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Falling Away from the Faith Once Received

I recently learned that a church I formerly pastored has issued a new policy statement wherein the body said its unity was not based on an “adherence to a particular set of doctrinal beliefs.” They’ve chosen, instead, to embrace “a broad diversity” of opinions on scriptural interpretation and have expunged their Statement of Beliefs from their website. I continue to hear stories of other churches capitulating to the culture, embracing that which is not of God, and falling away from the faith once received. Heartbreaking devolution.

An article on Open the Bible succinctly delineates why sound doctrine is so important…”Sound doctrine will reflect God’s intent for His Word. It will judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12); be useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16); thoroughly equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17); be a lamp for our feet and a light for our path (Psalm 119:105); keep us on the path of purity (Psalm 119:9); give understanding to the simple (Psalm 119:130); and grow our salvation (1 Peter 2:2). Paul speaks of and warns about unsound doctrine in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, which says, ‘For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.’

“But, does it really matter what we believe as long as we believe in Jesus Christ? The quick answer: Yes. Because our faith is based on an incredibly specific message, modifying or distorting it can have detrimental and eternal impact. The gospel is the basis for our salvation, therefore we need to ‘watch [our] life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers’ (1 Timothy 4:16). Essentially what Paul is urging here is, ‘If you don’t pay attention to your life or what doctrine says, you will lose yourself and anyone who hears what you say.’

“Consider this generation of media overload coming at us left and right. Perhaps now, more than ever, we must watch carefully for doctrine that scratches ‘itching ears.’ Scripture warns that many false prophets have gone into the world (1 John 4:1) and are inevitable, so it’s critical to understand what false doctrine looks like and how we can respond.”

https://www.christianpost.com/news/third-of-evangelical-pastors-say-people-can-get-heaven-just-by-being-good.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=facebook&fbclid=IwAR2VMyndMV12Skw4UKU45LMlCYc9KzoTgVSQj3YbrilAtzIs_8p0Py0aAq0

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Telling Bob About the Pastorate

Matthew 4:1-11 and 2 Timothy 4:1-5

When, at the end of 2021, I was nearing the end of a pastorate in New Hampshire, I wanted to prepare the congregation for the next chapter in their life together. On one Sunday, I stressed the need for the church to mobilize in ministries of compassion; the following Sunday I shared the message that follows.

What to offer today? A mere 66 books, only about 800,000 God-breathed words to consider!! Narratives. Prophecies. Poems. Gospels. Epistles. And then, I felt led to Bob. Now, I’ve often drawn from my years as a professor of evangelism and renewal and director of a doctoral program centered on the Renewal of the Church for Mission. In those capacities, I often served as a pastor to pastors or as a pastor to those preparing to enter the pastorate.

And, over the years, many dear ones have asked me to speak at their ordination services and installations. As I am here this morning praying the Lord will lead a Bible-honoring, Christ-centered, well-educated, experienced minister to lead this church, I thought it appropriate to return to a message I delivered at a service for one of my Master of Divinity students. In the bulletin this morning, you’ll see pictured a sampling of what those called to the pastorate may be called upon to do in the local church. I have filled all those roles and more in my years as a minister.

Now, Bob was one who’d been in several of my classes, and I’d even invited him to participate in a doctoral level course that I taught in Washington, D.C. Some years ago, he accepted a call to lead a church in upstate New York, and I was called upon to share key lessons from the Word on the responsibilities of the pastor; I was charged to bring a charge to him on the day of his installation.

I took a three-part approach. First, I looked to the passage in the Bible that has been called “the handbook for ministers.” Then I considered the temptations that face the pastor, and I concluded with an examination of what it means to be a servant leader, an under-shepherd of Christ leading according to the example set by Jesus. In creating the message, I built upon the reflections of other writers on these themes and passages that have ministered to me and have taken up residence in my heart.

One last bit of introduction, before we turn to the Word…a question that was once posed to me that still prompts a shake of the head, a moan and a good laugh: “I know pastors work on Sunday mornings but what do they do the rest of the week?” In the next few minutes, I’ll convey a bit about what we do the rest of the week as I speak to Bob, to Bob’s congregation, to you, and to myself.

First Timothy 4 (and that’s not a mistake, I do mean First Timothy 4) has been referred to and has served as a “handbook for ministers.” The chapter provides practical instruction for the one called to pastor the local church. The task: preach the Word, practice the Word, progress in the Word.

This passage, as rendered into contemporary language in The Message by Eugene Peterson, reads this way:

The Spirit makes it clear that as time goes on, some are going to give up on the faith and chase after demonic illusions put forth by professional liars . . . [But] you’ve been raised on the Message of the faith and have followed sound teaching. Now pass on this counsel to the Christians here, and you’ll be a good servant of Jesus. Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. This is why we’ve thrown ourselves into this venture so totally. We’re banking on the living God, the Savior.

Get the word out. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity. Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching. And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed—keep that dusted off and in use.

Cultivate these things. Immerse yourself in them. The people will all see you mature right before their eyes! Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don’t be diverted. Just keep at it. Both you and those who hear you will experience salvation.

Now, let’s bring alongside of this a portion of Paul’s message in 2nd Timothy 4 where he writes: “I can’t impress this on you too strongly. God is looking over your shoulder…so proclaim the Message with intensity, keep on your watch. Challenge, warn and urge your people. Don’t give up. Just keep it simple. You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you—keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant.”

In both passages—1st Timothy 4 and 2nd Timothy 4—Paul addresses two of the great dangers within the church today: apathy and apostasy. Apathy might be defined, in the context of the faith, as unfaithfulness to the faith, a lack of concern, a lack of interest in the faith. Apostasy is an abandonment of the faith, a turning from the faith to a lie.

Both are all too commonly found in many who profess to be Christians today, and there is a great need for preachers who will boldly and unashamedly preach the Word without compromise. I hear too often today of folks who are in churches where the Bible is held in the hand and used as a prop, or where entertainment is the word of the day, or where messages are preached each week that are all fluff and no substance, barely milk and certainly not meat. Paul was instructing Timothy to set forth a banquet, and this is a word for all of us who preach today.

Over time, you must work out an entire Biblical menu, drawing from the Old Testament and the New. Doing book studies; character studies; thematic studies; offering sermons that address specific theological questions; messages that focus on special occasions or times of the year. You must make certain the messages preached are drawn out of the Word, are faithful to the Word, and offer practical applications to contemporary realities.

But it is not enough simply to preach. As Paul reminds us, we must also practice what we preach. Practice the Word. Your first call is to faithfulness to the Lord and to His Word. Immersion in the Word will spill out in faithful living and teaching. Commitment to the work of the Holy Spirit will be seen in your concern for the spread of the Gospel. It will be demonstrated in your concern not only for the welfare of your local community but for your region, your country, your continent, your world. Always keep your ministry of prayer and ministry in the Word first. Listen to the Lord and the rest of your responsibilities will be clearly laid out for you.

You are also called to progress in the Word, to mature in it, to be cultivated in it, to grow in it, to live in it, to move forward in and through and for it. Know there will be temptations along the way to be diverted from your call. We draw lessons about what these temptations might entail from what Jesus experienced when He was taken into the wild for the Test. There were three parts to the test as we see set forth in Matthew, chapter 4.

These temptations of Christ speak to the temptations that face the pastor and, really, for that matter, all of us.

First there is the Maturity Test—The Test of Pain and Pleasure. When you are empty, hurting or confused, will you trust God to meet your needs or will you rush to satisfy them yourself?

Will you be as those who look to the fountain of living water or as those who dig for themselves cracked cisterns that cannot hold water? Will you trust in the Lord and walk in His light or will you try to live by your own light, try to warm yourself by your own fire?

Remember, your Heavenly Father knows all your needs and He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for Him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern. This we are promised in Matthew, chapter 6.

Then there is the Integrity Test—The Test of Popularity and Praise

Will you use your abilities to serve God and others or to gain praise for yourself? Keep in mind the lesson from the story of Rehoboam from 2nd Chronicles 12. At the height of his popularity and power, he abandoned the Lord, the people followed him in that sin, and the Lord then abandoned them to their enemies. Remember also Proverbs 27:21: “A person is tested by the praise he or she receives.”

One of the first times I heard myself referred to as “The Reverend” was over a loud speaker in an airport. A limousine driver had come to collect me to bring me to a television studio where I was to create a film for the Billy Graham Association. And when one of my first books was released, and when I started doing radio interviews and appearing on TV, I was treated like a rock star wherever I went—with crowds clustering and clambering to get near me. This happened even at Gordon-Conwell, my alma mater. I liked that. It scared me that I liked that, and I pulled back to make sure my head was on straight, and I was redirecting the praise to the One worthy of all praise and glory.

To resist temptation, we are told to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. If we do, we’re told in Galatians 5, we won’t need to look for honors or popularity and when the Lord blesses, we won’t be tempted to think we achieved everything under own power. Keep in mind that you will never please all the people all the time, and you’re not meant to. We’re to focus on Jesus. In 1 Peter 5, we are told to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and, in His good time, He will lift us up.

The third test is the Priorities Test—The Test of Prosperity and Possessions. Do you, will you, value possessions on earth more than treasures in heaven?

In Matthew 16:26, the question is asked: “What good will it be for a person if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” And in 1st Timothy 6:18 to 19, we are instructed to use our money to do good, to give generously to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given us. By doing this, we are storing up real treasure for ourselves in heaven and living a fruitful Christian life here as well.

Trust in the Lord. Humble yourself before Him. Keep your priorities straight. And then lead like Jesus. Bosses boss. Dictators dictate. Servants serve. The pastor is called to servant leadership. In Luke 22, verse 26, we read: “The one who serves you best will be your leader.”

If you wish to pastor like Jesus, you will need to set an example, following the example that Jesus set. In John 13, we read the words of Jesus: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” In 1st Peter 5:3, the one called to lead is told not to lord it over others. Instead, to come alongside and lead by good example in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.

If you wish to pastor like Jesus, you will need to challenge folks with a greater purpose. The popularity of Rick Warren’s book on the purpose-driven life drives home the great desire in peoples’ hearts for purpose, for meaning. We only grow when we’re challenged. God is at work in His people to will and to act according to His good purpose. We have each been made for His purpose. We have each been called according to His purpose. We must work according to God’s agenda and beware of substituting our own agendas for the Lord’s.

If you wish to pastor like Jesus, you will need to affirm folks for their potential and you’ll need to be patient as each will grow as the Lord brings the increase. Remember Proverbs 12:25: A word of encouragement does wonders.

If you wish to pastor like Jesus, you will need to trust folks with responsibility. Luke 16:10 reads: “Whoever can be trusted with a little, can also be trusted with a lot” and in 1st Corinthians 13:7 we’re told that if you love folks, you’ll believe in them and expect the best of them. If you wish to pastor like Jesus, you will offer folks honest feedback, helpful correction, using only helpful words for the building up of others according to their needs.

If you wish to pastor like Jesus, you will be open with folks, honest with them. You’ll look to folks as friends, you’ll love them and you’ll pray for them. You will let folks minister to you. If all goes as it should, you will become pastor of your church one person at a time. And when you find yourself introduced by one in your family of faith not as simply the pastor of the church I attend but rather— with a special inflection and tone—as “my pastor”—that precious gift will fill your soul with a joy that you will treasure always. The pastor has the honor of being present in the most intimate moments of people’s lives: at births, at marriages, at crucial turning points, as an individual breathes a last breath. What a privilege it is to be admitted to such moments! These are the treasures of the pastor.

What tears down the pastor, weighs down the pastor, and can ultimately burn out, chew up and kill the pastor are manufactured crises, perpetuated dramas, pettiness, nitpicking, infighting, behind-the-scenes maneuvering, the stirring up of dissension, discouraging words, negativity and impatience. Warnings and chastisements against these are found throughout scripture. Beware of these, walk carefully through them, pray for wisdom and the strength of the Lord to use them for forward (rather than backward) movement, and pray that you will behave honorably when you encounter them.

I might interject here that, as an interim pastor, my experience with this congregation was entirely different from anything I’d known before. Very little was asked of me here—though I offered to do more—so what I’ll share now about the life of a pastor comes from the years prior to my season with you.

One of the burdens of the pastorate is the guilt we can carry because we’re not given the gift of omnipresence. In any given week, there will be personal and family crises needing your attention, folks in the hospital or recuperating at home, homebound or folks in nursing homes urging you to visit. You’ll have a sermon to research and craft and Sunday services to prepare; committee and board meetings to attend; materials to select; short term and long range planning to do. You’ll have a budget line to watch; stewardship to promote. You’ll have dedications, believer’s baptisms, weddings, funerals and other events at which you will officiate.

There’ll be a website to update, advertising to consider, staff to nurture and protect (in one church I pastored, I had a paid staff of seven. If this church grows in number, it may one day have a staff of that size). There will be a building to maintain (I was the clerk of the works in renovating ¾ of another church complex). There will be community and regional contacts to make and keep, classes to teach, phone calls to make, emails to write, a community to reach; mediation to perform. You will be a prophetic voice against the evils of the day. You will need to discern which causes to champion. And there will be seemingly endless adminis-trivia calling for your attention every day of every week.

As you attend to all these responsibilities, you must make the effort to maintain a healthy home life, paying attention to your family. You must make time for fun. You must rest. You must keep a Sabbath.

And, in the middle of all of this, there will always be folks who are certain they know far better than you how you should do your work. Some of these will not approach you directly but will attempt to make end runs around you. You will need the patience of Job! At times, you may become so enmeshed, so all-encompassed in the doing of the work that you may begin to lose sight of your first priority: the being, the being in a deep and ever deepening relationship with the Lord. Put the brakes on when that happens and get yourself back on track.

Several years ago, Vernon Grounds addressed a gathering of pastors at a conference in Massachusetts. In his message, he looked to 1st Samuel 12:23 where these words are written: “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.”

When he finished his presentation, I looked around the room and every pastor—myself included—appeared to have been cut to the heart by his message. If you remember nothing else from what I’ve shared today, remember this: Prayerlessness is a sin. It is disobedience to the will of God. Luke 18, verse 1, records that Jesus told His disciples that they should pray and not give up. Throughout the scriptures, we are told that prayer ought to be the habit, the rule, the discipline of our lives.

Prayerlessness is contempt for the fellowship of God. If we don’t have time for fellowship with God, we’re serving something wrong. In Rev. 3:20, we’re told that the Lord stands at the door and knocks and comes to anyone who will invite Him in. Sometimes we behave towards God as though we believe Him to be at our beck and call. We expect to press a button and have Him do our will. That’s disrespectful.

Prayerlessness is indifference to the purpose of God. We say we want to be molded in the image of Jesus. Well, Jesus, during His time on earth, prayed. And what is He doing now? Interceding on our behalf.

Prayer is a struggle, a battle on three fronts. Prayer is not always a matter of pure delight. It is a struggle with the physical. With our restlessness, our drowsiness. It is a struggle with the mental. Lack of concentration, a truant imagination. It is a struggle with the spiritual. Remember Ephesians 6. We are not engaged in a struggle with just flesh and blood but are wrestling with the powers of darkness. The enemy uses emotional, physical and spiritual weapons to battle against us. But Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint on his or her knees. So…get on your knees. If you’ve got bad knees, then get on your knees in your heart.

Be concerned about your prayer life. Pray about your prayerlessness and ask the Holy Spirit to revive you in prayer. Give a thought to when you can best give your undivided attention to God. The times may vary. Perhaps you’ll pray while you walk or when you’re in the car. Perhaps you’ll pray on your knees or prone before God. Perhaps you’ll get up earlier or stay up later when the house is quiet. Do whatever helps.

Be disciplined. With the Holy Spirit’s enablement, keep at it. Pray for the grace to be consistent in prayer. Someone once said that “ruts of routine serve as God’s grooves of grace.” Remember that today you are becoming what you will be the rest of your life. You’re laying the groundwork today for the Christian you’ll be tomorrow. If you have some lack, attend to it today. Teach us to pray, Lord.

Keep before you this prayer: as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for the dear ones who make up my family of faith. And if you want your church to grow in every way, encourage your folks to pray.

I ended my message to Bob and his congregation with a prayer that his family of faith might serve as a beacon of light in the place where the Lord had planted them. I prayed that Bob might serve faithfully and well, keeping his priorities straight and the Lord the Lord. I ended with the benediction from Numbers 6:25: May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.

What I’ve presented this morning is that to which I have aspired and that to which your settled pastor should aspire. He or she should want to be a Christ-honoring, Bible-centered, faithful and faith-filled pastor, and I pray you will call a person called to and skilled in leading a church.

May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.

A Voice in the Wind: Another Route

A Voice in the Wind: Another Route Audio

How does the Lord speak to us? How do we discern the voice of God?

Some time ago, an acquaintance suggested I read, A Voice in the Wind, by Francine Rivers. I located a copy and dug in. Now I’m not usually attracted to much Christian fiction, but if you’re looking for something that will shake you out of your complacency, make you take a hard look at your commitment to the Lord, get you lamenting about the tepidness of your witness, remind you of the ways in which the Lord speaks, and make you see how much more you could be for Christ, how much deeper and more fulfilling your relationship could be with Christ…run out and get this book.

Many of us need a new vision for our personal lives. Some of us are bogged down in a sea of guilt, regret, or disappointment. Others of us feel something is missing from our lives. We need a new vision. A new way of seeing. One of the reasons, I believe, so many people—around the world—have a lack of vision is because they either never talk to God or always talk at God (telling Him all the things He should be doing). What folks tend not to do is listen for God, listen to God, converse with God.

So, in this entry, I’ll be providing an overview of the ways in which God speaks to us. Then, in the coming weeks, I’ll unpack and more deeply explore each one of these ways. My prayer is that, as we move through these days, we might each have an Epiphany that will transform each one of us.  We’ll begin, however, with the story of the wise men from the East and the ways in which the Lord spoke to them.

That will take us to Matthew 2, verses 1 through 12, where we read:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.  When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Traditionally, the Christian church has remembered the visit of the Magi twelve days after Christmas, on what is called the Feast of Epiphany. Today we celebrate that day of Epiphany.

The word epiphany is defined, in contemporary lexicons, as a moment of sudden revelation or insight, a new way of seeing or understanding. It is so right that we should begin a new year with the word epiphany on our lips.

One time German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer put it this way, “We all live under the same sky, but we don’t all have the same horizon.” The scriptures tell us the wise men looked farther than they could see; they lived under the same sky as their contemporaries, but they had a different horizon.

Some scholars have speculated that the wise men from the East may have heard about the promised glorious King via the writings of the prophet Daniel who, as you may remember, had achieved a high rank in the Babylonian court about six hundred years before the birth of Christ. The wise men, whose steps we recall today, may well have been among the many God-fearing Gentiles who lived at the time of Christ.

During the Middle Ages, a legend developed that they were kings, that they were three in number, and that their names were Casper, Balthazar, and Melchior. Because they were thought to represent the three sons of Noah, one of them is often pictured as an Ethiopian. All we know from scripture, however, is what we read in Matthew. One author notes that the magi would have been skilled in astronomy and astrology (which were closely linked in that day) and that they were likely involved in occult practices, including sorcery. It is from their names that our word for magic, magician, and imagination are derived.  They believed in one god and were the most prominent and powerful group of advisors in the Medo-Persian empire and subsequently the Babylonian empire.

We learn from the book of Daniel that magi, in fact, were among the highest-ranking officials in Babylon. Because the Lord gave Daniel the interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream—which none of the other court seers was able to do—Daniel was appointed as “ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.” Because of his great wisdom, and because he had successfully pleaded for the lives of the “wise men” who had failed to interpret the king’s dream, Daniel came to be highly regarded among the magi.

Because of Daniel’s high position and great respect among them, it seems certain that the magi learned much from that prophet about the one true God, the God of Israel, and about His will and plans for His people through the coming glorious King. Because many Jews remained in Babylon after the Exile and intermarried with the people of the east, it is likely that word of the promised Messiah had been passed down and was known hundreds of years later, even until New Testament times.

So, having received a sign from God (a star), the magi, spoken of in the book of Matthew, set out in search of the prophesied King. King Herod of Judea got wind of their arrival in Jerusalem and the purpose of their visit; he felt threatened and asked his advisors where it was prophesied the Messiah would be born. When he was told the child was to be born in Bethlehem, Herod began to plot the death of any and all who could possibly pose a challenge to his reign.

But, in that darkness of suspicion, the light of devotion was shining. The wise men had come to worship, and they would not be turned aside.

Now, we’re not told exactly how the God of revelation caused the magi to know that Jesus had been born. What we do know is that they had been given the sign of His star. Almost as much speculation has been made about the identity of that star as about the identity of the men who saw it. Some suggest it was Jupiter, the “king of the planets.” Others claim it was the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, forming the sign of the fish—which was used as a symbol for Christianity in the early church during the Roman persecutions. Still others claim that it was a low-hanging meteor, an erratic comet, or simply an inner vision of the star. A quick aside here: I was disappointed that we were so socked in here that I wasn’t able to catch a glimpse of the “Christmas Star,” the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on the 21st. Well, if I’m still alive in 2080, I’ll have another chance. More likely, I’ll be elsewhere and may be able to see it from another vantage point.

Well, since the Bible doesn’t identify or explain the star, we can’t be certain, but it might have been “the glory of the Lord”—the same glory that shone around the shepherds when Jesus’ birth was announced to them by the angel (Luke 2:9). Throughout the Old Testament we are told of God’s glory being manifested as light, God radiating His Shekinah presence in the form of ineffable light. The Lord guided the children of Israel through the wilderness by a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night (Ex. 13:21). When Moses went up on Mount Sinai, “to the Israelites, the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountaintop” (Ex. 24:17). On a later occasion, after Moses had inscribed the Ten Commandments on stone tablets, His face still glowed with the light of God’s glory when he returned to the people (Ex. 34:30).

When Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, “His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light” (Matt. 17:2). On the Damascus road, just before Jesus spoke to him, Saul of Tarsus was surrounded by “a light from heaven” (Acts 9:3), which he later explained was “brighter than the sun” (26:13). In John’s first vision on the Island of Patmos, he saw Christ’s face “like the sun shining in its strength” (Rev. 1:16). In his vision of the New Jerusalem, the future heavenly dwelling of all believers, he reports that “the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev. 21:23).

The scriptures tell us that, at the time of the magi’s visit, the family was living in a house, and it is likely that the magi arrived a year or two after Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. They presented Jesus with gold (symbolizing His kingly status), frankincense (His divinity), and myrrh (recognition of His future sacrificial death on the cross).

So—in some way, not detailed in scripture, the magi received an initial word from God and set out to find and worship the newborn King of the Jews. Did they have access to the writings of Micah, who lived 100-150 years before them? There they could have read these words: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Or did they hear a still, small voice speaking to their spirits? We don’t know.

 We do know God spoke to them through a visible sign: the star And then they were warned in a dream—another way in which the Lord spoke to them—not to go back to Herod but to return to their country of origin by another route.

At the outset, I promised an overview of some of the ways in which the Lord speaks to us. In our passage for today, we’ve seen at least two, and perhaps five ways God spoke to the magi: a tangible sign, a dream, and possibly, scripture, a voice heard within or an audible voice.   

So, let’s start with the last in that list and make it first in our review. God may speak to us in an audible voice. When John baptized Jesus, a voice spoke from heaven and said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). There are other instances in the Bible where God’s voice was heard aloud.

Second, He may speak to us in a still, small voice, a whisper. I love the passage from 1st Kings 19 that reads:

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

The most frequent way God speaks to me, and, I believe, to most Christians, is through that still, small voice. He spoke the universe into existence, but He also whispers quiet messages into the hearts of people.

Third, He speaks by popping words or Scriptures into our minds. How grateful when the Lord has brought before my mind’s eye a challenging word or a comforting passage from scripture at just the moment of my need.

Fourth, He speaks by popping pictures into our minds.

There have been many times during my ministry when God has spoken to me by flashing a picture into my mind. Often the Lord will bring a person’s face before me and tell me I need to lift the individual in prayer or I need to do something for them. When I pray for you, the Lord brings your faces before me and sometimes He gives me a word about a need or a concern. In a single scripture, in a single picture, we can see details that it might take a thousand words to explain.

Fifth, He speaks through dreams.

The Bible is full of references to dreams. Remember, in the Old Testament, the story of how angry Joseph’s brothers were when they heard of his dream in which the sun, moon and stars bowed down to his star? There’s Pharaoh’s dream of the seven fat cows being devoured by seven skinny cows which meant that famine was about to grip the Middle East. And, in the New Testament, Joseph had a dream warning him to take Jesus and Mary and flee into Egypt, and—as we’ve been reminded today—the Magi were warned in a dream not to share with Herod where the Messiah had been born.

If God used dreams in Bible times, He certainly can and does use them now. Joel spoke of the importance of dreams when he prophesied, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men and women shall dream dreams” (Joel 2:28). When I lie down to sleep at night, I often pray, Lord, speak to me in my Night Visions, (as the prophet Daniel called them). And the Lord does.

Sixth, He speaks by giving us sympathy pains, sensations, what feels like a physical touch.

Sometimes God may alert you to another’s need by giving you a pain or a sensation that the individual is experiencing, telling you in this way to pray for that person.

Some years ago, I attended a conference at Harvard and, when it was time to leave, I couldn’t remember where I’d left my car. I’d wandered, with friends, all over the campus, and I’d stayed later than they to have a conversation with one of the speakers. They’d gone. I was alone and I had no idea where to go. I asked the Lord to direct me. I felt a hand upon me and a gentle leading that took me from one side of the campus to the other, right to my car.

Seventh, He speaks through others.

This can be one of the most important ways God speaks to us, but it can also be one of the most difficult ways to hear or discern His voice.

God spoke very directly to me one day when I became very angry with and lashed out at my young daughter for her behavior some days earlier. She’d caused embarrassment to me in a store and I hadn’t gotten over it. She looked at me, through tear-filled eyes, and asked why I couldn’t forgive her. “God wants us to forgive each other, why can’t you forgive me? Her words cut me to the quick and were the basis of the first sermon I ever preached.

Now, I’m not saying that you should accept everything everybody says to you as a Word from God. But neither should you dismiss out of hand words that hit you where you live.

Eighth, He speaks through the Holy Spirit bearing witness.

Have you ever been reading the Bible when you came across a Scripture that seemed to grab you by the heart? When that happens, it may be the Holy Spirit bearing witness that this is a message to you straight from the heart of God.

The same thing may happen when you’re listening to a sermon or a song on the radio, conversing with a friend, or even driving down the street. Suddenly, a phrase, a picture on a billboard, or just about anything else grabs hold of you, and you know God is speaking to you.

God spoke to the Magi and to the shepherds with a vision of light and directions for where to go. Like me, you may have your own stories of the Lord speaking to you in undeniable ways. When I came to faith in Christ at a Billy Graham crusade in Boston, I felt like I was on fire. I sensed a light all around me, and I felt something akin to a cleansing wave washing over me. Not long after I came to faith in Christ, I was on a Cursillo weekend (a three-day retreat), asking God what I was to do now that He’d given me a new life. On that weekend, I again had an experience of light and was told, via a still, small voice what next steps I should take.

A light. An audible voice. A still, small voice, a whisper. A scripture or a picture that pops into your mind. A dream. Sympathy pains, sensations. A word from another person, especially a fellow Christian. The Holy Spirit speaking to us through the physical realm.

Now, we must be careful not to attribute to God those things that are not of God, but we must also—with trained discernment—listen for what God might be saying to us. As I noted at the outset, too often, too many of us, talk at God, telling Him we need this, that and the other thing. But prayer is a two-way conversation. In this new year, I pray our relationships with the Lord may grow and be a great blessing to us and to others. I also pray that, in our prayers, we might not only speak to God but listen for God. Amen?

A Voice in the Wind: Another Route Audio

A New Pattern

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Here is a devotional message from Streams in the Desert that speaks to how the Lord may “shut us up to something divine” wherein He can show us the “utterly new and unexpected.”

Praying, as you look to Him, you may be opened on to the miraculous!

“Then go inside and shut the door”—2 Kings 4:4

They were to be alone with God, for they were not dealing with the laws of nature, nor human government, nor the church, nor the priesthood, nor even with the great prophet of God, but they must needs be isolated from all creatures, from all leaning circumstances, from all props of human reason, and swung off, as it were, into the vast blue inter-stellar space, hanging on God alone, in touch with the fountain of miracles.

Here is a part in the program of God’s dealings, a secret chamber of isolation in prayer and faith which every soul must enter that is very fruitful.

There are times and places where God will form a mysterious wall around us, and cut away all props, and all the ordinary ways of doing things, and shut us up to something Divine, which is utterly new and unexpected, something that old circumstances do not fit into, where we do not know just what will happen, where God is cutting the cloth of our lives on a new pattern, where He makes us look to Himself.

DFG Hailson audio follows:

Shifting Focus to the Gentlemen

downloadA couple of days ago, I was so incensed over the barbaric conduct of some Philadelphia Eagles’ fans that I posted an article I have since taken down. I regret having shared it. The team shouldn’t be smeared by the brutish and boorish behavior of the few. Far better to focus on the gentlemen who are on the team who are worthy of respect.

The article, to which I link here, highlights the faith of quarterback, Nick Foles who has described himself as a “Believer in Jesus Christ, husband, father, son, brother.” After the play-off victory against the Minnesota Vikings, Foles said: “First and foremost, all glory belongs to God. I wouldn’t be here without Him and this is just very humbling and unbelievable…I’m blessed to have amazing teammates, amazing coaches.”

Foles took over the starting job in December when star quarterback Carson Wentz went down with a knee injury. Wentz has said, “I think the biggest thing that we’re always challenging each other with is just to not lose sight of the bigger picture. I think wins, losses, highs, lows, everything that comes with this game, it’s so easy to take your mind and your eyes off of the ultimate prize, and that’s living for the Lord.”

See more here:

https://stream.org/headed-super-bowl-eagles-qb/

 

How Could a Loving and All-Powerful God Allow the Catastrophic to Occur?

Severe_weather_montage
Severe weather montage. From left to right starting at the top:
F5 tornado; wildfire; thunderstorm and lightning; flooding;
hurricane; ice storm; giant hail. Source: Fallschirmjager.

The following was originally published on September 7, 2012 on my website, The Rockery (www.the-rockery.com).

On August 29, 2005 at 6:10 a.m. Central Daylight Time, Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast of the United States as a Category 3 hurricane bringing with it devastating floods, battering winds . . . catastrophic destruction. More than a million people came under evacuation order. Damage in dollars totaled 81 billion; a mere $40.6 billion of which was in insured losses. More than 3,000 deaths were – directly or indirectly – attributed to the storm. More than 400,000 jobs were lost.

The fall-out from this tragedy spilled out all over the United States in terms that were not only physical and material but also emotional and spiritual. Some folks expressed deepening fears about, concerns over, our safety as a nation. One blogger hinted that the storm was God’s answer to the gambling casinos in Biloxi and/or to Southern Decadence Day, an event scheduled in New Orleans for – what turned out to be — the weekend of Hurricane Katrina. Others, of course, saw the event as evidence that we are nearing the end of the end-times, linking the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, 9/11, the London bombings, and Hurricane Katrina to the Luke 21:11 prophecy: “There will be great earthquakes, fearful events and great signs from heaven…”

But others wondered how New Orleans could have survived as long as it had, lying well below sea level surrounded by Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico with inadequate levees that were ripe for breaching, just waiting for the right conditions for disaster to be met. The human-made dimensions of this catastrophe, they insisted, had to be recognized in the midst of any discussion of Hurricane Katrina.

Others pointed fingers at the government. President George W. Bush addressed the nation and attempted to assure Americans that elected officials were concerned that people be safe. He also sought to assure the country that healing could be found not only from the losses of life and property but from the divide that was in evidence between the haves and the have nots. Relative to this, the question was asked by one New York Times reporter: “How could self-interested, shortsighted politicians put off reinforcing the levees?” The same reporter also asked, “How could God allow the negligence, racism, indifference or hardheartedness that long gnawed at the social fabric of New Orleans or the blindness or incompetence of officials who should have understood the brewing human storm, as well as the meteorological one?”

At a joint White House news conference with the President of Iraq, President Bush admitted that Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government.

Natural disaster? Punishment for sins? A sign that the end is near? Evidence of human folly? A breakdown of leadership? Why were we hit by this catastrophe and what are we to salvage, what are we to learn, from what’s left as we look back at Hurricane Katrina?

Just as it was in the days immediately following the attacks of 9/11, so it was following this storm: many who – pre-event – might not have thought to look to the church for answers, came looking. Two thousand eight hundred and nineteen people were killed on 9/11 but it is estimated that, in the aftermath, 422,000 New Yorkers suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder. Thousands poured into the churches around the country looking for answers. I visited a great number of congregations around that time and was disappointed to see the inadequate ways in which so many were responding. The United States, as a nation, is still feeling the after-effects of Katrina and 9/11 and lots of folks are still wrestling with questions. We haven’t forgotten. We still live with the specters of what have been called “natural evil,” under which Hurricane Katrina” would naturally fall, and “moral evil,” under which we might consider 9/11.

Natural evil. On December 26th of 2004, an undersea earthquake in the Indian Ocean generated a tsunami that killed more than 280,000 people in Sri Lanka, South India, Thailand and other countries. On the anniversary of Katrina, Hurricane Isaac bore down on the Gulf Coast. At a point, tens of thousands were without power and 4,000 were in shelters. Seven deaths have been attributed to the storm. As I write this, meteorologists are keeping tabs on two hurricanes in the Atlantic: Michael, a Category 3, and Leslie, a Category 1. High season for storms such as these won’t end till November. At least 80 people are also now known to have died and another 730 have been injured in a series of earthquakes that hit the Yunnan and Guizhou provinces of China last Friday.
And that is the challenge I’ll be facing in this entry. As a foundational passage to keep in mind as we enter into this, let’s look to Romans, chapter 8:
“The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God . . . And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Hurricane_Katrina_Radar_Image

Moral evil. Today, we are appalled by the genocide in Sudan and appalled by human trafficking, the illegal trade of human beings for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor. We are appalled by murder and child abuse. Moral evil. Human evil.

In the wake of what we perceive as “evil,” one question is raised again and again: How could a loving, all-powerful God allow such things to happen?

And if we are honest, probably each one of us when we’ve come face to face with our own times of personal suffering – when we believe our own lives have been catastrophically hit by evil – have either raised a fist to God or cried out in lament: “Why Lord? How could you let this happen?”

How do we sort through the realities of evil, pain and suffering in the light of a good, gracious and giving God? This is the province of theodicy, reconciling a good God with the existence of evil.

Traditionally, considerations of this subject move in two directions: the aforementioned moral evil and natural evil. The questions that are attached: Why does God allow suffering? If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, can’t God stop both moral and natural evil? And, if He can, why doesn’t He?

As Will Reaves noted in a Christian News and Research article: “That these perennial questions arise in response to every tragedy, war, and disaster shows the enduring nature of our doubt and the magnitude of the question. Both ‘natural’ evil (such as hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes) and ‘human’ (or moral) evil (such as genocide, terrorism, various forms of injustice) challenge our ability to make the reality of an omnipotent, loving God sensible in the wake of suffering.”

John Stott has said that “the fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith.” There is perhaps no greater obstacle to faith than that of the reality of evil and suffering in the world. Even for believing Christians, there is no greater test of faith than this: that the God who loves us permits us, at times, to suffer.

I’ve noted that there are basically two kinds of evil: moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil speaks to the actions of free creatures. Murder, rape and theft are examples. Natural evil speaks to natural processes such as earthquakes and floods. In this entry, I will focus on the latter.

Various approaches are taken to the problem of evil and suffering. These include the philosophical approach that considers the questions from the standpoint of the skeptic who challenges the possibility that a God exists who would allow such suffering. And there is the religious approach to the problem of evil. This is the problem of evil considered from the standpoint of the believer whose faith in God is severely tested by trial. This latter approach is what I’ll address here as this requires us to appeal to the truth revealed by God in Scripture. In addition to consulting scripture, I’ll also be borrowing liberally from articles written by Albert Mohler, Rick Rood and others.

So…we’re going to try in this to understand natural disasters in the light of Scripture and we’ll consider some of the reasons that God may have for allowing the catastrophic to occur.

There are certain foundations we need to lay as we go.

First, we need to remember that the Bible clearly reveals God as omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing). The Creator rules over all creation. Not even a sparrow falls without His knowledge. He knows the number of hairs upon on heads. He rules and reigns over all nations. Not an atom or molecule of the universe is outside His active rule.

Second, the Bible is just as clear in showing God to be absolute righteousness, love, goodness, and justice.

So…Could God prevent natural disasters? Absolutely. Does God respond to prayers regarding the weather? Of course. One example is recorded in James 5:17 where we read: “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” Another example is found in Mark, chapter 4, where we find Jesus rebuking the wind, ordering the waves to be still, calming the storm.

Does God sometimes cause natural disasters as a judgment against sin? Yes. In the book of Numbers, chapter 16, we read how God caused the earth to open up. He used an earthquake to swallow rebels who had challenged the authority of Moses and Aaron.

Is every natural disaster a punishment from God? No. In Matthew 5:45, we’re told that God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

In much the same way that God allows evil people to commit evil acts, God allows the earth to demonstrate the consequences that sin has had on Creation. Again, Romans 8:19-21 tells us: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

In these verses, Paul is referring back to the book of Genesis and reminding us that the fall of humankind into sin had effects on everything, including the universe we inhabit. Everything in creation is subject to frustration and decay. We live in a fallen world that, like its human inhabitants, is waiting for renewal, waiting for the new heaven, for the new earth. Because of sin, throughout the ages, the world has been tainted. We experience illness, death, disease, natural disasters, all types of suffering.

God created us – not as robots forced to do His will – but as individuals with free will. He desires that we use that will to love Him and to love one another. An old confession of the faith states: “God from eternity, decrees or permits all things that come to pass, and perpetually upholds, directs and governs all creatures and all events; yet so as not in any way to be the author or approver of sin nor to destroy the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures.”

So why would a loving and all-powerful God allow the catastrophic – citing, for our purposes here, especially Hurricane Katrina – to occur?

Let’s go back to where we began for a look at the possibilities.

Was this a natural disaster? Hurricanes travel in clusters and hurricane activity waxes and wanes in cycles. There were predictions months before Katrina hit that the Gulf would be in for some heavy, heavy activity. And people were warned. A poll of evacuees living in shelters in the Houston area after Katrina revealed that three-fourths had heard about the evacuation order. More than two-thirds said they didn’t evacuate because they didn’t realize how bad the storm and its aftermath would be. More than half said they had no way to leave.

Natural disasters often cause people to reevaluate their priorities in life. Did the Lord turn the evil for good by sending people to help the suffering, by moving Christians to minister and counsel and pray and tell people of the hope they can find in Jesus? Yes.

Was this a case of divine discipline? The Old and New Testaments make it clear that suffering can be an avenue of God’s discipline in our lives, similar to the discipline a loving parent administers to a child. A loving parent stops a child from putting his hand on a hot stove. The child “suffers” at the moment by being denied access. But the parent sees the big picture and disciplines the child. So, too, God can discipline us.

Hebrews 12:10-11 illustrates this. There we read: “God disciplines us for our good that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Was the hurricane a sign that the end is near? It has been said that we have been in the end times since the days of Jesus. While we are told to be on the watch, we are also commanded not to spend enormous amounts of time speculating on when the end will come.

Did the hurricane put human folly on display? Yes. Did we see a breakdown in leadership? Yes. Did some human beings make some bad choices? Yes. Can God bring great good out a terrible tragedy? Romans 8:28 tells us, yes, He can. We may not know the reason for suffering in any given situation. But we can affirm, with relief and joy, that in “all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” The Psalms are full of cries for deliverance from trouble as well as the assurance that God is with us and will deliver us from suffering.

I don’t know why God allowed Hurricane Katrina to cause such devastating damage along the Gulf Coast and I wouldn’t dare to assert otherwise. God may have had a different reason for every individual touched by the storm, including you. But, you know, as Charles Spurgeon explained: when we cannot trace God’s hand, we must simply trust His heart.

You might be surprised to learn that when a poll was taken of Hurricane Katrina evacuees living in shelters in the Houston area just days after the storm, eight in ten said that their faith had been strengthened through the ordeal. And 90 percent were hopeful for the future. More than half of their homes had been destroyed. Almost three-fourths didn’t have insurance to cover their losses.

The great hope that we have in the midst of suffering is that, in a way that is beyond our comprehension, God is able to turn evil against itself. And it is because of this truth that we can find joy even in the midst of sorrow and pain. We are even counseled in scripture to rejoice in trial, not because the affliction itself is a cause for joy (it’s not), but because in it God can find an occasion for producing what is good.

And God is not only aware of our suffering. He feels it. As Paul Little has noted: “No pain or suffering has ever come to us that has not first passed through the heart and hand of God. Christians follow Jesus who the scripture reveals as the “Suffering Servant.” He understands our sorrows. He walks with us in our trials, in our sorrows.

Suffering can provide an opportunity for God to display His glory and to make evident His mercy, faithfulness, power and love in the midst of painful circumstances. Perhaps you have a testimony to offer in support of that truth. It’s a testimony that must be voiced, that must be shared with those who are struggling in the darkness that is the world apart from Jesus Christ. He does not leave us alone.

As in the case of Job (who was tested through trial after trial and eventually came to offer an outpouring of thanks to the Lord for the lessons learned therein), our faithfulness in trial shows that we serve Him not merely for the benefits He offers, but for the love of God Himself (Job 1:9-11).

Trials also provide an opportunity for believers to demonstrate their love for others, to compassionately care for those in need. And, as we are comforted by God in our own afflictions, so we are better able to comfort others in theirs. Suffering also plays a key role in developing godly virtues, and in deterring us from sin. Oftentimes, we learn obedience in times of trial.

And evil and suffering can awaken within us a greater hunger for heaven, for that time when God’s purposes for these experiences will have been finally fulfilled, when we’ll understand far more than we do now, when all tears will be dried, when pain and sorrow shall be no more.

I’d like to close with some images and leave you with a question.

Following Katrina, the Philadelphia Inquirer carried a cover story about what people carried away after the storm. The article opened with these words: “When people are uprooted by a natural disaster, what they salvage assumes great importance. Some of the objects the displaced clung to were sensible, chosen to provide comfort in the dehumanizing anonymity of an emergency shelter. Some were practical, items that would ease the process of rebuilding. Some were emotional, touchstones of a past that would never be replaced. Upon such fragments, a blanket, a photo, a shard of stained glass, a future, may, must be built. Pat Walker fled her flooded trailer with her memories – a cardboard box containing two bound books, some letters and a few cards. Linda Temple gathered vital documents such as birth certificates and Social Security cards for her four children, ages 3 to 8. John Cummings, a 68-year-old father of eight children ranging in age from 16 to 40, returned to his home in a New Orleans suburb to get his daughter’s clothes. His youngest child, a junior in high school, needed to have some of her old clothes, not just replacements, he said. ‘There’s nothing like that favorite skirt.’ James Savage brought the family’s silverware, wrapped in a pink towel. It was ‘my grandmother’s,’ the man said. Angie Rogers had time only to take her black macramé purse containing her glasses, a comb and her id. And Tom Cruise (not the movie star) wouldn’t leave without his dog. After the storm, Jayne Davis made her way back to the condominium complex she’d called home. The only possession she could find was a large bronze cross. ‘We should have this blessed,’ she told her husband. He replied, ‘I believe it already is.’”

My question for you today is: What will you salvage from Hurricane Katrina and other “catastrophes”?

Unpacking that, what I mean by that is: What lessons will you learn? Will you learn to cling to the cross and find the blessings there even in the midst of trials? Will you look for ways to minister to others in their times of trial? Will you examine the priorities in your life and welcome the Lord’s continuing development in you of godly virtues?

Can you, with Paul, affirm that – in ALL things – we are more than conquerors through the Lord who loves us, convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord?

Featured Image: Severe weather montage. From left to right starting at the top: F5 tornado; wildfire; thunderstorm and lightning; flooding; hurricane; ice storm; giant hail. Source: Fallschirmjager.

 

Until the Sound of a Mighty Rain…

“Ask for a confirming sign from the Lord your God. You can even ask for something miraculous”–Isaiah 7:11 (NIV)

Ahab went out to meet Elijah. The moment Ahab saw Elijah he said, “So it’s you, old troublemaker!”

“It’s not I who has caused trouble in Israel,” said Elijah, “but you and your government—you’ve dumped God’s ways and commands and run off after the local gods, the Baals. Here’s what I want you to do: Assemble everyone in Israel at Mount Carmel. And make sure that the special pets of Jezebel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of the local gods, the Baals, and the four hundred prophets of the whore goddess Asherah, are there.”

So Ahab summoned everyone in Israel, particularly the prophets, to Mount Carmel.

Elijah challenged the people: “How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow him; if it’s Baal, follow him. Make up your minds!”

Nobody said a word; nobody made a move.

Then Elijah said, “I’m the only prophet of God left in Israel; and there are 450 prophets of Baal. Let the Baal prophets bring up two oxen; let them pick one, butcher it, and lay it out on an altar on firewood—but don’t ignite it. I’ll take the other ox, cut it up, and lay it on the wood. But neither will I light the fire. Then you pray to your gods and I’ll pray to God. The god who answers with fire will prove to be, in fact, God.”

All the people agreed: “A good plan—do it!”

Elijah told the Baal prophets, “Choose your ox and prepare it. You go first, you’re the majority. Then pray to your god, but don’t light the fire.”

So they took the ox he had given them, prepared it for the altar, then prayed to Baal. They prayed all morning long, “O Baal, answer us!” But nothing happened—not so much as a whisper of breeze. Desperate, they jumped and stomped on the altar they had made.

By noon, Elijah had started making fun of them, taunting, “Call a little louder—he is a god, after all. Maybe he’s off meditating somewhere or other, or maybe he’s gotten involved in a project, or maybe he’s on vacation. You don’t suppose he’s overslept, do you, and needs to be waked up?” They prayed louder and louder, cutting themselves with swords and knives—a ritual common to them—until they were covered with blood.

This went on until well past noon. They used every religious trick and strategy they knew to make something happen on the altar, but nothing happened—not so much as a whisper, not a flicker of response.

Then Elijah told the people, “Enough of that—it’s my turn. Gather around.” And they gathered. He then put the altar back together for by now it was in ruins. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of Jacob, the same Jacob to whom God had said, “From now on your name is Israel.” He built the stones into the altar in honor of God. Then Elijah dug a fairly wide trench around the altar. He laid firewood on the altar, cut up the ox, put it on the wood, and said, “Fill four buckets with water and drench both the ox and the firewood.” Then he said, “Do it again,” and they did it. Then he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. The altar was drenched and the trench was filled with water.

When it was time for the sacrifice to be offered, Elijah the prophet came up and prayed, “O God, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make it known right now that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I’m doing what I’m doing under your orders. Answer me, God; O answer me and reveal to this people that you are God, the true God, and that you are giving these people another chance at repentance.”

Immediately the fire of God fell and burned up the offering, the wood, the stones, the dirt, and even the water in the trench.

All the people saw it happen and fell on their faces in awed worship, exclaiming, “God is the true God! God is the true God!”

Elijah said to Ahab, “Up on your feet! Eat and drink—celebrate! Rain is on the way; I hear it coming.”

Ahab did it: got up and ate and drank. Meanwhile, Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bowed deeply in prayer, his face between his knees. Then he said to his young servant, “On your feet now! Look toward the sea.”

He went, looked, and reported back, “I don’t see a thing.”

“Keep looking,” said Elijah, “seven times if necessary.”

And sure enough, the seventh time he said, “Oh yes, a cloud! But very small, no bigger than someone’s hand, rising out of the sea.”

“Quickly then, on your way. Tell Ahab, ‘Saddle up and get down from the mountain before the rain stops you.’”

Things happened fast. The sky grew black with wind-driven clouds, and then a huge cloudburst of rain, with Ahab hightailing it in his chariot for Jezreel. And God strengthened Elijah mightily. Pulling up his robe and tying it around his waist, Elijah ran in front of Ahab’s chariot until they reached Jezreel.”–1 Kings 18:16b-39, 41-46 (The Message)

Make thy petition deep, O heart of mine,

Thy God can do much more

Than thou canst ask;

Launch out on the Divine,

Draw from His love-filled store.

Trust Him with everything;

Begin today,

And find the joy that comes

When Jesus has His way!—Selected

We must keep on praying and waiting upon the Lord, until the sound of a mighty rain is heard. There is no reason why we should not ask for large things; and without doubt we shall get large things if we ask in faith, and have the courage to wait with patient perseverance upon Him, meantime doing those things which lie within our power to do.

We cannot create the wind or set it in motion, but we can set our sails to catch it when it comes; we cannot make the electricity, but we can stretch the wire along upon which it is to run and do its work; we cannot, in a word, control the Spirit, but we can so place ourselves before the Lord, and so do the things He has bidden us do, that we will come under the influence and power of His mighty breath.Selected

“Cannot the same wonders be done now as of old? Where is the God of Elijah? He is waiting for Elijah to call on Him.”

“The greatest saints who ever lived…are on a level which is quite within our reach. The same forces of the spiritual world which were at their command, and the exertion of which made them such spiritual heroes, are open to us also. If we had the same faith, the same hope, the same love which they exhibited, we would achieve marvels as great as those which they achieved. A word of prayer in our mouths would be as potent to call down the gracious dews and melting fires of God’s Spirit, as it was in Elijah’s mouth to call down literal rain and fire, if we could only speak the word with that full assurance of faith wherewith he said it.”—Edward Meyrick Goulburn, Dean of Norwich

From today’s Streams in the Desert

Accompanying photo: DFG Hailson

Forcing Conformity While Calling It Tolerance

I am a staunch advocate for free speech and the free exercise of religion and am appalled at the steady erosion of these long-in-place and long-cherished rights in the United States.  

Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty, recently responded to a question about sin, paraphrasing–what he believes to be–the Word of God. He has been threatened with the loss of his job on the A&E network because he did so.

Companies like Hobby Lobby are being threatened with millions of dollars in crippling fines and, thus, ultimate expulsion from the marketplace because they are refusing to provide government-mandated employee health insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs and related counseling. To go against their deeply-held pro-life beliefs would violate their Christian principles. This case is going all the way to the Supreme Court.

The marginalization of Christians in this country is a frightening trend and one that should alarm every American.

In the article below to which I link, is found this:

“Speaking on the issue of tolerance, mega-church pastor and bestselling author Rick Warren observed: ‘Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.’ Tolerance is not the same thing as acceptance, and acceptance is not the same thing as an endorsement. The message A&E’s decision sends is that the network will not tolerate someone who conscientiously objects to homosexuality on religious grounds. The implication of that message is that 45 percent of Americans [who are striving to live by biblical standards] should, in principle, be prepared either to sacrifice their jobs or recant their beliefs and endorse a lifestyle to which they are opposed, conscience be damned. To the extent that we embrace that implication, in television and in other American industries, we’re also embracing an identity as a nation that forces conformity while calling it tolerance.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/12/the-genuine-conflict-being-ignored-in-the-i-duck-dynasty-i-debate/282587/#!

A Can of Oil

Oil canThere is a story of an old man who carried a little can of oil with him everywhere he went, and if he passed through a door that squeaked, he poured a little oil on the hinges. If a gate was hard to open, he oiled the latch. And thus he passed through life lubricating all hard places and making it easier for those who came after him. People called him eccentric, queer, and cranky; but the old man went steadily on refilling his can of oil when it became empty, and oiled the hard places he found.

There are many lives that creak and grate harshly as they live day by day. Nothing goes right with them. They need lubricating with the oil of gladness, gentleness, or thoughtfulness.

Have you your own can of oil with you? Be ready with your oil of helpfulness in the early morning to the one nearest you. It may lubricate the whole day for him. The oil, of good cheer to the downhearted one–Oh, how much it may mean! The word of courage to the despairing. Speak it. Our lives touch others but once, perhaps, on the road of life; and then, mayhap, our ways diverge, never to meet again.

The oil of kindness has worn the sharp, hard edges off of many a sin-hardened life and left it soft and pliable and ready for the redeeming grace of the Saviour. A word spoken pleasantly is a large spot of sunshine on a sad heart. Therefore, “Give others the sunshine, tell Jesus the rest.”

Excerpted from Streams in the Desert

Nelson Mandela and the Power of Faith

Nelson Mandela at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA, 1993.
Nelson Mandela at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA, 1993.

As the world mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela, I am reminded of a visit to Zimbabwe some years ago where I had the privilege of hearing him speak.

Robert Mugabe was also on the platform that day and I remember being struck by the great difference in the receptions afforded the two men. While Mugabe was greeted with polite (faint) applause, the room filled with ululations and other expressions of appreciation and admiration as Mandela stepped to the podium. Mandela, on that day, praised the missionaries who had been so influential in his walk with Christ and he insisted he would not have been the man he was if not for his faith.

I pray that followers of Christ who are reading this today might honor Mandela (and, more importantly, the God he served), by celebrating what Christ has done for us and by working each day for justice, peace and righteousness wherever the Lord calls us. And for anyone reading this today who has not met Jesus, I pray you might take note of how a walk with Christ may transform your life as it did Mandela’s. I pray you might invite Jesus into your life, celebrate your first true Christmas with great joy, and know the all-surpassing peace of the Lord all your days.

One Mandela statement that I’ve seen quoted again and again yesterday and this morning is this: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Would that we might all be granted the power by the Lord to overcome the bitterness, hatred and unforgiveness in our lives! Freedom.

Mandela_-_watercolour_-_caption_-_addresses_UN_3_Dec_1999_by_Eskinder_Debebe