America: God Shed His Grace on Thee!

Katherine Lee Bates was a young college professor in 1893 when she traveled to the top of Pikes Peak. On the pinnacle of that majestic purple mountain above the fruited plain, the words of a poem began to form in her mind, and later that evening on her return to Colorado Springs, she wrote them down: “America the Beautiful.” An open-eyed view of the natural and human beauty of our great land evoked the line, “America! America! God shed His grace on thee.”

No nation in the history of mankind, save perhaps ancient Israel itself, has ever been so undeservedly blessed as ours. Our Maker has lavished His grace upon us in the form of wealth, unparalleled liberties, and unfettered access to His divine word — the Bible which freely offers us eternal life. And how, my fellow Americans, have we repaid such grace? With brotherhood from sea to shining sea? With mutual regard for one another’s souls? With respect for the moral standards of the One who has so richly blessed us? With a deep appreciation for the love and truth that He has communicated to us through His Son? 

On this our national birthday, can we all just stop and think? Do we want to be remembered in history and in eternity for what we are today? Has God shed His grace in vain?

We can do better. Much better.pikes peak

Was Jesus too negative?

dscf1444c-cThe Sermon on the Mount is widely regarded as one of the most influential speeches in human history.  This world has been made so much better through the centuries as men and women have applied these teachings of Jesus to their lives.  The sermon is truly a masterpiece from the Master Himself!

But one thing seems to have been rarely noticed about the sermon:  It is overwhelmingly negative.  Any honest, unvarnished look at it, uncolored by our modern negative view of negativity, would reach this conclusion.

Don’t believe me?   Just look in Matthew’s account for yourself.

In chapter five Jesus corrects a great number of misconceptions that His listeners had heard.  He repeatedly uses the words “you have heard that it was said…but I say unto you.”  He is basically telling people that what they’d heard and thought before was either no longer valid or just flat wrong.

In chapter seven, Jesus tells His listeners that few will go to heaven, and that many will walk the broad way that leads to eternal destruction (7:13-14).   He also says that many who call Him Lord will not enter the kingdom of heaven because they practice lawlessness (7:22-23).  Ouch!  That’s some negative preaching!

But chapter six of Matthew’s record contains an absolute onslaught of negativity, made conspicuous by Jesus’ repeated use of the command “do not.”

  • “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (6:1 )
  • “Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” (6:2)
  • “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (6:3)
  • “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (6:7)
  • “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” (6:8)
  • “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting.  Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” (6:16)
  • Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” (6:19)
  • “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (6:25)
  • “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?'”(6:31)
  • “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (6:34)

In case you weren’t counting, that’s TEN TIMES in this one chapter that Jesus begins a command with “DO NOT!”  How could such negative words make such a positive impact? Could it be that some of us are positively wrong when it comes to negativity?  Could it be that positive change is effected as much by the things we avoid and subtract as by the things we add and pursue?  WHO KNEW?!?   Jesus did.

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You Better Watch Out!

 

 

toomanytoys

Someone is making a list.  I’m not sure if He’s checking it twice, but He probably doesn’t need to.  He already knows who’s naughty and nice.  And among the naughty are those who live their lives focused on the acquisition of material things and those who are training their children to have that same focus.

Here are some revealing facts about American prosperity and our trend toward materialism.

  • Consumption of material goods in America has more than doubled in the past 50 years. (NPR)
  • Americans spend $1.2 trillion annually on non-essential goods. (WSJ)
  • 3.1% of the world’s children live in America, but they own 40% of the world’s toys. (UCLA)

In a land where overabundance is the norm and selfishness is touted as a virtue, Jesus has something to say that American Christians need to hear during this holiday season.  “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions”  (Luke 12:15, ESV).

It seems that for many folks, the possession of more things is their primary pleasure in the present and the basis of their expectation for security in the future.  There was once a certain rich man who thought that way.  He was prosperous and wanted to keep all of his stuff for his enjoyment and future security.  “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'” (Luke 12:20).

Today in America…

  • 25% of people with two car garages don’t have room to park cars inside them, and another 32% have room for only one vehicle (U.S. Dept. of Energy).
  • There are over 50,000 storage facilities, more than 5 times the number of Starbucks. There is 7.3 square feet of self-storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation.  It is physically possible that every American could stand – all at the same time – in self-storage facilities.

Don’t get me wrong.  There is no sin in having things.  There is no sin in taking care of the things that you have.  But Jesus said that anyone “who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God”is being foolish (Luke 12:21).

What are we teaching our children when we overload them with more toys than they could possibly play with?  We better watch out!  We need to remember to show them that it is more blessed to give than to receive, that we are blessed to bless others, and that the best storage facility of all is in heaven!

“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

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“Thoughts on Online Dating Apps”

tinder

photograph by Justin Bishop

Guest author: Wayne Holt

Elizabeth Anne (Calvert) Henderson wrote an article on her WordPress blog recently, entitled “The Thing About Social Media,” where she listed several pros and cons of using social media.  In the opening paragraph she stated, “The internet is a place where we have to guard our hearts and minds against all things damaging.”  She said social media could lower one’s self-esteem, waste our time, and provide a platform for complainers.  However, the same Internet can be used to help us keep in touch with family and friends and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ in ways like never before in history.  In her conclusion, Elizabeth Anne says, “No, social media isn’t evil. But those temptations are.”  It’s not the tool; it’s the way we use the tool or let it use us.

For years I’ve seen ads on TV for dating services like eHarmony and perhaps others, but recently heard mentioned two social-media-based dating services.  Knowing nothing about either, I did a little research.

On the About page from Kelly’s Korner, I read: “My name is Kelly Stamps.  I live in Northwest Arkansas.  I grew up in a tiny town in Arkansas as a Southern Baptist preacher’s daughter and went to college at Ouachita Baptist University.  I met my husband Scott on a blind date and we married one month before I turned 30.  We have almost been married 9 years!”

On her Home page she says today (January 22) is Singles Day and reminds everyone “just remember eleven couples have met and married through Singles Day here on my blog.”  This certainly appears to be clean and innocent.

The other social media page I heard mentioned may have similar goals, but my reading revealed a much different atmosphere.  In an article, Tinder and the Dawn of the “Dating Apocalypse,” I read: “It’s a balmy night in Manhattan’s financial district, and at a sports bar called Stout, everyone is Tindering. The tables are filled with young women and men who’ve been chasing money and deals on Wall Street all day, and now they’re out looking for hookups. Everyone is drinking, peering into their screens and swiping on the faces of strangers they may have sex with later that evening. Or not.” And “When asked if they’ve been arranging dates on the apps they’ve been swiping at, all say not one date, but two or three: ‘You can’t be stuck in one lane … There’s always something better.’”

The site seems to be for the late teens, 20s, and 30s age groups.  In a section, Sex Has Become So Easy, I read, “People used to meet their partners through proximity, through family and friends, but now Internet-meeting is surpassing every other form. ‘It’s changing so much about the way we act both romantically and sexually,’ Garcia says. ‘It is unprecedented from an evolutionary standpoint.’ As soon as people could go online they were using it as a way to find partners to date and have sex with.”

I could go on with comments such as “you are not ordering a cake, you are ordering a person” or “instant gratification,” but it is obvious this is NO PLACE FOR A CHRISTIAN TO BE HANGING OUT.  I hope any of you using this site or even thinking about using it (or any others like it), will choose a better path and stay away from this temptation.

And, Tinder is not just for the younger crowd.  An article, “Love Me Tinder,” describes Eli as “27 years old, losing the vestigial greenness of his youth” making Tinder-contact with Katherine who “was 37, newly single, with family obligations and a full-time job. Most of her friends were married. She needed something new.”  And what they both want is what Tinder seems to offer—a quick hook-up with a stranger for whatever intent both are comfortable with.

I offer this disclaimer.  Maybe I just read about the bad side of Tinder.  I just read the articles I could find.  But, for any Christian looking for a date, why would you hang out in a sex bar?

Proverbs 4:14-15 “Do not enter the path of the wicked, And do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; Turn away from it and pass on.”

https://elizannehenderson.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/the-thing-about-social-media/

http://www.kellyskornerblog.com/

http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2015/08/tinder-hook-up-culture-end-of-dating

Is It Right For Me to Be Angry?

angry“Then the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?'” Jonah 4:4

I’ve been thinking about this a lot today. Sometimes life can be tough. I think we’d all agree with that. But other times, from our perspective, it just plain stinks. Maybe we’ve had some unfortunate circumstances. Maybe we, like Jonah in the context of Jonah 3-4, just didn’t get what we wanted. But the question often remains, is it right for us to be angry??

Maybe our initial response is to respond like Jonah: “It IS right for me to be angry, even to death!” (4:10). We might feel like Jonah and claim we’d fight even to our death for the justification of our anger. We may even start to blame God like Jonah did (4:1-2)!

Consider this though. What if in our times of deepest frustration and purest anger, God is trying to teach us something?? What if God is hoping that we will learn something about HIM??

If Jonah had only opened his eyes, he would’ve seen that what made him most angry, bitter, and frustrated were some of the purest, sweetest, and most beautiful qualities of God (4:2). If he had only realized that the problem was him, not God, maybe the book of Jonah would’ve ended differently.

Well, we may know how Jonah’s story ended, but our story isn’t over. We still have time in our moments of frustration and even bitterness towards God, to open our eyes and learn something. We have time to swallow our pride, humble ourselves, and stop blaming Him. Maybe, just maybe, as soon as we do so, we will recognize that the qualities of God on which we once placed our blame are actually our source of life, light and hope.

— David Watson

Are You Attached?

brokendollThe amputation of a body part is at best an unpleasant consideration.  Just imagining having an arm or leg cut off probably makes most of us feel a little squeamish.   No one wants to have a part of their body permanently severed.  Amputation invariably handicaps the body and destroys the part that is amputated.  Our body parts must stay connected to our bodies for the benefit of the body and the life of the parts!

  The church is a body.  The body parts are the church members.  “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Cor. 12:12).  But some members think, act, and speak as if they’ve been amputated. 

  • They think that their presence isn’t necessary in assemblies.  A church functions as a body in its assemblies.  It worships, it edifies and it communes (1 Cor. 10:17; 14:26).  What if all the parts of the body felt that they didn’t need to assemble?  Would the body be able to function without all of its parts coming together?  Would it not be more like some lifeless carcass, mutilated in a chain saw massacre, with its parts now strewn all over?  The body is made up of parts, and every part must maintain its connection to the body!  “For in fact the body is not one member but many” (1 Cor. 12:14). 

  • They talk as if they are not part of the church.  They’ll refer to the church that they are supposed to be a member of in the third person.  Instead of saying “We had a gospel meeting” or “Our attendance was good” or “Here’s something we’re doing to spread the gospel,” they’ll say, “They had a meeting” and “Their attendance was good.”  Instead of focusing on what they are to be doing, they’ll begrudge what others get to do and focus on that.  But just because a member talks like he is detached from the body, doesn’t mean that he is.    “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body?  And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body?” (1 Cor. 12:15-16).

  • They act as if the church can do just as well without them.  Every part of the body has some function.  Some parts may appear to be more important than others, but EVERY PART has a role to play if the body is to be at its best. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’  No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary” (1 Cor. 12:21-22).

   These things being true, why would any Christian continue to think, talk and act as if he is “detached” from the church?  Could it be that some just don’t see that their usefulness to the Lord and their own spiritual lives depend on their attachment to the body?  Are you attached?

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Doing Odd Things to Get Even

cvslooted  Have you ever heard of someone cutting off their nose to spite their face?  In an effort to get back at others, or teach somebody a lesson, people often wind up inflicting a lot of pain on themselves.  In recent news, we’e seen folks rioting and looting in their own neighborhoods to protest conditions in their own neighborhoods!

The ultimate example of the vindictive self-destroyer may be the suicide bomber.  The bitterness and hatred that could lead a person to blow himself up just to harm those that (he thinks) have harmed him, reveals human vindictiveness for what it often is: vengeance gone stupid.

But most of us don’t have to look at the headlines to find examples of the bitter pill that the world ironically calls “sweet revenge.”  If you’ve ever tried to take it, you probably already know how unfulfilling and damaging it can be.

  Vengeance just does not belong to men; it belongs to God.  “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19).

  One of the means God uses to exact justice is civil government.  God-ordained law enforcement “is God’s minister to you for good… an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Romans 13:4).  And any injustices in our “justice system” will be rectified when the Lord returns “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:8).

  There appear to be any number of reasons that God has not given individuals the right to avenge themselves.  For one, we aren’t wise enough to determine who deserves to be punished. Nor are we very good at deciding the appropriate degree of punishment to be inflicted.  This is especially true when we are personally involved in a situation.  Our judgment is imperfect at best, and it is often clouded by self-serving prejudice.  But another reason we haven’t been given the right to take vengeance for ourselves, and the main point of this article, is that our efforts to even a score are often so badly botched that they wind up hurting us more than anyone.

  Truly, “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and he who rolls a stone will have it roll back on him” (Proverbs 26:27).

  Let us give place to the wrath of God.  The Scriptures promise, “He will repay my enemies for their evil” (Psalm 54:5).   Let’s trust Him.

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