Sunday, February 23, 2014

What Am I Going To Do With Myself?

By John Stallings


Presumptuous are they, and self-willed……2 Peter 2:10

If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross & follow me. –Luke 9:23

I always enjoyed watching Mohammad Ali fight.

Of course his original name was Cassius Clay. We first got acquainted with him years ago as a nineteen year old boxer. He was young, brash and above all, a very good fighter. The man we know today, although world renowned, is hardly a shadow of the young fighter we knew so many decades ago. I was reading an article recently where Ali talked about his past and he said something that caught my attention. He said many of the fighters he beat really beat themselves by the mistakes they made. In other words, he was saying even with boxers, self is sometimes the most formidable opponent.

Often when talking about a political election we’ll say of the leading candidate, “The election is his to lose.” In other words, unless he does something clumsy and shots himself in the foot, he’ll win. Let’s talk about the question of dealing with our biggest obstacle, ourselves.

We Know What We’re Going To Do About Most Everything In Our Lives.

. Our spouses,
· Parents,
· Children,
· And other relatives.
· We have long since learned to relate to the people we work with or go to school with.
· We have a working relationship with our neighbors and don’t lose sleep over other people in our lives.
· We pretty much have a plan and an approach for each and every one of them.
· We know what we’re going to do about our bills, our taxes, unforeseen sickness, setbacks and just about every other thing that could be named.

However, many who have mastered all those relationships and challenges that life presents often don’t have the slightest idea what to do with themselves. That may sound strange, but think about it. Who do you have the most trouble with? We all have more trouble with ourselves than any one else. Paul says, speaking to Titus about the qualifications of a Bishop, “a Bishop must not be self-willed”. Titus 1:7. He didn’t say he must not be devil -willed, but self-willed.

This goes for us as well. If the devil died tomorrow we’d still have our biggest challenges with self. Nowhere does the Bible tell us to take every devil into captivity but it does say—bringing every thought into captivity…2 Cor. 10:5

WE TREAT OURSELVES IN WAYS WE WOULDN'T ALLOW ANYONE ELSE TO TREAT US.

Think about it. We wouldn’t allow another person to come to us and say, “You won’t be allowed to finish your education. You will not be allowed to finish high school or attend college. Its been decided for you and that’s final.”

You wouldn’t allow that would you? You or I would hit the ceiling and if necessary, hire attorneys and go all the way to the Supreme Court to make sure that didn’t stand. However, we’ll turn right around and do that exact thing to ourselves. With parents pleading with us to finish school, we’ll just quit, of our own free will, and not think a thing about it until it’s too late to do anything but regret it.

We’ll make the decision to stop our schooling, often for no other reason than we didn’t feel like continuing. I don’t say this to condemn or to suggest that everyone should go to college, but to make the point that we make decisions that hurt ourselves when no one else would dare do that to us.

We wouldn’t allow another person to say to us, “from now on you’re going to only eat junk food.” Your diet will be sugars, starches, processed foods with no food value. No more nutritious foods for you. You’ve got to gain 60 lbs., become grossly overweight and remain that way.” You may laugh and say, “I wouldn’t stand for that, I would never allow someone to do that to me.” Yet often people do it to themselves and think nothing of it.

You wouldn’t let a person take you out to a house on the edge of town where a mean man or women lived and tell you to stay there and be beaten and verbally abused on a daily basis. No one could make you get your eyes blackened and your body bruised and cut up by another person. It would take an insane person to even think of that. But people will, of their own free-will marry spouses who will abuse them and stay right there and allow it to happen.

No one would allow another person to take them out and get them so drunk and drugged up that they didn’t know who they were and what they were doing. You wouldn’t let another person to put you in debt for every penny you had so you wouldn’t be able to pay your bills, and say to you, “this is how you will stay the rest of your life.” We would be right in not allowing others to oppress us, but how much sense does it make to do the same things to ourselves?

Without Thinking About It We Can Become Our Own Worst Enemies.

Suppose you hired me to help coach you to be the best you could be and to help you go as far as you could possibly go in your life. You were looking to me to help you in every way to reach your full potential. Then one day I came in and announced to you that I had reached the conclusion that you’d gone as far and as high as you could possibly go and you should give up and quit. I further informed you that you were most probably born on the wrong side of the tracks and therefore not to expect life to get any better than it already is.

If this happened, what would you do with me? I believe that if a scenario like that took place you’d immediately fire me and get as far away from me as you possibly could get.

However, in this imaginary scenario, what if that negative person isn’t me, it’s you. To be frank, many people treat themselves in exactly the way I’ve described, constantly putting themselves down to the place that they have no confidence in their own ability to have a superlative life. And the problem is, you can’t fire yourself can you?

So I ask the question: What are you going to do with yourself?

The reason it’s so important that we learn to deal with ourselves successfully is; when our lives work, it sends ripples into countless other lives.

Let me make some suggestions.

First there’s the necessity to place full trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. Then according to Romans 12:1 we must,

1. PRESENT OURSELVES TO GOD AS A LIVING SACRIFICE.

Romans 12: 1 says---I beseech you therefore brethren by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God which is your reasonable service.
In 2 Cor.8:5 Paul says that the Christians at Macedonia, before they gave an offering, first gave themselves to the Lord. When they did this first, then they gave liberally to Paul.

· A little boy who went to church and had nothing to put in the offering plate so he asked the usher to lower the offering plate to the floor so he could step in. All he had to give was himself. That’s the very first thing we need to do with ourselves.

Trying to have a full rich life without Jesus in your life would be like trying to draw water out of a dry well. You might say, I know people who are happy and successful and they aren’t Christians. To an extent that may be true but I will say unequivocally, those people are using Godly, Biblical principles without knowing it. How sad that they are taking His teachings only, when if they knew Him as Savior they’d be able to enjoy a life of wholeness that only Christ can provide.

The next thing is:

2. RESPECT YOURSELF.

Please don’t mistake self-respect for a prideful, egotistical, narcissistic mind- set. This kind of pride in self will make you a slave to your accomplishments & the opinions of others. The heart will always be striving to enthrone self & churning to exceed expectations. Fleshly appetites will consume time, money & energy, & joy is sapped out of relationships. This kind of self-glorification leads to a worship of self that is as anti-Christ as anything ever hatched in hell. Self-glorification winks at its own sin & condemns the sins of others.

The kind of self-respect the Bible teaches is respect that stems from who we are in Christ; our Creator who made us in His image. The Psalmist said in Psalms 139:14, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. The word “fearfully” actually means “respectfully” made. Think about that.

The Bible says in 2 Peter 2:9:”But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood an holy nation a peculiar people, that should show forth the praise of him that hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Not only that; but one third of all God is died for us on the cross. Think of someone offering their child for you to allow you to escape a punishment you deserved.

Can You Imagine Anyone You Know Actually Giving Their Child To Save Your Life?
That’s exactly what God did when he gave Christ to die for us. So in light of that, how can we do less than respect ourselves? If you want to see the devastation that happens when people lose respect for themselves, look at what the teaching of evolution has done to our school children. The message they teach is that we evolved from monkeys so the kids have started to act as if they are no more than educated animals. How sad to have this teaching so pervasive today and look at the havoc it wreaks in the school systems of our land.

I’m not advocating that we assume an attitude of such superiority that we see ourselves as little Gods, but I am advocating that we realized we are God's workmanship, the highest of all beings He created and act accordingly.

The next thing I should do with myself is ;

3. DISCIPLINE MYSELF.

Self discipline is the ability to get yourself to take action regardless of your emotional state. Imagine what could happen if you could get yourself to follow through on your best intentions no matter what. If you need to lose 40 pounds, without self-discipline the intention won’t happen. But with sufficient self-discipline, it’s a done deal. Your life’s success will be measured by the ability you have, and the willingness you have to get yourself to do the things you ought to do in your life. It’s that simple. Don’t make the mistake of waiting for God to do the things for you that you must do for yourself.

In 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul says; --“But I keep under my body and bring it into subjection lest that by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.”
What a statement. Many a person with a good head and heart will never reach their potential because they fail in the area of self discipline. Sometimes self-discipline will mean speaking the truth in love & other times it will mean just shushing. This much I have learned: No one is going to force me to work harder, no one is going to give me success pep talks, no one is going to constantly stay after me to do those things I should be doing to be successful. No one will tell me to shave, to bathe, to get up and work, to vote, to get my taxes and insurance paid, fix my roof, get the oil in my car changed, watch my blood pressure, eat right and brush my teeth. That’s my watch. It’s totally my responsibility. If I don’t do it for myself, it won’t be done- period. To have any kind of a decent life, we’ll have to discipline ourselves.

Here’s a scary thought. If you & I can’t discipline ourselves, we are certain to be disciplined by others.

Don’t believe me? Chew on this. Run your credit cards up real high & be late on a couple of payments. What happens? The companies will be quick to teach you a thing or two about discipline. I repeat, if you don’t discipline yourself, someone else will do it for you.

Next, I’m going to;

4. ENCOURAGE MYSELF.

When I was a teenager, I observed that most adults had trouble distinguishing between two ideas;

1. Promoting pride, &
2. Encouraging progress.

Because they feared the first, they seldom did the latter. They didn’t want us to be cocky so they would give us a lot of correction but precious little encouragement. The Bible has a lot to say about encouragement. Moses regularly encouraged Israel in the wilderness & later Joshua did the same. There‘s a vast difference between flattery & encouragement.

· Flattery is lies told for selfish reasons.
· Encouragement is truth told for unselfish reasons.

We are in good company when we are encouragers because the Holy Spirit is an encourager & a comforter.

However when there is no one encouraging us, we can encourage ourselves. The Bible says that king David encouraged himself in the Lord. To keep your spirits up, it’s necessary to constantly remind yourself of who you are in God and who God is to you. We shouldn’t become dependent on the encouragement of others. It may be there and it may not, but when we learn to build ourselves up we never have to feel defeated. Also we need to guard our thought life carefully.

Some morning, for no apparent reason, you may get out of bed & observe that a “grasshopper spirit” has jumped on you. The thing to do is to quickly identify it & start rebuking it right then & there. It’s so easy to let yourself go negative and start thinking like a grasshopper instead of a giant killer. Resist that spirit & start giving your soul instructions to praise & glorify God & that spirit can’t stay.

In Psalms 103 the Psalmists gives instruction to his soul and tells it to bless the Lord.

Listen----: Bless the Lord oh my soul and all that is within me bless His Holy name. Bless the Lord oh my soul and forget not all his benefits. Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases, who redeemeth thy life from destruction, who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies , who satisfies thy mouth with good things: so that thy youth is renewed like the eagles.”

5. FORGIVE MYSELF.

Maybe you’re waiting today on someone whose hurt you to apologize. May I make a suggestion? Stop waiting. In all probability it’s not going to happen. In my years of ministry I’ve had people to lie to me, steal from me & tell hurtful lies on me. Guess how many have ever apologized? Right. None that I can remember. Why? Most people don’t have the courage or stomach to apologize even when they know they’ve done wrong.

But something worse than that is; ---often we can’t forgive ourselves for sins or mistakes we’ve made.

I once heard a judge tell a young woman who’d made a mistake & paid for it—“Young lady, don’t give yourself a life sentence.” Society had forgiven & closed the books on her transgression but the question was would she forgive herself? Have you not forgiven yourself for some mistake you made in the past?

Let me ask you a question. If you’re not forgiving yourself, who are you helping? You’re not helping God because He’s forgiven you & expects you to do the same. Can you help others by not forgiving yourself? I think not. Is it making you spiritually stronger to not forgive yourself? I don’t think so. Is it honoring the God who has mercifully extended His love & forgiveness? I don’t think so, do you?

We used to enjoy watching the show Growing Pains. The show was about the Seaver family but most of the plots centered on the antics of Mike Seaver, the mischievous, trouble making teen, played by Kirk Cameron. On an episode of E! True Hollywood story, they documented the events that led to the cancellation of the show. According to cast & crew & producers of the show Kirk Cameron became a born again Christian & he became increasingly difficult to work with.

There was nothing immoral or out of the way on the show but at one point Cameron got a female cast member fired because of something in her past. Cameron demanded that certain shows be rewritten & many writers quit because he labeled what they were writing junk. He wanted them to re-invent him as a humble, placid boy when the show was built on his foibles.

The show finally buckled under the pressure of trying to find someone to replace Cameron.

But this story has a happy ending. In 2000, Cameron rejoined the cast of Growing Pains to shoot a reunion movie. On the set Cameron stood in front of his TV family & apologized, saying “I was a 17 year old guy trying to walk with integrity, knowing that I was walking in the opposite direction of many other people. I didn’t have the kind of maturity & grace in saying things that I would now.” He said he’d forgiven himself & asked for their forgiveness.

The cast accepted his heartfelt apology & once again embraced him. Cast member Jeremy Miller who played the younger brother Ben Seaver said—“he’s once again the Kirk I remember.”

In a March 2003 article in Christianity Today, Cameron admitted that he went through growing pains on the set of the sitcom. He was struggling with balancing the power to demand what he wanted & how to express his new-found faith in God. Cameron admitted –that “ he made some mistakes common to new believers such as distancing himself so far from the world that they do no good for anyone.”

Spiritual growth isn’t easy & we all make mistakes in our journey. Over time if we will stay connected, & don’t quit & “Drop off the key,” or “Hop on the bus,” God will mold & shape us into what He wants us to be.

If you are currently embracing a season of change in your life, just hang in there. There will be mistakes, fear, and adversity but there will be growth. More & more we’ll be able to keep self “crucified with Christ” & as Paul said, “Die daily.”

I'm reminded of an old song we used to sing;

HAVE THINE OWN WAY LORD, HAVE THINE OWN WAY,
THOU ART THE POTTER, I AM THE CLAY,
MOLD ME AND MAKE ME, AFTER THY WILL,
WHILE I AM WAITING, YIELDED AND STILL.


Blessings,

John

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

If You're Considering Divorce.....

By John Stallings


Susan Doe testified that she was beaten, kicked, burned with cigarettes & stabbed.

She also stated that her husband “threw me so hard against the wall that my head went through the paneling. He loved guns so his favorite game when he was drinking was Russian roulette— “his gun, my head.”

Question: Does God forbid this woman to divorce her husband who is ruthless, savage, heartless, cold-blooded & violent? Does God forbid her divorce since sexual immorality wasn’t involved? Would you say “bound for life” adultery not committed? Are there any mitigating circumstances where mercy takes precedent over law?

Jesus said:--But if ye had known what this meaneth; I will have mercy, & not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. Matt. 12:7

Nancy Doe’s husband is in prison for life because he conspired to kill the wife of another man for insurance money. He took her into the woods, tied her to a tree & cut her throat from ear to ear. However he didn’t have sex with her. Question: Is Nancy bound to her husband for the rest of her life because he didn’t have sex with the woman, he just practically decapitated her?

In John 1:14 we readand we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace & truth. You see this over & over with Jesus. He was a perfect mixture of both grace & truth. In order for us to be Christlike we must find that same balance.

Divorce is a complicated subject. Some people can’t deal with shades of grey. They want to make everything black & white. I think you know that divorce isn’t pretty & it certainly isn’t black & white but contains shades of grey. I don’t want to upset anyone here nor do I want to open any old wounds, but I’m going to have to deal with some shades of grey in this piece.

To be perfectly candid, some divorces seem senseless, as if the two people just got tired of trying & hit the eject button. I am non-plussed when I hear people say, “Oh, my ex-spouse and I are the best of friends. We are together on all the holidays and talk on the phone most every day.” Maybe I’m wrong but that indicates to me they must have divorced on extremely frivolous grounds. If the ex-spouse sold you out lock-stock-and barrel, how can you befriend them now?

On the other hand, others divorces are so painful it seems that separation is the only redemptive thing to do. The people in the marriage are going “nuts-o” & children as well as others are in clear & present danger.

The stats aren’t pretty. More than 50% of all marriages in America will end in divorce. The stats say second & third marriages have an even higher failure rate. If people were getting rid of their problems by getting rid of spouses you wouldn’t see second & third divorces. New marriage—same old person----equals same result.

That’s why since 1970 there has been a 430% increase in the number of couples choosing to live together before getting married. This doesn’t seem to help but only increases their chances of divorce by another 50%. Not to mention they’re living in sin. You’d think things would be different in church but the divorce rate among those who claim to be Christians has just surpassed society as a whole. Not good!

Can we conceive of any circumstance in which divorce would be acceptable to God without sexual sin on the part of one of the partners? Did Jesus actually teach that there are no grounds for divorce other than fornication or adultery? When the writers recorded the divorce teachings of Jesus, did they have in view that His words were a be-all/end-all dissertation on the subject of divorce & remarriage?

What about spouse abuse, child abuse, refusing to provide for one’s family, wasting family resources by drug-addiction or gambling, rejection, mental, spiritual or emotional abuse, unreasonable demands, harassment, behavior that beats a mate down, criticizes & destroys their hope & joy, creates depression, weakens & compromises them morally emotionally or spiritually, refusal to break from dependency on ones family, actions that show no regard for the safety of the mate, contempt for the mates decisions, refusal to allow children to be disciplined, demanding control of all martial finances, failure to regulate finances, contemptuous behavior, slander, reviling mate, falsely accusing mate publicly, dishonoring mate, etc.

Could these possibly be called reasons for divorce? These are issues that puzzle & bring consternation to millions of people. Is the best we can offer a spouse trapped in an abusive marriage & has given everything but their sanity to it, that “God will bless you if you stay in the relationship?” Is it possible that we could apply some other principles here that would be helpful & enlightening & give us a more proper understanding & course of action than just the few verses on the subject in the Bible?

I realize that the subject of divorce is extremely controversial. Dealing with it is as sensitive as trying to perform a root canal without using Novocain. There’s no doubt that divorce is one of the world’s most common social problems & carries an immense stigma especially among religious folk. The church lays a heavy guilt burden on divorced people.

It isn’t in the mind & heart of this writer to minimize the sacredness of marriage or the tragedy of divorce, however, If we look at the problem of divorce through a “theological straw,” we can create impossible situations for many innocent victims scarred by divorce. Some people are so narrow minded they can look through a keyhole with both eyes. But have you noticed almost without exception they change their attitude when divorce comes to their doorsteps? It’s amazing how a little trouble can change people’s theology.

This much is obvious; while couples need to be challenged to be faithful to their marriage vows at all costs, there is a need for ministry to those who’ve been divorced to help them move past the guilt & shame that accompanies it.

When speaking of divorce, well-meaning people will often raise the standard too high or lower it. On one hand people will raise the standard seeking to stop divorce saying there’s no divorce for anybody, anytime & absolutely no remarriage for anyone anytime, period. On the other hand sincere people will emphasize that we must love, care for & accept those touched by divorce. While they rightly stress forgiving, they end up lowering the standard to the same as the worlds, & that’s Biblically wrong.

What is needed is an encouraging & redemptive word for those who’ve been shattered by divorce letting them know that God hasn’t disenfranchised them & doesn’t love them less than others: that the Bible isn’t an “anti-divorce document,” & they deserve to be free from spiritual & emotional burdens attached to divorce, at the same time continuing to build up the solemnity of marriage.

Every effort should be made to avoid the extreme positions held by those who condemn all divorce, even when the Bible grants it, as well as those who condone any & all divorce under all circumstances. A balanced position has to be found between legalism & license so that we might do as Jesus said; -bring liberty to those who are bruised.

Every Biblical passage needs to be examined & looked at in its proper context, & it should be asked how that passage of scripture fits our times. While the Bible doesn’t speak to every divorce situation specifically, it does give us timeless principles & truths we can apply.

Divorce isn’t primarily a theological issue but rather is a people issue. Any theological position on divorce that results in a heavy-handed condemnation of divorced people falls short of the Spirit of Christ. God isn’t really in the theology business; He’s in the people business.

JESUS WAS IN THE PEOPLE BUSINESS

When the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, & had taken up stones getting ready to stone her, in a very real sense He risked His life to stand up for her.

I experienced divorce more than twenty-five years ago & I can tell you there’s no pain quite like it. I’ve been told that losing a spouse to death is worse in the short term but divorce is more painful in the long term.

In reality, divorce is a form of death; the death of a relationship. The spouses, children, relatives & friends are the mourners, the lawyers are the undertakers, the court is the cemetery where the coffin is sealed & the dead bones of the marriage are buried.

In cases where a spouse has died, at least that renders them unable to continue to try to hurt the spouse they left. In a high percentage of divorces, one or both of the couple, if they’re still bitter, will spend many years trashing the ex-spouse & do all possible to keep a war going.


Counseling centers, pastor’s offices, psychiatric services & happy hours are running over with people looking for relief from the pain caused by divorce. Obviously divorce isn’t as painful for some as it is for others. Some marriages are so messed up & destructive that divorce comes as a blessing. But for most people, divorce leaves a deep painful wound that takes a long time to heal. Some never fully recover.

Many divorced people will vouch for the fact that for a long time after the experience they feel as if they’re living a nightmare from which they can’t wake up. Part of the hurt is being judged by others as “adulterous, criminal, neurotic, or at best frivolous & unfortunate.”

Divorce is devastating for the children because they often interpret it as a personal rejection & blame themselves thinking that somehow they caused the break-up. Tragically, the cumulative effect of divorces weakens the foundation of a nation & in the long term everyone experiences negative fallout.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT DIVORCE?

The first observation we can make without fear of contradiction is that the Bible has precious little to say on the subject. For example, there are over 500 verses in the Bible on faith, over 500 verses on prayer but only 34 times in the Word of God does the word divorce appear. There are many diverse situations that bring on divorce but unfortunately the Bible doesn’t deal directly with many of these situations.

As an example, the verse that says, God is love, has just as much to say about divorce as the verse that says I hate divorce. We can’t just look at one passage & think we’re getting the totality of what God has to say to people going through any problem. The entirety of Scripture must be taken into account when weighing sensitive issues.

Let’s be real. When God says, “I hate divorce;” it doesn’t mean He hates divorced people. He loves divorced people as much as anyone else. Doesn’t everyone hate divorce? The school system hates divorce; society hates divorce & divorced people, more than anyone, hate divorce. The children of divorce hate it as they’re the ones who walk into the court room & watch innocently as their parents’ divorce is finalized. Divorce is a no-win situation any way you look at it because someone always gets hurt.

Any suggestion that God hates divorced people is absurd on its face. When God says He hates divorce, what does He mean? When God uses those words He isn’t saying what some folk hear. His voice doesn’t thunder out to shake the earth to show us his anger & disgust. To the contrary, God is speaking compassionately to those who’ve lived through the trauma of divorce. God hates anything that causes so much pain to children, to families, the church & to society.

The following is an overview of biblical passages on divorce.

1. The Mosaic Law---Leviticus 21:7, 14, -22; 13--Ezekiel 44:22 Old Testament priests were forbidden to marry divorced or widowed women as a symbol of the priesthood.

2. Numbers 30:9—Vows taken by widowed or divorced women stood on their own merit while those taken by married women could be fulfilled by their husbands. Num.30:6-8

3. The OT Prophets-1 Chronicles 8:8—Historical reference to a divorce in the linage of Saul.

Isaiah 50:1—Jeremiah 3:8 –Both these passages provide a play on words referring to God giving the nation of Israel a certificate of divorce due to her spiritual adultery.

4. Jesus’ teaching—Matthew 1:19-When Joseph learned Mary was pregnant before their marriage he had decided to divorce her privately until God revealed to him that she was carrying the Messiah.—Matt.5:31,32—In His sermon on the Mount, Jesus confronted the frivolous reasons which men used to divorce their wives, stating that adultery is the only legitimate grounds. Matt.19:1-9—Jesus reiterated to the Pharisees who questioned Him about divorce that adultery is the only grounds for divorce. He added that the only reason Moses permitted them a “certificate of divorce” was due to the hardness of their hearts.

Mark 10:1-9, Like 16:18---Unjustifiable divorce amounts to adultery in subsequent remarriage. Jesus underscored the permanence of marriage as God’s will: “What God has joined together let man not separate.

5. Paul’s Teaching—1 Corinthians 7:11-13, 27—this is the only apostolic passage on divorce & remarriage recorded in the New Testament. Paul prefixed his remarks by saying,-To the rest I say this, [I, not the Lord,] he spoke as a seasoned apostle by divine concession not divine commandment as he did earlier in this passage. His wisdom is, however, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Verses 11-14- Believers married to unbelievers are to minister to their unbelieving mates not divorce them. Verse 27:-Paul poignantly states, are you married? Do not seek a divorce.

Verse 39. While the word Divorce does not appear in this verse Paul stated that couples are only bound together in marriage while both are still living. The death of one’s mate frees the other to remarry but only “in the Lord.” You can see what I mean when I say the information on divorce is limited.

When we pull all this together several timeless truths emerge;

• God’s will for married couples to make a life-long commitment in a monogamous relationship: a principle spelled out clearly.
• Due to the hardness of men’s hearts & the problem of unfaithfulness, divorce was granted as a “divine concession.” It provided primarily for women who suffered from abusive relationships.
• The primary grounds for divorce given in the Mosaic Law involved a husband discovering something about his wife i.e. adultery or sexual immorality.
• Since men often divorced their wives for frivolous reasons a husband was required to provide his wife a certificate of divorce which allowed her to remarry without shame.
• Jesus taught that adultery constitutes legitimate grounds for divorce while limiting remarriage in order to discourage widespread divorce & remarriage by those who had lost sight of the sanctity of marriage.
• The early church expanded the grounds of divorce to include abandonment.

Just as in The Garden of Eden, God loves us so much that when we turned our backs on Him, in order to save us from ourselves, He adapted Himself to the conditions we created by our abuses of His freedom. In The Garden He slew animals & made skins for Adam & Eve to wear. We might call that God’s modifications. But we should never confuse God’s modifications with God’s ultimate Intentions. Nor should we confuse God’s modifications with His acceptance or approval. God hates divorce but He allows divorce in some cases to keep us from doing worse to each other.

Let’s be honest, it takes two people to have a healthy, vibrant marriage. It’s impossible for one person to keep a marriage together if the other person acts irresponsibly, ungodly & destructively. In many cases one person does everything he or she can possibly do to have a good marriage while the other person does nothing, leaving no other option but divorce.

Is a spouse in a marriage like that marked for the rest of their life & forced to wear the scarlet letter “D” because they were victimized by a destructive relationship they couldn’t save? Absolutely not.

If you are in a troubled relationship, and are considering divorce or perhaps you’ve already gone through divorce, here are some helpful steps;

1. Repent.
Repentance means to change the way you think & live. Learn from every sin or mistake so that you won’t make the same mistakes again. Remember God forgives & divorce isn’t the unpardonable sin.

2. Reconciliation

Make every attempt at reconciliation if possible so that you know you’ve done everything within your power to save your marriage. God wants us to live up to our commitments even when it’s difficult & painful.

3. Recovery

Take time to heal. Watch the rebound effect. Learn what you can from the marriage that failed. Don’t ricochet immediately into another relationship with the closest available person.

4. Restoration

Though martial reconciliation is most likely out of the question, try to reconcile your relationship with your former spouse. Don’t live in bitterness for the rest of your life. Many divorced people will do everything in their power to turn the children against the other spouse. Enough damage has already been done & now it’s important to the children of divorce that their parents relate civilly to each other.

5. Reorientation

Order your life & relationships according to the Word of God. Read carefully what the Bible says about love & marriage. Resolve to have a Christ-centered marriage; a covenant, not a contract. Read books designed to help couples in a Christian marriage.

If & when you go into another relationship, get rid of the word divorce. The problem is & always has been an attitude of “I’ve got to do what’s best for me.” You know what that attitude springs from? The sin of selfishness. To focus on self is to live the exact opposite way God created us to live. Which is why “what’s best for me,” never works. Contrast “I’ve got to do what’s best for me” with-“We’re in this together, no matter what” Now that’s commitment. “Incompatibility” is a word the lawyers use a lot but too often it’s just two stubborn people saying, “I refuse to change.”

The more self-centered we become the more angry & bitter we become. We get the exact opposite of what we want.

Finally, face your future with hope & keep pressing for the mark. Don’t look over your shoulder wondering what might have been. Fix your gaze on a new horizon & dream of tomorrow. Remember your future is as bright as the promises of God.

If you’ve gone through the pain of divorce, know that you’re not a second class citizen. Many have fought for their marriages doing all they could to keep them together sometimes all by themselves. Thank you for sticking with your commitment & know that God will honor it even if you’re doing it alone.

If you’re exhausted & ready to throw in the towel on the whole Enchilada, hang in there. Keep working at it. God is working along side you even if you don’t feel His presence.

Some years ago in Scotland two friends spent the day fishing. That evening they went to a local inn for dinner. One of them got carried away describing the size of the fish he caught. As he flung his hands in the air, he hit the cup of tea the waitress was about to put on the table. The tea cup was dashed against the wall leaving an ugly stain. The fisherman was embarrassed & began apologizing profusely.

Another man got up & came over to the table. “Don’t worry about it,” he said as he pulled a pen from his pocket & began to sketch around the ugly stain. Soon there appeared a majestic royal Elk with his antlers spread upward. The artist was Sir Edwin Landseer, England’s foremost painter of animals.

In the same way, God takes His pen of unconditional love & mercy, sketches over the ugly stains in our lives & recreates us as His masterpiece.


Blessings,

John

Friday, February 14, 2014

How Close Are You To God?

By John Stallings


And Peter followed Him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest; and sat with the servants and warmed himself at the fire. Mark 14:54


Living for God at a distance & in a half-hearted way sets us up for internal tension because all the vitality of a real walk with God oozes out of our relationship.

God doesn’t have “one style fits all” relationships, He leaves it up to us to decide what the distance we walk from Him will be. Holding God at arms length isn’t the kind of walk He wants to have with us but He won’t force a closer relationship.

A prime example of this is Peter. In 2 Peter 2:20-22 Peter tells us of the real possibility of backsliding. He described it as “a dog returning to his own vomit.” Isn’t it interesting that this comes from the inspired pen of Peter? If anyone knew first hand the reality & dangers of backsliding it was he. Peter declared that he would follow Jesus no matter what. But Jesus told him that before the cock crowed three times Peter would deny Him. To prove that could never be true of him, Peter cut off the ear of Malcus, the soldier who tried to take Jesus into custody. He took up arms for Jesus.

Peter’s story provides us with a postmortem if you will on backsliding. It’s the cautionary tale of a man’s downward spiral. Just to broad stroke the story of backsliding; -- it’s gradual, & some of the issues are pride, laziness, cowardice, worldliness & denial.

While Peter was warming himself at a fire somewhere in the city, a young girl pointed her finger at him & declared he was one of Jesus’ followers. Peter had a cussing-fit & told all who were interested that he didn’t even know who Jesus was. This behavior became a deeply humiliating failure for Peter. The main reason for his disappointment in himself was that Peter loved Jesus deeply. He was a leader. He was a son-of-thunder but during that week of Christ’s passion, with all the pain, violence, blood, gore & high drama, Peter had to face the fact that he was scared.

As the pressure on Jesus began to build, Peter followed further & further behind Him. We know that Peter later got his courage back & preached a great sermon on the Day of Pentecost. He ended up helping to write the New Testament & legend tells us he refused to die like Jesus did, but was crucified upside down.

You’ll remember that Jesus didn’t hold Peter’s denial against him. Jesus didn’t stand in rigid judgment of how close or how far Peter was from him. And later Jesus, without any harshness allowed Peter to redeem himself by declaring three times his love for Jesus.

Seems strange doesn’t it? Strange but true. What’s going to be your distance from God? You will define that distance. God leaves that up to us & loves us no matter what our choice is. It matters greatly to Him what we choose but He won’t put us in lock-down or force us, He gives us options. God desires the close walk with you & me but He will let us make that choice.

Jesus set the example of the kind of relationship He wants with us when He came to where we were. He left the ivory palaces of His heavenly home & came crashing out of timelessness into time to be born of women. He lived & moved among us & had close personal relationships with people. Even in His miracles He didn’t do things on the grand scale that the miracles of the Old Testament were done. There were no walls tumbling down or seas piling up. Jesus would find a woman with disease & heal her. Or He’d find a grieving family & bring their dead back to life. He’d sit at a well & talk to a woman & totally change her life with a conversation. He was always saying, “See, I’m available to you. You can walk close to me & have just as intimate a relationship as you want, it’s up to you.” He’s shown us the kind of relationships He wants but still He lets us decide. Jesus didn’t call His disciples in a “group call,” He personally & purposefully called them one by one.


Have you ever had a friend in your life who wanted to define how close the relationship was? Friends can sometimes be very smothering. Some friends want to be every day friends. Others want to be weekly friends. I’ve known people who wanted to be so close that if you went to a movie or went to a new restaurant without them they’d have a conniption fit & say something like “What? You went without telling me? Well I’m hurt.” They can act as if you aren’t capable of going out on the town without them. You almost have to ask permission to do something without them. This can be extremely annoying. They will try to set the boundaries of the relationship by saying, “If you’re going to be my friend, stay in touch.”

Sometimes parents can be this way with their adult children. Have you ever seen a “smothering mother?” I think they are called “helicopter parents.” They will give their kids cell phones & they expect their kid to always be checking in with them. They will say things like, “what, I’m not your mother any more? You didn’t call me. You never call. I’ll be dead soon & then you’ll be sorry.” Sometimes parents will try to keep this kind of relationship even after their offspring is married. That’s when things turn squirrelly. God won’t do this to us. He wants us to realize on our own that closer is better and closer is easier, but He won’t force it. We must decide if we want our attachment to God to be a big deal in our lives or a small deal.

In 1957, I stood at the alter of my father’s  church in Orlando Florida on a Sunday night in late August. The service was all about a few of us high school graduates who were leaving to go to college. I was leaving the next day for Southeastern Bible College in Lakeland Florida to study for my ministerial degree. But as I stood at the alter that night along with several others who were off to college, I was fighting a battle in my soul.

Up to now, my calling just amounted to young Johnny, who would preach in youth service & maybe occasionally go elsewhere to conduct a youth revival. This night was different. Now I was going to do something that would affect all of my life from now on. I was leaving the next day for Bible College & this would determine what my life’s goal would be. I was renouncing math as a major. I was renouncing music as my major. I was renouncing everything else but the ministry & that meant either pastoring, missionary work or evangelizing.

What to do, what to do? This decision would determine who I would marry & spend the rest of my life with. This decision would determine what kind of house I’d live in & the kind of car I’d drive. This decision would determine how much money I’d make & how much I’d have to someday retire on. What to do?

It was crunch time for me. I was afraid and felt guilty for being afraid. I was faced that night with the decision of just how close I wanted to be to God. After all there were options for me. Let me share a few of these options I had that night.

1. THERE WAS THE OPTION OF PARTIAL COMMITMENT.

I didn’t have to abandon the faith, I could just straddle the fence, maybe get a business degree (Not that there’s anything wrong with that) & preach on Sundays. After all, wouldn’t it be great to be able to preach to people & not worry about them having to pay me? I could make my own living & preach on the side.

Of course I didn’t make that decision to be partially committed & as I look back I’m happy I didn’t. In all probability God won’t call on you to make the commitment I made because it was for full time Christian service. All of our walks with Him are personal.

What was I afraid of? What are many people afraid of when it comes to total commitment to Christ? Why do we so often stiff arm God? Maybe we’re afraid God might make demands on us. We might be called to do something we don’t really want to do. But God doesn’t force people to do grievous things they’re not equipped to do or not happy about the prospects of doing. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Another reason some are afraid to follow too closely to Jesus is they’re afraid of what people might say about them. They’re afraid people will think they’re too caught up in religion & are in danger of being a fanatic. Maybe people will think they are caught up in a Jim Jones like cult. In other words they find it hard to fully trust God. Maybe they’re afraid they’ll start writing checks with reckless abandon or start engaging in “destructive behavior.” They might even join the choir. What would happen then? They deduce that it would be safer to remain a spectator Christian & continue to keep a safe distance from God.

2. PEOPLE OFTEN USE THE POMP & CIRCUMSTANCE OF RELIGION TO REPLACE A CLOSE WALK WITH GOD.

All the revivals of history were periods of calling men back from institutional relationships with God to personal relationships. The Luther reformation was a move back to a personal God & a personal walk with Him. Every man is a priest. You didn’t have to go through an interloper; you could go straight to God. Up until the Reformation, Bibles were chained to the church pulpits & anyone with a Bible could be thrown in jail. People were forced to have corporate relationships with God.

The charismatic renewal that happened a few years back was a move to call the individual to a closer personal walk with God. But still there are many who want a relationship with God that will keep them out of hell & not much else. They will say in essence, “Just let me be loose about this. I might come to church once a year or I might come more often.” These folk are the ones that started the joke—“The church roof might fall in when I come next time.”

THEN THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO KEEP A DISTANCE BETWEEN THEMSELVES & GOD BECAUSE THEY’VE BEEN “HURT” BY THEIR CHURCH AFFILIATION IN THE PAST.

I hear about these folk on a regular basis. They got “too close” to a pastor or other Christians & something happened that disillusioned them. I am tempted to say at this point “poor baby” but I’ll resist that temptation. Now they will tell anyone who asks that there are lots of hypocrites in the church. My answer to that is usually, “if there’s a hypocrite between you & God, the hypocrite is closer to God than you are.” But I’ll resist that also.

To be hurt by a good man or woman undoubtedly gives us an eternal excuse to stay away from God & His church. After all, we now have to ability to point to the church & say—“Well one of the most spiritual among God’s people did me wrong. A man who stands in the pulpit & preaches hurt me personally so I have the perfect excuse not to get too close & return to religion.”

Let’s go back to Malcus, the man whose ear was cut off by Peter. Apocryphal writings tell us that Malcus in later years became a part of the Christian church. What? Do you mean to say that Malcus, the man who was brutalized & deformed by Peter’s sword later became a believer? Obviously that’s true. Wow! Malcus had the best reason to doubt & deny the Lordship of Jesus than any man ever had. One of Jesus’ closest men actually hurt him. He actually cut off his ear. Never mind the “small detail” that Jesus put Malcus’ ear back on & healed him. He now had a personal reason to testify to the "dangers of Christianity." Malcus was willing to allow Jesus to heal him that day. He could have pushed Jesus away & taken that severed ear, had it bronzed & shown it to folk for the rest of his life as exhibit A-"that Jesus crowd can really hurt a fellow." Alas, there are still some who refuse to be healed because their wounds are too precious to them.

Speaking of being hurt by Christians or hurt in the service of the lord, let me tell you about a very dedicated lady who was hurt in the service of God. While she & her preacher husband were conducting gospel tent revivals, her seven year old daughter took sick & died in a small backwater town. This woman was a truly committed person, but when she lost her daughter she got angry with God. She vowed that she would never darken a church door till the day she died.

She let her husband go on alone in his tent ministry although he was hurt just as much as she was at the loss of their beautiful little girl. One day a year later, this lady had to break her vow to never enter a church again, to attend the funeral of a beloved friend. As the funeral service progressed, the minister told the story of a mother sheep who refused to cross a raging stream. The Shepard needed her to join the rest of the flock so they could travel to lush green grass to feed on but the mother sheep was frightened & wouldn’t budge.

The Shepard in desperation finally got an idea. He took the sheep’s little fold & carried it across the stream & stood it on the bank on the other side. When the mother saw her baby on the other side of the stream she was finally persuaded to brave the troubled waters to join her baby. This bitter lady was smitten in her heart by the illustration. God brought it home to her that even though she couldn’t understand it all she now had a reason to endure any hardship because if she did, she had the eternal hope of someday seeing her baby girl again.

That day this lady was forced to define the distance between herself & God. Thankfully she chose to rededicate herself to her Lord, & humbly & closely follow Him the best she knew how, trusting that her remaining two small children would follow her example. I’m glad she did because that lady was my mother. From that day forward she guided my sister & me, encouraging us in spite of all the unanswered questions of life to covet a close walk with the Lord.

I am grateful that even though I’ve made many mistakes in my life there has always been a force pulling me toward God; an inner hunger that won’t let me be content without Him.


Have you considered the distance between you & God lately?



Blessings,

John

Saturday, February 8, 2014

THE FUGITIVE

By John Stallings


The first grey streaks of dawn appeared & the fugitive knew he must move on.

He traveled light because he was on the run. As he swung his backpack on, his mind wondered back over the last months. It felt as if he’d been running all his life. He knew every back road, every village, every cave, every gully, every place a man could hide for a few hours. Such was his life lately.

There were good days & bad days. He didn’t have to concern himself with eating breakfast because there was nothing to eat. As first light appeared- down the dusty winding road he went; a road that seemed to lead nowhere in particular.

The tattered traveler came to the top of a hill & surveyed the valley below. There sat a small village, rather non-descript; just a few buildings with a large tent in the middle. Hopefully the fugitive might find some food for his empty stomach in this little backwater town.

The village he is viewing is called Nob. Eighty-five priests of God live here & it’s also home to High Priest Ahimelech & home to the tabernacle.

The fugitive has run out of options. He didn’t really want to come to this place but as detectives say, he “had a tail.” Someone was tracking him & he had no choice but to stop in this village & try to get help. He has the street- cred to know “you play the hand you’re dealt.”

Though the fugitive basically had a good character, in his present state of affairs he’d lie or do just about anything to stay alive.

This story begins in 1 Samuel 21.

The fugitive is David & he’s being hotly pursued by King Saul.
David went to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. Ahimelech trembled when he met him & asked, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?”

Now David is going to tell a whopper of a lie. He says to Ahimelech, “The king [Saul] charged me with a certain matter & said to me, -- “No one is to know anything about your mission & your instructions.”—Some might say David didn’t place all his cards on the table. The cold hard truth--It was a lie.

David was running from Saul, not conducting a secret mission for him. He must have sounded convincing because Ahimelech bought it without question. But it was still a lie. David lied because he was between a rock & a hard place. Saul was trying to kill him. After so long on the road a man gets desperate & he says whatever he has to say to stay alive. David never meant to hurt anyone with his fabrication. Oh- but he did.


“OH WHAT TANGLED WEBS WE WEAVE, WHEN FIRST WE PRACTICE TO DECEIVE.”


It’s interesting to read Revelation 21:8, describing the people that will be in the lake of fire. It speaks of all the heinous sins of mankind & liars are included.

However the only place “all” is used is “all liars.” I think the reason for that is -- we seem to accept the fact that all murderers & all fornicators & all thieves etc. who haven’t been forgiven will be in hell. But we tend to think in the case of lying, -- a “little white lie” slips past God’s radar & doesn’t register with Him. But nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible emphasizes “all liars” so we’ll understand all lies are considered sin.

David is telling “little white lies.” A small boy was asked to describe what a lie was & he said; “A lie is an abomination unto the Lord, but an ever present help in time of need.”

But the plot thickens now because someone else was in Nob that day. This someone knows who David is & knows David is telling a lie. His name was Doeg the Edomite. He was Saul’s head shepherd, one of Saul’s hired guns. He saw David & David saw him. And he saw Ahimelech give several loaves of consecrated tabernacle bread to David. We’ll hear from Doeg again.

Just before David leaves town he says, “Oh, by the way, you don’t happen to have a sword handy do you? I left mine back at home” Now David makes an attempt at putting himself into “Oscar’s best actor” contention “ by adding, -“……Because the King’s business is urgent.” When we tell one lie we usually have to tell another one to prop it up.

Ahimelech replied, “The sword of Goliath whom you killed as a boy in the Valley of Elah is here; it’s wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you want it, take it; there is no sword but that one.” David said,

"There is none like it; give it to me.” [1 Samuel 21:9]

David, what’s gotten into you? First you lie then you lie again. Now you’ve taken the sword of Goliath, the giant you defeated-- to fight your battles. David, have you lost your mind? Where is God in all this? When you were just a shepherd boy you faced Goliath & all you needed was one stone from your sling. Now are you going to use the weapon of the man you killed with a rock?

Yes, in a sense, David has lost his mind. Another old saying goes, -- “Honesty is the best policy but insanity is the best defense.” If you cut a man off from his friends & family & put him in the wilderness, it does strange things to him. The constant pressure pulls at him until it wears him down. Things he swore he’d never do now don’t seem so bad.

Up to this point in his life David had done everything right. He has been the absolute model of faith, obedience, courage, integrity & devotion to God & to his king. But he is still a very young man who is living a long way from his family & home because he’s a fugitive on the run from King Saul. David needed some stability in his life but for the time being that had gone.

DAVID HAD BECOME USED TO POSITION & POPULARITY.

A humble shepherd boy had been promoted to a captain over a thousand in Saul’s army & he had all the popularity that came with that. David had leaned on the support of people but now in this trying hour that support had been dismantled.

David had the support of his wife Michal. He also had the support of Saul’s son Jonathan who loved him more than his own father. Then David had the support of the prophet Samuel who’d taught him about sacrifice, service & worship. Samuel was a significant support to David during his early years.

It’s wonderful to have supports, props & crutches in our lives to help us make it. Praise God if He’s been gracious to you & given you an adequate support network in your life.

BUT DAVID’S SUPPORT SYSTEM HAS BEEN DISMANTLED.

Think of it. Think of all David had lost & how far he’d slipped to now be a desert dweller, begging for sustenance. David had been the greatest battlefield hero his nation had ever known & now he was a fugitive from justice.

David had also lost his popularity, his people & his pride & was now relegated to a distant memory. He’d been removed from the public eye. People assumed Saul would be successful in his attempts to take David’s life. Every person upon whom David had leaned in his life was taken away.

I suppose the lowest place a man can come to is the place where he loses his pride. Now that all David had to cling to had been stripped away.

David’s lies were acts of fear but taking Goliath’s sword was an act of desperation. First there’s fear, then there is a lie, then desperation, but the worst is yet to come.

Fear drove David to lie to Ahimelech. Fear drove him to take Goliath’s sword. Now fear drives him to do the strangest thing he has ever done.

NEXT DAVID GOES TO GATH

Gath? Haven’t we heard that name somewhere? Yes, we have. Gath is in Philistine territory. That means it’s not in Israel’ it’s foreign to David. But wait; Gath is also the hometown of Goliath, enemy territory. Why would David do something like this?

It’s hard to know but we can imagine he was thinking, --no one would ever look for him there. -- So now David’s in Gath with Goliath’s people. The man of God is hiding in the enemy’s camp. It was an outright act of spiritual treason. God’s people were to have nothing to do with the Philistines. They were to be separated from the surrounding nations. But David looked around & said, “This looks like the quickest way out.”

The greatest temptation when we’re in trouble is to take the quickest way out. You & I can write this next principle down; -- when in trouble, the quickest way out is almost always wrong.” When we go over to the world’s side & compromise our convictions, disaster is soon to follow.

DAVID HAS A MELT-DOWN

Once David realizes he’s been seen & recognized, he plunges headlong into an act of madness. He feared what might happen to him so he –“pretended to be insane in their presence; & while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate & letting saliva run down his beard. 1 Sam. 21:13

Have you ever seen someone put on a crazy act? But then you realized if they were sick enough to be that convincing, they in actuality had a “screw loose.” IMHO, you can’t play-act like someone who’s “lost it” without having some level of emotional disturbance, at least for the moment. Keep in mind this is the man who won the greatest military victory in Israel’s’ history, the victory over Goliath & the Philistines, Israel’s arch enemy.

David’s compromise [ostensibly play acting] didn’t work. All it got him was thrown out of Gath. Now he’s back on his own& back on the road. First there is fear, then the lie, then desperation, then compromise & now humiliation.

BUT THE WORST IS YET TO COME.

Still on the run, David comes to a place called the Cave of Adullam. Chapter 22:1 tells us that his family went to meet him there. Now he’s back in Israel. David has basically reached bottom & is on his way back. Then we’re told that “all those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him & he became their leader.”

About four hundred men were now with David. The exiled king & his rag-tag army. Every crook & troublemaker came out to join him. David was now the captain of crooks & the duke of deadbeats. As David grew spiritually, these men began to grow & they would one day become his mighty men. In later years his greatest warriors would come from this motley crew.

DAVID FINALLY STARTS TO WALK WITH GOD AGAIN.

As David changes, his men change. Some parents tell their children --“Don’t do as I do-- do as I say do.” But you & I know that’s never what actually happens. The reality is, in the end our children will do what we do. All David has to do to change these 400 hoodlums huddling in this cave with him is to start doing right & they’ll follow suit.

The story should be over but it’s not. There are a few loose ends dangling that need to be tied up. Whatever happened to Doeg the Edomite & Ahimelech?

Let’s return to the village of Nob for a moment. Things are quiet, too quiet. There’s not a sound in that little village of priests. There never was much noise but now all you hear is the wind whistling through the bushes. It’s deathly quiet & overhead the vultures are circling. In the hot sun dismembered bodies lie on the ground. They’ve been hacked to death in some kind of execution. Eighty-five priests are dead along with their families. A whole village has been wiped out.

WHAT HAPPENED HERE? WHO DID THIS?

Doeg the Edomite told Saul that he had seen Ahimelech give the sacred bread to David. Keep in mind; Ahimelech believed David’s lie that he was on a mission for King Saul. He’d acted out of patriotism but Saul called him out & accused him of treason for aiding & abetting David, a fugitive. Abimelech had no way of knowing David had told him a lie but he will now pay with his life. When Saul ordered the priests killed, his own soldiers wouldn’t do it because the priests were servants of the Lord.

But Doeg was an Edomite, a foreigner & a lackey for Saul & priests meant nothing to him. So the whole village was wiped out. Only one man lived to tell the story & his name was Abiather. Somehow he found David & told him what happened at Nob. David’s reaction in 1 Sam. 22:22 is, ---That day when Doeg the Edomite was there I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your father’s whole family.

David thought he could get away with the lies & the charade but he couldn’t & didn’t. He knew Doeg was there & he knew he’d tell Saul but he was so wrapped up in himself & his own problems that he acted out of self-interest & didn’t level with Abimeleck.

Who killed the priests of Nob? Who is really responsible for the tragedy? Not Doeg, not Saul- but David. David’s hands were dripping with the blood of the innocent people of Nob.

LOOK AT THE MALIGNANT GROWTH OF SIN

First there is selfishness, then fear, then desperation, then compromise, then humiliation & finally disaster. The saddest part of the story is that David never intended for things to end up like this. Not in a million years. He lied to get food & it seemed justifiable at the time. Most of us would have done the same thing.

If David had stopped to think, if he’d even dreamed of such a thing he’d never have told the lie. But he didn’t think. He didn’t dream, he just lied.

NO ONE EVER GETS AWAY WITH SIN

Numbers 32: 23 says, -- Be sure your sin will find you out. Galatians 6:7 says…….a man reaps what he sows. The chickens always come home to roost & the skeletons always eventually come out of the closet.

This story is so powerful because many of us are like David. We cut corners morally & ethically, we make excuses for our small sins & under pressure we do things we shouldn’t do. All the while we’re like fugitives, running, hiding always looking over our shoulder, hoping against hope we won’t get caught today.

GOD’S SEVERE MERCY

But even though David committed such horrendous sins he’s still God’s man & God is going to use him. This brings up the question; couldn’t God have supplied David’s need for food so that he didn’t have to bother Ahimelech in the first place? The answer is yes.

Why did God allow David to disobey knowing that a whole village would be wiped out in the process? It’s not possible for us to fully understand God’s ways but this much we know; God allowed this so that David would humble himself & realize that left to himself he’d ruin his own life. Sadly this is a case of severe mercy because a city was destroyed in order for the lesson to be learned.

As we’ve already said, we can lean on many things in this world. Some people lean on a pill, some on a needle & some on a bottle. What are you leaning on today?
Are you leaning on a spiritual spouse who prays for you? Are you leaning on people or things more than you trust in the Lord?

Is your support system keeping you from looking to God for the real support you need? Every plank in my support system can fail but God will never fail me.

God is famous for dismantling men’s support systems & the process is painful, but it helps us to learn to lean on Him-- & Him alone.

When at last David got back on his own turf, resting safely in the cave of Adullum, reflecting on the events in Gath, he wrote Psalm 34. If you check, you’ll see the inscription at the top of the chapter--“When David feigned madness before Abimelech.”

There in the cave of Adullam God restored David to his spiritual roots. In Adullam David wrote Psalm 34, one of the classic descriptions of true spirituality;

I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make its boast in the Lord;
The humble shall hear it & rejoice.
O magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together.


Then David refers to the specific events of his deliverance;

I sought the Lord & He answered me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
They looked to Him & were radiant,
And their faces shall never be ashamed.
THIS POOR MAN cried & the Lord heard him,
And saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him,
And rescues them.


This brings me to the final point in this story: When we sin, someone is going to have to pay the price. In this case an entire village of innocent people paid the price.

The one overarching quality David possessed that made him a –Man after God’s own heart- was his willingness to repent. Saul on the other hand didn’t seem to ever be able to do it. The javelin he threw at David started the manhunt that lasted nearly ten years. But in a sense, that javelin never stopped traveling & years later it found Saul & pierced his heart on Mount Gilboa.

The good news of the gospel is that God specializes in forgiving sinners.

Whenever we’re ready to turn for home, our  Heavenly Father will meet us on the way.


BLESSINGS,

John

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Is Jesus The Only Way To Heaven?

By John Stallings


To answer yes to that question, to say-“YES, Jesus is the only way to heaven”- is considered by many people, even some Christians, to be the most narrow- minded, bigoted, arrogant, mean-spirited, intolerant and hateful statement that could ever be made!

Does that surprise you?

It’s incredible to me that the most fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith, i.e. The Deity and Lordship of Jesus Christ, is being called into question or debated among people who call themselves Christians. But this is precisely what’s taking place. In some quarters there’s a questioning of whether a personal relationship with Jesus Christ should be preached as a prerequisite for salvation.

Recently a poll was taken and it showed 57% of evangelical church goers said they believed many religions can lead to eternal life. Apparently in our culture, the number one atrocity isn’t rape, or murder, but rather its intolerance. A scant 12% of Americans claim their religion is the only true faith.

When asked;- “Do you believe Jesus is the only way to heaven” even some prominent Christian leaders have been heard to say - “We’ll I’m not God and I’m going to leave it to Him to decide who’ll end up saved and allowed entrance into heaven.”

A prominent Baptist preacher/educator was recently asked by a reporter of the Edmonton Journal, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; - “Do you believe non-Christians can go to heaven?” He answered;-“That’s a good question to ask because the way we stand is we contend that trusting Jesus is the way to heaven. However, we do not know who Jesus will bring into the kingdom and who He will not. We are very careful about pronouncing judgment on anybody. We leave judgment in the hands of God and we are saying Jesus is the way. We preach Jesus but we have no way of knowing to whom the grace of God is extended.” So this educator and ordained Baptist minister is in the misty fog here. It’s just a big mystery.

One of the most famous pastor/T.V evangelists recently “fence-straddled” when Larry King asked him if he believed atheists would go to heaven. He said-“I am going to let God be the judge of who goes to heaven and hell.” When Larry asked him if Jews or Muslims could go to heaven without trusting Christ he replied;-“I’m very careful about saying who would go and wouldn’t go to heaven. I don’t know.” According to him too, the actual qualifications for heaven are a mystery.

This world famous Christian minister chose to skate around the issue for fear, I suppose, that someone would be offended or put-off if he made any kind of absolute statement about his faith. That would be considered…well…intolerant.

A scripture comes to mind here. Jesus said; But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I deny before my Father which is in heaven. Matt.10:33

So at least as far as these two powerful Christian leaders are concerned, there’s a mystery connected with the requirements for eternal life in heaven. If some are coming through that way it must be a “Mystery door.” According to scripture, Jesus is “The Door of Heaven.” If it’s true as the aforementioned ministers’ in essence imply, that there’s another big door …. “The Mystery Door” and we can’t and won’t know until judgment day whom He’ll let into heaven, then instead of the plan of salvation being simple, it’s not really as plainly marked as we’ve believed it to be. If this were true [it’s not,] then the “mystery door” is as much a part of getting folk to heaven as faith in the finished work of the cross upon which Jesus shed His blood.

As we watched not long ago the brouhaha unfolding  concerning the plausibility and feasibility of a Muslim Mosque being built within a stones throw of Ground Zero in Manhattan, we’ve been reminded that we don’t inhabit the same world that we did just a few short years ago. It’s my personal opinion that president Obama did what he does best and “clod-hopped” into the fray, but the one thing he did was to show an obvious bias for Muslims. This isn’t a surprise to most Americans. We understand that if it were a nativity scene in question, or even people singing The National Anthem on the sidewalk anywhere near the site it would immediately be squelched.

The good news is it allowed the president to do something I’d never heard him do before and that’s to stand up for the Constitution as well as our Founders and freedom of religion. I suspect that was an “unintended consequence.”

Paul warned us  when he wrote;-

For the time will come when they {church folk} will not endure [tolerate] sound doctrine; but after their own lusts they shall heap to themselves teachers having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth and shall be turned unto fables.”-2 Timothy 4:3-4.

Paul had no tolerance for those who would not preach the gospel. In Galatians 1:8 he said;

But though we, or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

Far too many preachers stand in pulpits and feed tasty doctrine whipped into a creamy filling suitable for topping canapes. That’s a palatable but not very sustaining spiritual food. People go looking for syrupy homilies that will bolster their self-esteem, wanting to hear anecdotes and vivid vignettes to help them find fulfillment or entertaining monologues that will brighten their lives.

We need not only expository preaching, we need expository listening from people who don’t have “itching ears” but will demand and ingest “the sincere meat of the Word.”

Let’s contrast the aforementioned minister’s words to the words recently spoken by Franklin Graham. You will remember that Franklin, the son of Billy Graham was removed as speaker for the National Day of Prayer service at the Pentagon some time back. Things Mr. Graham said that “disqualified” him for speaking was as follows; in a USA Today interview Graham said referring to one of the five Hindu deities, “None of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation. We are fooling ourselves if we think we can have some big Kumbya service and all hold hands and it’s going to get better in this world. It’s not going to get better.” Another Graham “offense” was saying-Islam is evil, and Muslims and Hindus don’t pray to the same God he does.

Graham didn’t back down from anything he said earlier and in a Newsweek Web Exclusive he restated his position;-“I am who I am. I don’t believe that you can get to heaven through being a Buddhist or Hindu. I think Muhammad only leads to the grave. Now that’s what I believe and I don’t apologize for my faith. And if it’s divisive, I’m sorry.”

In my view, Mr. Graham hit the ball out of the park.

If a major research establishment, say The Mayo Clinic discovered a treatment that would cure all kinds of cancer, the treatment is 100% effective, and they said-“This is the only treatment you’ll ever need,” would it be narrow-minded or arrogant for them to say that?

Moreover, in this day when people want to keep tolerance in everything and resent radical statements about absolutes, do you think a parent with a child stricken with terminal cancer upon hearing this would complain and say, “You know, even though this involves my child’s health, I don’t think it appropriate for you to make such rash claims. What about the other potential cures?”

When it comes to cures for potentially deadly diseases, most folk are looking for a “Silver Bullet Solution.”

IN EVERYTHING EXCEPT RELIGION PEOPLE LOVE ABSOLUTES.

Let’s take it a step farther. What if a parent took their sick child to a doctor and after the diagnosis, the doctor said, “There are hundreds of potential cures for your child’s condition. I have studied them all and I recommend all of them for your child’s treatment. I won’t however recommend a specific path of treatment for your child because that would be arrogant and intolerant. There are plenty of medical journals that perhaps would dispute my recommendation and my advice would in all likelihood offend some of my colleagues. So you’ll have to come to your own conclusion because in the end, any medical treatment is going to lead to your child’s healing.”

The same parent who might be offended at someone making absolute statements about religion would get in that doctors face and say, “What are you talking about? This is nonsense! You’re supposed to help me. Stop this ridiculous pluralistic and relativistic mumbo-jumbo and help me see my child get well.” At the end of the day when push comes to shove, we all hold to absolutes!

When it comes to the disease of sin, which is terminal beyond doubt, truth demands that we share with the world the good news that Christianity can provide both the diagnosis and the remedy.

What if I were hiking high in the mountains, and was standing 50 feet away from the edge of a cliff, and to fall off that cliff would mean an 1800 feet drop into the jagged rocks on the canyon floor. If I spotted an elderly man walking dangerously close to the edge, and I realize he’s blind and has no idea of the danger he’s in, which of the following things would I be correct in saying; - “Hey my Brother, you’re walking straight toward a pretty bad drop-off and you need to get away from there. You can go any way you like, just do it quickly and you’ll be O.K!” –Or-“Hey my Brother- don’t take another step. You’re in mortal danger. I’m coming to get you.” And then I went to him, took him by the hand and led him to safety. Which approach would be considered right? I think we can all agree that love would constrain me to do what I could to save his life.

Just to clarify, I don’t think God is more interested in “getting us to heaven” than he is seeing us conform to image of His dear Son while we’re moving through this ‘mortal coil.” But since the question has already been cast around the paradigm of attaining heaven, that’s where I’ll pitch my mental tent.

FIRST- WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY REGARDING JESUS BEING THE ONLY WAY TO HEAVEN?

Consider the words of Jesus in John 14:6. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.

This is an utterly exclusive claim by our Lord that without Him and apart from Him there’s no way to The Father in heaven. There’s not a plan-B if you decide against Jesus.

Note that Jesus doesn’t say-I am a way, a truth, and a life. He insists He’s “The way, the truth and the life.” It’s important to remember who’s making this statement. Jesus isn’t just a good man or a great prophet, Jesus is God in human flesh.

Jesus says He’s the only way you can get to heaven. You can’t get there by being good. You can’t get there by being religious. You can’t get there by ceremony or knowledge or pedigree. Jesus doesn’t just point out the way He is the Way. He doesn’t just teach the truth, He is the Truth. He doesn’t represent one avenue to life or one possibility in life, He is the Life. Mankind’s quest for truth ends in Jesus Christ. Having said this, in some people’s minds I now join the ranks of the “narrow-minded, intolerant bigots.”

In 1 Corinthians 3:11 Paul says;-For no man can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

1 Timothy 2:5 says;-There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.

Paul says in Romans 10:9—If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead you will be saved.

Listen to Peter’s words—Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. -Acts 4:12.

NO WAY-NO OTHER NAME-NO OTHER FOUNDATION

The only way we can say there are other ways to heaven besides faith in Christ is to completely discount everything the Bible teaches on the subject.

The whole gospel boils down to this one universal truth; because our sins have separated us from God we need a mediator to bring us back to Him. Because the “sin-gap’ is so wide, we need someone from heaven who is Himself eternal to bridge the gap for us. Jesus is the only one who could bridge that gap. By His death He paid for our sins and bridged the gap that separates us from God. By His resurrection He proved He is the Son of God. The remains of all the other historical religious leaders are still in their graves.

No other mediator is necessary—no other mediator is possible.

IS THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST TOO NARROW AND ABSOLUTE?

I'm sure you've noticed that the world we live in is rather narrow. Certainly the law of gravity and the temperature at which water freezes and boils have a stubborn uniformity. If you enter a phone booth, you can’t dial any combination of numbers and get your home. Every business and residence has its own set of numbers that must be dialed to reach that location. If you set out to drive to California you can’t take any old road and expect to get there. If you have a headache, you don’t go to your cabinet and blindly pick out any bottle and expect relief. When I’m on an airliner, I expect the pilot to land on a runway not beside a runway, and not upside down.

Suppose a teacher put on an exam the question,- what’s the capitol of New York? When the test papers were returned she’d marked wrong any answer but the right one, Albany. One student had written the answer, New York City and the teacher had marked it wrong. Let’s say the young man who answered New York City wasn’t happy with the results and he turned to the other students and asked, “How many of you thought the capitol of New York was New York City? Let’s say half the students agreed with the young man and thought the capitol was New York City. The student then turns to the teacher and says, “So what makes you think your opinion is more valid than ours?” It’s obvious that there is only one correct answer to that question in spite of differing opinions.

Some people place spiritual truth into the area of opinion and anyone who tries to shift answers back from the realm of opinion to God’s authority is looked on as an intolerant person.

The other night Juda and I watched a Denzel Washington Lifetime Movie called The Great Debaters. It told the story of a Negro debate team from Texas, who back in the thirties won top national awards for debating. It was interesting to see how, before personal computers the students had to research their subjects. When they were traveling, they’d be in their motel rooms with books lying all over the beds to the point that they almost slept with books.

The point was, they had to be right in what they were saying during their debates. The researcher was as much an important part of the debates as the speakers. One of the comforts we as Christians can take is the fact that the claims of Jesus Christ have been more researched than any other group of facts man has ever known.

Let’s say for the sake of argument we accept that other religions will go to heaven. But the kicker is…none of these other religions—not Buddhists…..not the followers of Confucius…..not Taoist….not Hindus, none of those faiths have as their ultimate goal the kind of heaven most westerners have in mind. In most cases, these religions don’t even want to go to heaven.

The Buddhist doctrine is that all life is suffering and the goal is to end all suffering. Their big deal is something called Nirvana, a state of being absorbed, if you will into the great nothingness of the cosmos. You no longer have an individual existence or awareness of yourself. The Buddhists and Hindus see a cycle of reincarnation where life looks like a giant wheel. It goes around and around every time you die and are reincarnated.

It’s only people who’re raised in some sort of Christian culture who seem embarrassed by the exclusiveness of claims of Christ. Oddly enough most of the other religions try to incorporate this exclusive Jesus into their faith in some way. Muslims call Him an honored prophet. Buddhists refer to Him as a Bodhisattva, or an enlightened one who shows the path to others. Hindus think of Him as an incarnation of Vishnu, one of their highest Gods. I wonder if somehow deep in the collective heart of all humanity there isn’t that general revelation from God that points to Jesus as in fact, The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

Somehow the thought has taken hold that sincerity, not the truth is the higher of the two virtues. But in religious matters sincerity is never enough. We’re not talking here about our emotions or our preferences. The issue is truth. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the people of Islam or Hinduism. But sincerity only matters when applied to the proper object. You can be sincerely wrong and still be wrong. Believing the wrong things doesn’t make it right.

HOW DO WE COMMUNICATE OUR CHRISTIAN FAITH TO OTHERS?

Today our world grows smaller and smaller and we find ourselves rubbing shoulders with people from different religious backgrounds. This is a relatively new phenomenon…growing more intense. Let’s face it. It looks like in the future we’re going to have Muslims and people of other religious beliefs living all around us and our children will go to school with them. This is already happening.

How do we best explain what we believe to those of other religions? That’s an important question! Our challenge going forward isn’t just going to be to believe in the facts we’ve tried to present here about Christ, but rather to articulate this message in a culture that rejects our views. We must concern ourselves with boldly yet respectively sharing Christ with unbelieving classmates, friends and family.

The important thing is not to be afraid.

Don’t be afraid of someone who doesn’t share your point of view.

Don’t be afraid of your Muslim co-worker or your Hindu neighbor.

Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with a student who has no religious beliefs whatsoever.

If we’re afraid we become defensive and that can make us all mouth with no ears. In the west they call it “All hat and no cattle.” It’s not a sin or a mistake to let someone else explain what they believe and how they view the world. But pray as you listen to others so that you can get better understanding of who they are and what they believe. If you and I show ourselves friendly, God will open doors that we could have never opened on our own. I also believe that one of our greatest challenges is to know what we believe and why we believe it. Knowledge is strong medicine.

WHAT IF PEOPLE REACT NEGATIVELY?

Remember you can’t argue a person into the Kingdom of God. Neither can you insult them into belief in Christ. It seems also evident but swearing at folk doesn’t make them want to run to the cross. As we’ve said, it helps to remember that people without Christ are spiritually blind. 2 Cor. 4:4.

Until their blindness is removed by the Holy Spirit they will never “See” the truth. You might as well get angry at a blind person for not seeing the color green. Our strategy must be based on kindness and Christ-centeredness.”

Listen to 2 Timothy 2:24-25;

And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel: instead be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.

For most of my life I’ve endeavored to focus my ministry on the supremacy of Jesus. If I fail to boldly lift Him up my efforts become irrelevant. No church group or denomination can get someone to heaven but Jesus can.

This is all that matters! Life’s biggest decision is what we do with Jesus and how we proclaim Him to a dying world.

We can’t let fear of being called intolerant Christians cause us to be weak-kneed when the world’s most important question is asked; “Is Jesus the only way to heaven?”

The answer is, YES!

Blessings,


John


SCRIPTURE REFERENCES

John 14:6

John 3:31-36

John 11:25-27

Matthew 7:13-14

Acts 4:12, 10;42-43, 17:30

1 Timothy 2:5-6

1John 5”12