..."and a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the way of holiness; evil minded people shall not travel on it, but it shall be for those wayfarers who are traveling toward God. (Isaiah 35:8, adapted)



Friday, December 28, 2007

He Who Lives By The Sword Dies By It: Should A Christian Protect Himself? Part Two of "Should the Church Use Armed Guards?"

In Luke 22:35-38, we again look at this
most difficult saying of Jesus. How
shall we interpret Jesus' words to His
disciples to "buy a sword" when it
seems to be at odds with the tenor
of what Jesus preaches, (i.e. turn the
other cheek; forgive; walk the second
mile, etc)?

Matthew Henry suggests that the sword
Jesus is telling them to buy is a
spiritual sword. In one sense our
weapons must be spiritual but
was this what Jesus had in mind here?
This buying of the sword is still
linked with Jesus being numbered
with the transgressors, which is
not easily understood. So attaining
a "spiritual" sword would not be
something that was worthy of prosecution
or even visible. Is Jesus suggesting that
his disciples obtain a few swords but
not use them as form of civil disobedience
so that Jesus would be "numbered with the
transgressors"? (an "only criminals have guns"
kind of thinking) I see no sense that
Jesus intended for his
disciples to use them except as the
mildest form of deterrent. This opens
up a larger can of worms then we have
time to address today!

Jesus, however, is definitely not
suggesting using swords or arms
to carry out the mission of
preaching the gospel. The
possession of arms seems limited
to a personal sword, if anything, and not
a military uprising. (see the
American Thinker's series of articles
of pacifism & Christianity) When Peter starts
to have his interest piqued at the
idea of swords, Jesus quickly
squelches him by saying, "it is
enough"...(the two swords carried
by the group). The fact that Jesus
disciples even had two swords among
them is interesting.

I'm wondering if Jesus is acknowledging
that the world is indeed evil, and
that protecting oneself is part of
human nature. Perhaps He might be
saying that if you want to carry
a sword, do it, but don't get carried
away with it, and don't rely on it,
and ABSOLUTELY don't use it to
enforce His message. I still think
He is calling us to a higher place.

I think it is fair to say that in His
saying,"It is enough" there is a strong
message of distaste and that Jesus is
really wanting people to go to a
deep place of trusting God--again,
something that cannot be legislated
and something that He is not willing
to demand of His followers, but prays
they will come to (and will not be able
to come to without the outpouring
of the coming Holy Spirit).

So Jesus could be saying, "use a sword
as protection if you feel that you must,
but know there is a higher path."
The interesting thing is that after
the incident in the Garden of Gethsemane
with Peter and the ear, there is no
tradition I know of in the early
church of Christians using violence or
even protecting themselves. At worst
they simply flee from the threat.
Apparently they got the
message loud and clear!

Of course, later we have the
ugliness of the crusades, and violent
encounters with Muslims, another whole
sad story in itself, but that is much later and
the violent actions of the crusades cannot
be traced back the the purest teachings
of Jesus. Now I am really close to
volatile subjects, so back to "Should
a Christian defend him or herself?
And should a Christian defend someone
in his or her care, especially a child?

Obviously, the use of non-violence to
stop violence and evil is a great call.
Sometimes that can be accomplished by
using the spoken authority that God
grants us in the Name of Jesus. We
can use prayer, use love, use peace as
the weapons we fight with. Do they
produce the same results as a magnum?
No. And you need to be at peace with that.

Other times we might use physical
force that is not deadly to protect
ourselves or an innocent bystander.
Sometimes we may simply put ourselves
and our loved ones in God's hands, even
if that means losing our earthly lives.
Many of the people, however, that I spoke with
in preparing this article felt like
they would use physical force to
protect a child or someone in their
care.

Francis Schaeffer says,
“I am to love my neighbor as myself,
in the manner needed, in the midst of
the fallen world, at my particular point
in history. This is why I am not a
pacifist. Pacifism in this poor world
in which we live – this lost world –
means that we desert the people who
need our greatest help . . . I come
upon a big burly man beating a tiny
tot to death . . . I plead with him to
stop. Suppose he refuses? What does
love mean now? Love means that I stop
him in any way that I can, including
hitting him. To me, this is not only
necessary for humanitarian reasons;
it is loyalty to Christ’s commands
concerning Christian love in a fallen
world. What about the little girl?
If I desert her to the bully, I have
deserted the true meaning of Christian
love – responsibility to my neighbor."

At what point does this break
down or does it? Is this what
love really means, that I resort
to violence to stop violence?
(Of course, if someone were hurting
a child or an innocent in front of
me I would probably hit them
over the head with a baseball bat and not
think twice...but then this is why
I am prayerfully pondering this issue!)

During the Second World War, Dietrich
Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor, was
involved with the plot to kill Hitler.
If we have a chance, as a Christian,
to prevent the slaughter of hundreds
if not millions of people, should we
use that chance even if it involves
deadly force? Could you pull the trigger
on Hitler to save millions of Jews?
I'm surprised? sorry? to say that
I might say I might do that also.
I'm really not sure. God help us!

These are weighty questions. A pastor
is responsible for his congregation
before God. Perhaps it is up to each
individual pastor to pray and seek
God as to what God would have him
do. When it comes to defending myself
there seems to be less of an urgency,
for while I would not want to lose my
life or be hurt, I can know that I
am in the hands of God and perhaps
more ready to meet Him then my attacker
is.

Perhaps there are no easy answers other
than going to God and doing what He tells you!

I leave you with two powerful thoughts,
"If is is possible, as much as depends
on you, live peaceably with all men.
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves,
but rather, give place to [God's] wrath:
for it is written: Vengeance is Mine,
I will repay: says the Lord. Therefore,
if your enemy is hungry, feed him,
and if he is thirsty, give him a drink,
For in so doing you will heap coals
of fire on his head. " Do not be
overcome with evil, but overcome
evil with good. (Romans 12:18-21).


And,

"Pursue peace with all people, and
holiness, without which no one
shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14).

May your journey be free of strife
and sheltered from worldly turmoil,
but know, no matter what, that you
are safely in the hands of God.
Do not succumb to the world's ways
but follow the highest path Christ
sets before you.

Strive to walk in the highest
grace possible for you will
walk in the long line of those
of whom it is fitly said, "the
world is not worthy" (Hebrews 11:38).
The only bloodshed that should
truly be ours is the bloodshed of our
own prayerful striving against sin,
(Heb. 12:4)--even as Jesus sweat great drops
of blood as He wrestled with absolute
obedience to God. (Luke 22:44).










Violence in The Church: Should Churches Have Armed Guards? Part 1

In the wake of the recent Colorado
Springs shootings in the church,
and nearby YWAM missionary society,
I have been thinking much about how
Christians should respond to
violence both on an an individual
and a congregational level.

This is the first of two articles
on my musings.

I have talked with a wide
variety of Christians about
this issue and have received
nothing but thoughtful, prayerful
answers. The answers do not come
to the same conclusions and I
am not saying that the conclusion
that I have come to is the conclusive
one. I urge you to take this matter
to the Lord, and if you are a
pastor or Christian leader, I
ask you to take it to the Lord
on behalf of your congregation.

I am here in Colorado Springs
for the holidays. My somewhat
uneducated opinion of Colorado
is that it still retains a bit
of the wild, wild West in it.
I sense that Coloradians value
their individual and corporate
rights and that many would be
willing to fight for those
rights. In this respect Coloradians
are like most Americans.

The church that experienced
the shootings in Colorado was
Ted Haggard's church. It already
had a history of controversy and
being such a large congregation
decided that it needed
armed guards for the safety of
its members and guests. Many
other churches, no doubt,
have decided the same thing.

The question is, is this what
Christ would have us to do?
Is our duty to protect the
people who come into our churches
or to uphold the high standards
of the gospel which might ask us
to respond in a different manner?
Does resorting to violence or
even the potential of
violence violate the spirit
of what Christ calls us to?

Today, large gatherings of people are
typically protected by armed
guards. If we go into a stadium
or a music event etc., there are
armed guards who are there to
protect us. Should the church
follow suit or are we different?

When the Amish school children were
murdered a few years ago, that
community held up a high testimony
to the world in how it handled
the violence. It forgave the murderer
and reached out the family of
the person who committed the crime.

Part of the calling of the Church
is to be set apart from the world
and to show the world that Christians
live by a different standard. We
should know and testify to the fact
that we are in God's hands, no
matter what.

If we use the world's methods to
protect the church, then how are
we different from the world?
What message are we sending--
that we need to help God out
in defending people? Or, because
the world is fallen, do we need
to have "common sense" about violence?

Even implicit in that last idea
is the idea that love is not
strong enough to meet with
violence and win. I ask you,
what is "winning"? If the church
resembles the world in all its
undertaking, then how is it still
the church?

Do you want your church to resort
to armed guards to protect you?
Do you want these guards to be members
of your own church or outside
agents? How would you or they
feel if a member of your church
had to shoot someone to protect
you? Or are you content to
put yourself in God's hands no
matter where you are, church
included, and simply trust God?

In the book of Daniel, when Daniel
and his three friends are faced
with the possibility of death
they respond thus, "God is able
to deliver us from the fiery
furnace,...but if not, let it
be known that we do not serve
your gods" (Daniel 3:17, 18).
When does there come a time
when the standard we uphold
is greater than life itself?
What exactly is the standard?

Is there a point that we as
the salt of the earth lose
our savor? Does a pastor have
a moral duty to protect
people, especially children,
or is that duty, in some
cases, superseded by a
higher standard? Do I have
the right to take another's
life even if he does me or
my family or congregation
harm?

Can we, and should we, be
employing non-violent means
to counter-attack violence?
What would these means be?
What are the weapons of
our warfare? Prayer?
Love? The Name of Jesus?

A couple of the people I
discussed this with had
had their lives threatened
in very real ways (both by
knives). Both felt they
used the authority that
God has given believers
to disarm the situation
(i.e. commanding them in
Christ's name to put down
the knife). Do we walk in
the authority that God has
given us or do we resort
to worldly tactics in the
heat of battle?

There is a highly debated
passage in the gospel of
Luke (22: 35-38). When
Jesus was nearing the
end of His earthly ministry
He revamps what He tells
His disciples. He asks them
if they ever lacked anything
when He sent them out without
purse or money or swords.
They said they had not lacked.
Then he tells them that now
it is time to get a purse,
and a knapsack, and "he who
has no sword, let him sell
his garment and buy one' (vs. 36).
He also makes this rather
interesting comment:

"For I say to you that this
which is written must still be
accomplished in Me": "and He was
numbered with the transgressors"
(vs. 37). Now I am sure that
Jesus is not just saying that
so that He can manipulate
the prophecy into being fulfilled!

Is he actually telling them that
they will need a sword? And why
does it seem that He is connecting
the getting of the swords with
being numbered with the transgressors?

Jesus is, no doubt telling them
that their lives are about to get
more turbulent and the possibility
of violence administered against them
greater. Until now, Jesus' presence
protected His disciples when He was
on earth, but the Bridegroom
was leaving and the protected season
was ending. Now the disciples would
find themselves in a hostile world
and must be prepared for persecution.
But must they defend themselves with
a sword? When the disciples started
to pick up on what Jesus was saying
they produced two swords and Jesus
told them, "It is enough" (vs. 38).

Jesus never transgressed the Law.
He never sinned. Yet this twisted
world "numbered him with the sinners."
If they would do this to Jesus, then
what could the disciples expect?
And yet, Jesus way is not the way
of violence. Shortly after this,
Peter lops off the ear of the
high priest and Jesus patches it back on.

There is no evidence that the disciples
used violent force to preserve their
lives. There is no account of the
early disciples killing others to save
their own lives. Stephen is the first
martyr, and he offers no resistance.
All the other disciples, except John,
end their lives as martyrs. Either they
were lousy at swordfights or they did
not use arms to defend themselves.

So what is Jesus saying? It is not
easy to answer. It certainly does
not appear that He is advocating
violence but making us aware of
what life will be like. It is possible
that He is not legislating the higher law
of Love, but letting His followers
find it for themselves. If He had told
them, "never fight back" it might turn
into a legalistic pronouncement
rather than the radical relationship
to Himself. The coming Agency
of the Holy Spirit would soon completely
catapult their thinking and behavior
into a new realm. There is grace like
no other grace when we are faced with
our own death. To surrender to Christ,
and to choose to love at the moment of
our death, even, or especially, at the
hands of violent men, is such a high
calling that it cannot be demanded, but
must be a free offering of the heart.

No-one wants to die, but faced with
death we can become more like Christ
than at any other moments because
the stakes are so high: our life!
Jesus said, "No-one takes My life from
Me, I lay it down (John 10:18)," In one
sense we cannot make that claim, but in
another sense, no-one takes our life from
us, even if we are killed, because
we are in God's hands and we have
a larger kind of life: eternal life.

Jesus said, "He who lives by the
sword, dies by the sword" (Mat. 26:52)
as Peter tries to defend Him when
He is taken in the garden. Jesus
appeals to this line of thought:
"Don't you think I can pray to the
Father and have Him send more than
12 legions of angels to aid Me, but
then how would the scriptures be
fulfilled? (v. 53,54). Christ is
content to do the Father's will,
even if it means violence coming
against Him. He knows the violence
can only take so much from Him, only go
so far, only be so victorious, in
fact, not victorious at all.

Ultimate victory and vindication
lay in doing the will of God and
letting God take care of things.
So how much, if at all, do we
put our hands to things?

(Part Two continues this topic)
(your prayerful comments are welcome)









Monday, December 24, 2007

Never Alone at Christmas: Always God, Faithfully God, God without Fail!

It's Christmas Eve and I am way
out of town and decided to walk
down to the local church which
advertised its 5 p.m. Christmas
Eve service on the banner outside.

It didn't matter to me what kind
of service it was or what kind
of denomination. It is Christmas:
something that all Christians
share together no matter how or
when they celebrate it.

I didn't know a soul and didn't
need to. I wasn't dressed up and
didn't want to be. And so I went,
and so I sat, and so I sang, and
so I pondered as I always do.
Some things never change.

I wondered, forgive me for my
boldness, how easily Jesus
rested in the hearts of those
around me. All I know is that
a warm reception for God is
really not all that common.
Having said that I hadn't
come to judge. I just wondered
because that is how I am.

Here is the picture for you:
Ancient Christmas hymns, familiar
and nostalgic, fill the air. Candle
glow reflects on faces young
and old. The uneasy ambience
of families together: some happily,
some dutifully. A little girl
with a red plaid dress staring at
the flame of a candle her parents
hold carefully for her. Her father
holds a young baby who did not
seem to fit the same color or
genetic scheme as the rest.
An old man in a wheelchair, singing
loudly, sitting near me, smelling
strongly of urine. The pastor
seemingly torn between the
desire to unabashedly believe and
the ugly pressured burden that comes
from who knows where, to be or at
least appear, spiritually not-to-sure.


He said that this was the night
that something divinely special happened
(although he added that it might be
hard to say exactly what that was.)
Indeed. I wildly disagree. What seemed
hard to say was how many discerned Jesus in
our midst tonight. Did others see
Him holding out His Hand to them?

But isn't this what Christmas
is all about? About a Light
shining in our darkness,
about hope in our despair,
about a Remedy for our
spiritual ignorance, dullness,
and inability to see? Isn't
Christmas about Jesus coming to
the very least of us, and who of
us in not the least, the blindest,
and the most in need?

He promised to be there if
only 2 or 3 really knew their
need of Him enough to gather
in His Name. I desperately
hoped that at least one other
person felt as needy as me.
If so, Jesus would be a shoe-in, no
matter what.

I thought of my home church and what
the Christmas sermon might be like.
I thought of the robust sermon that
must be dancing like a sugarplum in
the heart of my other exiled pastor.
But here I was, thousand of miles
away from both, just me and Jesus.

Before the service a lady caught me
looking at her and came, straightway,
as the King James says, toward me.
Rarely does someone give you such
a look of recognition. Rarely does
someone remember your name on the first
go. As the service ended, people started
to gather up their things, I started
to leave my seat and heard, unexpectedly,
my name called out. I turned to find
the same lady looking intently at me.
She smiled. At that moment I knew that
God had noticed, had met with me,
alone in a strange church, in an
unfamiliar town. It was God, always
God, faithfully God, without fail,
God who had and would always meet
with me. It is hard to know what
people do with Jesus. It is sobering
to think of what Jesus will do with
us. And yet where meek souls will
receive Him still, the dear Christ
enters in. That is the message of
Christmas.

Tonight I shall sleep in peace
in the arms of My Saviour. I
trust that you will, too. If you
are alone this Christmas, you
needn't be...simply call upon
the Lord. He sees all who call
upon Him! Merry Christmas!






Awaiting Jesus at Christmas




Jesus, how we have waited for You!
This advent as we considered Your first coming,
now we long for Your second.

You who have ignited a fire on the earth
come and burst forth in our midst!

We have filled our lamps with oil,
it is You, our Lord, that we await
with great expectation.

O Come, Desire of Ages, come.
Come in fullness to inherit
all that the Father destines for You.

Fill our hearts.
Fulfill our souls.
Bring our spirits at last home.


photograph taken in Colorado Springs, Colorado


Friday, December 21, 2007

Bible Study on the Book of Daniel: Lesson 3, Identifying Babylon

Book of Daniel Bible Study: Identifying
Babylon in Your Life: Daniel 1:1-17

Daniel determined that he would not fall
prey to the spirit and ways of Babylon.
Even in his captivity he had to determine
what was of God and what was not of God
and choose to serve God alone.
He had to set his face like flint against
the spirit of Babylon even while
surrounded on every side by Babylon.

Have you ever felt surrounded on all
sides by evil and ungodliness? Consider
Daniel. He was immersed in the ways of
Babylon but Babylon was not touching
him! How did he keep his heart separated
to God? Everything in our lives is
either leading us toward God or toward
Babylon. We have to discern and recognize
the spirit behind that which we let into
our hearts.

How is Babylon crossing your life?
We need to examine everything that
we let into our lives because, like a Trojan
horse, once Babylon comes in, it infiltrates
to conquer. We don't need to fear
Babylon, we just need to have good
sentries, and ironclad--indeed "Spirit-clad"
boundaries to separate us unto God.

What are you filled with? You only have
so much inner room, so much time, so
much strength. What is your life filled with?
Did you know that you can build for God
even in Babylon?

Our lives will become something--we need
to ask ourselves how will that happen and
what are we building? When we get to the
end of our days we will be something--either
something for God or something for Satan.
We have to make deliberate and conscious choices
or we will be swept toward that which
is mediocre or worse yet, entirely not of God.

Daniel understood this principle. Daniel
understood that spiritual discipline
would aid him greatly in keeping his
heart pure and focused on God. We have
to incorporate biblical practices and disciplines
into our lives that keep us pointed in
the right direction. It is so easy to
drift off course.

Daniel prayed and saw that he could use
the disciple of fasting to set his
heart toward God. He did not have
control over very much in his life.
He was fed that which the king saw fit
to feed him, and the king no doubt
felt he was giving Daniel the best
kind of food. Daniel knew otherwise:
perhaps he was asked to eat pork
or unclean things according to
the Law. Perhaps the food was not
prepared the way the Law stated it
should be. Are you partaking of
things that Babylon offers without
discrimination?


Daniel asked to fast from the
"dainty meat" that was brought to
him. Even then there was a myth
circulating that fasting would
make you weak and take your strength
(Daniel 1:10). We need to realize
that while fasting may deny
the physical body, it strengthens
the spirit when we look to the Lord
(Matthew 17:21, Is 58:6). Fasting
can free us to find or rekindle
our reliance on God alone and
to gaze upon Him unhindered.

Each time Daniel ate his meal
of vegetables he was reminded
who he served and where his
strength really came from:
The Lord God! We need disciplines
such as these to carry us through
our walk in the Babylon of this
world. What might God be asking
you to do so that your focus on
Him might be strengthened?

God is looking for a consistency
in our walk with Him. We cannot
be full of zeal one day, and
compromise the next! We cannot
be for God on Monday, and
for Babylon on Tuesday! We
need "a long obedience in the
same direction"! We have to
"purpose" in our hearts to
not be defiled (vs. 8)
or we will drift away from God.

Jonathan Edwards, the noted
revivalist, himself made a
long list of resolutions
to serve God. It is a formidable
list and one that might seem
impossible to adhere to. But
his heart was set toward the
Lord. He did not want to waste
one minute of his life with
lesser things.

Jesus will direct us, as we
seek Him, with guidance that
He tailor-makes for us. This
guidance is born out of the
relationship we maintain with
God minute by minute, day by
day, week by week, month by
month, year by year. Daniel
spent his whole life in Babylon
but Babylon never conquered him. God
knows the details of our life
and situation and He knows what
will keep us with Him. Ask the
Lord what He would have you do.
Avail yourself of His Spirit.

Often we are spiritually ignorant
and we fail to recognize
Babylon in our lives and Satan's
devises in our midst. We need
to examine everything in our
lives to see if it something
that God wants for us.

Often we do things, even
spiritual things, and only
have a vague idea why we
do them or if they are backed
up by scripture. We may have
a mixture of truth and untruth,
human wisdom mixed with
eternal truth. We should
allow God to test our beliefs.
"God helps those who help
themselves" The Lord works in
mysterious ways, etc": we have
many truisms that circulate in
our minds that are not true at
all or are only partly true.

Where is Babylon in our lives?
We must identify where it is
coming in, and we cannot do
this without the aid of the
Holy Spirit (Romans 8:5-11).

What does Babylon say to us:
That youth is desirable, that
being good looking is
what makes a leader, that
social status is important,
that intelligence will get
you to the top, that human
charisma is the same as
divine charisms (Daniel 1:4).

These were all the things that
the Babylonians looked for
when they chose leaders.
Is this not the same message
we hear in our culture today?
In some sense these things
are ok, but they are
not the ways of God. God
looks at the heart, He is
after a pure heart that is
set on Him. He does not
consider the outward man,
nor that which is politically
correct. He does not consider
your looks, your heritage,
your intelligence, your
ability to charm others
when He calls you. Daniel
became a hero of faith not
because of what he looked like
but because of his strong
trust in God.

We need to ask where Babylon has
infiltrated our thinking and
what we actually value. We can
identify some of the more gross
areas of things that are against
Christ but there are many subtle things
that we must test. We often
accept things and never bother
to see how they contradict
the message of the gospel.

There are many things that we
as Americans value and sometimes
they become entwined with what
we feel we should value as
Christians. How is the American
gospel different from the gospel
that Christ presents?
How is
American Christianity different
from "mere" Christianity? When
you answer that question you
will uncover some of the blueprints
for Babylon's plan of attack in
your life. (Each culture, not
just Americans, has to look at
where it strays from the Lord).

American Christians often speak
much about family values, about
being a good "witness", about
being full of purpose and practical
vision. We stress balance, happiness,
and tolerance. We seem to want to
make the gospel palatable so that
people will be able to say "yes" to
it without undue inward change.
Jesus is often seen as someone
who will help us become a better
version of ourselves--who will help
with our problems, give us financial
and spiritual counsel, an occasional
tip for the stock market, find us a house
in the suburbs and a parking place
near the door, all from a
safely hidden seat in the bleachers.
Let me tell you, from everything
I know about Jesus, that is certainly
not what He is about!

We want to be seen as committed
to the Lord but not seen as fanatical.
We want to seem balanced but not
overly mystical. We say we value
a bold voice but we are very quick
to avoid confrontations. We want
to be seen as appealing to the man
in the street, even when the man
in the street in no way shares our
worldview. How will that work?

As Americans we seem to draw our
boundaries around what is already
there, around the status quo of
what we assume is good, rather then
staking out what God has told
us He values and letting
everything we do and believe fall
into place around that. I challenge
you to read the teachings of Jesus
and you will soon see quite a variance
with some of our most cherished
assumptions about family relations,
patriotism, and sucess.

So much pulls us away from
the ways of God.

What spiritual disciplines might
God be calling you to in order to
create a watchfulness against the
invasion of Babylonian values within you?

What reminders do you have in your
life that you belong to the Lord and
not to Babylon?

How can you make a stand for God in
your life?

What things are talked about in the
first chapter of Daniel that helped
Daniel stand in the place that he
should?

How do you think you can live "in
the world" and not 'of it"? (John 17:14&15).

How can I make use of Babylon to help me
serve the Lord whole-heartedly? God allows
us to be in Babylon and He can cause us
to build up a resistance against evil.
Our hearts can be completely purposed
to obey only the Lord. Babylon can keep
us close to God by driving us into a
continual dependence upon Him. We desperately
need God ALL the time but when things are
easy we can fall into self-reliance and an
unguarded complacency.

Let us begin to use our sojourn in Babylon
to build spiritual muscle, purpose, discipline
and determination to serve God wholeheartedly.

(this bible study is a continuation
of a Bible Study on the book of Daniel,
further installments are archived in
this blog under "Daniel Bible Study"
and "Bible"











Immanuel: God with Us




"Mary PONDERED all these things in
her heart." Quiet, Happy spirit,
weigh in thy heart the grand truth
that Jesus was born at Bethlehem.
Immanuel, God with us;—weigh it
if you can; look at it again and
again, examine the varied facets
of this priceless brilliant, and
bless, and adore, and love, and
wonder, and yet adore again this
matchless miracle of love.

. . . Come and worship God manifest
in the flesh, and be filled with his
light and sweetness by the power of
the Holy Spirit, Amen.


——Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892).
"The Great Birthday"
TWELVE CHRISTMAS SERMONS DELIVERED
AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE.

photo taken in Colorado Springs, (on top of
someone's house) :)



Thursday, December 13, 2007

The First Real Snow



A prison cell, in which one waits,
hopes - and is completely dependent
on the fact that the door of freedom
has to be opened from the outside,
is not a bad picture of Advent"
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

the season's first snowfall
in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts



Saturday, December 08, 2007

Bible Study on the Book of Daniel: Lesson Two

Bible Study on the Book of Daniel: Lesson Two

Alone with God in Babylon

Daniel finds himself in the most difficult of
places and circumstances. In a sense, he is
chosen to be trained in the enemy's camp,
chosen to fight for the enemy's purposes.
What gives Daniel the strength to serve God?

When Judah fell to the Babylonians some must
have thought that God had failed them, despite
the many warnings of impending judgment by
the prophets. We often discern a situation based
on our mindset and predisposition. It would be easier
to "see" that God failed rather than to see and
acknowledge that this was God's corrective judgment.
It is easier to rail at God then to acknowledge your sin!

Daniel clearly saw that this horrendous national
tragedy (the exile) was not God's fault and that
God was still sovereign and all powerful. He was able
to serve God without compromise. He was able to
make peace with his situation and not complain.
If this were you, how would you feel? How would
you cope? Would you think that serving in Babylon
was something to be rebelled against? How would you
see God in it? How do you see God in the Babylon
in your life?

Just as the treasures of the temple of God were
taken into the house of an alien god, so Daniel and
his friends, living treasures in the temple of God,
were taken into the house of an alien god. Thank
God they did not let themselves worship that
god! Here's why:

1) Daniel discerned God rightly. He was not tempted
into a syncretism: a melding of God and the gods
of Babylon. He rightly saw the Lord in
His holiness and set himself apart to God.

2) Daniel knew his heritage and found fellowship
with others who had set themselves to serve God
alone. He knew he did not belong to Babylon.
He was a captive in their system but he still
belonged to God and would still serve Him alone.
He had the fellowship of his 3 friends to gird him up.

3) Daniel cut off all ties with idolatry and set
his heart to serve the Lord. He used spiritual
discipline (fasting) to keep his heart set upon
the Lord and hold up a standard of being set apart.

We have to be fully the Lord's! We can receive
all the training. all the fellowship, all the great
preaching and teaching in the world, but there
comes a time when we must follow the Lord
ourselves. Our leaders, our family, our mentors,
cannot do for us what we need to do ourselves.
We need to make an uncompromised
commitment to God and sustain it in whatever
situation we find ourselves in.

If we translate Daniel's situation into a
modern day counterpart, we see how
precarious it was. The school that Daniel
was in was not unlike the "Hogwart's
School of Magical Arts." The Chaldeans
were masters of the mystic arts. In fact,
Daniel was in the middle of a "new age"
hotbed when it was still old age wizardry.

The Chaldeans taught astrology as well
as astronomy, "reading livers" as well
as practical medicine, a major in sorcery
with a minor in gourmet non-kosher
culinary arts! How in the world was
Daniel going to make it through this maze
and remain faithful to God? He did it by
walking in the power of the Lord!

While Christians shun "new age" practices,
and often rightly so, they often do not
have the working answer of God's power to
cast down the occult power of sorcery,
or repel the unharnessed power of the
human soul without God. If Daniel merely
had a faith of words, he would have been in
trouble. Daniel walked in the power of
God! He had the real thing, while the others
had the counterfeit, and the real
thing would come in mighty handy as we
shall see in the second chapter.

A Christian walking in the power of God
has nothing to fear from a hearty
spiritual challenge. He does not have to
worry that God will not come through
or that he will be overwhelmed by an evil
force greater than the Holy Spirit. There is no
such greater force! The Kingdom of God
is not meat and drink but righteousness,
peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:7).

Daniel was able to do his spiritual apprenticeship,
taught of God, even in the middle of the occult
arts taught in the classroom. I find this both
amazing, and reassuring! Here is an example
for Christian students who must attend a
secular school, for Daniel was not merely
in a secular school, but in a pagan school
that practiced sorcery! He was still untouched.
Can we be taught of God even in the
classrooms of pagans? Apparently, YES! Daniel was.
Why? Because his heart was firmly set on
God and he inquired continually of the Lord.
Even, and I think it fair to say, especially,
in Babylon he was taught of God. There was an
extra keen connection between him and his
God that might not have been quite
so sharp in a safer setting. It is not so much
WHAT he studied but what absolute allegiance to
God he carried within him and with what attitude of
heart he approached it. There is no discipline
that God does not have a word for. There is
no subject material that God cannot educate us about.

As the Spirit of God rises up strong in us, our
faith will be less and less about correct doctrines
and wars of words, but of the power of God at
work in and through us. Our lives will hold forth
a demonstration of the Lord's power. Just as
Peter said, "Silver and gold have I none, but
such as I have, give I thee, in the name
of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!"
(Acts 3:6).

The thing is, we need to be absolutely sure
we can sort that which is of God, from that
which is of Babylon. Of course we have to
stay completely away from things God
forbids in His word, but that is a proximity
of spirit and not of physical distance. We can
serve God anywhere, even in Babylon, we just
need to make sure that Babylon is not in us!

Here are a few guidelines to think about as
we approach anything we put our
head, hands and heart to.

1) Does it stay within the boundaries God
has set for us as revealed in His Word?
(Deut 6:6-9).

2) Does the power originate from God
or man or the demonic? Power issues are
always at the heart of things. Who is being
glorified? How is the power issuing forth?
Is it human soul strength or the power of
God? Sometimes these things are not
easily discerned but if you keep watching,
the source behind things will be revealed.
(Acts 8: 9-24) (Acts 16:16:-34).

3) Does it come from an understanding that
without God we can do nothing and that
we should not act independently from Him?
Does it call for wholehearted reliance
and commitment to Him? (John 5:19) (John 15:4-5).


4) Does it honor God or honor man? Does
it cause me to worship man or worship God
in Spirit and in truth? (John 4:23 & 24).

5) Does it honor and recognize Jesus Christ
as the sole Source of its workings?
(obviously in Daniel's day, Jesus had not
yet come in the flesh, but now He has, thank God!)
( 1 John 4:1ff).

6) Does it build relationship with God as He is,
or is it a system of works or something
we have concocted? (John 1:14-17) (Acts 15: 1-11).

7) Is it completely the truth or is there a lie in it?
(I John 2:18-23).

8) Is holiness its hallmark? (I John 3:3-10).

We need not fear that we will be deceived but
can call upon God's Spirit to teach us and
guide us into all truth. No matter where we are
we can walk in the power of God--even in Babylon.

Father, make us Daniels in our generation. Cause
us to stand strong in You, no matter what happens,
no matter where we find ourselves!

(this bible study is a continuation
of a Bible Study on the book of Daniel,
further installments are archived in
this blog under "Daniel Bible Study"
and "Bible"






Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bible Study on The Book of Daniel: Lesson 1

The Book of Daniel


The Book of Daniel speaks volumes to
our contemporary situation. Daniel was
only about 15 years old when he was taken
into captivity and placed in the inner
courts of Babylon to be trained and
brainwashed into the ways of Babylon.
His uncompromised stand for God is an
example to us all.

Background: God had warned His people
through the prophets that if they did
not turn back to Him they would be
taken into captivity. They did not
repent and Judah was taken into the
Babylonian Captivity which took place
from about 605-536 B.C. The Northern
Kingdom had already fallen to the
Assyrians in 722 B .C. [Israel had
two kingdoms: the northern (Israel)
and the Southern (Judah).]



Josiah, (reigns in Judah 641-609) a good
king, is killed at the battle of Megiddo,
this is a story in itself as it seems that
he dies unnecessarily when he does not discern
or heed the voice of God speaking through a
pagan ruler! (2 Chron. 35: 20ff). Josiah
sought to rid Israel of false idols. A series
of bad kings, who are easily compromised
and overtaken by that which is not of God, come next.



Daniel’s determination to stand for God is
an amazing testimony to God’s ability
to keep a person’s heart pure and unadulterated
even if they find themselves in the most dire
circumstances. What contributed to Daniel’s
faithful stand for God?

Tumultuous, life-changing events happened to
Daniel at a most impressionable age. In the
midst of a idolatrous nation, ready to reap
God’s chastisement and go into exile, who was
it that influenced Daniel in a godly way?

Was it Josiah, the good king, who sought to
rid Judah of idolatry? Was it the voice
of one of the prophets, Jeremiah perhaps,
crying out in the streets? Was it godly
parents or an unknown someone or someones who
remained true to God and held up a standard
in the midst of idolatry? We shall not know
until that Great Day when all things are
revealed, but we can know that SOMEONE
influenced him.



Questions: Who has influenced your
spiritual life? Who has mentored you
spiritually? What affects have they had
on you and what qualities have they
imparted to you? Who we hold up as our
spiritual models will greatly mold who
we become. Of course our only true Model
is Jesus, yet He has called us to disciple
others and model Him to others. Are those
who have most affected us spiritually true
followers of Jesus?



Try and name the people you think have
most influenced your walk with the Lord
and look to see how their influence has
helped make you who you are. What godly
values and characteristics of Jesus have
they imparted to you? What message have
they left you with? Is any of it from
Babylon? Are you pleased with how it has
affected you? More importantly, is God
pleased with it? If not, perhaps you
should pray and discern more seriously the
band that you want to throw your lot in
with! Choose the most godly and the
least compromised people you know to
journey with. They will affect you in
ways that you do not know!



DANIEL CHOSEN FOR SERVICE IN
BABYLON (DANIEL chapter 1: 1-7)

When the Babylonians assumed power
they chose a group of young men of
Judah who they would train up to
rule in the ways of Babylon. Daniel
and three of his friends were
chosen. The friends names were
Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Part
of the indoctrination process was to
give these young men a Babylonian name.
This served to tempt them to take a
new identity, to forget who they were
and what their heritage was.

Daniel’s name means “God is my Judge”,
the name that was given to him in
Babylon was Belteshazzar, which meant
“Bel protect the King, or Prince of Bel”;

Hananiah’s name means “The Lord is
Gracious”, his Babylonian name was
Shadrack, which meant Command of Aku
or Servant of Sin (a god);

Mishael’s name means “Who is like the
Lord?”, his Babylonian name was Meschach
which means “Who is like Aku?”

Azariah’s name means “The Lord is My
Helper”, his Babylonian name was
Abednego which means “servant of Nego”.

God has a name for you. His name for
you contains your godly identity. In
Revelation 2:17, God promises to give
those who overcome a white stone with
their new name written on it. Have you
ever considered what your new name
might be? God has an identity for you
that will lead you to life, that will
cause you to inherit that new name.

Babylon also has a name picked out
for you, but it will lead to death.
Which name will you identify with?
What name does Babylon want to give
you? I urge you heartily to reject
that name!

What is God’s call to me? What is
Babylon’s call to me? Daniel decided,
he determined (vs 8), that he would
serve God alone. You and I are surrounded
by Babylon. Thank God we are not held in
a captivity we cannot get out of, but
Babylon can get into us either by a slow,
unnoticed process, or because we accept
its values without even knowing it.

We have to make a conscious, deliberate
stand for God. We must know our God and
what His standards are. In what way do
you feel God calling you to make a stand?

Babylon calls us to conform to its
system in a number of ways:

1) pressure to actively conform to the
expectations of the system. Daniel was
brought into a structured system. He was
expected to obey. In what ways might you
be expected to obey the system of this
world? How will or how do you deal with it?
How will you be in the world and not of it?

2) pressure to just get used to the system.
At first we might oppose Babylon and its
ways but after time goes by we become
acclimated and fail to see how we are being
influenced. It is like the proverbial
lobster slowly being boiled to death in a
pot. We can start out well but end up
compromised.

3) pressure to act to protect myself and
my family. Daniel’s family was being held
in captivity also. If he did not behave
himself, then harm could come to his family.
Our natural inclination to protect our
family and ourselves can lead to compromise.
Daniel never compromised. Would I compromise
what God asks of me in order to protect
myself or my family?

4)pressure to pridefully view ourselves
as strong and gifted . Daniel was chosen
because he met the criteria Babylon valued.
He had many fine attributes and talents.
They did not know that Daniel had an
inner strength and calling that would
not work to their advantage. The world
can try and compliment us on our strengths
so that it can use them for its own
purposes. We have to have allegiance to
God alone and use our gifts only as He
directs. Have you ever been complimented
by the world’s system and found it to
be a hook?

5)pressure to adopt man’s ways and not
God’s ways. Daniel lived 24/7 in a system
that was designed to change him into what
the Babylonian’s wanted. How does the system
we live in want us to change? How are we
tempted to adopt man’s ways and not
God’s ways?

6) pressure to be passive and not active
in our opposition to Babylon. Daniel
could have sat back and not said anything.
He could have held his faith quietly to
himself. He never did. Do we ever remain
quiet when we should speak up?

Spend some time considering these points
and thinking about the position that
Daniel was in and how uncompromised his
heart was. I believe that the message
presented in this book is a contemporary
one that speaks to our current life
situation in America.

Father, show us how we can stand for
You, uncompromised, in a world system
that opposes You. Give us strength,
wisdom and insight, just as you gave
to Daniel.

(this bible study is the first installment
of a Bible Study on the book of Daniel,
further installments are archived in
this blog under "Daniel Bible Study"
and "Bible"






Saturday, December 01, 2007

Avoiding Fatal Mistakes: Wisdom from the Death of King Josiah

The Second Book of Chronicles (Chapter 35:22-27)
records the tragic story of the apparently
premature and unnecessary death of King Josiah.

Pharoah Necho was king of Egypt (circa 610 B.C.)
He needed to come up through the land Israel
on his way to Carchemish to help support the
Assyrians against the attacks of Babylon.
(Carchemish was an Egyptian stronghold near
the Euphrates River.) The Assyrian
king was caught in Haran, to the east of
Carchemish, and needed military aid.

It is understandable that King Josiah was
not thrilled that such a formidable force
was marching through his back yard. Josiah
sent ambassadors to ask Pharaoh Necho
his intentions. Necho told Josiah that
it had nothing to do with him, basically
"Butt out or die." Necho said that God
told him to get to Carchemish faster than
quick and Necho will basically kill anything
and anyone that gets in his way.

It is interesting to note that the
writer of Second Chronicles does not say
that "some Egyptian god", told Necho to do
this. It just says "God." (Hebrew: Elohim). He
says God commanded him to
hurry and don't meddle with "God" by
getting in the way. Interesting, no?

Josiah is a good king. He tore down
idols in Israel. He stood for God.
But here he makes a fatal mistake for
himself and for his nation. This
passage says that he decided to disguise
himself and fight against Egypt despite
what Pharoah said. After all, why believe
a pagan king? After all, wouldn't it be
logical to assume that it was the devil
lying to you?

But Josiah just assumed and did not
ask the Lord, even though Josiah
knew to ask the Lord and had
previously sought the Lord's
guidance (cp. 2 Chron. 34:19-28).
Perhaps Josiah was impatient and
wanted to fight. Perhaps he
thought he was going to be taken
advantage of. Perhaps he acted
to protect his country for it
was likely that even if the Enemy
did not currently have him in
his crosshairs, then it would
eventually be his turn.

Some of these reasons seem more
righteous than others. The problem
is, Josiah acted on his own
wisdom, and did not inquire of
the Lord. He did not hear God warning
him or was it that he did not
care to listen?

The Chronicler said he "did not
hearken to the words of Necho,
FROM THE MOUTH OF GOD!
(elohim)
(vs. 22).
Did he understand it to
be God speaking to him? If so, then
he completely disobeyed. I
suspect that it was that
he just did not discern that it
was God speaking to him. The
problem was, he still did not seek
the Lord for direction and confirmation.
Most likely it was merely a mistake,
but a mistake that he would be
held culpable for, even unto death.

It is an interesting opposite
to note that when David faced a
worse situation with the
Amalekites (I Samuel 30), even
in his great and overwhelming grief,
he sought the Lord.

The Amalekites overtook Ziklag
were David lived and took
everyone's family, including David's
wives, captive and burned the place to
the ground. David's men were so
upset that they wanted to stone
David. David, however, "encouraged and
strengthened himself in the Lord
His God" (vs. 6). He then inquired
of the Lord for guidance. God
gave him victory!

Josiah, conversely, plunges
needlessly to his own premature
death because he chose his own
way. His undiscerned action had
tragic repercussions. Not only
did he lose his own life, but
insured that God's judgment would
fall on Judah. The subsequent
kings of Judah did not follow
the Lord and God was forced
to bring judgment. God, perhaps, was
holding back the judgment because
Josiah was a good king. But now
he was a good king operating in
his own strength.

It is ironic that Josiah's
opposition to the Egyptians,
who were going to aid the
Assyrians against Babylon,
probably kept Necho from reaching
his intended goal in time to be
able to defeat the Babylonians.
Babylon won out, and the kingdom
of Judah fell into the Babylonian
Captivity predicted by the prophets
Isaiah and Jeremiah.

It is also ironic that in
the previous chapter of
Second Chronicles (34), Josiah
is given a prophesy that said
because Josiah sought the
Lord and rid Judah of
idolatry that he would
"go to his grave in
peace and would not
see the evil the Lord would
bring on the inhabitants
of Judah" (2 Chron 34:28).

There is a lot to ponder here.
What part of prophecy is forged
in the immutable will and sovreignty
of God, and what part can be affected,
even altered, or made null, by my
sadly mistaken actions?

If you look at it one way,
Josiah did not go to his
grave in peace: he died
fighting a battle that
was not his to fight. But if
you look at in a larger sense
it could fairly be said
he died with personal peace,
with the heritage of being
a godly king, perhaps largely
unaware of his final costly
error, and he did not live to
see Judah fall into the
Babylonian Exile.

We all make errors, even
godly people. God will not
disown the godly legacy
of a man or woman just
because he or she makes
a mistake, even a mortally
fatal one. The only truly
fatal mistake would
be to turn from God and to
worship idols. Josiah
did not do that. Even so, this
story is bittersweet.

We must learn to seek the Lord
in ALL things, EVERY time,
without fail. Jesus said, "I only
do the things that I see My Father
doing" (John 5:19, 20). We cannot
spray spiritual buckshot into
every situation we see, even if
we mean well, or many will be injured
by "friendly fire." We have to make
sure not only that we are fighting on
the right side of the war, but on the
right front!

We dare not pull the trigger
until God says to or an arrow of
the enemy may come back and mortally
wound us. There are a lot of things I
can fight for, but are they the things
that God wants me to fight for?

Just because I sought God
yesterday, does not mean that
I will know His will for me
today. Yesterday He may have
said, "Go." Today, He might
say, "Stay." I will not know
unless I stay in vital union
with Him and ask Him continually.

Josiah was a good man, a godly king,
who lost his life for nothing:
he did not have to die at Megiddo.
There is so much in this passage
to examine. He did not have to die,
and yet, he could have been taken
captive and not killed. Then he would
have seen the painful sight of
his nation going into captivity.
Despite his mistake, God still
fulfilled the prophecy to him
that he would not see his beloved
country fall into the hands of the Enemy.

Was it then God's will that
Josiah be killed? No, I don't
think that for one minute.
Josiah failed to discern
God's voice and fell as a
casualty. Would you or I
discern God speaking through
the voice of our enemy?
Would we make the same mistake?
Now there is another whole
can of worms!

We have to be so careful,
so prayerful, so pure of heart
that we hear the voice of God from
whatever corner He speaks
and through whatever servant
He chooses to use.

Can our adversaries be the mouthpiece
of God to us? Can God use even our rivals
to warn us to get out of the way?
Apparently so. Do we need to refine our
discernment so we get the message straight
and not believe the lies of Satan mixed in
with the truth?
ABSOLUTELY!

Better to hear the Word of the Lord
from the mouth of a friend or one
of the Lord's prophet's! The question
is, "Where were the Lord's prophets
when Josiah was pondering all this
in his heart? Were they speaking
the truth and Josiah was just not
listening? Were they telling Josiah that
Necho was a false prophet and
could not be believed or affirming
that God was speaking through him?"
Or where they not even asked?

This passage ends with Jeremiah
lamenting, crying because judgment
was now certain; crying because
the good king was dead; and
crying, perhaps, over the needless
loss of a good man. The Lament
he wrote in Lamentations 4:20
says that the "good king was
taken in their snares." You
hear his pain loud and clear.

The prophetess Huldah, who, from the Lord,
commended Josiah, failed to see the
totality of this unhappy event coming
(cp. 2 Chron. 34:22-28).
We see in part and prophecy in part
(I Cor. 13:9). She gave her piece
but apparently there were
more pieces to the puzzle.

There always are, aren't there?--
including that difficult piece
called "the free will of man!"

We need God utterly, completely,
each moment, every minute, now
and forever. He will lead us home
even if we make a huge mistake. Let
us help each other to avoid as
many mistakes as possible!

I encourage you to seek the Lord.
Don't lose your life, your
ministry, your hope, your peace,
your walk with the Lord, for nothing.
Avoid a fatal mistake: seek the Lord,
and having sought Him, obey what He
says. It always leads to life even
if it is through a path of death!







Friday, November 30, 2007

Dawn Light From My Window



If people only knew how they might cheer
some lonely heart or lift up some drooping
spirit, or speak some word that shall be
lasting in its effects for all coming time,
they would be up and about it.

-- Dwight L. Moody

photo taken as the sun rose in Feeding Hills, MA



Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Heart Turned Inside Out: The Farewell Sermon of Jonathan Edwards

A Heart Turned Inside Out:
The Farewell Sermon of Jonathan Edwards


Some things really get to me. The farewell
sermon of Jonathan Edwards is one of them.
It ought to get to you, too.

In the early 1730's, in Northampton, Massachusetts,
there was a significant revival called, "The
Great Awakening." Much of the preaching that
brought this about was from the pulpit of
Jonathan Edwards. His passion was for God
and he cared about the souls of his congregation.
He said,

"We ought to seek the spiritual good of
others; and if we have a Christian spirit, we
shall desire and seek their spiritual welfare and
happiness, their salvation from Hell, and that
they may glorify and enjoy God forever
."

He lived with this view, and he died with it.
He had the archetypal soul of a pastor. He cared
more about the souls of his congregants then he
did about pleasing them. This would cause him much
pain.

As the revival fires died down, life proceeded
as life does. The year was now 1750. Change was
inevitable, as change always is, and people
wanted the safety of the church, its benefits
and blessings, but did not necessarily want a
serious commitment to Christ.

Trouble was brewing, and spiritual storm clouds
were settling over the Pioneer Valley. Up until now,
the Congregational Church was the only church
in town, and in order to be fully received
into the church you had to make a public
confession of your sins, and you had
to show evidence of godliness unto salvation.

As standards diminished, people wanted
to have an easier time of it, and so,
sought to lower the standards for church
memberships. To make a long story short,
this produced much controversy and
made its unashamed announcement in public as
"the Halfway Covenant." It means exactly
what you think it means: "The church
will still accept you even if you
only go 'halfway' in the things of God."

The question was AND IS: "Is God going to
accept you?" It was this
question that would cause
Jonathan Edwards many an anguished
and sleepless night. What does a pastor
do when his flock wants the easy way?
What must a pastor feel when those
he has been given to shepherd turn
their back on the great Shepherd?

Jonathan Edwards was about to
personally and painfully find out.

No compromiser, Edwards knew the
scriptures backwards and forwards.
He would often spend 13 to 14 hours
a day studying. And there was no way
that he would find a "halfway doctrine"
in his bible or anyone else's.

His path was clear. He could not
agree to the current winds of change.
He could not give in to what his
heart knew was wrong. He must stand
for the truth, the whole truth,
for the spiritual stakes were high:
the eternal welfare of his flock
and his own standing before God.

His firm and complete opposition to
the "Halfway Doctrine" was not
well-received. So "not well received"
that he was voted out as pastor and
asked to leave the church he had
served for twenty three years.
I wish I could say I could
not imagine what he felt like, but I
am afraid that I can.

His farewell sermon to his congregation
(and I implore you to read the entire thing)
could simply be called, "the heartbreaking
pain of a faithful pastor."

Edwards reminded them relentlessly that although
they were parting company, there would be One
Day that they would all once again be re-assembled:
in front of the judgment seat of Christ.
On that day, they would not have to answer to him,
but to Christ. Would they be ready?

Even as he warned and warned them, his own
broken heart was breaking through. He, the
man who read his sermons in a monotone
from a notecard, must have felt his insides
melting down:

"The deep and serious consideration of our
future most solemn meeting, is certainly most
suitable at such a time as this. There having
so lately been that done, which, in all
probability, will (as to the relation we have
heretofore stood in) be followed with an
everlasting separation.

How often have we met together in the house
of God in this relation! How often have I
spoke to you, instructed, counseled, warned,
directed, and fed you, and administered
ordinances among you, as the people which
were committed to my care, and of whose
precious souls I had the charge! But in all
probability this never will be again.

The prophet Jeremiah, chap. 25:3, puts the
people in mind how long he had labored among
them in the work of the ministry: “From the
thirteenth year of Josiah, the son of Amon,
king of Judah, even unto this day (that is,
the three and twentieth year), the word of
the Lord came unto me, and I have spoken unto
you, rising early and speaking.”

I am not about to compare myself with the prophet
Jeremiah, but in this respect I can say as he
did that “I have spoken the Word of God to you,
unto the three and twentieth year, rising early
and speaking.” It was three and twenty years,
the 15th day of last February, since I have labored
in the work of the ministry, in the relation of a
pastor to this church and congregation. And though
my strength has been weakness, having always labored
under great infirmity of body, besides my
insufficiency for so great a charge in other respects,
yet I have not spared my feeble strength, but have
exerted it for the good of your souls. I can appeal to
you, as the apostle does to his hearers, Gal. 4:13,
“Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh,
I preached the gospel unto you.”

I have spent the prime of my life and strength in
labors for your eternal welfare. You are my witnesses
that what strength I have had I have not neglected in
idleness, nor laid out in prosecuting worldly schemes,
and managing temporal affairs, for the advancement
of my outward estate, and aggrandizing myself
and family.

But [I] have given myself to the work of the
ministry, laboring in it night and day, rising
early and applying myself to this great business
to which Christ appointed me. I have found the
work of the ministry among you to be a great work
indeed, a work of exceeding care, labor and
difficulty. Many have been the heavy burdens
that I have borne in it, to which my strength
has been very unequal.

God called me to bear these burdens; and I bless
his name that he has so supported me as to keep me
from sinking under them, and that his power herein
has been manifested in my weakness. So that
although I have often been troubled on every side,
yet I have not been distressed; perplexed, but not
in despair; cast down, but not destroyed. But now
I have reason to think my work is finished which
I had to do as your minister: you have publicly
rejected me, and my opportunities cease.

How highly therefore does it now become us to
consider of that time when we must meet one
another before the chief Shepherd! When I must
give an account of my stewardship, of the service
I have done for, and the reception and treatment
I have had among the people to whom he sent me.
And you must give an account of your own conduct
towards me, and the improvement you have made of
these three and twenty years of my ministry.

For then both you and I must appear together,
and we both must give an account, in order to an
infallible, righteous and eternal sentence to be
passed upon us, by him who will judge us with
respect to all that we have said or done in our
meeting here, and all our conduct one towards
another in the house of God and elsewhere.

[He] will try our hearts, and manifest our
thoughts, and the principles and frames
of our minds. He will judge us with respect to all
the controversies which have subsisted between us,
with the strictest impartiality, and will examine
our treatment of each other in those controversies.

There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed,
nor hid which shall not be known. All will be
examined in the searching, penetrating light of
God’s omniscience and glory, and by him whose eyes
are as a flame of fire. Truth and right shall be
made plainly to appear, being stripped of every
veil. And all error, falsehood, unrighteousness,
and injury shall be laid open, stripped of every
disguise. Every specious pretense, every cavil,
and all false reasoning shall vanish in a moment,
as not being able to bear the light of that day.

And then our hearts will be turned inside out,
and the secrets of them will be made more
plainly to appear than our outward actions
do now. Then it shall appear what the ends
are which we have aimed at, what have been
the governing principles which we have acted
from, and what have been the dispositions we
have exercised in our ecclesiastical disputes
and contests. Then it will appear whether
I acted uprightly, and from a truly
conscientious, careful regard to my duty to
my great Lord and Master, in some former
ecclesiastical controversies, which
have been attended with exceeding unhappy
circumstances and consequences. It will
appear whether there was any just cause for
the resentment which was manifested on those
occasions.

And then our late grand controversy, concerning
the qualifications necessary for admission to the
privileges of members, in complete standing, in the
visible church of Christ, will be examined and judged
in all its parts and circumstances, and the whole
set forth in a clear, certain, and perfect light...

And then it will appear whether, in declaring this
doctrine, and acting agreeable to it, and in my
general conduct in the affair, I have been
influenced from any regard to my own temporal
interest, or honor, or desire to appear wiser
than others, or have acted from any sinister,
secular views whatsoever, and whether what I
have done has not been from a careful, strict,
and tender regard to the will of my Lord and
Master, and because I dare not offend him,
being satisfied what his will was, after
a long, diligent, impartial, and prayerful
inquiry.

Then it will be seen whether I had this constantly
in view and prospect, to engage me to great solicitude
not rashly to determine the question, that such a
determination would not be for my temporal interest,
but every way against it, bringing a long series of
extreme difficulties, and plunging me into
an abyss of trouble and sorrow
.

And then it will appear whether my people have
done their duty to their pastor with respect to
this matter; whether they have shown a right
temper and spirit on this occasion; whether
they have done me justice in hearing, attending
to and considering what I had to say in evidence
of what I believed and taught as part of the
counsel of God; whether I have been treated with
that impartiality, candor, and regard which the
just Judge esteemed due; and whether, in the
many steps which have been taken, and the
many things that have been said and done in
the course of this controversy, righteousness,
and charity, and Christian decorum have been
maintained; or, if otherwise, to how great a
degree these things have been violated.

Then every step of the conduct of each of us in
this affair, from first to last, and the spirit
we have exercised in all, shall be examined and
manifested, and our own consciences shall speak
plain and loud, and each of us shall be convinced,
and the world shall know; and never shall there
be any more mistake, misrepresentation, or
misapprehension of the affair to eternity.


I cease quoting the sermon not for time's sake,
for we certainly need to get used to longer sermons,
but because my heart cannot stand any more of the
pain I hear coming through it.

Recently I spoke of the pain of the prophet,
and now I speak of the pain of the pastor. It is
the same pain, just divided in a different way, but
bearing the same hallmarks.

The pain of the shepherd is the pain of the Great
Shepherd: it is Jesus, calling, calling, calling,
"O Jerusalem, you who stones the prophets, I so
longed to gather you as a hen would gather her
chicks, but you would not!" (Matthew 23:37).

Edwards knew full well that there were "pastors"
out there who would give people what they wanted
to hear. What must have melted his bones from
anguish was the idea of one of those kind of
men taking his place.

This sermon is his last chance to implore
his flock to return fully to Christ. I wonder
with what kind of response it was met with?
Judgments. Bitterness. Relief. "Don't let
the door hit you on the way out."

And so here is the call of a pastor in
all its glory. And if you think you read
even the smallest note of sarcasm in that
last statement, you have read it completely
wrong. Here is the call of a pastor in all
its painful glory: to stand with He who was
Himself rejected of men in order that He
might bring many to life.

For of such pastors, the world is not worthy.

Dear Ones, life is short. Christ appoints
undershepherds to call us back to Him, to
teach us of Him, to rightly discern the
scriptures, to rebuke, to call us back to
truth, to speak for Him. Do we want a
compromised Christ? Do we want a Lord
with a gag in His mouth? Then we should
not expect a pastor who is giving us
anything less than the full counsel of
God. If we do, then it is we who are going
to stand before the judgment seat of
Christ, unprepared and in danger of hellfire.
If we tempt our pastor into giving us
less than what Christ would have him
say, then we dishonor Christ and are
living in rebellion. Yet this happens
subtly or blatantly in churches all
across our land.


The pain of being a pastor should
not be so great. If there are rejections,
it should be necessarily at the hands
of the unconverted. "If it were my
enemy I could have born it" says
the Psalmist, "but it was you, my dear
friend, who I walked to the house of
God with, who has reproached me" (Psalm 55:12-14).

And yet it is in bearing the pain
of unspeakable rejection that a
pastor experiences an indissoluble
identification and indestructible
union with the Great Shepherd.
How high are the ways of God
above man? By what fusion, born
of the heat of untold tribulation, are
we united with our Lord? It is often
by the furnace of rejection, betrayal,
and abandonment at the hands of those
we thought were closest to us.

I wish I could tell you another story.
Another way. A less difficult path.
But that would be a compromise.

I can tell you this: that this was
not the end of Jonathan Edwards.
By no means! Exiled to Stockbridge
to serve the Indians, Edwards had the
time to write voluminously. He became
America's pre-eminent theologian
and his words went on to affect untold
people, even you and I here today.
No-one could say that his influence
or diminished one bit. A seed fallen
into the ground sprouted up to a
field of great harvest.

What if this painful event had never
happened? Only God knows how things
would have transpired. What we do
know is that God redeemed this faithful
pastor, not just in heaven, but on
earth: his testimony stands as a
blazing torch to faithful pastors
everywhere. Of such, this world is
not worthy.

Times being what they are,
not much has changed. The modern church
is falling into apostasy and compromise
both blatantly and subtly. It is imperative
that we hear the truth and obey it.
Pray for your pastor. Encourage
him to preach the whole counsel
of God.









The Desperate Pursuit of God




The Kingdom of Heaven is not
for the well-meaning: it is
for the desperate.
... James Denney (1856-1917)

photo taken in Calhan, Colorado



Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving




Its that time of year when I think
about the year and all that has
transpired and thank God for His many
and varied blessings. I just replied to
a friend in an email as she mentioned how
many tragic things had happened lately and,
not in any sort of self-pitying way, that
life was sad. I don’t disagree with it, as
matter of fact I agree with it more having
lived through this year, but what I want to
say is that an amazing transformation has
occurred within me despite an amazingly tough year.


I started out this year, still with a much
more of a “cup half empty” kind of viewpoint
about life. Pessimism seems perfectly logical
to me. But “logical” is mental and not spiritual.
Over a period of time an amazing thing has
happened. A couple of weeks back I was watching
Fr. Benedict Groeschel on TV. We must have similar
temperaments. In 2004 he was hit by a bus and
no-one expected him to live, or if he did, only
in the form of a vegetable side dish. He is well
back in action and made the comment: “in my older
age I am no longer a pessimist. I am an optimist.”
God must be doing the same work in his heart as He
is in mine. Get hit by a bus and become an optimist.



This year has been tough. The toughest I can
remember. I doubted the prophet who stood
over me last December or so and said, “I see
storm after storm after storm this year, but
you will have great and abiding peace.”
Even pessimistic me did not believe the ”storm
after storm” part….Well, he must have been a
prophet of the Lord because that is exactly
what happened. I started the year out as a
pessimist and somewhere along the line, by
some ironic but blessed work of God, crushed
under overwhelming pressure with no letup in
sight, amidst storm after storm after storm,
I have become an incurable optimist. Go figure.


Benedict gets hit by a bus and comes up an
optimist. RM has a most difficult year and comes
up joyful. God’s arithmetic can be amazing.


E. Stanley Jones said “I need no outer props to
hold up my faith, for my faith holds me. (Said
when a stroke had rendered immobile and almost
speechless after years of missionary work in India.)
I wonder if he started out a pessimist?



Pessimism, in a sense, has a bad rap because
you know, really, life IS sad. But pessimism
needs its glasses adjusted with a rose colored
tint because the blood of Jesus redeems it all,
and redeems our life, and all its sadness, if
we let Him. What pessimists might miss, unless
God gives them a joy makeover, is that life is
pretty awesome, even at what seems like its worse
points, and there is no use being forever unhappy,
moody and self-focused when it is our turn to get
knocked about by the slings and arrows of
outrageous misfortune
. That’s just a bunch of
Shakespearian tragedy gone awry. Cry your eyes out,
scream your brains out, go to God and find the kind
of comfort that only He can give, but don’t say that
life is not worth it. I have been there and am on my
way back again. I tell you the truth.


I suspect that born optimists are taken down a
different road and made to see that life IS sad,
that Jesus being a "a man of sorrows and acquainted
with grief” was not just nice poetry but a glimpse
into the inner life of the God of all Glory while
He walked amongst us. I suppose that optimists get
shown that, and it works just a realistic amount
of pessimism in their hearts so that they can see
that it is not just nice thoughts and the power of
positive thinking that makes life turn out good and
especially not to give shallow soundbites of positive
fluff to people in their darkest hours. It is then
that folk need the true grit of the Cross and the
unembellished hope of resurrection and not some
positive pablum that has never proved itself
a hearty meal in a desert windstorm.



Bad things happen to good people. Outrageously
bad things happened to the only Good Man who
ever lived. It did not stop Him one whit. His Father
saw to that. Raised Him from the dead. Sat Him down
right next to Himself forever and ever, amen! I will
never let You out of My sight, Son! Never again! I
will see to that!


That’s not so sad, is it?


And we are His people and He will never let us
out of His sight again. And that is not so sad
either, right?


Our God is greater than than any sadness we
must endure.


So on this Thanksgiving Day what should our
attitude and goal be?


Brother Lawrence, a happy man amidst unhappy
circumstances, says,

“Let us be the most perfect worshipers of God
we can possibly be.... I sought no more than
how to be God's and God's alone. My goal made me
resolve to give my all for the All.... Always
I worshiped Him as often as I could, keeping my
mind in His holy presence. When I wandered, I
brought Him back to my mind.... At all times, every
hour, every minute, even at the busiest times. I
drove away from my mind everything capable of
spoiling the sense of the presence of God....
I just make it my business to persevere in His holy
presence... My soul has had an habitual, silent,
secret conversation with God.”

May that be our prayer. May that be our lives. May
that be our worship. Whether we live we live unto
the Lord; whether we die, we die unto the Lord,
whether we make our bed in the lowest hell, or
the highest heaven, we are the Lord’s. And that
should make even a pessimist reform his bleak outlook.


And so I greet you, dear ones, at this time of
thanksgiving, not as the woman I was last year
at this time. I great you optimistically, and
with great faith and hope, in the victorious
name of our Risen Lord Jesus. Life sometimes
may be sad,but life is also good, and more
importantly, so is God.



Happy Thanksgiving,

with the emphasis on both

happy and thanksgiving,

RM



Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Pain of the Prophet: True Prophets vs. False Prophets

The Pain of the Prophet: True Prophets vs. False Prophets

There is so much that is tossed around in
the name of the prophetic today. That which
is truly prophetic is in a class by itself.
It is called total identification with
the heart of God.


The true prophet is birthed for a season of
calamity and lives set apart unto God.
His or her life is watermarked with pain,
for a prophet sees what will happen
if people cannot hear and obey God.

A prophet lives alone upon a hill, looking
for danger, for the first wisps of smoke
that spell only one thing: "Fire!" He
calls first for the fire of God to enliven
and purify through repentance. Unheeded, his
calls for fire will bring warning of the
fire of God that will burn in judgment.
The prophet, therefore, carries a message
that few would want to hear unless
they care for the state of their souls,
even their eternal lives.

One can ignore the cry of "Fire!" but
that does not make the fire cease its
burning or enable the prophet to cease
his commission. Indeed, for a prophet
to be proved right, a certain judgment
must fall, a sure chastisement administered,
a corrective work applied. If this is
not painful to the prophet then he is
not a true prophet and lacks the heart
of God for true restoration.

There are myriads of prophets who like
to pronounce gloom and doom, but which
of them has the heart to bear the pain
of interceding for a genuine repentance?
A true prophet must desire, above all,
that his or her clarion call will bring a
genuine return to God. It is easy to rail,
it is agony to stand and watch and call
people who are not listening back to
the Father.

It is a fearsome and holy task to enter
into the very heart of God as He calls
His people back to Himself. The
heart of the prophet must echo forth the
eternal love of God. There can be no
joy at the idea of judgment coming, even
when it appears inevitable, even when
the prophet himself is harmed or stoned
or even killed in the process.

God does not wish to punish. He takes
no pleasure in judgment. He does not
wait and watch for wrongdoing in
order to find pleasure in chastising
waywardness. A prophet MUST have this
tenor of heart or he does not stand
for God.

Consider Jonah. He understood God,
he understood the prophetic role,
but he did not have the heart of God.
He understood quite well that for God
to reap a family of restored hearts,
that he would have to be proved wrong.
And if the people of Nineveh did not turn to
God, Jonah should find no pleasure
in their chastisement.

Job failed on both points: he was not
willing to be proved wrong for the
sake of another. He was unwilling to
bear a message of judgment unless it
ended in judgment. He did not want mercy
to intervene for it would make him
appear lesser in the eyes of others.
He did not have the heart of God.
One gets the impression that he preferred
that the people be judged so he could
be proved "right." With "right" like that
I would hate to see what wrong might look
like.

How many prophets have this kind of
heart? How many prophets are unwilling
to bear the pain of their calling
because they are not able to identify
with God as He ever so patiently waits
for His people to return to Him?

God does not ask of a prophet something
He does not endure Himself. People
constantly accuse God of allowing evil
and not putting an end to suffering.
God waits and waits for us to return
to Him. If He was a God who delighted
in meting out punishment, the earth
would be devoid of human life for
all of us would have been destroyed.

That which the prophet speaks should
call people back to God. What becomes
of the prophet, what his reputation
is, what accolades or resistances
are thrown upon him, should matter
not one whit to him: it comes with the
territory of being a prophet.

The words of a prophet are born and
spearheaded out of his or her own
repentance, they are to be ministered in
humility. The true prophet takes no
pleasure in being right. For "being right"
is about words and reputations and
and pride. A true prophet must
bear great pain in a hidden place.
He must live and die for the
kind of reconcilation that Jesus
lived and died for. It is not
for the fainthearted.

The true prophet must be a deaf
and blind servant of the Lord.
The prophet who truly sees must
be blind to all that would
stop him from his mission.
The prophet who truly hears must
be deaf to the reasonings of man,
to the hurtful taunts that will fall
upon his ears, and the painful rejections
that will fall upon his life. He must
be able to accept the pain inflicted
on his heart by those who do not see,
or worse yet, do not want to see.

He must have one prayer:
"Father, forgive them, for they
do not know what they are doing."

This kind of pain is part and parcel
of the prophetic call. That is the
hard part. The glorious part is that
those prophets who identify with
the heart of God, get the heart
of God planted forever within
them. The medium becomes the
message. The prophet becomes
the priest. A heart of stone
is replaced with a heart of
flesh, and that heart is
a redeemed heart, made in
the image of the heart of
Jesus. That would make it all
worthwhile, wouldn't it?

So to all those true prophets
who happen upon this article,
to everyone who thinks
they have a prophetic message,
search deeply to see whether
you are able to administer
it with the heart of God.
You will know the answer
by the amount of pain that
surrounds its delivery. Let us
trust that you will share the
joy of watching the Lamb
receive the fruits of His
labor. Anything less is just not
good enough.