Psalm 97:10 “Hate Evil”

Never hate. That’s what we taught our children as we raised them up. In fact, “hate” was a word we did our best to not allow into our vocabulary where it pertained to human beings. ‘We don’t ever hate another,’ we would always tell our four children. Hate is the strongest form of disdain or contempt when used with regard to other people. On the contrary, God’s word is very clear that we’re to love one another, even those who don’t love us and treat us poorly.

Mt. 5:43-44 43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

Psalm 45:7 says, “You love righteousness and hate wickedness.”

Psalm 97:10 says, “Let those who love the Lord hate evil,”

While we are instructed to love one another, as believers, as redeemed recipients of the “new life”, cleansed free of sin by the shed blood of Jesus, we are also instructed to “hate (that’s right, “hate”) evil”.  As Solomon says in Eccl. 3:1,8, 1“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: 8a time to love and a time to hate…”

And why not? If ever there was anything worthy of hatred, it is evil. Evil, the source of sin is, always has been, your greatest enemy. What terrible harm it has brought you. If it only had its way with you, you would be eternally separate from God and His wonderful grace that has in fact saved you. In those years before you came to Christ, sin had you blind to the beauty of the Lord and His love for you. Evil had you convinced that the things of God were foolishness, and made you deaf to His calling. Sin made your conscience numb to a sense of wrong. Evil turned your thinking inward to where all that was important to you was self-satisfaction and insatiable pride. There was no compassion for others – only for what would benefit you.

Oh, what a wretched excuse for humanity you were and what a path of destruction “evil” was leading you along before Jesus came to your rescue! Were it not for the saving grace, for the amazing love of Jesus, oh how lost you, me, all of us would be! We were on a raft headed out to sea, thinking we were going in the right direction, not caring that we were doomed to death, when along came Jesus and saved us; turned us toward shore, and guided us to safety.

1 Corinthians 6:11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

And don’t think the battle is over! Evil, sin, is still out there, lurking, ready to pounce…

1 Peter 5:8 Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Therefore, “hate evil”, Christians. Don’t get apathetic. Evil can make itself look like just another part of the landscape. When the majority of our society is evil, then evil appears pretty normal…pretty acceptable.

What is worthy of our hatred is that from which Christ saved us, lest we ever, foolishly, apathetically, stumble back into its grasp again.

Romans 12:9 Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

 

In Christ,

Rick

Glorify and Honor God –

  “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Matthew 6:33

Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you. Psalm 73:25

Ah, our sweet, wonderful summertime is fading into our rearview mirrors and now autumn is upon us. It’s not like all the beauty of Summer is vanished, as fall certainly has its virtues albeit a bit more crisp in temperature. The colors of God’s creation will soon be upon us like an artist’s canvas and the crops that spent the summer growing are now ready for harvest. We’ll exchange longer daylight hours for earlier evenings and harvest moons, lemonade for apple cider, and baseball afternoons for football Friday nights. Even though anniversaries occur throughout the entire year, it always seems like June, July, and August are particularly so. My wife Jody and I celebrated our 35th anniversary this past July and three of our four children were married in June and July. Several couples here in the Barryton church have celebrated 50 years and more of marriage together! What terrific examples of what God has intended for the marriage relationship! It’s a demonstration of love and commitment to one another. But to love and commitment must also be added devotion and honor, in order for two individuals to abandon their own individual pursuits and ambitions in favor of the needs and ambitions of each other, as the “two become one” (Eph 5:31-33). The inward becomes outward. What better description of the Kingdom of God, the body of Christ, than this outward caring for another as we would care for ourselves (Mt. 23:39), or as Paul describes in Ephesians 5, 25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… 28…husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.

Not long ago I was feeling convicted that my prayer life was not as it should be. As can often happen when we question why a relationship is not working as it should, or isn’t quite as you expect it to be, the answer is no further away than the mirror. “Hey, what’s wrong? You never come over to see me anymore.” To which the reply comes, “I’ve been home. Why don’t you come to see me?” Clearly, the problem was mine, not God’s. None the less, God was making me aware of my negligence. But this revealed to me yet another problem. When I would make myself pray it seemed legalistic and hollow. My prayers seemed to always consist of a list of needs (or wants, mostly my own) and a few boilerplate thank-you’s. I really wanted to spend quality time with God in prayer but we just didn’t have that much to talk about. Certainly God wants us to lift up one another in prayer and He wants us to come to Him with all our problems, questions, and needs, but I wanted our time together to draw us closer; to build on our relationship. See, just as in the marriage relationship – our relationship with God takes love, commitment, devotion, and honor.

So I turned to Matthew 6, where Jesus is teaching about prayer, and I read through the Lord’s Prayer. Now, I realize this is no magical, approved set of words, ‘the official prayer’ to be used if you ‘really want God to listen’, but Jesus’ prayer models for us a reverent, non-selfish, petition to God. It begins with first things first, priority #1: give honor to God. Before anything else, God is addressed, “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed (holy) is your name…” Then, the first request, or petition, is that God’s purposes, His will, be accomplished. At first I thought, “What if His will is not the same as my will?” But then it occurred to me; I’m the one with the problem. I need to get my will in line with God’s will, not the other way around. Because God’s will is perfect, and it always has my best interest at heart. So if I desire God’s will to “be done on earth as it is in heaven”, that is what’s best for me. It’s a matter of priority; putting God and His interest first; loving Him; glorifying Him; honoring Him, because He first loved me.

But it’s not a pay-back deal. ‘You did something good for me, so I need to do something just as good for you.’ Let’s face it. Any amount of love, or glory, we might be able to conjure up is going to fall embarrassingly short of what He deserves from us. What’s the perfect gift for the guy who has everything? Technically, nothing. So how do we glorify God. . . adequately? Technically, you can’t. We glorify God through honoring Him. Now honoring God is not one of those, ‘did we, or did we not, adequately honor God’ things. You either honor God or you don’t, through various means, not the least of which is placing Him first in all aspects of our lives; “priority”.

Some time back, I preached a message on “Honoring Christ”, in which I identified three key areas where we can honor Christ in our lives:

  1. We can honor Christ through obedience. Jesus said, 15“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” John 14:15
  2. We honor Christ by glorifying His name. 14”Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, 15and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” Psalm 50:14-15
  3. We give honor to the Lord when we trust His perfect judgment. Paul says in his letter to Timothy, “…because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” 1 Timothy 1:12

These are by no means an exhaustive list of “ways in which we honor Christ”. We also honor Him with our prayers, with our thanksgiving, our tithes and offerings. We can honor with our integrity. We can honor Christ by, in every way, trying to be like Him. However, the pattern that we see demonstrated is that God, our father, our creator, our redeemer, our Lord must be the pinnacle of our affections. He will not play second fiddle to anyone or anything. We must place our relationship with God above all else. So ask yourself daily, ‘Is there anything in my life that I desire more than Jesus?’  Do you ever find yourself being prompted to pray about something, or for someone, and it’s so fresh at the time you just want to stop what you’re doing and pray? But, you’re kinda busy at the moment, so you tell God (in so many words), ‘Let me finish what I’m doing, and I’ll get back to you on that.’  I have. I’ve had times when I was driving down the road alone, and I so much felt that God “wanted to talk” and I thought, ‘Lord. As soon as this inning is over on the radio, I’ll shut it off and we’ll talk.’ Or, ‘Just let me finish checking my emails, or reading the sports, or watching a program on t.v……’; you fill in the blank. Here’s the bottom line; if the relationship is important to you, if it carries great value, it must be of highest priority. It must be honored.

Train Up A Child – They’re Worth It! Proverbs 22:6

 

It has been my privilege over the past three years, to serve on the board of trustees for the Rock Lake Christian Association. My relationship with the camp extends back far beyond those three years as it impacted the life and Christian upbringing of my wife Jody, all four of our children, and now we’re beginning to experience the fruits of such an impact upon yet a third generation in our family as the first two of our grandchildren are experiencing camp at Rock Lake.  This year was Benjamin’s first taste of camp (Kindergarten) as he and his Dad spent an overnighter. Ben had a wonderful time, met some new friends and learned about Jesus in a camp environment.

Brooklyn, a second grader, stayed three days and nights – with no parents! This was Brooklyn’s second year at Rock Lake, so she was (in her mind) a seasoned pro! She also met some new friends and took to camp like a fish to water! But the thing that thrilled my heart more than anything else was this: on Tuesday night, after coming home from camp, about bedtime (for her) I got a phone call from Ryan, her Dad. He told me what a wonderful time Brooklyn had at camp, but what he’d actually called about was, before bedtime, Brooklyn wanted him to read her the story of the lost sheep. That was one of the stories they learned about at camp and she particularly liked it. Ryan knew it was in Matthew but wasn’t sure exactly where to find it. So we come to the conclusion she was talking about the Matthew 18 parable of the lost sheep, also in Luke 15. So he hung up and read her the story. Later he called back and told me how excited she was about the things she had learned at camp. Brooklyn is an exceptional reader for a second grader. She has a children’s bible with lots of pictures and narratives written in story form, but it seems that Brooklyn came home with the request for a Bible, “a real Bible with chapters and verses…like yours…”. She wanted an Adventure Bible, like the ones they had at camp.

In years past, other children have come back from camp with similar experiences, some with stirred desire to be baptized, some simply renewed faith and a closer walk with Jesus. Each year I see so many of our kids going off to camp and coming back again renewed and invigorated! And so many of these kids would most likely not be able to go were it not for the generosity and compassion of this congregation. Every penny spent is a penny invested in these young lives, in the Kingdom of God. Every hour of effort encouraging, teaching, supporting is an investment in the future, in the Kingdom of God.

Somebody said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” I have no idea who said it, but they’re right. That’s why those first, early impressions are so, so important. They’re what sets the crease, the imprint.

The things we’re taught early on in life have a chance to set in. Those things you were taught in kindergarten; ABC’s, spelling your name, saying “please” and “thank you”, and “excuse me”, those are things that have stuck with you throughout your life. You don’t have to stop and think about those things. They’re engrained in you. That’s why those childhood years are called “formative” years.

So when you see our youngsters come up front in the sanctuary with quivering knees and recite scripture verses they’ve committed to memory, to earn points for camp….or When you find yourself wondering if all that work that goes into VBS is worth it… or You start to wonder if any of those kids in Sunday school classes are getting anything at all out of it…. Seeds are being planted.  Training is underway. Kingdom work is being done! And it’s not going unnoticed! It’s ALL worth it!

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.

(Thank You for Giving to the Lord by Ray Boltz)

I dreamed I went to heaven And you were there with me
We walked upon the streets of gold Beside the crystal sea
We heard the angels singing Then someone called your name
You turned and saw this young man And he was smiling as he came
And he said friend you may not know me now And then he said but wait
You used to teach my Sunday School When I was only eight
And every week you would say a prayer Before the class would start
And one day when you said that prayer I asked Jesus in my heart
CHORUS
Thank you for giving to the Lord I am a life that was changed
Thank you for giving to the Lord I am so glad you gave

In Christ, Rick

Fathers! Mow that lawn! Joshua 24:15

Oh how I do love springtime! I love the warmer weather. I love the birds singing. I love the trees budding out and the flowers coming up, and many of them blooming! Not so fond of the rapid growth of the grass in my yard though. But, that’s ok, it’s still springtime! After a week or two I’ll mow the lawn.

Fast forward two weeks. Man! My yard’s a mess! Sticks and tree branches layin all over, and the grass is out of control! This yardwork is going to be a nightmare! My yard’s never going to look nice like all the neighbor’s yards! Even when I mow it I’ve got piles of grass clippings everywhere!

The problem is a lack consistent discipline. It’s a little bit like the issue of discipleship. Whether it’s newly saved Christians, who are brothers and sisters in Christ, or those we are witnessing to in hopes of leading them to Lord, or those family members in our own household, we have been called to make disciples of all nations Mt. 28:19. Why? Because we need to share the gospel, for certain, but for those who already are Christians, they need someone to come alongside them; to mentor them, care for them, uphold them in adversity, teach them…disciple them.

Isn’t it interesting how similar “disciple” is, to “disci-pline”? And discipline needn’t take such a negative connotation. Discipline is really a very good thing. The dictionary defines it as ‘an activity or exercise to develop or improve a skill, training; a branch of instruction or learning.’ So to discipline is to improve, or to continue to do correctly; such as may bring to mind the influence and relationships of a father.

Just as that lawn, if ignored and allowed to simply take care of its self, will soon grow unsightly, too long to cut with a conventional lawnmower and with sticks and debris everywhere. In short, it needs to be cared for, disciplined, mentored. Left to fend for itself, chaos ensues. So goes the condition of any individual life, family, nation, church, school…where God is removed and righteousness is left to seek its own level. Even though we intend to do the good we know to be right, there are always forces seeking to prey on the weak and isolated.
1 Peter 5:8 Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Fathers, if that yard of yours is growing out of control, and you’re complaining about it. Who’s responsible for the condition of that yard? You are. You tend to that grass regularly, keep the sticks picked up as you see them appear, clean up the trash when you see it – and you’ll have a fine looking yard that would appear to be taking care of itself. Same goes for your family. You’re given charge of the welfare of those young lives; the care, protection, provision, teaching, spiritual leadership during their most impressionable years. If you leave them to grow up on their own, Satan won’t hesitate to fill their minds with weeds and trash and sticks and rubbish. And you may find at some point that they’ve become like that lawn that just got out of hand.

Father’s, it’s a tough enough job that we have teaching, protecting our families against the lies and evil of the world, when even our best efforts may and many times do fall short. Because, at the end of the day, our children all have a free will choice to make concerning Jesus. But their best chance at an informed decision comes through their upbringing by Godly parents, guided by their own heavenly Father.

This Father’s Day, think about this: Our Nation needs Godly leadership
Our Schools need Godly students
Our Students need Godly families
Our Families need Godly Fathers
Joshua 24:15 “…But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

In Christ,
Rick

O Lord, you took up my case; you redeemed my life.  Lamentations 3:58

Sometimes it seems that the tunnel we’re traveling through has no end, just more and more darkness the further we go. But we’re encouraged to keep moving forward, it’ll get better. They say there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but no one’s seen it yet?! Press onward.

Oh the joy that redemption brings! That first sight of land after weeks at sea. It seemed as if you were lost forever, floundering on the waves, never to be rescued. But, then, far out on the horizon you thought you saw something. A tiny dark smudge? Then a bit later, a seagull flies past with a small branch in its beak, and there it was…hope, redemption!  It was almost like someone placed those defibrillator paddles across your chest and ZAPP!!… Clear … ZAPP!! And there’s life again where a few minutes ago there was only gloom and despair. Now there’s a spark.

Now, there’s something green popping up through the brown mud and dead grass. There’s a couple little daffodils showing off their colors and, now, some buds popping out on the trees. What seemed to be surely dead is now taking on signs of life! It seemed like winter had taken up permanent residence! Even when the calendar looked like springtime, one look outside told you otherwise. That tunnel was oh so long! But even with the April snow and ice, all it takes is to see a couple of Robins hopping around outside, or that first 50 degree day to remind us, “redemption draweth nigh”, and put joy in your heart! 

“And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.” — Mr. Beaver in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Writing for the US Naval community publication THE LIGHTHOUSE, Lt. Baron Miller describes the Lenten season as our “exodus from winter”:

  1. S. Lewis’ Narnia is a magical land that is always cold. The White Witch has kept Narnia under her spell, creating a permanent season of snow, ice and death. It was “always winter and never Christmas” in Narnia. That was until Aslan came back to bring freedom and “shake his mane.”

Like Jesus, Aslan the lion king represents freedom from death’s snare and release into joy. When Aslan is on the move in Narnia, winter begins to melt and life comes into bloom.

Lt. Miller concludes, “For us in the real world, Lent is very similar. Lent means ‘springtime,’ and it marks our exodus from winter into the dawn of spring. For us as Christ followers, Lent reminds us that Jesus is on the move and the joyous season of spring is here. He will provide for us a ‘crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and the garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair’.

All of that, one may very well translate into the single action verb that is what a Savior does; “redemption”. God, speaking through Isaiah to Judah, warned them against relying on their own ways, trusting in Egypt and others rather than trusting in God. Isaiah 30:15 God says, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.

Isaiah’s prophecies to Judah warned them of the bitter long cold of winter that would eventually come their way because of their wicked obstinance. But Isaiah’s prophecies to Judah are not all doom and gloom. They will be redeemed. Spring will come.

In Isaiah 34 and 35, is one prophecy in which God professes judgement against the enemies of Judah, here represented by Edom, and then the flourishing redemption of the land; such a clear foreshadowing Israel’s redemption as a nation following their exile.

Isaiah 35:1-2   1The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus,
2 it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.

And when others see this blessed transformation, this metamorphosis; “crocus’ bursting into bloom” where was formerly a baron wilderness – it must be the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God, that they see…that we see, and give our heartfelt gratitude for. Let us never, ever cease to praise Him for the redemption He has given us!

 

In Christ,

Rick

“HELLO… I’m RIGHT .. HERE ..” – Luke 24:15-16

 

Did you ever find yourself talking to someone who is looking for someone that you soon realize is you? Maybe it’s not “you” particularly by name, rather it’s you the manager, or the supervisor, or the person who does the hiring, or handles the advertising. You’ve been trying to get the message across to them that you, in fact, are that person they’re looking for, but for some unknown reason, they’re not hearing it. I’m not sure why, but Christians tend to be that way with Jesus quite often.

In these days approaching Easter, certain passages of scripture comes to mind whereby different ones were in the presence of Jesus and yet, “did not realize” it to be Him. In John 20:13-15, Mary Magdalene is outside the tomb crying. As she looks inside the tomb, she encounters two angels. 14At this, she turns around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

Again, in John 21:4 Jesus appears on the shore of the Sea of Galilee as His disciples are fishing not far off shore. 4Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

In Matthew 28:17 the eleven disciples went, as they were told, to Galilee where Jesus had told the women to instruct them to meet Him. 17When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.

And in Luke 24:15-16, two disciples, or followers of Jesus, traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus and talking as they went. 15As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16but they were kept from recognizing Him.

In addition to the fact that in each case the people didn’t recognize Jesus, the common denominator is that they all certainly should have. They were all disciples; followers, worshipers of Jesus. They had heard His voice so often, gazed into His eyes. It was akin to running into your recently deceased friend or relative you had been close to and not recognizing them?  Yet, don’t we so often have the same problem with seeing Jesus ourselves? We get in these places in life where we’re just so sure we’re all alone. Jesus has abandoned us! He’s nowhere to be found! We can’t see Him anywhere! At least…it seems that way.

I mean, we know Jesus. We’re Christians! We know what it’s like to see Him answer prayer, to comfort us in time of trouble, and though we know intellectually, “He’s always with us. He hears our pleas”, none the less we find ourselves praying, ‘O how I wish I knew where to find Him!’  We have at our fingertips, access to the very word of God, that never changes. It verifies and confirms truths that remain truths whether they “seem” to be truth or not. Jesus can always be found there, always be heard there.

Jesus is accustomed to walk through the glades of Scripture, and to commune with His people, as the Father did with Adam in the cool of the day, and yet you are in the garden of Scripture, but cannot see him, though He is always there. And why do we not see Him? It must be ascribed in our case, as in the disciples’, to unbelief. They evidently did not expect to see Jesus, and therefore they did not know Him. To a great extent in spiritual things we get what we expect of the Lord. Faith alone can bring us to see Jesus.

Charles H. Spurgeon

And when the two men invited Jesus to stay with them for the evening He agreed and they broke bread together. 30When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, and He disappeared from their sight.

The direct influence of the Holy Spirit through God’s word makes everything clear and recognizable for us what was formerly dark and confusing. Jesus is always there for us, whether we see or feel Him or not.

Open my eyes that I may see, Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;

Silently now I wait for Thee, Ready my God, Thy will to see;

Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!

Let’s eat! John 21:12

 

The sense of smell is one of the most powerful of our five senses. A person can be deeply engrossed in thought, focused on a particular task, when all it takes is strong aroma to completely capture the attention and redirect focus. You’re walking through a shopping mall focused on those last few Christmas gifts you need to pick up for your wife and kids. And then it hits you; like a sucker punch you weren’t expecting! The sweet, warm, delicious aroma of cinnamon rolls! Oh you’ve smelled it before…you’ve tasted it before! And they are so, so, good!! I suppose someone could say, ‘You’ve already experienced a cinnamon roll. You know what they taste like. You should be satisfied.’

 

But that’s not how it works. 1 Peter 2:2-3 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. It’s kind of like the old Lays Potato Chip commercial where the catch line was, “Lays. Betcha can’t eat just one!”  When we partake of something that truly satisfies our yearning, it leaves you longing for even more. Each bite is satisfying…. but you want more!

 

When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer, we say that He “lives within our hearts”, and He does in the form of the Holy Spirit. But Jesus desires a nearness with us that can only best be described as consumed or eaten.

 

In John 21:12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”  The King James says, “Come and dine.  In any case, He says, ‘Come and fellowship with me. I want you to come and dine with me, dine on me!’ Earlier in John 6, Jesus had been teaching that He was the “Bread of life”. Everything they needed for eternal life was in Him, not in some loaf of pumpernickel.

John 6:35 “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

 

In the true context, “Come and dine”; Jesus is inviting His disciples to a breakfast of freshly caught fish, cooked over a campfire on the beach. But in a deeper sense, His words imply a holy nearness, a loving togetherness; the same table, same menu, sitting side by side, reclining together. So we see that Jesus’ simple invitation teaches us union with Jesus, as we feast upon Him (“dwelleth in me, and I in him”), as well as fellowship with the saints, because the nearer you get to Jesus, the nearer you’ll find yourself to like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

The apostles were 12 different men with 12 different personalities, many of them with different occupations, from different walks of life. They most likely had varying opinions and views about many things, and like Christian believers today, they probably disagreed about many things. But one thing they, and we, have in common is we all have the same spiritual craving for Jesus. He is what makes us all one. Jesus is what makes our table common. His broken body and shed blood saved us all…and we just can’t seem to get enough of it!

 

“To look at Christ is to live, but for strength to serve Him you must “come and dine”.

                                                                                    Charles H. Spurgeon

“It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”   Matthew 4:4

 

In Christ,

Rick

Humility – Proverbs 21:31

 

In just a few days we will be experiencing the excitement and pageantry of yet another Winter Olympics games! It’s a grand opportunity for so many countries on a world stage with all the pageantry and national pride. Athletic contingents are representing their countries, many of which a large portion of the viewing audience don’t even realize that they exist (as nations).  But there they are, all decked out in their indigenous colors; the cameras don’t miss a thing. Their facial expressions of nervousness, anxiety, anticipation, the joy of victory and the agony of defeat. It’s all there – nothing missed. In fact, in the 2012 Summer Olympics, one couldn’t help noticing (correction; the camera made certain that we didn’t help noticing) a tattoo on the back of one athlete’s hand. It simply said, “Proverbs 21:31”; that’s all. Naturally, the media wouldn’t go to the trouble of telling the audience what the verse said. They might have to explain it, and what a “sticky wicket” that could turn into, huh?  Well, to my reading audience, let me be so bold as to venture where the media would not.  Proverbs 21:31 says this, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord.”  Now what do you suppose they mean by that?  Equally as important, what do you suppose the athlete means by displaying such a verse in such a tremendously public forum?

In the midst of all this national pride and, as it narrows down to the individual athlete’s personal pride, there beams a ray of humility. My thoughts go back to my years in the residential real estate business. As a real estate sales associate, I would spend hours interviewing potential purchasers to try and narrow down their likes and dislikes, their needs and their wants, how much they could afford and how much they wanted to spend.  All those factors certainly were important to successfully matching up a purchaser with the property they not only approved of, but were also capable of purchasing.  All too often a customer would be shown house after house, appointments would be made, hours of research and scheduling and touring… only to have them reject everything they inspect. That’s no fun!  It wasn’t till I sat down one day with my father, the broker and owner of our company, that I learned some important advice.  Dad said, “You have to be sure you’re asking the right questions, and that you’re asking the right person.  There are “contributors”, and there are “decision makers”. You have to determine who the decision makers are.  “Daddy” can tell you what his wants are all day long, but in most cases, “Momma’s” the decision maker. If Momma’s not happy, Daddy’s not going to be happy.”  All my preparation goes for naught if I’m not in tune with the one who can “make or break” the sale.  I might look like the super salesman, but I don’t sell the house. The “decision maker” makes the sale possible.

You can scrub that horse, comb his mane glossy smooth, put on his armor, “prepare him for the day of battle”, but the victory, (the sale), rests with (the decision maker;) with the Lord.  This is an athlete that realizes that all the hard work and preparation, the grueling hours of preparation that comes down to this moment, the Olympics, is not what will ultimately deliver the victory. It is the one who blessed them with the physical body, the skills, with which to be developed who will provide the victory.  And this athlete recognizes and acknowledges their dependence upon God in their endeavors. We can really get wrapped up in our successes. In fact, success can be to our disadvantage.

In Deuteronomy 8, Moses instructs the Israelites as they prepare to go in and take the Promised Land; the land that God had promised through Abraham. He tells them not to forget who it is that provided this land; when they prosper, who it is that makes it all possible. Remain humble and give thanks to your provider, otherwise, 17You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth.

As a minister, after an uplifting and relevant sermon, it can be tempting to accept compliments and praise as a ‘reward for all my study and hard work’, to soak it all up as if I had earned it somehow. But I have on my desk a 3”x 5” note-card with the words of the apostle Paul from 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 which says, 4My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom but on God’s power.  I have that passage on a note-card holder where I can see it all the time I’m working. The study, the hard work are all necessary, but it’s the Lord that gives the victory. He’s the one that gives the message relevance to those who hear. “It is He who gives the ability”.  And God doesn’t mind providing for His children, in fact, He desires for us to depend upon Him and His leading.  Just be humble, and remember “from where your help comes from”. Psalm 121:1

 

In Christ,

Rick

Psalm 136:1-4, 23-26 Thanks for What?

 

Here we are, just around the corner from another Thanksgiving holiday feast. Families getting together for food and football and food and togetherness and more food and maybe some table games …and did I mention food? Well, does dessert count as food? Loosen that belt, and maybe even, think about some things that you’re thankful for. I realize for many that kind of question tends to put us on the spot. Especially when we decide to go around the table and make everyone recite something for which they’re thankful. Even as Christians we sometimes struggle with being thankful. We tend to think we need to wait for something specific to occur, a ‘wish to come true’ (but we don’t call it that, right?) before we’re officially “thankful”.

 

I’ve caught myself squirming a bit at times when I’ve come across Ephesians 5:20, …always giving thanks to God the Father for everything…, or 1 Thessalonians 5:18, …give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. And then it’s like every other verse in the New Testament is like …do this…and give thanks. …do that…and give thanks. And I’d be like, ‘I’m thankful that Jesus saved me, but what else is it God wants me to be thankful for?’ ‘What exactly is the “everything” Paul’s talking about?’

But as time went on I began to realize that it was the old me, the me that only saw things inwardly, as they pertained to me; ‘what’s been done for me lately’, that was having such a difficult time recognizing all the thanksgiving God deserved. God deserves our gratitude all the time, in all circumstances, first and foremost for the mercy and grace that He has shown to us in sending His Son Jesus Christ to earth to shed His blood to pay for our sins; i.e. our redemption, eternal life with Him, bought and paid for. For that, I’m thankful every second of my life. But I’m thankful that my Heavenly Father is mighty and above all others. He is sovereign. As I read God’s word and learn about His attributes and virtues, He is perfect in all ways and He is making me more like Him every minute of every day.

 

Does my life continue to have hardships and difficulties even though I’m a Christian and follow Him daily? Yes, but I no longer encounter those difficulties alone with only my own strength and abilities to get me through. The Lord is with me every step of the way, in sunshine or storm, in good times and in tragedy. And I always know that no matter what occurs in my life, it’s only temporal. What’s in my heart is eternal and true. It’s like the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness can change in the blink of an eye. Joy never changes.

 

When we realize the goodness and faithfulness of God, it’s no longer difficult to praise Him always, in every circumstance, all the time. Because it stops being all about you and what’s been done for you and your wish list lately. And then, you’ll start noticing just how much He truly has been doing for you that you never thought to ask Him for.

 

This Thanksgiving, and every single day, let’s give thanks to the Lord in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. He has blessed us all so very much. He is great and greatly to be praised!

 

In Christ,

Rick

Two Kinds of Sorrow – 2 Corinthians 7:10-11

 

Did you ever make a decision about something, a choice favoring one option above other  options? And then someone reviewing such a choice wants to confirm it by asking you; ‘No regrets?’  Or maybe the question is in retrospect, concerning a choice that was made in the past, as if to say, ‘Would you make the same choice today? Do you “regret” the choice you made?’ Our successes and failures often cause us to reassess what we did or did not do to bring about such a result – to that person’s credit, it is a wise person who evaluates the results of the decisions of his or her life. But does simple evaluation really do anything? Or, is there something more to it than that?

When the result of our decisions yields good, positive things we often chalk it up to “good luck”, or, upon closer assessment, we might even give more credit to the choice than is actually due. The baseball pitcher who wins a couple games in a row decides he’s not going to change this pair of socks again. That’s superstition, I know, but the point is we think that whatever we did prior to the event is what caused the outcome. On the flip side, when bad things happen to us we immediately think, “What could I have done differently? Why, oh why, did I do that?! If I had it to do again, I would never do that again!”  This is regret. It doesn’t have to be a tragic event. But the harsher the reality, the more likely you are to turn that “regret” into “change”.

One form of “regret” is “sorrow”. If you regret something to a high degree, it becomes “sorrow”. We can be sorrowful over a choice that we made, yet, if the same situation arose again, you very well might make the same choice. Much like the thief that gets caught in the act of robbery. He is most sorrowful as he’s being taken away to jail! But the question is, is he sorrowful that he chose to do what he did? Sorrowful enough that he is repentant of his actions and desires never to do the same again? Or, is he sorrowful that he got caught?

The Apostle Paul talks about two kinds of sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7; Godly sorrow, and worldly sorrow. What’s the difference? Worldly sorrow seeks to make no change. And so, it will lead to the same result…actually, the result, or penalty, escalates as the wrong continues without sorrow. It becomes easier and easier to do. The remorse becomes less and less, and eventually, either physically or spiritually, leads to death.

Godly sorrow is genuine contrition. You are sad, remorseful at your poor choice…to the extent that you are repentant. And, Paul continues, “repentance leads to salvation and leaves no regret…” 

Jeroboam, king of the Northern kingdom of Israel, was given a great opportunity to lead Israel following God’s commands and following His direction. But, he chose instead to do things his own way, “building shrines on high places and appointing priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites.” 1 Kings 12:31. In 1 Kings 13 God sent a prophet from Judah to prophecy against his ungodly actions. Jeroboam was incensed at the prophet’s message “he stretched out his hand from the altar and said, “Seize him!” But the hand he stretched out shriveled up, so that he could not pull it back.” 13:4.  Then it says he asked the man of God to, “Intercede with the Lord your God and pray for me that my hand may be restored.” I guess you would say Jeroboam was “sorrowful” for what he had done. But was he truly repentant?

The man of God (prophet) did, in fact, intercede with the Lord on Jeroboam’s behalf and his hand was restored. But like so many people today, his plea was heard by God but he did not change his ways.

1 Kings 13:33 Even after this, Jeroboam did not change his evil ways, but once more appointed priests for the high places from all sorts of people. Anyone who wanted to become a priest he consecrated for the high places.

Jeroboam was only sorrowful for the moment…that he got caught. Had he expressed “Godly sorrow” that brings about repentance, it would have led to salvation and God’s favor.

2 Corinthians 7:10-11 10Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.

If you’re “sorrowful” without repentance, you’re just plain “sorry”!

 

In Christ,

Rick