If you are looking for my blog titled, The Contemplative Catholic Convert, you are at the right spot.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

An Agape Kind of Love, part two of two

Part one of this essay asked what love for God and love for others looks like. To answer that question, we looked at the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, and the “Love Chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13. (You can find part one at this link).
So, how will people know you and I are disciples of Jesus Christ?
For the sake of time we cannot now look at every point Paul makes in this 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, but we can glean enough insight into God’s expectations of us as we look at only a couple of Paul’s points.

For example, the apostle tells us in chapter 13, ‘Love is not jealous.’ Yet in chapter three he criticizes them: “For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (verse 3)

Is there jealousy and strife among the Christians in your sphere? You can answer that question better than I can. What is the solution to those sinful attitudes? The Holy Spirit guides us to that answer, for example, in Paul’s letter to the Christians at Philippi: Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2)
You might memorize this short text. Its principle can flesh out every day in dozens of ways – whether in the dining room, or in conversations with one another, or simply permitting jealous thoughts to take root in our hearts. But our true relationship with Christ is most likely noticeable in how we treat others here at Ashwood – perhaps especially how we treat Christians of other denominational labels.
I heard something very disturbing recently from a woman who lives in another 55+ community. At that facility the Christians of one denomination don’t much bother with Christians of different denominations because their theologies do not line up word for word and line for line.
The godly 93-year-old woman who told me this story was part of my Bible study for three years at the other place where I also lead a Bible study. One of the residents at that new place even had the chutzpah to tell her she is not going to heaven because of the church she attends.
I’m not talking here about false religions and non-Christian faiths. If you have listened to my Bible studies or sermons for more than two weeks you know that I know Jesus is very clear when He said no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). That means unless a person follows the Jesus of the Bible, he or she will not go to heaven after death.
But what I am talking about here are Christ-centered groups such as Presbyterian and Catholic and Methodist and Episcopalian and Pentecostal and so on – churches (unless the particular local church has fallen into apostasy) churches which have historically taught and believed in the deity of Jesus, His virgin birth, His substitutionary self-sacrifice for our sins, His resurrection, and soon coming again.

People who believe in Jesus and obey Him to the best of their abilities, and who confess their sins as often as necessary – whatever their label, the Bible is clear as spring water – that person is going to heaven after death. But to believe someone is going to hell simply because they do not dot their Is and cross their Ts the same way you do it is nothing less than ungodly divisiveness.

And that was another problem Paul addressed to the Christians at Corinth when he said: ‘Love does not brag and is not arrogant.’ We find earlier in the letter Paul had to rebuke them for their internal divisions as they boasted: “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.”  Paul then asked, Has Christ been divided?” (1:12-13)

Listen!  Satan knows Jesus said a house divided against itself cannot stand. That is precisely why he has used multiple strategies to divide and conquer, not just churches, but homes and nations.
I heard the other day there are some 80 million evangelical Christians in this nation. 80 million out of a population of something like 330 million. That’s roughly 25%.  One quarter of the US population!  Think how different things would be in this country if that monolithic group of 80 million united around Biblical values instead of engaging in the near constant attacking of their Christian brothers and sisters who belong to different Christian churches.
We would like to see revival in America, wouldn’t we?  Well, the devil does not want that to happen. And THAT is why Satan divides us in America and yes, even churches across this country. 
Paul writes further, “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness.’ It does not, shall we say, turn a blind eye to open sin, as they in Corinth had done with the man who was committing incest with his stepmother.
Everyone knew about it. And it seemed no one cared about it. Perhaps they had fallen for the devil’s deception of ‘Live and let live,’ and ‘Who am I to judge?” 
Have you heard that in your own circles? Most of you have, especially when it has to do with sexuality – whether homosexuality or heterosexual sins such as fornication and adultery. How many churches ignore or even make excuses for those in the pews – and even in church leadership – who live in direct disobedience to the clear word of God and the historic teaching of the church?
Listen, it is NOT agape love to turn a blind eye or – worse – an approving eye on those who, if they persist in their sin, will not inherit the kingdom of God. It is not love, it is cowardice and it’s destructive of the very one we say we care for.
How does that affect us here at Ashwood? Probably not for most of us. But many of us will have conversations with others who have gotten caught up in the godless and unbiblical philosophies of the culture and we should not be surprised that we will be asked our opinions – because people know you are a Christian and want to know your views.  I urge you to not dance around the questions. You know what God’s word says. If they ask the question, tell them the truth.
People may not like your answers, but God Himself will like your truthfulness, and ultimately it is to Him alone that we must answer.
How then are we to live? God help us to re-double our efforts with 2020 vision of the value of salvation and the value of agape love in bringing souls into the kingdom.

Life is but a vapor. We all know that. In the blink of an eye people will be saying the eulogy over us as we lie in some coffin at the front of some church. And only what is done for Christ will last into eternity.

The night is far spent, the day is close at hand. Let us then walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, who has not only called us to be His hands extended, but who has suffered and died for us.

We each want to hear the Lord Jesus say to us when we open our eyes in His presence, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”

God help us to learn to love with a 1 Corinthians kind of love.  Amen.

An Agape Kind of Love, Part One of Two

This is part one of a message I delivered to those at a 55+ community where I minister each week. You can find part two at this link)

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”  (Luke 10:25ff)

Let’s stop here a moment. It’s important that we recognize the religious lawyer KNEW the Scriptures. That was not his problem. LIVING them was his problem.  And so the story continues:

But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  To which, the Lord answered with the well-known story of the Good Samaritan:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest [a category of religious leaders] was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite [another category of religious leaders] also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan [considered unredeemable sinners by Jews], who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’

Then the Lord asked the lawyer: Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”  (Luke 10:25-37)

The Lord Jesus said His disciples would be known by their love for one another. This story of the Good Samaritan, which begins with the lawyers initial question about inheriting eternal life, the story helps answer the question of not only who is my neighbor, but also what love for God and love for others LOOKS like.

It is that question of inheriting eternal life, and of love for God and others, which the Holy Spirit addresses repeatedly throughout Scripture. We focus today only on this parable as it dovetails with the 13th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Christians at Corinth – often called the Love Chapter of the New Testament.

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. 
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. 
The Greek language has three different words for ‘love.’ The first, eros, from which we get the word ‘erotic,’ is a self-pleasing love. That word, by the way, does not appear in the New Testament. Another Greek word for love is the word philia. That word describes an affection, or a camaraderie and closeness people feel in friendships. Philia describes a two-way relationship, of which David and Jonathan are good examples. You’ll find their story in 1 Samuel 18.

The last of the three Greek words used for love is agape (ah-gah-pay). This love seeks the highest good for another, regardless of the personal consequences or sacrifices. Jesus talks about this kind of love in John 15:13 when He says: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Agape love is more a decision than a feeling. It’s more a commitment than a relationship. It is love without condition -- like the love of a parent for a child.

John 3:16, of course, illustrates the ultimate expression of God's agape love – love for a humanity shaking its collective fist in His face: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Romans 5:8 also comes to mind: “God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

The Holy Spirit is not impressed by our religious activities or our spiritual gifts. That’s why He guided St. Paul to write: "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned [as a martyr], but do not have love, it profits me nothing."

Without agape love, the most enthusiastic religious activities and the most ostentatious spiritual gifts are like the irritating gonging of a bell or a cacophonous clanging of a cymbal.

No wonder the Lord Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) Agape love for one another. A self-sacrificing love. A ‘willing-to-lay-down-my-life-for-you’ kind of love.

How do others know I am a disciple of Jesus? How do they know YOU are a disciple?

Let’s look at that in part two of this message.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Abortion, Northern Ireland, and America

https://decisionmagazine.com/abortion-same-sex-marriage-decriminalized-northern-ireland/ I knew Northern Ireland passed an abortion law this past October which makes the country one of the most dangerous places in Europe for a baby inside the womb. What I did NOT know is that the Catholic and Protestant churches in Northern Ireland are DIRECTLY responsible for the demonic change in the nation’s abortion laws. Here is an excerpt of the report published by Billy Graham’s Decision Magazine (December 2019): “Northern Ireland’s government has been suspended for more than 2½ years due to clashes between its major Protestant and Catholic parties. In absence of a functioning government, Britain’s Parliament in Westminster stepped in, introducing new legislation called the Northern Ireland Bill. Westminster gave Northern Ireland lawmakers until midnight Oct. 21 to reconvene the Assembly and elect a new speaker. Otherwise, the bill’s abortion and same-sex amendments would take effect. “Lawmakers failed to come to an agreement by the deadline, making it impossible to block the bill.” Did you catch that? The two major (allegedly) Christian groups would not put aside their differences long enough to protect the unborn! But before we start throwing rocks at Ireland – let us not overlook the terrible truth that churches across America have their own despicable divisions. Listen! NONE of our national moral evils could ever have gained an inch if Protestants and Catholics in this country would have put aside our differences long enough to protect the unborn. But now, and because of our ongoing divisions, Satan has taken his inch and stretched it into miles. What is there to do? That’s an easy question to answer. A house divided cannot stand – so Christians – by whatever label you call yourselves – put aside your differences long enough to defend the unborn. We have a chance to do that at every election – local, state, and national. We have much to learn from Northern Ireland.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

How Do They Know?

Agape (Ah-gah-pay) love is more a decision than a feeling. It’s more a commitment than a relationship. It is love without condition -- like the love of a parent for a child. John 3:16, of course, illustrates the ultimate expression of God's agape love for a humanity shaking its collective fist in His face: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Romans 5:8 also comes to mind: “God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The Holy Spirit is not impressed by our religious activities or our spiritual gifts. That’s why He guided St. Paul to write: "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned [as a martyr], but do not have love, it profits me nothing." Without agape love, the most enthusiastic religious activities and the most ostentatious spiritual gifts are like the irritating gonging of a bell or a cacophonous clanging of a cymbal. No wonder the Lord Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) Agape love for one another. A self-sacrificing love. A ‘lay-down-my-life-for-you’ kind of love. How to others know I am a disciple of Jesus? How do they know you are a disciple?

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Only Bridge

For decades I’d seen in evangelistic tracts and literature the drawn image of a cross spanning a chasm of flames. The flames represent hell. Heaven is on the other side of the chasm. There is only one way to get from this side to the other. Those who walk the way of the cross are safe from eternal destruction.

Only recently did I learn the image of the bridge dates to the 1300s when St. Catherine of Sienna first put forward the idea of the Cross as a Bridge across a powerfully flowing river, which represents sin and hell. 

Rather than think evangelicals borrowed that imagery from the Catholic saint, I believe what happened is the Holy Spirit used and uses the same imagery to everyone and anyone whose heart is restless for Truth and eternal life. 

Yes, and even now, Jesus, as a Bridge over trouble waters, Jesus is softly and tenderly calling, “Oh sinner, come home.” 

If you’ve never come as an adult, I hope you will come. And if you have come in the past, but need to do so again – please won't you do so, again? 

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Dirty Pennies. Spotless Crowns

I’m not sure why I bothered to pick up the penny from the dirt along the curb. I don’t usually waste energy troubling myself for pennies. Perhaps I stopped because I needed to catch my breath. Heat shimmered off the asphalt in the mid-day sun and my sweat-soaked T-shirt clung like a second skin. Only 20 minutes into my daily jogging routine and I felt like falling onto the nearest shaded lawn.

Perhaps I stopped because I can’t escape half-buried memories of my mother’s lessons about money. She taught me the value of pennies years ago. Dad left us when I was five, and Mom, my sister and I skirted the edge of poverty for years afterward. I still remember her searching through drawers and pockets for so much as a few cents. Pennies were as valuable to us in those days as ten-dollar bills – and more readily available.

Whatever the reason, I held the coin until I returned home and tossed it onto the table by the front door. By the time I’d pulled off my running shoes, it had slipped from my mind. I couldn’t have known God was about to use that near-valueless coin to teach me a lesson in spiritual investments.

That evening I opened the Scriptures and turned to the place I’d left off the day before. My eyes skimmed the familiar verses of 1 Corinthians 5 and moved across the page to chapter 6. Then verse 9:

“Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

Talk about dirty pennies. Some of the men and women living in Corinth were rolling around in the dung-heap of life. It would be easy to conclude no one – especially God – would waste the energy to pick them out of the muck.

That would be a wrong conclusion. The next verse continues, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

God is in the business of transforming dirty coins into spotless crowns, and history overflows with examples. Saul is one. The first century religious zealot burned with murderous rage against Christians. He hated their worship, loathed their gatherings and despised their Messiah. He dragged followers of Christ from their homes and tossed them into dungeons. When a mob gathered to murder Christ’s disciples, Saul stood by and watched with approval.

Then Saul – better known as Paul – met Christ, and the persecutor became the apostle. The man who tried to destroy the Christian faith now proclaimed it as mankind’s only hope for peace, forgiveness and eternal life. Nearly one half of the New Testament came from his pen. Millions of men and women have experienced life-transformation because of his letters of challenge, comfort, warning and exhortation.

Francesco Bernadone is another example. The son of a wealthy businessman, Francesco enjoyed a rich and easy childhood. But wealth and ease ate like a cancer at his moral foundation and he whirled through a dizzying lifestyle of wild parties and women.

Then God picked the dirty penny from life’s garbage heap, and Francesco Bernadone – better known as Francis of Assisi – devoted himself to the poor, ministering to them in Christ’s name.

John Newton is yet another example. An 18th century slave-trader, Newton packed human cargo into the bowels of his ship bound for the Americas. Many of the slaves, half-starved and surrounded by human waste and disease, died enroute. Newton, however, considered the loss merely an unfortunate business expense.

Then Christ grabbed hold of him. Shortly thereafter, Newton resigned his ship and devoted himself to serve the One he’d so long rejected. Christians around the world – many of whom are descendants of Newton’s slaves – still sing hymns the former slave-trader wrote to honor Christ. You might recognize the words to one of those hymns:

“Amazing grace/how sweet the sound/that saved a wretch like me/I once was lost, but now am found/was blind, but now I see.”

Dr. Bernard Nathanson is our final illustration of God’s mercy. Perhaps the most infamous champion of abortion during the 1960's and early 1970's, Nathanson co-founded the National Abortion Rights Action League in 1968 and performed or supervised more than 60,000 abortions. Nearly single-handedly, he helped shape the political and social landscape that made the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision possible.

But even he was not so deeply mired in sin’s quagmire that God did not reach into Nathanson’s gutter and pick him up. Through the prayers and ministry of Christians, Nathanson repented of his sins, received complete forgiveness and became a child of God. Though he could never undo the horror he helped create, he worked tirelessly until the day of his death in 2011 to protect the unborn from the fate he brought to others.

Who can ever understand the richness of God’s unfailing and unconditional love? Like the Prodigal’s Father in Luke 15, God scans the horizon and looks for those lost in life’s decay. No sparrow is so fallen, no coin so lost, no sheep so wayward that the heavenly Father won’t bend down, pick them up and carry them in his hand. Murderers, drunkards, adulterers, blasphemers . . . . the Church is full of the evidence of changed lives. 

But that should surprise no one. Where else but in God’s hands can dirty pennies become spotless crowns?

Friday, January 10, 2020

Is Mary the Mother of God?

I posted this a year ago. I fear there remains today a lot of shallow theology: -------- In a conversation I had with an online acquaintance about theologians, I wrote the following response. I share it again with my online communities because it remains distressing to me that such a prominent theologian would be so shallow in his understanding of theology: As I was preparing for a Bible study during the 2018 Advent season, I reviewed the Ryrie Study Bible of the New American Standard Bible. Charles Ryrie, Th.D., Ph.D., wrote this footnote at Luke 1:43: "The phrase 'Mother of God' is nowhere in Scripture." My mouth dropped open. OF COURSE that phrase is not in the Bible. But neither is the word 'Trinity' in the Bible. And neither did the Holy Spirit place anywhere in the Bible what the Table of Contents should be of what we call the 'canon' of Scripture.
I would expect such a disingenuous and specious argument from a lay person, but certainly not from such a well-respected theologian. SURELY he knows of the dialogue that went on up to and culminating with the Third Ecumenical Council in 431 at Ephesus. Just like the earlier Ecumenical Councils at Nicea and later at Constantinople which affirmed the deity of Jesus, the third council also reiterated the deity of Jesus. AND since Mary was His mother, the council concluded that Mary was the mother of the Second Person of the Trinity. In other words: Mary was the Mother of God. Why is that so difficult to grasp? Is it because Catholics believe it and so, therefore by default it cannot be true?  Is THAT a reason to reject a clear and unequivocal doctrinal truth? Sheeesh! No wonder there is such theological ignorance out here when respected and well-lettered theologians are unwilling to teach as simple a truth as that! While I was studying for my theological degree at the Assemblies of God seminary, one of my professors said something every Christian -- including Th.Ds and Ph.Ds -- would do well if they practiced it: "Truth, if it is truth, does not need to be held in a tightly clenched fist. If it is truth, it can be held in an open palm for all the world to see and to examine."

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

What Will You Do in 2020?

It took years before I felt comfortable wearing reading glasses. In my younger days – my 40s and 50s I call my younger days – I usually carried them in my shirt pocket and pulled them out only when absolutely necessary. 

That's where they were, in my shirt pocket, while Nancy and I enjoyed our meal at a local Italian restaurant many years ago. It wasn't until my eyes started to burn from the eyestrain that I finally pulled them from my pocket. 

And then – for the first time that evening – I saw them: Water droplets on my iced tea glass. Spots of tomato sauce beneath my plate. Creases in the tablecloth. 

How did I sit at the table for nearly an hour and not notice them? Stains and wrinkles which had blurred into nondescript shapes and patterns suddenly danced and shouted for attention. For a few moments I played with my glasses, shifting them on my nose, marveling at how different things look when you can really see. 

So, what is my real point? How many spots and wrinkles within the fabric of our lives blur into unrecognizable shapes and patterns because we neglect to wear our spiritual glasses? When our Bibles lie closed on the bookshelf and we view our world – AND our lifestyle – through the filters of friends and news broadcasts, sitcoms and movies, is it any wonder that the crisp lines of God's "Thou Shalt Not" blurs into "Why Not"? 

Which brings us to our text for today in 1 Corinthians at chapter ten and verse one: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. 

Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were . . . Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.  Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction . . ..  
Read verse 11 again: Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
The Lord Jesus is coming for a people without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:27; 2 Peter 3:14), and He warned those who claim to have sight – but in reality are blind – to receive from Him salve to anoint their eyes that they may clearly see (Rev 3: 17, 18). 
Listen!  When it comes to questions of morality, of righteousness, of justice, of sin and eternal judgement, the Bible alone is our eye salve. And if there ever was a time you and I need to see ourselves and our culture with clear vision, it is now. If there ever was a time to acquire Holy Spirit anointed eye salve, it is now. If there ever was a time to continually open His word and seek a 2020 vision of His truth, and turn from the culture’s, it is now. 
In early January I read a report about the new Anglican Archbishop of York regarding contemporary views of same-sex relationships.  The Bible, he said, must yield to the cultural beliefs of society on matters of sexual behavior.* 
In another corner of the church, the United Methodist church is planning to split into two major factions: the one teaching the Biblical mandates regarding sexuality, the other allowing homosexual relationships – even in their leadership.**
And if you have been following some of the things Pope Francis has said and done in the last few years – most recently to say true Christians do not proselytize others to the Christian faith,*** then you will know the days are growing darker.
As I said, if there ever was a time to acquire spiritual eye salve, it is now.
Please, listen. God demands holiness and obedience from His children. Nothing less. Our text in 1 Corinthians illustrates that Israel, as a nation, ate from the same spiritual food, drank from the same spiritual drink. Sounds like Holy Communion, doesn’t it? But their religious activity didn’t CHANGE them. That’s why many fell into idolatry and sexual immorality. 
Fourteen hundred years later, the Lord Jesus warned us with similar language.  “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; (sounds like Holy Communion, doesn't it?) and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; Depart from Me, all you evildoers.’ (Luke 13:24-27) 
Please! This is important. God is not at all concerned about our religious activity – whether we do good works or teach or pray or even receive holy communion – He is not at all concerned for ANY of those things if our HEART is not continually – continually changing and moving toward Him. He is not impressed with our outward religiosity if we do not come to Him with a proper disposition of heart.
Here is what God says through His prophet Amos (5:21- 24): “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” 
Justice and righteousness – not the culture’s idea of them, but God’s definition of them. 
In my nearly 50 years of walking with the Lord, I am convinced there is no better way to mature in our knowledge of God and our obedience to Him than to learn of Him though His Scriptures. It is through the Scriptures AND the historic (and not current) interpretation of the Church that God actually speaks His thoughts to us.
To that end, I often encouraged people to read two chapters of the Old Testament (OT) and two of the New Testament (NT) each day. Doing so gets you through the OT once a year and the NT three times each year. But I realize that reading plan might be too ambitious for some, so I have an alternate suggestion: Set for yourself a goal for the next 12 months to read only the following FIVE books of the NT: The Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of John, the book of Romans, the book of Galatians, and the book of Colossians. 
That’s it. Only five books of the 27 books in the NT. Reading them should not be a sprint. Plan for it to take a year to read them. As you read, keep a notebook and a pen with your Bible. Take time to reflect on verses or paragraphs that arouse your interest. Listen as the Holy Spirit speaks to you. Underline the verse(s) in your Bible or make notes in the margins. AND – if a particular verse really speaks to you, take several days to commit it to memory. 
It will be a year well spent.
The choice is always before us: The small gate or the wide one, the narrow path or the broad. And unless we are fluently familiar with His Holy word, we can easily follow others toward the wrong path and the wrong door. I urge you to renew your decision to live in obedience to Jesus, learning from the Scriptures how to know Him better with each passing year.  
Two thousand years ago the apostle James wrote words that remain timeless: “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 2:14).  And after the vapor disperses, Scripture tells us, we will each stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give account of our lives – and our lifestyles (2 Corinthians 5:10).

* https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/cwn/2019/december/church-of-englands-battle-over-sexual-morality-and-the-bible-continues

** https://religionnews.com/2020/01/03/leaders-announce-plan-to-split-united-methodist-church-over-lgbtq-ordination-marriage/

*** https://www.breitbart.com/faith/2019/12/22/pope-francis-tells-christians-not-to-try-to-convert-nonbelievers/   

Monday, January 6, 2020

Is Feminism Good for the Church and Society?

My friend and fellow minister of Christ, Les Sheridan, posted this a week or so ago. I think the message is so worthy of sharing that I asked his permission to do so. It is a bit long, but because it deals with the question: "Is Feminism Good for the Church and for Society" I hope you will take the time to read it. ------ Today, thanks in large part to feminists, women are everywhere in the workplace.  They are in politics, corporations, doctors, scientist, astronauts and combat marines.  The church is another institution where women have made great strides.  Today, in the ELCA, the presiding bishop is a woman, as well as many regional bishops.  Woman pastors are more visible today than ever before.  As women entered the church and took on more leadership roles, many brought with them attitudes and creeds of feminism.  Some feminist in the church demonstrated hostility against a patriarchal system that historically relegated women as secondary citizens.  With this animus against a male dominated church, they began to change the culture and language of the church as they rose in leadership roles. Changing the culture and language of the church is called “Vertical Inclusive Language.”  It is a language that equally reflects both male and female aspects of God.  It is now an active part of several large protestant denominations.  In the Lutheran Church it is very visible.  Citing just one of many churches, a congregational newsletter was mailed to its members.  It was written by the church’s female senior pastor.  The title of the letter is “Our Mother, Who Art in Heaven.”  “Perhaps you’ve noticed the change in some of the prayer language in worship.  Some have pointed out “typos” in the liturgy where the Lord’s Prayer now says, “Our God” instead of “Our Father,” and the name ‘Father’ just kind of vanished from the Apostle’s Creed.  Did you notice?”  Elsewhere in the letter, she informs the members that they now have new hymnals that have, where possible, removed all references to masculinity and replaced it by gender neutral pronounces.  This is a trend in churches today.  The motivation behind this change is to make the church more female-friendly.  After years of being marginalized by a patriarchal system, feminists now have the clout and power to change things so that the church is more inclusive. Is the move to be more inclusive for women a good move or is it a change with unintended consequences?  Does this change in language really help women?  Some say it does more harm to women than it does good.  Once such person is Dennis Prager, a Jew who has written commentaries on the Pentateuch.  In his 560-page work on the Book of Genesis, he writes that feminization of the church is actually harmful to women. On page 10 of his commentary, he writes: 1)  The Hebrew Bible’s primary concern is a good world. 2)  A good world can be achieved only by making good people. 3) The primary perpetrators of evil (of a violent nature) are males. Prager asserts that the bible’s primary concern of a good world can be interpreted as God’s desire to have all believe and obey his commands.  If all people (primarily males) become faithful and good people, then violent crime will diminish. 
Prager continues his commentary by saying, “When males are young, they need to feel accountable to a male authority figure.  Without a father or some other male rule-giver, young men are likely to do great harm.  If there is no male authority figure to give a growing boy rules, it becomes very difficult to control his wilder impulses.”  For example, 99% of all mass school shooting were committed by males.  Almost all rapes of women are by men.  Most domestic violence is committed by men.  Most murders are committed by men.  Robberies are largely committed by men.  All wars are started by men.  Women bear the brunt of male aggression and violence.   Here is a major reason why: In 2008, then U.S. Senator Barack Obama told an audience, ‘Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools, and twenty times more likely to end up in prison.’ A few days later, a psychiatrist from Harvard Medical School confirmed Obama’s statics.  He said a male figure in the home makes a huge difference in the behavior of children, especially males.  Sadly, many families are without a father-figure in the house, especially in black families.  Don Lemon, a black anchor for CNN aired a shocking report stating that 77% of all African Americans are born out of wedlock.  That means 77% of African Americans grow up without a father to role-model behavior.  That means 77% of African Americans will not have a father figure to discipline them.  That means they will not have someone to tell them how a man is to act.  That means that they will not have someone to demonstrate how women are to be treated.  While the rate of children born out of wedlock is high for African Americans, other races are well represented with children born out of wedlock. Prager writes that when a father is absent in the home, a father can be found in one other place.  He states, “a moral authoritative Father in Heaven can serve as an effective substitute.”  His concluding sentence reads, “Any discomfort one feels with a masculine depiction of God is not comparable to the pain one will feel if boys are not civilized into good men.”  This heavenly father can only be found in one place and that is the church.  For that reason, changing the language of the church and erasing all masculine words will have the opposite effect of what feminist are seeking.  Men, especially those seeking guidance from a father figure, will be lost to the world.  Men seeking a masculine figure, but finding a feminine figure in church, will not find what they need.  God instituted paternalism for a reason.  If the church keeps its masculine identity and it saves one school child from being shot, it is worth the discomfort.  If the church keeps its identification with the Father and it prevents one wife from being beaten, it is worth the discomfort.  If the church keeps its maleness in the liturgy, and it prevents one woman from being raped, it is worth the discomfort. It is my hope and desire that the church can come together and appreciate both women and men and their gifts they have to offer, as well as the gifts of our Father in Heaven.  Women have a unique set of gifts as well as men.  The church should respect and elevate women as it has been doing for years while at the same time realize that the church needs to guide and teach fatherless men to be good followers of Christ in a manner that touches their soul.  My hope and prayer are for young boys without a father to find a loving father in church, one that teaches them how to be good citizens and followers of Christ, and one that teaches them how to respect and honor women.  My hope is that the church will teach young boys that violence is not the answer.  My hope is, as Dennis Prager wrote, that the church makes all people good so the world becomes good. Amen.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

If You Were the Only One

Perhaps you might take some time today to reflect on this truth for a few minutes: 

If you – and NO ONE else – if you were the only person on earth to need redemption, Jesus would have done everything that he did when he died for humanity. If you were the only one of 6 billion people to need redemption, He would have done it all for YOU.

He would have let them pull out His beard. Punch Him in the face. Spit at Him. Whip him at the post until strips of flesh hung from his back. Push a makeshift crown of thorns into his forehead until blood dripped into his eyes and traced along his cheeks. And finally, nail his limbs to the wood.

Ponder long those things. 

Now, how does it make you feel to know if YOU were the only person on earth to need redemption, he would have permitted it all to be done to him?

For me, ‘gratitude’ seems too insipid to even mention. Overwhelmed? I am not sure even that word works. But this, from Isaac Watts, comes close: 

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Ph.D not Needed

I posted this two years ago. The message remains true:

I stopped for a moment this morning as this text in 2 Corinthians brought me back to December 1972:
“Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant . . . .” (2 Corinthians 3: 4-6)
Less than a day after I committed myself to Jesus in December 1972, I was at work, telling everyone what I’d discovered. I told them I found eternal life and forgiveness of my sins by the death and resurrection of Jesus my Messiah.
In those first hours and days after my conversion, I knew virtually nothing about the scriptures, except for a dozen or so Old Testament prophecies that pointed me to faith in Christ.
But God – and this is a most important point – But God took what little I knew and made me ‘adequate’ – He made me ‘sufficient enough’ – to tell others what I knew.
Christian: I am confident that you know now far more than I did about God and the Scriptures than I did the day after my conversion to Christ. I do not doubt for a nanosecond every one of you reading this knows far more than I did in December 1972 about faith, hope, salvation, heaven, and hell.
And that means you do NOT need to fear being ‘inadequate’ to share with others today what you know about God. You are NOT inadequate to the task God sets before you because “our adequacy is from GOD, who MADE us adequate as servants of a new covenant.”
I urge you, ask the Holy Spirit to show you how you can work in the fields that are ready for the harvest. You do not need a Ph.D in theology to tell others what God has done for you. You do not need ordination by a church body to share with others, whether on social media or face to face, what you know about God's love and mercy through Christ.
All you and I need is a willingness for God to use what we have to offer Him, in whatever way He wants to use it. He promises to make us ‘adequate’ for that task – if only we are willing.
Oh, God! Increase our willingness!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

2020 Vision for Evangelism

My mother has inscribed on her tombstone two dates: 1927 and 2018 – the year of her birth and the year of her death.  That visual I just presented to you is important because it is very likely that some – perhaps a few of those living here in Ashwood Meadows will have the year 2020 inscribed into their tombstone. Perhaps that number will also be inscribed into the tombstone of one of your family members. 

I don’t usually start my messages on a somber note, but I will today because that somber note moves us into the theme of today’s focus. 

I titled this message: 2020 Vision – Looking at Evangelism and our text is from 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. I am quoting here from The Living Bible Translation because I like how it opens the text for me. 

“. . . . I have freely and happily become a servant of any and all so that I can win them to Christ. When I am with the Jews I [am] as [a Jew] so that they will listen to the Gospel and I can win them to Christ. When I am with Gentiles who follow Jewish customs and ceremonies I don’t argue, even though I don’t agree, because I want to help them. When with the [unbelievers] I agree with them as much as I can, except of course that I must always do what is right as a Christian. And so, by agreeing, I can win their confidence and help them too. When I am with those whose consciences bother them easily, I don’t act as though I know it all and don’t say they are foolish; the result is that they are willing to let me help them. Yes, whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him so that he will let me tell him about Christ and let Christ save him.” 

What was foremost in the apostle Paul’s heart? Clearly, it was the salvation of souls. Why?  Because through revelation of Jesus Christ, Paul was convinced in his heart of hearts that Jesus is, and forever will be, the way, the truth, and the life. Many of you recognize His words in John 14:6. To which the Lord ALSO warned, “No one comes to the Father except by Me” (John 14:6) 

Paul – the former anti-Christian terrorist – understood that eternal life is possible ONLY in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. But the Lord’s crystal-clear statement in John 14 has, throughout history, even to this present day, been so often ignored and rationalized away that you’d think Jesus never said it. 

We are 2,020 years since the birth of our Lord Jesus – whom the Father sent to earth to rescue humanity from the devastating siren-call of Satan’s lies and seductions. And for what purpose does Satan seduce and lie to unwitting and spiritually blind men and women – but to bring them into the lake of fire with him. 

His deceptions began in the Garden with our first mother. Moses tells us, Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 

Did you catch that? The devil suggested to Eve that God was lying to her. And don’t think for a moment that Satan has changed his tactics. He hasn’t’ His lies continue. For example, only a few days ago I read this report regarding a world-known religious leader. This is part of what he said: 

True disciples of Jesus do not proselytize. A Christian should never try to convince others of the truth of Christianity, but should simply give a testimony of consistency and wait for others to ask about the faith. 

“The last thing I should do” he said, “is to try to convince an unbeliever. Never,” he said.  “If someone says he is a disciple of Jesus and comes to you with proselytism, he is not a disciple of Jesus.” 

As the devil lied to our first mother and told her God could not be trusted, Satan now deceives those in the Church to believe Jesus was not being honest when He said, “No one comes to the Father except by Me.” 

But what exemplifies Church history, dating back to the apostles – what exemplifies Church history if not proselytism?  Jesus COMMANDED His disciples to evangelize, to proselytize, to urge others to convert to the only faith that can save them from an eternal lake of fire. 

"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen."  (Matthew 28:19-20) 

It is a popular lie of the devil to deny that Christianity is the only means by which humanity can receive forgiveness of sins – forgiveness which is available ONLY through the blood of Jesus. 

The Lord Jesus said again and again: “Blessed are those who hear with their ears and see with their eyes!” No wonder He warned the lukewarm church at Laodicea – and the lukewarm churches of today –many of which belong to the World Council of Churches – ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” (Revelation 3:15ff) 

This world-known religious leader is also quoted as saying, “All good people are God’s children” – which is another demonic lie. 

Jesus said to some of the religious men in His day: You are of your father the devil.(John 8:44). And the apostle John identifies the children of Satan this way: “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God . . . .” (1 John 3:10).

John further tells us in the first chapter of his gospel: “[Jesus] . . . came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:10-13) 

Listen! Not all good people are children of God. The ONLY people who have the right to be called God’s children are those adopted into His family through their faith and obedience to His Son. THAT is why Jesus Himself said, “No one comes to the Father except by Me.” 

Regardless of the obfuscations and the rationalizations of some religious teachers, all those with whom we interact each day – if they do not love the Lord Jesus, if they are not continually seeking the Lord Jesus, then they are all in grave danger of never seeing the Lord Jesus after they die. 

I’ve gotten into the routine each year of asking us how many of our number at Ashwood have died in the past year. That number is always for me a sobering number. But – and this is the point – how many of them died without loving the Lord Jesus, without even caring to know the Lord Jesus? 

Please hear me. If that is how they took their last breath, then scripture tells us they are right now as we sit here – suffering in agony. And according to the infallible and unalterable word of God, their suffering will continue forever.

Oh, Holy Spirit, give us 2020 spiritual vision that will inform our hearts and our spirits to pray for our friends and loved ones – to pray that the "God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give them a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. May we pray that the eyes of their heart may be enlightened, so that they will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward everyone who believes." (see Ephesians 1:17-19) 
God help us prove to be living testimonies to others, sharing with all who need to hear the dire message that only faith and obedience to Jesus will gain for us eternal life. God help us remember the Holy Spirit’s words to the Christians at Rome – and to the Christians everywhere, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?  How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” (Romans 10:14-15)