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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Friday, March 20, 2015

Are You In The Ministry?

I have a good friend who used to be in “professional” ministry. Though his current job does not allow him to “preach the gospel” in a public way, it does allow him to make a lot of friends. Further, he has made friends in the small town where he lives, and his life has been a ministry to them as well. Finally, he has ministered to me personally; therefore, I view him as involved in ministry
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As we consider the word “minister,” it really means “servant.” A minister of Christ is thus a servant of Christ. As a bi-vocational minister, I am both a missionary pastor as well as a carpenter, yet I look at both my jobs as a service to Christ and to others. The greatest command of all is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and then the second greatest command is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Each of us should make these commands our ministry as we become servants of Christ.
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In my previous “ministry” I was the pastor of an established church and did not have to be bi-vocational, but before that I was also a bi-vocational minister. During that time I was doing carpentry work for a lady that became a good friend. Her son was still living with her and was struggling with drunkenness. He came home from work discouraged one day as I was working on a remodeling project in their house. This man was close to my age and needed someone to talk to, so I set my tools down, noted the time so that I would not charge my customer for the time spent visiting with her son, and proceeded to talk with him for about 45 minutes.
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During that conversation, he told me that the alcohol was killing him. I listened, but I also told him of God’s love and that Christ came to pay for our sins. He had tears in his eyes as we spoke of Jesus Christ and how He loved us enough to die for us. I was not on the job site that day as a pastor, I was there as a carpenter, yet because I loved God and my fellow man, I was able to minister- to be a servant. Each Christian should realize that there are opportunities all around them to minister for God’s glory.
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This young alcoholic and I then became friends, but that friendship was brief, because he died just a couple of months later. Though I was no longer able to minister to my new friend, I was still able to minister to his family, and the best part is that they were able to minister to me. As I was missing my friend, it was so encouraging to hear his mom say that he had quit drinking and was talking about God the last few days of his life. Sadly the alcohol had already done so much damage to his body.
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We do not all minister in the same way. I am a pastor and my ministry today is different than it was just a few short years ago. Today I am leading Bible studies as we get ready to start a new church here in Worthing. Since we do not have an established congregation yet, I also do carpentry work, thus I am bi-vocational again.
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I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul as I think about ministry. “For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.” (1 Corinthians 12:14-18 NKJV)
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Let us all minister as we put God first and love others.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Change is not Always Bad

Now that the days have gotten longer, what should we do with all our extra time? I say this tongue in cheek, because of course we still have only 24 hours in the day, it just stays light later due to the time change.
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There has actually been some talk about South Dakota no longer springing ahead and falling back, but instead keeping one consistent time throughout the year. Change- even good change- can be difficult.
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For example, several years ago Coke Cola, reformulated their premier soft drink. They made this move after much testing. It was determined- based on their testing- that new Coke was much better than their classic soda. There was a big problem however. The most loyal Coke drinkers had become used to the classic formulation and did not like the new pop as well.
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Jesus faced a similar problem 2000 years ago. He did not introduce a new soft drink, but instead introduced a new way to relate to God. For years God’s people, the Israelites, had been relating to God through animal sacrifices and other temple rituals in addition to many commands and ordinances that God had given to them at the time of Moses. Before Moses, people still related to God, but for the Israelites, that relationship changed when God gave the Old Testament Mosaic law. Through the years the Jewish people had gotten used to that Old Testament standard.
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Suddenly Jesus arrived on the scene. His death burial and resurrection would do away with the Old Testament Mosaic law. Colossians 2:14 describes it this way: “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.” (NKJV)
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As Jesus was teaching, He showed that certain people would have trouble with the idea that there would be a new way of doing things now that the Messiah had come. "And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, 'The old is better.'" (Luke 5:39 NKJV). Just like many consumers did not embrace New Coke, many of the Jews did not embrace Jesus. Further clarification is found as we look at more of Jesus’ illustration. "And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 "But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Luke 5:37-38 NKJV)
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Wine in those days was put in leather type bags. New wine would stretch the bags and new bags were able to stretch, but old bags would break if stretched. Christ used that illustration to show that He would not just tack His sacrifice on the cross on top of the Old Testament Mosaic law, but that He would actually replace the Old Testament law with His payment on the cross.
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Sadly, many people liked the old law because they were used to it, even though Christ’s way was better. Today we no longer have to follow the law that Moses gave to the Israelites. Instead we realize that although God has expectations for man that preceded the Law of Moses, our sins have been taken care of on the cross and we no longer have to worry about the Old Testament Mosaic law. The old law simply pointed out sin to temporarily cover it. Instead we have something far better- Christ’s payment on the cross which has permanently paid for our sins. The new is far better.