Wednesday, October 29, 2014

FAITH AND BEHAVIOR

  The Book Of James has been called the most practical book in the Bible. The theme of the Book of James is faith.  James' concept of faith is not any different from rest of the New Testament, except that James puts  more emphasis on results.  James' message is that if you are a person of faith, there are ways to demonstrate it in your everyday life.  James seems to have the notion that a Christian's faith ought to affect his behavior.  Isn’t THAT  a radical concept?
 

   We begin by stating the underlying truth that everyone has faith of some kind.  You take your can opener and open a can of food and eat it because you have faith that it will not hurt you.  You get on a plane and sit back and relax because you have faith that the pilot knows how to fly the plane.  You go to a doctor whose name you cannot pronounce, get and take a prescription you cannot read for a disease you know little about ….all on faith.  Everyone has faith of that kind, a sort of general variety of faith.  That is a faith born of practice.  The thing you have faith in has happened so often before you don’t even think about it anymore.
 
   But, that is not the kind of faith James is talking about.  He is talking about a special kind of faith, a kind of faith that is grounded in Jesus Christ, and which is reflected in several ways.  If my faith has truly reached the point of maturity, it will allow me to experience joy, even in times of trials and hardship.  Look at James 1: 2-4:  2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
 
   Also, my faith demands that I seek wisdom through prayer.  Look at James 1: 5-8:  “5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”
 
   My faith, if mature, helps me avoid sin by making a commitment to righteousness. “12Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.  13When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”  (James 1: 12-15). It is clear here that James is saying that we do not have to yield to sin.  The temptation to sin comes to everyone, but there are those who seem to feel yielding to it is inevitable.  That is not true.  We can resist temptation and when we do we receive the crown of life. A youngster sat on the roadside looking at the big beautiful apples hanging on the tree jus over the fence.  The farmer came by and asked, Boy, are you trying to steal my apples?"  The boy said, "No sir.  I'm trying not to steal one."

   A mature faith helps us resist temptation.

   The last thing I want to say about a mature faith is that it helps me honor God through giving of thanks.  16Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. 17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  The implication from James is that only good things come from God.  We should not feel that temptation comes from God, although God will allow it to come.  God is a God who loves us and wants to give us good things.  Faith helps us to see that no matter what happens, God loves us.

 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Does God Question Our Faith?

  Do you realize that sometimes God arranges things so that it seems He is testing or questioning your faith?  If you think that is not true, just read again the story about Abraham and Isaac.  There are other stories that attest to this also, but this one is the most telling.  The story of Job is another incident where God allowed the faith of His servant to be challenged.  There are many more stories like that in the Bible.
 
   So, I am proposing that there are circumstances where God questions the strength of our faith.  Now, He doesn’t doubt the degree of our faith, but He tests us so that we can find out for ourselves how strong our faith is. With that in mind, let’s look at that remarkable incident between Isaac and Abraham.   One of the things I will never get used to is reading the stories of people who kill their children.  It seems like hardly a week goes by that we don't read of some parent or boyfriend of a parent killing a child.  We have had several such incidents in our state thus far this year. Those are the kinds of stories people think about when they read about God telling Abraham to kill his son, Isaac.
   The dramatic story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice the life of his son as an act of obedience to God is told in Genesis 22, but is also related in Hebrews 11 as an example of faith.  This is a story many people have difficulty accepting because it violates every concept they know of a loving God.  However, if you want to see the story the way the writer of Hebrews saw it, you have to take it at face value.  No excuses.  It is a part of our history.  You cannot just extricate it from the Scriptures as though it does not exist.  It is the story of a man’s faithful response to being told by God to take the life of his son, as an act of obedience.
  It is here for us ask, “What is God trying to teach us with this story?”  Since the writer of Hebrews included it among the stories of faith, it is reasonable to assume he felt this story was meant to teach us something about faith.  But this is a lesson in faith from a dimension never before experienced.  Just what are the ramifications of this fantastic little story?  What are the questions of faith raised by God’s asking one of His servants to take the life of his child?  I believe there are three fundamental issues of faith which are posed by this event.  They are questions of faith.  Perhaps we could phrase them thusly:
 
·        Are you willing to do for your God what others have done for theirs?  If you know anything about the history of the ancient world you know that practically all the neighbors around Abraham practiced human sacrifice.  It was common among the Moabites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Girtites.  It was not at all unusual for these heathen tribes to throw their babies into the fiery arms of Baal, Moloch and other heathen gods.  It was how they showed their loyalty to their deity.  Today, followers of Islam are willing to end their lives in the cause of their version of God. Is it not fair of God to ask, “Would you do for me what others are willing to do for their god?” 
 
·        Are you willing to accept what you cannot understand?  Abraham is the pattern of a man who accepts what he cannot understand.  The demand God made on Abraham was incomprehensible.  It made no sense at all.   God had promised Abraham that he would produce generations of descendants, so many that his seed would be like the sands of the desert.  From him would come a nation which would bless all nations.  The fulfillment of that promise depended on Isaac, and now God was asking him to take the life of  Isaac.  How in the world could God keep his promise if Isaac was dead?  You have to believe that question kept running through Abraham’s mind.  I believe it is safe to assume he did not understand the reasons for God’s order, although the writer of Hebrews surmised that Abraham may have felt that God would bring his son back from the dead.  Even so, what an act of faith!   He may not have understood it, but his actions showed that he accepted it.
 
· Are You Willing To Let God Do For You What You Cannot Do For Yourself?  Abraham is the pattern of a man who had learned to let God minister to him.  After all, God was able to bring a son into a barren marriage far later in life than anyone had a right to believe possible.  God had led Abraham’s family from their home to a land they had never seen.  God had many times met needs in Abraham’s life which he could not meet for himself.  And now, here on a mountain top God was about to do it again.  Abraham figured, according to the writer of Hebrews, that when he killed his son, God would bring him back to life.  How else could God keep the promise?  Abraham knew that he couldn’t bring the boy back, and he was willing to obey God anyway because he believed God would do for him what he could not do for himself.  When Abraham raised his hand to plunge the knife into his son, God reached out and took hold of his arm and kept him from killing Isaac.  Abraham still needed a sacrifice.  But it was not to be his son.  Once again God was at work.  He provided the sacrificial lamb ... provided for Abraham what Abraham could not provide for himself.
      So, you can see that a story many people refuse to acknowledge simply because it does not fit their concept of God is in reality a story which tests our faith in the most severe sort of way. These are the kind of questions we need to be introspectively asking ourselves.
 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Who Is Really To Blame?

   Most of the world had just about forgotten the unfaithfulness of one of our presidents, but now the female involved in that affair has decided to speak out—two decades later.  Her words are a great demonstration of what is wrong in our culture today.  Bottom line?  People want to blame everyone but themselves when they are caught in a wrong.
 
   One of the great tenets of our Christian faith is the requirement that we confess our sins in order to get the forgiveness we have been promised by our Lord.  Even then, however, some will raise excuses for their trespasses.  In a sort of, “Lord, I committed a grievous sin, but I was lured into it by someone else.”  Hark back to Adam and Eve.  When they were caught disobeying God’s direct order, Eve said, “The man you gave me caused me to do it.”
   Acceptance of responsibility for our actions seems to have less importance today than it ever has.  In the case of the Clinton/Lewinski affair, she is now saying that “I fell in love with my boss, but he was president of the United States.”  She would have the world believe that being in love excused her behavior.  She insists that her actions were magnified and she was vilified by a news reporting web site.  I never heard her say, “I should not have done it.”  Only, “Love made me do it.”
   All of us are prone to make the same kind of excuses.  This idea that it is only a sin if we get caught is an outrageous lie.  And, if we do get caught, we are prone to say, “It wasn’t my fault.”
   We in the Christian community need to learn how to confess.  We need to learn how to own our behavior, without excuse or blaming someone else for influencing us.  The promise of the Lord is this:  If you confess your sin, He is faithful and just to forgive them.”  And, when we learn to confess properly, God will forget our sin and, as He said, “cast them into the sea as far as the east is from the west and remember them no more.”  That is a metaphor for how God deals with our confessed sins. 
   There is no room in a proper confession for the word “but”, as in , “I did this, but….”  A proper confession owns all the responsibility for whatever our transgression might be.  The very definition of sin is falling short of the glory of God.  When we are tempted to give in to a temptation, even from the most powerful man on the planet, it will always be our choice to do whatever we do.  We preachers need toi preach personal responsibility for our sins.
   That is another reason I am in one sense of the word, “Pro-choice.”  I am not pro abortion, however.  I believe that everyone has the right to choose the behavior in which they choose to engage.  When a woman chooses to open herself up to a man, that is where he choice ends.  If she finds herself with child, she has no right to choose to take that child’s life.  I strongly believe that is a sin and should be viewed as such.
   We can extrapolate that to any other situation where we are tempted to go against God’s desires.  Let there be no mistake about it—we choose to sin and we are responsible for it—no one else.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Constitution?....What Constitution?

   It is almost always alarming when people we elect to office, who vow to protect and preserve the constitution of the United States, get in office and then start acting like the constitution doesn’t exist.  We have had such a case with the Mayor of Houston in the past week.   My readers know that I will never pass up an opportunity to point out poor leadership for our “elected leaders”.  I always hope that the lessons learned can be applied in our churches, where we often see more examples of poor leadership than anywhere else.  As I have pointed out before, nowhere in the educational system for pastors is there a course on leadership.  That might explain why there seem to be so many really poor leaders in our churches.
 
   But, I digress.  This post is about what happened in Houston this past week.  It seems Houston is trying to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance similar to the one implemented in San Antonio this past spring.  Houston’s mayor, a proudly professing lesbian, has been given the rap of demanding copies of sermons from preachers who have preached against that ordinance.  I have not read the ordinance, but I understand it would permit people who were born male to use ladies rest rooms in Houston.  San Antonio never quite got to that point, but they have passed an ordinance that would bar any preacher who preached against homosexuality from ever doing business with the city, or serving on a council, commission or committee of the city.  Houston took it one step further, demanding sermons that would prove the preacher spoke out against what they believe is an abomination to God.  Most of those preachers believed, as I do, that ordinances like this are intended to legitimize the gay and lesbian community, by punishing anyone who does not wish to see it legitimized.
   What both these cities are doing is seeking to legislate what people should believe.  I believe this is unconstitutional.  One of these days it will actually be adjudicated by the courts, but not until somebody has been denied in their effort to work with the city in some way.
   While Houston’s mayor did finally back down, even denying she had anything to do with the demand, you can be assured this will be her legacy.  As a lesbian, she would legislate you and everyone else believing that homosexuality is O.K. and we should not speak against it.  That last part, of course, is unconstitutional.  No one can be stopped from speaking against what they believe God hates, which is the sin, not the sinner.
   I just wonder why it is that so many elected officials, people who have pledged to defend, support and preserve the constitution, end up violating it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Does Prayer Really Change Things?

   O.K., am I the only one who thinks we Christians are sometimes hypocritical when it comes to prayer?  We preach, we give testimony, and we encourage others to pray and seek the intervention of God in our affairs.  But, it appears we only believe prayer is the right step in certain areas of life. 


   We are totally committed to prayer when we have a loved one who is sick or hurt, or when we seek comfort for someone who has lost a loved one, or when we are looking for God’s direction in matters of church.  These are areas of life that we are eager to commit to prayer, knowing God will indeed respond.  However, as I read my Bible, particularly the Old Testament, one of the things God’s chosen people were often chided for was that they did  not trust God in matters of state.  How often the prophets spoke out t9o rebuke the people for not including God in their plans.
 
   We Americans decry today the fact that God is being slowly removed from all our institutions.  But, I believe the greatest offender in this God removal are His own people.  Instead of going to our knees to ask God’s direction and intervention in matters of state, we seek answers to our problems within our own military might and our weapons of war.   I have been saying for some time that I believed God would judge America  in some way, just as He did His chosen people in Bible times.  Sometimes God put up with their unfaithfulness for centuries before finally tiring of it and allowing heathen nations to conquer them.
   Now, remember this.  It was the people of God that caused Him such grief that he destroyed their nation.  It is the people of God in America that will cause God to judge this country.  I believe we are still under the mandate of 11 Chronicles 7:14, which says, “If my people, who 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, will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
   I ask you—do you really believe the Christian community believes that admonition today?  God asks four things from us—humble ourselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways.  Many of us believe that unless we do those four things, America is doomed.  And it may be sooner, rather than later
   When faced with a crisis in our country, a crisis like ISIS, our first thoughts should be to ask God to intervene.  Prayer should be our first response, but it is often way down the list.  If we really believed prayer changes things, we should be counting on prayer to do just that in the affairs of state, as well as in the church. 
   What about it?  Do you really believe prayer can make the difference?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Who Is God?

    The world is coming to understand that the radical group of Muslims known as ISIS or ISIL, who claims to be following God’s orders, are an evil, misinformed group.  Their claim that lopping off people’s heads is directed by God, Who in the Koran said to put the knife to the neck of unbelievers, is a perversion of their own scripture and an affront to the God Christians serve.  Our Bible says, “God is love.”   The God Who is love does not exhort His believers to cut off anyone’s head.
 
   ISIS looms as the greatest threat to peace we have seen since Nazi Germany.  Just as the Nazis felt they were doing a service by exterminating Jews, ISIS claims to be doing a service by killing anyone who does not accept their version of  religion.  This includes men, women and even children.  Whereas the Head of the Christian church said, “Let the little children come to me…”, ISIS says, “Kill the little children if they do not come to us.”  Such evil—such evil.
   In my opinion, a war against ISIS would be a just war, which is the only kind of war we should ever get into.  This radical ideology must be expunged and anyone who refuses to give it up should be exterminated.   They should be exterminated, not because of their religion, but because of their interpretation of their religion.
   These people are not worshippers of God, they are the enemies of God.  Their perverse ideology is an affront to anyone who seeks to know The Higher Power that created the universe and loves His creation profusely.  Mankind is part of His creation, and He would like to have a relationship with all mankind.  However, He is not commanding anyone to kill those who refuse that relationship.   He has commanded us to seek to reach into the mind of all humanity with His message of love, not separate their brains from their bodies if they will not listen.
   This evil is spreading and there are few powers in the world that are able to stop it.  Those who have that power must work together to eradicate this devilish ideology.  Do not be deceived.  What ISIS is doing is not Islam.  It is a perversion of Islam that must not be allowed to stand.  This means that countries who know of young men and women who leave to go fight must not be allowed to return.  If we know someone who has gone to fight for ISIS, their passports should be revoked immediately so that they cannot return to do their dirty work in our homeland.
   America has an all volunteer military.  These men and women have volunteered to fight the enemies of America.  While we refuse to admit that we are at war with ISIS, they have no problem saying they are at war with us. 
   All ofg us should be praying that Goid wojld give clear leadership to what must be done about these evilo perversions of religious truth.

After Further Review....  I find that I left something out that I should have put in and put something in that I should have left out.  I should not have advocated the extermination of anyone.  Instead, I should have encouraged all my readers to spend some time praying for these people and for God to have His will with them.  I believe in the power of prayer and I believe if we would leave these people up tyo God, He would lead our response to this evil.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Supreme Court To Get Into Religion Once More

   The Supreme Court this week will hear a case that will determine once again whether or not the constitution gives people the right to dress however they wish and work in a store which has set dress code policies.  The case involves a Muslim woman who wants to wear her traditional head-wrap, while working in a department store that has a strict dress code for all employees.  The store insists that the employees who will meet customers must look like the clothes they sell, while the woman insists that her religion should trump that dress code.  It is a classic clash of rights, protected rights, that both the woman and the store have, according to the constitution.
 
   This brings to mind the airlines employee who was fired for wearing a visible cross with her uniform.  The question the justices will have to answer is “Whose rights are paramount, the business or the individual?”  It’s probably a good thing I am not a judge because this would be an easy case for me.  I would say, “Look, there are lots of places to work that will allow you to wear your religious garb.  The company has a right to insist on a dress code for their employees.  Go to work some other place.” 
   Here’s the thing.  If a woman who is not a Muslim wanted to go to work in a Muslim-owned business, that business would have a right to insist that she cover her head, because she is likely to be interacting with a lot of Muslim customers and an uncovered female head is an affront to them.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. 
   When I moved to Ft Worth in 1961, I heard stories of young Southwestern Seminary guys working at Convair.  They were very evangelistic and spent a lot of time trying to lead their co-workers to the Lord, some even during work hours.”  Some of them were let go because they took too much time not doing their job, instead preaching to their co-workers.  In other words, religion and work got in each other’s way.  The workplace is primarily a place to work, not preach.  I apply the same doctrine to the head-wear issue.  If one’s religion forces one to dress a certain way, do not seek to work at a place that will not allow one to do so.
   I know my solution may not be in accordance with law, but it works for me.  One thing our constitution could use in a little common sense.  When the rights of two entities come into conflict, use some common sense instead of going to court.  I am a preacher.  I believe in trying to lead people to Christ.  I believe in witnessing in the marketplace.  But, I also believe in a business’s right to insist on certain behavior and dress while on the job. 
   Suppose I wanted to work in a place where they sold party supplies.  I was told that if I came to work there I would need to wear a clown costume on the job every day.  Does that company have a right to ask that of me?  Absolutely!  Do I have a right to take the job and then protest wearing a clown costume?  Absolutely not!  If I didn’t want to dress like they required, I should not accept the job. 
   I do not know how the court wil decide this case, but I suspect a little common sense would help.