twitter or a letter written to a person or group. Things can always go wrong and you end up giving a message that wasn’t what you meant at all. I doubt there has ever been a parent that didn’t have their children answer them when they had gotten into some kind of trouble, “But you said” and then quote some statement you had made, but totally out of it’s context and used in an entirely different way than what you intended.

In some ways it is encouraging to me to read Scriptures like I Corinthians 5:9-13 where Paul shouts back to the Corinthian church that they have totally missed what he was trying to get across to them. He obviously had written to them an earlier letter that we don’t have in which he had told them not to associate with sexually immoral people. But they had taken it in their application into areas he never had in mind at all. Look at the verses themselves for a moment: “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Perge the evil person from among you.”

The church in Corinth had a man in it that was obviously a leader in some way. The man was living an extremely immoral life by having sex with his mother-in-law. Instead of being ashamed of it or hiding it he was flaunting it and the church’s reaction was to be proud. They evidently thought their tolerance was a good thing and demonstrated how grace ruled in everything. Paul commanded them to withdraw all fellowship from this man, realizing that his influence would spread through the church. He needed to be delivered to Satan so he would learn not to live such a life. Paul had already written to them once about the whole thing. But they had taken what he said in a totally different way that what he had intended. They took his challenge not to associate or fellowship as brothers and sisters in Christ with one living an immoral or ungodly life, to refer to their associations in the world. They applied it to people on the outside of the church when Paul’s whole point had been about those on the inside.

If they had or even if we apply this teaching to those who are in the church the result is purity in the church. it shouts the message to the person living an ungodly life that being a Christian demands a different way of life from us. It sends the message through the whole body that being a follower of Christ means we live pure, holy and godly lives and don’t get involved in immoral, idolatrous, worldly living. Notice, even in the church, this point is about those who when the realize their sin or when their sin is pointed out to them, refuse to repent and turn from their evil lives to be a devoted person for the Lord. Many times we fail in our life for the Lord because of weakness or because we are overtaken in a fault. But when we come to ourselves on such occasions or when someone tells us our wrong, we are ready to repent and live the right kind of life. But if one refuses to turn from evil, even when it is evident, they should face the discipline of the body to remove them as one removes a disease from the body or takes away a limb that is poisoning the whole body.

But, what happens if we take this whole point of not associating with the immoral and ungodly and apply it to the world as a whole rather than to the church? Paul said, the first thing is that we separate from the whole world. We would have to leave this world to totally escape such ways of life. Secondly, if we treat those in the world with such removal of association the result is we have no influence on the world and even those who would be open to the gospel of Christ are never reached because we have isolated ourselves from the very people God wants us to influence. Our light is to shine in the dark world not just in the community of believers. Paul made the major point that our place as Christians is to judge those inside the church to help each other live the life God calls us to live. God judges those who are outside and I need to leave that in his hands rather than trying to set ourselves up to take his place. Too often we find ourselves in the church trying to force the outside world to live by God’s standards when we aren’t applying those standards very well inside the body.

Our greatest desire for the world should be to influence them and teach them about Jesus so that they might turn from their sin to the Lord and be true to him in every part of life.

Picture this point in this way. Imagine a parent that has no control over their own children. Their children are running wild and they aren’t paying any attention to them to correct them or train them in the right way. At the same time they are telling the other parents how they should be bringing up their children. They write about and talk about the best way to bring up a child in the way they should go, while paying no attention to their own children. Such inconsistency tends to make everyone around angry and to think what hypocrites these parents are. We wish they would open their eyes and see what everyone around them sees. That is the same concept Paul is making here.

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IS THAT YOU MOM

With Mother’s Day peeking around the corner it is natural to begin thinking about our mom’s and the mother of our children. If you are as old as I am you also focus on your children as mothers and even on your grandchildren and the wives of grandsons as mothers. The truth is, I’m surrounded by godly women who are great moms and have given their all to bring up their children for God. My mom died when I was in my mid-thirties so it has been a long time since I have heard her voice or seen her face, but that doesn’t lessen the admiration I have for her and the love she brought into the lives of our family. I am the youngest of eight children so she had lots of practice before I came along. But she had plenty of love to go around to the whole group, even as it kept growing with grandchildren all over the place. I’ve often thought about why our mother’s tend to stand out in our hearts so much. I think about Jesus, dying on the cross, obviously in a world of agony, yet he sees his mother at the foot of the cross, still standing by him, still looking on with love even when there is nothing she can do but be there. Jesus on the cross took care of the future for his mother. He gave his disciple, John, with whom he had a special relationship, the charge of taking care of his mother. Even though Jesus had several brothers and sisters, Mary his mother went to live with John for the remainder of her life on this earth.

What makes the blessing of being a mother, such a powerful place of influence in the lives of children, not just in their childhood but for the remainder of their lives? It always breaks my heart to hear a person talk about a mother that was not a good or godly person but one who abused and misused them as their children as long as they had the opportunity. What is so amazing to me is that many of the women whom I’ve known who came out of such horrible conditions have become outstanding mother’s themselves and are determined to give their own children a different pattern to follow. There aren’t any perfect mothers. Eve was tremendously blessed as the first woman and first mother, but she certainly wasn’t perfect. Mary, the mother of Jesus was a tremendous lady and godly mother, but not a perfect one. Even though she was outstanding there was a time when, during his ministry she, along with his brothers became convinced that Jesus was out of his mind and came to try to rescue him and take him home. But what makes mothers so special in our hearts?

Certainly, it has something to do with the reality that they go through a ton of agony just getting us into the world. Carrying a baby in the womb for nine months isn’t easy and the labor and delivery carry with them lots of pain and concern. But mother’s endure it and seem to not focus so much on it since most of them will gladly have another child afterward and maybe several of them. A bond developed with our mom in the womb. The reality of eating at her breast and being held by her as a baby develops the bond even more. Mothers, holding a baby, singing to them and loving them give a beautiful picture of love that God planned to be in our lives for all to see. But we are seldom able to remember those days in our life, so what is it that makes mothers so special in our hearts?

Mother’s are often the ones who spend lots of time with us, listening to us, reading to us and helping us learn our first important things in life. Dad’s more often are interested in the action things like helping us learn to walk and later to ride a bike or some other action that has some danger to it. But one of my earliest memories is walking along a path with mother holding my hand as a little child. That sense of comfort and acceptance we feel then tends to stay in our hearts for years to come. Mothers tend to be the ones we come home to tell how things went at school and perhaps how we got into trouble over something. She is usually the first one to hear that there is someone in school that is special to you. We remember that they listened, and didn’t make fun of us, like brother’s and sisters sometimes did, even when we opened our hearts. But as life moves on and we are adults, with children and grandchildren of our own, what is there about our mothers that make them so special in our hearts?

I suspect it may be that no matter what happened in our life in growing up and as adults our mom was still there to listen, to encourage and to let you know they believed in you even in those times when you had trouble believing in yourself. I think of all the times I made choices in my life that made no sense to my mother, but I never remember her being upset or challenging those decisions. She looked for a positive in it all and kept right on showing her love. There was never a doubt that her total devotion was to God and being the person God called her to be.

I wish it were possible to tell my mother and her hear me today, how much I love and appreciate the grace and joy she brought into my life and the lives of my brothers and sister and dad. If your mother is still alive, don’t miss the chance to tell her how much you appreciate her. But don’t miss the chance to tell your wife and daughters and granddaughters how much you appreciate them for how they are great moms to their children. HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TO ALL MOMS.

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