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Real heroes of the faith are still among us: part 1

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The New Testament book of Hebrews contains a record of what many call “heroes of the faith”. In fact, chapter 11 of Hebrews is commonly referred to as the faith chapter because it lists what some call the “faith hall of fame”.

As you read through this chapter, one is struck by the presence of some very familiar names. Abraham, Moses, David, Samson, and Gideon to name just a few. Readers who are familiar with the Old Testament can no doubt recall some of the events associated with these well known men of God.

Yet there are references to other,unnamed heroes of the faith that are recorded here as well. While the writer of Hebrews doesn’t mention them by name, he does list some of their “qualifications” for enshrinement into the “faith hall of fame”.

Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.  Hebrews 11:35-38

Though lesser known than the Old Testament patriarchs or kings, these “others” were nonetheless uniquely qualified to take their place alongside their more famous predecessors.

These were men and women who refused to bow the knee, but instead held fast to their faith in God and believed that a better day was coming. Put to the severest of tests, these faithful soldiers endured unimaginable persecution because they counted their lives as nothing that they might win the ultimate prize.

Our minds today simply won’t permit us to comprehend the untold sufferings described in the verses noted above. Being stoned to death is itself a terrifying method of execution, but can you imagine what it was like for someone to be sawn in two?

Church history reveals that tens of thousands of Christians were persecuted by some of the most vile,heinous, and satanically inspired means imaginable in an effort to eradicate the true Church. Yet somehow, the sustaining grace of God kept alive a remnant, for which you and I owe an enormous debt of gratitude.

In our present culture however, I am often surprised at the apparent unwillingness of many in the church to “earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints” (Jude v3). Indeed, there seems to be an attitude of spiritual entitlement among us that would be totally unrecognizable to the early church.

No doubt this is due in part to the prevalence of the gospel of “easy believism” and “health and wealth” that is pandered about today. It should be noted as well that neither of these false gospels would have ever been taught in the early church.

In fact, I’ll go on record and say that such teachings are part of what Paul described as “another gospel”, one that he said anyone preaching it is accursed (Galatians 1:8). That is for another day however.

 

In part 2 of this series, I will introduce you to some modern day heroes of the faith. Their identities may not be well known among believers today, yet their stories are no less inspiring than those found in the book of Hebrews.

Until then!

Ron

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Where does the time go?

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Do you ever ask yourself “where does the time go”? ru_wasting_time2

Are you one of those who easily lose track of time, and before you know it a couple of hours have passed?

I admit it. I’m really bad about letting time get away from me, especially now that I’m retired. Where I once had my days planned out in 15 minute increments and often had to settle for 10 or 15 minute lunches, now I rarely even glance at my watch.

If I get interested in something I tend to get lost in it very easily. I always hoped that such a trait was a hallmark of genius, but obviously not!

I’m always reading a book, whether a real ‘hold it in my hands’ book or an eBook. I can’t go into a thrift store without looking for another book. Even my email inbox delivers a daily selection of pre-selected books from which to choose.

Like many people, I have several Bibles. In fact, I just picked up another one Friday. I have no idea how many electronic versions I have, too many would be a good guess. Like any of us really need this many Bibles.

Maybe I need an intervention?

Speaking of wasting time, I rarely miss watching the evening news, though I find most of it terribly depressing. Honestly, I think all news reporting is just about the same; agenda driven half-truths designed to sway public opinion to one side or another.

Can I just have the facts so I can make my own decisions please?

I spend so much time online that I think my iPad has become an appendage!

I also watch my share of Christian music or preaching videos on YouTube, which are both a blessing and a curse. It is, however, light years ahead of the WOF prosperity blather constantly being regurgitated on TBN.

What I am coming to realize is that my attention is diverted in so many different directions that I find it difficult to stay focused on any one of them for very long. Maybe you can relate?

hourglassI am also realizing just how quickly time is slipping through my fingers. Like sand thru the hourglass, as the saying goes, every day represents a little less time that we have to accomplish whatever it is we have been called to do.

The Apostle Paul understood this all too well. Paul was all about running his race in order to receive the prize at the end. He also knew that time was something that each of us has a predetermined amount of, therefore he cautioned the church at Rome not to fall asleep on the job.

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.    Romans 13:11

Additionally, when he was preaching at Ephesus, Paul spoke about “redeeming the time”. What he was saying to them was that as Christians we ought to make the best, most efficient use of the time we have.

In other words, stop wasting so much time!

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.   Eph. 5:15-16

God’s word cautions us to walk carefully, living our lives with honor, purpose, and courage. We are urged to be diligent to wake out of our sleep, make the most out of the time we’ve been allotted, and clarify our priorities.

Maybe the question isn’t “where does the time go”, but rather how much time are we allotting to the really important things in our lives?

Be blessed!

Ron

Is God really doing a “New Thing”?

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You hear preachers say it all the time: ‘God’s doing a New Thing today’. This implies that the hearer should be expecting God to do something great, something that has never been done before.

In preacher circles, this is what is known as a cheer-leading statement, one used to elicit an exciting response from the crowd. After all, most people like to be in on a new thing coming down the road. And what could be bigger and more exciting than God Himself doing something new?

If you were to Google “God is doing a new thing”, it would bring up about 170 million results. You can take your pick from memes, rap songs, sermons, and videos. In other words, there’s something for everybody!

See, I told you people really want to be in on a new thing!

I have heard this repeated so many times in church from so many different preachers that I’ve lost track. Where does this statement come from, and what does it really mean? And who is it speaking to anyway?

Well, the phrase is part of a verse of scripture found in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. In context, this verse belongs with verses 43:16-28 in which God reminds Israel that it was He who delivered them from bondage, and it would be He who would bring them back from exile.

Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. Isa. 43:19

This verse speaks specifically to the Jews. It does not speak to the church, nor does it speak to individual Christians. There is nothing prophetic about it apart from their soon return from Babylon. It was spoken to the nation of ancient Israel. Period.

It’s incredible how we Christians will take a verse here and there and somehow invent a new doctrine, as is the case with the above verse. Then again, we are living in the time when Paul said that men would turn their ears from the truth.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.  II Tim. 4:3, 4

Yet this does bring up an interesting question, at least in my mind. Why are God’s people always looking for the ‘next big thing’?

Why do we constantly need to be told that God is up to something? It seems that some believe that unless we are fed a steady diet of ‘new things’ we will lose interest and begin to drift away.

Which begs the question…

What is wrong with us?

Here’s what I think. I think if we were to humble our hearts, commit to seek His face on a daily basis, spend quality time alone with him in prayer, and study to show ourselves approved unto God, we would find that we would never need to look for the ‘next big thing’.

Our lives would be so full of excitement and enthusiasm coming directly from the Holy Spirit that we would no longer need to hear about ‘a new thing’.

We would be living it every day!

Now that’s something to get excited about!

Be blessed!

Ron

 

 

What are you settling for?

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God has called us to live an Abundant Life, just as Jesus describes in John 10:10.

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

I’m thinking that we are settling for far less than an Abundant Life, especially as Christians, the Body of Christ. For example…

By all appearances, we are content to go to church, listen to a few songs, settle in for a nice sermon that was designed to make us feel better about ourselves, then head quickly for the door in order to get a seat at our favorite restaurant.

Mediocrity Green Road Sign with Dramatic Clouds, Sun Rays and Sky.Content to leave exactly as we came.

Content to settle for yet another dry, lifeless, powerless church service.

 

The only thing worse than this is doing it all over again.

Every

Single 

Week

Surely, the enemy of our souls is watching all of this, gleeful in that we have succumbed to the spirit of slumber. This, in spite of Paul’s warning to the church at Rome:

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” Rom. 13:11

This is what settling does to us. It allows complacency to overwhelm our senses to the point that we no longer are even aware of what we don’t have!

Our churches have all kinds of musical talent for example. From keyboards and guitars to drums and full orchestra’s. Music fills the rafters. Yet it’s one lifeless, cold, ritualistic note after another, void of any anointing that might sear the conscious or break through a heart hardened by sin.

So we settle. And we clap. And we sing. And we clap some more.

And leave exactly the same way we came.

We have learned to be OK with settling. In fact, settling is now normal.

Our ministers now have access to scriptural knowledge like at no other time in history. Thanks to the Internet, entire volumes of reference materials are at our fingertips. Huge libraries containing thousands of works published by sold out men and women of God are accessible via a click of a computer mouse.

Yet for all of this available knowledge and wisdom, what we are presented on Sunday mornings are short sermonettes containing tidbits of scripture, but filled with stories about being a better you, or how to live your best life. To more than a few, this is a great time to take a nap!

bored_in_church-300x270

charleyreeb.com

These sermonnettes are nothing more than pulpit cheer-leading. They prompt us to feel the “rah rah rah” of the moment, but cannot prevent the euphoria from draining away when life suddenly interrupts our version of “churchianity”.

For that, we need the whole counsel of the meat of God’s Word.

Do you want to know the secret to living your best life, and how to be a better you? The secret is to die daily. That’s right, draw nigh to God and in the process you will crucify this flesh that demands more and more of the pleasures of this world.

Would it shock you to learn that God isn’t the least bit interested in whether or not you are living your best life? Would it surprise you to learn that what He is really interested in is that you submit your entire life to Him?

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Matthew 6:33

Give Him all of you FIRST, then the things you desire will come. Anything less than this is settling. Yes, seeking the kingdom of God first is a costly endeavor. It will cost you your WILL.

Nothing worth having is free, nor does it come easy. The rewards however, are priceless.

Why then do we settle for less than the Abundant Life Jesus spoke of?

What exactly are you settling for?

Be blessed,

Ron

 

 

And we wonder why…Part 2

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So…what have we replaced God with in America?

For one, we have replaced God with the great “god” of Entertainment.

This “god” comes in many forms. How many can you think of?

Movies, the internet, music, video games, books and magazines, outdoor activities like fishing and boating, cycling, concerts/shows, and the theater are just a few of the entertainment options available to most of us.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of these activities. There is a problem however with the inordinate amount of our time that these activities consume. When our lives revolve around these entertainment activities, they have become to us a “god”.

When it comes to our children however, we have replaced Almighty God with a different type of entertainment “god”. This “god” comes in the form of a rectangular box, a box that dispenses goodness or morality in bite size portions, while spewing hatred and violence at an unprecedented rate.

This same rectangular box has also replaced parental guidance and nurturing. We have come to the point where we don’t need or want parents pushing their outdated morals on our children. Society has divorced itself from God. Just give us the box!

While you may scoff at such assertions, the evidence is overwhelming. According to csun.esu, the amount of violence our children are exposed to on TV from very young childhood until they reach 18 years of age is nothing short of staggering.

“Number of murders seen on TV by the time an average child finishes elementary school: 8,000….    Number of violent acts seen on TV by age 18: 200,000….    Percentage of Americans who believe TV violence helps precipitate real life mayhem: 79%”.

Add to this recipe for disaster the fact that a child spends roughly 900 hours in school each year, but nearly 1500 hours in front of a television!

Did you know that 2000 hours a year is considered the normal number of hours for a full time worker in America? What this means is that our children are watching TV at almost the same rate as having a full time job!

Does this not astound you? Does this not bother you? If our children are spending such an incredible amount of time in front of a TV set, what else does that leave time for? How much blood and gore can a mind absorb before it accepts that this is normal?

And what about the music our children are listening to? Did you know that explicit sexual and violent content have become the norm in a lot of the music our kids are listening to?

Reading the following paragraph from an article entitled Impact of Music, Music Lyrics, and Music Videos on Children and Youth from pediatrics.aappublications.org will give you some idea as to how pervasive this filth is.

Lyrics have become more explicit in their references to drugs, sex, and violence over the years. A content analysis of the top 10 CDs performed by the National Institute on Media in 1999 revealed that each of these CDs included at least 1 song with sexual content. Forty-two percent of the songs on these CDs contained very explicit sexual content.

Lyrics of some music genres, such as rock, heavy metal, rap, and new emerging genres such as reggaeton, have been found to revolve around topics such as sexual promiscuity, death, homicide, suicide, and substance abuse. Most recently, some rap music has been characterized by the presence of explicit sexual language in its lyrics as well as messages of violence, racism, homophobia, and hatred toward women. Drug, tobacco, and alcohol use also tend to be glorified in these songs.”

I purposely chose this particular article, written in November 2009, solely because it references information from 1999. That’s over 18 years ago. How much worse do think the situation is today?

And where are the parental controls the cable provider likes to tell us about?

Our children are acting out what they see glorified on TV and in music videos. This garbage has now become the norm to them, and yet we want to blame the NRA, the Congress, or the President?

And we wonder why the killings?

The sad truth of the matter is that society, and parents in particular, are looking for a “Scapegoat”!

Where does the parent factor in to this equation?

Where are the parents who should be stepping up and taking control of their homes? What has happened to parents assuming responsibility for every facet of their child’s education, both public and private?

We have abdicated our parental rights and responsibilities to the great “god” of Entertainment, and we have the gall to ask why the killings?

We as parents have willingly turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to what our children are watching and listening to, and we still ask why the killings?

Perhaps,and I say this with all due respect, perhaps we should turn our attention away from searching for a Scapegoat, and instead look in the mirror.

In part 3 of “And we wonder why” we will look at the role the Church has taken in all of this. I assure you I have some hard questions to ask of our spiritual leaders, and I hope you will be watching for this next installment.

Until next time,

Ron

So many voices, still only one Truth

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Recently, I was thinking of something someone said about a well-known prosperity Bible teacher, and how that this teacher had helped them more than anyone else ever had.

prosperity-gospel

Gospelcoalition.org

So much so that this person bought several of the teacher’s books and other materials, and had come to rely upon them as their primary source for truth and inspiration.

You probably know someone like this, don’t you?

Now, I don’t know about you, but this concerns me. It just doesn’t compute with me that someone who professes Christ as their Savior will seek truth, hope, and inspiration apart from God’s Word.

This is not to say that there aren’t many wonderful “helps” out there, because there are. God has equipped the body of Christ with many exemplary teachers who have not departed from the Word unto “another gospel”,which is exactly what the prosperity gospel is.    Scripture reference Galatians 1:6-9

There is nothing wrong with seeking input from those more knowledgeable than ourselves. That’s how we learn after all. There is something very wrong however when we place the greater emphasis upon man’s opinion and interpretation, rather than seeking understanding from our Lord.

Some will argue of course that there are many “truths”, just as many say there is good in all religions. For the record, “good” isn’t good enough, just as half-truths aren’t really Truth.

half truth

Gettyimages.com

There is obviously no shortage of choices today no matter what it is you’re looking for, as all of us are inundated with voices claiming to have the answers, to know the way, to have unlocked the truth.

Sadly, the world is largely ignorant of real Truth, because they reject its Author. Just listen to Jesus defining Truth:

Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth”.    John 17:17

Wow! No long dissertation on the various aspects of truth. No comparison tables or charts for our viewing pleasure to help us decide what is truth.

Just a simple proclamation by the Son of God: God’s Word is Truth.

This creates a potential dilemma for us all, saint and sinner alike.

For those who have rejected God and His Truth, you have no place else to turn to. Oh sure, there are a great many voices from which you can choose, but they all lead to the same conclusion: they may contain an element of truth, they are not Truth.

The Christian also faces a dilemma with what to do with this statement from Jesus. Foremost is if you are like the person I talked about at the beginning of this post, how do you reconcile in your heart the fact that you draw more inspiration from the teachings of men than the Word of God?

We are taught in 1st Thessalonians 2:13 that the Word of God is working in us who believe.

For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe”.

If we choose as our primary source of hope, inspiration, guidance, etc..one of the countless volumes from the Christian book store, or order a book from your favorite TV preacher, what does this say about our relationship with Christ and the Word?

Is it not working in us?

Gods word is alive

Pinterest.co.uk

If not, why not?

What’s missing?

Or maybe the root of the problem lies with our churches that have abandoned the Word of God and replaced it with a feel good cultural,social gospel.

Perhaps the real reason we are seeking truth and inspiration outside of the Word of God is simply because we are so malnourished, sitting on the pew.

Something to ponder on this beautiful, sunny Tuesday.

Ron

 

 

 

When “works” replace Jesus…

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Recently I came across an article that talked about pastors filling in their church calendars for the new year. The gist of this article dealt with whether or not the items that made their calendars was real ministry or simply “busy work”.

It made for interesting reading, especially when one of the pastors posted a link to his calendar for everyone to see. Imagine my surprise when lo and behold nearly every day of the week was filled from early morning till late in the evening.

Everything from early morning Bible studies and Zumba classes, afternoon staff and business meetings, to evening choir practice and healthy cooking classes filled this church’s calendar.

Frankly, it was the busiest church calendar I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them. At first glance one would be inclined to say that this church was very busy, and they certainly were. I couldn’t imagine them squeezing anything else into an already stuffed daily agenda.

There was something odd however about this church calendar. I couldn’t figure it out at first, but I couldn’t shake the notion that in spite of so many agenda items something was missing.

Then it hit me. There was something missing! In fact, I noticed two missing items. The first was that there was no time built into the calendar for corporate prayer. The second thing that I noticed missing was there was not one single event or activity geared toward anyone outside the four walls of the church!

As I studied this I was reminded of something that Jesus said to the church at Ephesus, one of the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation.

2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 “and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.    Revelation 2:2-4(NKJV).    Emphasis mine

Lets look at these verses in detail because I think we might see ourselves in them.

Jesus recognized the works that the church had been doing. He called attention to their labor and patience, and how many of us can relate when it comes to having patience when doing the Lords work?

Jesus also mentioned the church’s disdain for those who practiced evil. All of us understand this don’t we? We are trying to live a Godly life in the midst of a perverse and increasingly evil society, and it’s only going to become more challenging.

He goes on to list several more very positive attributes of the church at Ephesus, leaving no doubt that He knew this church intimately. Hmmm…do you suppose Jesus knows the church you attend in such intimate detail?

At first glance this church could be the model for all other churches in the area. Things were going good, and I imagine there was quite a buzz about all the wonderful things the church at Ephesus was doing.

But, and there’s always a but, right? There was a problem in the church, a problem so important that Jesus couldn’t let it slide without calling their attention to it.

It all began with the word “nevertheless”. Just hearing the word sends thoughts of “uh oh, here it comes” to our minds. Even after all of the praise Jesus gave the church, there was a “nevertheless” that cast a dark shadow on what was an otherwise glowing report.

Nevertheless, he said, this church had lost their first love.

Ouch!

What does this mean, to have lost your first love? It means that the church at Ephesus no longer loved the Lord with the same level of intensity they once had. Their passionate love for Jesus had been replaced by something else.

They had lost their zeal for Christ. Typically when this happens, we just go through the motions of serving God. Our heart is no longer motivated by the love of Jesus, we become content to do as many good works as we can, placing our trust in the deeds themselves rather than Jesus.

Ask me how I know this!

Do you know what this is called? It’s called RELIGION, and it ceases to be about a relationship with Christ. The church at Ephesus abandoned their first love in exchange for cold, formal, impersonal RELIGION.

This is the same poison that has infected the Church today. The poison of RELIGION has suffocated the once fervent relationship she had with Christ. This is why there is such apathy in the pew today. We have supplanted relationship with form, with rules, with do’s and dont’s.

But it doesn’t have to be like this! There’s more to the story! In the next verse, Jesus gave the church at Ephesus an “out”. He told them to REPENT. That’s right, simply REPENT.

Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”   Rev. 2:5   KJV

I believe that this is the message for the Church today. Remember where we came from, acknowledge we have strayed, repent and get going again.

Return to the love of Jesus, then watch how much impact our works will have on the world around us!

Maybe we should put THAT in our church calendars!

Be blessed,

Ron

 

 

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