Monday, September 23, 2019
“The strong man holds in a living blend strongly marked opposites…Life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony…
Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites. He knew that His disciples would face a difficult and hostile world, where they would confront the recalcitrance of political officials and the intransigence of the protectors of the old order. He knew that they would meet cold and arrogant men whose hearts had been hardened by the long winter of traditionalism. So He said to them, ‘Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.’ And He gave them a formula for action: ‘Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.’…
We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart…
There is little hope for us until we become toughminded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance. The shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of softmindedness. A nation or a civilization that continues to produce softminded men purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan…
But we must not stop with the cultivation of a tough mind. The gospel also demands a tender heart. Toughmindedness without tenderheartedness is cold and detached…
Jesus reminds us that the good life combines the toughness of the serpent and the tenderness of the dove…
To have serpentlike qualities devoid of dovelike qualities is to be passionless, mean, and selfish…
To have dovelike without serpentlike qualities is to be sentimental, anemic, and aimless…
We must combine strongly marked antitheses.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love
Act up for Jesus!
Shatter the sound of silence!
Blessings and Love!
Thursday, September 19, 2019
Scratching the Surface of the Psalms
“America, Bless God!”
David’s Psalm 67 is an invitational, inclusive, and welcoming call to worship God for everyone regardless of color, class, or culture.
It reminds us of the many times that Paul says God shows no socioeconomic favoritism that will be evident to all at history’s conclusion: “Every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of Father God.”
When all is said and done, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of Father God.
David calls everyone to worship: “Let all the peoples praise You, God! Let all nations rejoice and shout for joy!”
David says worship is the most important and only indispensable activity of God’s family: “People show respectful gratitude to God in worship! People become happy and shout their happiness in worship!”
David says everyone is ultimately accountable to God: “You judge people with fairness!”
David says it is the responsibility of people that know God to make Him known: “May God be gracious to us and bless us; look on us with favor so that His favor may be known on earth and His salvation be known among all people everywhere!”
It brings our Lord’s great commission to mind: “You will be my witnesses everywhere with everyone to the ends of the earth!..Preach, teach, baptize, and save!”
Our Lord’s great commission is the practical implication of His great commandment: “Love the Lord your God with your head and heart and gut; and love every member of His family because that proves you love God!”
Jesus also put it this way, “Love each other just as much as I have loved you.”
That means gifting grace, mercy, and forgiveness wrapped in love to everyone no matter who, what, where, when, or why.
It doesn’t mean liking them.
It means loving them.
It doesn’t mean liking their behaviors.
It means agape loving them which is praying and working for their highest good regardless of who, what, where, when, or why without the need or expectation for response, regard, or reward.
Again, like Jesus loves us.
The greatest expression of God’s love for us is confident living in the assurance of eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus which means the greatest expression of love for others that expresses our love for God is to point them to God for that confident living in the assurance of eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus.
Like David sang and prayed in Psalm 67, it means those who know God’s love climaxing in existential serenity because of eternal security aka salvation in heaven make Him known to everyone so they may experience and express the same.
Dan Pope, the faithful pastor of Belvidere’s Open Bible Church, let me read his copy of the 2019 Barna Group report on the realities of sharing faith titled Reviving Evangelism.
It confirmed my suspicion, to paraphrase Gandhi, that lots of folks might become Christians if it weren’t for Christians; which is why I often tell the unchurched not to blame Jesus for Christians that need more Jesus in their lives.
While the Korean and WWII generation remains the most faithful in America (age 73+), churches really have their work cut for them when it comes to baby boomers (ages 54 to 72), Generation X (ages 35-53), Millennials (ages 20-34), and Generation Z (younger than 20).
Still, despite the challenges and causes for the challenges that the book outlines so well with the inauthenticity of too many pewsitters and pulpiteers being the greatest turn-off to people that might be interested in Jesus but can’t get to Him through those posers, those who know Jesus have an opportunity to save people for confident living in the assurance of eternal life by taking up their responsibility of making Jesus known.
I like how the book heralds that opportunity and responsibility: “The Church’s mission is to spread the mission of saving, sacrificial love and ultimate hope that Jesus commissioned His followers to proclaim.”
In other words, people that know Jesus make Him known.
Christians aren’t supposed to keep Jesus to themselves.
The loving thing to do is to share Him.
Of course, if people don’t share Jesus with others, it means they either don’t think others need Him or don’t really know Him themselves; or as somebody said, “You can’t give away what you ain’t got for yourself.”
The Barna book betrays that fact: “If you go to a fantastic restaurant or watch an unforgettable movie, what’s the first thing you want to do after you savor the moment? Share it!”
Speculations abound when we hear people talking so much about the Yankees, Cubs, Bears, Packers, and maybe even White Sox and see ‘em wearing all of those trinkets blaring their loyalties; yet, when it comes to Jesus,…crickets.
Back on August 25, 2019, I began preparing people that say they’re Christians for November 3, 2020 by saying it’s easy to figure out who should get the votes of people that say they’re Christians.
All ya gotta do is take each candidate’s platforms, pontifications, and previous practices and put ‘em side by side with what we know about Jesus by the book as enlightened by the Holy Spirit that never contradicts Jesus by the book.
If you’re an authentic Christians, that’s what you’ll do.
If you’re a poser and not really that devoted to Jesus, you’ll come up with another formula.
Pero, again, if you’re a Christian, you’ll want to honor Jesus by your vote; or as my friend Cliff blurted out during a big church meeting in Pittsburgh many years ago before a big ballot on something, “Vote for Jesus!”
Believe Him, how we vote says a lot about who Jesus is to us.
Is He our Lord or not?
If He is our Lord, we want our votes to reflect His values.
If so, so.
If not, not.
Faith-sharing is for all people in all places at all times.
We are not Christians some of the time or when it’s convenient or popular.
Being a Christian in time has eternal consequences; or as Samuel noted the difference between people like Saul and people like David, “God honors those who honor Him.”
That’s good to remember when singing, “God, bless America!”
We can’t expect God to bless America if we’re not trying to bless God in America.
David’s Psalm 67 calls people who know God to worship Him and make Him known as the only key to unlocking confident living in the assurance of eternal life.
So vote for Jesus!
He’s good for the country.
He’s good for the soul.
And souls last forever.
Thursday, September 12, 2019
Scratching the Surface of the Psalms
“No Enabling in the Kingdom”
Psalm 66 in an invitation to authentic worship and discipleship.
I like how the late William MacDonald, President of Emmaus Bible College from 1959-1965, paraphrased David’s call to worship in the first four verses of this psalm in his Believer’s Bible Commentary: “Lord, Your accomplishments are tremendous. Your power is so devastating that Your enemies cringe before You. At last the whole earth bows before You in worship. Everywhere people praise Your name in song.”
Between verse 4 and the rest of the psalm, David inserts this instruction: “Selah.”
While a precise definition of selah has escaped even the finest etymologists, most agree it means something like this: “Pause, ponder, and promote.”
Psalm 66 is David’s urging us to come into worship to pause then ponder then promote God’s awesomeness.
David wants to us to take time for worship to pause then ponder then promote God’s sovereignty to create and conserve.
Within the context of our faith, Psalm 66 is a call to worship the Lord God almighty who made everything and saves everyone by grace through faith in Jesus.
Or as Dr. Macleod drilled into our souls back in seminary, “Worship is what we say and what we do when we stand together before God and realize in highest degree who He is and what He has done for us and our salvation by grace through faith in Jesus.”
Worship isn’t about you and me – what we like or don’t like about the sermon or music or any of our other human attempts to esteem His awesomeness and herald His sustaining graces in time and saving graces forever.
Worship isn’t about waiting for a missed note or finding a misspelling in the bulletin or bantering and moaning about it being too hot or too cold in the sanctuary or looking for something in the sermon that we’ll always find that we don’t like or…
Worship is about Him!
Worship is about praising Him for who He is as
Sovereign, Source, Starter, Sustainer, and Savior.
Worship is about thanking God for loving us with His forgiveness that keeps us keepin’ on in time and unlocks paradise for us après the temple of our souls’ expiration.
Worship isn’t about our idiosyncratic prejudices, stupidities, and idolatries.
Worship isn’t about what we like.
Worship is about honoring who He is.
Worship is about honoring God because God is to be honored as God.
True worship esteems God and never enables our whining and whims and sins.
Yes, we are special.
We’ve been created “in the image of God” for holy communion with Him.
We know John 3:16-17.
Annnnnnnnd we are especially designed to worship Him as Father God, Savior Jesus, and sustaining/encouraging/enlightening Holy Spirit.
Worship is our selah devotion to pause on God’s awesomeness then ponder God’s awesomeness and then promote God’s awesomeness from the sanctuary to the streets.
We worship God with David for His creativity: “Come and see the works of God!…He rules!…He reigns!…So everybody applaud God!”
We worship God with David for saving us in time and forever: “God keeps us alive...God doesn’t allow our feet to slip…God doesn’t turn away from us…God saves us…God never turns a deaf ear to us…God stays with us…God is loyal to us…”
That’s why true believers are compelled to true worship.
True worship is about Him not us; or, rather, about what He has done for us that keeps our focus on Him in praise and thanks and compels us to filter our responses in what we say and do to the end that He may be esteemed by everyone with the Pauline expectation that “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord!”
A proof of true worship is when we stop enabling anyone and anything that dishonors our awesomely creative and saving Father God, Savior Jesus, and sustaining/encouraging/enlightening Holy Spirit.
That’s why we have parents and congregations that keep baptismal promises to nurture and care for children in the Lord and have Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, deacons, elders, and pastors that care more about honoring God than enabling people that don’t.
It’s like John Calvin said, “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.”
Christians follow Jesus by the book and as enlightened by the Holy Spirit that never contradicts Jesus by the book; and Christians don’t care about anybody’s opinions if they are contrary to Jesus, Holy Scripture, and common sense enlightened by the Holy Spirit that never contradicts Jesus by the book.
That’s why Christians have always concurred with Martin Luther’s exemplary witness at Worms, Germany on April 18, 1521 against a church that had lost its way and substituted institutional loyalties and idolatries for the Word incarnated in Jesus, explained in the Bible, and enlightened by the Holy Spirit: “Unless I am convinced by Holy Scripture and clear reason, for I do not trust in the Pope or in the councils alone, since it is well known that they often err and contradict themselves, I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience in captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand. God help me. Amen.”
Let me repeat that because it is the Kingdom of God’s formula for not enabling beliefs and behaviors antithetical to God’s revelation of true worship and discipleship.
If a Christian can be shown by the example of Jesus, explanations of Holy Scripture, and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit that she or he is wrong, a Christian will confess the error, repent from the error, and ask forgiveness for the error.
Pero if a Christian is disputed by anyone or anything less than Jesus, the Bible, and Holy Spirit, she or he will say and act with the apostles, “We must obey God not man!”
While it’s always a little uncomfortable to shine light into darkness, shake salt that must sting to alert and heal, and bring God’s good leaven to mix in to make better, William Taylor of Victory Outreach is right: “You can’t fix what you won’t face!”
So here goes with some comfort to the afflicted and affliction to the comfortable after pausing to engage the Word then pondering the Word’s existential and eternal implications for disciples then promoting fidelity rather than enabling whining, whims, and sins.
When America legalized infanticide in New York and Virginia with Illinois on their heels, my 91 year old daddy said, “Well, I guess it won’t be long before we’re expendable. When any part of life is devalued from womb to tomb, it’s not long before…”
Doesn’t a follower of Jesus protect life from womb to tomb?
Would a follower of Jesus engage in the kind of name-calling on all sides of the political aisles that degrades, dehumanizes, defames, and insults God’s design that all people are “endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights”?
Would America and the world be better off if more people followed Mohammed or Jesus?
Who would you rather lead America and the world? Followers of Jesus or followers of Mohammed?
Would women, gays, children, and every color, class, and culture be safer in an Islamic country and world where people follow Mohammed closely or where people follow Jesus closely?
Parenthetically, I choke at those comparisons because any fool can see people that really follow Jesus by the book are a lot more about grace, mercy, and forgiveness wrapped in love than people that really follow Mohammed by his book.
Those are just a few interrogatives that test fidelity – if we’ve really been pausing then pondering then promoting Christianity as defined by Jesus, Holy Scripture, and the Holy Spirit that never contradicts Jesus and Holy Scripture.
Truly, anyone that isn’t following Jesus by the book and advocating government and education and all of the rest to honor Jesus by the book is enabling anti-Christianity and catastrophe apart from Jesus by the book.
Of course, it takes courage not to enable.
I remember when Tyler finally said to me, “I’m not fixing your old computer anymore. It’s outdated and you’ll be better off with a new one.”
I’m glad he didn’t enable me.
I’ll never forget when I started chairing a group of clergy and elders for a denominational judicatory.
The people – a lot of them – that thought it’s rude to be on time and that everybody should wait for them before starting because their time is so much more important than anyone else’s time and the world doesn’t start until they click in were, uh, always late and even seemed incensed that we would start before they arrived.
I got tired of me enabling them and told them a little story about athletes.
Successful coaches say, “Practice starts at 3. We don’t gather to meet and greet and settle in at 3. We begin at 3. Be ready to go at 3.”
Miraculously in a Skinnerian kinda way, everybody now comes on time because the meetings are important and I no longer enable tardiness.
I don’t know if you can name any other parallels; pero maybe you can.
Simply, do you enable the bad behaviors of your children or government or school board or…yourself?
Or do you salt, shine, and leavenate after pausing to get into the Word then pondering on the Word’s implications then promoting the Word as the answer to our interrogatives and antidote from infidelity to discipleship?
I like how Oswald Chambers put it: “Beware of not acting upon what you see in your moments on the mount with God. If you do not obey the light, it will turn into darkness.”
Nothing heavenly happens when we enable infidelity.
Everyone benefits when God is honored and that always happens when we pause in the Word then ponder on the Word’s implications then promote the Word with energy and enthusiasm without equivocation
One more word.
Solomon said, “As a father disciplines a child, God disciplines the family that He loves.”
Enabling is not love because it doesn’t do much for God’s sake.
True love doesn’t enable.
True love is faithful.
Thursday, September 5, 2019
Scratching the Surface of the Psalms
The most influential pastor-mentor in my life was The Rev. Harold F. Mante of the United Presbyterian Church in Forty Fort, Pennsylvania; and I’ll never forget how he’d often shout out to us, “Keep the faith!...Blessings on you!”
When I asked what he meant, he explained clearly and compellingly.
“Keep the faith” means to trust God in all things at all times in all places with all people no matter who, what, when, where or why because God always comes through sooner or later, usually sooner than later, and definitely in the end for believers.
“Blessings on you” was his way of saying he wanted God’s best for us even though we’ll never deserve it.
Keep the faith!
We can only count on God in the end.
Blessings on you!
It’s God’s mercy not our merit that matters in the end.
While I’m still just scratching the surface of my relationship with Jesus, I am scratching and growing in a Christian kinda way.
My trust in God has finally accepted the comfort and hope of God’s providence in the life of a believer with Romans 8:28 as gospel: “God works for good in/through everything for the best of believers. God takes care of people that love Him and are called according to His purposeful providence.”
When we love God, we are called by God to be His in special ways that He has designed for us; and even when things don’t seem right and aren’t liked in particularly challenging moments, we will eventually see how God turns every former or immediate tragedy or test or temptation into triumph sooner or later, usually sooner than later, and definitely in the end.
It’s like David said back in Psalm 37, “Now that I’ve been around a while, I can look back and see how God always takes care of believers. God never abandons people that love Him and lean on Him.”
Like all Christians, I’m learning to keep the faith.
My prayer life has also changed in recognition of being blessed by God even though I don’t deserve it.
Simply, God’s grace or unmerited favor more than makes up for my inability to earn credits in the Kingdom; so maturing prayer spends more time thanking God for what He has already done for us than asking God for what we want.
I think of the fellah that asked a missionary, “What must I do to be saved?”
The missionary answered, “Too late! Jesus has already done that for you!”
Like all Christians, I’m learning to spend more of my time praising God in prayer than petitioning freebies.
Psalm 65 is David’s positive praise and faith-filled thanks to God for how God blesses spiritually and substantially.
Specifically, God blesses the “inner” self of believers and provides the “outer” blessings of His creation’s beauty, splendor and sustenance.
Like any believer all in with God, David’s trust in God generates the inner strength and sanity to live triumphantly amid the meanness, madness, misery and miscreance of life in the world: “You deserve praise. That’s why we worship You. We need You. You deliver. We worship You with respect and gratitude. Because of You, we are not overcome by our sins or the sins of those around us. When we are close to You, we are happy. When we’re worshipping, we are at Your best intentions for us. Strong. Calm. Sane. Happy. Whole. Joyful. Secure. You love us before we love You. You choose us before we choose You. We are blessed to be Yours in time and forever.”
David praised God for the beauty and splendor of His sustaining creation: “All of Your creative wonders are on display. Everything witnesses to Your sovereignty and saving sustenances. You established everything by Your unparalleled power. We join nature in singing Your praises. We are like children that sing in prayer, ‘God is good! God is great! Let us thank Him…for everything!’”
I’ll never forget Julian Alexander who interrupted a clergy meeting on the back porch of somebody’s house in Clark, New Jersey back in the late 70s as he spotted a caterpillar inching across a railing and exclaimed, “Will you look at that? Who could do that? How lavish and loving and awesome is God!”
It reminded me of a cartoon with Ziggy looking out over a sunset and shouting, “Go, God!”
Then there was Bruce Ennis.
He was one of the smartest guys that I’ve ever met.
A totally brilliant top of the class MIT graduate.
Pero he wasn’t too smart for God; and as I prepared for his memorial service, I came across this note that he wrote and placed in his Bible (11/14/76): “If this Someone, whom I call God, has the power to grant life on earth, simple logic would dictate that He could also grant life elsewhere, which I call heaven. To any intelligent and perceptive human being exposed daily, as he is, to the beautiful miracles of this earth, and realizing that only some Power greater than he could produce such miracles, it must seem that an atheist has a low degree of intelligence, coupled with an abysmal lack of perceptivity, a deplorably egotistical self-esteem, and an unseemly arrogance.”
Et the good news is this omnipotent and omniscient Father God is omnipresent in our lives by His Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus to meet every existential and eternal need.
I’ll never forget Ralph Earle, one of the architects of the NIV Bible, telling me about the missionary that couldn’t find a way to explain how God takes care of us until a tired native came into his study and said while resting in a chair, “I’m leaning my whole weight on this chair.” From that moment on for the missionary and God’s children entrusted to him, faith in Father God who takes care of us by grace through faith in Jesus as encouraged by His continuing Holy Spirit presence was understood as leaning our whole weight on God in time and forever.
Maturing prayer and praise aka worship spends more time heralding and esteeming God for His saving graces than asking for more of this or that.
Here’s one example: “Father God, we thank You for everything and everyone in our lives that bring pleasure to us. We take none of it for granted from the air we breathe and food we eat and homes we have and stuff we like and romance providing oases from the chaos of our world and country to the many other blessings that You shower upon us. Indeed, when we start counting Your blessings in our lives, we are overwhelmed to compelled to worship You with unbridled enthusiasm without equivocation. Most especially, Father God, we thank You for Jesus who forgives our sins by grace through faith so that we may live confidently with the assist of Your Holy Spirit in the assurance of heavenly paradise to commence the first nano-second after the last breath. With that naked humility and unashamed heralding to trust Your blessings now and forever, we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen!”
It’s like my pastor-mentor always urged, “Keep the faith!...Blessings on you!”
We can always count on God.
His mercy not our merit matters most.
We are blessed and our worship proves we know it.
We never take God for granted.
He blesses us with everyone and everything that bring pleasure into our lives.
By grace through faith in Jesus, we are permanently destined for paradise with pleasurable tastes in the meantime.
We are so blessed to keep the faith.