TALKATIVE

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. [1 Corinthians 4:20 (NLT)]

maccawWhen John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress, he was concerned both with the godless unbeliever and the casual and superficial believer: the nominal or counterfeit Christian. We all know them: people who may look and talk a lot like Christians but don’t live like one. Without even realizing it, we may even be one!

When Christian and Faithful encounter Mr. Talkative, Faithful initially considers the man a fine companion; he’s enthusiastic, speaks well and knows his Scripture. Christian, who knew Talkative in his hometown, warns Faithful that, “Religion has no place in his heart, or house, or lifestyle. The man’s religion is found only in his tongue rather than in him.”  Known as a saint abroad and a devil at home, Christian says Talkative is the sort of man who’s better looking from a distance. Although he can talk about faith, repentance, being reborn, and prayer, like the Pharisees, he doesn’t practice what he preaches. Christian then points out that Talkative isn’t even aware of the difference between speaking and being; he’s deceived himself into thinking that hearing and talking are all he needs to be a good Christian. “Knowing is a thing that pleases talkers and boasters, but doing is the thing that pleases God,” agrees Faithful.

Testing his new companion and cautioning him not to give an answer to which God would not give an “Amen!” Faithful asks Talkative, ”Does your religion exist in word or tongue and not in deed and truth?” Balking at giving a reply, Talkative leaves the men. After Christian points out, “Just as a body without the soul is dead, so talking by itself is but a dead carcass,” Faithful promises that he’ll pay closer attention to the distinction between talking and doing in the future.

Faithful observes that just as a prostitute is a shame to all women, a man like Talkative is a shame to all true believers. Christian adds that the number of people whose religion is in their words rather than their life is the reason religion stinks in the nostrils of so many men. We don’t have to be well-known evangelists caught in financial or sexual improprieties to give Christianity a bad name. We just have to be like Talkative: people whose religion is found only in their words rather than their hearts and actions.

I wondered at my answer to Faithful’s question; does my religion exist in word or tongue (or, in my case, web page) and not in deed and truth? What would be your answer to Faithful’s question? More important, would God shout a loud ”Amen!” in agreement to our answers? Let us always remember that faith without works is dead and it takes far more than words to be Christ’s witnesses.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. [Kevin Max]

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? … Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” … Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works. [James 2:14,18,26 (NLT)]

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TURNING A DEAF EAR

Haven’t you heard? Don’t you understand? Are you deaf to the words of God— the words he gave before the world began? Are you so ignorant?… Listen, you who are deaf! Look and see, you blind! [Isaiah 40:21, 42:18 (NLT)]

the Shanahan sistersMy Great-aunt Camilla began to lose her hearing as a girl and was completely deaf by the time she reached adulthood. Although she didn’t sign, she did lip-read quite well. In spite of her deafness, as long as we were face-to-face, we were able to converse without much difficulty. However, if Camilla didn’t want to continue the discussion or disagreed with us, she’d simply turn away and refuse to look at us. Tug as we might at her sleeve, she’d not turn back to rejoin the conversation until we’d convinced her that the subject had changed to one she preferred or that we agreed wholeheartedly with her opinion.

Thinking back to her, I wonder if we all might be a little like my aunt. We don’t have to be unable to hear to turn a deaf ear to someone. People do that all of the time when they ignore a doctor’s advice; recommendations to eat less and exercise more frequently fall on deaf ears. Most of us will hear only what we want to hear when we want to hear it. What should be heard is another matter and, just as the people of Israel did, we frequently turn a deaf ear to God. As long as everything is going our way, life is pleasant, and the future looks rosy, we keep our eyes and ears on Him. But, when we hear the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit, God’s plan differs from ours (as it frequently does), or life takes a nosedive, we often turn away from Him. We only turn back with complaint or demands. We readily accuse God of being deaf to our pleas when, in actuality, we are the ones not hearing Him.

When my deaf aunt turned away from us and refused to listen with her eyes, she won. The topic was changed and we spoke of what she wanted. God, however, is persistent. We just need to look at the Old Testament to see the various (and often severe) methods He used to get the attention of His chosen people. When they refused to listen to His prophets, God took measures that were not as easily ignored.

Faith is trusting God’s words and actions, even when we don’t like them. Faith isn’t turning a deaf ear to God; it is turning to Him and listening closely to what He is telling us. When life isn’t working out, He’s probably telling us something important so it’s best to listen carefully. God can speak to us in a whisper or a shout; as for me, I’d rather hear His whisper!

None so deaf as those that will not hear. None so blind as those that will not see. [Matthew Henry]

Listen to me, O my people, while I give you stern warnings. O Israel, if you would only listen to me! [Psalm 81:8 (NLT)]

Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand! [Matthew 11:15 (NLT)]

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HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST! – Palm Sunday

So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” [John 12:13 (ESV)]

royal palmIt was the week before the Passover and Jerusalem was already filled with pilgrims who’d come for the celebration. News of the rabbi who’d brought Lazarus back to life was spreading through the crowd. As they prepared to celebrate their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, they hoped for the promised Messiah who would deliver them from the tyranny of Rome. Could Jesus be the one?

Jesus rode into the city on a donkey as the people waved palm branches, a traditional symbol of victory for the Israelites. As they had done years earlier when Jehu was declared king, the people laid their cloaks on the ground in front of Him. Sort of like laying out the red carpet, this wasn’t the way a rabbi was greeted; it was the way a conqueror or king was welcomed. Indeed, Jesus was both conqueror and king, but the people didn’t understand what He’d conquer or that His kingdom extended far beyond Judea.

There were shouts of “Hosanna” from the crowd.  A Hebrew word, “Hosanna” combines yasha, meaning “save” or “deliver,” and anna, meaning “beg” or “beseech.” It was an appeal for deliverance much like, “Help me!” or, “I beg you to save me!” We might shout “Hosanna!” if we’d fallen out of a boat into the raging sea but, because “Hosanna!” was also an expression of joy and praise for deliverance, we also might shout it when someone pulled us back to safety. Those shouts of “Hosanna” tell us the people wanted to be saved and saw the promise of deliverance in Jesus.

They shouted “Hosanna!” but for the wrong reasons. Seeking deliverance from the tyranny of the Roman Empire rather than the tyranny of sin, they saw a champion who would free them from Rome’s rule, not Satan’s. They wanted a mighty warrior who would conquer Rome, not one who would conquer death! Preferring to kill their enemies than love them, they sought revenge for their oppression, not a Prince of Peace who preached forgiveness. They wanted a king who would establish a new kingdom on earth, not the Kingdom of God. They wanted a Messiah on their terms, not God’s.

They didn’t understand, but we do! Let us continue to sing our “Hosannas” in praise and thanksgiving for our deliverance!

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. [Zechariah 9:9 (ESV)]

Save us, we pray, O Lord!  O Lord, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  We bless you from the house of the Lord. [Psalm 118:25-26 (ESV)]

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BEYOND OUR UNDERSTANDING

How great is our Lord! His power is absolute! His understanding is beyond comprehension! [Psalm 147:5 (NLT)]

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. [Proverbs 3:5 (NLT)]

Koreshanity - Cellular CosmogonyJust north of us is a state park that once was home to a group called the Koreshan Unity. In 1894, Dr. Cyrus Teed, known as the Prophet Koresh, brought about 250 of his followers to the banks of the Estero River where they hoped to establish a “New Jerusalem.” The Koreshans believed that the Bible needed prophets to interpret it and that Teed was the seventh in a line of biblical prophets. As the designated prophet, Teed would reveal everything about the universe that Jesus failed to explain. Taking verses out of context from both testaments of the Bible, the Koreshans believed in reincarnation, communal living, heaven and hell, immortality, and celibacy.

The most curious belief of the Koreshans was that of Cellular Cosmogony: that the earth is a hollow shell about 8,000 miles in diameter and that the entire universe exists on the inside of this shell. Although the earth’s surface appears convex, Teed claimed that was an optical illusion and the earth’s surface actually was concave. Picture a globe but, instead of having the land and sea on the outer side, they are on the inner side; instead of life existing on the outer surface, it exists on the inside of the shell. The universe rotates inside the earth’s shell rather than the earth rotating in the universe and the sun is a giant electromagnetic battery in the middle of the sphere. Rather than gravity, centrifugal force is what holds us down.

Teed felt that God had revealed to the first six prophets (Adam, Enoch, Noah, Moses, Abraham, and Jesus) only what they (and their followers) were capable of understanding. As the most evolved of the prophets, Teed believed that God would reveal everything to him and, once God had done so, Teed would then usher in the age of Koreshanity.

For Teed, living on the inside of a hollow sphere meant that the universe and everything in it was knowable and finite—all wrapped up in a hollow sphere. Pictures of the earth from space easily tell us his Cellular Cosmogony is wrong and Scripture tells us he was in error with his theology—Jesus had the last word, not Teed! His biggest mistake may have been the same one we often make ourselves: wanting the world and God to be limited, explainable, and understandable.

Although Jesus and Scripture have given us all we need to know, there still remains much that we’ve not been told or that we’ll never understand about God, our existence, eternity, and the universe. None of us truly comprehend how God could speak the universe into existence, can know what we want before we know it ourselves, or see our yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows all at the same time. No prophet can give us a satisfactory explanation as to why bad things happen to good people or evil people prosper while the righteous suffer. How can we possibly truly understand God’s grace, His unlimited love for us, or how God can be one Being containing three persons while remaining only one God? That God is infinite, having neither beginning nor end, is mind boggling!

A universe that is contained in a shell would be far less baffling than one that is continually expanding and infinite in scope! We all want to think that God is understandable, life makes sense and everything is explainable but it isn’t. In spite of Scripture (and even science), there is much that remains incomprehensible and will remain that way during our lifetimes. Teed tried to limit God and His creation to make the inexplicable explainable. God and our existence, however, can’t be nicely wrapped up in a neat package or a closed universe. The good thing for us is that, while fully understanding God may be impossible, knowing, trusting and loving Him is not!

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! … For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. [Romans 11:33,36 (NLT)

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SPIRITUAL MALAISE

These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. [Isaiah 29:13 (NLT)]

queen butterflyA friend was on her way out the door when the CO (carbon monoxide) detector started beeping. Thinking the batteries needed replacing, she pulled it off the wall, removed the batteries, and departed for the day. Upon her return, she tried new batteries in the monitor but it started to sound again. She was faced with two options: either the detector was bad (they should be replaced every five to seven years) and she could ignore the alarm or her house was filled with an odorless, tasteless, colorless, and potentially fatal gas! Fortunately, my friend called the fire department. They detected a high level of carbon monoxide and discovered the cause: a chipmunk that got stuck and died in the gas water heater’s flue. With its carcass blocking the pipe, the heater couldn’t vent properly and deadly CO was backing up into the house. Had my friend gone to bed that night instead of calling the fire department, she probably would not have seen another day.

Spiritual malaise (what the early church called acedia) is nearly as undetectable and potentially fatal as CO; like that toxic gas, it can sneak up on us without our realizing it. While most of us probably won’t experience CO poisoning, I think we all, at some time or another, will experience a kind of spiritual malaise or lethargy. Rather than a blocked flue or a faulty exhaust system, its cause can be anything from being too busy to not being busy enough. It can occur when we feel defeated by our difficulties or too self-confident in our triumphs—when we’re disheartened by disappointments or become complacent in our blessings. Instead of nausea or drowsiness, spiritual malaise brings a subtle loss of purpose, an erosion of values, a wavering faith, a loss of hope, or a feeling of helplessness. Instead of replacing the oxygen in our red blood cells with carbon monoxide, it replaces the passion and joy in our worship with boredom, our desire for God’s word with disinterest, our fervor in prayer with listlessness, and our God-dependence with self-reliance. We grow drowsy in study, lethargic in worship, and sleepwalk through our prayers. Bible study, worship and prayer are seen as obligatory rather than the pleasure, privilege and honor they are. I think the enemy probably loves a passionless Christian almost as much as a passionate sinner!

When those passionless times come, and they will, we won’t have an alarm that beeps. We have to do our own self-monitoring and recognize the symptoms. Instead of opening windows or leaving the house, we need to turn to God, run wholeheartedly into His arms, and give ourselves fully to praise and worship. Rather than call the fire department, we must fellowship with other believers so that their enthusiasm can rub off on us. We must dig into God’s word and fill our minds with His truth, leaving no room for Satan’s lies. Most of all, we should pray for wisdom, strength, a rekindling of our faith, and the opportunity to use our gifts for His purpose.

Father in Heaven, remove our fatigue; renew, redeem, and restore us to your salvation. Fill us with the power of the Holy Spirit, transform our weariness into strength, and lift us on your mighty wings.

Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. [Psalm 51:10-12 (NLT)]

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. [Isaiah 40:31 (NLT)]

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A MATTER OF CHOICE

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. [Luke 1:38 (NLT)]

great blue heronYesterday, when writing about the angel’s visit to Mary, I came upon some articles by women who take offense at the story of Jesus’s conception. Interpreting Mary’s response as involuntary, they picture the Annunciation of our Lord as some weird sort of a supernatural rape. This is inconsistent both with Scripture and God as we know Him. The angel didn’t say, “Surprise, you’re pregnant!” and leave. Read the words as reported by Luke; Gabriel told Mary what would happen, not what had already occurred. It was only after Mary asked how the angel’s words would be fulfilled and she accepted God’s invitation to motherhood that the angel departed.

The God we know from Scripture is one of choice: it was He who gave us free will. Although God pursues, seeks and invites us, it remains our choice to accept or reject Him. Jesus called the people to follow Him but not everyone who heard His invitation did. When the people of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave, that’s exactly what He did. When Jesus told the parables about banquets to which the invited guests refused to come, the host accepted their refusals and simply invited others to the feast. God gave us free will and He will not violate this gift. No one, not even the virgin Mary, is ever forced to partake of God’s grace.

Although some would have us think that Mary was powerless in Gabriel’s presence, she was the one with the power. It was Mary who would decide whether or not to accept God’s call. Writer Mark Ballenger refers to God as a “sovereign gentleman,” and, like a true gentleman, He waited for Mary’s verbal consent before the Holy Spirit came upon her!

When feminists object to Mary saying she was the Lord’s servant, they are confusing being servile (mindlessly doing what is ordered) with consciously choosing to serve. There is nothing demeaning or weak about being a servant. Jesus was God and yet he called himself a servant and laid aside his majesty to selflessly serve mankind and die on the cross.

Mary was far more than an incubator for God. We honor her not because she had the womb in which Jesus grew; we honor her because she freely chose to be a faithful and obedient servant to God. God could not have carried out His plan of salvation without Mary’s consent and cooperation. Let us remember that God cannot continue to carry out the plans for His Kingdom without ours. Like Mary, we are called to be God’s servants. Whether or not we accept His invitation, is entirely up to us.

Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me. [John 12:25-26 (NLT)]

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