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February: Why the R?   -  February 9, 2017

Have you ever wondered why the spelling of this month has an r in it?  Like so many parts of our culture, Roman and Greek influence comes through, often times associated with deities or celebrations.

Many, perhaps, are not cognizant of the pagan connections of our months and even planets.  Our days of the week, months and planets all have Greek and Roman influences.  February (many pronounce it Febuary without the r) also has Roman origins as well.  The month is named after a Roman festival of purification called Februa, involving ritual washing. 

While ancient purification practices provided no true spiritual cleansing, we do have a purification available to us a human race that does cleanse us wholly.  It is the washing away of our sins by the blood of Jesus.  As sinners, we are all doomed, condemned by our own sins.  Our sins are black and lead to death.  “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God Romans 3:23”; “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6:23).  Once we realize this and see our awful fate and the gift of life from God, our heart should repent and believe in him.  We need only to cry out to Jesus to save us.  “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.  Romans 10:13. 

Our belief in his ability to save us does not save us, but the power of his blood offered by grace through our faith in him does. Our faith is not a work, and neither are repentance and prayer.  They are simply heart responses to the realization that we are unable to save ourselves from our sin.  In that realization, we can turn from the deplorable condition we are in and the sin that has put us there, and in surrender, we turn to him for help.  Repentance, belief/faith, and calling on Jesus are not works of the flesh, but responses of a battered broken heart, yearning to shed our pride and trust Christ and avoid the judgement of Hell.

At that point, his power takes control and he washes us and purifies us from those deadly sins, completely and wholly and forever, making us eternal children of God.  No additional work is needed to maintain that position, and no sin is capable of stealing our salvation away, because he has paid it all.  John 3:16 makes it clear, “Whosoever believeth in Him, shall NOT perish, but have everlasting life,” not temporary or tentative life.  No work precedes his salvation, nor does any work follow it.  It is independently sufficient to rescue the dying, crying soul.

Let the R in February remind you of the great work of salvation God is willing to do for a dying soul…

Realize:  Realize you have sinned against God.  Realize you are doomed and will end up in Hell.  This is a harsh reality that should shake the foundations of your soul.

Repent:  Hate your sin and your lost condition so much that you are willing to turn away from your own self and your sin unto Him.  Repentance is not an itemized apology for bad behavior, it is a turning away from sin.

Recognize: See clearly that your only hope is in Jesus.  Believe and trust in him that he can save you from your sins.

Relinquish: Give up the failed control of your life and surrender, calling on him to do what he has promised to do by his grace.  He will through your faith in him, deliver you to an eternal, purified life.

True salvation changes you.  Some people treat Jesus like they are doing him a favor by inviting him into their life.  The invitation is his and it is to us.   He invites us to accept his offer to be pardoned and forgiven.  We can accept or reject, die or live. 

If you are not saved, I pray that you see yourself as God sees you and that you “call upon the name of the Lord.”

 

Antichristmas - November 28, 2016

This is a time of year when time seems to slip by quicker than normal.  The election that seemed to take forever to get here is now history and for better or worse we have a new president coming to power.  Thanksgiving has also come and gone and the frenzy of merchandising that is now Christmas is upon us.  By and and large we may not be, as a nation all, that thankful or all that giving.  

Santa has effectively hijacked Christmas and we are the poster children for the "conspicuous consumption" that destroyed the Roman Empire.  By the way, they also helped the crowds pick somebody else besides Jesus too!

Take a look at the picture below and look at the date.  Not only has Santa made his way into the church property, he is being rushed upon the children even before Thanksgiving.  We can't seem to wait to douse the season with the unholy waters of commercialism, and the so-called church is keeping time with the drumbeat for the anthem of antichristmas.  Think about it.  We have replaced the old rugged tree with a Christmas tree, and the Savior with a Santa.  

Let's guard our own lives, our own homes, and our own churches against the strong currents of distraction and rest upon the security of God's Word and God's Son.

How Stupid are We? June 17, 2014

The Devil is credited in the Bible for being subtle and he surely is.   At the same time man is shown to be so easily and willingly deceived. Satan has no trouble gathering a crowd. It seems that people are gladly lining up for his destructive itinerary. Three places it would seem that people should want to avoid are three of the most popular places these days for those who allow Satan a foot-hold in their life.

They are lining up for the prisons. Prison populations are growing, even though all attempts are made to release or intervene for wrong-doers pre-trial.  People commit crimes with their eyes wide open, keeping the jail houses full.

They are lining up for the hospital. Overeating, Smoking, drinking, drug abuse, and STDs are all habits of willing sinners who must surely welcome a trip to the hospital. Sin is helping to keep the hospitals busy.

Finally, they are lining up for the graveyard. Sex, drugs, alcohol and tobacco are bolstering hospital populations, but they are also filling the graveyards earlier than necessary. But other foolishness, such as gang activity, fast cars, texting while driving, road rage and other foolishness are contributing to the death toll. Yet no one is being forced into the hearse.

We all could slow our roll so to speak and try not so easily follow the Devil to such places.

Do I Trust My Church? April 4, 2014

Once as a teenager, I approached my pastor, who is now in Heaven, about giving my tithes to an evangelist’s ministry. He gave me his blessing and for a while I supported this man’s work with my tithes. At the time, I, and apparently my pastor, felt the right thing was being done. I realize now that I was failing to support the very institution where I was fed and blessed, and helped grow. What I was doing was akin to a person living at their parents’ house and eating and resting and growing, but all the while paying money to the neighbor.

Now, one should not discourage an individual supporting the spread of the gospel. However, this type of offering (a gift above the tithe) should be made after the tithes are placed in the charge of the church. Certainly a man or woman has a right to do as they see fit with their gifts, yet if everyone practiced this type of giving, the very institution that God set-up would be limited in its ability to perform its ministry. Besides all this missionaries and evangelists should be an extension of the church, not subverting the ministry of the church.

Another practice that is counterproductive to the church’s commission is the “earmarked” donation. This practice is often used in both religious and secular charities. Many people, who disagree with some of the charities supported by the United Way, refuse to donate to them. United Way has countered this by suggesting that people can earmark their gift for a particular effort so that none of their money goes to a cause with which they disagree.

From the surface this sounds like a reasonable way of securing wise stewardship as a Christian. If this were a faultless management system, then the organization that has been earmarked should receive their normal allotment from United Way, plus all other funds that are earmarked as well, as sort of a bonus for being a spiritually friendly charity.

Sadly such is not the case. While you can earmark your donation, the United Way actually pre-proportions the accounting so that they can direct money in the manner that they see appropriate. Your chosen charity benefits not one dime more because of your efforts and conversely, the charity that you disagree with suffers none. It is not unthinkable that some churches who accept donor designated gifts may use this same type of accounting trick.

But even if they didn’t and gave forthrightly above and beyond the budgeted amount for a particular charity, something has transpired that is in conflict with the whole idea of support for the local church. The Bible teaches storehouse giving and the pastor needs to encourage members to trust the stewardship of the collective assembly in terms of financial decisions.

Churches should discourage, perhaps even refuse gifts given with specific earmarks including pastoral gifts, simply because it demonstrates a lack of confidence in stewardship of the body. If someone in the church feels that the pastor or a charity should be given more than the designated amount, then bring it before the congregation for a vote, or just as well, give it straight to its recipient. If one wants to give a gift to a particular person or ministry then after fulfilling commitments to God regarding church stewardship, then one should feel free to send a gift onto the preferred place. Otherwise give your offering to God with the confidence and knowledge that the assembly will follow God.

Furthermore, some Sunday school classes practice their own micro-ministry to the exclusion of the greater body. This practice too is inappropriate because it circumvents the leadership and approval of the entire assembly. All collections should be gathered and placed into the general fund. Out of this fund all expenditures should be drawn including mission support. These expenditures, approved of by the body allow the church to proceed with the trust and support of its membership.

I need 10 People- March 26, 1014

Another inappropriate finance related practice is the “Special Offering Challenge” The way this works is the pastor or some other influential member of the church, stands and informs the crowd that there is a particular need or expense that has arisen, usually a repair or unexpected bill. Sometimes, though, it may be something a little more benevolent such as a medical need for someone.

In this scenario, the amount usually has been equally divided into a designated number of hopeful donations (10, 20, etc.) and the congregation is entreated to publically commit to the designated increments until the total amount is reached. For example, I need 10 people to give $100 each to meet this $1000 expense.

This is a popular practice in preacher’s meetings and missionary conferences. It somehow comes to the attention to someone connected to the proceedings that brother so-and-so’s bus needs a transmission, or a particular mission work needs x number of rolls of paper to print Bibles. Congregants are “provoked” into buying/donating in part. Sadly, some of those who make these commitments like this never follow through and a greater sin is done.

Now, we should not be uncompassionate about such needs, especially those related to health and well-being. I believe in helping those who are in need. However, there are right ways to go about these things and there are many wrong ways. Several potential hazards can arise during this type of fund-raising event, each one connected to pride.

The first potential hazard is that people who thrive on attention are invited to show off their benevolence. They feed on the public displays of philanthropy and they are instantly gratified as others look on at their liberality. Admittedly, this may represent only a few, or even none of the respondents, but the fact is the open show of works has minimally detracted from an act of caring and giving that otherwise might have been between them, God, and in some cases, the beneficiary.

A second potential hazard is that people whose pride is easily injured may be induced to give, even though they cannot or really do not want to give. The Bible tells us in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, [so let him give]; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” One sitting in such a situation may feel compelled to respond as others give and others watch to see who will give. No one when faced with the misfortunes of others wants to appear apathetic and selfish. And at this moment, they may feel their character is on trial, so to speak, and even if their means may not permit it, their pride forces them to vindicate themselves, and all at the provocation of an agent of the Lord.

The third potential hazard is that people who are unable to give are left to the critics in the crowd as to their possible ambivalence or lack of faith. In this case, someone who has neither showed out nor allowed pride to force them to act unadvisedly is able to restrain themselves. Oh, but others looking on may make judgments as to their actions. The fact is though, even if no single person in the crowd were to make a false assessment regarding them, everyone in the crowd who is unable to help is subject to embarrassment.

Admittedly there is something public about the offering plate that lends itself to pride, I suppose. In fact, the formal offering with decorative plates and background music does not find its origins in the scriptures. However, collections and giving are taught and certainly discretion can be fostered through tithing or offering envelopes. Certainly no mandate of amount should be placed on the congregation when giving is collected. Furthermore, pastors would be wise to not keep track of "who is and who aint" giving or what amounts are being given by a particular person.

In the "special offering" scenario there is a clear violation of the scriptural command, “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:” – Matthew 6:3. We are to avoid circumstances where others may see our works in this manner. Fasting, benevolence, acts of kindness, and financial support of the church, should be veiled works in order to avoid pride. Jesus made this clear to the Pharisees. Such benevolence towards the need of particular person or group should be brought up in a business meeting and the church should respond as a group. Gifts to evangelists and guest speakers should be planned in advance and presented from the church. If the pastor sees an encroaching or desperate need, present it to the church as a matter of church business.

The pastor may encourage the congregation to contribute directly and discreetly as the Lord leads them. Gifts from individuals to missionaries or evangelists should be shared with the guest in some inconspicuous manner such as “the palm offering.” Folks at our church use this practice as they shake hands and no one is the wiser except the visitor.

Rather than having an open challenge offering, the pastor should alert folk as to a particular need and encourage them to pray about helping in some way. We must remember that church leadership is charged to see that “all things be done decently and in order.” - I Corinthians 14:40.

 Hot Dogs, Get Your Hot Dogs!- March 19, 2014

I thought at the time (over thirty years ago) that it was a great idea. We could use raise money for the church and have a great time together as a congregation. Everyone could bring something in of value and we could have a yard sale to help raise money for the building fund. But in his wisdom, Pastor Hall knew something I had not seen or thought about. I only saw the end. I had not considered the means.

Among other things, he explained that we should not pander to the community for support of God’s work. He further elaborated that we must be careful not send a message to the world that God is not taking care of us. Where God guides, he provides. I guess if we gauged God by the financial stratagem of today’s church it would seem to the world and community that we are in dire straits and ready to fail and that God has somehow short-changed us.

The world at large already views churches as money grubbers and charlatans. Like the old medicine show preacher, some offer an elixer of gospel and goods in exchange for a little donation. However, the biblical church must be supported entirely by the cheerfully given tithes and offerings of his people and visitors to the meetings. Just because the money will be used for some charitable purpose or a “good cause” does not mean we are licensed to go out of bounds spiritually.

When faced with financial challenges though, some pastors and congregations resort to alternative ways to raise funds such as yard sales, hot dog plates, marketing, and other non-biblical methods. While the property of the church is different from the sanctuary, it is still God’s House. Such alternatives are akin to making His House a “den of thieves.” Even the sale of biblical materials such as Christian music, Bibles, and study books can cast a shadow on the sanctity of God’s House. Even more so, selling food and used clothing and toys hardly promotes godliness and is more merchandising than ministering.

Pastor Hall’s suggested that if anyone wanted to, they could hold a yard sale on their own property unconnected with the church in promotion or performance. Then, if they so desired, they could donate the revenues to the church. And let me add, ideally this kind of gift should be given like any other gift, in the offering plate, without pomp and circumstance or challenge. Satan uses money to detour us and we must be careful to walk circumspectly.

Dangerous Winds - March 15, 2014

We sure are an easily amazed crowd, us Christians. Unfortunately, we are amazed by all the wrong things. This is especially dangerous when we are entranced by the Satan's offerings of things that appear to be spiritual. Years ago when we used to visit the Christian bookstore in Oxford, PA, we could count on the shelves being filled with reliable products that were doctrinally sound. Today’s Christian bookstores are filled with every wind of doctrine in order to supply the appetites of every carnal Christian and unbelieving cult poser that walks in the door with a few dollars to spend.

Many today who name the name of Christ are taken by movies like The Son of God and its television predecessor The Bible miniseries, books like The Shack, and more recently the literary and religious merchandise of the Robertsons, AKA Duck Dynasty. Some of this amazement is simply because they pray at the end of the show, sometimes in Jesus’ name. This single spiritual display, magnified by protests from anti-Christs and homosexuals, has catapulted them to the top of the religious mountainscape. As their fame has increased, so has their acceptance into the greater Christian community, mainly via the Christian bookstores.

While I appreciate their stand for morality and their opposition to those who would rob us of our free speech, I am unwilling to align myself with them spiritually or go to them as a source of spiritual edification (I watch the show every week, but not for spiritual growth).  Their unsound doctrinal stand is that of the Church of Christ, a relatively modern cult, that has its origins at Cane Ridge Kentucky (http://www.caneridge.org/) . It was there at this ecumenical and carnal debacle in 1801 that this sect was spawned along with the Pentecostal movement. Doctrines of the church of Christ teach that you must be baptized, and baptized by one of their ordained ministers in order to get to Heaven. Everyone else is excluded. This is salvation by works and is in conflict with God’s Word.

Now while Phil Robertson and his sons are celebrating free speech, why don’t they throw that doctrine in on a few of the shows, if it is so eternally important.  I will tell you why. Number one, it would have a profound effect on the ratings of the show, and two, it would greatly impact the sales of the religious merchandise in the bookstores (I left of the word Christian that time on purpose).

Now, Mr. Phil might be the first to tell you that the show is not a forum for spreading the Gospel, and that I could not agree on more. It is sure that no one has ever come to Christ, from watching an episode of Duck Dynasty. However, I feel a little imposed on when these folks take the fame and notoriety they have achieved, in some part at least, from the Christian Community, and use it to cash in with their religious merchandise. I wonder how rigid they are in their literary exposition regarding the doctrines of their church, which across the board excludes most of the people buying their products. I am sure that any addressing of such things is subtle if not nonexistent (remember who in the Bible is subtle).

Years ago, the Seventh-Day Adventist cult and Ellen G. White subtly worked their way into the at-large Christian Community with their Bible books placed carefully at hospitals all over America. Of Late, Max Lucado has made further inroads towards acceptance of this cult by so many of the faith, despite their false doctrines.  Lucado'sbooks and merchandise litter the shelves of the bookstores and homes without any criticism or concern for the dangerous teachings associated with their sect.

We would do well to heed the warnings of the scriptures, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;” Eph. 4:14

Way of Life Website  March 13, 2014

I just linked our site to www.wayoflife.org on our links page. Brother cloud is a champion for truth and transparency and seems to have his finger on the pulse of Biblical practice in these last days. If you will visit his site regularly, you will find he monitors the spiritual health of the church. I know you will be blessed.  His current article addresses the issue of homosexuality in the church. 

Son of God Movie- March 12, 2014

If you expected it to be different, you should have known better. It seems that no one in the film world is really interested in allowing the Bible to speak for itself. It makes no sense to eliminate portions of records from history, especially the Bible, and replace them with developed speculative dialog and contrived events.   Hollywood movies do this all the time, but it is sacrilegious, if not blasphemous, when toying with God’s Word.

The excuse is that the specific events are not so muchas  important as the overall message. Character development and theme are interwoven into the story to enhance the overall impact of the message, thus reaching more people. This is pure rubbish. God has never needed our help to substantiate his truth.

The entire premise of bringing the scriptures to life is antithetical to God’s revelation of himself in the scriptures. That is why he warned so much about images and idolatry. Movies and pictures run the risk of driving us into the same idolatrous descent as the golden calf. The practice is opportunity for corruption of the pure and the weakening of the edifice of truth.

The movie The Son of God and the recent television miniseries, The Bible both fail the test from a true Biblical standpoint. The “character” of Christ walks around with tangled hair and circa 60’s hippie appearance looking as far removed from a Jewish heritage as a black or Asian Jesus would look, although his white, Anglo-look are a perfect match for his English language. The most telling piece of elaborative script was spoken by Jesus as the crowd was talking of making him king. Jesus looks at the disciples and says, “It’s not my fault” and then runs away like a scared confused rabbit.

If you want to know Jesus, stick with the Bible. The Jesus that comes from the imaginations of the minds of men will never save anyone from their sins. He might entertain them, but expect little more.