Thursday, October 29, 2015

First Steps are Important

The first step is important. People have a baby’s first step recorded on their smart phone and email or text them to friends and family by email and text message and even share them with complete strangers on social media. Without that first step there can never be the second, third and millions of steps which follow.

In the process of becoming a child of God there seems to be a first step that has been emphasized and yet seldom considered in any depth to understand how to get to the root. We are told that “…all have sinned and come short of the glory of God ;”( Romans 3:23) but we never are shown clearly what that means. Therefore we are left to our own devices to determine what sin is. So instead of coming to an understanding of the nature of sin we find examples and use them as a definition. In that case we are relegated to the big 4; stealing what belongs to someone else, killing another human being, sexual immorality however we end up defining that, and then lying is the fourth. Some do go a little farther and include thinking about doing those things as sin.

So we are told in Sunday school (where they still have that) that Jesus died to save us from our sins. And frightened children come home and tell their parents that they must be baptized because they need to be saved from their sins. But they have no idea what those sins are. They certainly haven’t stolen, killed or been involved in immoral sexual behavior (people of the opposite gender are icky). But they are sure they have sinned because the teacher read to them from the Bible that “all have sinned.” I am sure there are exceptions to this illustration, but generally speaking you will see the point that I am making is valid, I hope.

So, what is this “sin” that we are all guilty of that has caused us to fall short of the glory of God? And how can understanding the answer to this first question help me to stop falling short of God’s glory?

The word Genesis means beginning, so since we are considering this to be a first step the beginning would be a good place to start. In the first chapter we can read how God created the whole universe with his words.  God spoke all of the physical that we can see and more into reality.  That’s a whole other topic. Then in chapter 2 we can read beginning in verse 8 how God planted a garden in “Eden”. Here again we find that the Bible translators didn’t translate. The Hebrew word for Eden is pronounced “Eden” the translation is “pleasure”. Of the 19 or so translations that I look at, only the Douay-Reims Translation agrees with several commentators and says,And the Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning: wherein he placed man whom he had formed.”  

God provided all that man needed for his pleasure in this garden. Just take a moment or several to think about that.

I really like caramel and my wife likes dark chocolate. I enjoy seafood but my wife prefers chicken. What does this have to do with sin? Not a lot, but it does have to do with pleasure. One of the pleasures that God placed in the garden was a freedom to choose. When we choose the course that is right we have great pleasure but when we choose the course that is wrong we quickly come to sorrow. This is simple to illustrate in several life situations. In this “paradise of pleasure” all of the choices but one were within God’s will. Everything was a delight to behold, unimaginably wonderful foods were everywhere, and physical pleasure had no boundaries. Included in the pleasures was the pleasure of choosing to do God’s will. The pleasure of allowing God to decide what is best for me and what I should avoid. The only way that it could be possible to choose one way over another is for you to have at least two options. In this case there were thousands of options and only one had been labeled as “the wrong option”. And yet with a little help from a clever salesman that is what they chose.

That option was not a pear, a plum, an apple or a pomegranate. The option was the option to choose to decide between what is good and what is evil. The option was and is to place my will above and before God’s will. Here is the root of all sin. God’s will or my will; we are presented with the same choice as Adam and Eve.

Every day all day long we are presented with choices. Unfortunately because of that first choice, to choose other than God’s will, we often have several wrong options and only one or a few right options that are in agreement with God’s will. How do we possibly learn to choose properly?

This is what following Jesus is really all about. Jesus was tempted in every way the same as we are tempted and yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). God’s Word promises that, “there is no temptation that comes to you or me except what is common to all men and God is faithful and will not permit us to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear ( 1 Corinthians 10:13). Does this mean that I will never sin again? I don’t think so. But it does mean that there is always a way open to me where I can learn to choose to do God’s will and not my own.

God’s will certainly involves healing the sick and possibly doing other miracles but it is not likely that we will get to be a part of that while we are still becoming angry with our brother or sister because they didn’t pick up their dirty clothes. I must learn to be faithful to do God’s will where it is clear to me. Then I can learn to be involved where my will is so easily confused with God’s.

As I choose God’s will in more and more situations of life I gain power over sin. As a born again follower of Jesus I always have the power to choose and God will always show me the right choice and give me the power to choose His will in the moment if I will cry out to him in my time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Let us each one continue to faithfulness
2 Corinthians 3:10

Friday, September 18, 2015

Good Works

Jesus says, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

When you come into a dark room you flip a switch and the light comes on. If you think about it at all you don’t think about the electricity and how it was generated. No, you think about the light. But when the light won’t come on you know where to go to replace a fuse (that’s flip the breaker for you who don’t know what a fuse is) or call the electric company. The light didn’t work because it didn’t get any power.

Somewhere people had to work to generate the power to cause your light to come on.
In the same way we have to work to provide the power for our light to shine and produce good results. But what is the work that we must do in order to make our light shine and give good results.

For a long time I have made it my practice to look at 1 Corinthians 13 regularly. The first 3 verses speak of what are commonly thought of as good things to do or be able to do, but in every case they are classified as worthless in less they proceed from love. Then the writer goes on to explain what love is. If you think about these verses for a while they will ruin almost all romantic stories.

The point is; the things we think of as good works are only the light. The good works is the work of learning and living the love. Read the verses 4-9 and see clearly what the love that God intends for us to practice truly is. This is a good work. This is difficult and we cannot accomplish it without the help of the Spirit of God living in us, helping us.

From the Sermon on the Mount on, the New Testament is full of Good Work that we are called to do. All of this work is invisible to those around us.

Let me illustrate what I am saying. Let’s assume you are in a store waiting in line to pay for your purchase and you turn around to look at something and when you turn back someone has stepped in front of you. What happens inside your mind? Do you become angry because someone has violated your right to be next in line? Jesus says that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgement (not exactly sure what that last part means but it doesn’t sound pleasant) (Matthew 5:22). The apostle Paul says that love does not demand its rights (1 Corinthians 13:5). These and other scriptures demand that we think completely in a new way, a way completely different from our natural inclination.

The light that can come forth is no indication of impatience, or possibly mentioning to the other person what they did with no critical or impatient emotion, and then accepting the result with peace in your heart.

Read the Sermon on the Mount and see how many of the things Jesus says are done internally. The instructions that Jesus gives in the sermon are the good works that produce the light that people see coming from us in the daily life.

One time I saw a police officer receive repeated verbal abuses and he remained calm and patient. Later I asked him how he did that (I want to be that way). He said he had learned to act like a duck. You may have seen ducks in a swift moving stream just sitting still. What you see seems to be a stationary duck but what you don’t see is little duck feet paddling furiously where they can’t be seen but the results are obvious.

No one will see what is going on under the surface, but all will be able to see the light that it produces.

Let us grow in faithfulness.

Ephesians 2:10

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The End of Conflict

This morning I came home from buying coffee because we just didn’t get it done yesterday. I was hungry and wanted some potatoes and eggs for breakfast.

Now we have changed some things under the sink and Jeannie wanted to clean out under the sink before we put the dish drainer back under there. She had told me this. I knew it. I was conscious of it.

I wanted to fix some potatoes and eggs. The dish drainer was on the counter, in my way. So I put it back under the sink, where it belongs. Or should I say I lit the fuse.

What followed may be familiar to many of you. She said… I said…she said…I said…etc. This was followed by some tears some apologies, some more tears and some more apologies; and then by peace restored.

What happened? Does this have to happen every now and then? Is there a solution?
The answers in reverse order are; yes, no, and well let me explain.

What Happened was I did not allow the cross to work in my life. I did not crucify my flesh with its lusts and desires (Gal 5:24). I wanted what I wanted and so I did what I wanted in spite of what my wife wanted. Then something else happened, Jeannie didn’t have the cross in her life. So when I told her why I had done what I did, she responded by being offended. And so it began and continued for far too long.

Jesus says, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

We both failed to take up our cross and deny ourselves. The cross is the solution to every conflict. James says, “Where do all the fights and quarrels among you come from? They come from your desires for pleasure, which are constantly fighting within you.” (James 4:1)  All conflict comes from this cause. If you read on you will see the extension of how this goes and it doesn’t matter if we are talking about dish drainers or you name it.

In the past I was acquainted with a happy man named Bratlie who said, “If one person has the cross in their life there is peace, if two people have the cross in their life there is fellowship.” If one person will take up their cross and faithfully carry that cross there is no possibility for conflict with that person.

It is something to think about.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Question

In 1978 Douglas Adams wrote a farcical novel called “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” In this wonderfully entertaining book we learned that the earth was simply a giant computer created by a civilization from another dimension in order to discover “The Answer.” But after several thousands of our years the earth was destroyed to make way for an intergalactic byway. But fortunately the operators escaped in time and they had just been able to work out the answer. This only created another and much larger problem. What is the question?

It seems to me (major disclaimer) that this may be where the Christian Church in almost all of its expressions has come up with the wrong answer or question in this case. This is where it all falls apart. What is the question? If we look around at the people all around us we do not see people who are wondering if they will go to heaven when they die. But that is the question that all of Christendom is answering.

Could it possibly be that people are really interested in how to be happy? Could it also be that when they look at the other people who claim to be Christians they don’t see happy?

“Christians” seem really interested in telling those who are not Christians that they are going to Hell if they don’t pray a certain prayer, say some special words and do some ceremonies. Christians seem really interested in pointing out the sins that others are doing. As Christians, disciples of Jesus, active members of the (fill in the blank) church do we have anything that is truly of interest to those who haven’t bought our T-shirts?

Let’s just assume that the real question is something like, “how can I be happy?” Does the Bible or Jesus have an answer to that question? I believe that the answer in bold flashing capital letters is YES WE DO. The colossal problem is that many of the people wearing the T-shirts and flashing the hand book are not doing what it says in order to be happy. So the non-T-shirt wearing non hand book flashing public doesn’t believe the sales pitch when the results are obviously not as advertised.

The Word of God tells us in many places who will be happy. These simple instructions involve conforming to God’s pattern. Take some time to look up the references in your bible that begin with the word blessed. This is just another word for happy.

Jesus showed us by his life how to conform to God’s pattern. In Hebrews 1:9 it says that because Jesus loved to do what was righteous (God’s pattern) and hated lawlessness (that’s everything else) God poured the oil of gladness (happiness) over him more that over anyone else.

This is much more difficult than telling people they will go to hell if they don’t conform to my religion. But this is the way that I have chosen for myself. Thankfully I have made some small progress and I am trusting God that he will give me the power to continue in this way. I hope some others will follow me as I follow Jesus and learn to be happy in all situations.

It is something to think about. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

More Effective Prayer

Sometimes you search for years for the thing you need and then one day you find that you have been stepping over it, moving it to one side and even sitting stuff on it all the time. I am always amazed when I realize that that is exactly what I have been doing with the truth and plain instruction in the Word of God. Someone may have read my article about my “Life Changing Experience” where I pointed out the tremendous benefit of memorizing and meditating on the “Beatitudes”.

For years I have sought for help to know how to pray more effectively. And once again there was the answer in plain sight.

Many years ago, when I was a student at Ozark Bible College, there was a local evangelist whose motto on all of his literature and banners was II Chronicles 7:14. Many of you and myself as well have always thought of this as a prescription for political action. Today as I was especially aware of the need for effective prayer this verse came into my mind and happily I didn’t push it aside but rather took some time to look at it. What I have seen is an amazing insight into effective prayer.

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

So often when I think of prayer, I think of verses like Philippians 4:6

Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

Of course this is a fine and instructive verse. I have for some time realized because of this and other verses (1 Thessalonians 5:18; Ephesians 5:20) that all of my prayer needs to include thanksgiving. But in the Chronicles verse today I have seen a tremendous application of how I ought to pray.

I have mentioned before that this verse is specifically addressed to those who are ‘called by my name’. I don’t believe that prayer is necessarily the exclusive privilege of “Christians.” Otherwise no one could become a Christian. But I do think that this level of effective prayer is limited to those who are “called by my name.”

If I have written this before, it bears repeating often. When we are dealing with the activity of prayer there is no such thing as taking it too seriously. If I were going to be handling high explosives or radioactive material I am pretty sure that I would be careful to take the proper precautions. But we routinely bow our heads and say our prayers as casually as asking a stranger for the time. I need to realize that I am the most unworthy of creatures approaching the Living God who is always maintaining all things by his very word.

Sometimes it seems that the whole idea of something or someone being holy or sanctified is completely foreign in the protestant church especially in America. So when Jesus, teaching us how to pray, says we should pray like this “Our Father which art in heaven hollowed be thy name.” we just rattle it off with no thought for what it means. When the apostle Peter tells us to “sanctify the Lord God in your heart and be ready to give an answer,” we begin by thinking what our answer should be. And I have been in meetings where communion was treated more like the snack between the song service and the preaching than like the divine ordinance given to us by Jesus. Which, by the way, has extremely serious warnings attached to it by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23-30.

And so, after accepting Solomon’s Temple as a dwelling place (II Chronicles 7:14) the Lord says to Solomon, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves”; He calls them “my people” and yet requires them to first humble themselves. In all of our spiritual development this is the starting place and the very pavement upon which we travel. If we overlook this principle we can make NO progress with God. Consider these verses.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: (1 Peter 5:6)

But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. (James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5)

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18:1-14)

Once I have seen my own poverty of spirit and acknowledged it to myself, then and only then am I truly ready to pray and seek the face of the Lord.

I am very aware of Philippians 4:6 which speaks of letting our requests be made known to God. I am also very aware that Jesus tells us our Father knows what we need before we ask him (Matthew 6:8). In the passage we are considering it simply says to pray and seek the face of the Lord.

What does that mean? Where would I look? How could I look?

This takes us back to becoming a disciple. In the 70’s Tim LA Hay wrote a book titled “The Becomers”. It put forward the idea that no matter where we are as Christians, we are always in the process of becoming more of a Christian. We should always be in the process of becoming disciples. The first disciple that I should always be making is myself. A disciple of Jesus is someone who wants to become as much like Jesus as possible. I do this by placing myself as close to him as much as possible. Reading his story and imagining myself there listening and watching. Learning his answers in situations; rehearsing what he taught about in this or that situation.

Many of you, myself as well, are or have been members of Christian groups or churches. When you first join that group you noticed peculiar ways that they say things. As time goes by, you began using the same ways of speech. You and I became like them. In the same way as we spend time with Jesus, in the Gospels, we begin to see the sense and logic of the things he says and we begin to sound like him. We begin to think in those terms.

I believe that part of seeking the face of God is seeking to know Jesus intimately.

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you such a long time and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father. And how do you say, Show us the Father?” (John 14:9)

Surprisingly this makes reading God’s Word a form of prayer if we take it properly. In the same way as we memorize God’s Word and meditate, or repeat it to ourselves, this also becomes a form of prayer. His thoughts become our thoughts and we become like him, little by little.

Most people are as good as they know how to be. Often people who we would consider terrible sinners are simply doing the best that they can with what they know and have no idea about any fault in themselves. They see no better way to live.

At one time along my discipleship journey I memorized 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter). And as I meditated on this chapter I came across the phrase “love does not behave itself unseemly” (or rudely). Up to this time it was pretty common for me to speak of bodily functions in crude terms, for shock value or sometimes to get a point across. After I read this I realized that this was not the way that God would have me live. Now I had something to repent of. I needed to change my behavior.

There are many areas of each of our lives where we need to repent and change how we live and behave. That is why The Lord said, “and turn from their wicked ways.” We need to see our smallest inconsistency with God’s pattern as our “wicked ways.” This is very serious.

Someone is bound to think that, “We are under grace” or “When God looks at me he sees Jesus.” If that is so, why are the churches, in Revelation, told several times, “repent?” apparently God could see their sin. Repentance is a vital part of being a disciple of Jesus that seems to be written in very small letters in most of “Christian teaching” these days. Being changed is the WORK of discipleship. If I try to change myself I will only change some of my outward behavior. But, if I seek God’s face I will be able to find grace to be changed into his image. Grace is the POWER OF GOD that he will give so that I can be changed.

Then when God speaks of ‘healing the land’, I see that he means more than the political application of the context. I believe he is also interested in healing my life so that all of the promises can be realized for His glory.

It’s something to think about.

  But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

God's Word hidden

I have hidden Your Word in my heart, so that I might not sin against You.  (Psalms 119:11). What a wonderful powerful verse of scripture which so many have stored in their mind but has gone nowhere near their heart.

This is where we have failed and where we must work if victory in anything is ever to be experienced.

In Matthew 4 you can read about how Jesus was tempted. For years I had no appreciation for what he was going through in this situation. But then, I have never fasted for forty days or been led into the wilderness to be tempted. Well, try to imagine not eating anything for forty days. Maybe you should start with four days. He would have been physically and emotionally weak, very weak. The suggestions that he was offered would have been very enticing. A piece of bread after 40 days would have seemed like a banquet. To easily accomplish recognition in that weakened condition would have been very attractive. He knew that the world was his inheritance, to quickly and easily take possession would surely look tempting.

What saved Jesus?

He was saved because he had hidden God’s Word in his heart. Read what is written in the chapter.
Many people memorize scripture for many reasons. Memorizing God’s Word will do you little good.

If it is to protect you from sin, it must be hidden in your heart.

How do I hide God’s Word in my heart? FIRST, you do need to memorize it. THEN, you need to meditate on it. Say it to yourself over and over. 5 times a day to start.

1.    When you go to bed.
2.    When you wake up
3.    When you have your breakfast or morning break.
4.    When you have your mid-day meal.
5.    When you have your dinner.

And that is just to start. As you work with God’s word in this way you will become aware of it in everyday life situations. For instance, if you memorize 1 Corinthians 13, as you go through your day, you will notice times when your behavior and God’s word are not in agreement. Then you will have an opportunity to have a prayer meeting with God. This is where God’s word gets hidden in your heart. This is how God’s Word will keep you from sin.

Becoming Jesus’ disciple is not easy. Words like suffering and fear have been removed from new translations of the Bible but if we do not receive chastisement we are bastards and not sons (Hebrews 12:8). Disciple and discipline are from the same root and clearly indicate harsh training to effect change. (Romans 12:1-2) Memorizing God’s Word is not easy but becoming Jesus disciple is not easy.

Start where you can. I began by memorizing the beatitudes and repeating them like I have illustrated. They have worked changes in my life. I have added other passages to work to protect me from the sin I see in my life. God will help us if we make a beginning. Then we must also persevere. 

We must each learn faithfulness in the little things.

Monday, June 22, 2015

God is the best matchmaker

In the fall of 1967 I went back to Ozark Bible College (Now Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Mo.) with marriage on my mind. I was very interested in finding a willing young lady to share my life with.

This was my third year at Bible College I was going to a little church in Duquesne Mo. while at school. I was the song leader (now I would be the worship leader) and Jeannie played the piano.

Now although I was in college, I was not real clever, so I didn’t even think of her as a viable candidate for marriage to me. I was more interested in glamor or unique interest. There were a couple of Hawaiian girls there that I thought might be special and a girl from Norway that I liked for the job. Happily they were much smarter than me and kindly buy firmly told me to keep looking.

This went on for some time and I was getting kind of frustrated. Mostly I thought of myself as a pretty desirable guy and I was getting some pretty cold shoulders.

In my frustration I thought of something intelligent to do. I prayed, and pretty much laid my problem out to God. While I was praying it came into my mind that I should make a list of characteristics that I should be looking for. This idea came while I was consciously praying so naturally I was aware that I should place this list in an order appropriate for a spiritual person. So practical things like domestic skills and music were high on the list and physical beauty was at the bottom. This says nothing about Jeannie but only about how I thought God would want my list to look. After I finished making the list I put it in a notebook and pretty much forgot about it then went on my way searching according to my ideas.

This went on for a while. During this time as I mentioned Jeannie was playing the piano and I was leading the singing at the little church where we went. I also was her ride to and from church and we hung out together from time to time, when I wasn’t looking for a future Mrs. Everingham.

After a few weeks and more frustration I resorted to prayer again. I might not have been stupid but I was pretty slow. This time as I was praying I distinctly was aware of Jeannie Foyil. I think I heard God tell me “what about Jeannie Foyil?” I didn’t like that idea and told Him so. She wasn’t my ideal. As I sat there arguing with God, He said, “Look at your list.” I hadn’t thought about it for a while but when I heard that I knew exactly where it was.

As I looked down that list I realized that it was a spot on description of Jeannie. I was blown away.

The next time we headed to church, on the way I told Jeannie I wanted to talk to her. She asked me about what. I said, “About us.” We were friends, we went to church together and did other stuff but there was really no ‘us’. We were just friends, pretty good friends but just friends. Mostly I talked to her about my frustration in my search.

So, after I had dropped everyone else who rode with me off we got out of the car by the trailer where Jeannie and 3 other girls stayed. I pretty much told her about the list and my little conversation with God. Then I explained that I didn’t love her and then I made some very tasteless comments and asked her if she would consider marrying me.

Believe it or not, she said she would consider it. 

That Thanksgiving I went home with her to meet her family in Tulsa Ok. and then at Christmas she went home with me to Ohio to meet my family. I flunked out of Bible college, got drafted and we were married May 25th at her youth sponsor’s house. The wedding happened after I got my draft notice and we drove from Joplin Missouri to Tulsa with a stop in Miami Oklahoma to get our blood test so we could get our marriage license before we went to her parent's house. The evening of the 24th we went to her brother’s high school graduation. Then on Saturday we were married, then Sunday morning we drove about 200 miles so I could preach at a little church in Sparta Missouri near Silver Dollar City in Branson where we had our 6 hour honeymoon.

She was not what I wanted or was looking for, but God showed me that she was the perfect match for me. She is my best friend and I am thankful from the deepest part of my heart for her. I thank God always for her.

Trust God with every area of your life. I heard a wise man say we should seek a wife just like Adam did. Go to sleep and let God bring her to you.

Be Faithful