Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What Happened Under A Juniper Tree

The prophet Elijah was undoubtedly a man of deep devotion, unquestioning obedience, daring faith, and true humility. In spite of these noble qualities, there was one instance of complete breakdown, humiliating failure and defeat. That incident is recorded in 1 Kings chapter 19. It is recorded that he cowardly fled 100 miles from the presence of the wicked queen Jezebel who sought to kill him and sat down under a juniper tree. He was overwhelmed in self-pity, discouragement and depression. Fear and alarm gripped him. He just wanted to get away from everyone else and be alone. His was a self-imposed isolation. He was at "wit's end" and he even wanted to die. He felt he was the only faithful servant of God remaining in Israel. However, God told him there were 7,000 in Israel who had not yet given over to idolatry.

What contributed to Elijah's condition? For one thing, he was overstrained mentally. He had experienced 3 ½ years of terrific tension in his efforts to encourage Israel to be faithful to God. He was exhausted physically. He traveled a 100-mile cross-country trek from the presence of wicked Jezebel. More significantly, he was out of touch spiritually. He took his eyes off the Lord and looked at his circumstances, especially the threats of Jezebel. He had an unbalanced view of things.

Do you ever get discouraged, become depressed and despondent? Do you ever find yourself in the grip of despair? Does fear ever possess you? Does doubt sometimes assail you? Do you ever experience the feeling that nobody understands? At some point in life, all of us have likely experienced these feelings. That was Elijah's experience also. Perhaps the perspectives God shared with Elijah to overcome his despair will be helpful to us as well.

The cure that the Divine Physician prescribed Elijah involved giving attention to the needs of his body. The Lord’s angel provided food and water. God knows our frame and that we are but dust (Psa. 103:14). He knows we need proper rest, food and plenty of fresh air for our emotional and physical health.

Since Elijah's mental outlook was distorted and unbalanced God challenged him to face up to his fears and problems. Despondency has a knack for picking its facts. Even little problems become greatly exaggerated in our minds. But, emotional strength is not gained by constantly feeding the distortions. Expand your vision to see the big picture rather than the small view that only contributes to your discouragement.

God then gave Elijah a wonderful vision of His power, glory and tenderness (1 Kgs. 19:11-13). When we take our eyes of faith off the Lord and focus on our problems it will contribute to depression, fearfulness and self-pity. "Hope in God" is the antidote for despair (Psa. 42:11). Through the psalmist God tells us, "Be still and know that I am God" (Psa. 46:10). No matter how deep and serious the problems may be in our lives, God cares and is able to help us do something about them. "Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord" Psa. 27:14). Don't ever give up. Place your trust in the Almighty who is able to see you through any trial.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Change the Bottom Button

Have you ever been embarrassed by the discovery that the buttons on your coat or shirt were in the wrong holes because you missed the first button? I’ve had that experience more than once in my life. It is especially embarrassing when you are attending an important meeting or are being introduced to someone for the first time.

Have you ever had a similar experience in some of the important relationships in your life? Perhaps some of the great challenges in your life did not turn out right because you started out wrong. Maybe you got off on the wrong foot with your employer on your first day at work. Perhaps you don’t command the influence you would like or you don’t produce the results you should because you missed the first button. Perhaps you started out on the wrong foot with a neighbor and now you rarely speak to one another. It may be that your marriage is not satisfactory because you started out wrong. Your home relationships are not what they should be because earlier you made some serious mistakes and it is now difficult to overcome them.

It’s so easy to blame circumstances, or education, or society, even our in-laws, or just about anything else, isn’t it, for the mess we find ourselves in right now? One of the best ways to handle the messes we get ourselves into is to openly and honestly admit our mistakes. Come clean with our own conscience and with other people and seek to do right.

Jesus Christ made this promise, "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you" (Matt. 6:33). Now, that is the real answer to the problem; that’s starting out in the right button hole.

Long ago, king Solomon was invited by God to, "Ask what I shall give you." Solomon could have requested wealth, power, prestige, and honor among men. But, he asked for none of these. Instead, he asked that he might have an understanding heart that he might properly govern the people of Israel and discern between good and evil. It pleased God that Solomon had asked for this and he said to him, "Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold I now do according to your word…I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days." Solomon started out right. He put God and others before himself.

That's the answer for you and me as well. In order for us to start out right so that we can end up right, we must put God first. Doing so will make us better employees, better neighbors and friends, better husbands and wives, and better children.

The wonderful thing about serving God is that we may mess up and get "our buttons" out of order, but we can start all over and he will help us get it right. We can never exhaust his grace or diminish his love for us. He is willing to forgive and help us start anew.

It's amazing what can happen when we make God the priority of our lives! Seek his way, his wisdom, and his strength – FIRST! No matter how tangled or twisted or complicated our lives become, things have a way of turning out much better when we put God in the first button-hole.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Who Are We?

The rhetoric used by the retired preacher of a church where our president once worshipped was in the news a few years ago. The Chicago church where he preached is affiliated with the United Church of Christ. Some have wondered if we in the churches of Christ are associated with that particular religious organization. Since the expression "Church of Christ" is used in the title of their religious group, I can understand the confusion. However, plainly and simply stated, we do not have any ties to them. The leaders of that church are fully capable of articulating who they are and I will leave that to them. However, in brief fashion, I would like to share with you some things about the churches of Christ.

We are a people who believe explicitly in the deity of Jesus Christ. In fact, the Bible teaches that prior to one's baptism, he must confess his faith in Jesus as the Son of God (Acts 8:37). Every person in the churches of Christ has made that confession publicly. That affirmation of faith is the foundation upon which the Lord's church is built. When the apostle Peter confessed, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," Jesus responded, "Upon this rock I will build my church" (Matt. 16:16, 18).

We believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God and our only authoritative guide in religious matters. The apostle Paul said, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:16-17). This passage points to the source of the Bible as being from God and to the sufficiency of the Bible as our guide in life. Manuals of faith, creedal statements, and synod and council decisions are mere human documents that do not possess the same authority or inerrancy as God’s inspired revelation, the Bible. The Bible alone should be man’s religious guide. We must "learn not to go beyond the things which are written"(1 Cor. 4:6).

In the churches of Christ we believe in the non-denominational nature of the Lord’s spiritual body, the church. We are not part of a denominational organization with a central office or headquarters. Each local congregation is self-governing under the headship of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:18). Protestant denominations began in the 16th century, but the Lord’s church began in the 1st century (Acts 2:47). We have no political agenda that we are trying to promote; rather, prayers are made "for kings and all that are in high places" regardless of the system of government under which we live (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We advocate a moral standard that honors and respects our Creator and recognizes the dignity of our fellow man.

We recognize the God-given right of man to make his own choices in life, but we seek to fulfill the divine command to "preach the gospel to the whole creation" (Mk. 16:15). When this life is over and man faces God in the judgment, he will be assigned one of two destinies: either heaven or hell. Jesus is the Savior only of those who obey Him (Heb. 5:9). With the concern and urgency of dying men speaking to dying men and eternity hanging in the balance, we serve God.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Some Important First Things

There is a certain excitement about "first things." Most of us find it easy to remember our first day at school. Our parents probably remember the first time we walked and the first words we spoke. Many of you probably remember your first date. Because they are among the first things we did, we place them among our primary memories.

There is another use of the word "first" that suggests priority. Setting proper priorities in life is one of the biggest problems we face. It is important to assess the value of things in order not to give first place to secondary matters. We often make the mistake of "majoring in minors and minoring in majors." An examination of the New Testament book of Matthew reveals some priorities we need to establish.

The first priority for our consideration is, First the spiritual, then the temporal. Jesus said that we should seek the kingdom of God above everything else (Matt. 6:33). Connected with this admonition is the promise that God will provide our daily needs. God knows all about our material needs – food, drink, clothing, and shelter (Matt. 6:31-32). He is willing to supply them according to His riches in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19); however, there should be in our life a spiritual emphasis that is superior to our quest for material interests.

Another priority is, First judge yourself before you attempt to correct your brother. Jesus urged us to cast the beam out of our own eye before we criticize another person’s shortcomings (Matt. 7:3, 5). How blind we often are to our own faults, and how quickly we observe the faults and failings of others! The Searcher of hearts urged us to be careful of our attitude toward others. It is much more profitable to mend and restore than to criticize and tear down.

Matthew 8:21-22 provides a third priority for our consideration: First, what Christ wants and then what you want. A man came to Jesus and requested permission to bury his father before following the Lord. At first, it may have seemed compassionate for the Lord to have granted his request, but Jesus knew the man's heart. He knew he was just making an excuse to delay his commitment. We frequently do the same thing. We say that we will become a disciple of Jesus provided we are given the opportunity of doing "our own thing" first. A self-centered person goes his own way instead of the Lord's way. There is only one answer to each of the following questions: Why do you continue that doubtful habit? Why do you pursue that harmful relationship? Why do you allow that crooked method in business? Why do you continue to use profanity? Why do you still visit undesirable places? Why do you not obey the gospel of Christ? The answer to each of these questions is the same. At this time, you do not want to put the Lord’s will first in your life.

Jesus chastised the hypocritical Pharisees for outwardly conforming to God’s will while they inwardly neglected submission to His will (Matt. 23:25-26). The Christian life is not just an outwardly reformed life; it is primarily an inwardly cleansed life. When the inward cleansing is thorough, the outward transformation is soon evident. God does not want merely outward confession, but He desires inward possession.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Global Warming

The debate continues. Extremes are evident. Politicians are divided. The panic button is being pushed. Whom shall we believe? Is there not a middle ground somewhere? I am referring to the current debate on global warming. Books have been written on the subject. A movie has been made to warn people of the impending danger associated with global warming. A former vice-president of our nation has been awarded the Nobel Prize for his efforts to warn us of global warming if we continue to destroy the purity of the very air that we breathe. Yet, there are reputable scientists and meteorologists who strongly disagree with several of his arguments and conclusions. They explain that we are in a cycle of weather changes that has been going on for centuries. And here I sit as a novice and endeavoring to understand matters that are often too great for my finite mind.

This year the drought seems to be more widespread and severe than usual.  Our water supply has diminished significantly. Farmers have experienced serious crop failure. Cattlemen are having great difficulty in finding food for their stock because the pastures have burned up due to the lack of moisture. Could we not understand that such might be possible as we consider the reasons for changes in our weather? I know that as humans we do pollute our environment. We all have witnessed this fact. It is good that we are becoming more aware of this problem.

While not trying to diminish the need to clean up our polluted land, water and air, I want to mention another 'global warming' that the world in general has very little interest in. We go about our everyday activities without considering the fact that there is coming a time when this life will come to an end. We buy and sell and get gain without fully realizing that life is like a vapor that lasts only for a short time (James 4:13-17). Many scoffers reason that since there was a yesterday there will also be a tomorrow and things will continue as they have since the beginning of time. But read very carefully the words of the apostle Peter in 2 Peter 3:7: "The heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly." He continues by saying, "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn" (2 Peter 3:10-12).

Sin is the pollution of the soul. And unless a person has this stain removed from his soul by the cleansing blood of the Lamb of God, our Savior Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:5), he will suffer the inevitable consequence of eternal condemnation. Now this is the 'global warming' that we should be prepared for by "renouncing ungodliness and worldly passions" and living "self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:12, 13).