Friday, December 19, 2014

The Standard of Truth

     Recently, a discussion took place where the question of a certain "Christian" author came up.  This writer has been a pastor who has since left the church in pursuit of a T.V. career and whose writing is nothing less than controversial in terms of his position on issues that touch Christian doctrine.  Have his critics been too harsh in their examination of his work?  Perhaps.  However, whenever we put ourselves out there in the marketplace of ideas, we are open to scrutiny.  It comes with the territory of leadership, and being a pastor makes
words and actions even more critical.  James (3:1) shares these words of caution:  "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness."  So how are we to look at the many books, teachers, pastors and blogs out there today?  
     First, we must have a frame of reference.  We cannot compare what someone has written or spoken unless we have a standard by which to evaluate it.  For the Christian, our foundation is no less than the Word of God in its entirety.  It is the truth written for our instruction.  As 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us:  "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness...."  Because God is the author who is immutable (unchanging), holy, and righteous, we can trust what is written in the pages of the Bible.  The Reformers found this to be the center of their complaint against Rome.  They held that this is the only rule for life and faith not Papal authority or tradition.  Therefore, we need to weigh anything we read, hear or see according to the truths contained in God's Word.
     In His high priestly prayer for the disciples, Jesus said in John 17:17:  "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth."  Jesus came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill it.  With this in mind, we can rest knowing that we have the best resource at our fingertips.  Unfortunately, many believers fail to dig into the Word of God on a regular basis.  This leaves them vulnerable to every "wind of doctrine" that comes along including the ideas of "popular" authors or speakers.  We have been warned repeatedly to be on guard, and we have the example of the Bereans in the book of Acts 17:11 which says:  "Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the Word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so."  Even though it was the Apostle Paul, himself, and Silas that came preaching to them, they still took the time and effort to check Scripture to see if what they were saying was correct.  This is an important example of how we need to take our faith seriously so as not to be misled.
     At this time in our history, there are many ideas swirling around in our culture:  homosexual marriage, the emergent church, goddess worship, and other "New Age" concepts.  How will we be able to keep our balance unless we are grounded in the Bible?  We need to know what we believe and why we believe it.  As Acts 20:27 reminds us, we must be able to know and share the "whole counsel of God" as revealed in both the Old and New Testament.
     Our weakness in this time is the tendency to be drawn by celebrity preachers, mega churches, contemporary styles that eclipse the true meaning of worship, and feel good books/messages.  Let us, therefore, be proactive and take the time to examine books, sermons, and activities to make certain they line up with God's Word.  If they do not, we must put them aside in favor of the Bible.  May God help us to be faithful!  Selah!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

In the Holiday Rush

     This is a busy time of year for all of us especially if we have family coming to join us for the holidays.  In our haste, we often times can say or do things which might not have a positive impact on another person.  For example, last year at this time, our family read through a list of text messages where autocorrect had totally changed the meaning of a text message sent in a hurry.  Obviously the person sending the message did not check it out before hitting send.  We laughed so hard at some of the examples because it has happened to most of us one time or another.  Then, on the other side of the coin are messages that are derogatory in nature which accidentally get sent to the person who is being criticized.  Not only is it embarrassing, but it is also very hurtful.  Whether done in haste or done out of carelessness, we can certainly find ourselves in a bind.
     In the Book of James, we read these words of wisdom (James 3:9-10):  "With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brothers, these things ought not be so."  This passage refers to the problem we all have with our tongues.  Long before Smart phones, texting and email, people communicated verbally, and not all their words are kind.  That is the problem with having a sin nature.  As James describes the tongue, he calls it a fire in verse six and refers to as a world of evil.  If this were not enough, the Apostle goes on to say that the tongue is set on fire by hell itself.  Those are strong words, but they ring true.  There are very few of us who have not let something fly out of our mouths at least once or twice that we wish we could have recaptured before it hit the ears of the person we were speaking to.  However, once spoken, words can not be taken back.
Our sweet granddaughter Everleigh and
her cute little tongue!
     Jesus also spoke to the issue of our mouth and the words we speak when He said this in Luke 6:45:  "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks."  Quite often, our mouth testifies against us to show us and others what is in our heart.  As believers in Christ, we should feel convicted when we let a careless word fly from our lips.  In fact, Jesus also told us in Matthew 12:36-37:  "36"But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37"For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
     When we stop and think about it, who has not made an unkind remark, a cutting comment, a sarcastic joke or some other verbal bomb that has left devastation in its wake?  This is how relationships and marriages are destroyed by the little things that are said which tear down one another.  However, there is a remedy for this.  Unlike smart phones that have the unpredictable autocorrect, Christians have the Holy Spirit living and dwelling within us.  He is able to guide and guard us in our speech with one another.  Our job is to listen to Him and ask for Him to give us the right words at the right time said in the right manner.  The Spirit can teach us what to say (Luke 12:12), but we must be willing to listen to Him and not respond to others out of anger or emotion.
     In those times when we do mess up and speak hurtful words, our remedy is to confess it to God and seek His forgiveness and then, ask forgiveness from the one we have offended.  For myself, I love the prayer of David in the Psalms when he wrote:  "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer."  If we strive to please and bless the Lord, we will not only guard our lips but we will also seek not to speak in haste.  Yes, autocorrect can be a shortcoming for the smart phone, but we need not walk in a careless manner when it comes to our tongues.  James reminds us again of how we should approach communication (James 1:19):  "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;..."  If we live this way, we have nothing to fear on the day of judgment. Selah!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Picture of Praise in the Womb

    Reading a recent article on Webmd.com, author Denise Mann along with Laura Martin, M.D. pointed out that babies in the womb can hear voices, loud sounds and begin to learn by age 10 weeks.  What an amazing discovery and yet, the Bible tells us a story of the interaction between two as yet unborn children.
     In Luke's Gospel account. he tells the story of Mary's visit  to her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant with John the Baptist.  Upon her greeting, the child that Elizabeth carried jumped within her  womb:  "In those days, Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country to a town in Judah and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb...( Elizabeth speaks these words to Mary) 'For behold when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped with joy.'" (Luke 1:38-40;44).  Even in the womb, John the Baptist knew his Savior and Lord.   Yet, our current culture of "death" often refers to babies in the womb as a clump of cells or a fetus in an effort to depersonalize this tiny life which God has created.  By doing this, society devalues human life making it easier to kill a baby in the womb.  Nevertheless, God clearly points out through the pages of His inspired Word that even unborn babies are capable of so much more interaction than some care to admit.
     There are several other places in God's Word where He declares the purpose of those who serve Him before they are born.  The book of Isaiah proclaims in Chapter 49:1: "Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name."  Isaiah spoke this about the long awaited Messiah.   Not to be overlooked, the prophet Jeremiah recorded these words (chapter 1:4-5):  "Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.'"  Isn't it amazing how the God of all creation has a plan for each life He calls into being even in the womb?
     When we look at Psalm 139, we again see how God knows us as He knits us together in verses 14-16:  "I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from You when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book was written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them."  From beginning to end, our lives matter to God.  Yet the enemy still seeks to destroy life today even as he attempted to take the life of Jesus when He was a small child.  Satan used Herod as an instrument to strike the Messiah by having the king put to the sword all two year old males in Bethlehem.  Today, we use abortion to strike at God's creation before a child is born.
     What we must remember each day is that God has a plan for each one of us just as He did for John the Baptist and His Son Jesus Christ.  Even in the womb, these tiny lives recognized that calling as Elizabeth stated in Luke's Gospel.  We also have a unique purpose which we find when we come to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  By examining the Word, prayer and fellowship, we come to grow in the Lord and find His direction for our lives.  It is a journey we should embrace with joy.
     No life is unimportant from the special needs child to the elderly adult suffering with dementia.  God gives life and when He chooses, He calls a person home.  It is not our prerogative to make this decision.  Therefore, let us rejoice in the life which we have glorifying God daily and enjoying Him forever.  May our view of the sanctity of human life be changed as we remember Elizabeth's baby jumping at the sound of Mary's voice.  John the Baptist knew Jesus Christ even in the womb!  Selah!