Monday, October 31, 2016

Stand Firm

In this intolerant pre-election season I have become increasingly aware of the ramping intolerance for Christians in our society. The press is the leader along with very sadly our own government. I could go on complaining about this, but Jesus and early disciples very clearly warned us that this would come in like a flood. “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them- bringing swift destruction on themselves”  (2Peter 2:1).  As we studied recently and proclaimed, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).  There are many similar teachings in the later New Testament warning us to stand firm in the faith.

 I am part of a group of men, Faithwalkers, a Bible study representing nearly 20 separate denominations, but of common cause in Christ and His sovereignty and everlasting inerrant Word, the Bible. We stand together to encourage one another. I have described this group for over 25 years of attendance as my “aircraft carrier.” We each are like planes flying out to do battle all week and then return each Saturday, full of bullet holes, to study, share and be healed by the Way, the Truth and the Life in Jesus Christ.  As long as we stay true to our biblical tenants we will be a strong and safe place for believers to lift up His word and each other.

The psalmist said, “He gave us a firm place to stand” (Psalm 40:2). That place is the word of God which stands forever and will never leave or forsake us as Hebrews 13:5 speaks of our Lord and Savior. “Not one word has failed” (1 Kings 8:56) the Bible tells us. God has given us nearly 7,500 promises to stand on in faith. Joshua said, “You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed” (Joshua 23:14-15). Yet God has also promised that He will bring “evil” upon us if we disregard and don’t follow His covenants.

We as a country have come to a scary place of immorality and faithlessness in God. Joel, a prophet of God called for the Israelites to, Consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord” (Joel 1:14).  Solomon similarly called for a sacred assembly after the temple construction was finished and prayed, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).  This prayer was the theme prayer for “Stand in The Gap, a Scared Assembly of Men,” held in Washington, D.C. October 4th, 1997. I led a group of nearly 100 men from our study to join the largest assembly ever held in the capital of 1.3 million men, “To gather a diverse multitude of men in the name of Jesus Christ to confess personal and collective sin so that we may present to the Lord godly men on their knees and poised for revival and spiritual awakening.”  This was accompanied by the Promise Keepers movement, the largest Christian organization of praying men in our history. Yet our nation has continued to fall into immorality, rewriting the constitution and changing the Word of God concerning marriage an institution of God for men and women. The numbers of Christians has been falling. This unfortunate trend will continue as intolerance and persecution increase and people want to get along with a culture that does not honor God or His Word.

So what do we do as Christians? Paul dealt with persecutions and even stoning. Yet he said to the Corinthians, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).

Friday, October 28, 2016

Quiet Heart

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it” (Isaiah 30:15).
The Prophet Isaiah is talking about the stubborn Israelites, who would not listen to him or God. A prophet is a “God Speaker,” not speaking for self. They wanted to buy Egypt’s protection against their enemies.  They did not want to remember God’s faithfulness. They did not want to wait on the Lord. They would not believe that the battle was the Lord’s as he had told them. No like countless others, including Abraham and Jacob, and Frank Sinatra, they wanted to do it their way. Well, judgment would come.

We are a nation that does it our way, the “rugged individualist.”  That philosophy does not work in the long run. I know that many of you believe that you are “self-made men or women.”   News flash- there is no such thing!
“ Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). We have a Creator and ever-present God of the universe. James has just completed his teaching about trials and how they develop our perseverance or steadfastness.  Trials make us mature and complete lacking nothing.  I know many do not believe that. TV after all tells us to try their products and that we should have every good thing that man can provide, because we deserve it, right? We want to get out from under the trial, run from it.

The Israelite’s story again and again tells of a stubborn and stiff-necked people, who would not trust God for their deliverance, regardless of the Red Sea and manna. The opening verse speaks of how we are to deal with trials and life. We are to repent of our selfish ways and be quiet. We are to rest in God’s provision. But we say today, “I’ve got this.” That is a fatal mistake. In this rich country, we are skeptical of God because we have so much we have "earned." The truth is that it is all from God; you did not earn any of it. God allowed it. He has given you gifts and strengths that have allowed you to work. It is not about you!

I recall a time when I thought I was pretty hot stuff. I had taken a bankrupt hospital to one that was rolling in profits, providing essential services to a 100-mile circle of rural America. Although the jobs of some 250 people were eliminated, the hospital was kept open. My pride caused me to fall. Remember, trials fall on us. I started drinking and other not moral things. I lost my job eventually. I was not a Christian at the time, but I knew right from wrong. Perhaps I believed Satan’s lies. He is real you know?

My life looked like an EKG strip, up and down, good and not so good. Every two years I ran or switched jobs or caused some disaster. God was trying to reach me/teach me, but I was not interested.

It was in a blinding blizzard on the shores of Lake Superior in the middle of the night that God spoke and brought me to me knees. I confessed my sin and received His grace and mercy. It was a long walk out of the wilderness to find rest and quietness, years actually.  I told you in a separate post how God spoke to me audibly from the next verse in Isaiah 30:21, “This is the way, walk in it.” This was my true conversion, like Saul’s Damascus Road experience with Jesus. I floundered for a while, but I knew that life would not be the same.

Yes, I have had trials, but my EKG strip is stable and the amplitude is corrected. Cardiologists tell me that I have a T-wave problem, but don’t we all have sin in our lives. That does not excuse it, it just says trust God and rest in His salvation with a quiet heart.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

“All things should be as simple as possible but not more so” (Einstein)

Albert Einstein meant that if you have several models (mathematical, scientific, software, etc.) that have the same practical implications, you should choose the simplest one. There is a bit of a joke and a bit of wisdom in the phrase as simple as possible, but no simpler. Was Einstein really concerned that people might do something impossible, that someone was going to produce something that was simpler than possible? No, he was really saying that one should strive for simplicity, but don't go overboard. A mathematics professor friend of mine from the YMCA locker room told me his doctoral advisor told him that math is the “expurgation of the superfluous. But how does this thought deal with the universe and God? Einstein was a deist or a believer in God.
"My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God."

He looked at creation and saw that even though there may have been a “Big Bang” that there is order and a Creator. "I don't try to imagine a God; it suffices to stand in awe of the structure of the world, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it."  He also said, "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."  I say amen to that premise.  More so I believe that there is a Creator God who made humans and allowed us the mental capacity to study science. Religion is also man made but God’s idea. Moreover, as the great mathematician Blaise Pascal said, “There is a God-shaped hole in every heart.” The “God-shaped hole” concept states that every person has a void in his/her soul/spirit/life that can only be filled by God. The “God-shaped hole” is the innate longing of the human heart for something outside, something transcendent, something “other.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 refers to God's placing of "eternity in man’s heart." God made humanity for His eternal purpose, and only God can fulfill our desire for eternity. All religion is based on the innate desire to “connect” with God. This desire can only be fulfilled by God, and therefore can be likened to a “God-shaped hole.”

This concept that Einstein pondered was a logo for the health care consulting and education firm owned by Hugh Greeley, a friend and former graduate classmate of mine. He used it to describe how hospitals and their medical staffs are complex and have processes of quality improvement and credentialing to facilitate and ensure the efficacy of their provision of medical care. Hospitals are sometimes compared to a bumblebee that looks like it would unable and too awkward to fly. Yet their systems need to be simplified as much as possible while still addressing the morass of regulations and bylaws to allow it to fly.  Simplifying and clarifying processes can reduce potential errors and help save lives.   Having worked in 100s of hospitals for 45 years I can relate to the difficulty of this mission. Yet it is in making it simpler that it finds its power.

I find this concept similar to the question of faith in God.  God wrote a 2,000-page manual, the Bible. Yes, it takes understanding and belief, but can be distilled down to simple steps. Many evangelists from Dr. Billy Graham to Bill Bright of Campus Crusade have identified four steps for peace with God. Importantly Christianity is the only world religion where God comes to us in Jesus Christ, instead of our trying to reach Him. This is indeed a simple concept, but yet people often think there must be many things we strive to do to find God and be good enough to be saved.

1.     God created you; loves you and wants to know you personally so that you may have eternal life with Him. “Now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, who you have sent” (John 17:3).
2.     Man is sinful, selfish and therefore separated from God. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Our self-will keeps us from fellowship with God. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God is holy and we are not, creating a vast separation.
3.     We cannot bridge this gulf by ourselves. We need God. “God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ had to die because of our sins. He was buried, but on the third day He rose again conquering death. His cross was the bridge across the divide. There is nothing we can do to cross accept trust and believe in the One who did this for us. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).
4.     It is not enough just to know this truth; we must accept it into our heart by receiving Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, thereby coming into a personal relationship with God. “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12).  When we receive this gift of grace through confession and faith we experience a new birth.

Receiving Jesus Christ into our heart requires repenting of our own sin and confessing our need for a Savior. When we do so, God comes into our hearts giving us His Holy Spirit through whom we can live a new and holy life by His power and guidance. We therefore make Him Lord of our lives.

In healthcare we need standards and regulations that help bring quality and saving care. In faith we read and receive God’s word or the Bible for guidance toward holiness. One gives a hospital accreditation and provision of better physical healing temporarily. The other gives a person spiritual healing and eternal life.  Receive the gift and know God personally today that you may be saved.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Clothe Yourself

We start with our minds, because from them come the thoughts of our hearts that become actions.  What do we think? What do we put on? Clothes are put on for warmth, modesty, strength, camouflage and symbols of power. But God wants us to clothe ourselves with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5). Our lives are not about having our own way. Really? You could have fooled me says the world.

Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues, put on love which binds them together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12-15).

Holy living is hard; in fact it is impossible without the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit for those who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Try as you might, you may do good things, but not with the love of the One who gives grace and mercy to us. These virtues listed are all related and speak to a heart that is fully submitted to God not self. It is not all about me. In fact it is not about you or me at all. It is about God and His will for us in Christ Jesus. Many of you will be tempted to sign off at this point, because I have said an intolerant thing. Just your desire to stop reading says that you are being convicted of your own selfish desires. I guarantee you that I too am overwhelmed by this admonition. Why? Because I cannot do it without the indwelling Holy Spirit conviction, counsel and guidance day by day and hour by hour.

Throughout Scripture God tells us to put on or clothe ourselves with His strength and dignity, humility and splendor. I love what Isaiah 52:1 says, “Clothe yourself with strength, put on the garments of splendor.”  This is an intentional act, the putting on or taking off the good or the bad. We must desire to be clothed in Christ. In the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were clothed with animal skins that were sacrificed for their protection and modesty. They had not only lost their innocence. They had lost their way by following the Evil One, Satan. They were following their own desires, which were the opposite direction of God’s. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

You have turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent” (Psalm 30:11).  That’s what God does as we clothe ourselves in Him. Clothe yourself with the splendor and majesty” (Psalm 45:30). Even then your weeping and sorrow or pain is made beautiful in His flowing love.  For the woman of noble character, “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come” Proverbs 31:25). 

It is clothing us with God’s power and love that brings our victory in life. Jesus said to His disciples, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Rejoice! He has sent His promised Holy Spirit to all believers that we may be clothed and indwelt with Him. This is the majesty, splendor and strength we have in Him. It is also the compassion, humility and love.