Friday, March 6, 2015

Expecting Too Much From God


By John Stallings


And He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief. Matt.13:58


Larry Walters was a 33 year old Vietnam veteran employed as a truck driver in North Hollywood California.

Larry wasn’t the least bit happy with his daily life. He wanted more excitement. So on July 2nd 1982, Larry made history. He didn’t find a cure for cancer or win a Noble prize, he went on a flight. You say, “That’s no big deal. People have been going on flights for many years.” But wait till you hear what Larry did. He went to Sears, & plopped down $110.00 for an aluminum lawn chair. He then loaded his chair with a large bottle of soda, several water bottles to use for balance, a CB radio, a camera, a pellet gun, & 45 helium- filled weather balloons. Why the pellet gun? Larry figured that in order to bring his flying machine down he’d shoot out a few balloons & drift slowly to earth.


Now it was Larry’s plan to only drift upward a few hundred feet. But that wasn’t how things worked out. When the rope was cut Larry got raptured into the heavens. Within a matter of minutes he was moving at 16,000 feet. That’s three miles. But it gets worse. Turns out the lawn chair, “The Inspiration” as Larry called it didn’t have any good way to steer. All the chair could really do was drift. And drift it did, right into the airspace of the Long Beach municipal airport. Two fights went screaming by him, one from Delta the other from TWA. The pilots looked out the window & saw a man flying a lawn chair near them. How hard do you think it was for them to make that call to the tower? “Uh, air traffic control, looks like we have a bogey up here. MIG? No. F16? No. It looks more like some guy in a lawn chair.”

At three miles high, Larry began to get cold in the thin air so he shot a few of his balloons & started back downward. It seemed like things were finally starting to go his way until his tether ropes got tangled in some high voltage wires. Fortunately, the plastic tether ropes saved him until the crews could cut the power & Larry could get free.

But Larry wasn’t exactly free. The FAA met him on the ground with a $4000.00 fine for operating a civil aircraft for which there is no air-worthiness certificate.

Friends, this actually happened. Larry bought a lawn chair & expected too much from it.

Some people treat God like Larry treated his lawn chair; they expect too much from Him. But you ask, “Is it possible for me to expect too much from an omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent God?” Yes it is.

God can forgive our sins,
God can save us,
God can give us a home in heaven,
God can keep us,
God can keep us out of hell,
God can give us divine health,
God can give us divine healing,
God can send His Holy Spirit to reside within us,
There are a multitude of good things God can do for you & me.

Ephesians 3:20 says, -Now unto Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think according to the power that worketh in us……

BUT,

There are also some things God can’t & won’t do. I don’t claim to have all the answers but here are a few helpful observations & suggestions from God’s word & my experience.

1WE EXPECT TOO MUCH FROM GOD WHEN WE EXPECT HIM TO AUTOMATICALLY RESTORE RUINED RELATIONSHIPS.

In Acts 9:26 the Bible says, And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.

Paul hadn’t been saved long & the disciples didn’t trust him. They felt he might not be real & that he could be playing a trick to get on the inside of the Christian community. It didn’t matter how great a man Saul would someday be, as for the moment, he had to gain the trust of the people. He had been a devil-on-wheels, beating, killing & imprisoning Christians. Though his salvation experience on the road to Damascus was perhaps the greatest conversion  in history, he still had to work out the trust issue. He couldn’t expect God to instantly do that for him. Many times we forget that forgiveness & trust are two separate issues.

If a man tells his pregnant wife she looks like a truck driver, he shouldn’t expect God to wave his hand & rescue him. That’s expecting too much. Relationships are hard work.

I once married a couple & as we were all sitting around the table eating cake & drinking punch at the reception, the groom started bragging on the bridesmaid. This young new husband just went on & on about how beautiful she looked at the ceremony. As he blustered on, using words like radiant, translucent & glowing, I cleared my throat several times & was tempted to kick him under the table to get him to shut-up. I pondered how much this fellow had to learn if he didn’t know something so rudimentary as not to brag about another woman’s beauty, especially to his bride at her wedding. (The punch had no alcohol in it.)

To beat all, I don’t remember hearing him say anything complimentary to his lovely bride; although I’m sure he did that later. But on & on he babbled until finally I saw the dreaded look of consternation on the bride’s face that I knew would ultimately show up if he didn’t shut-up. All men recognize that look of displeasure on a women’s face. It’s a terrible thing to see, especially when you put it there. We saw it first in our mother’s eyes & later in the eyes of our sweethearts, then our wives. All I can say is, judging from the look he’d put on his wife’s face, I’m glad I didn’t have to go along on that honeymoon. Relationships are our job. God will give us wisdom but we must ask for it & use it. In working with our spouses, sometimes common sense will greatly help.

I’ve seen spouses who were unfaithful & then come to church & weep at the alter trying to get trust back in their marriage. I’ve told men to give their hearts to Christ but do it whether their wives come back to them or not. If they’ve treated their wives badly over a long period, it’s going to take some time to show her that things have changed. I’m not saying restored trust couldn’t happen instantaneously, I’m just saying don’t count on it, it’s expecting too much. Nor am I saying God couldn’t supernaturally put a marriage or friendship back together overnight, because nothing’s too hard for Him. What I am saying is that 99% of the time bruised relationships will take time to heal.

2. WE’RE EXPECTING TOO MUCH FROM GOD WHEN WE ACT PRESUMPTUOUSLY.—2 Peter 2:10---Psalm 19:13

One definition of presumption is, “Overstepping due boundaries & taking undue liberties.”

According to Time Magazine, 15% percent of Americans suffer from what is often referred to as “panic attacks.” A much larger percentage suffers from chronic anxiety which is less intense but much longer in duration. These people are trapped in an imaginary “Ole MacDonald’s farm.” But rather than “here a pig, there a pig, everywhere a pig, pig,” for them it’s, “here a fear, there fear, everywhere a fear, fear.” Sadly, those suffering from chronic anxiety will suffer it indefinitely. Put it all together & you have what psychologists call the number one mental health disorder in America.

When we live lives full of stress & anxiety, can we expect God to cancel its effect on us? No! That’s expecting too much. That’s presumption. Our bodies can’t be expected to know the difference in stress about a gambling debt (God forbid) or another person’s spiritual well-being. That’s why Paul wrote, Be anxious for nothing.—Phil.4:6.

I’ve known several preachers who died of stress over concern for eternal souls. An aged preacher told me when I was just starting out to walk in the graveyard now & then & look at the tombstones of the people who felt like they were indispensable. They may have thought it but it wasn’t true & neither is it true of you & me.

WE CAN MISTAKE PRESUMPTION FOR FAITH.

I heard about two ladies who went to the same church & both were confined to wheelchairs. One of the ladies had been seeking God for healing for many months & spent much time in prayer & meditating in God’s Word. A great revival came to the church she attended & one night she was prayed for & she stepped out of her wheelchair & walked. She was gloriously healed. The other wheelchair-bound lady wasn’t in the service that night but she heard what had happened to her cripple friend. This lady went the next night feeling that she served the same God & would be healed because God’s not a respecter of persons. Sadly, when she tried to get out of her chair she fell back into it & didn’t receive the miracle her friend experienced. When the pastor inquired he found that the second lady hadn’t prayed & soaked up the Word as the first lady had & her faith just wasn’t that strong. The first lady was moving in faith & the second in presumption.

I told that story once on a Christian T.V program & a (liberal) guest asked me, “Well, what if it had been the first lady who prayed & prepared her heart who had not gotten healed?” The answer to that question of course is that could have happened, but it would be the exception & not the rule. We can’t build good theology nor can we build our lives always dwelling on the exception. True, God can heal anyone anytime but it’s expecting too much to expect Him to come through for us when we’re not abiding in His word.

3WE’RE EXPECTING TOO MUCH IN EXPECTING GOD TO AUTOMATICALLY RESCUE US FROM FINANCIAL DEBTS WE’VE ACCUMULATED.

In Philemon 1:18 Paul said, -If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on my account, I will repay it…….

Paul was saved but notice this saved man said that if he owed anything at all he’d pay it. If you’ve racked up debts, pay them. Pay what you owe if it takes the rest of your life. We can’t expect God to come to our rescue when we’ve gotten ourselves head over heels in debt by unwise spending habits. Bankruptcy may release a person from debt but there’s still a moral obligation to pay the bills we’ve incurred.

I don’t want to seem judgmental for I’m grateful for everyone who’s preaching the uncompromised gospel of Christ. However, I’ve seen people use extremely poor judgment in their giving. My advice is to send no money to T.V preachers you don’t know or haven’t checked out the way they do business as far as financial accountability. There are some good shepherds & some bad shepherds & it’s a good idea to check their message with the word of God & your own study. If you want to know what a good shepherd is study the book of John. If you have access to a computer, take the time to research ministries you give to & their operations. I warn you, the more you know about some of them & their opulent lifestyles, the more you’ll feel sick to your stomach. To be frank, if you listen carefully, many of them will tell you how richly they live & expect to keep living. They’ll tell you that you can live that way also but of course you don’t have a mailing list of two million. It’s expecting too much from God to ask Him to save us from bad  investments when He’s given us His word & his spirit to guide us.

Some T.V ministries own $20,000,000 private jets “because they are too busy to ride on commercial flights.” After hearing some of these jet-setters preach, I doubt that the world would be too badly hurt if they got their message to them a couple of hours later than the private jet will take them. Many of these preachers could ride the passenger planes with the rest of us. It’s very common for them to own several high-end luxury cars & live in mansions & own condo’s that would make the Hearst Castle look like a lean-to. It makes you wonder what part of moderation they don’t get. Answer, they get none of it- period. The sad part is the multitudes of elderly folk who are giving to these people when they themselves are wearing underwear with holes & living in shacks with leaky roofs.  I’ve seen churches pay the light bill for people who’d given everything they had to a media preacher. God’s not obligated to come through for us when we don’t use wisdom in matters of giving.

The best ministries are open with their finances & the rest are highly secretive & answer to no one but a board of directors with family & friends serving on them. A good rule is to give to your church or where God is strongly leading you to give. I won’t belabor this but in my view the “seed-faith” concept is great but it’s been grossly misused. Yes we need to sow seeds to get a harvest but that analogy isn’t one of a farmer going out & slinging seed around & calling himself a farmer. Much more goes into this principle than just writing a check, calling it a seed & expecting God to honor it just because we gave it. How can God bless us if we give money we’ve already pledged to the electric company & the bank? If we have big credit-card balances, what monies do we have to throw around while these loans are racking up high interest? When we carry long term balances, are we not saying we don’t have the money to pay them? I’m just giving a little food for thought. You & I may call it a “Faith gift” but we can’t be sure God won’t see it as presumption.

In the beginning of the church in the book of Acts, many brought everything they owned and & “laid it at the feet of the apostles.”

That’s wonderful. However, a little later an offering was raised for “the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.” Romans 15:26. Part of that crowd was no doubt some who had given everything they had away. The same thing happens today, probably more often than you think.

4. WE’RE EXPECTING TOO MUCH IF WE EXPECT TO LIVE ON A “SPIRITUAL-SUGAR HIGH” ALL THE TIME.

It’s not going to happen. There is joy in serving Jesus but as Christians we’ll encounter sadness, suffering, heartache & pain. If we tell people differently we are lying to them. Many people are “bubblegum believers” & as soon as they suck all the sugar out of the gum they want to throw it away & find something else. Sad to say many pastors are in the “spiritual child-care business,” working with people who have to be fed pabulum from the pulpit & burped at the back door of the church as they go out. The thought of suffering for Christ is appalling to them.

In Hosea 6:4 the prophet describes these people by saying,…. Ephraim is as a morning cloud, & as the early dew it goeth away. In other words, these cotton candy Christians will be around as long as excitement is in the air but when the going gets rough they evaporate like the morning dew & are gone to another church or back in the world. They are from the “tribe of Gad,” & they gad-about all over the place. They go to church much as people go to pep rallies to get pumped up, but they’re not there for the long haul.

In John 10:10 Jesus said, --I have come that ye might have life & have it more abundantly. He also said in Mark 8:34… Howsoever will come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross & follow me.

Have we in America become the “soft-underbelly” of Christianity? Some ministries serve only “Spiritual Rainbow Stew,” never telling people that while God is good, other countries have experienced persecution & we aren’t immune from it. Have you noticed that some people are either “dancing in the spirit” or backslidden? I’m convinced that we ought to be preaching “the whole council of God.” Look at two scriptures;

Romans 5:3-4, --….but we glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience & patience experience; & experience hope.

2 Tim.3:12,--Yea & all that will live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer tribulation
.


5. WE EXPECT TOO MUCH WHEN WE EXPECT GOD TO AUTOMATICALLY RELEASE US FROM THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR ACTIONS.

Being saved isn’t a “get out of jail free” card. If person robs a bank & later gets saved, he’s probably still going to jail. If he murders someone, & gets saved, he’s still going to face the consequences. God can always keep us out of hell, but He can’t & won’t always keep a person out of jail, & that’s as it should be.

When Jesus was on the cross dying & the “Good thief” cried out for His forgiveness, Jesus assured him he’d be with Him that day in paradise. But Jesus didn’t tell this thief he could  get down off the cross & go home. No, though forgiven, he still had to pay the physical price for what he’d done.

King David sinned & was forgiven & he was still called a man after God’s own heart. Also, when he sinned, the Psalms of David weren’t expunged from God’s word. But David still paid a price & the sword never departed from his house. Hundreds of years after David’s sin, when the New Testament opens, six verses don’t pass before we are reminded of David’s sin. Here’s precisely how it reads;

And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Uriah……Matthew 1:6.

In the legal & judicial sense David was forgiven but in the Omniscient sense his sin wasn’t forgotten. If we expect to sin, especially if it’s willful sin, & not have that sin to be picked up on God’s radar, we’re asking too much. Thank God we have a place to go with our sins & the assurance that if we confess, He’s faithful & just to forgive. Lastly,

6. WE’RE EXPECTING TOO MUCH IF WE EXPECT GOD TO AUTOMATICALLY RE-BUILD A DAMAGED REPUTATION.

In Acts 9:10 God spoke to a man named Ananias & told him of Paul’s conversion. He was instructed to go to the street called straight to meet Paul, but in the 13th verse Ananias said,….Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem…… Paul was a great Christian but he can also serve as an illustration in about every possible way. This man Ananias heard of Paul’s reputation & was afraid of him.

Some people spend years creating a bad reputation & expect God to fix it overnight. If we are forgiven, in God’s eyes we’re justified. To Him we are now new creations, who as far as God is concerned, never sinned to begin with. But that does nothing for our reputation in the eyes of men. And it’s obvious why. professions come easy but it takes time for people to see a life has truly been turned around. No one really cares what we say about what our reputation should be; they only care what we do to re-build a good one. If we expect God to automatically re-build a damaged reputation we are expecting too much.

I’m not minimizing what God can do, as we all know the list of these good things is inexhaustible. However, along with all these marvelous benefits, there is our responsibility. God won’t do it for us but He’ll always help us as He sees us applying maximum effort to do the work necessary to re-build our lives, relationships & reputation.

IF WE EXPECT GOD TO DO IT ALL FOR US, WE’RE TREATING HIM LIKE LARRY WALTERS TREATED HIS ALUMINUM CHAIR....

WE’RE EXPECTING TOO MUCH.

Blessings,

John

Saturday, February 28, 2015

My Evil Twin

By John Stallings

Over the years as a pastor/evangelist, I’ve spoken in prisons as well as counseled with inmates, visited hospitals where people had been seriously injured in car wrecks, & dealt with parents who had children involved in substance abuse & were in trouble with the law.

 On occasion I've even gone to court with a youngster to ask for leniency from the judge when appropriate.

In all these years of trying to help people, do you want me to tell you a statement I’ve heard people make hundreds of times? It’s been one of the most oft spoken statements I can remember. The statement goes something like this, [sometimes a parent will say it about their offspring or the individual will say it about themselves]. "You know, preacher, my child is in this trouble because they just fell in with the wrong crowd.” –Or—“You know, I’m incarcerated because I just started running with the wrong crowd.”—Or—“Brother, I wouldn’t be in this mess if I hadn’t started running with a bad crowd.”

Now, do you want to hear something I’ve never heard anybody say? Here it is: I’ve never heard a person say, “You know brother, I’m trouble on the hoof. I’m “Hell on wheels.” I’m strictly bad news. I’m the person your mother warned you to stay away from. To be perfectly honest, most people who hung around with me got in trouble because of my bad self. If I could just get myself straightened out, most of my problems would be solved.”

I’ve just never heard those words pass the lips of a living human on this earth. I’ve spoken to scores of counselors; both Christian & secular & none of them ever heard it either. We just don’t hear people say things even remotely akin to that do we? We all want to believe that we’re the good guys; it’s those other folks who keep messing things up.

I’ve heard several politicians say recently, you know, president Obama has come to Washington & gotten in with the wrong crowd.” Could it just be possible that these people ought to read some of Obama’s own writings? If they did & were honest, they’d see Obama didn’t fall in with the wrong crowd, he is in many respects-- the wrong crowd.

LET'S BE REAL HERE

In a way, we’re all the wrong crowd. Were it not for the fact that we’ve turned our lives over to the Lord & are allowing Christ to live out His life through us, we’d all be bad seed. The Bible says there is none righteous, not one. If we didn’t know Christ, we’d all be cruel, mean, wicked, evil & nasty, self-indulgent sinners on our way to hell in a hand-basket! You & I must receive the righteousness of Christ to be saved & go to heaven.

We’re quick to look at others & criticize but in truth we need to be sweeping around our own front doors. After king Uzziah died, Isaiah went to the temple & had a vision of the Lord. He tells us that His train filled the whole temple. When Isaiah saw the Lord, he cried out,-“Woe is me for I’m a man of unclean lips & I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips.” Some people say, “Woe is the preacher, woe is my spouse, woe are my parents, woe are my children, & woe is my neighbor, but they never get around to saying, “Woe is me.”

HERE'S ANOTHER STATEMENT YOU'LL OFTEN HEAR....

You know, my spouse has abused me a lot through the years. It’s usually not physical abuse; it’s more emotional abuse & verbal abuse. But you know, basically my spouse has a really good heart.” You’ll hear folk say, “I’m a good person, I just lose control occasionally & say things I’m later sorry I said. But I’m always willing to apologize. Anyone who knows me will tell you I’d give you the shirt right off my back. I’ve always had a really “good heart.” We all want to believe that deep down our hearts are in the right place. We’ll say, “Well I really didn’t mean what I said I was just upset.” Oh you meant it alright! You meant every word of it. Maybe you wish you hadn’t said it because it got you in a jam but you still meant it. Jesus said a fountain can’t bring forth both sweet & bitter water. What you said could have never been said unless it was in your heart so let’s quit kidding ourselves.

Let’s stop a moment & analyze this. “I’ve got a good heart I just “lose it once in a while” & pop-off but I don’t really mean it.” This begs a question; how on God’s green earth can we say a person who is constantly offending people, tongue-lashing those around them, uses profanity or any sort of abusive language—how can a person like that possibly be said to have a good heart?

Jesus said in Luke 6:45, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Whether a person has a “good heart” or not is right there in front of you & in front of them; how do they talk? What we say doesn’t come out of our head; it comes straight from the heart. We need to get this heart/tongue connection straight. You don’t have to have a degree in psychology to figure this one out folks. It’s a “piece of cake.” Listen to people talk, that’s all you need to do. You don’t have to be afraid that you’re judging someone to make this assessment. If you & I believe the Bible it’s very clear; Bad mouth—bad heart. But thank God a bad heart can be changed.

Now before you start feeling too condemned, let me hasten to say, we all make mistakes with our tongues. James said it would take a perfect person to never offend with our tongues.

ISAIAH’S HEART AND LIPS WERE PURGED

Going back to Isaiah, he tells us in his sixth chapter that when he confessed he had unclean lips, an angel flew down with tongs holding coals of fire from off God’s alter & placed them on his lips. The angel also told him his sin was forgiven & he was purged.
This leads me to my subject.

MY EVIL TWIN

I have this evil twin.

 I do my best to keep him hidden in the basement but somehow he still shows himself from time to time. Not only do I have an evil twin, you do too. We all do! That’s what Paul was talking about in Romans 7 when he spoke of the dual nature that struggled within him. The way Paul talked his evil twin or nature was incapable of doing right but as he struggled, as he died to his flesh man, walked the walk & talked the talk, & stayed yielded to God, God gave him victory. He starts off that extraordinary chapter 8 with his famous words;--There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit.

If I show up for breakfast, everything will be fine because I’m a super-nice guy. But if my evil twin shows up, get on your knees & start praying. I’m a patient man but my evil twin is grumpy & irritable. I’m a rather generous guy& I especially love supporting God’s work but my evil twin is stingy & selfish with his money. I’m usually a very soft-spoken person but my evil twin can get loud & obnoxious.

I refuse to be a party to confusion. I love peace & tranquility but my evil twin carries a chip on his shoulder & thrives on conflict & confrontation. I’m a stickler for paying my debts on time but my evil twin thinks credit cards are free money & gets a big kick out of over-spending.

I’m a forgiving & trusting person but this evil twin of mine holds grudges & thinks everyone is out to get him. I’m sensitive to people’s feelings. But my evil twin is rude, & will walk all over people’s feelings & never give it a thought.

I can trust God implicitly. I’m usually upbeat & optimistic because God has never let me down but my evil twin is an incessant doubter & worrier & is usually “down in the dumps.” I strive to always speak the truth in love but my evil twin is prone to exaggeration & has a penchant for slanting everything to make himself look good. My evil twin is a shameless self-promoter. He’s very egotistical & enjoys keeping the spotlight on him. Its second nature for me to do the right thing but my evil twin has to constantly be reminded of what’s right & then still has a problem doing it. I don’t have a problem keeping my temper under control but my evil twin is hypersensitive, is ruled by his emotions & will sulk & throw temper tantrums.

When I’m driving I’m usually very patient & courteous but my evil twin is always getting upset & does all sorts of things to show his displeasure to other drivers. I absolutely wont knowingly embarrass anyone but my evil twin can be so downright uncouth to people that I hate to go anywhere with him. You can dress him up but you can’t take him out. I’m a thankful person & realize how blessed I am & how much I owe to God & others but my evil twin is an ingrate & thinks the whole world revolves around him. What a jerk!!!

I’m usually very happy & well adjusted. It doesn’t take all that much for me to be comfortable. I especially enjoy the simplest pleasures like taking my wife or friends out to eat or even for coffee. [Half decaf.] My evil twin on the other hand is almost never happy & must be entertained constantly or he’s miserable. I’m a loyal person & supportive person but my evil twin is critical & his only loyalty is to himself.

If I have a problem with someone I go to them & seek reconciliation & when wrong I apologize. I thrive on things being right with everyone. My evil twin however would never apologize, loves to gossip & really has no interest in getting along. I’m very understanding & usually ignore slights but my evil twin is very easily offended by what people say in unguarded moments. He jumps to conclusions & always thinks the worst about every situation.

I hope I’m not leaving you with the impression that I think I’m some kind of super-Christian.

 Far from it. Even at best I sometimes do things that aren’t thoughtful but as soon as I see it or it’s pointed out to me I’m quick to make restitution. I miss the mark from time to time, maybe even more than most Christians, & it breaks my heart & makes me miserable & I can’t wait to pray & get it right with the Lord.

But guess who’s not like that at all? Right! My evil twin. He can do no wrong in his eyes. If you wait for him to apologize they’ll be ice-skating in the hot place below. I’m a hard worker & know nothing of value can ever be produced without it but this evil twin of mine enjoys nothing better than to be idle & non-productive. He’s a card carrying member of the “spit & whittle club.”

By now you know how ashamed I am of this twin & don’t really want people to know he’s my kin. But it seems as if I’ll never be free of him. I guess you could say the one good thing about this mess of a man I’m shackled with is that he keeps me on my toes & causes me to be constantly vigilant.

But I’ve wised up to this rascal twin of mine. As long as I stay spiritually fortified the more & more he stays in the background. I’ve also observed that he only comes around when he knows I’m the weakest. It’s at these times I see that his objective is to somehow push me into the background & be the dominate one. Believe me; I know that by God’s grace that will never happen. The key to that is my staying strong by daily communion with God & hiding His word in me.

SOMETHING IRONIC ABOUT MY EVIL TWIN

I hope this isn’t boring you but another thing I’ve learned about this miserable mess I deal with is; and this to me is a little strange; my personal outward accomplishments & successes don’t seem to bother him. He seems to take pleasure in it & sometimes comes in to join me if I’m celebrating some new acquisition or achievement. He delights in things shiny & materialistic. It’s just when I’m growing stronger in my inner man that he seems not to show up to celebrate with me.
I could hate this twin of mine but loathing him doesn’t seem to be the answer. Personal vigilance is my only answer.

LOATHING MY EVIL TWIN WOULD BE ALMOST LIKE HATING PART OF ME!

As a matter of fact, it would be exactly like hating part of me. OK, by now I’m sure you’ve figured out that I don’t have such an evil twin.OR DO I?

In truth, this evil twin is the dark, fallen side of me. It’s the part of me that as Paul said—MUST DIE DAILY! 1 Cor.15:31. As mentioned earlier, we all have our own evil twin living inside us. That part of us represents our old nature. Again Paul said—I keep my body under subjection, lest that by any means when I have preached to others I myself should be a castaway. 1 Cor. 9:27.

This evil twin can show up when we least expect him & are least prepared to deal with him. Jesus spoke of this principle when he said,-The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak. Matthew 26:41. You could put it this way;-I used to be a FULL TIME SINNER, & every once in a while I’d accidentally luck out & do something right. Now I’m a FULL TIME CHRISTIAN, & once in a while I’ll slip & fall but when I do, I’m immediately convicted & get things right.

I once read a story about a man who had this recurring dream. He said that in this dream every time there was a red-letter day in his life, a dark, hooded character would emerge from the shadows & do something to ruin whatever he was engaged in at the time.

He dreamed that at his high school graduation this hooded creature came up on stage & took his diploma from his hand, tore it up & threw it down. At his wedding the creature came into the church & tore down the decorations frightening the audience almost to the point of panic. In this mans dream the hooded creature would always show up to ruin things for him.

One day as this man was praying he begged God to show him the meaning of this awful dream & the identity of this dark hooded creature. In a moment of spiritual revelation & epiphany, the hood fell off the dark creature & the man was shocked to see that it was him. Yes, the being that was destroying his life was his old, carnal, unregenerate self, dogging him & seeking control.
Friend, there is always that fleshly part of us that if allowed to, will come screaming back to take control. Even after years of serving God our flesh still remembers what it wants.

In Romans 6:13 Paul said—let not sin reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it or the lust of the flesh thereof.

In Galatians 5:16, he says again, -This I say then, Walk in the spirit & ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.

Sometimes the most mystifying concept can be illustrated best by the simplest story.
A small boy was telling someone how he felt inside, being torn between doing right & doing wrong. He said he felt as if there were two dogs inside him having a fight or a tug of war. When they asked him who usually won the fights he answered, “The one I say “sic-em” to always wins. That part of us that will grow thrive & grow strong will be the part that we feed & cultivate. Cultivation is a fancy word for hard work. If you & I feed the flesh man or evil twin, he’ll grow stronger & stronger. If we feed the spirit man the flesh man grows weak & ineffectual.

THE LAW OF SIN & DEATH OR THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE IN CHRIST JESUS, these are the twin laws that represent the two forces that struggle.

Paul again declares; I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me: 
and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the son of God who loved me & gave Himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God; for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.-Galatians 2:20-21

Blessings,

John

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Snatching Defeat From The Jaws Of Victory

By John Stallings



During the Thanksgiving & Christmas season of 2009, something happened so jaw-dropping that to much of the world it was beyond belief.

What pro golfer Tiger Woods did to himself & his image during that time & the things that came to light about him constituted the most remarkable fall from grace ever in the sports world. No athlete has ever sat on so high a perch in our culture-right up there with the President & Oprah---& fallen so fast.

Kobe Bryant? Most people never heard of him until he faced a rape charge, that was later dismissed.

Pete Rose? A-Rod? They were in the news because of scandal but neither had the status of Tiger.

Michael Vick? Forgetaboutit!

O.J? That was a bad one, but again, he wasn’t as omnipresent as Tiger was in our culture.

Tiger crossed the line from sports to society in the best & biggest ways. As I’ve said before, Tiger even made me watch golf. Before Tiger, watching golf on T.V to me was like listening to the circus on the radio. How big was Tiger? Tiger was our first billion dollar athlete-that’s with a B.

What was not to like about Tiger? Major wins, beautiful family, daddy’s boy, mama’s boy, & a great marketing machine that put his face everywhere. But then the ugly truth came out. I’m sure I don’t need to say more on that subject. Regarding Tiger’s transgressions, I’ve heard misguided people say, “Boys will be boys, especially if they packing a billion $$$.” I prefer, “Be sure your sins will find you out.”

I hesitate to bring levity into it because of the serious nature of it all, but at the time, we were all so stunned & flabbergasted, people, especially those who had admired Tiger had to use a little humor just to get through the trauma. Someone said; Tiger’s wife is coming out with a new line of golf-clubs, & the advertisement would be, “The only clubs you can beat Tiger with.”

I watched Tiger play at the Masters on his first outing since his fall & what happened there seemed like poetic justice. He always played so spectacularly but in this contest by his own admission he didn’t hit one good shot. Of course that’s by Tiger’s standards. I saw plenty of good shots. His humiliating loss was made worse by Phil Mickelson’s impressive win & his interaction afterward with his wife & children. Mickelson’s wife attended the last day of the competition even though- because she was fighting breast cancer, she had to stay in bed all week to be able to attend. Tiger’s wife was a “no-show.” Who could blame her?

“How art the mighty fallen”- seems apropos when describing Tiger. I find myself praying for him a lot. I pray that he will have an encounter with the living Christ, the one who loves & forgives & gives us the opportunity to start over even when our lives are a mess. My heart also goes out to his wife & precious children.

Many men who start the kind of lifestyle Tiger pursued with a vengeance can never quit. But of course if Tiger turns to God--& I don’t mean Buddha-nothing is impossible. I pray he does.

No question about it, Tiger Woods snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

The usual statement is- “snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.” This happens when a sports team or anyone in a contest is being badly beaten then gets a last minute break & pulls off an unexpected victory.

But turn that statement around, & we’re now talking about a team or individual, who had everything going for them, had all the advantages & it looked like a “slam-dunk,” but for some reason almost impossible to comprehend, they lose… they’ve “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.”

HISTORY

There have been some very famous victories that led to long term defeat. In World War 2, when the Japanese bombed Pearl harbour, many battleships were destroyed & thousands of our servicemen were killed. Indeed the heart was ripped out of the American Pacific fleet. But the commander of the Japanese fleet commented – “all we’ve done is release a bear from his cage.” They had won nothing. Hitler did essentially the same when he invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. It appeared he’d won a great victory but he, just as the Japanese, had merely snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

CHRISTIANS WHO LIVE IN SPIRITUAL DEFEAT

Success can be a dangerous thing, if it isn’t followed by continued vigilance & hard work. I don’t say the following to be critical, but rather to make a few observations.

As I channel-surf T.V, I’m happy to see two old friends, Jimmy Swaggart & Jim Bakker back in media ministry. I met both these men in the early 60s when we were all just starting out & kept in touch with them for decades. As I’ve said before, we were connected financially in a way, because Swaggart & Tammy Bakker had recorded several of my songs. Both were very reliable in paying royalties. I can tell you unequivocally, from my perspective, these men pay their bills. I could also tell you several dozen ministries who don’t. I won’t.

Here were two highly successful ministries who had it all going for them. Both were raising money, & selling books & records at an unprecedented rate & were reaching the masses with the gospel. In my mind, Swaggart & Bakker are textbook examples of men who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. But again, God has been gracious in letting them begin again.

They allowed something, maybe complacency, pride, haughtiness, self-satisfaction, & certainly the lust of the flesh to cause them to temporarily backslide & lose everything in the process. The same thing, or something like it can happen to me & it can happen to you unless we walk humbly & uprightly on a daily basis in the victory Christ won for us at Calvary

…….Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.-1 John 4:4

SAMSON

One would think Samson would have learned his lesson/s….The harlot in Gaza deceived him & so did Delilah. Samson, like Tiger was a “he-man” with a “she-weakness.” Samson is a classic story of what happens to a man when he looks at women as objects.

In Samson we see a guy who had EVERYTHING. He came from godly parents. He had a call of God on his life & he threw it all away. While you know as you read the life of Samson the man can’t be stupid, if we apply Forest Gump’s mother’s rule, “Stupid is, is stupid does,” the guys dumber than a box of rocks. We keep asking ourselves, “Where’s the man’s mind?” Samson keeps making poor choices until he reaches the place that evidently his conscience & moral discernment are destroyed.

Samson keeps deceiving until he reaches a dangerous place; he deceives himself. I think one of the saddest verses in the Bible is uttered about Samson—He didn’t even realize the Lord had left him. Judges 16:20

He was able to get one last prayer answered & makes it into Faith’s Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11. But imagine what he could have done had he stayed true to God throughout his life. In a real true sense, because his enemies bored out his eyes, Samson lived & died in darkness, & it seems all his life he’s snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

JOSHUA AT AI

The victory Joshua experienced at Jericho is well known. “The walls came tumbling down.” This gave the people reason to feel confidence. As we’ve said, success is sometimes more difficult to handle than failure. Joshua as far as we know didn’t consult God about Ai, he just sent a platoon of men to scout them out. They decided that Ai was gonna be “a piece of cake” & a “no-brainer,” so they went against this small town in their own strength. Ai should have been a resounding victory but it ended up being a “Waterloo” for Israel. What they did was snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. How often have you & I done this? We depended on yesterday’s victories failing to stay up-to-date spiritually.

Achan, one of the men of Israel decided to break a commandment of God & keep some valuable trinkets for himself as they faced off with Ai. This was strictly forbidden by God. The combination of over confidence & sin resulted not only in defeat at Ai, but the destruction of Achan & his entire household. This was indeed a severe punishment for Israel.

ELIJAH

A great contest was held on Mount Carmel & the god who answered by fire would be recognized as the true & only god. This contest was a kind of, - my god is bigger than yours, - which Baal lost. Elijah pressed these people. He asked, “How long halt ye between two opinions?”

Ask yourself, would you stand before thousands of people practiced in human sacrifice & tell them their religion was wrong? Wouldn’t it at least cross your mind that you might be their next sacrifice? This is what Elijah did so he wasn’t a coward.

Four hundred & fifty prophets of Baal prayed first & nothing happened. The reason for this is obvious-there is only one true God. Everything else is falsehoods & lies & worthless idols. Franklin Graham just got into trouble with our government for making that statement. What does that tell you about the spiritual climate in America?

Then Elijah came & repaired the alters & placed sacrifices on them. When Elijah prayed a fireball from heaven hit the alter & consumed the water & sacrifices. The people began to shout “The lord He is God.” These false prophets were the official baby killers of that day. They offered children up as sacrifices to false Gods. Elijah had them brought to the River Kishon where they were killed. Through Elijah, God’s judgment was brought on these false prophets.

Then Elijah prayed for rain & rain it did. It was needed because it was the third year of drought. The victories Elijah won that day were great. He’d challenged the entrenched religious set-up of his day. He’d challenged the official religion of the crown & won.

A DIFFERENT SIDE OF ELIJAH

On the heels of this great victory we see a different side of Elijah. Jezebel issued a threat to him & vowed to kill him within 24 hours. It would have been impossible for Elijah to be killed at this time because it wasn’t God’s will. In 2 Kings 1, there’s a story of fire coming out of heaven & consuming two captains & two groups of fifty men each when they came to arrest him.

Yet almost inexplicitly Elijah had a panic attack & ran for his life. The great man of God whose name means, “My God is Jehovah” ran away in fear from a wicked woman named Jezebel. After being instrumental in one of the greatest miracles ever, Elijah snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

When you & I suffer a defeat we have to make the effort to get back up & carry on. But that’s not all. After we’ve experienced a great victory it’s exactly the same. Many times there’s a great let down after a great victory. This victory for Elijah didn’t take away all his troubles. As a matter of fact, in one way it made things worse. Now Elijah had a mean, powerful woman named Jezebel after him. And other prophets of Baal were still around. He was going to be a hunted man.

SAUL

I love the story Tony Campolo tells on himself. He was invited to speak in a Baptist church in of all places Las Vegas. They put him up in one of those casino hotels. He was told to wait down in the lobby on Sunday morning & a deacon would come pick him up.

So he got there early & was just standing in the lobby fidgeting waiting for this deacon to show up. He put his hand in his pocket to find one lone quarter. Campolo isn’t a gambler but he thought, “I may never get back to Las Vegas again.” So he goes over to a slot machine, puts the quarter in, pulls the arm on the machine & he hits the jackpot. Quarters came pouring out all over the floor.

Campolo shoveled them in his brief case & when that was full he put them in his pants pockets & when they were full he began to put them in his coat pockets until his pants are drooping & his coat is hanging down. He gets them all put away & the Baptist deacon walks in. Campolo said he was jingling & jangling his way to the car & the deacon says, “You haven’t been gambling have you?”

When you get caught red-handed there’s not much you can do but fess up. Right? Wrong! That is if your name is Saul.

Saul had much going for him as king. Israel asked for a king so God gave them a man that could have been ordered out of a Sears Roebuck catalogue. He was tall & handsome, & at the beginning he was humble if not downright shy & retiring. Would to God some of that had stuck.

1 Samuel 15 tells the story of Saul disobeying God’s instructions. The Amalekites were a warring people who’d harassed Israel ever since they arrived in the Holy land. God orchestrated a great military victory over these people, & part of His instructions was to annihilate the Amalekites. Men, women, children, animals, possessions: they were to obliterate these people who’d harassed & pillaged them for so long.

We might think these instructions cruel but we have to remember that God’s judgment is always an act of mercy… Later, because Saul didn’t complete the job & left some of these vicious killers alive, they were running around Israel still wreaking havoc on the people of God.

This situation prompted God to say, “I’m sorry I ever made Saul king over Israel. He has not obeyed me.

The night before Samuel confronted Saul about his sin in half-doing what God told him to do, he interceded for Saul. Isn’t it something that someone so stiff-necked & rebellious as king Saul had a mentor like Samuel praying for him?

The next day Samuel sets out to track Saul down which isn’t easy to do. Saul is all over the map now. He’s “Styling & Profiling,” all over the countryside proclaiming the great military things he’s accomplished. In Saul’s thinking, there’s been a new god in Israel now for some time. His name was…..King Saul.
Saul is going from hero to zero because he’s starting to believe his own advertisement & press clippings. He has so much potential but he’s acting crazy. In verse 12 of 1 Samuel 15, in his rampage around the countryside Saul sets up a monument to himself. If we look back at the individuals who—snatched defeat from victory—ego run amuck is a common denominator. Life gets very confusing when you & I go our on way instead of fully obeying God. Saul is now unhooked from God & he’s messing up any good he might have accomplished.

Finally Samuel catches up with Saul & when they come face to face we see what a big liar Saul is. Not only has he not wiped out all the Amalekites, he’s got the king of the Amalekites walking right along with him. Saul’s got him a “king on a string.” He is now in high-gear trying to spin his way out of his lack of obedience when Samuel says— “Shut-up Saul.” verse 16.

Saul has succeeded in snatching defeat from what could have been a victory for him & God’s people. Still searching for an escape hatch; still hiding behind that kingly bravado, still convinced that if he sticks to his story he can sell it to Samuel & even to God Himself.

WHAT WAS SAUL’S BIG PROBLEM?

It would be hard to conjure up any figure in history who was more tragic than Saul, especially in the light of all he had going for him. There can be no question that Saul descended into madness. His life ended by his own hand on the battlefield after he’d witnesses the slaughter of his three sons, including Jonathan, David's friend. After his death his enemies did unspeakable things to desecrate his body. There’s no room to argue about the tragedy that was Saul’s life.

But what caused Saul’s downfall? If we look closely I think we can see parallels between Saul & others mentioned in this piece. Was it jealousy? There can be no doubt that he was jealous of David, because he spent years trying to kill him. If a man was going to be jealous of another man, David would have been a likely subject because he was one of the greatest men in all of human history. If he’d never become king of Israel his writings & prowess in battle would have made him great.

Saul stood by & watched David kill Goliath when he was just a kid. The seed was no doubt sown then & only grew worse as Saul’s son Jonathan transferred his loyalty to him. Then Saul’s daughters Merab & Michel fell in love with him. Then he outdid Saul on the battlefield & won the hearts of the people of Israel.

Was jealousy Saul’s downfall? I don’t think so. I think it was a part of the problem, but not the root of it.

Was Saul mentally ill? It looks like he was what we today would call a schizophrenic. His jealousy turned to paranoia, & then he turned delusional. Even David’s leaving & going on the run wasn’t enough for Saul, he set off in hot pursuit of him. When Saul’s abandoning of his duties as king got the eye of his enemy the Philistines, he ended up groveling & sniveling at the feet of a medium trying to find out from hell what heaven wouldn’t tell him.

But why did Saul become tormented in the first place. What was the flaw that turned such a big man into such a tragic figure?

Consider this. Saul was an exceedingly gifted youth, full of great promise. But as the years went by he didn’t grow with the prestige of his office. Instead he depended on his intimidating presence & ability to manipulate. When he was confronted with the strenuous challenges of his office as king, he shirked them & that didn’t go unnoticed by his friends or enemies. Then he began to sense the growing disrespect of the people. He sensed they were turning on him, that he was losing his grip, but he couldn’t discern why. The reason Saul became tormented was- because of blindness or dullness he just never became who he really was.

Like Tiger Woods, & scores of others, maybe even some of us, he didn’t realize he was responsible to grow & become the person he was expected to be. Too many times he had victory right in front of him but because of his stunted spiritual growth he thought he knew a better way to get it done.

You & I aren’t kings & the Philistines aren’t at the gate. But the same rules of life apply to us as well.

For many of our youthful years everything came easy & we showed great promise. Everything lay in front of us like a dream. Though we’re not kings like Saul we fill offices, we’re mothers, fathers, grandparents, wives, husbands, sons & daughters.

What kind of finish are we going to make? If we fail we won’t fall on our swords like Saul, but we will cause our own relationships & the relationships of others to become skewed or even destroyed. Will we look back over years of regret because we allowed Satan to break our focus?

Saul was the man God chose, who had many wonderful qualities. Yet in a few years he had managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. He lost his contact with God, lost his humility, lost his character, and lost his kingdom. He lost it all.

This is the sad story of many servants of God today too... who started out well. This will never happen to you and me if we walk uprightly before God and stay close to him.

A song comes to mind written by Mosie Lister... here are a few words...

Til the day he tells me why he loves me so. I can feel is hand in mine that's all I need to know.


Blessings,


John

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Missing Character Chip


By John Stallings


On Thanksgiving Day a man who loved football went out to watch his hometown team play. It was the most important game of the season.

His seat was terrible but he could see the best seat in the stadium sitting vacant. “What a waste” he thought so he made his way over & asked the man in the next seat, “excuse me, is this seat taken?”

“Be my guest” said the man, “My wife was a fan too but she died.” “I’m sorry for your loss” said the man, sitting down. “But why didn’t you ask someone else to come with you, say & friend or relative.” “I would have” came the reply, “but they’re all at the funeral.”

Though this is just a cute story, it expresses what the “missing chip” is in our day. What is that chip, or the character trait of which I speak? It’s Loyalty.

The dictionary defines loyalty thusly; “Loyalty connotes love and devotion one holds for one’s country, creed, family & friends; allegiance & sense of obligation.

THERE’S A DIFFERENCE IN LOYALTY & COMMITMENT

· Commitment can be forced; for example a company or cooperation can demand that their workers be committed.
· Loyalty can’t be forced, but rather springs from love.
· Loyalty is love squared to the highest power.

It’s interesting that in 2 Timothy 3:1-7 when Paul was describing the last days, he mentioned nothing about wars or bombs or bloodshed; he gave us a spiritual picture consisting of nineteen earmarks of the last days. Keep in mind Paul is describing religious people here. The very first sign Paul gives is;

For men shall be lovers of their own selves. A leading indicator of the end times is self-love or loyalty to self only.

Proverbs 30:11 says---There is a generation that curseth their father & doth not bless their mother. This also sounds a lot like our generation, don’t you think?

Further underscoring the lack of loyalty in the last days Jesus said
in Matthew 10:21 … the brother shall deliver up brother to death and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents and cause them to be put to death.

This is truly a day of “it’s all about me”-mentality.

I read a story about a man who took a course on life saving. One day he came to class all excited. He said he’d had the opportunity over the last week to put into practice some things he’d learned in the class.

The other pupils excitedly asked him for details. He explained there was a big car wreck near his home & as soon as he heard about it he rushed to the scene of the accident.

He said, “When I arrived, there was blood & carnage everywhere. I immediately went into action with one of the very first things I learned here in class.” The other students again eagerly inquired as to what he actually did so he went on; “As soon as I got there & saw all the blood, I thought of what I’d learned here & promptly knelt down, put my head between my knees to keep from fainting.” To that young man, the life saving class was all about saving his own skin.

LOYALTY & COMMITMENT WAS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN JUDAS & PETER.
· Peter had a failure of faith but,
· Judas had a failure of love.

In John 12:1-6 when Mary brought a pound of expensive ointment & poured it on Jesus’ feet, Judas spoke up & harshly condemned her for squandering the precious ointment on Jesus’ feet saying the money could be given to the poor.

John doesn’t equivocate about it & flatly tells us Judas wasn’t interested in helping the poor. He was blowing smoke. He was the treasurer & had been skimming off the top of the Lord’s money & wanted his share of that expensive item. Judas had lost his love for Jesus & didn’t want an item that precious “wasted” on something so mundane.

Here’s a key to loyalty; when someone is loyal to you, they enjoy seeing you blessed. When you are blessed it’s almost as if that person themselves were being blessed. When someone has no love in their heart for you, it’s like a slap in their face to see you blessed. A real friend will be with you in your “ups” as well as your “downs.”

Preachers who have large ministries are often criticized for employing as many of their family as possible & because of this are sometimes accused of nepotism. They’ll have close family members on their boards & working close to them because they feel at least the relative loves them, when someone brought in from the outside could have a hireling’s spirit & not be loyal to them.

Judas’ problem was he no longer loved Jesus & consequently he didn’t want to see Jesus doted on & given such extravagant treatment by Mary. Conversely, Peter had a temporary lapse of faith but he never lost his love for Jesus.

It’s not always the case but I’ve observed over the years that the reason some people so vehemently oppose tithing is because at the root of the issue is their love for the Lord. I also doubt God would bless something given grudging anyway. If you & I can’t reach down in our pockets & get a dime out of a dollar & give it to God out of a heart of thankfulness & gratitude, it’s very likely because we are deficient in our love for Him. Just a little food for thought.

We tend to put our money, time & energies into the things we love & have relationships with. I look over some congregations as the worship service is going on & some people are lost in worship while others are yawning & looking around as if they’re sitting in the dentist’s waiting room waiting for a root canal. As they come by to shake the preacher’s hand after church, you are tempted to ask, “Did it hurt much this time?” Again, could it be that these bored souls are uncomfortable because they don’t love & value God & his house & down deep they don’t feel He is worthy of their praise & worship?

HUNG BY THE TONGUE

We should never underestimate the power of the words we speak. Jesus said in Matthew 12:37, -- For by thy words thou shalt be justified and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

Let’s do a little post mortem on the incident of Peter denying Christ. Its given complete coverage thanks to the four evangelists & they all contribute pieces of the story. For example, Matthew & Mark tell us that in Peter’s third denial there was a reference of Peter as a man from Galilee because of his accent. Mark alone tells us that at the first crowing of the cock Peter paid no attention. Luke alone tells us that an hour had passed between the second & the third denial & also he is the evangelist who describes Jesus looking at Peter. From John we have the information that the third time Peter was questioned it was by a relative of Malchus, the man whose ear he had severed. John alone tells us of the three-fold restoration of Peter, “Do you love me?”

As Peter warmed himself by the community fire a woman notices him in the flickering firelight & says, “You were with that Nazarene, Jesus….Mark 14:67-68.

Acting out of fear & panic, Peter swore an oath that he absolutely never knew Jesus. Matt. 26:72. When it hit Peter that he’d in fact really denied & sworn that he didn’t know Jesus, he went out & wept bitterly.

LOOK AT THE DAMAGE PETER DID WITH HIS WORDS.

With Peter’s oaths & cursing, he unplugged himself from his apostolic standing. He took himself out with his words.

In Mark 16:7, Jesus had already risen from the dead when Mary & others came to the tomb to anoint his body. An angel met them & said…….Go tell His disciples-- and Peter—that he goeth before you into Galilee…..
In making a distinction between the disciples & Peter, Jesus was recognizing what Peter had established in separating himself from the other disciples in swearing by an oath with his mouth that he wasn’t a disciple.

When Jesus appeared to the seven disciples as they were fishing, He made a fire & had fish & bread prepared. John 21:9 tells us the fire Jesus made was a fire of coals. John 18:18 tells us that the fire Peter was warming himself by when he denied Jesus three times was also made of coals.

Isn’t it interesting that in the Word of God no detail is lost? A totally different aroma emanates from a coal fire than from a fire made of wood. A person can be blind- folded & tell the difference in burning coal & burning wood. Jesus took Peter aside to test his love for Him, but did you notice He didn’t call him Peter? Jesus now called him by his old name, Simon.

Earlier Jesus had changed his name to Peter, meaning rock, but that was before Peter denied Him. Now Jesus calls him by his old name, Simon, which means reed. With the aroma from a coal fire in his nostrils, reminding Simon of the night he denied knowing Him, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him. Three times Simon affirms his love for his Master. Upon completion of the test Simon is plugged back in, restored to apostolic ministry & commissioned to feed the Lord’s sheep.

Peter was a young man when this happened. Though maybe you & I have never denied Christ as Peter did, we’ve all probably made mistakes in being silent at times when we should have spoken up for Christ.

But Peter never again made that mistake & apocryphal writings tell us when it came his time to be martyred for the Lord, he showed his loyalty & true colors by requesting to be crucified upside down.

ELIJAH AND ELISHA-A PICTURE OF LOYALTY

Elijah is one of the most electrifying prophets in the Bible. In 1 Kings 17:1 he storms on the scene without so much as an introduction. The first time we hear of him he’s storming Ahab’s palace with the message that there’s going to be a long drought & it won’t be raining until he says so.

We’re familiar with Elisha, the young man who took Elijah’s mantle when God took him to heaven in a chariot of fire. But did you know Elijah had a servant before Elisha? Most people aren’t aware of this person because he’s an un-named servant. We read about him in 1 Kings 19:1-3. The un-named servant is un-named & unknown probably because when he had a chance, he abandoned Elijah.

In 1 Kings 19:3 we read, --and when Elijah saw that, he arose & went for his life & came to Beer-sheba which belongeth to Judah &----- left his servant there.Elijah was getting ready to go into the wilderness & no doubt the young un- named servant didn’t really want to go so when given the chance he copped out. To say the least there was no loyalty in this young man whoever he was.

In 1 Kings 19:19 we read about the calling of Elisha. It wasn’t as if he was looking for a job, he was happy running the farm he was in charge of. Can you imagine how hard it must have been for him to control 24 oxen plowing through earth that was parched with famine for over three years? I’m sure sweat was running down his brow as he squinted into the sunlight, when all at once a shadow fell over him for a moment.

Imagine the double-take Elisha must have had when he looked up & saw Elijah standing there? Everyone knew who Elijah was because most of them had been up on Mt. Carmel a few days prior to this when he called down fire from heaven. What could Elijah possibly want with him? Before he could stop the oxen & speak, Elijah took off his outer robe or mantle & threw it right on his head.

Elisha knew Elijah was not only offering him a job, but he was offering him an opportunity to be a prophet too. It can’t have been easy to think about this job. Elijah was the man. Elijah was the be-all, end-all of prophets for Pete’s sake.

In 2 Kings 2, Elijah had decided to take a farewell tour of all the cities he’d worked in & invited Elisha to follow along. Three times in that chapter he offered Elisha a chance to stay behind like he’d offered that un-named helper but three times Elisha would say, “No way.” I’m sticking with you so I can learn everything I can from you.”

I don’t think we could find a better example of loyalty than Elisha. In Bible days the firstborn got a double-potion & that’s what Elisha got for staying with Elijah. Elisha stayed “joined at the hip” with Elijah & he was watching when a chariot of fire swept down & scooped Elijah up & he caught his mantle as it fluttered back to earth. Even after Elisha’s death there was still enough power resident in his bones that a man was raised from the dead by coming in contact with them. 2 Kings 14:21

SEEDS OF DISLOYALTY ARE BORN IN OFFENSE

One of the most appalling examples of disloyalty in the Bible is the case of King David’s son Absalom. He became furious with his father when he didn’t act decisively when his son Amnon raped his sister Tamar. He finally led an insurrection against his father. Obviously Absalom had some legitimate complaints against his father, feeling that if he would let the rape of his sister slide he’d neglect the people’s business in the same way. The offense against David finally saw Absalom driven to such extremes he eventually died hanging by his hair from a tree limb, his heart pierced with darts.

If you’ve been a Christian any length of time more than likely you’ve been offended by someone. The devil has a field day when this happens because he uses strife to separate people & rob them of God’s power, not to mention the joy & peace they forfeit.
None of us are beyond being offended by someone & none of us are above offending someone else. James 3:2. While some offenses are intentional, some are unintended & some are even imaginary. Along life’s road people are going to do us wrong or say things that hurt us. We will all be offended.

Experience has taught me that people who go from church to church are usually carrying an offense of some kind. In many cases the offense they have suffered is very real. The problem with these people is they are almost too sensitive to live in this world. You have to walk on egg shells around them for fear of wounding their delicate sensibilities. If you’re always getting your feelings hurt you’re too sensitive. If you get hurt & upset by something or someone every time you go out in public, you need to get a thicker skin.

The Child of God is forbidden to nurse & rehearse our offenses because this will grow into a grudge. James 5:9 Rom. 12:17-19.

LET’S LOOK AT THREE STELLAR EXAMPLES OF LOYALTY.

DAVID

People often wonder about David & how he could be called…a man after God’s own heart… when he sinned so abjectly with Bathsheba & then killed her husband.

When David was just a lad tending his father’s sheep a Bear came in on the flock one day & David killed the Bear with his bare [no pun intended] hands. Can you imagine him doing that when he had every excuse to run for his life? In another incident, a Lion attacked his father’s flock & had taken a sheep away in his powerful jaws & David ran him down, took the sheep out of his mouth & killed the Lion. Could there be a greater evidence of David’s loyalty to his father? To further show David’s loyal heart, when his son Absalom died making war against David, after having come close to killing him, David wept sorely saying, “Oh Absalom, my son my son Absalom, would God I had died for thee. Oh Absalom, my son, my son.”

Though David sinned horribly, & the sword never departed from his house, God saw that he had repented & rather than running from Him as Saul did, his loyal heart would be broken over his sin & he’d come to God in true repentance.

ABRAHAM

Only 22 chapters from the front of the Bible God is asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac on an alter. What Abraham didn’t see was that as he trudged up one side of the mountain where he was instructed to go to sacrifice his son, there was a Ram walking up the other side to be used instead of Isaac when God saw Abraham would be loyal enough to Him to obey His command.

Abraham had plenty of chinks in his armor but God saw his loyal heart. God wasn’t so impressed with Abraham’s knife as it was being lifted up above the head of Isaac, but He was impressed when He saw that knife coming down.

JOSEPH
Think about this young Hebrew Brad Pitt. He was young & handsome & Potiphar’s wife was sexy & beautiful. When she tried to get Joseph in her bed he resisted her & left his coat in her arms as he fled. I’ve said it lots of times, but that boy had a hard time keeping a coat didn’t he? Joseph stood strong against that sexual temptation but in the end he was sent away to prison on a trumped up rape charge. Notice that for Joseph’s loyalty God didn’t give him a badge of faithfulness. Heavenly music didn’t play & angels didn’t come down & minister to young Joseph. God didn’t have thunder & lightening to shake the earth & write across the sky; that’s my boy.”

Not only did Joseph get no rewards or praise, things actually got worse for him because he stood for the right. Joseph went to prison. But Joseph didn’t allow himself to become bitter. He just kept on serving in the prison. However in God’s time, this Hebrew did the unthinkable. He came out of the prison & was given an Egyptian chariot & the license plate had a big number 2 stamped on it.

I can imagine Potipher eating breakfast one morning & asking Mrs. Potipher, “Honey, do you remember that young guy who tried to rape you a few years ago? She answers, “I think so, you mean the cute guy who worked around here? Yeh, I think I remember him.” Right!

Potipher says, “You know hon, I hope we didn’t make a mistake by sending him to jail. He’s out now & I report to him this morning when I go to work.”

Before God uses us He always puts us through a test first. He’s testing our loyalty to Him.

Look at the test’s he gave the great apostle Paul who was used by God to write two-thirds of the New Testament. Some people say God won’t force us to do anything. That’s probably true but don’t forget Paul was struck blind the day he was converted. God said to him in essence, “if you don’t want to work for me, that’s O.K. here’s a tapping stick & a collection pan, & Main Street is two blocks south.” Then God spoke to Ananias & said;

Arise & go into the street which is called Straight, & inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus: for behold he prayeth…..go thy way, for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles….for I will show him the great things he must suffer for my names sake. Acts 9:11-15

For those of you who like me grew up in Sunday School, the story of Ruth & Naomi is a familiar one. Sometimes I’m tempted to smile when I hear the words "Wherever you go I'll go & where ever you lodge I'll lodge & thy people will be my people " quoted at a wedding as if these famous words were uttered between spouses.

They were obviously spoken from a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law. Sometimes it’s as if the inspiring words have been forgotten.

When you read the narrative you find that Naomi’s life hadn’t turned out as she had envisioned & she by her own admission was bitter. Naomi had left Bethlehem hungry & now was returning to plenty of food but no companionship.

You are alone Naomi. Your life hasn’t turned out as you’d planned. You have no husband to care & provide for you & no sons to care for you in your old age. What’s the point? Your life is empty now.

She finally speaks. “No, in fact, I’m not Naomi, for Naomi no longer exists. Naomi is the name of a woman who went away full, a woman whose life was pleasant. I’m defiantly not that woman. No, don’t call me Naomi; call me Mara, for I am bitter, the Lord has dealt with me bitterly.”

She is so consumed with bitterness that she seems to forget that loyal Ruth is even by her side. But the narrative won’t allow us to forget. Ruth, Naomi’s daughter-in-law is returning with her from Moab.

So in the midst of our pain we sometimes forget there’s someone traveling with us. We forget our loyal God who travels along side us on all our journeys & it’s through Him that we find our strength to travel on.

It’s in Him, our loyal Savior who travels with us that we find the promise of new life for it’s Him who says;

Where you go I’ll go, & you shall be my people.

Blessings,

John

Friday, February 13, 2015

American Exceptionalism- What's So Great About America?

By John Stallings


 In the spring of 1984, an Irish band on the verge of breaking through to superstardom was making its way through America.

On the third leg of an international concert tour and not yet able to afford to travel across the country by plane, they were relegated to traveling from show to show on a tour bus. Starting from Dallas, Texas, they criss-crossed the continent numerous times as they finally made their way to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

By this time, the band had seen the Southwest, the Deep South, New England, the Midwest, and the West Coast. The trail they followed was unconventional, but still allowed them to see a landscape that few Irish people, let alone most Americans, get to see in a three-month period.

The band’s lead singer, an ambitious 24-year-old former chess prodigy, decided to try to capture the essence of the country he witnessed as their tour bus rolled from coast to coast and up and down the Mississippi River. The singer strummed along with the band’s 23 year old lead guitarist and together they wrote “Heartland” – a song later featured on the album Rattle and Hum. This five-minute ode to America attempted to delve beneath the glitz and glamour of New York City and Hollywood.

On all future American tours, this band, known as U2 to the world, would fly from city to city, but their epic road trip through rural and urban America had a deep impact on these musicians from a small island. U2’s next album, The Joshua Tree, would contain numerous references to the underside of America and the rejuvenating and cleansing effect it has on individuals.

U2’s feel for America, as outsiders looking in, is not unusual.

AMERICANS FAT WITH PROSPERITY

I read about a seventeen year old young man from India who was trying to move to America. When asked why he wanted to come here he said “I want to live in a country where most of the people are fat.” Of course we’d recoil from a statement like that because we who are “stout” are fighting it with a vengeance because we don’t think fat looks good neither is it healthy.

Incidentally, I’ve been to many parts of the world and have observed that we have the fattest poor people in America than any nation I’ve visited. I don’t say this without compassion because we all know the least expensive food has far and away the emptiest calories. The poor people in other countries are skin and bones, looking as if they’d love a sandwich while in this nation it’s not unusual to see a 300-plus lb. poor person.

I think I see what the young Indian man was driving at. He’d grown up in a nation where people routinely die of mal-nutrition, many in their youth. Large trucks in the cities make the rounds each morning to pick up the many street people who’ve died overnight like the garbage and refuse trucks make their rounds in America. This young Indian felt if people were getting plenty to eat, that country had to be doing something right. At least he had a chance of not starving in America.

WHY AMERICA?

America has always been a “melting pot,” drawing immigrants to its ports, but why America? What makes the United States such a prime destination for many citizens of the world? Although some would point to our more than two centuries of political stability or its continual economic strength, [sadly this is changing for the worse] the lure of America reaches deeper. England, for example, has remained relatively consistent for the past two centuries. The nineteenth century saw the rise of the British Empire, whose size was reminiscent of the Roman Empire. Yet, despite this, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” set their sights on the “Land of Opportunity,” our beloved America.

It would be difficult to pinpoint just one aspect of the American greatness, but political observers have come up with a variety of possibilities and blended them into the concept called “American Exceptionalism.”

1. The first component that’s given by honest historians for America’s Exceptionalism is: God bestowed His divine grace upon the United States from its earliest times. God chose America to serve as an example for the rest of the world. This is illustrated clearly in the great book “City upon a Hill” a sermon preached in 1630 by the Puritan leader John Winthrop, who envisioned a new society to show the Old World how to create a godly and orderly civilization.

2. The second component is genetic in nature; - the United States has benefited by a diversity of race, ethnicity, and other physical characteristics of its people. E Pluribus Unum, a phrase that appears on our currency and in other places means “Out of Many, One." Sounds to me a lot like: - "We're all in this thing together."

3. The third component is environmental: geography, climate, and resources gave the United States all the conditions necessary for its success.

4. The fourth component in America’s Exceptionalism is the fact that Americans have had an enduring distrust of too much federal government.

Note that I said-“We have had an enduring distrust of too much federal government.” Sometime in the middle of the twentieth century, right after the Great Depression, there was a sudden shift and many Americans began to rely more on the federal government.

America is undeniably the greatest country in the world, blessed with unparalleled freedoms and prosperity that for generations have made us an innovative and industrious people. America is exceptional. We’re afforded certain God-given rights that can never be taken away unless we relinquish them. We know that God, not government, bestows upon us these inalienable rights, and because of that, they must not be compromised by the whims of man. This makes us a unique nation, a nation that remains, as President Ronald Reagan once said, "a model and hope to the world."

Unfortunately, some leaders have either forgotten or chosen to ignore the glory of our founding. In April 2009, President Obama told a reporter in Strasbourg, France: "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." In saying this, the president implied that American Exceptionalism is nothing terribly special and instead simply chalked it up to “romantic patriotism.”

I can’t tell you how upsetting this attitude makes me because it’s undermining our national portrait and our desire and ability to be leaders in the world. One doesn’t have to look far to see how pervasive “talking America down” has become.

TIME MAGAZINE

Thursday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Time Magazine editor Richard Stengel presented the cover of his new July 4 issue, whose cover features a picture of the U.S. Constitution going through a paper shredder. Written across the middle of the page is a question asking- Does this document still matter? According to Stengel, “it does, but not as much anymore.”

Stengel said “People all the time are debating what’s constitutional and what’s unconstitutional. To me the Constitution is a guardrail. It’s for when we are going off the road and it gets us back on. It’s not a traffic cop that keeps us going down the center. There were no people who argued more about defining principles of America than the framers of the Constitution. They argued both sides of the most powerful issues in American history – slavery, states’ rights, central government, etc.”

IMO America would be better off if those who have disdain for this country and its Constitution would get on a slow boat to China and never return. But make no mistake they’d return and they’d kiss the ground when they arrived. I’ve often said, I wish every American could take a three week trip around the world and they’d see what an indescribable jewel The United States really is. If our citizenry visited a few other nations, if they did nothing but fly over them and smell the air emanating from the cities, [some Far East cities can be smelled from the air as a passenger jet approaches them] we’d have citizens who would return to this country with a new-born appreciation for their homeland.

American Exceptionalism isn’t empty national narcissism, but rather recognition of the blessings of God that keep our nation strong, independent, and free. We see the American story as one of tenacity and triumph. not as one flawed and in need of rewriting. We aren’t in need of “fundamental transformation” either. We recognize the times we’ve stumbled. We haven’t been perfect but if we stumbled, we always stumbled in the right direction and we know that it’s not due to the weakness of our foundation, but rather, human imperfection.

WHY AMERICA IS EXCEPTIONAL

American is exceptional because of our belief in the dignity and creativity of the individual made in God’s image. We know that it’s innately human to work, to risk, and to dream. We understand that these virtues, coupled with the conditions American Exceptionalism provides, allow us to enjoy the economic and social strength that other countries envy.

At their core, those who reject American Exceptionalism view the Constitution as a roadblock, and they yearn for unlimited federal government with more authority than the states and more power than the people. Because they strive for an all powerful federal government, they’re willing to sacrifice the rugged individualism that has made this nation exceptional in exchange for the “collective strength” they believe a vast government provides.

The latter-day darling of the progressive/socialistic movement is, of course, President Obama.

If you’ve read this blog long you’ll know that I’m not a supporter of president Obama’s policies and wrote blogs many months before he was elected sketching out what life with Obama would look like. If I say so myself, I was right on target. In all candidness, millions of others made the same predictions.

Let me be clear,   "President Obama: America is the greatest nation on Earth." Our exceptionalism is forever ingrained in our founding documents that spell out exactly the roles of the federal government in relation to individual rights and states' rights.

Simply ignoring the truths of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution won't make them go away. There are tens of millions Americans, who love our country far too much to allow our exceptionalism to be exchanged for greater expansion of an already bloated, out-of-control, money grubbing federal government.

America was founded at a particular time, by a particular people, on the basis of particular principles about God, man, liberty, and constitutional government. The American people are among the most hard-working, church-going, affluent, and generous in the world. The founding of the United States was revolutionary, not in the sense of replacing one set of rulers with another, or overthrowing the institutions of society, but in placing political authority in the hands of the people.

As the English writer G. K. Chesterton famously observed, "America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed." That creed is set forth most clearly in the Declaration of Independence, by which the American colonies announced their separation from Great Britain. The Declaration is a timeless statement of human rights, the proper purposes of government, and the limits on political authority.

Our Founders appealed to self-evident truths, stemming from the Laws of God, to justify their liberty. This is a universal and permanent standard. These freedoms should not be unique to America but apply to all men and women everywhere. They are as true today as they were in 1776.

Working from the principle of equality, our Founders asserted that men could govern themselves according to common beliefs and the rule of law. Throughout history, political power was—and still is—often held by the strongest. But if all are equal and have the same rights, then no one is fit by nature to rule or to be ruled.

As Thomas Jefferson put it, “The mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately. The only source of the legitimate powers of government is the consent of the governed.”

Americans see our religious liberty as a fundamental right. It’s in our nature to pursue our convictions. Government can’t establish an official religion, but it must guarantee the free exercise of religion. If a free people are to govern themselves politically, they must understand that freedom goes hand in hand with responsibility.

These principles also mean that everyone has the right to the fruits of their own labor. This fundamental right to acquire, possess, and sell property is the backbone of this great nation and the most practical way to pursue happiness. This right, along with the free enterprise system, is the source of prosperity and the foundation of economic liberty.

The United States Constitution defines the institutions of American government: three distinct branches of government that make the law, enforce the law, and judge the law. This gives our government the powers it needs to protect our fundamental rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The ultimate purpose of these rights and of limiting government is to protect freedom. That freedom allows our society—family, school, church, and private associations—to thrive.

America is great because our founders appealed to a higher standard, that all governments receive their power from the consent of the governed.

Freedom doesn’t belong only to the United States. The Declaration of Independence holds that all men everywhere are endowed with a right to liberty. That liberty is a permanent aspect of human nature everywhere and is necessary to understanding America's success, under God.

The primary responsibility of the United States is to defend the freedom and well-being of its people. To do this, we must apply America's universal principles to the challenges we face in the world.

This is not easy. America has not always been successful. But because of the principles to which we are dedicated, we always strive to uphold its highest ideals. More than any other nation, we have a special responsibility to defend the cause of liberty at home and abroad.

As George Washington said in his First Inaugural Address: “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people. America's role in the world is to preserve and to spread, by example and by action, the "sacred fire of liberty."


America is an exceptional nation, but not because of what it has achieved or accomplished. America is exceptional because, unlike any other nation, it’s dedicated to the principles of human dignity/liberty, grounded on the truths that all men are created equal and have equal God-given rights.

America's principles have created a prosperous and just nation unlike any other nation in history. They explain why we strongly defend our country, look proudly at our nation's origins, assert our political rights and civic responsibilities, and remain convinced of the special meaning of our country and its role of the world. Make no mistake, it’s because of our Godly principles, not despite them, that America has achieved greatness.

To this day, so many years after the American Revolution, these principles—proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution—still define us as a nation and a people. This is why friends of freedom the world over look to the United States not only as an ally against tyrants and despots but also as a powerful beacon to all.

Someone has said that the difference in a political conservative and a liberal is that conservatives look at the 4th of July as America’s birthday, while many liberals, especially in Washington D.C think that date to be April 15th.

May God continue to bless America!


Blessings,


John