Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving Thanks

As a shy teenager, Barbara Ann Kipfer started keeping a list of her favorite things. Before long the list began to flow naturally. She found herself adding to it while riding the bus, at the breakfast table and during the middle of the night. Some twenty years and dozens of spiral notebooks later, her list was published as a book. The title? 14,000 Things To Be Happy About.

Could you write such a book? As we celebrate the Thanksgiving Day holiday, does gratitude flow naturally from your heart for your favorite things?

The Bible echoes with the call for God’s people to “give thanks to the Lord.”

But who needs to be told to be thankful? Thanksgiving and praise to God flows naturally from the heart and through the lips of those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ Jesus. How could it be otherwise? When you’ve been rescued from the clutches of death and darkness and brought into the kingdom of the beloved Son of God, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, how could your heart not overflow with thanksgiving?

I love the account in Luke 7 where a Pharisee invites Jesus into his home for dinner. While they’re eating, this woman, who had quite a sinful reputation in town, comes in and disturbs the meal. She brings a jar of expensive perfume and stands at Jesus’ feet, weeping. Then she begins to wet His feet with her tears, bends down to wipe them with her hair and starts kissing them. She took her bottle of Guerlain’s Le Parfum Sur Mesure (or something) and poured it as she anointed the feet of her Savior.

The Pharisee, who was all about outward religious appearances but cold and empty-hearted, was quite put off by this brash display. In his own mind he thought that if Jesus really were a prophet then surely He would know what kind of woman this who was touching Him, and most certainly would not allow any thing of the sort.

But Jesus had something to say to the man with the critical attitude. He told a story that explained the situation. Hear the words of Jesus:

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:41-42).

The dinner host correctly answered that the one who owed the larger debt would have loved him more. Here’s where Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. While the Pharisee could only see this woman as a wretched sinner still owing a huge debt, Jesus saw her as a grateful woman whose debt had been cancelled. And with that debt cleared from her record, thanksgiving and love flowed naturally.

Jesus turned to the woman and said to His host: “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:44-48).

You may or may not be able to come up with 14,000 things to be happy about, but here’s one to start with: the forgiveness of your sins. If your faith rests in Jesus’ sacrifice for your sins on the cross, you know what it is to be forgiven and cleansed, and given new life in Christ Jesus. That’s my number one – my favorite thing. What’s yours?

Jesus said to the woman with the tainted past and stained reputation: “Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:48, 50). She’s been rescued from her sins, saved from the clutches of death and hell, and brought into the light of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. How could her heart not overflow with love and thanksgiving and praise?

She would have risen up and sang with the psalmist: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from the hand of the adversary” (Psalm 107:1-2).

Monday, November 24, 2008

True-Hearted Worship [A Thanksgiving Song]

I offer the following verses in thanksgiving and praise to the One whom I worship with ever-increasing desire that my heart be true and that His name be glorified.

Why is my heart so full of thanks
With praises on my tongue?
Why do I smile in my soul
When Jesus songs are sung?
I’ll shout it from the mountain high
Till every ear has heard:
My Jesus loves me this I know,
He told me in His Word

My heart is filled with holy fear
In reverence for my King
Almighty God, the Lord of lords
Who reigns o’er everything
I’ll offer up my very life
The cross I’ll gladly bear
Proclaim salvation in His name
To people everywhere

Give me an undefiled heart
That’s faithful, right and true
Lord, anchor my soul to your Word
Cleanse me through and through
Whom have I, Lord, on earth or heav’n
Apart from You alone?
O may your Spirit take my heart
And bind it to your throne

My heart is filled with peace and joy
In Christ, my great delight
Who saved me from the dark of hell
And brought me to His light
O Christian, join your heart in praise
Give thanks with grateful song
The Lord is good, His faithfulness
Endures forever long.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

One Way Bowling, One Way Salvation

We had a fun time bowling with some of the youth last Saturday. Neither our forms nor our scores were the stuff of the PBA tour, but we enjoyed our time together. Hopefully we didn't damage the lanes or put dents in the gutters!

After lunch and bowling I wanted to take the opportunity to share the gospel with our students. I'm a preacher, you know. You can't miss a moment like this, can you?

Let me ask you, reader, the same question I started the discussion with. How many different ways are there to bowl?

There are many different approaches and many different styles, but there's only one way to knock the pins down - you've gotta use the bowling ball. I can't get a running start, sprint down the lane and do a belly flop gliding with outstretched arms to send the pins flying. I can't take a shop broom and sweep the pins over with a single push. There's only one (right) way to bowl.

That's what I wanted to emphasize with the students. The Bible teaches clearly and emphatically that Jesus is the only way to the Father. As Jesus answered plainly in John 14:6: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

We also read through selected portions of Mark's gospel in chapters 15 and 16 highlighting Jesus' suffering and death, His burial and His resurrection.

Many people believe that there are multiple roads that lead to heaven. It's common to hear things like, "Well, it really doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you believe something. We all pray to the same God." Or, "A loving God wouldn't let anyone go hell." Or, "Yeah, I think I'm good enough to go to heaven."

These statements prove a great lack in understanding the biblical view of salvation and a sad view of the significance of why Jesus came to die on the cross for sinners. If there were any other way that man might possibly be saved from death and hell, then Jesus' suffering and sacrifice would have been absolutely unnecessary!

Here are some other key verses in God's Word that affirm the road to heaven is Jesus alone:

John 1:12 - But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.

John 3:16-17 - For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

Acts 4:12 - Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Acts 16:30-31 - And he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household."

Romans 5:8 - But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 10:9-13 - That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. for "whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

1 Corinthians 15:1-5 - Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you - unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.

Ephesians 1:13-14 - In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

Ephesians 2:8-9 - For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 - For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.

Titus 3:4-7 - But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

1 Peter 1:3-5 - Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Peter 2:24 - Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness - by whose stripes you were healed.

1 Peter 3:18 - For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.

1 John 5:11-13 - And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

This is just a sampling! I'm just getting warm-up! The whole Bible reveals that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the one and only Savior and Lord.

I asked the students to rate the following sentences based on what they believe to be true. See what you think about them.

1 = No way! 2 = I don’t think so 3 = I don’t know 4 = Might be 5 = Yes, baby!

_____ I will go to heaven someday because I am kind to others.

_____ I will go to heaven because I go to church.

_____ I will go to heaven because God couldn’t possibly do without me there.

_____ I will go to heaven because everybody goes to heaven.

_____ I will go to heaven because I am a pretty good person.

_____ I’m not sure whether I will go to heaven or not.

_____ I will go to heaven because…[answer with your understanding of salvation in your own words]

I praise God for the ones who are sure their sins have been forgiven in Christ and are living their lives in devoted trust, love and obedience to Jesus.

But for some, by their varied answers, there's still much work to be done. I pray that God will pour out His Spirit of Truth upon their hearts, that they will not be dissuaded by the world's distorted views of God and His salvation, and that He will draw them to a true understanding and personal receiving of the gospel of Christ Jesus.

How would you answer that last one in your own words?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Living Better

I’m not a guy who likes to do much shopping. Seriously, shopping for groceries or household stuff is tough enough, but even when I’m looking for something I want I don’t like to shop. I spent an hour browsing around LifeWay Christian Stores the other day looking at books, Bibles and gifts. But when I walked out I was lamenting how much time I wasted.

And to shop for gifts for others – let’s just say you don’t want to hire me to do your Christmas shopping. Once upon a time many moons ago I purchased a department store gift card for my wife’s birthday. Thankfully I lived to tell about it and warn others of the dangers of such foolishness.

Recently with some birthday money I went to the new wide-aisled, well-known local mecca of low prices that bills itself as the place where you will “Save money” and “Live better.” Maybe I should have stayed home and saved my money and lived better.

Anyway, I bought a pair of blue jeans and a black sweater. When I arrived home to put the jeans in the closet and the sweater in the drawer, what do you suppose I did with my other jeans and other shirts?

A. Nothing.
B. Toss them all in the Goodwill pile.
C. Think briefly about getting rid of at least one pair of jeans that are holey.
D. Rejoice that I saved money and now I’m living better.

If you answered “A,” the million’s just 14 questions away. You probably didn’t even need to use a lifeline. My same old jeans are still sitting on the same shelf in the same closet as my new jeans. My same old shirts are still folded up in the same drawer as my new one. I added on to my wardrobe, but I didn’t get rid of one thing.

Here comes the point. There are many people who think they can add Jesus on the same way. They like what He says He can do for them, especially the whole thing about heaven and all. I’m mean, who wants to go to hell? But receiving Jesus is not at all like buying a new pair of pants. You can not simply add Jesus on to your life and keep all the old stuff, too. He’s not interested in occupying a spot on the same shelf in the same closet of your heart as all of your old ways.

The Bible says it this way: “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19). To receive Jesus as your Savior and confess Him as Lord is to turn away from sin. To believe in Jesus is to “put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24), and it’s also to “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to deceitful lusts” (Ephesians 4:22).

If Jesus is truly your Lord, then you will want to obey His word. You will want to please Him in every way. You will want to “flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).

If Jesus is truly the Lord of your life then you’ll want nothing to do with the old, sinful ways in which you used to live – or may still be trying to live. You’ll have a disdain for everything that even hints of evil and wickedness. You will hate the things God hates, such as dishonest gain, the wrongdoing of others, the worthless idols others cling to, the faithless deeds of men, pride, arrogance, evil behavior, perverse speech, all that is false, robbery and iniquity, worshipping false gods, injustice, unrighteousness, worthless religious festivals, plotting evil against your neighbor, swearing falsely, divorce, violence, false teachings and every wrong path.

Friend, I urge you to come to Jesus, for indeed it by grace through faith in Him you are saved. Eternal life in heaven is the gift of God, while hell is real for those who persist in sin and unbelief. But please know that you cannot just add Jesus on to your old wardrobe. Get rid of all things sinful and keep fleeing those old lusts – and keep pursuing all things Christ. That’s what “living better” is all about.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Yet I Will Rejoice!

It's been a tough week. Plans haven't gone as I wanted. The Marriage Check-up seminar got cancelled last week for lack of participants (only 2 couples had signed up!). Didn't make it to the Pastor's Conference that I was looking forward to. Missed the chance to get together with my old college roommate. Lost my favorite ball cap. Oldest boy's been sick. Wife's been sick and still has a bum foot. Haven't had the study time I'd like to prepare for Sunday. Didn't get my article written for the Ridgway News. Yard still full of leaves. And it's raining, again.

But God is good. I praise Him in all of it. He is the One who is in control - and not me. There's a refreshing thought!

I'm looking forward to Sunday. It's Youth Sunday and I can't wait to see how God is going to keep moving in the hearts and lives of our students. Already there are two who have publicly confessed Christ as Savior and Lord and are ready to take the step of baptism. I pray for more!

There's so much to still rejoice in. The Iron Men men's Bible study that we resumed on Monday night. A cooperative, glad-hearted business meeting Wednesday night. More time at home with my family this week. A strong, biblical message from Grant Medford last Sunday morning. No matter what the circumstances may be, God is God, He is good, and I will rejoice in Him.

"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior." - Habakkuk 3:17-18

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Post-Election Comments - Presidential Race and Proposition 8

To follow up with my thoughts on the presidential election results, I couldn't agree more with what Dr. Albert Mohler has written on his blog, "America Has Chosen a President," posted Nov. 5. At the risk of appearing to merely parrot the ideas and words of others, I'll refer you in this case to his article. He's a great Christian thinker and a great writer. I could not express my own thoughts any better. It's worth reading.

The bottom line is this: God is still in control. The Lord still reigns and rules from heaven, and He always will.
  • "The king's heart is in the hands of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases." - Proverbs 21:1
  • "The authorities that exist have been established by God." - Romans 13:1b
  • "The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths." - Psalm 135:6
Jesus is still the King of kings and Lord of lords, our only hope for healing. Neither Barack Obama, John McCain, nor anyone other man or woman can bind up the wounds of individual lives, nor heal this land.

Now, more than ever, I believe the call rings out for God's people to truly "humble themselves and pray and seek [His] face and turn from their wicked ways." Then we will also experience the blessings of God's promise: "Then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14).

I've also been checking to see what the status is on the Proposition 8 vote in California. Though supporters have claimed victory, not all votes are in yet, so I will hold off for now on saying this is a major victory.

The sad truth is, as a commenter on yesterday's post said, that this issue of legalizing same sex marriage even appears on the ballot at all. And even if Prop 8 wins, you can see how evenly divided that state remains. No doubt, the fight will wage on.

Gladly, in the two other states in which this issue appeared before voters, Arizona and Florida, the sanctity of marriage was upheld by voters who said they wanted a ban on same sex marriage in their constitutions.

You have to wonder what's in store for America. For some reason, God has chosen to withhold a major windfall of His wrath against the sins of our nation. But to some degree we're already experiencing His judgment.

When you read Romans 1:18-32 you can easily see this country described as the ones who have "exchanged the truth of God for a lie." We're seeing God's wrath being revealed in the way that He has "[given] them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another."

We're seeing God's wrath being revealed in the way He has "[given] them over to shameful lusts." To the extent that He gives us over to our own wicked and shameful desires is judgment enough! How much more to come! The parading of sin and unrighteousness in this land and the approval of such wickedness reveals that to a certain degree God has already given this nation over to her own ways. And that's the judgment we're experiencing.

Read Isaiah 3 concerning the Lord's judgment on Jerusalem and Judah and see if their situation doesn't mirror ours today. "The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves" (Isaiah 3:9).

In the rampant atmosphere of sexual immorality, in the killing of the unborn, in the oppression of the poor, in the greed of man, in the misdirection of our guides...the wrath of God is already being revealed from heaven. And beyond what we're already experiencing, Paul says this in Romans 2:5: "But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentent heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed."

Friend, don't let it be so for you. Return to the Lord and receive God's forgiveness and mercy offered to you through the blood of Jesus. God demonstrated the boundless depths of His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). Receive Jesus by faith, for as many as receive Him, to all who believe in His name, God grants that we may become children of God (John 1:12).

And let us pray for our President-elect, for the choices and decisions he makes in selecting his leadership team, for guiding and signing national policy, for the example he sets and the direction he leads, that wisdom from heaven will prevail.

Let us pray and plead for God to move and act for His own glory through His church on behalf of this land.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On the Ballot - Seeking God's Truth on Election Day

There's so much I want to say about this nation, the direction we're going, this election and the issues related to it...I hope and I pray that the people of this land aren't making their decisions based upon what the mainstream liberal media has to say, nor upon what conservative talk radio suggests. I sincerely pray for our country to get down on their knees in prayer seeking the Father's will.

Let me just address one topic concerning this year's election - for now. Proposition 8. I’m really interested to see what will happen in California on this vote. Whether for good or bad, the State of California often sets the trends that will soon enough sweep across the rest of the country.

In 2000, the people of California voted 61% in favor of passing Proposition 22, which added a section to the California Family Code to formally define marriage in California as being between a man and a woman. On May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court in a 4-3 vote ruled this initiative as unconstitutional, thus granting the right of same sex individuals to marry, overturning the will of the people.

I’m praying that God will convict the people of California to once again vote in favor of protecting marriage. I pray that they will rise up against the judicial activism of the California Supreme Court, overwhelmingly pass this measure and send a message to the rest of the country that marriage, as God has designed and ordained it, is to be held in honor by all men (Heb. 13:4). I hope you know where your candidate stands on this issue!

I don’t have enough time to detail all the reasons why allowing same sex couples to marry is a terrible idea in any society. But it is enough to give one. What God has established from the beginning to be true for all nations for all times is this: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Any departure from God’s design for marriage the sexual union within the bounds of marriage, will surely lead to judgment. Think Sodom and Gomorrah.

Here’s how the Bible reveals what God thinks about homosexuality: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable” (Lev. 18:22).

Is homosexuality forbidden only under the Old Testament law? Of course not – all Scripture is God-breathed. Look at 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” See also Romans 1 for a frighteningly true picture of how God pours out His wrath “from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Rom. 1:18).

I’ve not even begun to address the wickedness of abortion that is destroying this land! I’ve not even begun to talk about the many other forms of ungodliness that are tearing apart our nation. But when the Word of God is so clear on a matter, and when the hearts of people are so stubbornly wicked, why should we not expect judgment to fall hard upon this nation?!

The time is now for people everywhere to turn away from evil and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. While there is still time! The Day of Judgment will come!

But there is hope for healing and hope for salvation. Talking about the wicked Paul says: “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” (1 Cor. 6:11).

What about you? Will you repent of sin and follow the ways of the Lord, or will you continue with your own plans, following the stubbornness of your own evil heart?