DOUSE THE FLAMES

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. [John 13:34-35 (NLT)]

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself. [Galatians 5:13-14 (NLT)]

hate has no home hereAs we watched the helicopters fly through the sky, we could see the water buckets hanging under them. Once the copters were in position, hoping to extinguish the forest fire, the crews would open the dump valve and empty water on the flames below them. The helicopters flew back and forth all afternoon as they refilled their buckets from the glacial lakes. If the helicopters are too low or slow in dropping the water, the water will be too concentrated to work effectively and, rather that put out the flames, the rotors’ downwash will intensify it. Even though those buckets can carry as much as 2,600 gallons of water, to those of us on the ground, it seemed a little like a mop bucket was being used to extinguish a house fire. Nevertheless, the firefighters continued their valiant fight against the blaze.

For most of this month, we’ve been on holiday, away from the newspapers and television, and able to ignore much of the world around us. Our pastor’s sermon yesterday reminded me that I cannot close my eyes to the inferno of hate in our midst. This has nothing to do with politics, color, or nationality. It doesn’t matter whether we live in a red or blue state, lean left or right, or what statues are erected in our town square. This has to do with hatred and bigotry and, regardless of the First Amendment, there is no place in a Christian’s life for them. I’ve noticed signs posted throughout our town saying “Hate Has No Home Here” and, indeed, hate has no home in a heart that claims to be filled with the love of Jesus.

What can we do to keep this firestorm of hate from spreading? No matter how loudly I speak, I’m little more than a household mop bucket; even then, my words of love can douse a few hateful flames. If we join forces, however, perhaps we can be as effective as those 2,600 gallon fire-fighting buckets. Moreover, whenever we feel empty, we can refill from the source of our love—Christ’s living water. Can our words of love douse the hate? I don’t know, but I know we must try. We start by examining our own attitudes, words and actions so that we don’t fan the fire’s flames with them. The words we speak must be those of love, tolerance, patience, hope and peace. We may not extinguish the fire completely but, by using only words of love, we will be doing our utmost to suppress it and keep it from growing any larger.

Heavenly Father, give us the right words and the courage to speak them so that we can combat the hate in the world today. Let us remember that hate has no home in our hearts.

By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. [Martin Luther King Jr.]

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. … For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. [Ephesians 5:1-2a,8-9 (NLT)]

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ENTERTAIN ME

So my people come pretending to be sincere and sit before you. They listen to your words, but they have no intention of doing what you say. Their mouths are full of lustful words, and their hearts seek only after money. You are very entertaining to them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on an instrument. They hear what you say, but they don’t act on it! [Ezekiel 33:31-32 (NLT)]

maccaw - naples zooEzekiel proclaimed God’s message to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. As the Lord’s prophet, he was commissioned to deliver words of both judgment and hope. Some of the exiles recognized him as a prophet but more did not. Although they found Ezekiel’s message entertaining, they had no intention of putting his words into practice. There’s a lesson here for today’s churches: pews filled with people there only for the music, amusement, food, or activities mean nothing if God’s word is not planted in people’s hearts.

In an effort to fill their seats, many churches are moving toward a liturgy of entertainment and many church-goers are becoming more interested in show than substance. I’ve attended services featuring ice skaters, a fighting cage, a t-shirt cannon, ballerinas, a live camel, an angel flying on an aerial hoop, a dragon-like Satan, wide-screen TVs showing popular movie clips, and even the Blues Brothers. While those were memorable services, I wonder if the line between entertainment and witness is getting blurred. The purpose of worship is to please God, not us, and it’s more about offering ourselves to God than offering applause to the band, singers and pastors. Church is about being active worshipers and learners, not passive listeners and watchers. Liking the sermon is not as important as learning from it and changing because of it. Jesus was never boring and, while His parables are interesting, He definitely was not about entertainment when He walked the earth. If entertainment had been His goal, there would have been far more miracles and far less talk of things like discipleship, sacrifice, cross-carrying, self-denial, commitment, and separation from the world.

For churches to be trendy and entertaining, they must keep reinventing themselves with bigger and better gimmicks. While a certain amount of entertainment might get us into church, it is commitment, depth, and community that should keep us there. Let’s not confuse filled seats with saved souls! It is God who is the star attraction at church and a relationship with Him is why we attend worship services. A.W. Tozer cautions us not to be like discontented spoiled children who, instead of a piece of candy, must be wooed into God’s house with promises of amusement, refreshment, fun and games. God might capture our attention with the big things but, as Elijah learned, God isn’t in the whirlwind, earthquake, or inferno; He is found in the gentle whisper.

Worship is not about my enjoyment. It is about my enjoyment of God. It is not about my pleasure or my delight or my satisfaction. It is about my pleasure, delight, and satisfaction in God. Worship is not simply about glorifying God. It is about glorifying God by enjoying Him forever. [Sam Storms]

And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. [1 Kings 19:11-12 (NLT)]

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THE TRILEMMA

We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. [2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (NLT)]

spiderwort - wild flowerIn C.S. Lewis’ children’s fantasy novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the youngest child, Lucy Pevensie, happens upon an enchanted armoire and steps into the magical world of Narnia. Upon returning, she rushes to tell her siblings of her astonishing adventure. Hearing such a tall tale and finding no concrete proof of its truth, her older siblings assume the story to be a figment of her imagination. They take their concern over her falsehood to their wise elderly uncle. He cautions them to use logic and consider Lucy’s story carefully. He points out there are only three possibilities: either she’s lying, crazy or telling the truth. After pointing out that lies are usually more plausible than Lucy’s tale, he asks if she’s lied before. The children admit she’s always been truthful. After pointing out that none of Lucy’s behavior indicates mental illness, they all agree she can’t have gone mad. He then suggests that since she’s neither a liar nor crazy, they could consider the possibility that Lucy’s story is true.

Interestingly, this is the same line of reasoning Lewis uses in what is called the “Lewis trilemma” or his “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” argument found in Mere Christianity. Lewis uses this logical argument when people claim to believe in the existence of Jesus as a great moral teacher but not as God (which, unfortunately, many people do). Jesus talked as if He was God. He professed to be able to forgive sins and to be the only way to the Father. He claimed to have existed since the beginning of time, that He was a heavenly king who offered everlasting life, and would judge the world at the end of time. Lewis points out that we have only three choices about those fantastic claims: Jesus was either a liar who perpetrated a fraud, a madman with delusions of grandeur, or the Lord. The one thing Jesus couldn’t have been was just a principled man or an excellent teacher of morals and ethics! Jesus was either a very bad or troubled man or He was divine and exactly who He said He was!

There are many people who consider Jesus simply to be a Jewish version of Buddha or Socrates: a great man, filled with compassion and love, who had some profound and noble ideas. That whole Messiah/Son of God thing, however, just doesn’t sit well with them. We should remind them that neither Buddha nor Socrates claimed to be God; Jesus did! The Pevensie children soon learned the truth of Lucy’s claim and, hopefully, others will see the logic and truth of Jesus, as well!

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. [From “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis]

The Father and I are one. [John 10:30 (NLT)]

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. … Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. … And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me. [John 14:6,11a,24b (NLT)]

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THE PINKY

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. [1 Timothy 2:1 (NLT)]

turtlesWhen a child, I was taught to pray the “Five Fingers of Prayer”—thanks, praise, confession, intercession and petition—as a way of remembering that God came first, others next and me last. A local Christian preschool uses the “Five-Finger Prayer” approach. Often attributed to Pope Francis, it helps little ones remember all of their “God blesses.” When the hands are folded in prayer, the thumb is nearest and reminds the child to pray for the people who are closest to him: his family and BFFs. Next is the index finger—that pointing finger used by teachers everywhere. This finger reminds the child to pray for those who teach. Next is the middle finger, the tallest one, which reminds the child to pray for those in authority: the pastor, the president and other government officials. The fourth finger is the weakest one. With this finger the child remembers those who are helpless, in trouble, or suffering. Finally, the child gets to the pinky and prays for himself. That little finger reminds him of his smallness (and the smallness of his needs) in relation to God’s greatness and the needs of others.

While there are no hard and fast rules about prayer except to believe in it and do it, we are told to pray for all people and to share one another’s burdens. It is both a responsibility and a privilege to lift others’ needs to God in prayer. Abraham interceded for the people of Sodom, Job for his friends, Moses for the Israelites, the early church for the imprisoned Peter, Daniel for his captive nation, Paul for the readers of his letters, and Jesus for His disciples. No special commission or training is needed to become a prayer warrior. We all are called to intercede for others and we have four fingers that remind us to do it.

There is nothing wrong with praying for ourselves. In the Lord’s Prayer, we were taught to ask for our daily needs, forgiveness of sins, and deliverance from temptation. The Psalms are filled with pleas for God to intervene in the psalmists’ lives. Hannah, Jabez, David, Paul and even Jesus prayed for themselves. Praying for ourselves brings us into an intimate relationship with God and invites His blessings into our lives. The problem arises when we come to God just for those blessings and never intercede for others. We stop seeing the needs surrounding us, become self-centered, and risk turning God into Santa Claus! While there are five fingers on our hands, when it comes to prayer, only the pinky belongs to us!

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. [Ephesians 6:18 (NLT)]

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. [Galatians 6:2 (NLT)]

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FINDING THE RIGHT FIT

We must also consider how to encourage each other to show love and to do good things. We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming. [Hebrews 10:24-25 (GW)]

Bar None Cowboy ChurchWhen people become dissatisfied with their houses, they don’t abandon the idea of living in a house again and move into a tent. Either they tolerate their grievance, remodel or go shopping for a house that better suits their needs. Yet, with our churches, when people become dissatisfied with their particular parish or denomination, they often stop going to any church at all.

Sometime remodeling a house can be a simple project and modifying a church may be as easy as suggesting a new small group or working with the worship committee to explore new avenues of worship. Our northern church, for example, responded to the changing needs of the parish by adding a contemporary worship service to its traditional ones. Sometimes, however, remodeling won’t do the trick and what’s wrong for us can’t be changed. Perhaps the house is two-story when we no longer can negotiate stairs or the church no longer corresponds with where we are in our faith journey. Whatever the reason, rather than abandon church altogether, it’s time to go house-of-worship hunting until a new church home is found.

Church hunting isn’t much different than house hunting, except that we’re less interested in the number of bathrooms or curb appeal. Like any other important choice, we start by taking our quest to God in prayer and then exploring the Internet to see what’s available. As with real estate, we may have to check out several possibilities and visit more than once before finding the church that can feel like home. Like people and houses, Christian churches come in all sizes and styles and each has its own personality. A good Sunday school could be important for a young family while opportunities to serve may be more important to retirees. Some people prefer mega-churches while others want an intimate atmosphere. Some people want the ceremony and dignity of traditional or liturgical churches while others want the free-flowing atmosphere, contemporary music and PowerPoint displays found in “praise and worship” churches. Others may even favor the more casual atmosphere of the “seeker sensitive” churches with their use of secular music and performance style worship.

Not every house is right for every family and not every Christian church is right for every Christian. Recently, our travels brought us past both the Free Spirit Biker Church and the Bar None Cowboy Church. While neither would be a good fit for me, they are for someone else! The important thing is to find the right balance of Scripture, prayer, preaching, music, evangelism, sacraments and fellowship for our individual needs. What we must never do is give up on Christ’s Church just because we’ve given up on a particular one! Like Goldilocks, we just have to keep searching until we find the church that is “just right!”

You received Christ Jesus the Lord, so continue to live as Christ’s people. Sink your roots in him and build on him. Be strengthened by the faith that you were taught, and overflow with thanksgiving. [Colossians 6-7 (GW)]

Also, let Christ’s peace control you. God has called you into this peace by bringing you into one body. Be thankful. Let Christ’s word with all its wisdom and richness live in you. Use psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to teach and instruct yourselves about God’s kindness. Sing to God in your hearts. Everything you say or do should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [Colossians 3:15-17 (GW)]

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SETTLING THE ACCOUNT

Buena Vista, Iowa
Your wickedness will bring its own punishment. Your turning from me will shame you. You will see what an evil, bitter thing it is to abandon the Lord your God and not to fear him. I, the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken! [Jeremiah 2:19 (NLT)]

One autumn day, the atheist farmer told the minister that he’d plowed, disked, fertilized, planted, cultivated and harvested all of his fields on Sundays. He bragged that he had the biggest crop ever while defying the Biblical command to rest on the Sabbath. Moreover, he’d cursed the minister’s nonexistent God the entire time he worked. “Explain that!” challenged the farmer. The minister calmly replied that God doesn’t always settle his accounts in October!

For much of the year, I live in southwest Florida in an area with one of the highest life expectancies in the nation—83.5 years. That’s more than four and a half years longer than the average American and more than ten years longer than someone in Gasden, Alabama. Among other things, statistics show that the fatter our wallets and the thinner our bodies, the longer we’re likely to live. Nevertheless, no matter where we reside, how much we weigh, how well we eat, how many doctors we visit, or how wealthy we are, we will all say farewell to our life here on earth; life is terminal. We never know when God will settle his accounts but we do know that, someday, He will!

In Jesus’ parable of the rich man and the destitute and diseased beggar, we are warned about eternal judgment and that once we reach our journey’s end, there are no transfers. Hell is a real place and our final destination is final. When death arrives, and it will, what we’ve accumulated here on earth will mean nothing. Neither richness nor poverty is of importance; what matters will be our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Like the rich man in the parable, we are free to ignore the cries of those around us, but we’d better be prepared to do some crying ourselves. Like the farmer in my story, we are free to reject the message of Christ but, if we do, we must be ready to face the consequences of that choice. God is not to be disregarded or treated carelessly. Our loving God doesn’t send anyone to hell; He just honors the sinner’s choice. If we wish to live apart from Him in this world, He will be happy to oblige us in the next.

 If you board the train of unbelief, you will have to take it all the way to its destination. [Erwin W. Lutzer]

And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as “temporary residents.” [1 Peter 1:17 (NLT)]

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. … Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. [James 4:14,17 (NLT)]

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