What we really need

At breakfast I had a political conversation about the incoming president. It has been interesting to hear what maddens the media about him. They believe that his business may distort his decisions. They believe that the Russians are on his side.

At the conclusion of the breakfast conversation, I passed along something I have been thinking about for a while and have read from other conservative Christian politicians. Our biggest need right now is not good politicians (although I would like that). Our biggest need is changed hearts.

The solution in the middle east is to have a dictator who cracks heads when people don’t do what he deems is best. While that might “work” for a while, it only keeps bad people in line as long as he holds power. But our country’s power is invested in “we the people.” If the people are ungodly what will the result be?

Our country could use some good politicians who love God and make good decisions for the future direction of the country. But if the people don’t have the same heart, it will be an up hill battle. We need the change that only Jesus can make (2 Cor. 5:17). And if that is the answer (and I believe it is) maybe we should invest more time in sharing the life changing message of Jesus with people.

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Today’s Epistle

In 2 Peter 3:1-2, Peter reminds his readers that he had written two letters to them. These were not ordinary letters to home (as you can tell by reading both of them) but were epistles. Do you know what an epistle is? Here is what one researcher says about them.

“An epistle is a writing directed or sent to a person or group of people, usually an elegant and formal didactic letter. … The ancient Egyptians wrote epistles, most often for pedagogical reasons. Egyptologist Edward Wente (1990) speculates that the Fifth-dynasty Pharaoh Djedkare Isesi—in his many letters sent to his viziers—was a pioneer in the epistolary genre. … Epistles in prose and verse were a major genre of literature among the Greeks and particularly the Romans.”

As a driver manager for a transportation company, one of my jobs is to communicate the owner’s wishes to each of the drivers. At times, I write simple text messages while at others long emails. One of my recent emails was called, Whose Responsibility is it? In the email, I told the story of a driver who was misled by someone into driving his van into a drainage ditch. In the article, I told the story, gave contrasting opinions, and then asked the question, Whose responsibility is it? One driver responded to the email saying that she had never thought of that before and would be more careful. Hopefully, the other drivers got the same message and will drive more carefully in the future.

As indicated above, an Egyptian pharaoh used epistles to teach his viziers. This must have been helpful to keep everyone on the same page in his administration. They would have no doubt as to what they should do after reading his letters. The Greeks and Romans used epistles to, among other things, teach history. Whether their history was accurate or not, I do not know, but having a written history would be helpful in keeping the story of their nation in memory and in learning from the past. It would appear that Peter did both. He used his epistles to teach past history and teach his readers truths that would help them in their Christian lives. We will look more closely at his reasons for writing both epistles in the future. But for now, let us consider one of the reasons.

Peter’s goal was to stir “up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.” This is the same goal we should have today. We need to be stirred up and should desire to stir up other Christians to love God and follow what the Bible says. How can we do this? It can be done on an individual basis, but what if you wrote a letter to someone who needed encouragement? God no longer inspires godly men to infallibly write down the Word of God. However, He still uses Spirit-filled believers to encourage each other to grow in Christ. Have you ever been encouraged by an email from your pastor or a missionary letter? There is still a great need for modern day epistles. With the many temptations, false doctrines, errors, and our own tendency to become lackadaisical, we need encouragement from godly men who lovingly share with us our needs. Perhaps God can use us to encourage others in the same way.

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Speaking the truth in love

Have you ever been confronted by someone about something you needed to change in your life? That may not be a memory you enjoy remembering. If it was someone you did not know, it might have been difficult to take. “Who does he think he is? He hardly knows me!” But if it was someone who loved you and expressed his concern in a loving way, it would be easier to handle, wouldn’t it? When it comes to the apostle Peter and his second letter, which do you think he was? Was he the one who hardly knew the people he was writing, or the one who knew them well and loved them? It is quite apparent, as you read through the letter, that Peter was someone who knew and loved these people.

At the beginning of the letter, he shows that he cares about them. He wanted them to have grace and peace (1:2), to grow in Christ (1:3), and to have assurance of God’s calling (1:10). But he also expresses his love for them more directly by calling them his beloved four separate times (3:1, 8, 14, 17). His love for them was not brotherly love but the highest form of godly love expressed in the Greek word agape.

“The Greek word agape is often translated ‘love’ in the New Testament. How is ‘agape love’ different from other types of love? The essence of agape love is goodwill, benevolence, and willful delight in the object of love. Unlike our English word love, agape is not used in the New Testament to refer to romantic or sexual love. Nor does it refer to close friendship or brotherly love, for which the Greek word philia is used. Agape love involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will. It is distinguished from the other types of love by its lofty moral nature and strong character.”What is agape love?

Think of the many times that this agape love is mentioned in the New Testament.

  1. Love is one of God’s defining character traits (1 John 4:8).
  2. Love is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).
  3. Love is the result of growth (2 Pet. 1:5-7).
  4. Love is one of the greatest character traits (1 Cor. 13).
  5. Love is motivator for telling the truth (Eph. 4:15).

There are times when love overlooks problems (1 Peter 4:8), but there are other times when love must speak (Eph. 4:15). Knowing the difference may be difficult. But notice how direct Peter was in expressing his concern for his readers (2 Peter 3). They needed to hear what he was communicating in his letter. But all of it would have been like a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” if the people didn’t already know that he loved them. So, let us who know and love the Lord remember to express our love for others in a tangible way so that when they hear our concerns there is no doubt that we love them.

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That Other Verse…

Disney’s Pollyanna movie incorporated the idea that “happy verses” were much more important than judgment, fire, and brimstone. In the movie, the town’s pastor had the habit of preaching on judgment every Sunday and making life miserable for all the town folk. When Pollyanna convinced the pastor that there were many “happy verses” in the Bible, he finally changed his tune and promised to change his preaching in the future. In the context of the movie, this idea may have worked, but God doesn’t always have a happy message for people.

My morning Bible reading included the Old Testament prophecy of Habakkuk. Anyone who knows me just a little bit, knows that this book has made a huge impact on the way that I look at life. The theme “God knows what is best and is doing what is best” has helped me to weather a number of storms. Read Habakkuk 3:17-19 and you will see that we can have joy amidst the pain of whatever God allows to affect our lives. But another verse caught my attention today. The preceding verse shows the difficulty the prophet faced as he waited for God’s judgment to begin.

Habakkuk 3:16 (NASB)
I heard and my inward parts trembled,
At the sound my lips quivered.
Decay enters my bones,
And in my place I tremble.
Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress,
For the people to arise who will invade us.

Do you get what the prophet was feeling at the time? All thoughts about the wicked people around him were now gone. Now he knew that God was going to bring a terrible judgment against his community … and there was nothing he could do about it but wait. Let that sink in for a while. What would it be like if you knew someone was going to rob your home and kill your family … and there was nothing you could do but wait for it to happen? This is what Habakkuk the prophet faced.

As Christians, we don’t always have the privilege of quoting “happy verses” and putting a smile on our face to get out of difficult situations. Sometimes, we must go through the pain. But let’s not forget that even though there are times of pain, God still is with us through the difficulties. He is there to give us peace amidst the storm. We may feel a lot of pain and may not understand all that God is doing, but we still can have an inner joy and peace based on the character of the God in whom we trust. Remember that today.


New American Standard Bible Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

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When Your Walls Come Tumbling Down

One of my favorite musicians is the Scandinavian classical guitarist Per Olov Kindgren. His music is both beautiful and haunting. His Coffee Break in Dublin has been haunting me from the first time I heard it. It is not a happy tune. Instead, it communicates something like the hymns written in a minor key. It makes you stop and think about life.

As Christians, we understand both pain and peace. The tune made me think of both. We all face pain during our lives but can find peace with God through Jesus. This is the thought that I sought to portray with the following lyrics.

When your faith has been tested
When your confidence fails
When you can’t seem to accomplish anything
When you finally realize that you cannot succeed
When your walls come tumbling down

When your life’s big ambition
When the things that you’ve planned
When the goals you have worked for all your life
When you suddenly realize that the end might be near
When your walls come tumbling down

When your life’s close companion
When the dearest of friends
When the one who has loved you all your life
When that one is taken from you and the tears begin to flow
When your walls come tumbling down

CHORUS:

Then it’s there in that moment
When you cry out to God
When you search in the Scriptures for relief
Then with His new perspective
You find peace amidst the pain
You find hope that helps you to stand
When your walls come tumbling down

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Hymns: O For a Closer Walk With Thee

We sang this beautiful hymn by William Cowper at Orwell Bible Church today. The words and music both spoke to me. I like the words because I find it too easy to lose that close relationship with the Lord as other things take his place. I like the music because of the simple tune and magnificent harmony.

O for a closer walk with God,
a calm and heavenly frame,
a light to shine upon the road
that leads me to the Lamb!

Where is the blessedness I knew
when first I sought the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
of Jesus and his Word?

What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void
the world can never fill.

The dearest idol I have known,
whate’er that idol be,
help me to tear it from thy throne
and worship only thee.

So shall my walk be close with God,
calm and serene my frame;
so purer light shall mark the road
that leads me to the Lamb.

I found the words at Hymnary.org but the tune is different than what we sang today.

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When the king demands silence…

Most of the book of Amos is geared toward Israel’s coming judgment because of their rebellion against God. If you are looking for a book to pick you up in the morning, it may not be the first one on the list. But God often includes surprises within even books with a somber message. Read Amos 7:10-17 and you will see what I mean.

When a false priest tells King Jeroboam that Amos is prophesying about the king, the king has a natural reaction. Jeroboam tells Amos to go away and speak somewhere else. Imagine your reaction if the president of the United States told you to stop speaking about God’s coming judgment on sin. What would your response be?

Read Amos 7:14-17.

This is where I had an inward chuckle. Amos’s response to the king was something like, “I didn’t ask for this job. I was minding my business when God told me to speak his words.” He pretty much told the king that it wasn’t his choice to speak as a prophet … but he was going to speak God’s words whether the king liked it or not. That was the perfect response. Amos showed his humanity but also the importance of the job God had given him.

I don’t think there is a one size fits all manner of responding to those who reject the message God has given us. But this was a good one. There are times that we, like Amos, must speak about Hell as well as Heaven. And there will be times when someone will want us to stop talking about God’s judgment. We must remember that God is the author of the message and not us. If someone has a problem with us speaking what the Bible says, they really have a problem with God. So, be like Amos and keep speaking regardless of the response.

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When God hates your music

When Amos prophesied to Israel, God was sick and tired of the way Israel was living. Bribes had replaced justice, the poor and needy were oppressed and violence and robbery were commonplace. It was if they did not know to do right.

It was to these people that God sent Amos to speak these words:

Take away from Me the noise of your songs,
For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments.
Amos 5:23 NKJV

Why did God not want to hear their songs? Read the rest of the chapter and you will find that the people were still acting out worship but were not backing it up with their lives. They were living a double life. For six days, they lived unrighteously and when it was time to worship, they were all smiles.

God saw beyond the hypocrisy of the Israelites and also sees through our own. But we can be thankful that God wants us to repent of our sin and return to Him. While it is possible to sing songs of worship with a bad heart it is also possible to get things right this morning before we enter the church building.

Think about that before you open your hymnal today. Get your heart ready first and then you will be able to sing to the Lord who knows your heart already. Then you can be sure that He will love your singing today.

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Culture and Clothing

Ever since the garden of Eden, God has had an opinion on the way people dress. From the animal skins used to cover Adam and Eve to the garments worn by priests, God has prescribed modesty as his people clothing style. But what about today? Does God care how men and women dress in today’s culture? Let’s take a look.

The reason I am even writing this is that I was asked to read Scripture for tomorrow’s morning service at Orwell Bible Church. The passage is 1 Timothy 2. As I read through the passage, I consulted The Bible Knowledge Commentary for an explanation of several verses. Among other things, the commentary on verse 9 was especially good.

“Next Paul turned to the females in the congregation. For their adornment they should not emphasize the external, but the internal. They should dress modestly, with decency and propriety (cf. v. 15). These terms stress not so much the absence of sexual suggestiveness, though it is included, but rather an appearance that is simple, moderate, judicious, and free from ostentation. The specifics Paul mentioned (braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes) are not wrong in themselves, but become inappropriate when they indicate misplaced values (cf. 3:3). In the Ephesian church these styles may have been associated with the local temple prostitutes. Christians must be careful about letting a pagan culture set their fashions.”

That last sentence of the commentary summarizes what often happens to Christians living in a culture that is unconcerned with God’s perspective on something as simple as clothing. While the way we dress should not be “everything” to us, we mustn’t let current cultural trends override what God intends for us to be and convey by our appearance. The Bible tells us that God not only cares about our dress but also a great number of other things including what we say, think, and do. And as we slowly conform to His perfect ways, we will become quite different than the culture around us. But that is okay. Our goal as followers of Christ is not to be purposely weird but it is to be as much like our Father as possible. Maybe that should be the new trend.

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It Depends…

While reading Daniel 4, I couldn’t help but notice the compassionate response Daniel had toward King Nebuchadnezzar (4:19). If you recall, the king had a dream which foretold his coming judgment because of his pride. The king (who apparently wrote this chapter) had the perception that Daniel did not want him to suffer under God’s judgment. He even offered advice on how to possibly escape from the judgment. This is a good example of compassion toward the lost.

My first response was to note the good attitude toward a leader and to call all Christians toward a loving, compassionate attitude toward all people and especially toward our government leaders. If Daniel could treat Nebuchadnezzar with respect (the man who probably orchestrated the death of his parents), then Christians should have this attitude toward all political leaders despite their policies, evil choices, or pretty much anything bad they might do or stand for.

But it’s just not that easy. You see, it depends on the person. If you were to continue reading the Book of Daniel, you would see that Daniel didn’t have quite the same attitude toward King Belshazzar (Dan. 5:18 ff.). Belshazzar had a great party for his wives, concubines, and officials. No doubt it was a shameful occasion that reeked of wicked behavior. And to make matters worse, the king chose to party with gold and silver cups which had been part of the temple service in Jerusalem. This definitely would not have endeared the king to Daniel.

So, why the difference in attitude? Both kings were unbelievers who were not known for their godly behavior. But Daniel reacted with compassion toward one and disgust toward the other. I guess it really depends on the circumstances. Just as it is fitting to ignore (Prov. 26:4) or confront a fool (Prov. 26:5) when necessary, so it is fitting to be compassionate toward some and to show disgust for others (Jude 22-23).

I think that this may seem difficult for some to take. It seems proper to always show compassion to those who are lost and drowning in their sin. But is this truly what God wants us to do? I don’t think so. In general, it is a good idea to show compassion toward sinful humanity. But when someone shows their disdain for God and his ways, it is appropriate to show displeasure toward such a person’s actions and attitudes. Remember Elijah and Ahab. It was not your typical “Love the lost” relationship, was it? There comes a time when ungodly people need to know the seriousness of their sin against God. And that is probably why Daniel responded the way he did toward one and not the other. It just depends.

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