Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Beware of Being Disqualified

For my devotions this morning I was reading from 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 where the Apostle Paul writes these words: "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.  No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." 

Disqualification is one of those hated terms in the field of sports.  "Runners, take your mark...Ready, Set..." and your body lunges forward just milliseconds before the firing of the starter's pistol.  You are disqualified from the race.  You are the anchor in a relay race and you grab the baton from your running mate just inches outside of the passing zone.  You are disqualified from the race.  Yes, you trained as diligently as did those with whom you competed.  Yes, you sacrificed just as much, perhaps even more than did they.  Yet it was just a little err that caused you to become disqualified and prevented you from finishing the race successfully. 

The Apostle Paul, an avid sports fan himself, I believe, probably had seen races where a runner had been disqualified and so failed to finish successfully.  As he watched Paul saw a profound spiritual principle: Beware of the little things that can cause a disqualification in ministry.  I remember attending a Moody Bible Institute Pastors' Conference early in my ministry many years ago.  I was one of those eager young men who believed that the world could be conquered through diligent seven-day-a-week involvement in the church.  So, I prided myself on the fact that I would often go weeks at a time without taking time off for my family.  At that conference I heard one of the best-known preachers in America at that time, pastoring one of the largest evangelical churches in America, stand before us and with tears streaming down his face, almost with sobs that at times seemed uncontrollable, say to us, "Men, I was so busy trying to reach every one's children, that I lost my own."  And then he said words that God emblazoned upon my heart: "Men, if you lose your own family, you forfeit your ministry." 

Family neglect - a cause for disqualification.  Being overly committed to the Church - a cause for disqualification.  An emotional involvement with a member of the opposite sex - a cause for disqualification.  A lust for power and the need to have one's own way - a cause for disqualification.  Friends, the Apostle Paul is declaring that he wants nothing to cause him to fail to complete the race for Jesus Christ successfully.  So, yes, he will preach powerfully.  So, yes, he will become all things to all people that he might reach some for Christ.  But he will also guard his steps so that Satan will not be able to use the little things to cause him to lose his ministry.  Friends, God reminded me this morning that I need to be careful of the little things in my life that can lead to a disqualification of being successful for Jesus Christ.

Now, some of you might be saying, "Well, Max, doesn't God forgive us our sins?"  Of course He does, not because He has to, but because by His grace He is free to do so.  And there is something so wonderful about knowing God's forgiveness.  But, this is the lesson we tend to forget, yet its truth graces nearly every page of Scripture: While God forgives our sins, the consequences for those sins is not removed.  God forgave Adam and Eve, but they still were driven out of the Garden of Eden.  God forgave Israel, but they still had to march in the wilderness for 40 years.  God forgave Moses for striking the rock when he should have spoken to it, but Moses still could not enter into the Promised Land.  God forgave David, but he still had problems with his family that plagued him the remaining years of his life. 

Let's apply this to what Paul has been saying.  When a runner is disqualified, one of the first things that he/she does is to apologize to his/her teammates for letting them down.  Usually those teammates are quick to forgive, as they should be.  But forgiveness does not remove the disqualification.  Forgiveness does not remove the consequences.  So, let's be careful lest we become disqualified in that ministry God has entrusted to us - whether it is to your church or to your family. 

Lots going on in the world today.  Senator McCain's brief weekend visit with rebel leaders inside Syria - was it merely symbolic or will President Obama now arm the rebels?  Russia announced that it was sending sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to the Assad regime in Syria, sparking a response by Israeli leaders that they would not allow that to happen.  The Middle East continues to sit on a powder keg with the uncertainty in Syria growing more intense by the day.  And, have you noticed what is happening in Iraq?  Suicide bombings have taken dozens of lives.  It appears that Al-Qaeda has been resurrected.  Will the government hold?  And the scandals in Washington continue to grow leaving the unanswered question: who knew what and when?  And yet, through all this, God is at work bringing people to a knowledge of who He is so that they might discover a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ.  These are exciting days.  Don't become disqualified.  May God see us safely and successfully to the finish line for His honor and glory.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Tornado's Aftermath

Our thoughts and prayers are certainly with those families in Oklahoma and Kansas who experienced the ravages of deadly tornadoes this past week.  As one sees the images coming from Moore, Oklahoma, there is a sense that it is a scene from some type of Hollywood disaster movie.  The destruction is almost incomprehensible - homes that have been reduced to a pile of kindling wood.  And yet the testimonies from many of those who survived is an incredible statement of faith and dependence upon God.  As I watched those images of people returning to homes that no longer existed and began sorting through what remained, looking for pictures, for family heirlooms, etc., I wondered how I would respond if suddenly, in a matter of mere moments, God removed everything from my life. 

I was reminded of the story behind a favorite hymn of mine.  It was written in 1903 by an obscure 19th century preacher and carpenter by the name of George A. Young.  He and his wife spent a lifetime humbly serving the Lord in small rural communities, often having barely enough to eat, yet they were often heard to say, "Oh, sometimes we didn't have too much of this world's goods but we always had so much of Jesus."  They were able to scrimp and save to buy a small piece of land on which George built a small cottage and, though small, they dedicated it to God when they moved in, using the Doxology as a signature song.  A few years later, while they were away on a ministry trip, some local thugs who didn't like George's preaching, set fire to the house and it was totally destroyed.  As George gazed at the ruins, he recounted the precious possessions fire could never destroy - his family, his ministry, and his relationship with Jesus Christ.  He then began to compose the words to this hymn:
     "In shady, green pastures, so rich and so sweet, God leads his dear children along;
      where the water's cool flow bathes the weary one's feet, God leads his dear children along.

     "Sometimes on the mount where the sun shines so bright, God leads his dear children along;
      sometimes in the valley, in darkest of night, God leads his dear children along.

     "Though sorrows befall us and Satan oppose, God leads his dear children along;
      through grace we can conquer, defeat all our foes, God leads his dear children along.

     "Some thro' the waters, some thro' the flood, some thro' the fire, but all thro' the blood;
     some thro' great sorrow, but God gives a song, in the night season and all the day long."

A few years later, Dr. Harold Lillenas, one of America's great publishers of gospel music, seeking to track down George's widow, drove to a small Kansas town where he discovered that she was residing in the run-down County Poor House.  He was troubled that the widow of a gifted song-writer should spend her final years in a place like that.  But she said to him, "One day God took my sweet husband home.  Oh, how I missed him for we had always served the Lord together.  In my heart, I wondered - where will God now lead me?  Dr. Lillenas, God led me here!  I'm so glad He did, for you know, about every month someone comes into this place to spend the rest of their days, and, Dr. Lillenas, so many of them don't know my Jesus.  I'm having the time of my life introducing them to Jesus!  Dr. Lillenas, isn't it wonderful how God leads?"

Friends, I would hope that is how I would respond if suddenly everything was gone.  For when the winds died down and the smoke cleared away, there would still be Jesus...and He is more than enough.  And with another great hymn-writer I would sing, "It is well with my soul."  I trust you would do so as well.

Because of the Oklahoma tornadoes and their deadly destruction, our focus has been taken off the scandalous events that are rocking Washington.  Let's see: there is the Benghazi attacks last September 11 that left four Americans murdered; there is the harassing by the IRS of those Tea Party groups that sought to have a non-profit exemption; there was the Department of Justice hacking into the phone records of certain reporters working for the Associated Press.  From just a casual observation, there seems to be a cover-up of truth. 

Friends, cover-ups have been used before.  We have witnessed them in the biblical record.  Probably the most famous cover-up was that of David after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his leading generals and friends, Uriah the Hittite.  As one reads the account in 2 Samuel 11, there is one action following another culminating in the murder of Uriah.  It was not until David was directly confronted by the Prophet Nathan that David admitted his sins and sought God's forgiveness.  Then there was the story of Achan who, knowing that God had placed all of Jericho - its residents and its property - under a condemnation, nevertheless took some money and some garments and covered up his actions by placing them in a hole under his tent.  His cover-up was exposed and the judgment was swift.  Even Adam and Eve, there in the Garden, after the fall, tried to cover up their sins by blaming someone else for what had happened.  Yet their sins were found out by God and a punishment was meted out upon them.  It is always best to tell the truth because the truth will eventually be made known.  In Washington today, the truth will eventually become evident.  How wise those leaders who will quickly, without cover-up, admit to errors on their part. 

Well this weekend is Memorial Day, a time to celebrate and remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we might enjoy freedom, including the freedom to write this blog and to share openly with others opinions and ideas.  So, take a few moments sometime during these next few days to say "thank you" to a Vet.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Sad Day in Minnesota

Excitement hit the streets of St. Paul and Minneapolis this evening creating an atmosphere much like
those when the Twins won the World Series.  Except this was not the excitement of a sports championship.  This was not the excitement of an outstanding guest visiting our communities.  This was not even the excitement of an ethnic or cultural celebration.  No, this was excitement over the signing of the Marriage Freedom Act by Governor Dayton.  Friends, Minnesota is now the 12th state in the country to fully legalize marriage between people of the same sex.  For many of us this will be remembered as the day when Minnesota turned its back upon a definition of marriage that had withstood the tests of time, cultures, and civilizations since the very beginning - the Garden of Eden. 

God's very first command to man was stated very simply - "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it."  As I shared with a group of men this morning, God's first command to Adam and Eve involved sex - sex for the purpose of procreation.  And God has so ordained that the only way this could happen involved a man and a woman.  Friends, I don't care what they tell you, it is biologically impossible for either two men or two women to produce a child.  Simply can't happen, and that is by God's design.  So, with this Marriage Freedom Act we have violated one of the foundational principles of mankind.  But then God states something else about the relationship between a man and a woman, for in Genesis 2:24 He states, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."  The phrase "one flesh" implies an intimacy in a relationship.  It seems that God is now saying that the sexual expression between one man and one woman presents the opportunity for an intimacy that the rest of the created world knows nothing about.  Dogs have sex to produce puppies.  Cats have sex to produce kittens.  And so on through all the orders of the animal kingdom.  But there is no expression of love.  That only occurs with men and women.

Now, I have to admit that it is this ability to give expression of love to another that has driven the whole Gay Marriage agenda.  Why can't a man enter into a love relationship with another man, or a woman with another woman?  What is so wrong with that?  But, let's go back to the text.  God is not speaking to two men or to two women in the text in Genesis.  He is speaking to one man, called the husband, and to one woman, called the wife.  The expression of love is to be between these two individuals and this will be known as marriage. 

But, it was not long after the Fall that Satan began to attack that foundational principle of marriage.  By the time we get to Genesis 4, just a few generations after the Garden, we read about a man named Lamech who married two women (Genesis 4:19).  The Bible even gives us the names of his two wives.  Lamech was one of these men who lived on the edge - the wild side, if you will.  Continuing in Genesis 4 we read, "Lamech said to his wives, 'Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words.  I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me.  If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.'" (Genesis 4:23-24).  Lamech boasts of his sins - polygamy and murder and dares God to do something about it.  And, by the time we get to Genesis 19, we are introduced to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah whose sin of homosexuality caused God to totally wipe those cities off the face of the earth - there is no evidence of their existence today, although many have looked for their ruins. 

So, what am I trying to state?  Simply this: Marriage was defined by God since the time of the creation to be an intimate relationship between one man and one woman producing the possibilities of children.  Man has perverted the concept of marriage through polygamy down through the years, but the definition has never been changed.  But now we have.  Marriage is now simply defined as a relationship of love.  Friends, Pandora's Box has been opened now and we will soon see the myriad of uglies that have crawled out.  Already there are those who want to have polygamy legalized, for if a man can marry another man because he loves him, why can't a man marry two or three women because he loves them?  There is nothing that can stop that from happening - because marriage is now defined as a relationship of love.  Why couldn't a woman marry her favorite dog?  Why couldn't a brother marry his sister or a sister her brother?  I know you are saying, "Max, that simply won't happen!"  I hope you are right, but twenty years ago I never thought I would be hearing of the legalization of homosexual marriage.  I would have said it was impossible.  Friends, once you begin sliding down the slippery slope of immorality, there is only a gigantic cesspool at its base.  That is where we are headed.

So, for many of us, today was not a day of celebration, but a day of mourning.  Another biblical principle has been erased.  Another foundational truth for families has been abolished.  Now children can have two mommies or two daddies and we will be left wondering why children are so messed up.

I don't think God is celebrating.  In fact, I think He is getting angry.  I just wonder when His anger will be expressed.  It won't be pretty when it happens.  Just ask those residents of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

More Moral Failures and Other News of the Times

We are one step closer, here in Minnesota, to joining a growing number of states that have legalized same-sex marriage.  A final vote in the legislature might happen as early as the end of the week.  Shortly after His creation of the world, God declared that marriage should be between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24).  And, since those days with Adam and Eve in the Garden, cultures and civilizations everywhere have declared marriage to be the union between one man and one woman.  That is, until the 21st century.  The definition of marriage is about to be rewritten.  It will no longer be gender specific - one man, one woman.  Now it will be relationship specific.  It could include one man and one woman who love each other, but it could also include one man with another man, or one woman with another woman.  Who is to prohibit their getting married if they love each other?  And, this might sound far-fetched, but I believe it is where we are going, what is to prohibit a man from marrying a younger boy because he loves him; or a father to marry his daughter; or a mother her son?  When we tinker with God's definition, friends, and say that any love-relationship can result in a marriage, well, where does it stop?  I was reading in Isaiah the other morning and came across this verse that staggered me: "Jerusalem staggers, Judah is falling; their words and deeds are against the LORD, defying his glorious presence.  The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it.  Woe to them!  They have brought disaster upon themselves" (Isaiah 3:8-9).  What was the sin for which God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah?  From a reading of Genesis 19 it was homosexuality.  It was flaunted by the people there.  It became their curse.  And God finally judged the city because of it, leaving no traces of its existence to this day.  Friends, when we dare to change the definition of marriage to include any sinful relationship merely because it is based on some type of love, I fear for our existence.  Are we parading our sin like Sodom?  We certainly no longer hide it.  There is a line from C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity where he states, "Moral failings always result in troubles."  There is something prophetic about that statement.

Over the weekend, as you heard, Israeli warplanes destroyed a weapons depot and research facility outside of Damascus.  The Israelis stated that the attacks were aimed at missiles and other weapons that were passing through Syria from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Of course the world quickly condemned Israel for these blatant air strikes.  The Russian foreign ministry stated, "We are looking into and analyzing all the circumstances surrounding the specially worrisome reports of the May 3 and May 5 Israeli air strikes.  A further escalation of the armed conflict severely raises the risk of creating centers of tension in Lebanon as well as in Syria, and also destabilizing the still relatively stable situation in the region of the Israeli-Lebanese border."  Chinese authorities issued this statement as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu arrived in Beijing for an official state visit: "We are opposed to the use of force and believe that the sovereignty of any country should be respected."

Syria's response was that the attack "opens the door to all possibilities."  Syrian information minister Omran al-Zoubi stated, "We will not accept to be humiliated.  We are all in a state of anger.  We are abused by this attack."  One Syrian official said the attack constituted "a declaration of war." 

With Iranian and Russian help, the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad has remained in power in spite of terrific civil war that has lasted for over two years with estimates as high as 100,000 people killed during that time.  (To put that number into perspective, during the American Civil War, after two years of fighting, over 300,000 Americans had died).  But, yes, the casualty figures are excessively high.  American involvement has wavered with uncertainty.  We will help the rebels with nonlethal aid but not with weapons.  The time for arming the rebels was at the outset of the war two years ago when we knew with some certainty the spirit of the rebels.  However, today the rebel forces have been so strongly infiltrated by extremists from Iran and Iraq, that one wonders what will become of Syria should the Assad regime finally topple.  Perhaps it is prudent that we not take sides at this time but wait it out along with the rest of the world. 

Will Syria, with all its bluster and threats, retaliate directly against Israel?  Would the Assad regime dare to initiate a war with Israel when there is no clear winner in the civil war?  Perhaps Assad might think that a war with Israel might unify the country once again, for if there is one thing that all Syrians agree upon it is the destruction of the State of Israel.  But that ploy might backfire for while Syrian forces are engaged with the Israelis - who are definitely better equipped and not fatigued as a consequence of two years of nonstop fighting - the rebels might more easily seize power.  If Syria does anything it will come through its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah. 

Aren't these exciting days?  Moral collapse continues.  Wars and rumors of wars in the Middle East keep everyone's nerves a little bit jittery.  And I have not even mentioned the attacks against Christians in the United States military.  Let me just touch on this topic briefly.  Last week, the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, Michael Weinstein, called the practice of Christians in the service sharing their faith "spiritual rape."  He has led efforts to remove Bibles from lodging affiliated with the U.S, Air Force Academy and pursued a policy that forbids guests from bringing Bibles to patients at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  The Pentagon released the following statement: "Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense.  Court martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis." 

Friends, I have shared with you in the past that I believe such persecution of Christians will increase in intensity as we get closer to the return of Christ.  Those who are dedicated, committed followers of Jesus Christ are seen as the enemy.  Should this surprise us?  Of course not.  Jesus wore a target.  The disciples and the Early Church members did as well.  Should we presume that we have some type of exemption?  Of course not.  It is time church members banned together to strengthen and to encourage one another.  I love the way the writers to the Hebrews expressed this: "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25). 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Another Alarm Is Sounding

Welcome to the Merry Month of May.  Those of us living in the Twin Cities are waking up this morning to snow showers which will later become a Winter storm, adding another three to five inches to our very loooong Winter snow total.  The flowers in my garden are trying to peak through, but wondering if the calendar is wrong.  Birds are hopping around with weird looks on their faces.  Yet the pansies continue to smile - they always seem to have a sunny disposition. 

One of the top news stories making headlines this morning is the decision yesterday by the Food and Drug Administration to allow the "Morning After" contraceptive to be sold over the counter and to teens as young as 15.  Presently that drug can only be obtained by those over 17 and at the pharmacy of a local store.  However, a teen must show some type of identification to prove age.  (Interesting that there is a need for identification to obtain a contraceptive, but no identification is needed in order to vote in a national election!  Oh the hypocrisy of our age!)  But there are some in Washington who believe the decision by the FDA is still too limiting and that the "Morning After" or Plan B One-Step should be available to any young girl, no matter the age.  Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, "Lowering the age limit may reduce delays for some young women but it does nothing to address the significant barriers that far too many women of all ages will find if they arrive at the drugstore without identification."  She continued, "These are daunting and sometimes insurmountable hoops women are forced to jump through in time-sensitive circumstances, and we will continue our battle in court to remove these arbitrary restrictions on emergency contraception for all women." 

According to statistics, half the nations' pregnancies every year are unintended and doctors' groups admit that if there was more access to the "Morning After" pill those numbers could be significantly reduced, but the pill works best if taken within 24 hours of the sexual encounter. 

Friends, how did we get to this place where we are debating the availability of contraceptives for our young girls.  I have two granddaughters who are in their early teens.  Fortunately, neither is that interested in boys at the present moment, but I know that will change in the coming years.  Should my two granddaughters have access to contraceptives?  Of course not!  Praise God they have parents who have instructed them to abstain from sexual impurity and to keep themselves pure until they are married.  Where are parents today?  Where is that counsel today?  Why do our nation's educators keep forcing the sexual experience down the throats of our young people in classrooms?  Yes, there will always be untimely pregnancies and illegitimate births, but I believe the question we must ask ourselves is this: Is the availability of contraceptives for young teenaged girls a deterrent or more of a permission to try because the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy is removed? 

If you want to read more, go to

Continuing to expose the direction our schools are going with regard to morality, the following article appeared at the WND website on April 25.  It is titled, "School Forces Girls to Ask for Lesbian Kiss."  The article can be found at  The incident happened at Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook, New York.  An eighth-grade student went home and told her Mom that she had to ask another girl if she could kiss her.  She also related, "They also picked two girls to stand in front of the class and pretend they were lesbians on a date."  Boys, in that same class, were being taught on how to use a condom and how to determine whether a girl was a slut or not. 

Friends, this is the world my grandchildren are growing up in.  If these two incidents represent what is happening in the majority of our schools, then is it little wonder that our children and grandchildren are growing up not knowing how to read or how to do math or to understand the history of our great nation?  Is it little wonder that home-schooling is exploding and private education is growing rapidly?  It is time for parents and grandparents to begin taking a vested interest in what their children and grandchildren are being taught.  Yes, it will be going against the cultural norm.  Yes, it might result in some people thinking we are odd.  But I want my grandchildren to understand that God has given to them the ability to know right from wrong and to make good choices based upon that knowledge.  So, it is time to evaluate what is being watched on television - are those programs reinforcing those values that I want my children and grandchildren to know?  So it is time to regulate what I view on my computer screen.  It is time to throw away those songs that do not foster positive values.  If we fail, then I am fearful that God will simply give us over the depravity of our immorality.