Praying For A New Perspective (Part 1)

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Praying for a New Perspective Part 1

Bev and I are on vacation this week. We are enjoying a wonderful time with our family and especially our grandchildren. We are in Thailand and have enjoyed the tropics with the warm and balmy climate. Yesterday was cool by Thai standards, but it was still in the eighties with just a touch of rain. We are looking forward to playing some golf today, the Lord willing.

Last Sunday, we had the privilege of worshipping with the believers at Immanuel Church. This is a new church plant that Ryan and Heather have partnered with to help evangelize, disciple and mature some church leaders. It was great to be a part of the service and to hear Ryan preach God’s Word, all in Thai. I heard three English words, my name when they introduced me, the word tornado as Ryan mentioned what happened to our church, and the word “face book.” I could see why Paul called for the interpretation of tongues in the public worship service in 1 Corinthians.

Since I have been gone, I have had the subject of prayer on my mind. I spoke on Sunday night on Colossians 4:12, where it states, “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” So I have been drawn to the Psalms as my mind contemplates the area of prayer.

Have you ever thought about “Praying Through the Psalms.” While the Book of Psalms may be the most popular book in the Bible, and is most often associated with worship or songs of praise, the Psalms actually give us a very practical picture of prayer. They take us from the heights of joy to the depths of despair, using words that can serve as a pattern for our own prayers.

Ambrose, a church leader from the 4th Century, referred to the Psalms as the “gymnasium of the soul.” In order to catapult us into deeper prayer, both individually and as a church, we’re going to spend the next nine weeks exercising our faith as we pray through the Psalms. I encourage you to read through the entire Book of Psalms, using them as a model for prayer (if you read three a day you will finish the entire book by the end of summer).

It’s my hope that we will have, in our church, those who will help contribute to a flood of fervent prayers and raise the prayer temperature around here. Jesus said in Matthew 21:13: “My house will be called a house of prayer.” Let’s make Metro a house of prayer, and let’s commit to make our homes lighthouses of prayer. In order for that to happen, we must first have hearts of prayer.
I’ve often wondered what is most important – prayer or preaching? Should we be spending more time reading the Bible or praying? I love A.W. Tozer’s answer to this question: “Which is more important to a bird: the right wing or the left?” Teaching is not more important than caring for one another. Prayer is not better than evangelism. Worship does not trump ministry. They’re all essential and important.

My goal this summer is to allow the Word of God to catapult us into the praise of God. As we workout in the Psalms, we will find ourselves responding in protracted prayer. I will know that this has succeeded when each of us experience a revolution in our prayer life. I don’t want to just give information about the Psalms; I sincerely want to allow this section of God’s Word to affect life transformation.

Let’s admit something. Very few of us pray like we should. If the truth were known, most of us would be embarrassed if others knew how little we really prayed. Sometimes our prayer life is flabby simply because we’ve not been exercising it. But I’m convinced that for many of us prayer has become a bit boring and predictable. As we take this book of 150 prayers and actually begin praying these expressions of praise and longings back to God, we will experience nothing short of a prayer revival.

I’m not interested in giving you another formula for prayer. While they can be helpful in their simplicity, they invariably omit part of who we are or what we’re experiencing. Prayer becomes smaller and can become more like a task rather than life itself. When that happens real life and prayer begin to exist in separate compartments with few points of contact. Prayer can become a duty that we can never totally fulfill.

The call of the Bible is not a call to more prayer, but to a life of prayer. Paul calls it “unceasing prayer” in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Jesus refers to prayer as a life of “abiding” in John 15:7. The Psalms are the only prayer guide that enlarges prayer so much that everything else is pulled into it. Prayer becomes the great conversation. Nothing is too large or too small to be prayed.

I went for a walk the other evening and it was pitch black. As I looked up at the stars and the moon, I was overwhelmed with the majesty of God and my own sense of smallness. Tears started to run down my face as God brought the words of Psalm 8 to my mind. I picture David, the author of this Psalm, lying on his back gazing at the heavens, when these words started flowing out of his mouth.

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Please join me as I pray this Psalm back to God…
We can outline this Psalm very simply.
1. God matters more than anything (1-3)
2. You matter to the Majesty (4-9)

God Matters More Than Anything
The theme of Psalm 8 is found in verse 1 and is repeated again in verse 9: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” The first word “LORD” is the name Yahweh, which was the unspoken name of God, and means “the self-existent one.” The second use of “Lord” is the name Adonai and is a title that reflects that He is master of everything. The use of “O Yahweh” focuses on God’s otherness, or separateness from us. The phrase “our Lord” helps us see that God is personally involved with us. God is powerful and He is also personal. Theologically speaking, He is both “eminent” and “immanent.” This dual orientation is a key to understanding this psalm.
 
 
We get in trouble when we emphasize one of these at the exclusion of the other. God is both beyond us and right near us. If we focus only on Him as forgiving, loving and not expecting too much, we can trivialize the Almighty. Conversely, if we picture God has removed from us, as One who is mysterious and to be afraid of, we can feel like He is impossible to know. Psalm 8 calls us to revel in the paradox of God’s being – He is “other” but He is “ours.” If I know Jesus as Savior, then God is both majestic and He is mine.

God’s name is “majestic” in all the earth. This means that His name, which stands for all that He is, is excellent and famous in the earth. There is no one else like Him. He is omnipotent and incomparable. Exodus 15:11: “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you–majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” David is overwhelmed by the majesty and greatness of the Almighty, and recognizes God’s global glory, much like Paul does in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

David concludes verse 1 by saying that God’s glory is way beyond the heavens. The word “glory” encompasses all of His attributes. The word literally means, “heavy” and refers to the fact that God is weighty, or awesome. As David stared into the night sky, he was dazzled by what He saw and yet God’s glory fills the galaxy and beyond! When contemplating God’s glory, Solomon writes something similar in 1 Kings 8:27: “The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”

Verse 2 takes us from the highest heavens to one of the smallest things on earth: “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise…” We move from heavenly bodies to infant expressions. I picture David’s stargazing being interrupted by a baby’s cry or a child’s voice. This is really cool. God’s transcendent glory, His greatness that is far above the heavens, can be grasped and expressed by a child! Children have a way of capturing spiritual truth in ways that amaze, and even rebuke us grownups.

A father was reading the Bible story about Lot to his young son: “The man named Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city, but his wife looked back and was turned to salt.” When he was done, his son asked, “What happened to the flea?” That reminds me of a three-year-olds response to a song that was sang to her recently, “Megan is a gift from God. Megan is a gift to be enjoyed. Megan is a gift from above. Megan is a gift to be loved.” When her friend finished the song, Megan said, “But I don’t have any wrapping paper on…”

Children have the innate ability to see things simply and literally. That’s why we have children’s church and Sunday School classes for all ages. That’s why we are about to start our VBS in just a few short days. It’s for their benefit, but actually, if you’re a teacher, you benefit from the praises that come from the lips of kids. Jesus quoted this verse in Matthew 21:16 in response to the chief priests and teachers’ complaint about children confessing the deity of Christ. This helps us see that praise is instinctive to us as human beings. We have been made to worship. It’s natural to praise Him!

In verse 3, David’s mind returns to the marvels of the cosmos: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place.” The word “consider” means to meditate, or to see. As he looks at the star-spangled sky, He quickly gives testimony to God’s work – “your” heavens, “your” fingers, which “you” have set in place.
David is astonished at the greatness of a God who could create such things. It is estimated that there are at least 10 billion galaxies in the universe, with each galaxy containing perhaps 100 billion stars. The word “fingers” is a metaphor that was used for embroiderers. God knit everything together, arranging all the planets and stars in such a way that would bring Him the most glory. David only saw a fraction of this stellar display but he was overwhelmed nonetheless.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are best known as the first astronauts to land on the moon and take that “giant leap for mankind.” What you may not know is that before they emerged from the spaceship, Aldrin pulled out a Bible and as his first act on the moon, he broke bread, took a cup and celebrated communion.

Frank Borman was commander of Apollo 8 and had the thrill of looking down on the earth from 250,000 miles away. He radioed a message, in which he and his fellow astronauts took turns quoting the opening verses of Genesis 1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” He later explained, “I had an enormous feeling that there had to be a power greater than any of us, that there was a God, that there was indeed a beginning.” There’s something about space that sparks our spirit, isn’t there? I like what John Glenn said after his return to outer space 36 years later, “To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith.”

These first three verses help us see that God matters more than anything. The rest of the Psalm establishes a second truth: You matter to the Majesty. The first half focuses on God’s glory. The second half answers the age-old questions: “What is man? How do we fit into the cosmos? What is our purpose? Why are we here?” By the way, these questions can only be answered as we come to grips with who God is. Any attempt to find out who we are apart from the One who made us is doomed to failure. We must always start with God.

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Article from Wallbuilders…David Barton (worth the read)

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America’s Most Biblically-Hostile U. S. President

When one observes President Obama’s unwillingness to accommodate America’s four-century long religious conscience protection through his attempts to require Catholics to go against their own doctrines and beliefs, one is tempted to say that he is anti-Catholic. But that characterization would not be correct. Although he has recently singled out Catholics, he has equally targeted traditional Protestant beliefs over the past four years. So since he has attacked Catholics and Protestants, one is tempted to say that he is anti-Christian. But that, too, would be inaccurate. He has been equally disrespectful in his appalling treatment of religious Jews in general and Israel in particular. So perhaps the most accurate description of his antipathy toward Catholics, Protestants, religious Jews, and the Jewish nation would be to characterize him as anti-Biblical. And then when his hostility toward Biblical people of faith is contrasted with his preferential treatment of Muslims and Muslim nations, it further strengthens the accuracy of the anti-Biblical descriptor. In fact, there have been numerous clearly documented times when his pro-Islam positions have been the cause of his anti-Biblical actions.

Listed below in chronological order are (1) numerous records of his attacks on Biblical persons or organizations; (2) examples of the hostility toward Biblical faith that have become evident in the past three years in the Obama-led military; (3) a listing of his open attacks on Biblical values; and finally (4) a listing of numerous incidents of his preferential deference for Islam’s activities and positions, including letting his Islamic advisors guide and influence his hostility toward people of Biblical faith.

1. Acts of hostility toward people of Biblical faith:

April 2008 – Obama speaks disrespectfully of Christians, saying they “cling to guns or religion” and have an “antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” 1

February 2009 – Obama announces plans to revoke conscience protection for health workers who refuse to participate in medical activities that go against their beliefs, and fully implements the plan in February 2011. 2

April 2009 – When speaking at Georgetown University, Obama orders that a monogram symbolizing Jesus’ name be covered when he is making his speech. 3

May 2009 – Obama declines to host services for the National Prayer Day (a day established by federal law) at the White House. 4

April 2009 – In a deliberate act of disrespect, Obama nominated three pro-abortion ambassadors to the Vatican; of course, the pro-life Vatican rejected all three. 5

October 19, 2010 – Obama begins deliberately omitting the phrase about “the Creator” when quoting the Declaration of Independence – an omission he has made on no less than seven occasions. 6

November 2010 – Obama misquotes the National Motto, saying it is “E pluribus unum” rather than “In God We Trust” as established by federal law. 7

January 2011 – After a federal law was passed to transfer a WWI Memorial in the Mojave Desert to private ownership, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that the cross in the memorial could continue to stand, but the Obama administration refused to allow the land to be transferred as required by law, and refused to allow the cross to be re-erected as ordered by the Court. 8

February 2011 – Although he filled posts in the State Department, for more than two years Obama did not fill the post of religious freedom ambassador, an official that works against religious persecution across the world; he filled it only after heavy pressure from the public and from Congress. 9

April 2011 – For the first time in American history, Obama urges passage of a non-discrimination law that does not contain hiring protections for religious groups, forcing religious organizations to hire according to federal mandates without regard to the dictates of their own faith, thus eliminating conscience protection in hiring. 10

August 2011 – The Obama administration releases its new health care rules that override religious conscience protections for medical workers in the areas of abortion and contraception. 11

November 2011 – Obama opposes inclusion of President Franklin Roosevelt’s famous D-Day Prayer in the WWII Memorial. 12

November 2011 – Unlike previous presidents, Obama studiously avoids any religious references in his Thanksgiving speech. 13

December 2011 – The Obama administration denigrates other countries’ religious beliefs as an obstacle to radical homosexual rights. 14

January 2012 – The Obama administration argues that the First Amendment provides no protection for churches and synagogues in hiring their pastors and rabbis. 15

February 2012 – The Obama administration forgives student loans in exchange for public service, but announces it will no longer forgive student loans if the public service is related to religion. 16

2. Acts of hostility from the Obama-led military toward people of Biblical faith:

June 2011 – The Department of Veterans Affairs forbids references to God and Jesus during burial ceremonies at Houston National Cemetery. 17

August 2011 – The Air Force stops teaching the Just War theory to officers in California because the course is taught by chaplains and is based on a philosophy introduced by St. Augustine in the third century AD – a theory long taught by civilized nations across the world (except America). 18

September 2011 – Air Force Chief of Staff prohibits commanders from notifying airmen of programs and services available to them from chaplains. 19

September 2011 – The Army issues guidelines for Walter Reed Medical Center stipulating that “No religious items (i.e. Bibles, reading materials and/or facts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit.” 20

November 2011 – The Air Force Academy rescinds support for Operation Christmas Child, a program to send holiday gifts to impoverished children across the world, because the program is run by a Christian charity. 21

November 2011 – The Air Force Academy pays $80,000 to add a Stonehenge-like worship center for pagans, druids, witches and Wiccans. 22

February 2012 – The U. S. Military Academy at West Point disinvites three star Army general and decorated war hero Lieutenant General William G. (“Jerry”) Boykin (retired) from speaking at an event because he is an outspoken Christian. 23

February 2012 – The Air Force removes “God” from the patch of Rapid Capabilities Office (the word on the patch was in Latin: Dei). 24

February 2012 – The Army orders Catholic chaplains not to read a letter to parishioners that their archbishop asked them to read. 25

April 2012 – A checklist for Air Force Inns will no longer include ensuring that a Bible is available in rooms for those who want to use them.26

3. Acts of hostility toward Biblical values:

January 2009 – Obama lifts restrictions on U.S. government funding for groups that provide abortion services or counseling abroad, forcing taxpayers to fund pro-abortion groups that either promote or perform abortions in other nations. 27

January 2009 – President Obama’s nominee for deputy secretary of state asserts that American taxpayers are required to pay for abortions and that limits on abortion funding are unconstitutional. 28

March 2009 – The Obama administration shut out pro-life groups from attending a White House-sponsored health care summit. 29

March 2009 – Obama orders taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research. 30

March 2009 – Obama gave $50 million for the UNFPA, the UN population agency that promotes abortion and works closely with Chinese population control officials who use forced abortions and involuntary sterilizations. 31

May 2009 – The White House budget eliminates all funding for abstinence-only education and replaces it with “comprehensive” sexual education, repeatedly proven to increase teen pregnancies and abortions. 32 He continues the deletion in subsequent budgets. 33

May 2009 – Obama officials assemble a terrorism dictionary calling pro-life advocates violent and charging that they use racism in their “criminal” activities. 34

July 2009 – The Obama administration illegally extends federal benefits to same-sex partners of Foreign Service and Executive Branch employees, in direction violation of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. 35

September 16, 2009 – The Obama administration appoints as EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum, who asserts that society should “not tolerate” any “private beliefs,” including religious beliefs, if they may negatively affect homosexual “equality.” 36

July 2010 – The Obama administration uses federal funds in violation of federal law to get Kenya to change its constitution to include abortion. 37

August 2010 – The Obama administration Cuts funding for 176 abstinence education programs. 38

September 2010 – The Obama administration tells researchers to ignore a judge’s decision striking down federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. 39

February 2011 – Obama directs the Justice Department to stop defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act. 40

March 2011 – The Obama administration refuses to investigate videos showing Planned Parenthood helping alleged sex traffickers get abortions for victimized underage girls. 41

July 2011 – Obama allows homosexuals to serve openly in the military, reversing a policy originally instituted by George Washington in March 1778. 42

September 2011 – The Pentagon directs that military chaplains may perform same-sex marriages at military facilities in violation of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. 43

October 2011 – The Obama administration eliminates federal grants to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for their extensive programs that aid victims of human trafficking because the Catholic Church is anti-abortion. 44

4. Acts of preferentialism for Islam:

May 2009 – While Obama does not host any National Day of Prayer event at the White House, he does host White House Iftar dinners in honor of Ramadan. 45

April 2010 – Christian leader Franklin Graham is disinvited from the Pentagon’s National Day of Prayer Event because of complaints from the Muslim community. 46

April 2010 – The Obama administration requires rewriting of government documents and a change in administration vocabulary to remove terms that are deemed offensive to Muslims, including jihad, jihadists, terrorists, radical Islamic, etc. 47

August 2010 – Obama speaks with great praise of Islam and condescendingly of Christianity. 48

August 2010 – Obama went to great lengths to speak out on multiple occasions on behalf of building an Islamic mosque at Ground Zero, while at the same time he was silent about a Christian church being denied permission to rebuild at that location. 49

2010 – While every White House traditionally issues hundreds of official proclamations and statements on numerous occasions, this White House avoids traditional Biblical holidays and events but regularly recognizes major Muslim holidays, as evidenced by its 2010 statements on Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr, Hajj, and Eid-ul-Adha. 50

October 2011 – Obama’s Muslim advisers block Middle Eastern Christians’ access to the White House. 51

February 2012 – The Obama administration makes effulgent apologies for Korans being burned by the U. S. military, 52 but when Bibles were burned by the military, numerous reasons were offered why it was the right thing to do. 53

Many of these actions are literally unprecedented – this is the first time they have happened in four centuries of American history. The hostility of President Obama toward Biblical faith and values is without equal from any previous American president.

Valentine’s Day

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Valentine’s Day

 

My Dear Friends,

Tuesday was Valentine’s Day and I confess that once again I found it, as a “holiday”, annoying! There’s just something insincere, orchestrated, and plastic to me about the cultural decree that on such and such a day Thou shalt declare your undying love with the purchase of cards, candy, and flowers (or pajamagrams, as the case may be)!

One does the drill however, lest one be banished to the doghouse for Valentine’s Day non-compliance. Yes, I bought the card and the appropriate gift (we neither need the candy) and I’m happy to announce I’m still sleeping inside. Yet another crisis averted on yet another made up holiday which must be obeyed!

You’re probably thinking what a hard-hearted old fart I am. So let me hasten to clarify. Though I find Valentine’s Day annoying as a “holiday”, I find it refreshing as a reminder and so it actually blesses me each year when I’ve had adequate time for reflection, like on the day after! I love being reminded of what love is, and of whom I love, and of who loves me, and of the joy of expressing that love.

What is love? Jesus says it is such regard for another human being that you’re willing to sacrifice for their benefit. “Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.” Though most people are oblivious of the fact, such sacrificial love is actually the basis for Valentine’s Day! Eric Neubauer, the Faith Formation Coordinator for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Plano, Texas, gives us the history in his excellent blog:

St. Valentine . . . was a temple priest – placed in prison during the reign of Claudius the Goth. Valentinus was not only marrying Christian couples but was aiding any Christian suffering persecution under Claudius’ reign. It is believed that Valentinus, while in jail for his defiance against the dictates of his emperor, came under the good graces of Claudius. This relationship ended when Valentinus tried to convert Claudius to Christianity and was condemned to death. One legend says that while awaiting his execution, Valentinus restored the sight of his jailer’s blind daughter and on the eve of his death penned a farewell note to her signing it, “From your Valentine.” Then tradition tells us that Valentinus was beaten with clubs, stoned and beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate in or around AD 269. Therefore, while we celebrate St. Valentine’s day – marked with gifts and goodies for love of person let us be reminded that this particular day was instituted because Valentinus had the resolve to stand up against unjust laws for love of Christ, Church and people. . .

When Valentinus laid his life down for love, he was only following in the train of the Lord he served who famously said, “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again“ (John 3:16-18).

So Valentine’s Day reminds me that love is sacrifice and that God loves me sacrificially and so does my sweetheart Bev! So I go through this whole exercise of being reminded of love and feel pretty good about it and have to admit I never would have done it unless the annoying “holiday” had been thrust upon me. So begrudgingly I declare I had a good Valentine’s Day after all, and I hope you did, too. Yes they do! For me for the last 36 years they most certainly do! And she loves me back the same way and resonates with Shulamith in Song of Songs when she declares, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”

I even got to sneak a piece of the Trail mix I bought for Bev (it‘s heck being diabetic!). All in all, a win-win situation if ever I saw one.

With Love “From your Valentine”,

Pastor Phil

 

P.S. Don’t forget “redefining love” this coming Sunday. We will have some candy for the kids, presents for each family and a wonderful time in worship of the one that loves us the most!

Mission Trip to Myanmar

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It was an exciting and tiring week teaching at Yangon Grace Bible School. It was a great joy to have pastors and students learning about one of the greatest leaders in the Old Testament, Nehemiah.

 

I left for Myanmar early on Monday morning and flew for the next 24 hours. I had a short night because I had to be at the airport at 5:00 am the next morning in order to catch my next flight. The flight was delayed and I thought about that extra 2 hours I could have slept!

 

Finally, I got to Yangon and checked into my hotel room. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and we were off to the Bible School. I taught for several hours that afternoon. I was tired, and I was hoping that what I taught sounded like Nehemiah!

 

Ben Bounds, the director of Faith International Partners, had already taught the first 2 chapters and I taught the rest of the book. I taught with the aid of an interpreter for hours each day, and to be honest it was hard work. The exciting thing is that for many of the men, it was the first time they had ever been taught Nehemiah.

 

It was very humbling to meet these National pastors who traveled great distances to come to this training. Some travel days, in fact one pastor traveled 6 days. He walked two days, rode buses 2 days and traveled by boat for 2 days. Most of the men are ministering in the mountains to the Hill tribe people; usually they are from that tribe themselves. The people are used to walking great distances, because for many, the only way to get where they live is a foot path. Most of these men are poorly educated by our standards, in fact, some have difficulty reading.

 

One thing I was impressed with was their hunger for God’s Word. They asked great questions and you could tell they were really processing the information they had heard. Another real blessing was hearing them sing praises to God. They could really sing and it was loud. It sounded like a men’s choir, 50 voices strong! It gave me the glory bumps every time they sang. I wish we could sing with that passion at Metro! It really seemed they were singing for His glory and praises to His name.

 

I preached the commencement address on Saturday afternoon. It was a real honor to challenge these graduates to go back home and reach their tribal group with the gospel. I hope you will pray for them. Their country is ruled by a communist military government. They will hazard their life for the message they preach and the Lord they serve.

 

 

Doesn’t God deserve our Best?

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Doesn’t God deserve our Best?

After listening restlessly to a long and tedious sermon, a 6-year-old boy asked his father what the preacher did the rest of the week. “Oh, he’s a very busy man,” the father replied. “He takes care of church business, visits the sick, works on his sermon, counsels people…and then he has to have time to rest up because speaking in public isn’t an easy job.” The boy thought for a moment and then said, “Well, listening ain’t easy, either!”

It ain’t easy to listen, is it? That’s probably how Malachi’s listeners felt.

Let me remind you of the situation that Malachi is addressing. The Jews had returned to their land after living in modern-day Iraq for 70 years. The Temple had been rebuilt and the worship of God had been reestablished. While outwardly everything seemed OK, on the inside a cancer of complacency had been eating away at their commitment. Their worship had become wimpy, their leaders had morphed into lightweights, their relationships had ruptured, their offerings were anemic and they had stopped serving. As God’s final spokesman at the end of the Old Testament, Malachi comes on the scene to challenge them, and us, to give God our best.

1. Embrace an authentic faith (1:6-7). There are two sides to the Father’s love. One side is tender and the other a bit tougher. He is relational in His giving, and He is resplendent in His glory, and as such, we must honor Him, which means to consider Him weighty.

2. Give God priority over possessions (1:8-9). The priests were accepting not just the second best from the people; but worse than that, they were bringing God sick sheep and gross goats. They were offering the ones that weren’t worth anything. God is not interested in substandard sacrifices (Lev. 22:2, 19-20).

There are three standards for sacrifices in Scripture.

• Give the best (John 12:3-5)

• Give to God first (2 Chron. 31:5)

• Giving should cost us something (2 Sam. 24:24)

3. Grasp the greatness of God (1:10-14). God would much rather have us shut down the church than to come to Him with pathetic leftovers. Every time God mentions sacrifice, He follows it with the phrase, “I will be great” or “I will be feared.” Sacrifice is directly linked to the greatness of God. When we offer Him little or nothing, we are really saying that God doesn’t matter much to us.

Instead of counting it a privilege to minister on God’s behalf, they exclaimed, “What a burden!” They even “sniffed at it contemptuously,” which means that they “puffed” or “blew” in exaggerated exasperation. I imagine God looking at us and wondering why we get so bored with Him (see Mic. 6:3; Isa. 1:12-13).

If you ever get a glimpse of the greatness of God, and what Jesus has done for you, you’ll never play church again and you’ll give God your best for the rest of your life.

The Upside of Resolutions

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The Upside of Resolutions

Have you ever talked to someone who said that they won’t make any resolutions because they always break them? While I certainly understand this (all too well), the downside of this attitude is that we can end up not making any decisions to move forward spiritually. As Donald Whitney writes, “No one coasts into Christlikeness.”

If you’re up for a serious challenge this week, I dare you to read through 70 Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards.  (http://www.apuritansmind.com/the-christian-walk/jonathan-edwards-resolutions/ ) I’m so far from exhibiting most of them in my own life but I found that the simple act of reading them has provided some motivation to move forward.

Here are some that really rocked me this morning.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence. Resolved, to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great so ever.

3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.

70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

NO PLACE TO LAY HIS HEAD

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NO PLACE TO LAY HIS HEAD

By Rick Marschall

The Christmas story has become really sanitized.

I mean literally. How many depictions do we see, how often do we think, of the Christ Child in the manger, surrounded by shining angels, kindly shepherds, pretty sheep… and bugs and worms, rotted bits of feed and dung, dirt and moldy straw?

The manger was likely in a rough, dark, musty cave, not in an open-air lean-to that the greeting cards portray.

We can also wonder whether Joseph and Mary were told “No room in the inn!” not only because the city was crowded… but perhaps because innkeepers declined rooms to unmarried pregnant girls.

Homeless…a mother who was single when she conceived… rejected…forced to the humblest place in the city to be born, farm animals as attendants: the Bible accurately calls it a lowly birth.

What has NOT been scrubbed clean from the story is that the Bible called it a lowly birth hundreds of years before it happened, in every particular – these details and many more. Truly this was the Son of God.

But we should not turn to the next pretty greeting card this Christmas season. Linger in that stable, and you will see more. You will see children today born in similar circumstances. Parents in distress. No place to live. Little to eat. Rejected and despised.

When God chose to humble Himself and become flesh, He emptied Himself of His royal nature, and became… middle class? A suburbanite fretting over student loans? Someone managing a household budget and hobbies? OK, those might not be profiles of average Bethlehemites of the day… but they are not profiles of millions of babies born around the world today, either.

God identified with the most basic level of humanity. He meets us at our humblest places, conditions, and realities.

When we think of this unsanitary and unsanitized picture of the Nativity, does it change our attitude toward Jesus, the Incarnate Lord, come to live with us?

Does it change our attitude toward homeless, rejected, vulnerable, hungry children being born every day?

Does it change our attitude toward our own hearts?

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