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The Beatitudes: conclusion

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As I have a very busy week ahead of me filling in for my Pastor, I need to finish up my thoughts concerning the Beatitudes. So even though it makes for a lengthy read, I have included the remaining four in this final blog.

Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.

Mercy is the act of forgiveness and compassion from someone who has the authority to punish you, but instead chooses to offer mercy. If you’ve ever been the one in need of mercy, and you know you have, you can surely appreciate knowing that your Father in heaven is merciful.

When we are merciful and forgiving to others, we give them a glimpse of the Father’s heart of mercy and forgiveness that is offered to all. As his representatives on earth, we must always be mindful that we are often the only examples of the hands and feet of Jesus that people will ever see.

Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.

The Bible talks a lot about the heart, doesn’t it? The condition of our heart as it relates to God is of the utmost importance in our daily walk. Having an impure heart, for example, keeps us from seeing God for who he is because having such a heart is like walking around wearing blinders.

Having a pure heart, however, allows us to see God in all his glory and splendor because our vision is no longer clouded by sin, judgement, or guilt.

When the Psalmist prayed “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me“, he was essentially asking God for a pure heart. [1] May this be our prayer as well.

Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.

Would you agree with me that the world could use a few more peacemakers? After all, God is a peace-loving and a peace-making God, and we sure could use a respite from the constant bickering and fighting among ourselves today.

Peace is something that God has always desired for us. The whole history of redemption, starting with the fall of Adam in the garden to the death and resurrection of Jesus, is all part of God’s plan to establish a just and lasting peace between man and himself.

Not to be overlooked in this plan of redemption is God’s desire for men to also have lasting peace among themselves. It is never God’s will for men to quarrel and fight against one another.

If this message would somehow be heard by all today, what a different world we would be living in! All of us would do well to remember that if we are truly our Father’s children, we will display his attributes and character. What he loves, we will love. And God loves peace.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Persecuted. Not exactly a word that we associate with being blessed, or as some say today “highly favored”, is it?

Yet Jesus does calls us blessed if we are persecuted for righteousness sake. For certain, there are many types of persecution, and varying degrees of it as well.

Some will say that they are being persecuted because someone said something that hurt their feelings. Perhaps a promotion did not come your way and you determine that because of that, you are being persecuted.

I believe though that the persecution Jesus was referring to here is the type that results in the loss of liberty, freedom, and even one’s very life. So while American Christians have been spared (so far) such persecutions, regular readers will note that I have posted several articles on this blog detailing the severe persecution taking place in other parts of the world today.

Literally tens of thousands of Christians are being persecuted, imprisoned, and murdered for the testimony of Jesus in our day. Yet for all that, Jesus calls those of his servants enduring such persecution “blessed”.

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Let’s face it, the world in which we live is becoming increasingly hostile towards Christianity. Today, anyone who aligns themselves with Jesus is mocked, scorned, slandered, and generally treated with disdain.

This isn’t something new however, as Jesus said they did the same things to those who came before us. Our job is simply to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”. [2]

Peter even went so far to say that if we were insulted for the name of Jesus, we are blessed because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon us! [3]

I hope that this series on The Beatitudes has been both worthwhile and a source of encouragement to you. I never tire of reading these words of Jesus because they seem to fan the flames when we need a little spark to keep us pressing onward, and my prayer is that you feel the same way.

Be blessed,

Ron

[1] Psalm 51:10

[2] Philippians 3:14

[3] 1 Peter 4:14

 

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Real heroes of the faith are still among us: part 2

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I am of the opinion that real heroes of the faith are still among us. They are not likely to be found however on TBN, Daystar, SBN or EWTN. You will not find them hawking their latest sermon series or music DVD at a church ministry conference.

You will find them however in the house churches in Iran, North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, and other nations hostile to the gospel of Jesus Christ. While we here in the West live in relative peace and security,there are an ever increasing number of countries that are now hostile to the Gospel, as evidenced by the following “top 50 map”.

2018 watch list

You will find these heroes living in unimaginable conditions in the prisons of the above mentioned countries. You will also find them in unmarked graves after being tortured and murdered for their faith.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, Yasser Mossayebzadeh, Saheb Fadaie and Mohammad Reza Omidi are names you probably don’t recognize, however they are truly modern day heroes of the faith.

Who are they, and why are they heroes of the faith?

These are four Christian men who happen to live in Iran, a nation that is extremely hostile to the Gospel. Because Christianity is viewed as a threat to Iranian national security, the Christian religion is severely persecuted there.

Their church looks a lot different than yours or mine. Church services must be held in secrecy in the homes of believers or other nondescript locations in order to avoid detection and arrest.

No steeples, no ornate stained glass windows, no neon sign out front welcoming attendees.

These four Christian brothers were recently given 10 year prison sentences for partaking in Christian worship. It was originally thought that they would receive “only” six year sentences, given their original charge of “acting against national security”.

The charges were upgraded however to “promoting Zionist Christianity” and running house churches”, thus an additional four years were added to their sentences.

But wait, there’s more. Two of the four were also sentenced to two years’ internal exile, far away from their families.

Additionally, “Mr Omidi, Mr Mossayebzadeh and Mr Fadaie are waiting to hear the outcome of an outstanding appeal against their September, 2016, sentencing of 80 lashes for the consumption of communion wine at the time of their arrest in May, 2016.”

Did you catch that? 80 lashes. EIGHTY LASHES for partaking of communion!

We here in the West seem to have a very cavalier attitude about church, worship, and all things God compared to those suffering persecution abroad. We decide when and if we want to go to church. We decide how serious (if at all) we wish to become about our faith.

We choose whether or not to attend church or go fishing (or countless other fun activities). We choose whether to believe the Bible or not, and in some cases choose to ignore certain parts of the Bible that may not line up with our personal feelings about it.

We Christians in the West seem to have a lot of freedom of choice, don’t we?

Maybe that’s why there are so few (if any!) real heroes of the faith living here. Having faith here costs us nothing compared to our brothers and sisters in Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan,etc.

We who live here get by on a cheap, easy believism type of religion that demands nothing of us. Count the cost as commanded by Jesus? I don’t think so. Count our blessings for certain, but we want no part of a religion that costs us anything.

We have succumbed to the spirit of Anti-Christ that says God exists solely to bless you and cause you to prosper. This is the same spirit that seeks to elevate man to a god-like status while denying the true God of the Bible.

You will find no heroes of the faith in such a religion. What you will find instead are greedy, selfish, all about me individualists determined to control their own destiny rather than submit their lives to Christ.

Rather than partake of Christ’s suffering as taught in the Word, what we really want is a pie in the sky genie ready to blow gold dust on us just because we have somehow convinced ourselves that we are a superior brand of Christian.

Contrast this so called Christian lifestyle with those living in places where just the mention of the name of Jesus can land you in prison, or much worse. One must conclude that these two groups cannot possibly be worshiping the same God!

There are real heroes of the faith living today, heroes who have forsaken all for the cause of Christ. The men and women who are being imprisoned, tortured, and killed are examples of the faith that the Church should be holding up as the gold standard.

Who knows, you and I might one day be required to look to their sacrifices as the model of faithfulness and endurance needed in order to overcome that which has come upon us.

Be blessed,

Ron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Biting the hand that feeds you

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You’ve probably heard that expression haven’t you? It’s typically used when a person displays ungratefulness to others. For instance; if someone in your life helps you out, or provides sustenance to you and you act in an ungrateful manner towards them, you are “biting the hand that feeds you”.

The truth is that when ungratefulness surfaces on the outside, it’s merely reflecting what’s going on inside of us. Murmuring, complaining, ungratefulness, being unthankful, these are all outward symptoms of inward rebellion.

As Christians, we must be especially careful about complaining and being ungrateful. I wonder, how often do we check ourselves to see if we are displaying the symptoms of an ungrateful heart?

complain

aarc.org

There is an almost unbelievable example of this found in the book of Exodus. We all know the story of God’s great deliverance in setting Israel free from Egyptian bondage.

With excitement and enthusiasm the Israelite’s left Egypt, headed for a land that flowed with milk and honey.

Not only did God deliver them, but they left carrying the riches of Egypt with them! Gold, silver, and clothing in abundance were given to the children of Israel as their former masters sent them away in haste.

Yet just three days after walking through the Red Sea on dry land, the children of Israel began complaining. It’s important that we grasp this. Israel had been enslaved in Egypt for 430 years. Generation after generation knew nothing of freedom, yet within just three days of tasting freedom for the first time, they are already complaining! Here’s the story in detail (emphasis mine)ungrateful

1. “They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt.

2. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness,

3. and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

4. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.

5. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”

6. So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt,

7. and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against the LORD. For what are we, that you grumble against us?”

8. And Moses said, “When the LORD gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the LORD has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD.”” Exodus 16:1-8

What is the key takeaway from this story? On the surface, it may appear to be that the nation of Israel is about as ungrateful as a nation could be. While that may be true, the key point here is that while Israel vented their complaints to Moses and Aaron, in reality they were complaining against God.

Moses told them that “Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD”. In essence, they were biting the hand that fed them!

So the million dollar question is this: are we any different than they when we complain,grumble, and generally have a terrible attitude?

I don’t know about you, but I too used to be a slave. I was a slave to sin and all that went with it, until one day God sent a deliverer to rescue me from my condition. What should my response be to what God has done for me?

When I’m going through difficult times, should I remind Him of how good I used to have it before I became a Christian? Should I remind God that I was doing well enough on my own? Should I say to God that I’d rather go back to my old life?

Of course not! I don’t care how my life is measured or by whom; at the end of the day I count myself among the most blessed of any people! My life has been just like everyone else’s, full of up’s and down’s, trials and successes.

At the end of the day however, what matters is that God has been right beside me through it all. I don’t understand some of the hard things, but I realize that I don’t need to understand everything. All I need to be sure of is that God is faithful, and as such He will never leave us or forsake us.

My prayer is that all of God’s children will appreciate Him for what he has done for us.

May we never bite the hand that feeds us!

Be blessed,

Ron

How much longer will you carry that ball and chain?

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Most of us have heard the term “ball and chain” before. It used to be a common term that described an actual weight attached to the ankle of a prisoner, a method of prohibiting the prisoner from escaping.

You may have also heard it used derogatorily by a husband or wife who refers to their spouse as a ball and chain, meaning that they are being dragged down by a reluctant spouse. Hopefully not, but…

It is the rare individual that isn’t walking around carrying some type of baggage, or in this case a ball and chain, these days. As a matter of fact, I am hard pressed to think of even one person who isn’t.

All of us have been negatively impacted by someone or something in this life. Such is the cost of our living in a fallen world. The result of such encounters can leave us damaged and scarred, left to carry around the consequences like a ball and chain.

You know what’s interesting about carrying around a ball and chain? You never feel the impact of it as long as you’re sitting still. It’s not until you wish to get up and move on that you begin to feel the tug of it’s weight holding you back.

This is an apt metaphor for our Christian walk as well. How many of us live lives clouded by guilt, uncertainty, shame, and the like? Many of us do, of this I have no doubt.

We go through life carrying around all kinds of baggage, having learned to function to a certain degree in spite of the ever present weight of it all. This, in spite of the fact that Jesus said that “if the Son make us free, we shall be free indeed”(John 8:36).

How is this possible? It happens because we learn to navigate through this world from the security of our own comfort zone. Thus, as long as I stay in my box, or comfort zone, and do not try to move about too freely, all is well. I can manage the weight of the ball and chain, and still function.

But what happens to us when we feel God wanting to stretch us beyond our comfort zone, to get us out of our special box and move us to a new level? Well, if you’re like me, this brings about a degree of uncomfortableness and forces us to confront the ball and chain once and for all.

You see, sooner or later we must all deal with those things that hold us back. This is because God has a plan and a purpose for your life, and those plans don’t include you becoming comfortable enough to forever manage that ball and chain you’re carrying around.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.   Jer. 29:11

God’s plan for you and I is to be free from our past mistakes, to be free from the harm inflicted upon us by others. God has called us to a life of peace and love. The torments that have enveloped our lives are but shackles that must fall off in the presence of Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown weary of carrying around the ball and chain of past regrets. The things I cannot fix on my own, I must surrender to Christ. If we’re going to surrender all, then all must be willingly lain at the foot of the Cross.

Be blessed,

Ron

Two of the hardest “EASY” things to do

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Have you ever thought about how we Christians go out of our way to make life harder than it needs to be?

Consider the church or assembly where you worship. I imagine there are certain rules that you are expected to follow in order to be a member in good standing. For instance, some churches have rules on attendance, and others prohibit smoking and drinking. No gambling is also found in most list of rules.

rules

chypsministry.org

Some churches still prohibit women from wearing makeup and jewelry. These are typically associated with long jean skirts for the ladies and white shirts for the men. UGH. When will we ever learn that personal holiness begins in the heart and not the closet?

Oh, and did you know there are different rules for the Methodists than there are for the Baptists? Did I mention the rules in the Black church, whatever that is? In addition to all of this, perhaps most important of all are the unspoken rules, which of course everyone is somehow supposed to know.

There can be no room for personal liberty in such an environment, as personal liberty might allow one to step out of order, thus creating chaos, and if there’s one thing we like about rules it is that they bring order.

Now, I like order, to an extent. Order, or Rules, brings with them a sense of stability and security, and who doesn’t appreciate that?

I do not like order however that is so inflexible that I cannot be free to express myself. Here’s a personal example of what I’m talking about. I like color, lots of color, especially bright colors. Maybe it’s because I have a degree of color blindness and struggle to see color like everyone else. Whatever the case, I love bright, bold colors.

On Sunday’s I always wear a suit to church. Why?  Because I like wearing them. I also like wearing a tie to church, which I am acutely aware, goes against the norm these days. But I won’t wear just any tie. No boring, ugly ties in my closet! That’s why I wear ties that are bold, colorful, and bright.  Like this for example….IMG_0111

Sorry, but no dress codes for this guy!

OK, back to my topic. One of the greatest problems with church rules is that we expect everyone to follow them, thus creating carbon copies of ourselves in the process. And as if that weren’t bad enough, we will follow up on our rules by making even more rules.

So, are all of these rules necessary to be a follower of Jesus? Do we really need a list of can’s and can not’s? Well, let’s consult the manual, shall we? Surely there we can find some direction.

In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 26 we find the following:

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.   Matthew 22:35-40  KJV

twogreatestcommandments

the-ten-commandments.org

Love the Lord. Love your neighbor.The two hardest “easy” things you can do.

It’s because we the Church make it so. Not the Lord. Not the Word. WE make it so hard. It’s as if we cannot fathom that loving the Lord and loving your neighbor could be enough. So we add our own special flair to it in the form of Rules.

And look what we’ve made of the church!

All of the Law and all of the prophets hang on just these two commandments. Nothing else is required. No list of Rules. No list of do’s and don’ts. No clothesline religion here, no sir.

All of the Law and all of the prophets hang on just these two commandments. This easy, this simple, this uncomplicated.

Maybe the reason we make it so hard is because of the word “love”. If it were anything else, perhaps it wouldn’t be so troubling, but love, well that hits us right in the heart doesn’t it?

Just like it’s supposed to.

Be blessed,

Ron

Another soldier’s coming home

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Yesterday I had the incredible privilege of attending the funeral service for a 95 year old father, grandfather, WWII veteran, and faithful Christian man named Eddie. My wife and I had been asked to provide part of the music and singing, and of course we gladly volunteered to help.

Listening to this man’s two sons speak so eloquently of their father brought many tears to my eyes, for it was easy to sense the deep, abiding love they had for him. But there was one thing that was said that impacted me more deeply than anything else.

As the eldest son came to the front of the church, dressed smartly in the same full dress uniform he had proudly worn many years ago, everyone listened intently as he began to share with us how that recently his father had begun to grieve over the conditions in America being played out on the news.

You have to understand that this man was a decorated soldier who sacrificed  everything to fight for the freedoms you and I enjoy today,and watching Americans turn on one another broke his heart.

Having served in no less than five European countries during WWII, participating in countless battles,including the infamous Battle of the Bulge, this man knew sacrifice and hardship like few of us can even imagine.

Yet unbelievably, at the end of his life he wondered if not only his own sacrifice, but that of millions of others had not been in vain. To set by and watch the nation he fought for be torn apart from within was more than he could bear.

This patriot,to whom America is deeply indebted,died feeling like the country he loved so dearly had betrayed him and his fellow soldiers. He stated on several occasions that the country he loved was being taken from him,and those of his generation, and I’m pretty sure if you were to ask,most veterans would agree with this assessment.

Listening to all of this broke my heart, and the fact that I had met this man only a couple of times prior to his death did nothing to diminish the impact of these powerful words from a man who was part of America’s “Greatest Generation”.

All of us would do well to step back and really think about the sacrifices made by prior generations, sacrifices that we continue to benefit from today. Whether we choose to accept it or not, the fact is that the entire world as we know it would be a much darker place had those before us not responded to freedoms cry.

As we topple the images of our past in a vain attempt to erase the painful memories associated with them, we would do well to remember that just like its individual citizens, our nation has made many,many mistakes, some of which have scarred this nation with a perpetual open wound.

None of which however can ever be forgotten,either individually or collectively.

The mistakes of our past are part of our history,and history cannot be rewritten, though many have tried and continue to try to do so today. The truth however, is still the truth. All we can do is move forward, not backward as we seem to be doing.

 

Eddie knew his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for many decades, and in the end it was this relationship with Jesus that kept him pressing toward the mark in spite of what was going on in America.

For you see, it was Jesus Christ that gave him hope for a future. An eternal future without violence and hatred. A future without racism and bigotry. A future where there would be no need for another world war. A future where sacrifices ceased.

A future not of this world…

As America continues on its march to abandon democracy in favor of socialism, as she slips further and further away from her Godly heritage, hope in this life will eventually become non existent.

The only hope available will be the hope we have in Christ.

As I close this post, the words to a song written about a soldier going home are ringing in my mind tonight, so I thought I would share them with you.

Verse 1

His back is bent and weary, His voice is tired and low
His sword is worn from battle, And his steps have gotten slow
But he used to walk on water, Or it seemed that way to me
I know he moved some mountains, And never left his knees

Chorus
Strike up the band assemble the choir, Another soldier’s comin’ home
Another warrior hears the call, He’s waited for so long
He’ll battle no more, ‘Cause he’s won his wars
Make sure heaven’s table, Has room for at least one more
Sing a welcome song, Another soldier’s comin’ home

Verse 2
He faced the winds of sorrow, But his heart knew no retreat
He walked in narrow places, Knowing Christ knew no defeat
But now his steps turn homeward, So much closer to the prize
He’s sounding kind of homesick, There’s a longing in his eyes

Lyrics to “Another Soldier’s Coming Home” by Janet Paschal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relinquishing Your Freedom in Christ is an Expensive Proposition

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Freedom

Just saying the word evokes thoughts of sacrifice and struggle, oppression and conflict. It also calls to remembrance our sincere appreciation and gratitude for those who have sacrificed to ensure freedom for people’s everywhere.

As children of God we know that in Christ we have been made free. Those who know the Lord as Savior know a freedom unlike any other, as “free indeed” is unlike any other freedom……”whom the Son sets free, is free indeed”. (John 8:36).

Other verses inform us of the fact that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, and while we are now free from sin, we have become slaves to righteous living.            (II Cor.3:17 & Romans 6:18)

All this to say that as Christians, we willingly, lovingly embrace the liberty we have in Christ. Nonetheless, this liberty is fraught with potential dangers should we be tempted to dangle our toes in unfamiliar waters.

All of us, and I do mean all of us, face temptations that appeal to our flesh. Whether we are tempted by power, drugs, alcohol, sex, or money, the fact is that any of these can quickly become our master, overpowering our senses and bringing us again into bondage.

We must remain ever vigilant to counter such temptations if we are to live in victory. Prayer and the reading of the Word are key weapons in this never ending struggle.

These points have been driven home to me again this week while reading the story of how Israel came to have a king reign over them. What started as a nation fully dependent upon and loyal to God, soon turned into full blown rejection of His leadership.

Without launching into a long, detailed history lesson, Samuel was the prophet who had the unenviable task of anointing the first king of Israel. While crowning a new king would normally be cause for great celebration, Samuel’s task was heartbreaking because he knew that in anointing an earthly king, it signaled a severing of the cord between Israel and their God.

As most of you know, throughout Israel’s history they demonstrated a propensity to wander from God. This tendency to stray eventually culminated in their demanding a king to rule over them, just like all the nations around them. In other words, they wanted to be just like everyone else.

Have you ever been told, or have you ever told someone “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it”? This is about to happen to Israel.

Even though they had received an advanced warning as to the quality of leader they would be getting, Israel was determined to proceed with having things their way regardless of the cost. And oh what a price they would pay!

If you will read 1st Samuel 8:10-18 you will see the details of what was to come upon Israel. Take note especially of how many times the word “his” or “take” appears in the description of their new king.

The takeaway I want to leave with you is just how much this new king was going to take from them. Whereas we look to new leadership with an eye for what they can do for us, Israel’s new king would be a taker, not a giver.

What’s the lesson for the New Testament Christian in all of this? The lesson is that we are called out of sin to be the Church. We are not called to be like everyone else.

We also have a Leader who is unlike any other. We are different because our King is the difference maker!

Once God has delivered us from sin, we are not to go back. Not even to look back! We have a freedom known only by the redeemed, and that freedom was purchased by the highest cost imaginable.

Relinquishing your freedom in Christ is an expensive proposition, a proposition I have no desire to entertain.

How about you?

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