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Archive for September, 2009

complaining

We’ve all cringed in our stomachs when we’ve seen self-proclaimed Christians engage in bouts of complaining or arguing with those around them.

If such has happened at work or school or among relatives, this has been particularly saddening.

Why? Because it sets such a bad example for the unsaved who already tend toward the belief that Christians are phonies using religion as a crutch and a control mechanism.

Satan, of course, quickly exploits such griping as he whispers “They’re hypocrites!” into the ears of the observing non-believers.

I wish I could say that churches are devoid of complaining and arguing.

I can’t.

It breaks my heart to hear of caustic calamities that cripple congregations.

I’ve seen some disgusting displays of religious conflict that pushed me to the brink of nausea.

These must have pained God even more.

When believers act like non-believers by bellying up to the bar of bashing others, Christian influence drains faster than a popped water balloon.

This shouldn’t be.

How much better it is when Christians face difficult times, yet demonstrate a measure of emotional and spiritual peace that allows them to calmly take constructive steps and encourage others hindered by unfortunate developments.

At such times, faithful self-control shines like a 10 million-candlepower lighthouse because virtually everybody else would whine and gripe and look for payback opportunities.

I pray that you are one who rejects the temptation to complain and argue.

I pray that every person in your congregation sees you as a calm, humble person who never complains about others, never argues with others, never attacks others and who quickly intervenes into the fray with words that build up others.

This is how Christ was and is.

This is how we are to be.

It is not easy, of course.

Our human nature savors payback time.

And if we can’t punch them or pinch them, we’ll punish them in some way.

Even if only complaining about them, arguing with them or gossiping about them.

Honestly evaluate yourself just now.

Have others heard you complaining lately?

Have you found yourself arguing with others?

If so, you have some things to say to God, don’t you?

If non-Christians heard any of this complaining or arguing, you also have some things to say to them, don’t you?

The implications of our behavior in this regard are too important to ignore this principle of verbal self-control.

Please don’t think that I’m lecturing today because I’m the guru of goodness. Like you, I’m made of clay and I’m sure that I’ve slipped in the past and have complained in front of non-Christians. I shouldn’t have, but I probably did. Shame on me.

I diligently seek to avoid such, though, because of the implications for the Kingdom.

“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2:14-16a)

Christians often think that they can’t evangelize because they can’t preach sermons or debate atheists or quote long lists of scripture. These three forms of ministry are greatly worthwhile, but they aren’t the definition of evangelism.

Evangelism is the sharing of the Good News, the gospel. And unless we first SHOW the Good News with our behavior, our efforts to SHARE the Good News just might fall on ears turned off by our phony faith.

Became a better ambassador for Christ, my friend. Reject every temptation to complain and argue. Shine like a star in the blackened universe and you’ll hold out the Word of Life to people wandering in darkness.

As always, I love you
Martin

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It wasn’t a pleasing experience when I read Isaiah 58:2-5 this morning.

It seemed too much like a description of the sentiment so common in our nation that used to be characterized by widespread Judeo-Christian conviction.

“Day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.

“‘Why have we fasted,’ ‘they say, ‘and You have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and You have not noticed?'”

Simply put, the attitude reflected in this passage is this: “I’m fasting and acting humble. So why aren’t you blessing me, God?”

To those who operate by a contract mentality, it seems like a fair question.

I do for God and then God does for me. That’s the deal, right?

Do our part and God is beholden to do His part when we expect Him to.

It doesn’t matter about His sense of timing. Our timetable is more important, isn’t it?

And for God to not notice how we are leaving our good food in the refrigerator until tomorrow when we eat a double portion to catch up, what’s up with that?

How could God be SO ungrateful for our temporary abstention from eating?

I wish I could say that people today — even Christians — never had the attitude reflected in the sentences above.

But I can’t.

Do you remember what God told to the prophet Samuel when he went to Jesse and his older, bigger sons in order to find a king for Israel?

Samuel saw a bunch of good-looking, strong young men who fit the worldly profile of king material.

Yet God told Samuel that it’s not the externals that count but instead the internals.

God said that He looks on the heart when it comes to assessing the measure of a man (I Samuel 16:7).

That same God demonstrates that same internal focus when it comes to measuring the motive of those claiming to have a humble, sacrificial faith.

Fasting is a wonderful spiritual discipline with great potential for enhancing ministry and reflecting faith. We should all practice it more often.

But if faith is a facade, then God isn’t impressed and prayers return empty.

If faith via fasting is sincere and ministry-focused, however, then prayers will not only return with the power of God but with His presence.

Wow.

What was true then, of course, is still true today.

Rather than expound on this truth, I’m departing from my typical pattern today and I will post the deeply moving and encouraging words of Isaiah 58:6-12.

Despite my love of writing, there is no way that I could improve upon what God has said here through the pen of Isaiah.

The truths are self-evident.

The applications within your life will be easily discerned.

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: ‘Here am I.’ If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

11 The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. (NIV)

Please, my friend, don’t be profoundly clueless as are so many in our world who think religious blah, blah, blah — or even a phony fast — will get somewhere with God.

Choose instead to fight injustice, help those being manipulated, stand with those resisting bondage, provide food and clothes and shelter to the needy, reject every invitation to criticize and gossip and forsake temptations to coerce others for financial reasons.

Do these things and your times of fasting will show God that your heart is full of His nature and goodness rather than full of itself.

The more Christians in our nation who reject the facades of faith, the more that God’s blessings and presence will again be poured out upon us all.

As always, I love you
Martin

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Every time I open my One-Year Bible, I am astounded at the nature of God.

One might think that after more than 40 years as an active Christian, I should have a “Been there. Done that” t-shirt regarding the need for learning and better understanding scripture.

I’m not even close to knowing all that I should in order to be the most effective for Christ.

It is a humbling thought, yes, but also an encouraging thought.

Humbling in the sense that every page of scripture reminds me that I’m a sinner who falls short of God’s glory.

Encouraging in the sense that God loves me anyway and patiently calls me to learn more about faith so that I might show it and share it with others.

As I read today’s installment in the One-Year Bible, I commented to Lori about the amazing patience of God. The Old Testament portion of the reading was from the latter chapters of Isaiah.

It is clear from the prophet’s inspired writings that God was ticked off with the carnal leadership of Israel and that a day of reckoning in this life and the next was set for them.

More than 2,700 years after these warnings were written, it’s easy to see how messed up the leadership was and how the rebellious flock of flesh-minded Hebrew people were caught up in the race to the cliff.

Fortunately, it’s just as easy to see that God’s heart was just as prone to mercy then as it is now.

You see, God didn’t want the Hebrews to choose destruction. In fact, He repeatedly warned them to run away from the cliff of rebellion rather than toward it.

Amazingly, some Hebrews went so far as to stick out their tongues toward God. Most simply didn’t listen, though, and ignored the Word.

I thank God, though, that some did.

I thank God even more that His grace was not limited to those carrying the biological blood of Abraham.

Foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve Him, the love the name of the Lord, and to worship Him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant — these will I bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer” (Isaiah 56:6-7).

If God desired the souls then of those who weren’t Hebrews, then He will desire the souls now of those not carrying the blood of Abraham.

This, dear friend, is a very good thing.

I don’t have the blood of Abraham coursing through my veins, but I do have the blood of Jesus covering my soul.

You see, I trust the promise of Isaiah 55:6-7 that says, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his ways and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord and He will have mercy on him, and (turn) to our God for He will freely pardon.”

The difference between me and the rebellious, destruction-destined Israelite leader of Isaiah’s day is not that I am more worthy of salvation. Actually, I’ve fallen short of God’s glory by choosing in times past to seek my own.

I don’t like saying it, but the fact is that God had every right to turn me into charcoal.

What gave me hope — and still does — is the amazing grace that comes to those who pursue the promise of Isaiah 57:2.

Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.”

If not for the incredible patience of God, Christianity wouldn’t have had the profound, enabling letters from the Apostle Paul.

Paul knew that it was God’s power combined with His purposes and patience that gave meaning to His promises.

Paul confessed that he was a wretched sinner, both before his conversion and after.

He knew that it was only by the gracious patience of God that he had any hope of experiencing the eternal love of the Father.

Never forget, my friend, that you and I are wretched sinners, both before and after our conversions.

That’s why we must bind ourselves to the Lord to serve Him, to love His name, to worship Him, to attend weekly worship services, to hold fast to the Word and to walk uprightly.

None of these choices will wash away our sins. Only the blood of Christ that covers us at confession and immersion will do that.

What these choices say to God, however, is that we have humbled hearts given to trusting obedience of our beloved Father in heaven.

This is a heart that God desires to save.

This is a heart that God desires to hold forever.

Never forget that God is a Daddy.

And that He wants to be your Daddy forever.

As always, I love you
Martin

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Lori and I took a one-day trip out of town yesterday to visit some friends. During the drive, Lori read the Sept. 24 installment from the One-Year Bible.

As usual, there were a number of interesting passages in the Old Testament and New Testament segments included in the reading. Four words, in particular, captured my attention, however.

In Isaiah 43:25, the Lord says this while speaking to Israel through the prophet:

“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”

The words that grabbed and gripped my attention were “for My own sake.”

Our conventional, Christian wisdom would think that God’s primary desire to wash away our sins was for our sake so that we wouldn’t have to suffer forever in hell.

Think about it for a moment. Did not the desire to avoid hell serve as a driving force for your interest in salvation?

Does not missing out on the flames and worms and darkness of hell compel most converts to choose Jesus?

The fact is that most people become Christians because they want to live forever in peace, not in pain.

God’s agenda for our salvation, however, is more transcendent.

Listen closely.

God did not create our souls and the flesh to house them just so that He could see some of us avoid hell.

There was a much greater purpose for our creation and desired salvation.

Everything physical created by God from nothingness was crafted in support of a single, eternal objective — an everlasting, intimate relationship between the Father and the children who would choose to love and serve Him.

Even the cross, crafted by angry men for hateful terror, was made from blood-stained wood created by God and shaped by bitter hands given by God.

So when we read that God blots out transgressions for His own sake, we realize that the amazing mechanisms for mercy — the Old Testament altar and the New Testament cross — these were God’s tools for blotting out transgressions.

And we realize that God established these means of atonement as tools for reconciling His lost children to Himself.

You see, it’s all about bringing His children home.

It’s all about having his spiritual kids at His feet so that He can smile at them, love on them and rejoice forever with them.

He’s the Abba Father and He yearns for the joy of unending reunion.

I’m profoundly grateful that God’s supernatural, sovereign desire to receive the love due Him offers me the unmerited benefit of eternal comfort and celebration.

Please remember that God’s offer of salvation — and the resulting life of faith to which we are called — is FIRST about God’s worthiness and desire for worship. Just as Matthew 6:33 tells us, once we give God all of our hearts and deeds first, God will take care of us in this life and the next.

Do everything for God’s sake, will you?

As always, I love you
Martin

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God is my role model for ministry.

No matter how many times that people let Him down, He never stops trying to lift them up through the outpouring of His grace and holy nature.

Yes, just because things often don’t go the way that He desires — thanks to the recalcitrant, self-willed nature of we humans — our Almighty Creator and Redeemer holds to His promise to seek souls until the day Jesus comes back to earth for the final harvest of surrendered servants.

This is, of course, beyond amazing since you and I would never demonstrate the measure of patience shown by God.

If somebody burned us or dissed us or hurt our loved ones hundreds of times — just as we have done to God hundreds of times — we’d likely write them off, caring little how miserable his or her life became.

We might even rejoice if “they got what was coming to ’em.”

I don’t write this today because of some grudge issue bothering me. This sin tendency isn’t on my personal menu of stumbling blocks.

Instead, I exalt God’s patient role model because of how He never gives up in the face of obstacle after obstacle.

Oh yeah…. after obstacle.

Because of problems now with my replacement computer — yeah, I know it makes no sense — it is nearly 11 a.m. and I’m just now writing the Morning Devotion.

I was tempted to say, “Phooey with it all!” and simply ignore my heart’s calling to share the blessings from my daily Bible reading.

I had no peace with that approach, though, and so I’m grinding away at the keyboard after a couple of system reboots, multiple Task Manager sessions and untold minutes staring at repeatedly stuck hourglasses.

If God were stuck with this computer and He chose not to speak it into lightning-fast compliance, I believe that He would not give up working with this hindered contraption. I believe that He’d patiently use whatever functionality He could in order to get the message of hope to His readers.

Yes, He could choose to simply write a “Thee mail” message in the sky and leave men like me out of the ministry loop.

Everybody would see what He said, all right.

But how would that build me up as a servant, a vessel of truth?

How would that encourage others to get involved in spreading the Gospel?

God chooses to use imperfect people and imperfect devices in order to share word of the Perfect hope.

It’s a slow process prone to glitches or outright meltdowns. It happens SO many times, doesn’t it?

But without this approach, millions of believers would not have the opportunity to grow in patience, in the practice of testimony, in the knowledge of how to creatively and passionately overcome and of how to go around the obstacles erected by Satan or by one’s own failures.

God never gives up on souls.

Nor should we.

Even those family souls or workplace souls or classmate souls or neighborhood souls who have let us down SO much.

In the One-Year Bible reading for today, both in Isaiah and in Ephesians, God’s recurring hunger for saving lost souls is absolutely clear.

As I read the prophet’s words and the apostle’s words, I thought of how God spilled blood to make a covering of sin for Adam and Eve. God did so because He loved Adam and Eve and wanted to have fellowship with them, despite their sinful past.

I thought of how God spilled Christ’s blood to make a covering of sin for you and for me when we embraced Christ as our Savior. I thought of how God did this because He loved you and me and wants to have fellowship with us, despite our sinful past.

And I thought of how He chooses to use a periodic goof-up like me with goofed-up tools in an effort to persuade other lost souls to step onto the path of salvation by choosing Christ as their Savior.

Imperfect people with imperfect tools pointing people toward a perfect heaven.

Boy, it sure is good that God provides the perfect power and perfect Word and perfect blood that actually blend together to do the work that really counts.

As always, I love you
Martin

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God — the Pastor of the pasture

Jesus-the-Shepherd-

Isaiah’s prophecy is filled with words of God’s looming judgment upon evil nations in the prophet’s day 700 years before Christ. Even the Hebrews’ divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah were warned of the coming wrath against defiant disobedience.

In the midst of these ominous prophecies, however, God still uses Isaiah’s pen to provide illuminating glimpses of His resilient grace.

I thanked God this morning when I read Isaiah 40:11.

The words refreshed the knowledge embedded within my heart that I serve an incredible, loving, compassionate, kind, patient, understanding God who has the heart of a mushy Daddy.

“He tends His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to his heart; He gently leads those that have young.”

This is not how the world sees God.

This is certainly not how the Enemy portrays God.

More sadly, though, is that this is not how many religions portray God.

God is a cop and/or a judge and/or a taskmaster and/or a jail warden and/or an executioner, according to control-focused, work-salvation religions.

This depiction, of course, is not true to the core nature of God.

While sinners who reject Christ will spend eternity in hell as the paycheck for their prideful rejection of grace, the essence of God is love and His yearning is to see all souls in heaven’s choir (2 Peter 3:9).

He wants to pastor as many in His pasture as possible.

When His lambs grow tired or stumble while carelessly not looking out for obstacles, He promises to pick them up and carry them to level ground while they regain their strength and emotional comfort.

He loves holding His lambs close to His heart. Just like a doting Daddy.

For those older sheep entrusted by Him to care for young lambs, God shows patience. He knows that the older sheep must wait on the lambs.

He knows that the some older sheep unhindered by weaker lambs might run ahead to get the best grass for themselves.

But the Good Shepherd will not run ahead.

He stays with the weakest.

He values the efforts of those who have also chosen to walk with the weak.

As the Good Shepherd, He will make sure that the weakest — and those choosing to walk with them — will find green pastures with still waters.

And He will make sure to lead the imperfect flock on level paths.

Hmmmm…….

Dear friends, this is the picture of God that our world needs to see.

Yes, He is King.

Yes, He is Judge.

Yes, He is holy and righteous.

But most importantly for some unsaved, hurting people to hear just now is that God is a loving Shepherd who longs to gather them in His arms and carry them close to His heart.

And any of them with kids need to hear that God will gently lead them to a more blessed life, the sort of help they need in this world that cares little for the weaker.

Will you be God’s hands and heart this week to some unsaved person?

Will you make sure to not run ahead of the weaker ones within your church family? Or your family at home?

Please show them that you have been changed by the grace of God and that you want to share that love with others.

As always, I love you
Martin

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There seems to be no end to the ways that people make money on the Internet.

The latest one I’ve seen is to offer help to people who fear that private life mistakes or job failures will end up on the Internet.

For $15 a month, one can purchase online reputation monitoring services that scan the web in search of any posting mentioning the subscriber’s name.

Services vary between companies offering such monitoring, but the main idea is to allow the subscriber to quickly request removal of the posting from the relevant site or at least allow the subscriber to post a rebuttal comment that more accurately describes the alleged failure.

If the bad report is from a public agency, then the services will allow — for a price — the subscriber to “shotgun” all sorts of positive postings on the Internet via kind-hearted comments in multiple blogs or recent activities on behalf of charities or whatever.

The notion is to dilute the negative influence with a shower of positive information.

As more of who we are and what we do becomes accessible to others worldwide via the Internet, our mistakes are becoming harder to hide.

People running for political office now are being hindered by choices made 30 or more years ago and now being posted on the web.

It’s amazing.

Would you want your list of decades-old indiscretions posted on the Internet for all to see?

Would you want your driving record or list of work failures to become common knowledge?

Would you want photos from your late-night, college-aged parties to be viewable by all?

Many people, particularly those seeking well-paying jobs, will see $225 a year as a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of losing out on an $80,000-a-year job because he or she wasn’t aware of a bad comment on the computer bulletin board of a previous employer.

You can be sure that smart, aspiring politicians now are hiring forensic computer experts to search all possible Internet records in order to be prepared for what an election opponent might use during a campaign.

When I read of the reputation-defense service, I was reminded of Galatians 5:19-23.

The first part of the passage describes the sorts of things that make for juicy content on the Internet. Anybody doing these sorts of things near a camera or near somebody willing to make an Internet posting about it is in for a lot of trouble because of how the Internet is the ultimate gossip engine.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (vv. 19-21)

Just about everyone of the above has been attributed to famous politicians, celebrities and even a few preachers during the past few years.

Is your past in that list somewhere?

It’s amazing that so much evidence for such actually exists on the Internet.

I’m sure that reputation-defense services are finding customers.

Do you need such a service because of your past choices?

This Morning Devotion won’t help you in that regard, but perhaps it might prompt you toward a lifestyle that removes the need for future reputation defense.

If you practice the teaching of vv. 22-23, you’ll have no need for such a defense.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Dear friend, if you have some serious personal or professional failures in your past, your Christian faith is no guarantee that Satan won’t find a way to broadcast them to others, Internet or no Internet. You know that he’ll use any hurtful tool he can to steal your joy and weaken your influence.

Pray that your record of failing God remains between you and Him.

If somebody finds out about your failure, use it as an occasion to humbly testify of God’s amazing grace in saving your soul and using your life for His sake.

If your dirty laundry hasn’t entered cyberspace, praise your Father in heaven and make sure that all your future choices and actions are those that can hang on a front-yard clothesline.

After all, who doesn’t admire an array of bright, white garments gently blowing in the warm breeze of day?

One seeing your clothesline just might ask of how the clothes got so clean.

Hmmmm….. I love how God opens doors for the gospel.

As always, I love you
Martin

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