Wednesday, April 29, 2009

There is Joy in Serving Jesus - Is That Really True?

Recently the words of an old hymn flooded my mind. The song was written by Oswald J. Smith, pastor of the Toronto (Canada) Bible Church for many years and one of the great missionary-evangelists of the last century. The words of the first verse go: "There is joy in serving Jesus, As I journey on my way. Joy that fills the heart with praises, Every hour and every day." Then the chorus: "There is joy, joy, joy in serving Jesus, Joy that throbs within my heart; Every moment, every hour, As I draw upon His power, There is joy, joy, joy that never shall depart." Now I have not heard this song, well in years. It certainly is not part of the repertoire of modern church music. I wonder why?

Perhaps it is because we have lost that joy that comes in serving Jesus. We have forgotten how wonderfully blessed we are to share His love with others. We have become too consumed with the cares of this world. We are too absorbed with the burden of living that we have forgotten the reason for life itself.

Throughout the Scripture we are commanded to be joyful. Be joyful in our praise to God - "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth." Well, we make noise, but I wonder how much joy there is in our praise? We are to be joyful at all times and in all things - "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice." If that is the case, then why is there so much grumbling being done. At times we sound like the children of Israel as they came out of Egypt...never satisfied with what God supplies for us. And we are to serve the Lord with joy - "serve the Lord with gladness; come into His presence with singing." Yet I see little joy today in ministry. Pastors are burdened with the cares of a troubled financial world and of having to balance truth with tolerance. Worship leaders are burdened with the contest between traditional versus contemporary. Leaders of non-profit groups battle the increased needs with the increased lack of funds. Joy...don't bother me with joy! It is a fight for survival!

I am reminded of those final words of Jesus to His disciples. Included is this admonition: "In the world you will have tribulations; be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world." Joy is not a product of looking at my circumstances. Joy is the product of my relationship with Jesus Christ. And therein lies the reason for our lack of joy today. We focus more time and energy upon our circumstances than upon our relationship.

"Lord, restore to me the joy of ministry; the joy of serving You. Restore to me the joy of sharing Your love and Your Word with others!"

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ready for the Return of Christ?

Let me ask you a very personal question: Do you believe that Jesus Christ could return at any moment? Do you believe that He could come even today before you complete the reading of this blog? Do I believe that Jesus could come even before I complete the writing of it? If your answer is as mine - a strong, enthusiastic "yes!" - then I need to ask another question: How does that belief affect the way you live?

This past Sunday - April 19 - Marlys and I had the privilege to attend the first service of a Prophetic Conference held at Calvary Evangelical Free Church in Rochester, MN. The speaker was a friend who had spoken in two of my previous churches. Dr. David Larson is recognized as being one of the authorities on prophetic scripture. Sunday morning he spoke on how belief in the Rapture of the Church should impact our lifestyle. The message was simple, yet powerful. His text was Luke 12:35-48.

As Dr. Larson expounded on this text, the thought impressed upon my own heart was this: Is the way I conduct my life today different because I believe Jesus Christ could return at any moment? Are my priorities affected because of this belief? Or can people say of me, "Well he talks a good talk about Christ's coming, but he certainly does not reflect it in his life."

I am saddened to say that probably the last response is more typical - at least for many of us. Oh yes we believe in the coming Rapture, and some even pray daily that that event would come. But we continue to live as if we had all the time in the world. As a dear friend of mine continually reminds me, "We need to be snatching people from the fire." And he is correct. And that is what he and his family is doing.

In the Luke text, Jesus admonishes those to whom He told this parable, that they should be ready for His coming because it could come at any time. If I truly believe that, then I will want to keep my life freed from the influences of sin. That means I will guard what I view on television and on my computer screen. I will guard what I hear with the music I listen to. The Apostle John reminded his readers that Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure (1 John 3:2). So, let's keep our spiritual homes clean.

Second, the text admonishes us to be working when Jesus comes. Now what kind of work would Jesus expect from His followers? First, there is the imperative of evangelism...telling lost souls how they can find rest in Christ. Second, there is the imperative of discipleship...helping saved souls find strength for the battle in Christ.

My friends, personally I do not believe anything further needs to be accomplished before Christ could come to take His Bride to His home. All around us I am seeing those signs that point toward the Advent of Christ as King who will reign upon the throne of David in Jerusalem for 1000 years. And, if those are the harbingers of that great event, then the return of Christ for His Church must be only moments away.

It is time we begin to live as a people who truly believe that Jesus Christ is coming again! Yes, our Redemption soon draws nigh! Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Tea-Party for Tax Day

Today, April 15, is that dreaded day known as "Tax Day." If you have not filed your income tax return for 2008 by midnight tonight, or have filed for an extension, then you will join a long list of people known as tax-evaders. It is a law in the United States that everyone pays an income tax.

I have often been asked if Jesus paid taxes. The Bible tells us that He did. In Matthew 17:24-27, Jesus and His disciples had hardly time to get settled into their accommodations in Capernaum, when Peter was approached by the collectors of the temple-tax. He was asked if Jesus paid the required tax for the upkeep of the temple. Peter replied that Jesus did. Then Jesus invites Peter to go fishing and upon catching the first fish he should open its mouth and find enough money to pay the temple-tax for both Jesus and himself.

On yet another occasion, Jesus was confronted by a group of Pharisees and Herodians who desired to entrap Him. They asked Jesus if they should pay taxes to Caesar or not. Now we need to remember that the Roman government certainly was not one of the most popular. Tiberius Caesar had done his share to antagonize the Jewish people in Judea. His government was full of corruption, and Tiberius himself was often under a cloud of suspicion. Why should I pay my hard-earned money to keep a government in power with which I strongly disagree?

Now, before we look at Jesus' response, let's put this conversation into a contemporary setting. Should a Christian pay his or her taxes? I don't know about you, but I cannot whole-heartedly endorse what this present administration is doing. I am strongly opposed to the concept of a government that is spending itself into bankruptcy yet does not recognize that danger. I am strongly opposed to a government that has used my hard-earned money to bailout those who knowingly made wrong choices. If I am penalized because I make a wrong choice, then should not others suffer the same consequences? Because I have these feelings should I just refuse to pay my taxes?

Well, what did Jesus say? Show me the coin used for paying the tax. ... Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription? ... Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's (Matthew 22:19-21). In other words Jesus says, "The coin bears the mark of the Roman government. Then give that coin to the government when it is demanded of you." The Apostle Paul would echo this with these words to the Romans: This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes... (Romans 13:6-7).

But today, April 15, has been declared TEA Party Day, and throughout the country hundreds of thousands of people are meeting in community centers, on state capital grounds, in civic centers to protest the misuse by the government of our tax money. Many have been encouraged to send a tea-bag to their congressional representatives and even to the White House. This day is predicated upon the famous Boston Tea Party of 1773 in which, to protest the increased taxation on the Colonies by the British government, hundreds of boxes of tea were dumped into Boston Harbor. Many historians believed that this act ignited the American Revolution. Could such a "tea party" today lead to a similar revolution? Could such a public demonstration get the attention of our nation's leadership and remind them to be fiscally responsible with the taxpayers money? I guess time will tell.

I trust you have paid your taxes, not only as an act of obedience to a governmental edict, but also as an act of obedience to God. And I also trust you will consider the grassroots effort to hold government more accountable for your tax dollars. I believe both could be a strong testimony of our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

An Assault upon Marriage - Where Is the Outrage?

Last Friday morning Marlys and I were driving down to Iowa to spend time with our son and his family. We tuned into WHO, one of the large Iowa radio stations, and heard a conversation that I thought I would never hear coming out of my home state. That morning the Iowa Supreme Court, in an unanimous decision, had ruled that Iowa's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional based upon the First Amendment. Beginning on April 28, the State of Iowa will provide same-sex couples the freedom to marry. I was shocked! And I think many in the State of Iowa were as well!

Then, yesterday, the legislature of the State of Vermont overrode the veto by their governor, thus making it legal for same-sex couples to marry in Vermont. Now there are four states where same-sex couples can go and be legally married: Massachusetts (which started this whole mess), Connecticut, Vermont, and Iowa.

What I am wondering is where is the outcry from the Christian community in this country. In many ways, this assault upon marriage poses as great a danger as did the Roe v Wade decision in 1973. The belief in the marriage of one man to one woman is foundational to all cultural norms, going back to the Garden of Eden. One of the first commandments God gave to man after his creation was this: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Notice the words that God used: It was to be a relationship between a man and his wife, not between a man and another man, or between a woman and her wife. Jesus, in His dialogue with the Pharisees concerning the matter of divorce, reiterated the words of God: "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." (Matthew 19:4-6).

Marriage is defined as: the state of being married; relationship between husband and wife. Another definition described marriage as: the state of, or relation between, a man and woman who have become husband and wife or to the ceremony marking this union. Will the actions of the Iowa Supreme Court and the Vermont Legislature mean those definitions are now null and void? Will my grandchildren grow up learning that the word "marriage" means something entirely different than what I learned in school? If same-sex marriages are legalized, then will same-sex divorce also?

What is one of the intended purposes of marriage? It is procreation. God told Adam and Eve to fill the earth with children. And that act was to be accomplished within the context of marriage. Biologically it is an impossibility for two men, acting in a gay same-sex marriage, to create a child. Two sperm cells can never unite to form anything. And it is biologically impossible for two women, acting in a lesbian same-sex marriage, to create a child. Two egg cells can never unite to form anything. A child can only be created through the biological process of a man uniting sexually with a woman; ideally this happens within the context of a marriage.

Now here is what I find very disturbing. In an interview on one of the Iowa television stations, a lesbian couple was asked how the Iowa Supreme Court ruling would impact them. Their response included the privilege of being recognized in their community as being married, and the right to begin a family. How can that happen?

Around the globe and throughout the annals of history - whether in civilized or uncivilized cultures - marriage was always the same: a legal or religious ceremony binding together one man and one woman. Each culture viewed this concept of marriage as foundational to the strength of that culture. We are now, not only rewriting marriage contracts, but also redefining cultural and societal mores. If same-sex marriage becomes legalized...and four states now say that it is, and one can assume that others will follow suit...what cultural foundation stone will crumble next?

Let me close with this warning: Whenever a culture decides that it has a better way for people to live than does God, such a decision will not set well with the One on the throne in glory. The Bible is full of examples of those who tried to do their own thing in their own way. The consequences were not pretty. But God's judgment must come. It is time for the Church of Jesus Christ to shake off its apathy and realize that we are in the fight of our lives. The quote from Jude, we need to strongly contend for the faith that was delivered to us, must become our motto. It is not time for fellowship with cookies and coffee; it is time for counsels of war.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What a Bizarre World!

One of the definitions given in the dictionary for the word "bizarre" is: "marked by extreme contrasts and incongruities." Yesterday I was privileged to share in a luncheon with about two dozen other believers. We were engaged in a conversation about what is happening in our world and trying to reconcile those events with the Scriptures. Repeatedly the word "bizarre" was used in describing events today.

It is bizarre to realize our President, who does not have one day of experience running any-sized business, could fire the head of one of the largest publicly held corporations in the world and begin to dictate what that corporation could or could not do. It has never happened before. No wonder Wall Street reacted with jitters. Whose head would roll next? It is bizarre to think that the only sector of our economy that is growing is that of government. I recently read in "Business Week" that during the next two years the economy of Washington DC will grow by nearly 5%, while the rest of the country will decline by nearly that same amount. I guess if you have a government position you have job security.

And who would have thought that cries would be heard around the globe for a one-world currency. Both the Chinese and Russians have stated that a global currency is needed. And why is that? The Chinese are heavily invested with American debt, and right now the dollar is not exactly a currency of strength; especially since we are printing dollars at almost a record pace. This is just another indication that a one-world government is no longer just science fiction.

And isn't it bizarre how the world continually tries to isolate Israel. The Arab League, meeting in Qatar, issued an ultimatum to the newly formed Netanyahu government that Israel accept the 2002 Saudi Plan or face the threats of an united Arab world. Next, rumbles came from the European Union head, the Czech Foreign Minister, who said that unless Israel subscribed to the "two-state solution" drastic consequences would be meted out by the Europeans. And the actions of the American government only mirrors those of others. In fact, I was reading in one of the Israeli papers this morning that Israel believes it will have to act alone with regard to Iran...and the article stated, Israel will not tell anyone their plans.

As one reads Ezekiel 38 and 39 - the upcoming war with Gog and Magog - one can begin to understand what that ancient prophet was saying. Israel will be isolated. When the threat comes from the North, there will be no aid from either Europe or America to help her. Her only source of strength will be God alone...but that will be sufficient for her.

It is bizarre to think of how quickly our government is showing weakness. Plans are now in place to reconsider the missile shield that was to protect Europe from Iranian missiles. President Obama has declared that he will reduce military spending, scrape many of the new weapons systems, thus weakening our defensive capabilities. It was President Teddy Roosevelt who said, "Speak softly, but carry a big stick!" Well, today we are speaking softly, but we have forgotten to carry the big stick. In fact, we no longer have a big stick.

And then there are the increasingly bizarre teachings impacting today's church. But we will save those for another blog visit. Suffice it to say that we must be ever watchful for deception that not only creeps into the church, but is even now walking proudly through the front door.

As our discussion of the bizarre events happening in our world concluded yesterday, I reminded the group that we hold this strong truth: our God is in absolute control. He is the master strategist. And everything is happening according to His timetable and plan. So we should not despair for these are exciting days. Let's continue putting our trust in Him.