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Archive for June, 2011

What is the primary goal of your life?

To be a good person?

To be the best parent possible?

To retire with assurance of affording food, housing and medical care?

To be more financially successful than your relatives?

I’ve often said that a person is defined by his or her goals.

For goals illlustrate what is most important to a person.

Do you have spiritual goals? Do you realize the purposes for which God created you in the womb and for which He re-created you through the “tomb” of repentance, confession and baptism?

The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10 that Christians are saved for the purpose of doing good works for God’s Kingdom.

In essence, we have been saved to serve.

Doing whatever we can that promotes Christianity’s growth is to be our primary goal in life.

Being a good person is a way of supporting that #1 goal, not supplanting it.

Being the best parent possible or being the best financial steward possible supports our promotion of Christianity rather than eroding it.

And being financially successful is good if the purpose is to point more funds into the work of faith rather than the edifices of pride.

Listen, we don’t have to be a rags-wearing, street-corner-yelling preacher in order to have building the Kingdom as a primary goal.

Instead, we simply need to make sure that every action and thought is guided by the thought, “Is this going to help me or another believer to reach more people with God’s love and Word?”

Whether in the home, in the workplace, in the school, in the store or on the highway, every action and word CAN be promote Kingdom purposes if we strive to imitate Christ and educate about Christ and invite people to accept Christ.

Building the Kingdom CAN be our primary goal as we do the above more often.

Here are Paul’s thoughts about the reason for living:

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).

Please reflect on your goals for living and I’ll do the same.

As always, I love you
Martin

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One of Satan’s favorite back-door schemes is to lure us into demoting God in our personal and corporate worship.

Satan knows that, for believers, an overt temptation to stop worshiping altogether would be too obviously originating from hell.

That’s why he lures us to go through the motions — and even the pomp and circumstance — of worship, but with our mental, emotional and spiritual focused on adoration for something other than Jehovah.

This sometimes happens when congregations see other congregations experiencing rapid growth in numbers because of impressive worship programs or facilities or theological/morality compromises. The priority of solid, Bible-based teaching and adherence to biblically moral standards for members are diminished in favor of “cool” and “attractive” and “comfortable” and whatever else gets people in the building.

For a wannabe congregation tired of struggling numerically and financially as nearby sister congregations thrive, the pressure to trust the flesh rather than deep-rooted faith can be SO strong.

And so, the dabbling begins. Subtly, yes, but certain nonetheless.

The strategies for slaying the Goliath of stagnant growth are sometimes adopted from megachurch examples that de-emphasize absolute loyalty to Jehovah alone and to His Word.

Lifted up as sufficient for sanctified faith are the substitutes of rock star-led, emotion-filled worship singing, multi-media kids’ sessions designed primarily to promote fun with token attention to the Bible and large-scale fellowship events that build waistlines more than they do redemptive relationships. Seen as archaic are conservative, Judeo-Christian values regarding sexual morality and Biblical inerrancy.

Actually, worship singing and kids’ programming and fellowship events are wonderful things IF they are permeated with collective surrendering to the Lord of every motive and effort.

It’s all about motive, about who we are trusting to be our primary source of success and who we are praising as the reason for our blessed lives.

Why this topic today that I pray you’ll read to the end? In 2 Kings 16, the story is told of King Ahaz’ falling into Satan’s trap of demoting Jehovah.

Ahaz, the Southern Kingdom ruler, was threatened with destruction by the armies of the Northern Kingdom and another bad-guy king from a neighboring country.

Ahaz paid tons of silver and gold to an Assyrian king to bring his bigger army to run off Ahaz’ attackers.

Once Ahaz saw that his land was again secure, he went to Damascus to meet the Assyrian king. While there, he became enthralled with a fancy, pagan worship altar and told his high priest to build him one just like it.

Remember, this was the king of God’s chosen people who was living in Jerusalem and was responsible for guiding people under the sovereignty of Jehovah.

“King Ahaz then gave these orders to Uriah the priest: ‘On the large new altar, offer the morning burnt offering and the evening grain offering, the king’s burnt offering and his grain offering, and the burnt offering of all the people of the land, and their grain offering and their drink offering. Splash against this altar the blood of all the burnt offerings and sacrifices. But I will use the bronze altar for seeking guidance.’ And Uriah the priest did just as King Ahaz had ordered” (2 Kings 16:15-16).

Unbelievable.

It would have been too obviously blasphemous to ignore God altogether. That’s why Ahaz kept the bronze altar around. Though pushed to the side, Ahaz wanted the authentic altar was available if he needed advice from time to time.

Listen, I could build this message into a sermon but let me sum it up this way: It’s never right to push God to the side as to why we worship or to whom we worship, only calling on Him when we can’t figure life out on our own.

Our growth as Christians and as congregations should be based on worshiping as He commands, trusting and teaching that the only path to spiritual peace comes through sacrificial gifts to God via repentance, money and time, recognizing God’s own sacrifice of His Son on the altar of the cross for us.

The church across town might have a “larger, newer altar” in terms of a facility or programming. But if people there aren’t called to sanctified, sacrificial living surrendered only to Jehovah and Jesus, we should have no interest in imitating it.

For as the history of Israel shows, trusting anything other Jehovah is ultimately a losing proposition.

As always, I love you
Martin

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We see a photo like that of the tollway cheat pictured below and we wonder how anybody could display such foolishness in order to cheat the government for a pittance of money.

This picture accompanied a newspaper article last week that reported on the rampant efforts of drivers to avoid paying tolls and the high-tech efforts of tollway officials to punish offenders once caught.

When I saw this photo, my first thought was, “That guy is crazy, risking his life over a 50-cent or $1 toll charge.”

My second thought, though, was of how this is how we all must look to God when we sin and then try to cover it up.

When King David called Uriah back from the front lines of battle and tried to get him drunk so that the loyal soldier would sleep with his adulterous wife, David was hoping that Bathsheba’s just-discovered pregnancy would be attributed to Uriah.

It was so stupid and cruel and foolish.

That might as well have been King David hanging out the back of a racing car while trying to hide the driver’s identity.

But you know what? We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

We’ve all — in effect — hung out the back of a racing car in hopes of getting away with something.

You know your life. You know your bad moments. Your foolish moments. Your try-to-hide-what-I’m-doing moments.

It’s so much better just to do what’s right.

Be a law-abiding citizen.

Be a biblical-values abiding Christian.

Don’t try to get away with things, thinking that the Eye in the Sky won’t know who you are.

I’ll try to do the same.

Practice this and you’ll be successful.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (I Cor. 10:31).

As always, I love you
Martin

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Nobody in his or her right mind would kick a land mine.

There is just too much likelihood of a terrible outcome.

But too many times, that’s just what some people do when they speak before thinking clearly.

Sometimes those “people” includes us.

Frustration over this or that prompts us to say this or that — things that shouldn’t be said — and then the situation blows up in our faces.

The fact of life was brought to mind this morning in a couple of places within my morning Bible reading.

“An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends and against all sound judgment starts quarrels.” Proverbs 18:1

Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul; and Gallio showed no concern whatever.” Acts 18:17

In the first text, Solomon gives a general fact of life based on repeated observed behavior of others. Those who like stirring the pot, who like “getting in other people’s faces” and bullying them are not friendly people. That means that they’re not living to please the Lord but only themselves.

Solomon’s words are very blunt. Hopefully they do not fit your behavioral pattern even in the least.

You and I should never start quarrels because they so often lead to our net loss rather than net gain.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t speak up — sometimes even assertively — when wrongs need to be made right.

But such a conversation need not decay into quarreling which is a tug-of-war for conversational and situational control.

People who start quarrels are verbal bullies and we should not play on their turf. We are to avoid quarreling.

In the second text, Sosthenes was an enemy of the Apostle Paul in the city of Corinth and had rounded up a bunch of Jewish synagogue members who hated Christianity. They dragged Paul to a Roman judge to have him punished for teaching against their view of Jewish religion.

The judge told the group that he had no interest in their religious squabbles so he ordered his soldiers to throw the quarrelers out of his presence.

The synagogue members were irate that their synagogue leader had put them in this position so they gave him the beating that they had wanted Paul to receive.

In effect, Sosthenes had kicked a landmine.

Take some good advice from Solomon and refuse temptations to start quarrels, no matter how upset you become over something.

When you and I fall into the trap of verbal bullying, we are headed down an explosive road.

It’s so much better to say humble, truthful things in a Christlike manner, even when others speak in non-Christlike ways.

With patience, God will work all things together for our good if we continue loving Him and living according to His purposes.

As always, I love you
Martin

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There’s a little story in today’s One-Year Bible reading that reminded me of God’s surprising breadth of grace.

The prophet Elisha had a loyal group of ministry followers who also were preachers. One of them said to Elisha that they needed a bigger church building in order to accommodate everybody who wanted to be in worship sessions.

So he suggested that they put up a building next to the Jordan River. Elisha liked the idea and so they went to the river and started chopping down trees.

That’s when one of the borrowed axes lost its iron head which flew into the river.

That axe head might have been a key, income-producing tool for the man who owned it and now it was gone.

It was not a good moment for that hard-working preacher who immediately started thinking of what he was going to say to the axe owner.

So how was God’s grace shown?

“Oh no, my lord!” he cried out. “It was borrowed!”

“The man of God asked, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float. “Lift it out,” he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it.” (2 Kings 6:5-7).

Elisha could have told the preacher that bad things happen to good people and that he’d just have to make do some other way and then head to the local blacksmith.

It might have been, though, that Elisha empathized with the preacher’s angst over having to tell the axe owner the bad news. The axe owner then might have thought, “Yeah, I knew I shouldn’t have tried to help with putting up a new worship center. I’ll be more careful next time to protect my possessions.”

Instead of having to give the axe owner bad news, though, I’m sure that the axe owner was given an amazing story of God’s amazing grace.

Can you imagine the impact of this event on all the sweaty preachers who saw what happened? Can you imagine how many times this story was told and re-told?

My point this morning is not to build an expectation that God will restore every loss we incur while trying to build up a ministry. Sometimes, losses such as stolen tools or dented fenders of borrowed cars aren’t restored by miracles but instead by our willingness to accept responsibility for making sure the lender gets back the item loaned.

Whatever we spend will be considered by God as a worship offering anyway, right?

Please don’t see this story as the basis for twisting God’s grace into your specific expectation of replacement insurance.

Instead, please celebrate the larger principle that we serve a knowing God, a loving God, a gracious God, a powerful God and — when it best serves His Kingdom — a divinely intervening God.

As always, I love you
Martin

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It’s a trap every Christian must avoid, even though Satan is so skilled at disguising it.

I’m talking about the trap of seeking personal advantage after God’s mercy is poured through us into another person’s life.

Someone in our circle of influence might turn to us for prayer support and for layperson ministry intercession in some way and God subsequently sends blessing into that person’s life.

Satan will invariably whisper that we should not miss the opportunity to exploit this grace event.

Typically, we ignore his schemes in this respect.

Sometimes, though, our personal circumstances and fears prompt us to ask the blessed person to “help” us with a financial gift or with pulling some strings regarding a job for us or selling us something at a below-market price.

It’s about exploiting the blessed person’s appreciation for God’s grace in a way that boosts our finances or our social standing, or both.

Some of you have not done this. Praise the Lord!

Some of you have done this and perhaps didn’t even discern it. I might fall into this catergory.

Whether intentional or not, whether obvious or subtle, it is still wrong.

We need to be ultra-careful that we don’t behave in any way similar to that described in today’s One-Year Bible reading. Elisha’s servant Gehazi REALLY messed up in this respect. You can read about it in 2 Kings 5.

We should never think “What’s in it for me?” when we see God’s hand pouring mercy into somebody else’s life, in part because of our involvement.

Pastors need to remember this and sometimes they don’t.

Of course, the same can be said for many interceding Christians who are tempted to seek tangible signs of thanks that rightly belong to God.

Please join me in striving to do gracious things for people — trusting the intervening power of God — only because they need it and not because it is a good way to gain a financial or social advantage.

Gehazi paid a very steep price for his selfish greed. God sent leprosy upon him and upon his descendants forever. Wow.

When God moves in the life of another after you’ve interceded with prayer and actual efforts, make sure that the credit and blessing flows into the Kingdom, not into your pocket or into your popularity.

The cost of the forbidden gift is just too high.

As always, I love you
Martin

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A sign of spiritual maturity is the ability to have a servant’s heart toward others and a grateful heart toward God, even when a deep desire remains unmet.

I know several people who fit this description. There is the desire for finding a kind, Christian spouse. There is the desire to be a parent. There is the desire for spiritual restoration of young adult children.

I pray for these people. For they are good people doing good things with good motives.

It would be good if God poured out His good will into their lives by means of granting their hearts’ desires.

I was reminded of this hope today during my devotional reading.

In 2 Kings 4:8-17, we read of the prophet Elisha and how a wealthy Shunnamite woman persuaded her aged husband to provide accommodations for Elisha and his servant Gehazi whenever they were passing through her part of Israel.

There is no explanation given as to why the woman was so interested in supporting Elisha’s ministry, but the inference is that she deeply loved the Lord and wanted to support ministry efforts.

Elisha was grateful for the hospitality and during one of his stops, he inquired as to how he could intercede in her behalf with the Lord.

‘You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? Can we speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?’” (verse 13).

The unnamed woman didn’t see Elisha’s question as a blank check to be used for getting all that she wanted.

Instead, she saw the question as an opportunity to affirm her contentment with the family and practical blessings she already had.

“She replied, ‘I have a home among my own people.’” (verse 14).

I’m impressed AND humbled.

I just might have answered, “Well, Elisha, now that you mention it, I would like to have ______________ and ______________ and …..”

But not this woman. She was content with what she had, even though she was carrying a deep, unmet desire.

Elisha did not let his desire to bless her tarry.

He asked his servant Gehazi what might be done and was told that the woman had no son and that her husband was old.

Think about this for a moment. Social pressure upon women then to have a son was often oppressive and barren women were often seen as failures.

She had to have heard all sorts of snide remarks over the years about not providing her husband an heir, yet she maintained a good attitude toward God and supporting godly ministry. What a good lesson for us all, regardless of our personal circumstances.

Elisha told the woman that she would be holding a child within a year.

Understandably, she asked him to stop saying things to get her hopes up.

A year later, though, she was holding her baby boy.

Wow.

Because she was content with her life and committed to her faith — without the baby — God sent His favor into her life in a way that met one of her deepest desires and that provided a huge testimony to the community about the value of a humble, contented faith.

Please, regardless of your deepest unmet desires, be content with the Lord’s blessings and committed to the Lord’s service.

If God sees both humbly demonstrated in your life, you’ll be in a better position to receive an outpouring of blessing that will fill that unmet desire in a manner to overflows in praise and testimony for Him.

We just have to be patient.

The Shunnamite woman was, and look how she was blessed.

As always, I love you
Martin

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