Tuesday, May 26, 2015

You Don't Tug On Superman's Cape!!



By John Stallings

The Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath….Nahum 1:2


When I was 16, I got my first car; a 1937 Buick.

 That was 1955. It cost about $100 & I paid small payments on it. It was a “straight eight,”& I really don’t remember what kind of gas mileage it got because gas was so cheap back then.

My Buick was already considered an antique so I was able to buy a tag for, as I remember, $5.00. I’ve wished a hundred times that I’d kept that car but it would have been impractical.

Some people like restoring antiques & some enjoy driving them. I’d venture to say most of us enjoy seeing these old cars chugging around the town or village where we live & sometimes we can see a parade of them going to an “old car” convention.

But none of us would want to contend with rush hour on a modern highway or take a trip in an antique car. That would be like taking a knife to a gun fight.

When someone speaks these days on subjects like Sin or The wrath of God, many people think; “surely that notion has been antiquated.” Many feel these topics are negative downers & people no longer want to think about them, much less read or hear a sermon on these thorny subjects. Some folk think; aren’t these subjects’ antiques?

I’ve been around long enough to know the community of faith isn’t going to completely drop sin or God’s wrath so certainly we should know something about them.

Nahum, who we know little about except that he is an Elkoshite, throws the whole “wrath of God” thing on the table. This small book of Nahum is neglected because it’s so obscure & when it is read it’s frequently misunderstood. But every portion of scripture is indispensable, which is why Paul said,

--All scripture is inspired by God & profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction & for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Tim. 3:16, 17

So whether we like it or not, & though it might make us feel a little squeamish, you & I have to wrestle with it & bear up under the burden of the fact of God’s wrath if we propose to serve the true & the living God & adhere to the teachings of His Word.

We as human beings can say things like, “My God would never do anything like that,” but when we say it we’re saying in essence, “My God, the God of my own human mental creation would never do anything like that.”

For instance we might say, “My God would never kill babies,” or “my God would never send a storm,” or “My God would never send someone to hell.” By that aren’t we saying; --“the God in our minds, [who by the way is infinite] that we’ve come to feel comfortable with will act in accordance with what we finite human beings can mentally process?”

Let me share an illustration with you that is a little silly but still it carries a great point. I've probably used it before.

A large bank was being robbed & some policemen were sent to the scene. Since the robbers were still in the bank, the policemen decided to surround the bank, blocking all doors.

But then the law officers saw the bank was too large & there were too many exits for them to cover. So they went down the street, found a smaller building & surrounded that building. I know this story is crazy & it’s one that most people respond to by rolling their eyes & groaning.

Here’s my point. We human beings sometimes do the same thing when it comes to God. When parts of His character are too big & unfathomable to wrap our finite minds around, we construct a smaller God that we can understand. That’s how we roll.

Some people picture God as a kindly gentlemen with a merry twinkle in His eye who can’t bear the thought of punishing or judging anyone. But Nahum’s task was to unfold the anger of God & the fact that He is the God of Sinai & can flash forth in an awful fury.

WE DON’T HEAR MUCH ABOUT GOD’S WRATH

You might also be thinking, “This is a message about the God of the Old Testament.” That’s true, but insofar as God’s wrath is concerned, it gets worse in the New Testament, especially if we listen to the words of Jesus.

Here’s the bottom line; Our God is a loving & forgiving God but He’s not a God to be trifled with or be presumptuous with. In the words of the late-great “theologian” Jim Croce,

“You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the ol’ Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with……[God.’]

Here’s why we have a problem with God’s wrath; when we think of anger we tend to see it according to our own definitions. When we get angry or jealous, we think of our human experience, & it’s always basically impure. Am I right? When we get angry or jealous there’s always that good & bad stuff tied up in it.

When it comes to God, this interpretation is completely wrong. Remember, God is pure, holy, righteous, & just, & is totally incapable of co-existing with sin. His wrath & anger is never arbitrary or out of control, but rather is part of His purity & holiness.

IN NAHUM CHAPTER ONE, HE SAYS—DIVINE TROUBLE IS BREWING!

God is jealous & the Lord revengeth: the Lord revengeth & is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries & He reserveth wrath for His enemies.—Nahum 1:2

Nineveh for many years had shook its fist in God’s face & seemed to be getting away with it. They carted off the northern part of Israel & seemed to have gotten away with it. They ruled Palestine with an iron hand & seemed to have gotten away with it. They mocked the God of Abraham Isaac & Jacob & no lightening bolts struck them. But Nahum is saying it’s only a matter of time until they experience God’s wrath.

Isn’t it true that when we hear the words “jealous” or ‘wrath” used in the same sentence with God we get a smidgen uncomfortable? In verses 3-7 of chapter one of Nahum, we’re told that God can actually use storms, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, droughts & volcanoes as instruments of His wrath against His enemies.

But the good news in verse 3 is,--The Lord is slow to anger. That of course means it takes a lot to rile Him up. That means His anger has a very long fuse. The Bible also speaks of God’s slowness to anger in Nehemiah 9:17 & Psalm 103:8.

God’s wrath isn’t rage. It isn’t vindictive bitterness & it isn’t His temper.

Wrath is what happens when holiness meets sin.
Wrath is what happens when justice meets rebellion.
Wrath is what happens when righteousness meets unrighteousness.
Wrath is what happens when perfect good meets pure evil.

God would have to stop being God if He overlooked sin, or stood by indifferently while His creation was being destroyed. He by His very nature can’t dismiss lightly those who trample His holy will & wink when men mock His name.

PAUL GIVES US THE REVELATION OF GOD’S WRATH

In Romans 1:18 we read,--The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness & wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
Make no mistake; we’ve got the problem, not God! A few years ago Bob Dylan wrote a song called; You gotta serve somebody. And Dylan was right. When an individual turns away from God, they don’t turn to a vacuum. They have to turn to something else. We either worship God or we worship a god of our own making; worshipping the creature rather than the creator.

In Romans 1:24 we are told that, -- God gave them up…..speaking of a slimy list of sinners, but underscoring the sin of homosexuality. In Romans 1:18-32 we read more of this revelation;

For this cause God gave them up to vile affections for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature. And likewise the men leaving the natural use of the woman burned in lust one toward another, men with men working that which is unseemly & receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind to do those things which are not convenient….
Notice again, --God gave them up. To put it simply, if we give up God, He gives us up.

HOMOSEXUALITY TRIGGERS GOD’S WRATH

I haven’t sought support for my thoughts from the Word of God, but rather the Word of God has given me the thoughts I will present here. I realize that homosexuality, & same-sex marriages are big issues in America at present & will continue to be a controversial subject for some time to come.

Homosexuality or same sex-“love” as a disease was laid to rest in 1973 when the American Psychiatric Association removed it from their compendium of mental illness. The concept of same-sex “love” being a crime was thrown out of the American lexicon by the Supreme Court decision, Lawrence V. Texas in 2003.

But God’s mind has never laid it to rest nor has He changed His opinion about homosexuality. Right here is where we should be careful not to “pull on Superman’s cape” too hard because homosexuality has always riled God up.

I remember hearing two lesbians interviewed once & what came through to me, more than a tenderness & mutual desire to love & comfort each other, was a seeming bitterness at their bodies being used as vehicles in the birth process. I’m certainly no expert, & that may not be as true in every case, but in homosexuality there is not just the idea that someone has chosen a different way to fulfill their sexual needs, which is bad enough in itself, but rather a rejection & rebellion against God & the part of their lives that have to do with procreation. As we’ll see, from what the Bibles says on the matter, this gets God’s special attention & stirs up His wrath.

EVERY SINGLE TIME HOMOSEXUALITY IS MENTIONED IN SCRIPTURE-- IT’S CONDEMNED.

There are only two ways you can get around it; by twisting the Word of God, or by throwing it out of serious consideration.

Genesis 18:20-21 says –“A cry went up from the city of Sodom & Gomorrah” What was that cry? It was the cry of little children whose mothers were out chasing women & daddies were out chasing men. When that cry was heard in heaven, God burned the two cities off the map.

Jude 7 affirms that the activity at Sodom was indeed homosexuality, although he suggests it was ONE of the many shameful sins of this city. Jude calls it, -going after strange flesh. Homosexuality is at least ONE of the things that made God angry enough to destroy the place. It’s noteworthy that Sodom as a cautionary example is mentioned 30 times in the Bible.

Both Leviticus 18:22 & 19:13 condemn homosexuality & say it’s detestable for a man to lie with a man as a man lies with a woman.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9 Paul says;

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral nor the greedy nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders…nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
I Timothy 1:10 says,-God’s law was made for those who are lawless & rebellious…for murderers and immoral men & homosexuals & kidnappers & liars & perjurers & whatever else is contrary to sound teaching.

Let’s look at four MYTHS about same-sex unions.

1. IT’S A VERY NORMAL & O.K LIFESTYLE.

The truth is that the median age of death for the homosexual male is 38 & for lesbians it’s 45. Here’s why; they are more likely to face chronic potentially fatal liver disease [infectious hepatitis] which increases the risk of liver cancer. They are at risk of contracting AIDS which in spite of medical breakthroughs still eventually kills everyone infected. They also have a higher risk of rectal cancer. They have a much higher than average incidence of suicide—six times as high as heterosexual men. Between 25 & 33% of homosexual men are alcoholics while the national average in less than 7%.

Does this sound like a normal & O.K lifestyle? I remember a verse in Proverbs that says; --There is a way seems right to man but in the end it leads to death. Proverbs 14:12. Another MYTH is;

2. HOMOSEXUALITY IS VERY PREVALENT IN OUR SOCIETY.

A study by the Battelle Human research Center in Seattle has found that in actuality, only one per cent of the American population is homosexual. But even if it were prevalent in this country, that wouldn’t make it right according to the Scripture. A third MYTH is;

3. HOMOSEXUALITY CAN BE INHERITED SO HOW CAN IT BE A SIN?

The homosexual activist says, “You see, that’s how I’m made. You can talk scripture all day long but this is who & what I am. This is my DNA structure. It’s unfair even cruel to condemn me for how God made me. I didn’t create this desire: God did.”

FACT: We have no SCIENCE to suggest a link between genetics & homosexuality. We have no scientific evidence to say homosexuality has a genetic cause. But for the sake of argument, let’s say some people do have a strong tendency toward that behavior.

WANTING TO DO SOMETHING DOESN’T MAKE IT RIGHT!

Otherwise, we shouldn’t lock up people for wanting to kill or molest or steal. A desire doesn’t legitimize behavior. The Bible doesn’t condemn homosexual desire. But like any other desire that’s outside of God’s will it says resist it. Scripture condemns the things we do out of our desires. Some of us may have an orientation toward pride, or alcohol abuse or gambling. Others have a quick temper or find it easier than others to gossip about & slander other people. There are certain aspects of all our make-up that shape who we become & make us more prone to certain temptations & activities. It’s what we DO not what we DESIRE that makes us who we are. I know people who have a hard time passing up a Dun kin-donuts shop but they haven’t been in one for years. I know others who have a problem passing a liquor store but they haven’t tasted alcohol for many years because they don’t live according to the dictates of their desires.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says, --God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
Another MYTH is;

4. A HOMOSEXUAL CAN’T CHANGE

The plain scriptural truth is that anyone can change. I’ve heard testimonies & even seen people who have changed through the power of the indwelling Christ & the help of family, friends & godly counselors. Even sex researchers Masters & Johnson reported that in a study of 81 gays desiring reorientation, 71.6% had been successful after six years. A shift in lifestyle is a possibility for all homosexuals who are strongly motivated to change. There are many Christian ministries out there who can help people committed to change, & some of them have a 90% success rate.

Paul talks specifically about this hope in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. After naming idol worshippers, adulterers, & homosexuals he says;-THERE WAS A TIME WHEN SOME OF YOU WERE JUST LIKE THAT-but now your sins are washed away & you’re set apart for God…..This sin as with all others can’t be wished away but healing-change is possible. It requires confession, repentance, healing & accountability, but it is possible.

Upon the authority of God’s Word the Bible we can declare that God gives no sanction to homosexuality at all. Never does God approve of it at all. He’s against civil unions of homosexuals & never calls it an alternative lifestyle.

God is against same-sex “marriages.” We need to be as pro-active as possible & also pray much that marriage in America will continue to be defined as a union between a man & a woman. Legalizing same-sex domestic partnerships is nothing more than an attempt to re-define one of the holiest ordinances of God & will simply create disasters beyond description. We’re already seeing the fruits of it in the spread of AIDS.

Never, never & never does God give any credibility to any act or issue of the gay lifestyle. God is against the ordination of homosexuals into the ministry. Therefore same-sex unions of any kind are an abomination to God & any matrimony performed to do it is unholy, ungodly & will bring the wrath of God.

Hebrew 13:4 says,--marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers & adulterers will God judge.

Christian churches should be open to homosexuals to attend & they should never be shunned. They need to be convicted by God & see their need to change & be transformed by God’s grace. Yet anyone who practices homosexuality shouldn’t be allowed to serve in a ministry or lead in any capacity in the church.

The good news for each of us regardless of our past or our present is that we can be washed by the blood & given a new life in Jesus Christ. We can be acquitted of our sins & wear the robes of Jesus’ righteousness.

All sin is wrong & only one sin determines whether we go to heaven or hell when we die—the sin of rejecting Jesus as our Savior & not allowing Him to live actively as the Lord of our life.

Regardless of your past or present Jesus wants to save you today & He’ll cleanse you from your sin & give you eternal life in heaven. If you’ve not already done so, ask Him to come into your life.

Luke 1:37 says, -For with God, nothing will be impossible.

Nahum the prophet spoke of God’s wrath to come but his name literally means “comfort.” When you & I understand the gospel, then the wrath of God is a comfort. It’s a reminder that in heaven there will be no sin, no injustice, & no evil.

God has swallowed His anger & given you & me the medicine of grace. But make no mistake, whether it is a nation or an individual, when God has offered us the medicine of His love & grace, & that has been rejected, He has the prerogative to then wheel us to the surgery suite of His wrath.

God has given us nothing less than His son Jesus. It’s not necessary for us to ever taste God’s wrath, for on His cross, Jesus Christ bore the supreme & awful burden of that wrath for you & me.

Blessings,

John

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

You Might Be A Pharisee If....


By John Stallings

 
This blog is for recovering Pharisees [like me.] Yes I’ll admit it. But that was several decades ago. I didn’t know I was a Pharisee. I’m still in recovery.

In those days, I’d be preaching & say things like, “Now I’m going to say this but you good people who’ve experienced divorce, please don’t be upset, I’m not preaching at you.”

All the while I was saying in my mind, [I didn’t realize this then] “I’m a bit superior here because I’ve never experienced a divorce, & to be frank, my marriage is so special it could never happen to me. So I’ll just keep on trying to help these battered victims of divorce.”

But after over 25 years of marriage, a marriage that produced three children, I was blindsided by a marital break-up I would have crawled on shredded glass to have avoided. In the blink of an eye I saw my marriage & a quarter of a century of work vanish before my eyes. I didn’t even lay material claim to the proverbial “Styrofoam minnow bucket.”

Over the next few years I was forced to look closely at myself. For one thing, I was a Pharisee. What was this preacher going to do now, who’d been taught that his ministry, if not his life was over if he ever divorced? Here’s what I did; not willing to remain single for life, after  years of trying to save the marriage, I was forced to move on. God gave me another chance. I remarried & recently my wife Juda & I celebrated 26 years of marriage.

This blog will not be a treatise on Divorce. Yes God hates divorce.  He also hates;

……a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running into mischief, a false witness & he that soweth discord among the brethren. Proverbs 6:16-19

  God hates it anytime His children miss the mark because people get hurt.

Are you a Pharisee, recovering or otherwise? Are you, like I was, a Pharisee & not even aware of it?

First let’s define a Pharisee.

The Pharisee’s were the legalists of Jesus’ day. They excelled at nit-picking. They would rather slap a coat of paint on something than get the rotten boards out.

The Pharisees are best remembered for their conflicts with Jesus. His harshest words & fiercest battles involved them. Jesus debunked them, calling them play-actors & hypocrites. There was no connection between their heart & mouth.

 
Matthew 23 for more background information on these people. This chapter is the quintessential reader on Pharisees.  They got Jesus stirred up because they pretended they were something they weren’t & no real fruit was swinging from their vines.

These old boys weren’t collaborators with the Romans or revolutionaries. They saw themselves as the protectors & propagators of the law. They were in “mission mode” to protect the law & they added 611 new fence-laws to Moses’ Ten. In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus told the story of a Pharisee & a tax collector who went into the temple to pray. The tax collector had the right attitude of humility but the Pharisee lifted his head & said in essence, "Thank God I'm special."

Jesus’ cousin John the baptizer was the first to spot & condemn these folk. He pinned their ears back telling them they’d sooner or later be axed.

The Pharisees took it on themselves to apply Jewish law to everyday life. They were big on keeping the Sabbath & used it as a frail-pole on Jesus. But Jesus had compassion for hurting people & while the Pharisees saw the details, He was seeing the bigger picture. They claimed to be holy but all the proof needed that they weren’t was the fact that they plotted to kill Jesus on the Sabbath day.


THE PHARISEES AREN'T AN EXTINCT SPECIES

We find them in churches & if we’re honest we can catch a glimpse of one in our bathroom mirror from time to time.

Here’s the bottom line. Anytime someone proceeds, in an attitude of superiority, to judge another person or act smug or superior to them, they can rightly be called Pharisees. That doesn’t mean that sin doesn’t need to be seen for what it is & corrected. It just means that we, imperfect as were are, are unable to see the hearts of our fellowman & cannot judge anyone’s righteousness but our own.

Paul also described the Pharisees when he said,

For I testify to them that they have a zeal to God but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of the righteousness of God & seeking to establish their own righteousness they did not submit to the righteousness of God. Romans 10:2-3

The Pharisees held to a poisonous doctrine. They were the ones who brought the woman caught in the act of adultery to Jesus. They wanted to trip Him up & see if He’d contradict the law. They were trying to get her killed as an evil lawbreaker when they themselves were evil lawbreakers, & despised all others who weren’t up to their “standards.” They were always ready to proselyte but Jesus told them the ones they enlisted became worse for the experience.

So, the Pharisees were loveless, judgmental, prideful, couldn’t differentiate between traditions & God’s clear commands, & they were hypocritical, not living what they taught.

There’s a little formula that we can quickly apply to our lives to see if we have a bent toward the Pharisaical. Here are some questions & I’ll take the test with you;

What do you say you believe?—Stated belief
What do you actually do?—Actual practice
Now we have our--Actual Belief.

If we find that our stated belief & our Actual belief are different, we have some problems in the Pharisee department. Let’s try it this way. John says he believes that speeding is breaking the law & it dishonors God but he has three speeding tickets recently & blames it on his “lead foot.” Here’s John’s equation;

“Speeding is breaking the law & dishonors God”---Speeding—“Speeding really isn’t that bad.”

We can apply this formula to many things. Honoring parents, prayer time, TV habits, music choices, our clothes, the way we talk about others & the list goes on. Just do the math & you can instantly see if you lean toward Pharisee-ism.

I’d like to point out 8 more practices that if we follow will mark us as modern day Pharisees. Are you ready? You might be a Pharisee if you;

1. NEVER HAVE ANY FUN

Jesus gave us a new concept of happiness. He used another word for it. He said;

……I am come that they might have life & that they might have it more abundantly. John 10:10

Do you ever let your hair down & just have fun? I’m not speaking about worldly & questionable things; I’m talking about not taking life so seriously & enjoying the journey.

I learned early in life that God will forgive us if we slip up & smile once in a while, or laugh out loud for that matter. Do you love having fun now & then? I do. Of course with folk my age a lot depends on how much fun you can stand.

Really, we need to reel in our lowers lips & let the joy come back into our lives, don’t you think? Some people are so negative if they walked out in the Sun they’d develop.

In Psalm 45:7, the Psalmist says of the pre-incarnate Christ,

God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.

That is telling us, in spite of the morose pictures we often see of Jesus, in actuality he was the happiest man in town. Have you really been enjoying the abundant life? If not, why not?

Jesus told His disciples,--These things have I spoken unto you that my joy might remain in you & that your joy might be full.-John 15:11.

Think about that; the very joy that Jesus has is available to us. His joy! Are you too spiritual to enjoy life? You might just be a Pharisee.

2. YOU MIGHT BE A PHARISEE IF YOU EXERCISE EXCESSIVE CONTROL

This spirit will manifest itself in too many rules & restrictions, rules that are pointless or too harsh. Psychologists say the two leading mental problems of our day are narcissism & paranoia, two off-shoots of needing power & control.

I’ve seen small children so controlling that their whole life is wrapped up in being the center of attention. If it doesn’t work for them they’ll pitch a conniption fit until it does work.

Many adults also have control issues, wanting to micro-manage the lives of those around them.

THE JEZEBEL SPIRIT--A CONTROLLING SPIRIT

Revelation 2:20 reminds us again of Jezebel whom we met in 1 Kings 21. She controlled the mind & actions of her wimpy husband Ahab, resulting in the murder of Naboth & theft of his vineyard.

Pharisees have controlling spirits. A person with a controlling spirit will connive & manipulate in unbelievable ways to have it their way & control everyone around them. They will lie, cheat, beg, borrow & steal to ram their agendas through. Many people are under the power of such a controller.

Here's a good rule of thumb to tell if you're dealing with a controller and a manipulator ; If when they need you to do something special for them, they present it to you with teary eyes and every drop of earnestness they can conjure up. You just know it's, for all practical purposes, a life or death situation. However when you go to them and present your special problem asking for their help, it's like they're a different person. There's no seriousness or deep concern about your need.

A controlling spirit will take what would ordinarily be good & right & use it to put others in bondage. For example, a husband can use the scripture saying women should be in submission to their husbands to make a wife little more than a puppet on a string. He forgets that he must earn the right to have his wife’s submission by loving her as Christ loved the church. Christ laid down His life for the church.

The Jezebel spirit can inhabit both sexes. There are mothers-in-law & fathers-in-law who exercise control over the minds of their married children. The Jezebel spirit can be a minister who wants to control his church or a boss who exercises control over the minds of those who work for him. This of course is to bring people under their power, position & influence for selfish gain. There are some pastors who don’t want revival to break loose in their church for fear of losing control.

Hitler & Stalin were controllers but there are controlling spirits all around us in businesses, homes & churches constantly working to bring people into bondage to them & their whims.

Are you a Pharisaical controller or are you under the bondage of one? If you are, God wants you free from that.

IF THE SON THEREFORE SHALL MAKE YOU FREE, YOU SHALL BE FREE INDEED.---John 8:36

3. PHARISEES OVERREACT TO FAILURE.

I feel, as I’m sure you do that I had the best parents a kid could have. Both my parents were preachers. This might sound a little strange to you, but I can’t remember ever hearing my parents say, “Son, everybody makes mistakes.” They were pretty smart people & they had that information, but I just never heard them say it.

That’s ironic because they had a son who made plenty of mistakes. I think the reason I never heard my parents say this was because they feared it would sound like a compromising statement. Maybe they thought it was a license to go ahead & make a lot of mistakes.

I also can’t remember ever hearing my folks preach or teach much on Grace. They knew about it, but again, I think they felt if you were always falling back on the Grace of God that meant you weren’t serious about towing the line of personal holiness.

I loved my folks & am grateful for the knowledge & training they imparted to me. But when it came to understanding God’s full & free Grace, & not being too hard on yourself, I had to get my own revelation on that.

Friend, we should not look at failure as the end of the world. Failure can be a wonderful opportunity for instruction. That doesn’t mean we should wallow in our failures, it just means we should never live in fear of failure.

The pursuit of excellent is completely different from perfectionism. God’s love for us isn’t performance-based & He isn’t expecting perfection, at least in the common usage of the word.

The more things we try, the more mistakes we’ll make but let’s not be so hobbled with “paralysis by analysis” that we fear to explore new avenues. That’s like committing suicide because you’re afraid to die. To be well adjusted in this life we’ll have to come to grips with the fact that mistakes & failures are basic to life.

You just might be a Pharisee if you’re;

4. IMPATIENT AND UNFORGIVING

Ephesians 4:32 says, And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted forgiving one another…..

Are you grouchy & irritable over everything that goes wrong? If so, your home, instead of being filled with joy, probably has an oppressive & negative atmosphere. If you & I are impatient & unforgiving we’ll drive ourselves & others to live in hopelessness & despair.

The word “long suffering” doesn’t mean, --I’ve been suffering a long time, -- it means being kind, loving & patient with others. Moses wasn’t allowed to set foot in the Promised Land because he lost his temper & was fractious with God’s people. We might minimize it but we pay a terrible price for being too hard on people.

I’ve known people that were so self-righteous about divorce they were insufferable. I’ve known preachers who got on radio & TV condemning folk who’d gotten divorced. But then someone close to them went through divorce & that shut them up quick. Often, all it takes is a little trouble in life to change some of our deeply held “convictions.”

You might be a Pharisee if you;

5. ELEVATE PERSONAL PREFERENCES OVER PRINCIPLE

It’s fine to have our own set of rules, rituals & standards but we run into trouble when we try to inflict them on others.


In the area of the essentials of the faith [we know what they are] we must all tow the line or risk drifting into spiritual apostasy. But in the area of non-essentials, we are given awesome freedom. We just can’t take our personal preference & place them on the level of Biblical commands.

Often we make the mistake of trying to spiritualize everything. If we start trying to enforce our preferential rules, we fall into the Pharisaical trap, for this is exactly what the Pharisees of Jesus' day did. Jesus’ radar quickly picked it up. Let’s be open & honest about what is Scripture, & what is not. 

You might be a Pharisee if you;

6. PROMOTE UNNECESSARY SEPARATISM & ISOLATION

We sometimes joke about people who are in-bred & in-grown, like the guy who prayed, “Lord, bless me & my wife & Joe & his wife-- us four & no more.”

I heard about a man who visited a little town & saw a Church of Christ on one side of the street & a Church of God on the other. He said, “Huh, I didn’t know Christ & God had a falling out.”

We home-schooled our children for a while & I’m all for it but problems can crop up if kids become so used to separatism that they don’t develop socially. Some people can be so “religious” that they only feel comfortable with those of their own stripe. Denominations are fine but the problem comes when we lose the desire & ability to reach out to unbelievers.

Ask yourself these questions, as I have;

Would the “worst of sinners’ feel loved by you or would they sense that you’re more likely to condemn & ostracize them? When you sing the words, “He saved a wretch like me” do you feel those words refer to someone else? Do you feel a twinge of jealousy when someone else is blessed or “more noticed” than you? Has your goodness become a habit or does it thrive as a response of love & gratitude to God?

Do you feel the need to let others know how spiritual & highly favored you are? Do you enjoy titles like DOCTOR, REVEREND, THE RIGHT REVEREND, THE MOST RIGHT REVEREND, THE MOST HIGHLY FAVORED REVEREND, EXALTED REVEREND, & REVEREND-PROFESSOR? 

Here’s an idea; increase your “rank” by demoting yourself.

Do you consider your church-roll to be the Lamb’s book of Life? Are you disgusted by the moral filth that is playing on your own VCR/DVD player? Do you secretly feel the churches experiencing growth are probably watering down the Gospel? Do you carry the KJV because it’s what Paul & Silas carried?

You might be a Pharisee if you;

7. JUDGE OTHERS

A Pharisee will watch people carefully to make sure they’re doing things according to the book but they never see themselves. How convenient for them. Jesus’ most scathing words about them was, --Be on guard against the “leaven” or “Yeast” of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.-Luke 12:1

Since God is going to wait until the end of a life to judge it, we can & should refrain from judging others.

8. A PHARISEE HAS A PETTY, LOVELESS, SMALL MINDED, SQUABBLING SPIRIT

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day loved nothing more than they loved sitting around discussing petty things like;--If a Taylor or seamstress absentmindedly stuck a needle in their robe & walked out into the street on The Sabbath, was it a sin. ? Or, is it a sin to lift a child on the Sabbath. Or, if they saw a piece of an herbal leaf floating in their tea, they’d tear off a piece of it & run down to the temple to pay tithes on that little leaf before they drank it

In the book of Philippians Paul was coming against the pettiness he saw infecting that church. In chapter four he addresses two women, Euodias & Syntyche, who had faithfully worked for him in the past but are now using their talents & energies in disagreement rather than a common calling.

The problems that plague the church today are not so much the earth-shattering things we call “biggies.” Most problems, corporate & personal stem from pettiness.

Legalism is an ugly, ugly thing. It’s one of the most lethal cancers ever to strike a church or an individual. It will make you as mean as a snake.

Some were disappointed in Jesus when they learned He didn’t come to overthrow the Roman government, but rather He came to overthrow the legalism & mean-spiritedness he saw infesting the hearts & minds of His chosen Race. He saw it & He died to set us free from it.

THE ANTI-THESIS FOR LEGALISM IS LOVE

There’s a true story I heard, & I really don’t know where it happened or who it happened to but a Christian nurse was a witness to it.

A little girl named Liz had a rare & deadly blood disease. Her only chance of recovery was a blood transfusion from her five-year old brother who’d miraculously survived the same disease & had developed the anti-bodies to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother & asked if he’d be willing to give his blood to his sister.

The nurse said, “I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath & saying, “Yes” I’ll do it if it will save her life.” “As he lay in the bed next to his sister, I saw him smile, as we all did, as we saw the color returning to her face” she said. Then his face grew pale & his smile faded. He looked at the doctor & asked with a trembling voice, “Doctor, will I start to die right away?”

Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all his blood in order to save her; and even knowing that he did it. He did it because he truly loved his sister.

If you & I search our hearts & find even the smallest vestige of the Pharisee lurking around, let us get down on our knees & ask God to forgive us & take it away. We can go forth into this sin-cursed world, vibrant saints of God, singing of Jesus’ faith, bathed in Jesus’ hope & radiating Jesus’ love.

The world is waiting, not for another loveless, stinging critique, but to see & feel that staggering, holy love that comes to it from God.

 Blessings,

John










Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Big Fat Lies

By John Stallings


A pastor announced to his people that in a few weeks he’d start a series of sermons on lying.

 After the announcement he heard a lot of remarks from the congregation, mostly in fun, that surely he didn’t think his church needed to hear such a series. The pastor assured the good folk that they indeed needed to hear his sermons on lying. The people continued to take it more or less as a joke.

The Sunday before his first message, in announcing his first installment on lying, the pastor asked everyone to please read the seventeenth chapter of the book of Mark as preparation for the upcoming series. The next Sunday morning the minister stood in his pulpit & before he took his text he asked how many had read Mark seventeen during the past week. Practically everyone in the audience raised their hand that they’d read the chapter as he’d asked them to. Then the pastor announced to them that they couldn’t have read Mark seventeen because the book of Mark only has sixteen chapters.

In some places I’ve been, a preacher pulling a stunt like that would be called “unemployed.”

I’ve tried to track down the origins of “liar, liar, pants on fire, hang them on a telephone wire.” This derisive phrase was probably uttered by a parent to a child caught lying & later the child began to use the phrase, mostly because kids like things that rhyme. Someone obviously made it a poem, children started using it on other kids &, well it entered the lexicon.

In the Who’s who among American High School Students, the report of a recent survey is very disturbing. It reported that 84% of the high school students surveyed said cheating was common among their peers. Fifty-six % of students said “Cheating wasn’t that big a deal.” In another study of over 12,000 high school students, 43% agreed that a person has to lie or cheat sometimes in order to succeed.”(George Clowes Survey results-heartland institute, 02/01/2004.

Every now & then over the years 20/20, Prime Time, or one of the big network T.V shows will have a segment about lying. It’s astounding how pervasive lying is & how early in life it starts.

The New York Times some time back did a story called;--What tangled webs we weave, --- we ALL practice to deceive. The article said that 91% of Americans confess that they regularly don’t tell the truth & a full 20% admit they can’t get through the day without telling conscious premeditated lies. The report says—“We have moved very far away from the age when a man’s word was his bond….to a society in which people are more accepting than ever before of exaggerations, falsifications, fabrications, misstatements, misrepresentations, gloss-overs, quibbles, concoctions, shuffles, prevarications, trims & truth covered & varnished.” It sounds like Isaiah is describing present day America when he says---No one calls for justice; no one pleads his case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments & speak lies. They conceive trouble & give birth to evil. Ish.59:4.

Harris poll did a survey that dealt with trust. It was based on a survey of the first graduating class of the new millennium—the class of 2001. In the study students said they trusted the honesty & integrity of their grandparents’ generation more than their peers. They are more likely to trust their grandparents’ generation (79%) followed by their parents’ generation (68 %.) Apparently our children are seeing their world-where lies are so prevalent – as a treacherous place.

They seem to relate to the words of Psalms 12:1-2 where it says—Help O Lord! For the godly are no more. The faithful have vanished from among men. Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception.

We dare not take a soft-stand on the subject of lying. We are clearly told there will be no liars in heaven. Have you noticed that the Bible doesn’t say, “All murders will have their part in the Lake of fire?” Or “all of any group of sinners shall have their part in the Lake of fire?” Certainly these folk, minus forgiveness will be there but the Bible in referring to them doesn’t say they “All”___ will be there. But the Bible does say, “ALL LIARS” will have their place in the lake of fire.” (Rev.21:8.) God wants us to know “all liars” includes “little white lies- I love your hair—you’re not fat,” “Lies of convenience- read my lips, no new taxes—or—I didn’t inhale” “small lies like-my dog ate my homework,” “religious lies, like volunteer to do church work, it’ll only take a few minutes a week, ---My message will be brief, ---give me just two more minutes of your time-- I’m almost through preaching---& “Business lies—the bait & switch merchants.”

Also, our nation now has a new art-form known as SPIN. If a politician has the ability to successfully “spin” a version of truth that will soothe listeners or deceive them, he’s admired by many people & considered someone worth looking up to. Gone are the days when GREATNESS & HONESTY were a package deal.

We have historians re-shaping history to conform to the morals of our day. We even have a whole new type of newspaper today know as SCANDAL SHEETS or TABLOIDS. They are sold, of all places, at grocery stores & usually have “true” headline stories on the front page. Stories like, - “Hundred year old woman gives birth to two-headed baby after being kidnapped by a UFO.” People buy these things because they are tantalized at the thought of hearing the latest smut on some person…even if it’s almost certain to be untrue.

We are all bombarded by claims each & every day that are totally bogus.
Maybe you don’t get the same email or watch the same advertisements I watch daily but if I believed everything I hear & read I’d have by now become rich by investing with some guy in Africa, I would by now have the physique of Superman, I would have my house filled with drugs & food-supplements I bought at bargain basement prices- no need for a prescription, & I would be free of credit-card debt. Liar, Liar, pants on fire. In a day when lies abound, the truth can actually be refreshing no matter how bad it is.

It’s horrendous, especially in ministries, to indict or be indicted as a liar & it’s equally as terrible to engage in the kind of secrecy that keeps others in the dark. It’s enlightening to read the words of 1 Timothy in 4:1-6,

-- Now the spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits & doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron….


Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?”

Indeed what is it?

What appears to be the truth isn’t always the truth & if you think you know all the truth maybe you’d better ask some more questions. To say that the truth was/is important to Jesus is like saying the Atlantic Ocean is a little damp. In the Gospel of John alone the word truth occurs 25 times & it’s usually coming from the mouth of Jesus Himself. He said—you will know the truth & the truth will set you free. To Jesus, to live in ignorance & error is to live in bondage.


The ninth commandment in Exodus 20:16 says;--You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor—this commandment has never been timelier. God takes lying seriously—very seriously, and for good reason. In the words of more than one great intellect, “there can be no true community in the face of public lies.” Oh how we need to hear this & take it to heart. Oliver Wendell Holmes said—“Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle that fits them all.” God understood that any relationships based on lies can’t stand. Jesus told us in John 8:44—the devil is the father of lies.

Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven things that will drive a wedge between us & God. Listen to what it says,--There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him; haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies & a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

This certainly isn’t a perfect analogy but with God it’s somewhat like a person with allergies. I have known people who are allergic to things like ragweed or cat hair. Their immune system is overly sensitive to those things. Their eyes will water & itch. They cough & sneeze until you think their head is going to fly off. It’s sad to watch them suffer. All because they can’t tolerate something in the air that they can’t even see.

God is “allergic”to all sin but he especially hates lies. Jesus was truth incarnate. God is called “The God of truth.” The Holy Spirit is called “The spirit of truth.” Paul says of the people in Romans 1,--They exchange the truth of God for a lie. By lying we separate ourselves from God, so there are several negative consequences that come with disobeying the 9th commandment. Matthew 5:37 says,--Let your communication be yea, yea & nay, nay for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

St. Telemachus was a fourth century monk who lived in a monastery in Europe. Under the Spirit’s leading one day he set out on a journey to Rome. When he arrived he followed a crowd into the Coliseum. As he watched, in the arena, gladiators came out & began to fight to their deaths. Telemachus thought, “Here we are four centuries after Christ in a civilized nation & people are killing each for the entertainment of the crowd. This isn’t Christian.”

So he got up from his seat ran down the stairs, climbed over the wall, walked into the arena & stood between two large gladiators. Putting his hands to his mouth he meekly shouted, “In the name of Christ stop.” The crowd jeered him but he continued to say the same thing until finally one of the gladiators took his sword & stabbed Telemachus in the stomach. Before he died he uttered the words again, “In the name of Christ stop,” then he expired on the arena floor.

The crowd grew silent & within minutes they all got up & left the coliseum. History records that thanks to Telemachus, this was the last gladiatorial contest in the history of the Roman Empire. The same Holy Spirit who led Telemachus to stand for the truth will lead you & me to do the same thing whether it’s to speak out against racism, abortion, homosexuality, or even against our nation’s tolerance of lying.

It’s not enough to NOT LIE. We must speak up for the TRUTH!


Blessings,


John

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Five Sisters Who Changed The World.

By John Stallings


Recently I read the top ten reasons God made woman.

10. Adam seemed to always be lost in the Garden.
9. Adam needed someone to hand him the T.V
remote, not to see what was on but to see what else was on.
8. When Adam needed a new fig-leaf, he’d never order one without a wife.
7. Adam would without question forget garbage night.
6. Adam would never make a doctor's appointment for himself.
5. Adam would have never gone through the pain of childbirth.
4. With Eve, Adam would have someone to blame if things went wrong.
3. Men left alone get into all kinds of trouble.
2. Adam would never remember where he kept his
garden tools.
1. After making Adam God said, “I can do better than that.”

In Numbers 27, after the forty years in the wilderness, & toward the end of Moses’ life, there is a fascinating story of five sisters, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, the daughters of a man named Zelophehad.

This man was of the tribe of Manasseh who died during the wilderness journey. He had five daughters but no sons. In order to perpetuate their fathers name by means of the allotted share of the Promised Land that would have gone to him, & then to his sons if he had any, Zelophehad’s daughters approached Moses & asked if the land might be given to them instead. Up to that time there was no provision made in the law for property or possessions to be passed down to women when there were no living male sons.

These daughters were facing the stark reality that the system & its policies were set up in such a way that some were going to be left out of the promise from the very start, & that included them. They came because Israelite customs threaten to erase their father’s memory. Their claim is both affectionate & courageous.The story is interesting first of all because it wasn’t customary for women to approach Moses in this way.

These women came to petition Moses to change things, indeed to if necessary make a new law that would do away with this injustice which in truth made second class citizens of women. These young women were women of faith & came to Moses in such humility & presented their case so convincingly, that Moses had to take the matter to God for directions on how to handle it. God told Moses the women were right & that a new law should be written to see to it that in such future cases, women would receive the same benefits that man received when it came to family inheritance.

Let’s consider five specific stand-out principles that could work for us all when it comes to seeing change effected in our lives & our world.

The first thing about these daughters of Zelophehad was;

1.THEY KNEW THEIR IDENTITY.

They not only knew who they were from a human standpoint, they knew they were daughters of covenant. They knew who they were in God & they knew God is not a respecter of persons. They were daughters of the Most High God & approached Moses with Faith.They knew before the verse was written the meaning of 1 Peter 2:9—But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an Holy nation a peculiar people that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

THEY WEREN'T CONFUSED ABOUT A GENDER GAP.

What an example they set for women & as a matter fact all people. It’s always been sad to me to see women who feel somehow they're second class citizens. To be frank, in the 21st century, women are in many quarters, underpaid, under valued & under appreciated. You see women almost everywhere wearing t-shirts that carry the message that they are sexual objects. They seem to feel that if they don’t pass the test of sensuality they need to have re-constructive surgery so that they can measure up to what men & society think they should be.These five daughters of Zelophehad knew who they were and set a good example for all women to come by recognizing who they were as daughters of God, made in His image & commanding every bit as much respect as men.

They knew the meaning of Galatians 3:28……..For in Christ there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ.

Romans 8: 16-17 says,-The spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. And if children then heirs; and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.

2. THESE WOMEN TOOK THE INITIATIVE.

The five sisters saw a challenge when they realized that property rights were passed on through males of the same ethnic clan. They saw that whatever was about to be celebrated by the allotting of land to the people, it didn’t include them. When their father died, if they had been sons they would have inherited his portion of the land. If they had been brothers they’d have been able to share in their brothers’ land. If they had been married they’d have gone to live on their husband’s land. If they had been widowed their husbands family would have taken care of them. But being that they had no father, no brother, no husband & no in-laws, they had no rights to any land.

They were coming into the land of promise but it was clear that they didn’t count for anything & they’d remain forever disconnected from the land & from sustainable life.They looked through the dark foreboding window of the future & realized that they were invisible, at least when it came to possessing any earthly goods.They approached Moses & Eleazar the priest at the door of the Tabernacle in front of the congregation.

What makes this so spectacular is that there was no forum for Mahlah, Hoglah, Noah, Milcah & Tirzah to voice their grievance. A woman’s place was in the home. For them to act outside the system was to take a great risk, the risk of being rejected by the rest of the community. Even Moses’ own sister was stricken with leprosy for daring to question her brother’s judgment as God’s spokesman.Some might have seen this request as confrontational, out of order or disrespectful but God judged their motive. They were doing their part in preserving the inheritance of their father.How did these girls know their rights as heirs to their father’s inheritance? I believe it was because they spent time at their father’s feet as he shared with them the promises of God to Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob. God had promised to preserve the legacy. They were assured of their birthright because of the time spent with their father. Zelophehad had built faith in his daughters that God would keep His word.

They understood Hebrews 4:16 before it was written,-

-Let us come boldly therefore the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

These five sisters with no precedent, no rights, no authority & no testosterone go ahead & take action & initiative. They had the right stuff to go before Moses & take on the legal system in the most public place possible with imagination & grace.Everyone heard them plead their case to Moses. These women respected the Shekina Glory in the tabernacle but it didn’t cause them to be intimidated. They knew they were right in what they were requesting so they proceeded.

INITIATIVE MEANS SEEING A NEED & DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT WITHOUT WAITING TO BE PRESSURED.

They approached Moses with boldness not arrogance & with confidence not pride. They didn’t have the attitude of militant feminists nor were they presumptuous. A little boy had played in the mud until he was almost covered with it from head to toe. As he entered his house his mother playfully asked, “Who’s that little boy coming in my house?” The boy answered, “Well the lady next door was right. She said I was so dirty my mother wouldn’t recognize me.”These five daughters didn’t have an identity crisis. They recognized exactly who they were & without being cocky about it, they took the initiative. They took action. And not only did they approach Moses with no fear, they were successful & actually got things changed. There was no anger in what they did. They weren’t all worked up & in a rage. Had they done that, nothing would have changed as a matter of fact they would have set their cause back.

James 1:21says –For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.

1 Peter 3:4 says—But let it be the hidden man of the heart in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek & quiet spirit which is in the sight of God of great price.

These women weren’t pushy & brassy. They had courage but they also were in possession of their emotions & they showed humility. Have you noticed that we can’t get much done of any consequence if we’re angry? Anger just makes other people angry. If you & I aren’t being successful in getting our ideas implemented we should stop & ask ourselves if we’re going about it in the right way. We also should realize that not much will happen in our lives until we move on our ideas.

I heard the story of an immigrant who came to America years ago. He’d never seen a cafeteria before so he walked into one & sat down, waiting to be served. A man was watching him & figured he was confused so he walked up & told him how a cafeteria worked. He could just go up to the buffet & get anything he wanted & then go pay for it. The man later said he then understood what America was all about. He could have anything he was willing to pay for but no one was going to get it for him. He’d have to go get it himself.

That’s what initiative is all about. Just do it. There seems to be a move in this country especially in leadership to foster a ‘Leaning on government” mind-set but when people start looking at the government for a hand-out rather than depending on their own personal efforts and initiative, we’re headed for history’s trash heap in short order.

3. THESE WOMEN BROKE WITH TRADITION.

There can be no question that while their father was alive, they were going to have an inheritance & they had probably dreamed about what their share of land would look like. However when he died, all that evaporated & since no mention is made of a mother, they were now no doubt orphans. The girls had probably spent a lot of time talking about their plight; this seems to me to be a valid female approach to dealing with things of importance. In their discussions it probably came up that the land was being given to Israel by God- so in truth, no one was earning their share.

Grace was involved here much more than law, & they had faith to believe that God was going to work for them in the matter. But they were smart enough to realize that a few "sacred cows" would have to be slaughtered if they were going to have any chance at all in an inheritance. The definition of a sacred cow is: Once a rule is in place it's very difficult to replace that rule even though the original reason for the rule has disappeared."

It wasn’t customary for women to go to Moses. There was nothing in the law to pass an inheritance down to women so in essence they were asking that another law be written. How nervy can you get? Obviously pretty nervy. But it worked. They got Moses so shook-up that he had to go & pray about it. Long before women actually had any rights at all these women were asking for equal dignity for women. Long before the phrase was coined, they were asking Moses to “think outside the box.

I read about a young married woman who was cooking a ham for her family. As she proceeded to cut the ham in two, her little girl came by & asked her why she was doing it. The mom confessed that she didn’t know but she’d go call her mom & asked why she always cooked ham that way. Her mother said she didn’t really know either; her mom had always cut hams in two before cooking them. The mother called the grandmother who was quite old & asked her why she’d always prepared a ham by cutting it two pieces & she answered, “Oh, the reason I always cut hams in two was because I didn’t have a pot large enough to cook a ham in one piece.”

So a tradition was born in that family & people were going through the motions not recognizing there was no longer a valid reason to be doing it.These daughters of Zelophehad knew nothing had been written about their need so everyone was just following a tradition; a tradition that needed changing.Sometimes people will pray for supernatural discernment when all that is needed is a little common sense. The sisters knew that there was the written law but there was also such a thing as the spirit of the law & the spirit of the law said they should be treated as fairly as anyone else. We can get so hung-up in our traditions that we don’t realize how silly we look doing things just because that’s the way we’ve always done them.

In 2 Corinthians 3:7 Paul said, “Who has made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter but of the spirit: for the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life.

Legalists will write a rule for everything. When that happens, everything gets in bondage & boxed in to rule keeping, consequently all joy evaporates. The Bible doesn’t speak on every little issue we face, if it did it would be so big it would take a box-car to carry it. What God expects us to do in those cases is use our sanctified common sense & follow the spirit of the law. If a person accidentally shoots another person & it is very obvious that it was an accident, a judge isn’t going to treat it like a murder. If its demonstrable that it was an accident the judge will use the spirit of the law to judge the person. Intent & motivation are always carefully examined.

If you want to see a depressed group of people, go into a church that’s bound up by laws, rules & regulations & you’ll see the saddest sight you can imagine. Where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty & joy in the Holy Ghost. There’s no need for God’s people to get all bound up with legalism when all we have to do in cases where there’s no written direction is read the intent of God’s law.

If you want to know what legalism really looks like read Matthew 23 & you’ll not only read the best description available anywhere about what makes legalists tick, you’ll also see Jesus excoriating the Pharisees until you can almost smell the hide burning. He scolded them because all they could think about was their traditions. If you haven’t read that chapter lately you should re-read it.

In the book of Revelation we hear Jesus speaking to the seven churches about hearing-- “what the spirit is saying to the church.” Yes God’s written word is true. Yes it’s all written under the Spirit’s directive. Yes it’s all profitable to living victorious lives. But Jesus is saying that God is still speaking to the churches in the 21st century & we need to have keen listening ears.These women motivated Moses to think & to pray. You have probably observed that women have a talent for building fires under men.

4. THEY MOTIVATED LEADERSHIP

When these women got through presenting their petition, all Moses could do was go pray. When I think about these sisters I can’t help but think about Barak & Deborah. Mention is made of Barak in Hebrews eleven. When I think about them it also brings to mind Abigail & the way she confronted David when he was on his way to kill her weak husband & probably all the males in her family. Abigail confronted David & taught him mercy, saving him from untold regrets.

In 1859 a woman by the name of Sarah J. Hale petitioned the Government to have a special day of Thanksgiving. She had to jump through a lot of hoops but the bottom line is that today we men have a full day of eating turkey & watching football because of this woman.

My mother was, by any standards a very strong woman. When my sister & I were in junior high & high school the pressure was constantly put on us to learn to dance. My mothers answer to that was, “you teach my kids reading, writing & arithmetic & I’ll teach them the social graces.” Though she was called on to confront several school systems in several different states she always prevailed & her children never graced a dance floor.

My wife Juda has taken my mother's place & she stands as a sentry in my life calling me to do more than I think I can do. Once in a while we all need someone to throw us out of the boat and say “walk.” When you look at my life don’t give me too much credit. The credit goes to great women who saw in me more than I ever saw in myself & pushed me to excel.How often have I heard the admonition-“you’re thinking too small?”

5. THE DAUGHTERS OF ZELOPHEHAD'S ACTION BENEFITED OTHERS.

It would have been risky to approach Moses in private. It would have looked like they were trying to get a better, maybe secret deal for themselves. By coming to him publicly their petition becomes an action to effect change on behalf of the whole community. These sisters were using their heads & being extraordinarily creative, & along the way, filing one of the earliest law suits on record.Notice that Moses came out of his prayers & announced- “These women are right.”

What they started has benefited women across the ages up to this day. I think of Rosa Parks. In 1955 she’d had it up to her neck with being treated like a poodle dog so she refused to move to the back of the city bus. History will show that by taking the stand she took, all women were blessed. Frankly the entire human race was blessed because she refused to be treated like a second class citizen that day in Montgomery Alabama.

Likewise, the daughters of Zelophehad didn’t do what they did for strictly selfish reasons. They knew what they were doing would help women of many coming generations.These daughters knew that they and all others were priests under God & because of their persistence a new law was written not only for them but to secure rights to property for generations to come.Thank God for women & thank God for the differences that are woven into our lives by our creator. Without these differences life would be rather lack-luster.

Thank God for the woman’s touch even though it historically has been somewhat underappreciated. As for me, I’ve appreciated women since I first found out they weren’t men.

The daughters of Zelophehad were shining examples of being engaged with the realities of life. They had the courage & initiative to take the bull by the horns as it were & effect change, not only for themselves but for future generations. Mahlah, Noah, Milcah, Hoglah & Tirzah didn’t change everything but they did make a significant difference in their rights as well as others that would be beneficiaries of this legal change.

The book of numbers doesn’t record the reaction of the sisters when they won their case but I think I know what it was. Of course, they danced.What is it you believe that God has called you to do? Have you been sitting at your father’s feet daily? Are you waiting for your next assignment?

Don’t let any man, women or world system intimidate you or victimize you into believing you are only a woman. You are a daughter of Zion.

Take your rightful place & claim your God given heritage. Your reward will be great because you’ll receive your inheritance & that will be time well spent.

Arise & shine for your light has come. The glory of the Lord has risen upon you -Ish.60:1-2.


Blessings,



John

Friday, April 24, 2015

Something Went Wrong

By John Stallings

On Nov. 18, 1995, Itzhak Perlman, the violinist came on stage to give a concert at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City.


People who’ve been to a Perlman concert  know that getting on stage is no small achievement for him. He was stricken as a child with polio & so he has braces on both legs & walks with the aid of two crutches. To see him walk across the stage one step at a time, painfully & slowly is an unforgettable sight.

Then he sits down, slowly, puts his crutches on the floor, undoes the clasps on his legs, tucks one foot back & extends the other foot forward. Then he bends down & picks up the violin, puts it under his chin, nods to the conductor & proceeds to play.

By now the audience is used to his ritual. They sit quietly as he makes his way across the stage to his chair. They wait until he’s ready to play.

But this time, something went wrong. Just as he finished the first few bars, one of his strings on his violin broke. You could hear it snap- it went off like gunfire across the room. There was no mistaking what that sound meant. People who were there that night said, “We figured he’d have to get up, put on the clasps again, pick up the crutches & limp his way off stage-to either find another violin or else find another string for this one."

But he didn’t. Instead he waited a moment closed his eyes & then signaled the conductor to start again. The orchestra began & he played from where he’d left off. He played with such passion & purity as they had never heard before. Of course anyone  "knows" it’s impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings. But that that night Itzhak Perlman refused to know that. Folk could see him modulating, changing, and recomposing the piece in his head.

When he finished there was an awesome silence in the room. Then there was an extraordinary outburst of applause from every corner of the room. And then the people rose & cheered. He smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, raised his bow to quiet the crowd, & then he said not boastfully, but in a quiet , pensive reverent tone, “You know, sometimes it’s the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

What a powerful line that is.

VERY OFTEN IN THIS FAST-PACED WORLD IN THE MIDDLE OF AN ALL-OUT EFFORT ON OUR PART, SOMETHING GOES WRONG.

Maybe it’s our health, or a relationship or a financial setback. Sometimes it seems that our whole world has come crashing down on us. Whatever has happened, we must carry on in spite of it to make the best music possible.

Sometimes we are tempted to think if we are good enough, pray enough, pure-minded enough & giving enough we will somehow escape trouble. Perfection, even if we could achieve it won’t guarantee trouble won’t come knocking at our door.

I remember a story my parents told me about their evangelistic endeavors when they first started in ministry. I had two sisters, Barbara & Marveline, & I was the only one too young to remember those days. My father bought a small Gospel tent & was traveling the south with it. We were staying in an old house out in the country that had been loaned to my parents for the duration of the series of meetings in La Grange, Georgia. One night my mother was awakened in her sleep & impressed to move the pallet where I was sleeping from  close proximity to an open window. At almost the instant she moved me a brick sailed through the window & landed where my head had been. Though that qualified as a small miracle, it was the late thirties & my parents survived on miracles.

The revival in that small Georgia town was going well; overflow crowds & many being saved. The revival was extended several times & stretched into weeks. Then one night something went wrong. My oldest sister Marveline, who had been fighting kidney disease, came down with a serious kidney infection & to make a long story short, she died in that town. Our little family had to lay her in a grave in LaGrange, Ga. To re-cap, my oldest sister died & was buried in a small town while her parents were conducting perhaps the greatest spiritual awakening the city had ever seen.

God has never explained that to me & I don’t believe He ever explained it to my parents. Being human, even though we are limited in our ability to grasp eternal realities, we expect God to explain His reasons to us. Trouble will come our way there’s no doubt about that, & sooner or later something in our lives will go wrong. The question is how will we respond to it when it comes? My mom, who was very young herself, responded by vowing to never put her foot inside another church as long as she lived. She was on a “slow burn” with a God who would take her beloved child while her whole family was doing all they knew to follow His leading.

Suffice to say all that changed a year later while attending a funeral of a friend. Mom heard the speaker give an illustration of a mother sheep that refused to cross a raging stream. Her baby lamb had to be transported to the other side of the stream, making the mother sheep willing to risk her life to be with her little one. Once this revelation came to mom; that she had a daughter waiting for her on the other side, she spent the rest of her life in the service of the Lord.

Jeremiah went to the potter’s house in 18:1-11 & gets an illustration for his next sermon to Israel. As he observed the potter, he notes that as the clay is being fashioned on the potter’s wheel, something went wrong. The potter sees an imperfection in his creation & just stops. He mars the clay & starts over. Jeremiah sees something besides clay in this illustration & proceeds to use it as a parallel to Israel & her rebellion & imperfections. But God isn’t through with Israel & will continue to mold & work with them.

Jeremiah’s story is reminiscent of The Garden of Eden when God stooped down, got some clay & fashioned man with His own hands. But you don’t need me to remind you that in that beautiful lush garden where everything was just perfect, something went wrong. Adam & Eve were tempted by Satan & broke the command of God not to eat of one tree & it resulted in Man being banished from the Garden. We call that the “fall.” Just like the potter, God wasn’t so out-done that He had to throw man (the clay) away. No, he kept a hands-on relationship with man. He made them clothes out of animal skins, a foreshadowing of what would come later at Calvary when His Son would be offered as the final sacrifice for mans sin & transgression. God seems to be at His best when something goes wrong.

“Something went wrong!”

This is the story of the history of God’s people & it will doubtless be the story of our lives. We try so hard. We have all our “ducks in a row” but in spite of all our efforts to the contrary, something inexplicably goes wrong. We ask “why is this happening?” “Where is God in all this?” “Why doesn’t He step in & do something?” Some people even put this exceedingly unhealthy spin on it, “How could God do this to me?” Another unhealthy response is to blame others when things go wrong instead of looking inward & upward. We find ourselves up to our ears in the proverbial Alligators & realize too late that we should have drained the swamp.

JOB

Job was a real man who lived in the land of Uz. His problems are so many its hard to select a few verses that share all of them. Job is one of the hero’s of the Bible. He was rich. He had ten children. He was upright before the Lord. Each morning he would make a sacrifice for each of his ten children in case they had sinned. Somewhat like a movie, there are two stories going on at the same time. One is the story of Job & his problems. The other is the story between God & Satan.

We are aware of both. Job was not. One day Satan shows up when the angels are before God. Imagine thousands & thousands of angels have gathered in the presence of God Himself to report on their activities. This is mind-numbing. All of creation is being held accountable to God. In this scene, Satan-fallen-rebellious-Satan-is permitted-is also allowed to come into God’s presence. Hold on to this truth; ---during the trials & tribulations of our lives, always there are dimensions that we don’t see. There’s always more than meets the eye & we need to stay keenly aware of this fact.

God says to Satan, have you ever considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him. He is blameless & upright, a man who fears God & shuns evil. God brags about Job. Does God ever brag about us? Remember, Job isn’t aware of this conservation. We are aware of why Job is hurting, but Job is not.

Then Satan speaks. He says, “Of course he serves you, you protect him.” So God allows Satan to harm what Job has but not Job personally. To give you an idea of God’s supremacy to Satan; Osama bin Laden didn’t come to President Bush & ask for permission to fly planes into the World Trade Center. No enemy ever asks for permission to attack. And yet here is Satan asking God for permission to attack Job. There can be no doubt that Satan did the dirty work but God allowed it. Then something goes wrong! Job's trouble starts.

One day a messenger comes & tells him that “his oxen & donkeys have been carried off, all his servants are dead & I alone am left to tell you.” While he was speaking another servant came & reported that fire from the sky has burned up all the sheep & servants & I alone am left alive to tell you.” Then Job is advised that all of his ten children are dead, killed in a house collapse. Job tears his robes, shaves his head & falls to the ground in worship & declares,

Naked came I from my mother’s womb & naked will I depart. The Lord gave & the Lord has taken away, may the name of the Lord be praised.” Job 1:21. Job still doesn’t say anything foolish. What a man!

Satan has failed. So he goes to God again & says, “Job hasn’t failed because you haven’t touched him personally. You’ve only touched his possessions & children.” Then Satan is given permission to hurt Job but not take his life. Isn’t it a comfort to know that God sets the limits on how much we can be troubled?

The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Cor.10:13, God is faithful who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear, but will with the temptation provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

When we’re hanging on by a thread we need to be reminded that God always has His protecting hands around us. He knows what we can bear. I once heard country singer Loretta Lynn say in an interview—“They say God won’t put more on you than you can stand, but it’s not true.” Well, Loretta’s wrong about that. God isn’t going to allow us to be hurt & wronged so bad that our trust in Him will be destroyed. Here’s a promise you can hang your hat on; God sets the boundaries.


But then something else goes wrong! Job develops sores over his entire body. Next we see him scraping pieces of broken pottery over his body with his wife telling him to curse God & die.

There sure isn’t any encouragement at home.

But let’s not be too hard on Mrs. Job. We need to cut her a little slack. She’s been through a lot. Overnight she’s gone from being the wife of one of the most respected men in the east to a homeless outcast. Like Job, she’s lost everything, including her ten children. Now her once proud husband is sitting in the street suffering from a debilitating disease. His name has become synonymous with tragedy. The town looks at him with disgust. So Mrs. Job has been through a lot.

The problem with Mrs. Job is that she has caved into Satan’s attack. She no longer looks at God as good, she now sees Him as detached & uncaring. The one person Job should have been able to look to for comfort & support now becomes a tool in Satan’s hand. She becomes a part of Job’s humiliation-his test.

She rips into Job’s heart. Her advice is assisted suicide. “Forget your faith in this uncaring God-get Him really ticked off & God will kill you.” But Job says to her, -you speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Job refuses to buy it & holds onto His faith in God.

Seemingly everything goes wrong; But why?

Now Jobs friends Eliphaz, Bildad & Zopharare are going to “help.” His wife wasn’t any help; maybe his friends can bring a little comfort. They sit with Job for a week in silence. When God isn’t forthcoming with an answer, his friends start to speak up. In short, they feel Job has sinned. There is an obvious dark side to his personality. He has brought on himself the torture he’s under. What “brilliant observations” they share with Job. It’s true that sin brings punishment however righteous people experience pain as well. It’s so easy to be simplistic & assume that a hurting person has caused their own pain. Of course we don’t appreciate this logic applied to us.

If you listen to some of the modern day ministers you’d get the idea that if you’re not healthy & wealthy something’s wrong with your faith. Maybe we should ask the early Christians who were eaten by lions about pain & suffering. Do you think it was because they didn’t know how to trust God or maybe there was sin in their lives? Hebrews 11:38 says “The world wasn’t worthy of these martyred Christians.

We can read the story of Job so easily. We are aware of the conversation between God & Satan, this helps with the why. Job was able to witness to the devil himself about the boundless, sustaining grace of God. We also know the end of the story about the restoration of his possessions & having ten new children. Still we know he suffered. His wife didn’t help. His friends didn’t help. What helped Job?

For one thing Job went to the right place with his questions; he went to God. Job didn’t allow his pain to push him from God. When something goes wrong, some people will run from God, avoiding the church & God’s people. Job listened to God. God never told him about the conversation with Satan, & He never gives an explanation, but only asks Job to trust Him. Job got that lesson for he said -Though he slay me yet will I trust Him. Job 13:15. God did however have quiet a conversation with Job. If you haven’t read chapters 38-41 of Job lately, reread them. They’re amazing. God’s Word doesn’t answer all our questions but it does tell us all God wants us to know.

Do you remember how it all ends up? In the end God blesses Job’s socks off. He lives to 140 years with blessings that went way beyond what was taken away. ----Job 41:17 says, -- Job died an old man & full of days.

SOMETHING WENT WRONG--- IN NAZARETH

I can’t imagine my friends & loved ones rejecting me can you? I’m sure we’d be shattered.

But that’s precisely what happened to Jesus. Mark 6:1-6 is one of the most awesome passages in Holy Writ. Jesus returned to His home town & the first day He arrived something went wrong. He friends & neighbors rejected Him. He had been enormously successful since He left his hometown. He had healed & restored a mentally ill man, a feverish old woman, a paralytic, a woman with a twelve year hemorrhage, & a dead little girl. He had reached across the boundaries & barriers of His society & welcomed the unwelcome, touched the untouchables, & ate with sinners. He had painted a picture of the Kingdom of God.

So everywhere He went there were huge crowds pressing into Him. People were bringing the sick & elderly to Him. All day long & into the evening they came, even following along the lake shore as He & His friends sailed from place to place in Peter’s boat. Everyone knew about Him, was talking about Him & had an opinion about Him.

And now for the first time since He left—since the day He walked away from the carpenters shop to be baptized by His cousin John—now for the first time Jesus came home to Nazareth. His parents’ village, where Mary had been born & where Joseph had been a carpenter. It’s a small town & everyone had heard the rumors about Him. They were His neighbors & watched Him as he grew up. These are the people Jesus met when He joined His friends in the old synagogue on the first Sabbath of His homecoming.

Was he proud to be there? I think so. Was he a little nervous when they asked Him to read & interpret? This was a tense, homecoming moment. When Jesus was handed the scroll to read, Mark tells us that the people asked several sarcastic questions. Where did this young man get all this? Is this not the carpenter’s son, the son of Mary? Usually men were known as their fathers son’s so when they referred to Jesus as “Mary’s son” it was the same as what we would call a “bastard.”

These people took big-time offense at Jesus. Jesus responded not by being argumentative but by stating the obvious—“Prophets aren’t honored in their own hometowns.” Mark cuts-to-the-chase & tells us He could do no great works there. Nothing changed in that village. Nothing new emerged. There was no revival. Life quickly returned to normal; and why not? They had rejected Jesus.

And now what I think is one of the saddest verses in the New Testament—He went about the villages teaching. That is, He left His own home town & never returned.

Jesus set the example here for the way we should act when it’s people who do us wrong. Being human we might be tempted to try to even the score. As we’ve seen Jesus never did that. We must remember that God is watching. He has known about the injustice all along so never run ahead of Him with your own solutions. If you have tried to do the right thing time & again, God is aware of that fact. What goes around comes around. We’ve all seen people try to hurt others & in the end they themselves get hurt.  God is patient, so we must be patient.

But when God’s patience has run out, & we never know when that’s going to happen, when God sees that people have hurt us & should be forthcoming with an apology but they refuse to “get it,” He moves in & does what only God can do in a way only God can do it. When God starts moving it’s a fearful thing to behold & you’ll be glad you did right when things start to happen. We should let our hurts go & God will deal with them for us.

……Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. -Psalm 30:5

Don’t panic when something snaps in your life. Play on like Perlman. Turn to God in your time of despair.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivers him out of them all. -Psalm 34:19

God is our refuge & strength: a very present help in time of need.- Psalm 46:1


Blessings,


John