Friday, April 26, 2013

Devotions: How To Make Good Decisions

Scripture Reading:  Psalm 23

"In Henryk Sienkiewicz’ historical novel 'Quo Vadis,' Peter flees the persecution of Rome. Leaving the city, he encounters Jesus entering the city. Peter asks Jesus 'Quo Vadis Domine?' (Where are You going Lord?). 'I'm going back to be crucified again...' This led Peter to turn around, go back to Rome, and face his own martyrdom.

Quo Vadis? Where are you going? It is still an important question today? What way should we go? Who should we follow? How shall we decide?

God’s word teaches that faith is a gift of God.  Peter said this in his first letter when he said that we have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1.3). But following our new birth of the Holy Spirit, there are numerous decisions to be made. 

When it comes to important decisions in life we should use the reason God has given us. We gather information. We weigh the pros and cons. We consider reasonable outcomes based on past experience. This is all good common sense.  We should remember how Solomon prayed for wisdom when he was called to be king of Israel. He literally prayed for a “listening heart” (1 Kings 3.8; 3.9 Hebrew).  All good decisions begin with a humble attitude and a willingness to discover what is good rather than to assume narrow mindedly we know.  We need to be open to options.

For Christians there is more. We test the common sense against the truth of God’s word.  In Proverbs 16.21 we read: “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel – that will stand.”  In all our decisions we need to consult the word of God and make as sure as we can that our plans are in harmony with God’s ways.  Paul urged us:  “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3.17).

Thirdly, we pray for God’s help and blessing.  As Ezra was preparing to lead the people of Israel back to Jerusalem he faced many difficulties.  And so we read: “Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions” (Ezra 8.21).  In prayer we seek the way and ask God to bless all our thinking and our understanding of God’s word. 

Finally, we turn the matter over to God and trust that He will help us through everything. “The lot is cast into the lap, but every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16.33).  Once we’ve made a decision we need to live with it and endure the consequences either temporally good or bad.  Notice that I said, “temporally.”  By that I mean that all decisions made in faith will ultimately work for good.  This is God's promise in Romans 8.28, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose.”  This is a comforting promise that enables us finally to make decisions rather than be paralyzed by fear not knowing the outcome. Trust in God will carry us through.

What decisions lie ahead for you?  Should I join this church or another? Should I go to college, and if so, which one? Should I marry this person or not? Should I take this job or not? Are there important changes that I could make in my life to enhance it?  We all have many decisions to make in life.  Reason, Scripture, Prayer and Trust will help us make wise decisions and live with them.

The Bible assures us that God wants to lead us and guide us. He wants to be our Shepherd to take care of us in all the decisions of life.  

Hymn:  The Lord's My Shepherd  

The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want;
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.

My soul He doth restore again
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
E’en for His own name’s sake.

Yea, tho’ I walk in death’s dark vale,
Yet will I fear no ill;
For Thou art with me, and Thy rod
And staff me comfort still.

My table Thou hast furnished
In presence of my foes;
My head Thou dost with oil anoint,
And my cup overflows.

Goodness and mercy, all my life,
Shall surely follow me;
And in God’s house forevermore
My dwelling-place shall be.

Prayer:  Good Shepherd of the sheep, we pray that You would lead us and guide us in all our ways that we might walk in the paths of righteousness.  Bless us in all our decisions that You might use them for our good and for the good of others. In Jesus' name, Amen.  

Explaining What's Wrong With Homosexual Behavior to Eighth Graders

Some of our eighth graders were interested in the song "Same Love" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.  The song stresses that homosexual love is the same as heterosexual love.  It is the popular idea, and if you disagree, according to the song, you're a mean-spirited racist.  How do we as Christians respond?  

In the past Christians have often been criticized for their beliefs. In the first three hundred years after Jesus, Christians were often persecuted because they wouldn't accept the "popular belief" that "Caesar is Lord."  Many Christians went to prison and even death because they wouldn't agree with view and were considered enemies of the empire.

The question for Christians is not "what is popular?" but "what does God say?"  That is the choice we have always had to face.  In the first chapter of Romans, Paul points out that people turned away from the true God and began to sin in various ways.  One way was: 

"Their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful" (Romans 1.26-27).

But he mentions others sins as well (here and in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1) such as murder, adultery, fornication, lying, drunkenness, greed, and gossip.  Those who practice these things without repentance and forgiveness cannot be saved (1 Corinthians 6.9).  

This means that Christians must continue to do what we've always done. We need to live in repentance and faith in God's forgiveness ourselves. We need to resist the temptation to disobey God's laws. We also need to urge the world to turn away from these sins and seek forgiveness. We cannot tell them to continue living in a way that God's word says is wrong.  

One way people try to find acceptance of homosexual behavior in the church is to point out that it is listed along with other sins. People, even Christians, commit sins like drunkenness and adultery therefore homosexual sins should be treated like those sins. But the fact is, they are treated in the same way. We do not accept gossip, slander, adultery and drunkenness, and so on. People who commit those sins without repentance also cannot be saved. 

Another approach is to say that it's not hurting anyone. There are many things that people do or don't do that don't necessarily hurt others in the short run, but they are still wrong. If I choose not to worship regularly, I may not be hurting anyone right now. But I am hurting myself, and God says that is wrong. If I view pornography, it may appear that I am not hurting anyone else. But it is still wrong, and I am definitely hurting myself. In addition to this, can we really say sin never hurts anyone?  When we accept a sin and promote it, we are giving a bad example to others and we are encouraging them to sin along with us. When people choose not to worship, they are hurting others because their example will only encourage others to do the same. When someone watches pornography they encourage the pornographers to carry on their activities even more. 

I showed the eighth graders the testimony of Miriam Alexander as she tearfully related her journey out of lesbianism and drug abuse. She explained how she begged God to save her from drugs and homosexual behavior. Yet, for some time, she would fall back into the sinful behavior again and again. Christians would say that Miriam was saved even though she was struggling with these sins. How long it may take to be free from certain sins may vary from person to person.  We urge anyone struggling with any kind of sin to keep repenting and keep praying for forgiveness and healing.  It may take a long time, but the healing will come.  No Christian will ever overcome all sins. They will fight them all their lives, and only after they die in faith will they be completely free from them.  This is what Martin Luther meant when he said that all Christians are "Saints and Sinners."  

Giving into sin is never what God wants. Rather, He calls us to resist sins, repent of them, be forgiven constantly, and carry on the battle to overcome them.  Paul gave God's ultimate promise to the Corinthians:

"And such were some of you (homosexuals, covetous, drunkards, etc.). But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6.11).

Lastly, I pointed out to the eight graders that they need to think about what's coming in the future. If they accept homosexual behavior now, what will be the next thing that the Bible says is wrong but the world will say is right?  When you start disagreeing with God, where will it end?  

Prayer:  O gracious God, save us in our temptation, pain and misery. Save us from our sins and heal all the wounds that they have created in us and others.  Heal us for Thy mercy's sake. Amen.  

Hymn:  "Come, Holy Ghost, in Love"

Come, Holy Ghost, in love
Shed on us from above
Thine own bright ray.
Divinely good Thou art;
Thy sacred gifts impart
To gladden each sad heart.
Oh, come today!

 Come, tend’rest Friend and best,
Our most delightful Guest,
With soothing pow’r.
Rest which the weary know,
Shade mid the noontide glow,
Peace when deep griefs o’erflow,
Cheer us this hour.

Come, Light serene and still,
Our inmost bosoms fill,
Dwell in each breast.
We know no dawn but Thine:
Send forth Thy beams divine
On our dark souls to shine
And make us blest.

Exalt our low desires,
Extinguish passion’s fires,
Heal every wound.
Our stubborn spirits bend,
Our icy coldness end,
Our devious steps attend
While heavenward bound.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Devotions: Facing Persecution

Scripture Reading  Acts 5.12-32


In the history of this world, those who have believed in God have often found themselves outnumbered. Many tried to shout down their faith, to repress it and to destroy it.  

Noah and his family were the last of the righteous on earth. Surrounded by wickedness and violence, Noah persisted in serving God. Peter says he was a "preacher of righteousness" in an ungodly world (2 Peter 2.5). 

Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and ended up in Egypt. He had no companion in the faith as he continued to put his trust in God. 

John the Baptizer was beheaded. Jesus was sent to the cross. Peter and John were thrown into prison. Stephen was stoned, James was put to death, John was sent to Patmos, Paul was beaten and stoned. 

Christians should not be surprised that there is opposition, disdain and outright hostility to the proclamation of the Gospel. Christians should expect it.

They should also not become angry or discouraged. In Psalm Twelve David says there are those who say, "With our tongues we will prevail." Yet he also says, "The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth" (vv. 4, 6).

Paul faced fierce debates in the synagogues that sometimes turned violent. But rather than scream, rant and rave as the world does, Paul was calm and sure:  "Let God be true and every man a liar" (Romans 3.4).  Peter responded to those who threatened him: "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5.29).

Christians have always known that when you have the truth you don't need to preserve it with abusive threats and physical violence. You just need to believe it, tell it, and live it.  It stands on its own, and we stand with it by God's grace.  Amen.  


Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross;
Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss.
From victory unto victory His army shall He lead,
Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the trumpet call obey;
Forth to the mighty conflict, in this His glorious day.
Ye that are brave now serve Him against unnumbered foes;
Let courage rise with danger, and strength to strength oppose.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, stand in His strength alone;
The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own.
Put on the Gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer;
Where duty calls or danger, be never wanting there.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the strife will not be long;
This day the noise of battle, the next the victor’s song.
To those who vanquish evil a crown of life shall be;
They with the King of Glory shall reign eternally.


Dear Lord, save us from all the enemies of the faith:  Our own sinful flesh that prompts us to be spiritually lazy; The sinful world around us that either entices or threatens us to turn away from You; and Satan, who is the beginning of all evil. Help us to stand with those who have stood before us - faithful to You and Your word. Help us to love our enemies as You love them. Grant that through our faithful witness they may be saved.  In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Do We Still Have the Right to Believe that Homosexual Behavior is Sinful?

What is going through the minds of Christians concerning the same-sex marriage debate?  I suspect many might be thinking this way:

1. God's word says homosexual behavior is wrong. I still believe that.

2. But the same-sex marriage debate is really just a social/political debate.  It's really not about whether homosexual behavior is right or wrong. It's about the freedom to believe and do what you want.

3. If homosexual people want to believe that their behavior is okay, no one should force them to believe otherwise. They should have the same rights as other people. 

This seems to be very logical thinking.  But you should take a closer look at the statement #2. Is this really "just a social/political debate"? Read the following paragraphs from columnist Maureen Dowd with special attention to the last sentence:

Max Mutchnick, who created and wrote “Will & Grace” with David Kohan, is worried as well. His landmark show came up as a cultural marker during the court proceedings challenging Prop 8. When I was in California covering that trial in 2010, I spent time in Los Angeles with Max, his husband, Erik Hyman, an entertainment lawyer, and their bewitching twin daughters born through a surrogate, Evan and Rose. (In an amazing biological feat, both men fertilized the eggs, so that one daughter looks like Erik and one like Max.)

Erik told me then that taking vows in front of a rabbi and their families (two weeks before Prop 8 passed) made him feel different. “Now that I’m actually married,” he said, “it drives me completely crazy when the other side talks about ‘the sanctity of marriage.’ I’m committed to my spouse. We’re faithful to each other. We’re raising twin girls together. It’s deeply offensive to hear someone say that what we’re doing is robbing them of the ‘sanctity’ of what they’re doing, as though my very existence is unholy.” (New York Times, April3, 2013)
What America is debating right now is not just rights (who gets whose pension, who gets to visit whom in the hospital, or who gets to create their own customized children, etc.), ultimately the debate is about what people will be allowed to believe.  I think Erik Hyman and many other want it to be illegal to believe that his lifestyle is unholy.  
I'm sure it is deeply offensive for Erik to hear me agreeing to statement #1 above. But that's the way it is. Americans have always respected the right of people to believe. But that is what is really changing.  Can I still say out loud that homosexual behavior is unholy?  Can I avoid having my children taught that homosexual behavior is holy and acceptable to God?  Can I avoid business transactions with people who hold to beliefs and practices that I find offensive?  Do we really have the right to believe that homosexual behavior is sinful?