Thursday, April 30, 2015

Pursuing Holiness


I was striking up a spiritual conversation with a man in the mall Monday with thte Singing Churchmen in Cleveland,and I began asking him of his musical interests.  He was a Believer and the B3 player at his church.   I asked him if he just picked it up on his own or did he ever take lessons and he said he took lessons when he was young but didn't like it and didn't like his teacher.  My wife is a piano teacher and has about 40 students, and I told him how I have observed through the years that virtually all of Julie's piano students want to play the piano.   But not all of them want to LEARN to play the piano.  They think that just because they take piano lessons from Julie and carry the label of being a piano student that somehow they will just become pianists.  Not all the students count the cost of what it takes to become a piano player.  There is something they must do everyday - it is called practice! 

I think the same thing may be said of Christians who don't really practice their faith everyday and somehow think they will be all that God wants them to be by just having a belief system in the heads and their name on a church role, but not striving for holiness. 

Now I know that Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21, "I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus."  And I know that many preachers love to proclaim this "positional truth" to their people with the intent of getting them to stop thinking they have to do things to achieve or earn a state of righteousness from God.  I believe that the soul that has truly invited the Lord Jesus to come into their heart and has received God's forgiveness of their sins has also become an inheritor of eternal life.  God in His mercy and grace will look upon us who have truly called upon the name of the Lord Jesus for salvation, and He will declare us righteous when we stand before Him at the judgment.  So don't get me wrong - I am not about to say that we need to do anything to win God's favor because we can't!   But being a disciple of Jesus Christ is a journey in the pursuit of holiness.  This is called sanctification, and the Bible encourages us to endure the race we have begun with the assurance that He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it.

Here are a few scriptures that speak to this pursuit of righteousness:  (Notice the choices that are up to you to make in this pursuit.)

Is 33:15-17  He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil, he will dwell on the heights; his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks; his bread will be given him; his water will be sure. Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty; they will see a land that stretches afar.

You have a choice as a Believer as to where you go, what you say, what you do with your income, what you choose to listen to and what you choose to look at.  According to God's Word, the choices you make in these things will determine whether or not you dwell on the heights or the depths, whether or not your defenses will be like rocks or paper, whether or not you will struggle for the necessities of life, and whether or not you will "behold the king in his beauty" and sees His Kingdom.  Someone may say "Oh, but that's from the O.T. - those people had to watch how they walked, but we don't have to because we live now under grace and Jesus will forgive us for all our sins" as if God just overlooks all of our sins and forgiveness is just an automatic benefit for the Believer.  Jesus did not die on the cross to give us a license to sin.  He calls us to follow him in crucifixion so that we would die to self and live in Him with His commandments now written in our hearts and stop sinning, living a life of obedience to Him!  The people in Paul's day were dealing with this same struggle in the pursuit of holiness and what did he tell them? Romans 5-6 says, "There's no sin He cannot forgive, His grace is big enough to cover all of our sins.  Where sin abounds, his grace abounds even more!  But what shall we say then, shall we continue to sin that grace may abound?  God forbid!  How shall we who are dead to sin continue to live therein?"

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness. (You must do the "fleeing" part and the pursuing part.  How good are you at that?  Whatever your answer, strive to be a better "flee-er" and pursuer)

Romans 10:4

For Christ is the end (the purpose, the final result, the target) of the law (the Torah) for righteousness to everyone who believes. (You must do the believing part.  Can you let go and trust Him more?)

2 Timothy 3:16

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. (You must do the reading and studying of the scriptures in order to be trained and to show thyself approved.  Can you get into it more?)

Proverbs 2:6-20

For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity and every good path.  (You must do the walking in integrity part.  Can you be more careful and conscious of how and where you walk?)

We are not just following a set of mental philosophies or internal beliefs.  The question is, "Do you really want to please the Lord and show him you love him in gratitude for what He has done for you? Jesus said, "If you love me, (here is what you can do to show that love) keep my commandments!"  When he said that, the NT had not yet been written, so what commandments do you think he could have been referring to?  Someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was and you remember that he said the first is Love the Lord thy God with all your heart and the second is love thy neighbor as thyself.  I have heard people deduce from these words of Jesus that we are simply to love God and love each other.  But when Jesus stated that these two commandments were the greatest, he further said , "and on these two hang all of the Law and the Prophets" - meaning that all of the laws can really be categorized as being under the heading of how we respond to God and how we respond to each other.  But Jesus also said in Matthew, "For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law (the Torah or God's Instruction) until everything is accomplished."  So, I think that we are to seek to obey God to the fullest - not because we have to in order to earn salvation or earn anything from God, but because we get to.  We want to tell Jesus how much we love Him and He is the one that said, "If you want to show me your love, the best present you can give me is to keep my commandments."  And I think this not only applies to the written commandments, but also the commandments that He speaks directly to only you. 

Lastly, what do you do with this verse:

1 John 5:18

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects himself, and the evil one does not touch him.

Is there anyone here who is born of God and has stopped sinning altogether?   What does John mean to say in this verse?  Some paraphrases of this verse interpret this to say that a true Believer does not make it a practice to keep sinning, and that Jesus will protect the Believer from the Evil one.  All I can do is explain it this way: In this earthly life we will never be sinless, but the longer we live in this life we should sin less.  Let's just encourage each other along the way to be diligent in our faith and keep confessing our sins and let's be that army rising up to bring glory to our great God and HIs Kingdom!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Be Rich in Memories and Poor in Regrets

 
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.”  1 Peter 3:1  This past weekend I reconnected with my childhood once again when the SC Baptist Singing Churchmen sang at Crestview Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio.  My childhood from ages 3 to 14 covered 1960-1971 with friends who hold a very special place in my heart to this day.  But the experience is the closest thing to time travel I can imagine.  My formative years were bottled up for storage when my family moved away from Dayton to West Columbia, SC when as I was 14 years old.   So, all of those memories and feelings connected with Dayton were just frozen in time for me and very capsulated in my brain.  The people that were very much a part of my life were suddenly gone and new people, places and experiences took their place.  I have only returned to Dayton for brief, yet intense visits three times since 1971: In 1985 when I took my youth choir from Virginia to sing, in 2006 for the church’s 50th Anniversary Sunday, and now in 2015 with the Singing Churchmen.   The faces I see are older, as is my own to them as well.  But the love and mutual thankfulness for those “wonder years” is so powerful because they truly were times filled with (pardon the alliteration) a lot of love, laughter, and learning to live life in a lasting relationship with the Lord!



Tuesday, March 31, 2015

My God, What Have We Become?

Truly, Jesus loves the little children of the world...and so should we. With all of the evil in this world, children have always been a source of joy and hope.  They have always been a reminder that every one of us were at one time innocent and trusting. And little children are proof that the world was intended to be a place of peace, love and harmony with our Creator and with each other...before sin entered the world and ruined everything.

But the plight of children around the world is also a reason for our adult hearts to break. This picture taken of a Syrian child has gone viral. The scared little girl thought the camera was a weapon and reacted in a pleading gesture of surrender. When our old English translation of the Greek New Testament records Jesus' words in Matthew 19:14, "Suffer the little children to come unto me," he did not at all mean that they should in any way be made to suffer!  In Matthew 18:6 Jesus said, "But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." Don't think for one moment that the suffering of little children like this little Syrian girl goes unnoticed by our Lord Jesus. When the depravity of man can rob and destroy the spirit of child-like trust of His children throughout the world, I believe we are near the end of the so-called Age of Grace, and judgment is soon to come. Pray for this little girl and her family right now.  Pray for an end to the suffering, fear and terror that threatens the futures of young souls everywhere.  And cry out to God for His mercy upon such a generation of sinful humanity we have grown to become.  Folks, we are in deep, deep trouble on this little planet, and we are in need of a cleansing that can only come from God who loved this world and gave Himself for it.  I believe that cleansing is on its way.  It's not going to be  pretty and it's not going to be easy, but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. (Matt. 24:13)  Be encouraged, your God will come!  Shalom.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dr. "O" - An Unsung Hero

Today I received a very rich blessing!  I was invited to come out to Broad River Correctional Center and hear the BRCC Band Concert under the direction of Dr. Dave Osterlund.  Dr. "O" as he is called by the inmates, has done an amazing thing that not many people even know about.  17 months ago Dr. Osterlund started the first and only prison band in SC, and as far as we know, the only prison band in the nation.  All of the band members were required to learn to read music and play in a recorder choir for 15 weeks.  After that, they could choose an instrument to play.  Enough instruments were donated to comprise a 16-piece band covering brass, woodwinds and percussion.  Lexington Baptist gave a trombone, a baritone and a clarinet. 

Yes, they may have sounded a bit like the Mayberry Band, but most of these men have only been playing their instrument for 3,4, or 5 months!  And several of them were actually quite good.  I was just so amazed by what I was witnessing that I had to write about it.  Music adds so much to our human existence, and it is incalculable what this prison band will do in the lives of these men whose lives have been so broken by failure.

I told several of the men that a band is like one big puzzle.  Each individual has a piece of that puzzle that by itself may not be very meaningful until all of these parts come together in unity.  We all need to be a part of something that is bigger than ourselves.  That is the context in which God chooses to move and work in our lives.  We have got to learn how we fit in to the larger group.  Thank you, Dr. "O"  for having such a vision for this prison ministry and for sharing your personal witness for the Lord Jesus Christ!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Wow! Angels Everywhere! And, Oh Yeah, There Was This Baby


Today is October 12, 2014 and we are in the middle of the Biblical Feast of Tabernacles we are to observe according to Leviticus 23.  If we truly wanted to be accurate in our religious holidays we would be celebrating Jesus’ birth during this Feast every year because that is when He was actually born (And that can be proven using the scriptural account of when Zacharias and Elizabeth gave birth to John, but that’s another subject).  I do celebrate The Light of the World coming during December because that is when Mary was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and we believe that life begins at conception.

With that being said, look at Luke 2 which is the account of Jesus’ birth beginning with the angelic proclamation to a group of shepherds.  Verse 20 says, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.”

What had the shepherds heard and seen?  The immediate response from most of us is that the shepherds heard and saw an angel telling them about the birth of the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, followed by a multitude of the heavenly host praising God!

But read the whole passage and you will see something a little different which has a word for us about true worship: Luke 2:16-20:  “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”  (That little tag phrase, "which were just as they had been told" tells us that they were rejoicing about what they heard and saw after the angelic visitation.)

The Shepherds were glorifying and praising God because they had heard that the Messiah had come and they had actually seen HIM!

Sure, the angelic choir had to be awesome, and no doubt the shepherds included that part in the telling of their story.  But they were not going around saying, “Oh, we heard and saw angels in the night!  It was the best singing and praising we have ever heard!  And these angels were so awesome!  They blew us away, and we just felt like we could have stayed there all night listening, singing along and worshipping God!  Sure, some of the shepherds thought they were too loud and dancing around a little too much, but they were unbelievable!  And, oh yeah, the Messiah was born.”
By now you get my point.  The shepherds were rejoicing because they had seen God in the flesh!  He was the focus of what they had experienced – it was not all about the grand and glorious display in the sky (or on the stage).   As a worship Pastor my goal for corporate worship is that people don’t depart saying, “Oh the choir was great!“ or “The band was awesome!” or “The orchestra was incredible!”  After worship may we “return glorifying and praising God” because we just experienced being in the very presence of the Messiah, the King of all Kings, our One and Only God!”

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Don't Live in Fear, Live in Prayer!

This week is the 13th anniversary of 9/11 when America came under attack by an un-named army from an un-named nation.  There are still many unanswered questions about that day, but we do know that there is an evil Satanic presence beyond our comprehension at work in this world, and it is capable of the most heinous atrocities imaginable.   Many of us wonder every September if there will be another attempt at such a catastrophic attack upon our soil at this anniversary, or when ISIS will claim another genocidal victory.  Most of us will agree that it is not a matter of IF, but simply a matter of WHEN we will be targeted again, and we can only wonder WHERE it will occur.


So, do I live in fear?


Well, in a word, "No!"  I live in prayer! 


There are those who say they don't live in fear, but apart from our God, I would propose that in actuality they are living in denial with a false sense of security because we are in the good 'ol U.S. of A.  Or else they may have taken on the same attitude of disbelief like the children of Israel who thought they had taken all the necessary precautions against calamity.  But the prophet Isaiah told them:
"You built a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the Old Pool,
but you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago. The Lord, the Lord Almighty, called you on that day to weep and to wail, to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth.  But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine!  “Let us eat, drink and be merry,” you say, “for tomorrow we die!”  (Is. 22:11-13)


The Father has called us to be warriors in this battle, which is primarily a spiritual battle that needs to be fought on our knees. 

2 Corinthians 4:12 and 16 from "The Aramaic Bible in English" (Thinking of our brothers in the Middle East) puts it this way: "So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you...Because of this, it is not tiresome to us, for even if our external person is being destroyed, on the other hand, that which is from within is renewed day by day."

So, grab your sword, get out there and pray!




Tuesday, July 8, 2014

This Israeli Woman Gets It

Mom of Slain Israeli Teen Naftali Fraenkel Hopes for 'Peace and Calm'

The mother of an Israeli teenager who was kidnapped and murdered said Monday that she shares the pain of the parents of a Palestinian teenager burned to death in what police say was a revenge killing. “No mother or father should go through what we are going now,” said the mother, Rachel Fraenkel, whose son, Naftali, was among three Israeli teens murdered in the West Bank.        
“Even in the depth of the mourning of our son, it’s hard for me to de “The shedding of innocent blood is against morality, is against the Torah and Judaism, it’s against the basis of our life in this country.” She concluded: “We truly hope that very soon the peace and calm will come back all over our country.”
scribe how distressed we were over the outrage that happened in Jerusalem,” she said, speaking of the apparent revenge killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir.

Retaliation and revenge is an ever-growing snowball that will lead the Middle East into all-out war.  I believe in Justice and I believe capitol punishment can be just, and it can be a deterrent.  But vigilante "justice" is only revenge which the Torah teaches only belongs to YWHY.  "Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay. In time their foot will slip, for their day of disaster is near, and their doom is coming quickly." (Deut. 32:35)
And the New Testament validates what the Torah teaches: "Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord." (Rom. 12:19)

Even though the Prince of Darkness in this world has an apparent death-grip on the minds and hearts of both the rulers and the people of this world, it is refreshing to hear the heart of this one Israeli woman.  And please be encouraged to know that one day the Prince of Peace will come and take His revenge upon the evil of this world, and He will establish His Millennium of Peace on the earth when He comes to claim His Bride.