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Archive for November, 2014

Dr. David Jeremiah, in The Coming Economic Armageddon, mentions that just outside Gatlinburg, Tennessee on Campbell Lead Road there is a very unusual home. It contains 16,512 square feet and is nestled on the side of a mountain. The home has a three-story living room that has lofty windows through which can be seen the beauty found in the Smoky Mountains. It is a massive home – and it is empty!

The home previously belonged to Dennis Bolze, a middle-aged stock trader who bilked his clients out of millions of dollars. Ultimately the empire he had selfishly accumulated came crashing down. He lost it all when he was forced into bankruptcy, but the real losses were suffered by his victims. Many people had invested their retirement funds in his scheme and were left totally destitute.

The loss of one’s personal financial stability can and does happen in our world for many reasons other than being cheated or making bad investments. Money has a way of suddenly going AWOL. The Bible says, “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle” (Proverbs 23:5). One man was heard to say, “I’ve been told that money talks, but the only thing it ever says to me is ‘goodbye’”. Yes, financial security can vanish in an instant. So, what should a Christian’s view be toward money and other kinds of wealth?

The Bible makes it clear that God’s perspective on money and riches is different than ours. He is not overly concerned about our building even a massive amount of wealth here on earth, but He is highly concerned that we build a solid foundation for our spiritual future. No surprise there, for we have heard that message from the pulpit all our lives. However, it is easy to get caught up in the rat race that pursues wealth so strongly that more worthy goals are shoved into the background.

In many places the Bible warns that money is as transient as a butterfly. Proverbs 27:24 says that “riches are not forever.” God, through the Old Testament prophet Haggai, told the backslidden Israelites that they were earning wages only to put the money into a bag that was full of holes (Haggai 1:6). In 1 Timothy 6:17 the Apostle Paul warns us against trusting in wealth, which is uncertain. And Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). In other words, material wealth is temporary; spiritual values last forever.

Solomon, a very wise man indeed, would agree with this. In his memoirs, the often neglected book of Ecclesiastes, he had a lot of things to say about money. He even devoted an entire fifth chapter to the sharing of his monetary wisdom. In this chapter he mentions five important things we need to know about greed:

  • The more we have, the more we want (verse 10).
  • The more we have, the more we spend (verse 11).
  • The more we have, the more we worry (verse 12).
  • The more we have, the more we lose (verses 13-14).
  • The more we have, the more we leave behind (verses 14-17).

There are three additional things every Christian should remember about money: (1) It is God who gives us the ability to earn wealth; (2) We are stewards, not owners, and will one day have to give an account to God for the way we use it; and (3) At the end of our lives only what we have given to bless others and to help build God’s kingdom on the earth will go with us to heaven.

 

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George Mikes, in How to be Decadent, tells the story of a man in Budapest, Hungary who went to his rabbi and complained, “Life is unbearable. There are nine members in my family, and we are living in one room. What can I do?” The rabbi told him to go home and take his goat into the room with his family.” The man was incredulous, but the rabbi insisted, “Do as I say, and come back in a week.” He did what his rabbi suggested, but a week later he came back to the rabbi, looking more distraught than before. “We can’t stand it,” he said, “the goat is filthy.”

The rabbi replied, “Now go home and let the goat out, and come back in a week.” He again did as his rabbi suggested. He returned a week later, radiant with joy, and wearing a big smile. “Life is beautiful now,” he said. “We enjoyed every minute of the week since there was no goat in the house. There are just the nine of us.”

Sometimes we have to learn how to be grateful, don’t we?” Gratitude comes from having the proper perspective. When we look only at the negative things that have happened to us, we lose sight of the countless blessings we enjoy daily. It is when we learn to focus on our blessings, rather than on our problems, that we are able to say “Thank you.”

Garrison Keillor, in his popular bestseller, Lake Woebegon Days, gives a delightful portrayal of small town eccentricities. One of the more memorable characters was Brother Louie, who was a member of the Brethren Church. The Brethren in his community had steel scripture plates bolted to the top of their automobile license plates. These verses were written in glass beads so they could be easily seen at night. Brother Louie exceeded all others with his vehicular piety, for his Fairlane Ford four-door was a rolling display of Bible verses. He not only had a steel scripture plate above his car tag, but he also had scripture verses all over the inside and outside of his car.

In addition to that, Brother Louie had a bucket full of gospel tracts in the front seat of his car which he would give to everyone he met. His car horn played the first eight notes of the Doxology and sounded like a trumpet. He blew his horn at pedestrians, at oncoming traffic, while passing another car, and sometimes just for his own pleasure.

On one occasion, however, a driver passed him at a rapid rate of speed and nearly ran him off the road. In anger he leaned heavily on the horn, only to hear, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.” According to Keillor, it calmed him down right away. A sense of gratitude will do it every time, even when a driver almost runs you off the road.

Perhaps the greatest barrier to saying “Thank you” is our pride. We find it difficult to acknowledge our dependence on anybody – even God. We fancy ourselves as self-made men and women. How blind we are! I am convinced that the inability to say “Thank You” – to God and to others – is one of the primary detriments to joy in the church today. Ingratitude is a form of spiritual leprosy.

A poet expressed it this way:

        Have mercy, Lord! – How many voice that cry,

        And suppliant kneel in hour of need!

        Gladly receiving all that love doth give

        Then go, unmindful of His need,

        By whose sole power they live.

 

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Maxie Dunham, in Irresistible Invitation, tells the story of a tent evangelist several years ago who came to a northeastern Pennsylvania town, erected a tent, and invited the town’s citizens to attend an old-fashioned revival. Among the people who responded to the evangelist’s preaching and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior were a man and woman who had lived for several years in a shabby little house on the edge of town. They had a house full of children, but they had never gotten married. It is a popular lifestyle in today’s world.

After the traveling preacher took down his tent and moved on to another town, this couple came to a local pastor and asked him to marry them and accept them into membership in his church. When the pastor did so, one of the officials in his church was indignant. “Do you expect us to associate with trash taken in by a fire-and-brimstone preacher in a tent revival? I never thought I would see the day when my pastor would marry people like that. It is a disgrace.”

The pastor, who had more backbone than his disgruntled church member realized, replied, “The only disgrace is that some preacher, including me, didn’t do it sooner. In all the years that these people have lived in our town, no one in our church has ever invited them to attend our church – including you! I’m grateful that a tent evangelist did what we should have done a long time ago.”

Does this story preach a powerful message to our churches today? Indeed it does! It points out in the clearest fashion possible how a church can become ingrown, powerless, ineffective, and stagnant. A church loses sight of its primary reason for existence when it forgets the commission Christ gave to His followers, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Dr. Elton Trueblood, the great Quaker theologian of the past century, described the church as “a stained-glass foxhole.” Foxholes are places where soldiers seek shelter from the battle going on around them. His analogy describes a “foxhole Christianity” – faith isolated from and uninvolved with its surrounding community. He also said: “What happens far too often in modern churches amounts to little more than church members meeting together on Sunday morning, washing their own car, and going home.”

The church in Pennsylvania had become ingrown and exclusive. It was not open to sinners on the outside. Its’ members had lost sight of the fact that they were sinners also. They had lost sight of the fact that Christ had come to save sinners, not chat with saints. Nowhere in the New Testament is there any mention of God commanding an unredeemed person to attend church. It does command believers to head outside its regular membership to share the message of God’s love as revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ.

A spirituality that does not lead us to become involved in active witness and ministry beyond the already gathered church is little more than an unhealthy preoccupation with ourselves. Christians need to know that this grieves the Holy Spirit and violates the presence of the indwelling Christ. I am reminded of why Paul describes the church in Philippi as “my joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1). Philippi was a Roman colony, the leading city of ancient Macedonia. The church in Philippi began in the home of a woman named Lydia, a seller of purple silks, who was converted, along with her entire household. Then, a slave girl and many others followed. Many who accepted Christ in Philippi were Gentiles – in other words, “them,” not “us.”

Is your church growing? Spiritually? In numbers? Is it doing anything beyond its walls to share the good news of God’s love? If not, is it possible that your church has become a stained-glass foxhole?

 

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Dictionaries define worship as the act of paying divine homage to God. Though external in varied ways, worship is primarily an internal experience – a matter of the spirit. To worship is to experience reality. In corporate worship we experience the resurrected Christ in the midst of the gathered community of believers.

God actively seeks worshipers. Jesus declared, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him” (John 4:23). It is God who seeks, draws, persuades. Thus, worship is the human response to the divine initiative. The book of Genesis mentions that God walked in the garden, seeking out Adam and Eve. And Jesus, referring to the fact that He would be crucified, said, “But I, when I am lifted up, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32).

Worship, in reality, is the believer’s response to the overtures of love from the heart of the Father. Its central reality is found “in spirit and truth.” It is kindled within us only when the Spirit of God touches our human spirit. Forms and rituals do not produce worship, nor does the lack or disuse of forms and rituals. We can use all the right techniques and methods, employ the best possible liturgy, but we have not worshiped the Lord until Spirit touches spirit.

Nowhere does the New Testament prescribe a particular form for worship. In fact, what we find is a degree of freedom that is incredible for people with such deep roots in the synagogue liturgical system. When Spirit touches spirit the issue of forms is wholly secondary. However, to say that forms of worship are secondary to the reality of worship is not to say that they are irrelevant. As long as we are finite human beings we must have forms. But the forms are not the worship; they only lead us into worship. If any form hinders us from experiencing the living Christ, it is a bad form.

A striking feature of the worship found in the Bible is that people gathered in what we could only call a “holy expectancy.” They believed they would actually hear the voice of God. When Moses went into the Tabernacle, he knew he was entering the presence of God. The same is true of the early church. It was not surprising to them that the building in which they met shook with the power of God. It had happened before (Acts 2:2, 4:31). They knew they were in the presence of God.

Next Sunday as you enter church along with other members of your church family, enter quietly and with a sense of reverence. Believe that you are going to experience the presence of God. How often this is not true in our churches, for oftentimes there is a chattering noise created by people discussing politics, the result of recent football games, current events taking place in the community, or other secondary things. Genuine worship will not happen unless we sincerely prepare our hearts to enter into the presence of God.

The initial goal when we enter the sanctuary should be to still all humanly initiated activity. Francois Fenelon expressed it this way: “Happy the soul which by a sincere self-renunciation, holds itself ceaselessly in the hands of its Creator, ready to do everything He wishes; which never stops saying to itself a hundred times a day, ‘Lord, what wouldst thou that I should do?’” Sincere worship can be experienced when you enter the sanctuary saying, “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Habakkuk 2:20).

When you prepare yourself in this way, you will be ready to celebrate with fellow believers the powerful presence of God. You will be able to (1) joyfully praise Him through singing (I Corinthians 14:15), (2) thank Him for His countless blessings, and (3) ask Him to help you become the ambassador of His love and truth to persons in your community and among your acquaintances who do not know the joy of worshiping Him.

 

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