Love and Devotion

Yesterday was the convergence of two special observances, one secular (Valentine’s Day) and one religious (Ash Wednesday).

According to the National Retail Federation, American consumers will have spent nearly $19.6 billion on this year’s secular observance of Valentine’s Day, for candy, greeting cards, expensive dates, and a lot more.

While Valentine’s Day was named for a third-century Roman martyr, its secular focus has even reduced the Catholic church’s emphasis on the day as a liturgical feast day. However, Ash Wednesday and the religious season of Lent have rich meaning to many Christians.

As one not raised in this tradition and trained in non-liturgical, evangelical, and Pentecostal environments, the observance of Ash Wednesday and Lent was never much on my religious radar.

As a youth, some of my friends might say they had given up this or that (usually a certain food, beverage or activity) “for Lent.” They really never explained that Lent is a 40 day period preceding our observance of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, on Easter Sunday. It is intended as a religious observance of fasting and abstinence, during these pre-Easter weeks.

In the past, I may have held a certain smugness, realizing this religious holy day and its practiced deprivations are not mentioned in the Bible. But, I’ve come to consider that as a structured reminder of the many biblical events which occurred in the weeks just before Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, it may serve to help reflect on His determined pathway to Calvary. I’m open to learning from the observance of Lent. How about you?

For instance, the observance may help even devoted disciples to think anew about what Jesus’ death means for us today and in the future. As we contemplate afresh Jesus’ sufferings, death, and resurrection, we can rejoice, in anticipation of the place which He is preparing for His people (John 14:2-3), who have sincerely repented of their sins and received His promise of eternal life (John 3:16-17).

Lent can prepare us to celebrate more fully our complete salvation. We have been saved from the guilt of our sins, in the past. We are being saved from the power of sin, in the present. And, we will be saved from the very presence of sin, in heaven’s eternal future. Therefore, Lent can help us better appreciate our complete salvation and also serve a threefold gospel purpose.

First, the application of the ashes can…  Continue reading

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“Leaked Memos” from the Middle East

In the context of current American politics, the short New Testament epistles of 2nd and 3rd John could almost be seen as “leaked memos” to the early Christian church.  Consider these comparisons found in  3rd John:

  • The short epistle was like a “classified memo” written by an unnamed author, who commended certain church leaders but bluntly criticized another.
  • Its brief 14 verses never indicate they were to be read to or by anyone other than the single-named recipient.
  • Certain verses have been “cherry picked” and appropriated out of context by some modern-day teachers to underscore their own theological agendas.

One modern-day teacher seems to ignore hermeneutical principles of biblical interpretation when he quotes from the King James Version and mistakenly states:

 “God says, ‘Beloved I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth’ (3 John 2). This is God’s ‘big wish’ for us—His children—that we may prosper and be in health, even as our souls prosper!”

He then misappropriates the “straw man” argument he has created by urging that we speak and claim a special mantra, “Daily speak it boldly: ‘God gives me wealth and health!’”

Another instructor in “Supernatural Abundance” claims this 3 John 2 passage promises “without a shadow of doubt…financial prosperity as a blessing from God for every believer.”

These teachers ignore and misapply the simple, gracious greeting by the unnamed author to a single individual, named Gaius, who the author says he truly loved. To this “beloved” one, the memo’s writer wishes good health and general wellbeing, as was a common practice and greeting in written communication.

The Greek word used here for “health” is hugianio  (Strong’s #5198), which is a root word for “hygiene” and “hygienic,” and means to be sound in body and in good health. It is used metaphorically elsewhere in the epistles to relate to sound doctrine and soundness in the faith.

Pastor Jack Hayford says verse 2 was a model of intercession giving us “a warrant for praying for the physical, the material, and the spiritual well being of others.” But, it is not a universal promise of God for the wealth and health of all believers and at all times.

The modern prosperity teachers may find financial promises elsewhere in scripture, but it has to be read into this passage and context rather than read out of it. Rather than claiming “God wants all His children to prosper,” the writer of 3 John is here simply praying for the temporal prosperity and physical health of his beloved friend, Gaius.

In verses 5-8, Gaius was commended for his generosity and hospitality to itinerant gospel workers. In this way, he showed his love for the mission of the Church, beyond his own local setting. He received these traveling missionaries and sent them “along on their journey in a manner worthy of God” (v. 6).  His partnership with these ministers enabled them to avoid any appearance of impropriety or unworthy motives.

To twist the loving affirmation of “the Elder,” who was writing this short “memo” to his friend Gaius, to become an unbalanced, selfish quest for personal prosperity and perpetual health is unbecoming to any maturing believer and student of the word of God.

Even the Apostle Paul said “…I have learned in whatever state I am to be content. 12 I know both how to face humble circumstances and how to have abundance. Everywhere and in all things I have learned the secret, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things because of Christ who strengthens me.”

Philippians 4:11-13 Modern English Version (MEV)

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…see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven…

I recently spent a few days visiting some of my extended family members, one of whom has a form of dementia and is in a special facility where they can better care for her.  In her current condition, she sometimes doesn’t recognize family members or even remember what she or they have said—just moments before.

But one thing seems to come back to her, at least in short sections, and that is music—especially songs of her faith and childhood.  One song-segment she and her husband sing many times during each visit is about heaven. She will sing the short segment and then pump her arm and verbally affirm “Yes!”

Perhaps you remember it from your childhood or gospel services: “My home is in Heaven, just awaiting for me and when I get there how happy I’ll be…YES!”

The word HEAVEN is used in scripture to convey several distinct concepts:

First, heaven is used in Genesis to describe the expanse over the earth, which contained the stars of our galaxy and planetary systems, as seen from Earth.  The closest star to Earth is our sun, the energy from which drives our atmosphere and affects our changing climates and weather.

Beyond the heavenly skies, which we can see, is “outer space.” This is roughly considered beginning about 300 miles above the earth and might be referred to as “the second heaven.”

The Milky Way, the galaxy containing our solar system, has hundreds of billions of stars, according to NASA. And, recently, astrophysicists have—for the first time—identified objects and planets in galaxies beyond our own Milky Way. They estimate these “extragalactic planets” to be 3.8 billion light-years away. Each light year equals 6 trillion miles!

No wonder King David said:

 When I consider Your heavens,
the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which You have established,
what is man that You are mindful of him,
and the son of man that You attend to him?

Psalm 8:3-4 (MEV)

Finally, the Apostle Paul implied that he had some kind of supernatural experience where he was caught up into Continue reading

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The Elusive Pursuit of Peace

The Elusive Pursuit of Peace

Earlier this week, we honored the memory and legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, the Christian pastor and non-violent civil rights leader, who was murdered in Memphis, TN five decades ago.

Later this week, Vice President Pence will meet with the leaders of Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, as he travels to the “Cradle of Christianity” in the elusive pursuit of peace in the Middle East.

Fifty years ago, many Arab countries surrounding tiny Israel joined to attack the hated “Zionists,” with the expressed goal of destroying the nascent Jewish State by throwing the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea. However, even after the humiliating defeat of the Arab forces in that “six-day war” and a later peace accord secretly worked out in Oslo, Norway with Palestinian representatives of the terrorist group the Palestinian Liberation Organization, little peace has prevailed.

A contemporary observer of those troubled times, Dr. King said,

Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.”

Today, Israel has signed peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt and has a growing dialog with Saudi security and economic officials, particularly over the mutual concerns with the threatening actions of neighboring Iran. These relationships are always tempered by the anti-Semitic rhetoric, hatred, and violence ginned up by Islamic imams and extremists.

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 in Oslo, Norway, Dr. King acknowledged his “… profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time — the need for man to overcome oppression and violence WITHOUT resorting to violence and oppression.”

The Apostle Paul explained to the Ephesians that Christ has made peace between Jews and Gentiles (including Arabs) by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated us.  Through His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave, He united Jews and Gentiles as though we were one person and did away with our human hatred for each other. He also made peace between us and God, and now all of us can become part of the Father’s family by the same Spirit. (Ephesians 14-18)

Let us pray that these truths ultimately prevail in the “Cradle of Christianity” and in every nation, tribe and tongue.

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Learning the Grace of Giving in 2018

Welcome to the future! No matter whether you and I were as generous as we may have wanted to be last year, it is now a new year and God still loves a “cheerful giver” ( 2 Cor. 9:7)!

In this new year of 2018, God wants me and you to learn how to be even more generous in our stewardship of His blessings! Failure to do so robs God of the opportunity to bless us (Malachi 3:8-10)!

Jesus summarized God’s plan for our financial future when he said, “Freely you have received, freely give”(Matt. 10:8). This promise of divine reciprocity and reward is intended to teach His children the joy of unselfish generosity.

“God so loved the world that He gave…” (John 3:16) and He teaches us to “Give, and it will be given to you: Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will men give unto you. For with the measure you use, it will be measured unto you.” (Luke 6:38 MEV)

In the Old Testament, God’s people paid tithes and gave offerings. The first mention of tithing was in Genesis 14 when Abraham gave “a tenth part of all” to Melchizedek, the King of Salem, who used it in a priestly act of worship. In the Hebrews recounting (Chapter 7), the priestly tribe of Levi is said to receive tithes because of his genealogy through Abraham, whose submission to the spiritual superiority of Melchizedek, “priest of the Most High God” (7:1), preceded the giving of the Law.

This Levite tithe has been described as a religious taxation to support the theocracy and was said to belong to the Lord (Lev. 27:30-33). Followers paid their tithes to the Lord by faith, believing He would reward them, heal them, and protect them. Leviticus 12 and 14 speak of additional tithes which were used for the benefit of the covenant society and social justice.

Further, Jesus affirmed tithing in the New Testament, not as a law or legalistic obligation, but as Continue reading

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Celebrating Christ at Christmas

Mary’s Boy Child Jesus

I’m sitting here in my small home-office on this “Night Before Christmas” and thinking about the wonderful service we attended this morning at our church.

The beautiful carols and moving worship-songs all blended into a sweet setting for our pastor to rehearse the facts and truths of “The Christmas Story,” in both traditional and contemporary ways and scriptures.

It was only a one hour service, but it all centered on Jesus Christ and we all left the sanctuary with happy hearts and joyous thoughts of this special season. More importantly, many had expressed their faith in Christ for the first time and joined His “forever family!”

That’s why Christ came, to seek and to save the lost!

Tonight, I’m also reviewing Christmas cards and greetings from many ministries which we try to support throughout the year. One letter comes from Renee Williams, a missionary sent out several years ago by our church to Japan.  She always shares some of the most interesting things about the Japanese lifestyle and culture.

In this recent letter, she was relating how many of the older Japanese know very little about Jesus or why he is called the “Christ.” They are surprised when she explains to them that Christmas is not the birthday of “Santa Claus.” They may have heard of Jesus, but often have no idea that the reason the Western (Gregorian) calendar is divided between B.C. and A.D. is that of Jesus’ birth.

The 80-year-old father of one of Renee’s Japanese friends once took a trip with her to Europe and saw some architectural remains that said “4th century B.C.” and asked the daughter what that meant.  He seemed shocked when she explained that all of the dates before Christ was born were written in this manner and the transition to A.D.  meant that Jesus was born approximately 2017 years ago.

As a grade school student during WWII in Japan, he was taught that the Japanese race was a superior race because of its long history. Whereas, the Western countries had only existed for 1940 years! He had heard of Jesus but had no idea that he was the Son of God, the promised Messiah of Israel, Who came to live and die, as the savior of all the Nations!

John 1:11-12 explains it this way: “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (NKJV)

In the morning, my wife and I will join with our nearby daughter’s family to see their tree of sparkling lights, reminding us of Jesus, Who is the Light of the world. We will again read “The Christmas Story” from Luke 2 and sing songs, celebrating the incarnation of God in human flesh. This Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came to earth to save us from our sins! Hallelujah!

Truly, putting Christ in “Christ”mas is what this holy holiday is really all about! Merry Christmas!

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May Your Kingdom Come—this Christmas!

I received an email yesterday from a friend, asking that my wife and I join her in prayer for a needed miracle.

We have known her since college days and were surprised to hear from her last summer that she had been diagnosed with cancer. She was about to begin chemotherapy treatments at that time and asked for our prayers.

But the message yesterday was a cry for help. She has one more chemo treatment next week and then a pet scan after Christmas, for the doctors to decide on her next option. She said, “I am needing a miracle…”

Have you been there? Your natural options are used up and the only solution has to be a supernatural action, from God Himself.

For Christ-followers, the reality is something like the Apostle Paul’s when he said, “…For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain…I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” (Philippians 1:19-24)

In the face of those realities, I continue to be encouraged when I read that “Jesus went about all the cities and villages …preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every sickness and every disease…“(Matt. 9:35).

There is something powerful in the “good news” of the “kingdom” which precedes the healing of sicknesses and diseases. I suggest this powerful reality is wrapped up in our better understanding that word, “kingdom.”

You see, the kingdom of God exists everywhere the “king” is. For now, Christ’s kingdom is “not of this world.” Rather, the Gospels reveal that: Continue reading

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