Friday, August 21, 2015

How Peculiar is Autism?

My friend Brian has autism. We are about the same age and I got to know him in my early teens when I bailed straw for his dad. Before meeting Brian, I did not really understand what autism was.
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A few years later the movie “Rainman” was released. Though there were similarities between Dustin Hoffman’s character and my friend Brian, there were also differences. Each autistic person is an individual and they do not all hate K-Mart.
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As we stacked bales I discovered something that is quite common among those with autism. Many, though not all, of those with autism like to follow a standard routine. For example, as we stacked straw, every other bale was mine and the other bales were Brian’s. I decided to help him out and take two bales in a row. I soon realized that if I did that, I had to take 3, because the next one was mine, not his. I also had to learn to stack the straw better. I would sometimes switch which side I started the stack on, but Brian’s dad had taught him to start on a particular side, so that is how we did it.
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My friendship with Brian prepared me to relate to 2 of my nephews. My sister’s sons Josh and Matthew were also diagnosed with autism. Though there are similarities between these three people and even with Rainman, each of them is distinct and may not have the same characteristics as others.
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My nephew Matthew cannot count cards like Rainman, but he has memorized many roads and railroads, by observing Google Earth. His brother Josh passed away this year in a car accident at the age of 18, but before he died he was elected a student ambassador for an online home school group. Rainman did not have the best social skills, and often this is characteristic of autism, yet Josh had such good online social skills that he became a mentor to other non autistic students.
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Recently our youngest son was also diagnosed with autism. He is almost 4 and is not yet talking. Once he gets to know someone, he is quite social and he does not have to stick to a routine, yet he has other autistic characteristics.
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Some people would describe autistic individuals as somewhat peculiar. 1 Peter 2:9 describes God‘s people, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” Hundreds of years ago, peculiar meant something different than it does today. It actually meant a possession of great value. Instead of “peculiar,” the NASB says, “A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION.” The NKJV says, “His own special people.”
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My son has autism and is not yet able to talk. If peculiar means that he is of great value, then I would agree. In fact, people with autism have been of great value to the world. It is believed that Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton may have had autism.
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We are all unique, whether we have autism or not. We are of value to God. In fact He loved the world and the people in it so much that He sent His son. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Trusting God in Tragedy

About 150 years ago there lived a wealthy businessman named Horatio Spafford. He had invested in Chicago real estate, and then lost most of it in the infamous Chicago fire of 1871. A few years later, he scheduled a vacation for his family, but had to send them ahead to Europe while he took care of some last minute business, hoping to join them later. The ship that was carrying his wife and daughters sank. His wife survived but his daughters did not.
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Imagine the heartache he must have felt. Within just a couple of years, he had lost wealth and family. Would you be able to trust God if such an event had happened in your life? Horatio Spafford then got on another ship to go and comfort his grieving wife. While on that trip he wrote these words, “When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
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The words were set to music and became the well known hymn, “It is Well With My Soul.” Another verse of the song poetically describes Christ shedding His blood for our sins and that not just part of our sins but all of them were taken care of on the cross. In this song, we hear of a man trusting God in the midst of heartache.
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This spring after two of my nephews were killed in a car accident, our family was sad, but we did not fall apart. Our trust in God sustained us in the midst of our sorrow. My sister and brother-in-law were a great testimony to a trust in our almighty God- so was my mother.
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Mom called me this week and told about a friend of hers who had lost her adult son. This lady was understandably devastated, yet Mom commented on how she seemed to be taking it harder than my sister did when she lost her 8 and 18 year old sons. Mom was not being critical of her friend for her devastation, but was rather showing thankfulness that our family had such a confidence in God that we were able to face a tragedy and still say that it is well with our soul.
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Mom’s phone call reminded me that not everyone- not even every Christian- has such a confidence in God. The book of Job tells about a man who lost his possessions, his family, and his health, yet refused to curse God. Throughout the book, Job and his friends try to figure what God is doing and why. They all speak some truth, but they also say a lot of things that are totally wrong. Finally at the end, God speaks and reminds Job that he was not there when God made the earth. God then goes on to explain so many things that God does, that man does not understand. The point is that God is stronger and wiser than we are, and we should therefore trust Him no matter what.
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As we realize who God is- as we understand both His justice and His mercy- as we understand His chastening and His love- it becomes easy to trust Him no matter what happens. That does not mean we always enjoy the testing that we experience, but it does mean that we trust Him when it comes.
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I cannot help but think of a couple of my Mom’s favorite Bible verses. “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
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Trust God and realize that the only way to be right with Him is to have your sin paid for. Then realize that the only one who can pay for your sins is Jesus Christ. Therefore, believe on Him as your Lord and Savior.
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For more information visit www.southtownchurch.com

Friday, July 24, 2015

More Than Baby Parts

Is Planned Parenthood good or bad? That debate has been raging in America for decades. Recently another scandal has erupted with video showing that Planned Parenthood has been selling body parts from aborted fetuses.
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How outraged a person becomes over this scandal often depends on whether they regard the fetus as a human baby or as a clump of cells.
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If the fetus is not human, why is there a market for their body parts? If they are simply a cluster of tissue then a cluster of animal tissue would be just as valuable. If they are really human, then they are valuable for human research.
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Do the mothers who have the abortion know what is happening to the remains of their babies? Many who defend abortion suggest that the baby is part of the woman’s body so it is her choice. If that were true, then it would be wrong to sell these babies without her consent. Women’s rights advocates should be very concerned by this.
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Many expectant mothers have been excited to see the first ultrasound pictures of their baby. These pictures make it very clear that this is not just a clump of tissue. It has been suggested that a mother see an ultrasound before making the choice for an abortion. Others have suggested that such a step would place undue guilt on the mother. Would it have been wrong to personalize the Jewish prisoners and thus placed guilt on those conducting medical research in the Nazi concentration camps?
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The answers to these questions will likely generate anger from those on both sides of the debate. If these babies are really human, then that is understandable. Still the debate is not as simple as whether or not the baby is human- it is also a debate about when the baby becomes a human.
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It is not up to me to decide when the baby is human. Instead we should look at what God’s word says on the subject. Isaiah 44:24 says, “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, "I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself, And spreading out the earth all alone” (NASB). No doubt God formed us in the womb, but beyond that, He knew us personally even before that. Read what He told Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5 NASB)
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A baby in the womb is clearly a human. The whole Planned Parenthood and abortion debate should thus center around this one question: “When is it okay to kill an innocent human?” Some would answer, “when the mother’s life is at stake, or when many others can be saved by sacrificing this one life for research.” Those are often difficult debates if your goal is to preserve as many lives as possible, but if someone answers that it is okay to kill an innocent person simply because they are an inconvenience, then we should all be appalled.

Friday, July 10, 2015

God Decides What is Right

The United States of America is known as the most powerful nation on earth. It has been said that our military is able to fight two wars at the same time. Further, in spite of a recent recession, our nation is still one of the most stable countries economically. Still doomsayers are making a lot of money selling reports about the impending economic collapse of America. I do not know if they are right or wrong, but I do know that as powerful as our nation is, God is more powerful.
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As patriotic as I am, it is comforting to know that my ultimate security is not in my nation but in my God. That brings comfort in a couple of ways. First, if our nation were to fall apart, my God would still be just as powerful as He is now. Further, if our nation continues to gain power and influence and uses that power and influence for evil instead of good, it still will not be more powerful than God.
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Many of us were saddened over the recent Supreme court decision that essentially reversed the Defense of Marriage act. Some of the sadness centered around the idea that the definition of marriage has been changed. From a strictly legal standpoint, that may be true, but we as Christians need to look a the broader perspective. No manmade law can change God.
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I fear that too many Christians have reacted as if a simple court decision changed an all powerful God. No court- no nation- is that powerful. Regardless of how the state defines marriage, God’s word has not changed. This message is important to both those who are celebrating the Court’s decision and to those who are discouraged by it. God has not changed and no human law can change God’s standard of morality.
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Let us be reminded of God’s power: “O LORD God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee?” (II Chronicles 20:6).
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The apostle Paul ministered during a time when another superpower controlled the world. The Roman Empire was not Christian and it did not get its morality from the Bible, yet he told the early Christians to pray for their leaders and to submit to their authority (see Romans 13 and I Timothy 2). Even though we are to pray for our government leaders and submit to their authority, there is another authority that is even more important- God’s authority. “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
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Our Christianity should not be used as an excuse to rebel against an ungodly government, but we must also realize that right and wrong are determined by God, not secular laws. For example, it has been legal to tell lies, commit adultery, and to get drunk long before our latest supreme court decision, yet we as Christians should never condone those activities even though they are legal. At the same time, it is not our job to stop every non-Christian from doing those sins. Instead it is our job to point out that sin is a reality in all our lives and that God will judge sin. In fact, all sin- including homosexual behavior- is so serious that it separates us from a holy God, yet God loved us so much that He sent His son to pay for our sins. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
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Not everyone will agree that homosexual behavior, getting drunk, or committing adultery are wrong, but as Christians we must remember that it is God who decides what is right or wrong, not society or any powerful government.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Trust and Follow the King

Rachel Dolezal recently made headlines as a white person who identifies as black. Bruce Jenner now identifies as a woman, though he was born a man. These examples make headlines, but there is another identity crisis that is not being talked about- those who identify as Christian, but who really are not.
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Just calling oneself a Christian does not mean someone is really a follower of Christ. Acts 11:26 tells us that the disciples were first called Christians in the city of Antioch. Often when we hear the word “disciple,” we think of the 12 men who closely followed Jesus Christ, but as we look at the Gospels, we see that there were many disciples. These were people who followed Christ in order to learn from Him.
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Christ taught much moral truth. Truth that showed that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, but Jesus also proclaimed the message of the kingdom. Jesus Christ shines as a bright light in a dark world of sin. Matthew 4:16-17 says, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned. From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."“ (NKJV)
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The darkness of sin shows a need for repentance. After calling for repentance (a turning from sin) Jesus tells of the kingdom. In fact that kingdom message was a message that He told His disciples to share. In Luke 9:2 Jesus sends the 12 disciples to preach the kingdom and then in vs. 60 He tells another man to do the same. So why is the message of the kingdom so important? Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. Thus a true Christian is someone who recognizes that Christ is the King and thus has the authority of a king.
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As we understand that Jesus Christ is the king, we also need to understand that without Him there is no real Christianity. The very word “Christianity” has the word “Christ” in it and that is no accident. Christianity must be all about Christ. In fact the very way of salvation from sin- the way to eternal life is centered in Christ. Consider John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The word “belief” in John 3:16, means to have faith in, to entrust, to commit. When a Christian believes in Jesus Christ, they are trusting and committing to the King of kings and Lord of lords.
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They are also understanding that Christ is their only hope. Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” (John 14:6 NASB) The apostle Peter when speaking of Jesus Christ said, "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12 NASB) In order to be a real Christian, you must be trusting in Jesus Christ and no one else. That means you cannot be trusting in your pastor, your priest, your parents, or even yourself.
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That last on is probably the hardest. As Christians we understand our behavior should be different because we are following the King of kings. We must also realize it the King who makes us Christians, not our behavior. Ephesians 2:8-10 explains it best, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (NASB)
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Our works do not save us, the King does, but once we follow the King, we should be doing what He says to do. Are you just calling yourself a Christian, or are you trusting and following the King?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Tears and Trust- God is Good

Many people are killed each year in traffic accidents. My nephews recently became part of those statistics. To us, they are more than just numbers. Caleb was an 8 year old with a quick smile and a cheerful disposition. He was about the same age as our oldest son. Jared cried when he heard what had happened to his cousin. Josh was 18. He was ready to graduate and face the next exciting stage in his life. He was a polite young man and a joy to be around. Their lives came to a tragic end after a 2 vehicle accident that occurred on May 3rd.
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In our minds, it was a tragedy, but we also know that God is good all the time. As we grieve the loss of loved ones, we have not become angry at God. Instead we continue to trust Him- realizing we need His strength more now than ever.
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For us, such loss is tragic, because we will miss these wonderful boys, but death does not always have to be viewed as a tragedy. For the believer, there is comfort even beyond death. The Apostle Paul spoke of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and told how our Lord’s resurrection gives us hope for a resurrection as well. Consider I Corinthians 15:19-22, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.” (NASB)
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Jesus died and rose from the dead showing us His power over death. The Apostle Paul pointed out that death came through Adam. In other words, men have been dying ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden. Not only have men been cursed with death since then, but they have also been cursed with sin, “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). But notice the hope in I Corinthians 15:22 where it says that, “in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
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Christ overcame death and rose from the tomb the 3rd day. Those who believe in Him as their Lord and Savior will one day be raised from the dead as well. If we jump ahead to verse 26 of I Corinthians 15, we read that, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”
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Life may end at death, but Christians look forward to a new life after death. For those who have believed in Christ, that new life will be a life of joy with God. For the unbeliever it will be an existence in the reality of torment. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:16-18 NASB)
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These verses provide both comfort and warning. As we grieve our loss this week, we find comfort knowing that God is good all the time and that He loves us so much that He provided a way for our sins to be forgiven. If anyone believes on Him as their Lord and Savior, then God will give them eternal life. Those who do not believe will be condemned.
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For the believer in Christ, death is sad, but it is like someone moving to a far away country that does not have any mail service, internet, or telephone. We will miss them, but we know that it is not all over. We look forward to the next life and rejoice for those believers who are already there.
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Saturday, May 2, 2015

Do You Pick Your Nose?

Do you pick your nose? Of course it is necessary pick it from time to time, but most of us do not do it when other people are around. Too often Christians approach sin in a similar manner. But when you are alone, ask yourself, “would I do this if Jesus were in the room with me?”
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When I first met my wife, I would not have considered picking my nose in front of her. She was so beautiful that I wanted to make a good impression. Today Crystal is even more beautiful than when we first met, but I have become so comfortable around her that I find myself picking my nose in her presence.
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How many of us have become too comfortable around Christ? He loved us enough to die for us, and we are saved by His grace rather than by our works, thus it is tempting to become careless with sin- even when we remember that God is in our midst.
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The disciples spent a lot of time with Jesus. John was so comfortable around Jesus that he even leaned against Him as they crowded around the table for a meal. As comfortable as John was around Jesus, he was given a powerful reminder that Jesus was not just one of the guys.
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About a week after Jesus said that His followers should take up their cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23), Peter James and John went up a mountain to pray with Jesus. While there, something amazing happened. Jesus’ appearance changed. His face and clothes glowed (Luke 9:29). Further, He met with Moses and Elijah- men who had long ago left this world. This was an amazing reminder that Jesus was not just one of the guys.
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These three disciples had hung around with Jesus a lot, but look at their reaction on the mount of transfiguration. “And while he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.” (Luke 9:34 NASB) They were afraid. This is a reminder that the power of God should make us fear. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (NASB). In the Bible, the fear of God is represented as a good thing. We should desire to be as close to Jesus as Peter, James, and John were, but we must never forget who Jesus is and we should have a reverent fear for Him.
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God then speaks from the cloud, reminding the disciples who Jesus really is. “And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!’" (Luke 9:35 NASB) Jesus is the Son of God. That makes Him equal to God. As God, Jesus has the authority to tell us what to do. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. We ought not to become so comfortable around Him that we forget who He really is.
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Jesus no longer walks on this earth like He did 2000 years ago. He has ascended into heaven. Still He has given us His Holy Spirit. As we ask the question, “would you do that if Jesus were in the room?”- remember that if you are really a Christian, not only is the Holy Spirit in the room, He is in you. Imagine how much differently we would act and think if suddenly the Holy Spirit within us revealed His glory like Jesus did on the mount of transfiguration.
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For more information please visit www.southtownchurch.com