At the University of Chicago Divinity School, each year, they have what is called “Baptist Day.” On this day, each one is to bring a lunch to be eaten outdoors in a grassy picnic area. Every “Baptist Day” the school would invite one of the greatest minds to lecture in the theological education center.
One year they invited Dr. Paul Tillich. Dr.Tillich spoke for two and one-half hours attempting to prove that the resurrection of Jesus was false. He quoted scholar after scholar and book after book. He concluded that since there was no such thing as the historical resurrection, the religious tradition of the church was groundless, emotional mumbo-jumbo… because it was based on a relationship with a risen Jesus, who, in fact never rose from the dead in any literal sense. He then asked if there were any questions.
Turn on the television during prime viewing hours, and you’ll see advertisements, entertainment news shows, sitcoms, and hour-long dramas awash in sex. Unfortunately, very little of the sex takes place in the context of marriage, and almost none of it has real-world consequences. When was the last time you saw a realistic portrayal of sexually transmitted disease, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, or the financial disadvantage of single-parent homes?
But sex, like every other human behavior, has consequences. Why don’t television and other popular media deal with those consequences realistically, instead of just portraying sex as a harmless free-for-all? I would suggest that it is because they—as well large chunks of our culture—are committed to an ideology of sexual liberation whereby any sexual choice is moral (and therefore above criticism), as long as it is freely and authentically chosen. Call this…
Proverbs 15:23 says, “A person finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word!” That verse sprung to mind this morning as I spent a few minutes on Facebook yesterday. I had awaken up feeling a bit overwhelmed and burdened. The last couple of months have been more stressful than our normal life.
Some of the stress, such as dealing with the declining health of older loved ones, is a normal part of life. It’s not pleasant, but it is unavoidable. Other stress is productive, as it pushes us to accomplish tasks that need to be done. Some other stresses are really external to my life, involving loved ones walking through difficult situations. Those are not really my burdens to bear. I can’t affect those situations except through prayer and offering godly wisdom when I am asked.
Even though I knew all that, I awoke feeling the weight of those burdens. I was feeling a bit ‘woe is me,’ and went so far as to ask the Lord, “Can’t we just have a couple weeks without so much stress?” That’s what I was feeling when I opened Facebook and the first status update I read was from a dear friend Joe:
So………. to all my friends………… remember and repeat after me,
“THIS!……… is the day that our Lord has made! I will rejoice and be glad!”Let no one define you today but you. Think about this, if you were writing the story of your life, why would you give the pen to someone other than yourself?
You are valuable and worth much to your Father in Heaven!. and to me too.
Wow. What a timely word. As if that wasn’t enough to get me back on track, I skimmed down further and read a post from my friend Becky.
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Another very timely word. I am so thankful that God knows just what we need to encourage us as we walk through the trials of this life. Sometimes He speaks to me through His word, and other times He allows someone to speak a timely word to me.
Have you noticed God speaking just the words you need to hear at the time you need to hear them?
In my devotions currently I am reading through the Psalms. This morning I came across Psalm 33:10 – 11, “The Lord foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the people. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. ” I’ve read these verses before, many times, and they encourage me that God’s plans will come to fruition. Yet today they struck me in a new way.
Christians often exhort one another to pray that God’s purposes will be fulfilled in our nation and in the lives of our family and friends. And we should. Our nation needs to turn our collective hearts back to serving God–the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Christians across our nation pray that our leaders will seek God’s guidance in decision-making, that our nation will repent of its sins, and that we will acknowledge our dependence on God.
Yet, Psalm 33:10 encourages us to do more. It tells us that God will thwart the plans of those who oppose Him. It says to me that I should pray deliberately for the plans of those who do not honor the Lord to fail. I should pray not only for Congress to pass laws that are in keeping with God’s commands, but I should actively pray for the failure of bills that don’t agree with God’s word. I should pray for our President to make decisions that honor God and to be dissuaded from decisions that do not honor God.
On the one hand, this differentiation might seem like mere semantics. However, as I see it, praying for the failure of those whose who purposes are not in line with God’s will puts me on the offensive. Many Christians in America are very passive concerning the government. We pray as Christ taught us through the Lord’s prayer, “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6: 9, 10) We feel that we have done our part by praying for God’s will to be done, and we sit back and watch our nation move further and further from God.
The time has come for Christians to actively pray against the forces that are driving our nation from God. We need to pray for God’s will to be done and we must pray for the plans of those whose purposes are not godly to be thwarted. Our God is strong and mighty; He is fully capable of ‘foiling the plans of the nations’ and causing His plans and purposes to be achieved, if we ask Him.
I encourage you today to go on the offensive. Begin to pray for God’s will to be done and for God to thwart the plans of those who oppose Him. If Christians across this nation do so, I believe American can still be a nation under God.
This week’s lesson on honoring God with money focused on practical money-management tips. These ideas have been culled from books, magazine articles, and internet sites, including Crown Financial Ministries and Christian Financial Concepts.
Today’s tips focus on ways to save on clothing and medical expenses for your family.
Saving on Clothing:
1) If you can sew, consider making clothes.
2) Make a written list of clothing needs and purchase during the “off” season when possible.
3) Select outfits that can be mixed and used in multiple combinations rather than as a single set.
4) Frequent the discount outlets that carry unmarked name-brand goods.
5) Shop at authentic factory outlet stores for close-out values of top quality.
6) Select clothing made of home washable fabrics.
7) Use coin-operated dry cleaning machines instead of commercial cleaners.
8) Practice early repair for damaged clothing.
9) Learn to utilize all clothing fully (especially children’s wear).
10) Check out Goodwill and the Salvation Army for clothing.
11) Have clothes swapping parties. Works for kids’ clothes and grown up clothes.
Reducing Medical Expenses:
1) Prevention is cheaper than treatment.
2) Teach children to eat the right foods and clean their teeth properly. Good diet, rest, and exercise will most likely result in better health.
3) Ask doctors and dentists in advance about costs.
4) Shop for prescriptions and use generic drugs when possible.
5) Be sure to use doctors and labs that are in your insurance network.
Yesterday a man was released from prison in California after a judge determined he had been falsely convicted. Daniel Larsen was sentenced to 27 years to life in 1999 under California’s “three strikes” law after being convicted of illegally carrying a concealed weapon. Larsen claimed that a knife found under a car at the scene of a fight was not his but was thrown under the car by another man. No one actually saw Larsen with the knife. Larsen served more than 13 years of his sentence before a judge ruled that Larsen is “actually innocent” of the charge, thus freeing him. For more detail on the story, please go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/20/daniel-larsen-freed_n_2916889.html
While Daniel Larsen was not guilty of the crime for which he was imprisoned, he is a twice convicted burglar. The previous convictions resulted in Larsen receiving a much harsher sentence than one would expect for a concealed weapons violation. Still, Larsen was not guilty of the crime he was charged with and I am thankful that he has been rightly released.
I have been thinking a lot about wrongful convictions in the past few weeks since I watched the movie ‘The Next Three Days.’ In this movie, Russell Crowe plays the husband of a woman convicted of murder on the basis of circumstantial evidence and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Crowe is absolutely convinced of his wife’s innocence and exhausts all his resources and legal options in an attempt to have her conviction overturned. When all his efforts fail, he decides to break her out of prison. I won’t reveal any spoilers–the movie description tells you everything I have mentioned. It’s an intense, dramatic movie, and I highly recommend it.
Watching ‘The Next Three Days’ got me wondering how I would cope if I were falsely convicted of a crime. I’m certain that I would not want to my loved ones to attempt to break me out of jail. Committing a crime and risking innocent lives is not the way to right a wrong. Of course, I would want my family to exhaust all legal options to secure my freedom, and I would pray that God would intervene on behalf. But, what would my atttitude be? I would hope that my attitude and my behavior would point others to Jesus Christ.
The Bible is full of examples of godly men who were imprisoned, enslaved, or murdered when they had done nothing to deserve those fates. Joseph comes to mind as an exemplary role model. Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and later imprisoned after being falsely accused by his master’s wife of making inappropriate advances. Yet, Joseph honored God in prison. We read in Genesis 39:21 -23 “The Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.”
Because Joseph honored God, God honored Joseph. Eventually, Joseph was released from prison and elevated to the second highest position in the land. Joseph could look back later in his life and tell his brothers that he forgave them and that his imprisonment was part of God’s greater plan. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)
Of course, I hope and pray to never have the experience of being falsely convicted of a crime and imprisoned. However, if it did happen, would have the faith and trust in God to view it as part of His larger plan? Would I use that time to share God’s message of mercy and His plan of salvation with other prisoners? Would I be able to focus my attention on heavenly goals, knowing that what happens on earth is but for a moment, but that which glorifies God has eternal value and significance?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, and I truly don’t want to find out. However, every day I have the opportunity to find myself in circumstances that are less than ideal. I need to view every circumstance as an opportunity to share the love of Christ with those whom God puts in my path. Whether I am confined to a jail cell or a hospital bed or a desk at a job I don’t like, I am free to be all that God has called me to be in my present circumstances.
I rejoice that Daniel Larsen has found earthly freedom. I pray that while he was in prison that he had a real encounter with Christ and that he experienced true freedom even while still incarcerated. Today we all have the opportunity to chose true freedom in Christ or bondage to sin. If we know Christ as our Savior, we have the opportunity to look at every circumstance as a chance to share Christ.
How do you think you would respond if you were falsely convicted of a crime?
Historically, charity has been the duty of the church, yet today much of that responsibility has been abdicated to the government. A large portion of the federal budget, and hence of the taxes we pay, is allocated to social programs, such as providing assistance to the poor. Yet, Jesus made it clear that caring for those in need is a primary responsibility of His church.
In Matthew 25: 31 – 46, Jesus talks about the end times. He tells His disciples that at the judgment He will separate the sheep and the goats. The sheep will be rewarded with eternal life and the goats will be condemned to eternal punishment. Who are the sheep? The sheep are described as those who have provided food and drink to the hungry and thirsty and clothing to those in need, those who extended invitations to strangers, those who cared for the sick, and those who have visited prisoners. The goats are the people who did not do these things.
This teaching taken by itself seems to indicate salvation by works. Yet, we know from a thorough reading of the Scriptures, that we cannot achieve salvation by our works. Salvation is a free gift bestowed on those who will accept it through belief in Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. We can never do enough good works to be ‘good enough’ for Heaven. Only if we acknowledge our sin and inadequacies and allow the blood of Jesus to pay the price for our sin can we be saved and receive the gift of eternal life.
What then was Jesus trying to tell His disciples? I believe that He was emphasizing how serious it is for His church to carry out His work of ministering to those in need. As a church, the body of Christ must: (1) feed the hungry, (2) provide clothing to those in need, (3) reach out to strangers and make them feel welcome, (4) care for the sick and lonely, and (5) visit those who are incarcerated. These actions are not voluntary; Jesus mandated them as the primary work of His people.
Jesus came to minister to those in need. When the Pharisees criticized Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus told them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) Jesus went out of His way to interact with those who were in need, whether the need was physical, financial, or spiritual. After their immediate needs were met, they were receptive to Jesus’ message of grace and redemption.
The church should do no less than Jesus did. Charitable outreach cannot be something we do randomly or haphazardly. It must be done regularly and with a plan. To paraphrase a popular saying “no one cares what you believe until they believe you care.” We will only be able to reach the lost, the hurting, the lonely, and the needy if we reach out to them with the love of Jesus and minister first to their physical needs. If the church truly fulfills this mission, sinners will flock to churches and many, many people will receive salvation.
I am happy to be a part of a church that believes in ministering to those in need. We do this specifically by providing food to anyone who calls us and asks for help. Most of the people we assist do not attend our church. We are happy to share Christ’s love through providing food for them. It is our prayer that many of these people will want to fully experience Christ’s love and will seek out a Bible-believing church to attend. We also visit visit the sick and elderly in the hospital and nursing homes. And, of course, many other churches in our community do their part to fulfill Christ’s mandate to serve the poor and needy. Still, there is more that needs to be done.
Each church needs to step up and take primary responsibility for the needy in their communities. If they did, the government could reduce or eliminate many social programs and the church would have the influence it should rightly have in the world.
What are you and your church doing to share Christ’s love with those in need?