Friday, November 14, 2014

Why Did God Order Killing?

Our little four year old is very determined to try to keep with his bigger brothers. That often means that he will push himself to run and climb beyond his level of strength and coordination, thus he will often fall and hurt himself. He then comes running to me saying, “Daddy, I have an auwee!”
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When I hear that one of our children has been hurt, my heart aches. My desire is to protect them and to keep them safe. I worry about them falling and getting seriously hurt. I worry about them crossing the street and getting hit by a car. I worry about bad people hurting them.
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As much as we have to worry about here in South Dakota, I am thankful that we do not have the worries that people in other parts of the world face. For example, in the Middle East, fathers have to worry about ISIS capturing their children, torturing, and killing them. I cringe to even write this, but children are actually being decapitated.
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The news reports of the atrocities of the Mexican drug cartels are just as brutal as those of ISIS. I do not bring up these issues to sensationalize violence, but rather to point out the presence of evil in our world.
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Imagine that you were a father or a mother living in the middle east and you had witnessed the terrible deeds of ISIS in your area. Imagine that you were fearful that your family would be the next news report. Now imagine if some soldiers who were opposed to ISIS came on the scene and destroyed the whole ISIS army along with their wives and children. You would likely be quite relieved.
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You could argue that the wives and children should be spared, but imagine that they were fighting right along side the grown men. Image that they were supportive of everything that the men were doing. Imagine that their destruction just saved your family from being the next victim of their slaughter.
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In an ideal world, the women and children would not have to be killed along with the fighting men. In an ideal world, no one would have to be killed in order to stop a murderous rampage.
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We live in a sin cursed world not an ideal world. Many non-Christians have been critical of God because He ordered the absolute destruction of the Amalekites. Deuteronomy 25:17-19 explains why, "Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, "how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God. "Therefore it shall be, when the LORD your God has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget.” (NKJV)
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The Amalekites were murderers of innocents much like ISIS. As the Israelites were fleeing slavery in Egypt (as Moses was leading them through the wilderness) the Amalekites came and attacked the weakest of the people. God then gave them years to repent, but they continued to be an evil people. God understood that the children would grow up to be just as evil as their parents were, so He ordered them all to be destroyed. This is not an evidence of an evil unloving God, this is evidence of a God of justice who wants to protect the innocent.
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Years later, God actually sent the prophet Jonah (the man swallowed the whale) to the city of Nineveh where many evil people lived, to give them a chance to repent so that God did not have to destroy them. They did repent and were saved. Jonah was actually upset because he thought they should be destroyed. God does not throw around His justice for no reason and even when justice is deserved, He shows mercy.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Why Have Sin and Suffering?

The days are getting shorter- well actually the days are still 24 hours long, but the amount of time that we have daylight during those 24 hours is getting to be less and less. As it gets dark earlier I have learned to appreciate the light. Because of electricity it is easy to take light for granted. Today all we have to do touch a switch and the light comes on. Not too many generations ago, a lamp or candle had to be lit to pierce through the darkness of night. In places without lights, the morning sunrise still brings an amazing transformation of brilliant light to a dark landscape.
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As we look at scripture, the analogy of light and darkness helps us to understand the contrast between evil and righteousness. When Jesus Christ walked on this earth, His sinlessness and holiness shined like a bright light in contrast to this dark sin cursed world.
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Just before Jesus was born, the father of John the Baptist spoke of how his own son, John, would tell about the savior of the world. He said, “To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high shall visit us, TO SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH, To guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:77-79 NASB)
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Notice how he talks of Jesus Christ coming to shine upon those who sit in darkness and how He is called the “Sunrise from on high.” This is a beautiful picture of Jesus coming into the world to shine forth His holiness and righteousness just like the sunrise shines forth its light.
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Many have asked why God even allowed sin and sickness into this world. I believe God allowed sin for the same reason He allowed darkness. If God had created a world where darkness does not exist and where we never had to turn on a light, we would not appreciate the light. If God had made a world without sin, we would not be able to fully appreciate His holiness and righteousness. Without suffering, we could not fully appreciate deliverance.
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Notice how the Psalmist uses the analogy of light and darkness to describe how God brings light to life. “For You will save the humble people, But will bring down haughty looks. For You will light my lamp; The LORD my God will enlighten my darkness.” (Psalm 18:28 NKJV)
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Long before Christ was born in Bethlehem, the prophet Isaiah wrote: “The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2 NKJV)
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More than 700 years later, Matthew’s Gospel connects the prophecy of Isaiah directly to Jesus Christ and His ministry. “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." (Matthew 4:16 NKJV)
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Isaiah also records the words of the Lord when He says, “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things.'‘ (Isaiah 45:7NKJV) When we understand that God’s light shines through the darkness to show how good He really is, we can better understand why God would create calamity.

Friday, October 3, 2014

I Ruined My Garage Door

I had to replace our garage door because of an unplanned accident. I was hoping to install a garage door opener soon, but had still not invested in one, so I simply had a rope hanging from the bottom of the door to pull it shut. I had backed the pickup into the garage and was leaving one morning when the rope caught on something that I had in back of the truck. I did not realize what had happened until I heard a crash and looked behind me to see that I had pulled the whole garage door off the track and out of the garage. At least I had not pulled the whole garage down.
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My wife had heard the crash as well and came from the house to see what had happened. She offered to help me get everything loose and see how much could be salvaged. I simply reached in my pocket, took out my knife, cut the rope, and told her we could worry about it later.
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Actually I said, “let’s deal with this when I am more calm.” My wife said that I sounded fairly calm as I said that, but inside I was feeling a mixture of shame, discouragement, uncertainty, and despair.
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I left the garage door lay in its crumpled mess, jumped in the truck, and proceeded to my destination. The drive gave me time to put things into perspective. First, no one was hurt. That was reason to rejoice. Further, the pickup had not been damaged. That was good. Further the rest of the garage was fine. That was a positive as well.
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Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things.” (NKJV)
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The short drive gave me time to pray and to think of many things that I could praise God for even though a discouraging event had just taken place. As I drove I thanked God that things were not worse.
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I also had time to realize that in the big scope of things, this accident really wasn’t that big of a deal. Sure, it would take an extra day of my life to order, pick up, and install a new door. Furthermore, the new garage door would be an added expense that we were not planning at this time, but those were really just minor distractions. How many times hadn’t a cold or the flue taken a day of my time? How many times hadn’t God provided for us financially in ways we had not even expected? The answers to these questions brought comfort as I thought on those things that are good and I remembered that I had much reason to be praising God.
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After I got back home I was anxious to figure out how much of the old door could be salvaged. I quickly found out that very little of it was worth saving. That was okay, though, because I was now looking at the whole situation with thankfulness, rather than despair. I priced new panels and hardware and quickly realized that it would be cheaper to just buy a whole new door. Then I found out that the new doors were on sale and were 20% off regular price. I was then able to praise God for the timing of this small disaster.
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As I look back, I am much calmer now and I actually laugh as I think about the pickup pulling the garage door behind it. I actually wish that someone had caught the event on video camera. I am confident that it would have become a Youtube sensation. Even as I laugh, I am reminded that there are many reasons to praise God, even when our lives are disrupted by unplanned events. I pray that this lesson will be far more valuable than the cost of the garage door and that it will remind me to have the right attitude when the next trial comes along.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Submitting To Each Other

Nearly 8 years ago, I married a wonderful woman and we lived happily ever after. Well, actually, there have been a few moments- though rare- that have not been as happy as we would like. In real life, couples marry hoping for the happily ever after, only to find out that they do not always agree when a decision must be made.
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Ephesians chapter 5 is one of the passages that explains that wives should submit to their husbands and that husbands should love their wives. Many books have been written on these subjects, but not all of them look at the whole counsel of God on these matters. Many of those books miss Ephesians 5:21 where it says, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.”
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For example an author named Debbie Pearl has become quite popular for writing to women about submitting to their husbands, but she has taken her ideas to a level that actually goes against the teaching of scripture. Her book suggests that a wife should submit to her husband even if he wants her to do something that would be wrong. Further, her teaching encourages the wife to enable the husband to continue sinful behavior rather than to confront it. This was not at all what God had in mind when he told wives to submit to their husbands.
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Colossians 3:18 provides some further clarity on this matter when it says, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (NASB). It is not fitting in the Lord to disobey the scriptures in our submission.
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The next verse then says, “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them.” (Colossians 3:19 NASB)
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A wife is to submit to her husband, but she is not to disobey God as she does so. The husband is to love his wife and not to be bitter against her. Imagine a newly married couple trying to make a decision and they each get one vote and they are not in agreement. Soon a fight starts.
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Imagine instead that the wife just always submitted to whatever the husband decided. Soon she would not even vote and would likely become sad and discouraged.
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A much better option would be if each got a vote and the husband then cast the tie breaking vote. He must cast that vote in love without being bitter against his wife. It would make it much easier for her to submit to his decision if she knew that he had at least considered her thoughts on the matter. Because of his love, sometimes his tie breaking vote should even be in her favor. Sometimes he would even realize that his ideas were wrong after hearing his wife’s reasons for her position. Other times he would weigh the matter and lovingly disagree with his wife, and go forward with his original plans. This allows them both to submit to each other, while still letting the husband provide loving leadership.
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Because the husband gets the tie breaking vote, he also must take the responsibility for the decision, even if he voted in her favor instead of his own. If the decision does not work out as planned, he should not be bitter against his wife for voting as she did, but instead should take the responsibility for having made the final decision. This also takes a lot of pressure off of the wife, because she is able to share her ideas while not having to worry about getting the blame if things do not work out.
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The marriage relationship is not always perfect, but if we properly apply the principles of love and submission it will be much smoother.

Friday, September 5, 2014

You Can’t Manipulate God

Working from a home office has some advantages, but it also has some challenges. For example, the other day as I was preparing mailings to send out, my boys came in with their Legos asking me to build them an airplane. Occasionally I will take the time to do that, but there were 3 little boys standing there- each expecting me to build them something- and I had a lot of work to get done so I had to tell them, “not today.”
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What would have happened if the boys had whined and cried until I built them their airplanes? If you know me, you would understand that would not work. We decided that as soon as they were old enough to communicate without crying that we would not reward such behavior.
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Some children, however, have conditioned their parents to give them whatever they want, simply by throwing a tantrum. We are trying to teach our children that when they ask for something we will decide whether or not to give it to them based on what is best at the time. Sometimes we will give them what they ask for, other times we will tell them no, and sometimes we will tell them to wait.
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What about when we ask God for something? Do we expect to get what we want by figuring out how to push the right buttons with Him, or do we simply trust His wisdom to either tell us yes, no, or wait?
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When Jesus ministered here on earth, He was asked how we should pray. Consider this portion of the Lord‘s Prayer- “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) As we pray, we must trust God enough to say, “’Thy’ will be done, rather than ‘my’ will be done.”
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As we bring our petitions to God, we must consider the role of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:27 says, “Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (NKJV) Notice that this passage says that the Holy Spirit makes intercession in our prayers according to God, not according to what we want. It is a great comfort for me to know that I cannot manipulate God with my prayers. As I go to prayer I can always trust Him.
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Imagine if I wanted the rain to stay away because I did not want to have to mow my grass, but the Christian farmer was praying for rain for his crops. God does not answer our prayers based on who can cry the loudest, throw the biggest temper tantrum, or give Him the most money. God cannot be bought off or manipulated. Instead He answers according to His will. That is also a comfort to me even as I pray for the sick. For example a year ago I was praying for a friend. My desire was that she get well and stay alive, but instead God healed her by letting her die so she could be with Him (she was and is a believer). As we grow closer to God, His desires should become our desires.
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I fear that too many Christians have the view that being filled with the Holy Spirit involves being able to get the Spirit to do what you want Him to do. Instead we should learn that being filled with the Holy Spirit means that we are ready to do and accept whatever He wants rather than what we want. I believe that explains 1 John 5:14, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (NKJV)
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As Christians, instead of trying to get God to do what we want Him to do, let us strive to do what He wants us to do.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Christ's Yoke & Light Burden

In Jesus day, the Pharisees were notorious for adding to God’s law while refusing to obey it themselves. I remember hearing that they were so concerned about following the rules of not working on the Sabbath that they came up with rules about how far they could walk on that day. Because some of them wanted to travel farther, they ended up implementing a rule that said they had to stay within a certain distance of the dirt of their home. In order to get around that rule, some of them would then carry a bag a dirt with them and then drop that dirt on the ground allowing them to increase their distance of travel.
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The bag of dirt story shows us how easy it is for man to think that he can ignore God as long as he working hard to do something to please God. That is not how the Christian life is to be lived. Jesus said, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:29-30 NKJV)
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Even though Christ’s burden is light, He still tells us to take His yoke. In other words, God’s expectations are much easier to bear than man’s are, but God does have expectations for us. Consider Colossians 3:5-10 NKJV, “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him,.”
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Though Christ’s burden is easy, it still must be carried. In other words we need to be concerned about living for God’s glory and sometimes that can be a challenge. The end of the above passage (verse 10 of Colossians 3) tells us to put on the new man. In other words, once we are Christians we should be different than we were before. We should be changing to be more like Christ. The reality is that even as faithful Christians we sometimes struggle to live like we are supposed to live. It is sobering to realize that the letter that says not to lie anymore was addressed to the faithful Christians in Colosse (Colossians 1:2).
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So how is a faithful Christian to live the Christian life without having it become a heavy burden? Part of the answer is in verse 10 of Colossians 3. Notice it says to be renewed in knowledge according to the image of Jesus Christ our creator. (See Colossians 1:16). We are renewed in knowledge as we study God’s word. We are renewed in knowledge as we pray. We are renewed in knowledge as we think about God’s word. There is however a very important way that we are renewed in knowledge that is found right in the book of Colossians. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Colossians 3:16 NKJV)
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Christians are renewed in knowledge as they come together and hear the teaching and warning of God’s word and as they sing songs that teach Biblical truth. This is one of the reasons why we should go to church. Currently there are no churches meeting regularly on Sunday mornings in Worthing, SD. We hope to soon start a church here in Worthing, so that Christians have a place to go so they can be taught and encouraged to follow Jesus Christ and to take on his yoke in a way that is not overwhelming. For more information please visit www.southtownchurch.com.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Legalism and Lawlessness

We have been picking green beans- actually they are purple beans this year. My wife decided to plant a variety that that is purple instead of green. I like them because they are easier to see when we pick the reward of our labors.
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I have learned that some rewards are given for hard work and other rewards are given for just showing up. For example, the reward of our purple green beans comes from the hard work of gardening. On the other hand, our little boys often get the reward of Gummy Bears for simply showing up at Grandma’s house.
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Whether the reward was earned or just given because “Grandma loves you,” imagine how you would feel if someone tried to keep you from getting a reward that was meant for you.
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In the book of Colossians, we read of a wonderful reward that is given to Christians. That reward is the realization that we are complete in Christ. Colossians 2:10 says, “and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” (NKJV). Because we as believers are complete in Christ, we are no longer under the Old Testament law. “Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14 NKJV)
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Sadly some were trying to deprive the Christian Colossians of their reward of salvation and completeness in Christ. They were distracting them from Christ by putting their focus on angels instead. Furthermore, they were not only trying to make them think that they needed to obey the Old Testament ordinances, but they were also adding other man made ordinances as well. Consider vs. 16, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths,” (NKJV) The scripture is even more blunt in vs. 20-22, “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations-- ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using--according to the commandments and doctrines of men?” (NKJV)
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If we continue to read into chapter 3 of Colossians, we find that God does have expectations for Christians. “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5 NKJV) Further we read, “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds,” (Colossians 3:8-9 NKJV)
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I fear that the reward of the faithful Christian life is often robbed in a couple of ways. The first way is to put a heavy yoke upon Christ’s followers that he never intended for them to carry. This yoke is added by telling people that they have to do things that God does not require of them. Adding the earthly requirements of man as if they had come from God is a dangerous form of worldliness. (see Colossians 2:20-22 above). This worldly distortion of Biblical doctrine is often referred to as legalism.
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As damaging as legalism is, chapter 3 of Colossians shows us that lawlessness can be just as damaging. The Christian must study the Bible to understand what God expects and to know the difference between man’s demands and God’s. Without such diligent study, the believer is left to the whim of teachers who may either heap unneeded rules upon the backs of their followers, or encourage them to do things that are clearly forbidden in scripture.
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Because Christians must sort out the difference between legalism and lawlessness, it is important for them to study God’s word, but it is also important for them to find a church that preaches through the scripture verse by verse and explains what God wrote and why.