Tuesday, July 29, 2014

TRANSITIONS

From My Perspective - - - 

One of the more difficult moments in one’s life is when transitions occur. Some of them can be planned for in advance, whereas others occur due to events and decisions outside of oneself. In recent months, we have shared in the times of sorrow with those whose spouse either suddenly died or became afflicted with a malady for which there was little or no remedy. In other instances, there have been those who have experienced transition with their employment. This is especially trying and difficult if/when it occurs with one who has been called to serve the Lord as a Missionary or as a Minister/Pastor. The transition is borderline traumatic. 

I think of the Missionaries who are trying to accomplish ministry in the so-called “hot spots” of our world. They are desirous of continuing their ministry. It has been their calling and they have sacrificed to be where they believed the Lord wanted them to be. The Geo-Political times in which we are living will determine whether or not the Missionary effort can continue in places where radical Islam is on the move and anything “Christian” is viewed as anathema and anyone who is attached to such a group will be removed or put to death. The Coptic Church in Egypt and the Assyrian Christians in Iraq (Mosul) are just two illustrations of what is occurring in recent weeks and months.

I also think of Pastors who are no longer viewed as viable in various church situations. A spiritual work falls under a secular-type assessment and the Minister/Pastor is viewed as expendable. In a more humane, although devastating way, he is asked to leave or is prevented from continuing in his calling in a local church situation. Over the years, as and when this has occurred, the desired result that was anticipated did not occur. These type things, while reported as being unanimous, seldom are to the liking and support of all the people. The church will either stay as it has been, continue to move sideways with little or no appreciable change, or the worst scenario - it will begin to drift downward. 

Barna Research Group reports the following: “In America, 3500-4000 churches close their doors each year. Churches lose an estimated 2,765,000 people each year to nominalism and secularism.” From Religious Tolerance, this report: “Only 21% of Americans attend religious services every week.” The drift downward in church attendance can be seen in an older report by the Church Society: “Usual Sunday church attendance has dropped from 1,606,00 in 1968 to 881,000 in 2005.” This trend continues to this day. Another sad fact reported is: “Since 2010, 270 churches have been sold after defaulting on their loans, with 90 percent of those sales coming after a lender-triggered foreclosure, according to the real estate information company CoStar Group.”

When my wife and I committed ourselves to ministry, we had originally begun application to go to China and the Chinese speaking people. Certain factors prevented that but the commitment level remained constant to (1) go anywhere, (2) do any work/task, (3) at any time, and (4) at any cost. Psalm 37:4-5,7 was especially significant for us: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act…Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him, Now in our latter years, Psalm 37:25-26 have become an increasing reality and testimony to the faithfulness of God: “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing.” Transitions have occurred over the years, some of them were painful and confusing. We were concerned for our children as they witnessed carnal behavior on the part of those who were alleged to be “spiritual leaders” in the church. We are thankful that we and they were kept from bitterness by the grace of God. Consider these things with me.

Monday, July 28, 2014

RULES AND REGULATIONS

From My Perspective - - - 

The Law Librarians of Congress were asked: “How Many Federal Laws Are There?” The reply was given on March 12, 2013. A partial response is: “At the reference desk, we are frequently asked to estimate the number of federal laws in force. However, trying to tally this number is nearly impossible. If you think the answer to this question can be found in the volumes of the Statutes At Large, you are partially correct. The Statutes at Large is a compendium that includes all the federal laws passed by the United States Congress. However, a total count of laws passed does not account for the fact that some laws are completely new; some are passed to amend existing laws; and others completely repeal old laws. Moreover, this set does not include any case law or regulatory provisions that have the force of law.”

The Federal Off ice of Management and Budget categorizes Federal regulations under three primary headings: “(1) Social Regulation: focused on Product Safety; (2) Economic Regulation: prohibits firms from charging prices that might cause harm to other firms or economic groups; and (3) Process Regulations: Paperwork requirements such as income tax, social security, food stamps, or procurement forms.” When the question was posed: How Many Federal Regulations are There?, the response given indicated the following, “…in 1998, the official listing of all regulations in effect, contained a total of 134,723 pages in 201 volumes that claimed 19 feet of shelf space. In 1970, the CFR totaled only 54,834 pages. The General Accountability Office (GAO) reports that in the four fiscal years from 1996 to 1999, a total of 15,286 new federal regulations went into effect. Of these, 222 were classified as "major" rules, each one having an annual effect on the economy of at least $100 million.” This report was fifteen years ago. Rules, Laws, Regulations, Executive Orders and no one can accurately catalog them or give an actual cost to enact them. 

In addition to Laws and Regulations, there are Executive Orders signed by a sitting President. The number of Executive Orders signed by the forty-four Presidents of the United States has now surpassed fourteen thousand orders that impact and supplant laws and regulations already enacted. In some way and at some time, one can only calculate that everyone must’ve unwittingly (and without malice or forethought) violated some government regulation. An example of this is realized annually by everyone when filing an Income Tax Return. One tries to be honest and accurate but all of us are ignorant of what the Tax Code requires. Did you know, that according to the CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter, “as of 2013, it now takes 73,954 regular 81/2” X 11” sheets of paper to explain the complexity of the United States Federal Tax Code.”

When we consider the area of religion, we find considerable discussion and debate about God and His requirements for human behavior. Some argue that it is too strict and narrow, while others shrug it off by generalizing,“we are not under law but under grace.” God’s Law has two major emphases, (1) what man is to believe concerning God, and (2) what duty God requires of mankind. On one occasion, Jesus was in a dialogue with an expert in the law. Luke 10:25-27 is the recorded exchange: “a lawyer stood up to put Jesus to the test, saying: Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus said to him: What is written in the Law? How do you read it? And the Lawyer answered: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said to him: You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” The Lawyer’s miscalculation was his readiness to nitpick and nuance the Law. What he missed in his processing was that no human being can fulfill all of the Law’s demands. Romans 8:1-4 (NKJV), “There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death…that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” This new life and obedience is in Jesus Christ alone. Do you know Him? Have you yielded your life to Him? Consider these things with me.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

BIFURCATION

From My Perspective - - - 

Few people would deny that stability and a clear sense of direction would be welcomed into our culture and world. We are seeing all kinds of tensions and conflicts occurring - wars in the Middle East; persecution and ethnic cleanings accelerating in several places in the world; anti-semitism demonstrations in Europe, America (Boston and New York), Canada and elsewhere; Christians driven from their homeland. A news article yesterday included the following: “ISIS have officially forced the last living Christian in Mosul to leave the city, ending 2 millennia of Christian existence, which began with St. Peter’s scriptural reference to the church in Babylon. The Assyrian International News Agency Reports: The last Christian reportedly left Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul at 12:00 pm on Saturday, ending over 6,000 years of Assyrian history in the city. Assyrians have lived in Mosul for over 6,000 years, converting to Christianity over 2,000 years ago. This all came to an end on Saturday, when the last Assyrian Christian left the city.” All their possessions were taken from them and they had to walk many miles to find a place of refuge. Some media indicated that this is very similar to what occurred in 1938 as Germany extended itself throughout Europe.

As bad as that is, a wave of cynicism and skepticism is in the process of emerging within America. Bifurcation is obvious as class distinctions are championed and emphasized. Ordinarily, bifurcation would convey the idea of something being “divided into two parts of branches; separating into two parts or branches; a fork.” Not only have we come to a fork in the road in this nation, we have gone speeding past it and are accelerating in the process. It is reminiscent of the Airline Pilot who addressed the passengers and said: “I have some bad news to share with you - we are lost. However, the good news is that we are making excellent time.” Not only is there a growing cynicism and skepticism, some gullibility and naiveté has also emerged. Our culture has grown accustomed and comfortable with government being a deciding factor in one’s welfare and well-being. A term that describes what we are becoming (or have already become) is proclivity: “a natural propensity or inclination; a predisposition.”

I recently referenced a book - Where Do We Go From Here? by Erwin Lutzer (Pastor of Moody Church in Chicago) and quoted the following: “It’s gone. Some of you will remember when the Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer told us back in the 1970s that someday we would wake up and find out that the America we once knew was gone. That day is here. We have crossed an invisible line, and there are no signs that we are capable of turning back. Like a boat caught in the mighty torrent of the Niagara River, we are being swept along with powerful cultural currents that just might put us over the brink. Seemingly irrevocable trends put in motion forty years ago continue to gather greater momentum and speed. Our Judeo-Christian heritage that gave us the freedoms we have enjoyed is for the most part gone, and in its place is an intolerant form of humanism that can boast of one victory after another. The “cultural war” we used to speak about appears to be over, and we have lost. Daily, perhaps hourly, we are losing the war for America’s heart and mind. We must understand the direction and speed of this cultural river that has spilled over and engulfed our land. We must also ask: what should we be doing at this critical hour?”

There are different ways of dealing with persecution. In Elijah’s day, Obadiah hid God’s servants in caves. Hebrews 11:34-38 addresses the suffering and hardships of people of faith in the past. The Book of Acts records the threats and persecution of God’s people. What did they choose to do? Acts 4:26-31 summarizes their response: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness,” In the MSG, “"And now they're at it again! Take care of their threats and give your servants fearless confidence in preaching your Message.” It is the expressed desire and confidence of Paul in Philippians 1:20, “Christ magnified in my body by life or by death.” Is that our identity and commitment as a follower of Christ today? No bifurcation but allegiance. May it ever be! Consider these things with me! 

Monday, July 21, 2014

GPS MALFUNCTION/DYSFUNCTION

From My Perspective - - - 

What is GPS? An excerpt from a long description in Wikipedia states: “The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a space-based satellite navigation system that provides location and time information in all weather conditions, anywhere on or near the Earth where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites. The system provides critical capabilities to military, civil and commercial users around the world. It is maintained by the United States government and is freely accessible to anyone with a GPS Receiver. The GPS project was developed in 1973 to overcome the limitations of previous navigation systems, integrating ideas from several predecessors, including a number of classified engineering design studies from the 1960s. GPS was created and realized by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) and was originally run with 24 satellites. It became fully operational in 1995. Bradford Parkinson, Roger L. Easton and Ivan A Getting are credited with inventing it.”

If one applies GPS to the Moral Compass for life, it would become very clear that there is a malfunction/dysfunction occurring. In his brief book, “Where Do We Go From Here” Erwin Lutzer states in the forward: “It’s gone. Some of you will remember when the Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer told us back in the 1970s that someday we would wake up and find out that the America we once knew was gone. That day is here. We have crossed an invisible line, and there are no signs that we are capable of turning back. Like a boat caught in the mighty torrent of the Niagara River, we are being swept along with powerful cultural currents that just might put us over the brink. Seemingly irrevocable trends put in motion forty years ago continue to gather greater momentum and speed. Our Judeo-Christian heritage that gave us the freedoms we have enjoyed is for the most part gone, and in its place is an intolerant form of humanism that can boast of one victory after another. The “cultural war” we used to speak about appears to be over, and we have lost. Daily, perhaps hourly, we are losing the war for America’s heart and mind. We must understand the direction and speed of this cultural river that has spilled over and engulfed our land. We must also ask: what should we be doing at this critical hour?”

Yesterday, the following was posted on Facebook: “As you come to church today, if Jesus was there, would he see you as Dead or Alive? If He placed His stethoscope on your heart and on your church, would he declare that you and it are alive or dead? The Williams Translation of Revelation 3:1-2 reads: "To the messenger of the church at Sardis write: The One who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars speaks as follows: I know what you are doing; you have the reputation of being alive, but in reality you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what is left, although it is on the very point of dying..." Jesus clearly said to the church at Sardis: “You have a REPUTATION of being alive, but IN REALITY you are DEAD..."  He went on to observe and say: Wake up, and strengthen what is left, although it is on the very point of dying…” Jesus Christ was correct in His assessment and observation regarding The Church in Revelation 2 and 3 and His assessment of The Church today would be similar.

Part of the issue is: Do we actually take a serious God seriously? Is the church today functioning on the basis of a developed Reputation or on the basis of Truth and Reality? There are all kinds of churches dotting the landscape that exist for no other reason than history and tradition. For years, they have been drifting sideways or downward. They struggle too survive and to do so have drifted toward the least common denominator of what it means to be a Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. On March 3, 2009, Dr. Chuck Kelley (President of New Orleans Baptist Seminary) gave his analysis of the Church: “…89 percent of our churches that have either stopped growing or are in decline.” Like other churches, he added: “…that great denomination (UMC) lost its zeal and is now in serious free-fall, declining in numbers of members at the fastest pace in the history of the American church. Southern Baptists are following in their footsteps…” It is a clear indication that the spiritual GPS is experiencing Malfunction/Dysfunction. Consider these things with me!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

DISENGAGEMENT

From My Perspective - - - 

Disengagement: “the freedom from obligation, occupation, acceptance of responsibility” is a term that can have several applications. One that comes to mind is the ongoing conflict between Hamas in Gaza and Israel. A Washington Post Headline this morning is: “Israel accepts truce plan; Hamas balks.” If both parties were affirmative, the present conflict would be ended and military disengagement could occur. Egypt had acted as the intermediary. Why did Hamas refuse the terms and come to a mutual agreement with Israel? The Post article continues: “…the Islamist militant group rejected the deal, saying it had not been consulted on its terms. A senior Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, called the proposal unacceptable and complained that Egyptians have not spoken with the Gaza leadership. The group’s armed wing, the Qassam Brigade, wrote on its Web site that the initiative was not worth the ink it was written with and the resistance will continue until all the demands of our people are met.”

There are other terms that come to mind along with disengagement. They are: disinterest, detachment and disentanglement. When an opportunity exists to prevent loss of life, damage to property and hardships for the citizenry, one would think there would be a response that would bring a cessation to hostilities and the hope that calm, a degree of stability and peaceful coexistence might be embraced by both sides in the conflict. It is amazing how stubbornness and stupidity take over whereas common sense and reasonableness get jettisoned. It reminds one of the comedic line of Ron White, “You can’t fix stupid.” 

The broader question and application pertains to our culture, society and church today. Has the church been impacted by the culture and society or is the church impacting the culture and society? The degree of disengagement and disinterest both in and toward the church is obvious. In many places, people are no longer committed to church attendance and the millennials (age 18-30) have all but abandoned the church. Those who remain in the church cling to the past and want to dream about the future. There are occasions when there is wonderment about why the church is not being attended but little desire to change and adapt in any way. It is not dissimilar to the Hamas in Gaza and their refusal for any compromise or to end the conflict. 

Is there any hope for the church? Will the church persist in its stubborn refusal for change (except to terminate a pastor or some other ministry team individual)? In Revelation 2 and 3, there is the scene of Jesus walking among and assessing the churches. Depending on the translation one uses, there is a recurring phrase used by Jesus. In The ESV, it is: “To the one who conquers…” in the NKJV it is: “To him who overcomes…” The NLT is: “Everyone who is victorious…” The key to realize conquering, overcoming and victory is contained in Revelation 2:5, “Remember…from where you have fallen; REPENT, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp-stand from its place, unless you REPENT.”

The website of Desiring God shares these two thoughts about Repentance: (1) Charles Spurgeon writes: “REPENTANCE is a discovery of the evil of sin, a mourning that we have committed it, a resolution to forsake it. It is, in fact, a change of mind of a very deep and practical character, which makes the man love what once he hated, and hate what once he loved.” and  (2) J. I. Packer writes: “REPENTANCE means turning from as much as you know of your sin to give as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of your God, and as our knowledge grows at these three points so our practice of repentance has to be enlarged.” The questions for one to consider and act upon are: (1) Have you REPENTED of all known sin in your life? and (2) Does your church need to REPENT of all its known sin? In Luke 13:1-5, The people are talking to Jesus about the Galileans and how they had suffered. Jesus bring the focus back to them and what they need to do. Twice in these five verses Jesus uses the phrase: “UNLESS YOU REPENT, you will all likewise perish.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks and answers (Q. 87): “What is repentance unto life? REPENTANCE leading to life is a saving grace, by which a sinner having truly realized his sin and grasped the mercy of God in Christ, turns from his sin with grief and hatred and turns to God with full resolve and effort after new obedience.“ Is this what YOU have done? Is this the commitment YOU have made in Christ? 

One can only wonder what would occur in and through the church today if it heeded the words of Jesus Christ - “except/unless you repent”? There is a potential and possibility for the church. A key is Acts 4:31, “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” Acts 4:32-37 is the possible/potential result. Are you ready and willing to impact your culture and society for Jesus Christ? Consider these things with me!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

MISSING AN IMPLICATION

From My Perspective - - - 

A unique moment occurred a few days ago and has gone largely unnoticed. The last time it happened was in 1948. Ever since that moment in history, there has been turmoil of varying degrees because the nation of Israel was established. Israel is a country slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey. It shares borders Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian National Authority in the Gaza Strip. It has become a significant presence in the Middle East as well as an equally significant target of the Arabs and Muslims.

In the past few days, a new nation has been formed in the turbulent Middle East. The Islamic State has seized territory of both Syria and Iraq to form what they hope will be a renewed caliphate in that area. Caliphate means “jurisdiction, rule or government by a caliph." They also have plans to expand into Jordan and Saudi Arabia. At the moment, they seem to be unstoppable. Historically, from the 8th to the 12th century the Muslim world enjoyed enormous prosperity. In close contact with three continents, the Muslims could shuttle goods back and forth from China to western Europe and from Russia to central Africa. The presence of important urban centers as Baghdad, Cairo and Cordova stimulated trade and industry throughout the Muslim world. In Baghdad there were  bazaars, which contained goods from all over the known world - spices, minerals, and dyes from India; gems and fabrics from Central Asia; honey and wax from Scandinavia and Russia; and ivory and gold dust from Africa. One bazaar specialized in goods from China, including silks, musk, and porcelain. In the slave markets, Muslim traders bought and sold Scandinavians, Mongolians from Central Asia, and Africans. The steel of Damascus and Toledo, the leather of Cordova, and the glass of Syria became internationally famous. Notable also was the art of paper-making, learned from the Chinese. Rivalry soon brought about the demise of the Caliphates.

The Encyclopedia Britannica adds the following notation: “The concept of the caliphate took on new significance in the 18th century as an instrument of statecraft in the declining Ottoman Empire. Facing the erosion of their military and political power and territorial losses inflicted in a series of wars with European rivals, the Ottoman sultans, who had occasionally styled themselves as caliphs since the 14th century, began to stress their claim to leadership of the Islamic community. This served both as means of retaining some degree of influence over Muslim populations in formerly Ottoman lands and as means of bolstering Ottoman legitimacy within the empire. The caliphate was abolished in 1924, following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of the Turkish Republic. In the 20th century the reestablishment of the caliphate, although occasionally invoked by Islamists as a symbol of global Islamic unity, was of no practical interest for mainstream Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It did, however, figure prominently in the rhetoric of the violent extremist group al Qaeda.”

Is all of this news to God? Does any of this catch him by surprise? Has he been unaware of our current events? In a different setting, the Lord speaks in Isaiah 1:18-31, "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord...If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spokes…Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow's cause does not come to them. Therefore the Lord declares, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: I will get relief from my enemies and avenge myself on my foes…Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness. But rebels and sinners shall be broken together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed…” Does the Lord have a plan for the Middle East? Does He have a plan for the world and Universe? Does He have a plan for your life? Are you fitting your life into His plan for it and you? Consider these things with me.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

GO - GOING - GONE

From My Perspective - - - 

The World Dictionary lists 83 definitions and usages for the word "GO." According to first usage definitions, it means: “to move or proceed; to leave a place; depart." The Synonyms are: “walk, run, travel, advance.” It’s interesting that the Antonym has only one suggested usage: “to stay.” 

Just one illustration that should serve as a motivation for the Biblical Christian to avoid being either static or a spectator is: Luke 14. Immediately preceding his discourse on the cost of discipleship, Jesus gives a very practical instruction about inviting guests to the come to the banquet table. In particular, verses 21-24 convey the sense and force of a required mobility implied in the word "GO".  “Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, 'Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.' And the servant said, 'Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.' And the master said to the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you,none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’" 

When Charles Spurgeon preached on this text - Compel Them To Come In, he began his sermon with these words: "I feel in such a haste to go out and obey this commandment this morning, by compelling those to come in who are now tarrying in the highways and hedges…” We need this level of urgency and activity today. 

Rather than reinterpreting the Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ, we should try to understand it in terms of what the Apostles understood it to mean in The Book of Acts. The particularization of the commission of Acts 1:8 includes reaching "the uttermost part of the earth." When Paul began his ministry, it entailed Missionary Journeys to all parts of the known world. Should we do anything less in these days of cultural chaos? Are there no cultural captives who need to hear the message of deliverance by and through Jesus Christ alone today? What is the consequence if we rationalize and/or ignore the intent of Jesus Christ for His followers? There will be a moment in the future when the separation of sheep and goats (Matthew 7) will occur. In which flock will you/we be? Will we be with those who did what they could for "one of the least of these"? Or, will we be with the clueless and oblivious who ask: "when did we see  You" with needs?  

Consider these things with me!