Monday, May 27, 2013

The Bible's Greatest Memorial

As I'm writing this, it's Memorial Day here in the US. It's a federal holiday which occurs every year on the final Monday of May. Memorial Day is set aside to remember the men and women who died while serving in the Armed Forces. It's because of such men and women that we have the freedom to speak freely, live freely, and worship freely. 

What I've realized is that there are a lot of hurting people on this day. Hundreds, even thousands over the years, have lost loved ones because of war. Even my family has been affected. My uncle was killed on the beach of Normandy in World War II. On Memorial Day, there are many observances across the country. Many are visiting cemeteries on this day. Flags are flown at half mast. 

So, this is not just a day to get off work. It's not just a day to have a barbecue. Or to celebrate the beginning of summer. It's a day to honor those who have sacrificed their lives for our sake - so that we can have a country based on freedom and liberty.

God is a God who thinks memorials are important. The Bible is filled with memorials. Some are in the form of songs, like the Song of Moses which he wrote just after God parted the Red Sea. Or the Song of Mary, which she wrote after receiving the news that she was to be miraculously pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Or all of the Psalms that memorialize so many of David's life events.

Many times, in the Old Testament, different types of memorials were instituted. For example, when Joshua was taking the ark of the covenant across the Jordan river, and the waters were parted and they crossed on dry ground, he instituted a memorial. To commemorate the event, Joshua had twelve men, one from each tribe, pick up a stone from the middle of the Jordan, and carry it to the other side to make a memorial.  

"In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’, tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:6-7)

Many times the names of places were established as memorials. Remember when God provided a ram at the last second in order to spare Abraham sacrificing his own son, Isaac? Later, Abraham named the mountain to memorialize the event.

"So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, 'On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.'” (Genesis 22:14)

All the Jewish feasts were essentially memorials. Perhaps the most famous one is the Feast of the Passover. For centuries, the Jews remembered the time when Moses freed the Israelites from the bondage of Egyptian slavery by invoking miraculous plagues from God on the Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The last plague happened when the angel of death was sent to kill the firstborn sons of all the Egyptians, including Pharaoh's first born son. The Israelites were told to spread the blood of a lamb over their doorpost, and their first born sons would be spared. That's exactly what happened, and that's when Pharaoh gave in and freed the Israelites. 

For centuries, the Jews observed that event by participating in the Passover Feast. It's at one of these Feasts, just after Jesus and His disciples ate the Passover meal, that Jesus instituted the greatest memorial of all time, what we now call the Lord's Supper. The Apostle Paul puts it this way.....

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

So remember, every time you take the Lord's Supper, it's a memorial - the most important and meaningful memorial that there is. And it's been going on for nearly two thousand years, observed by Christians throughout the entire world. It's an event to honor the one who sacrificed His life for your sake. Because of His death on the cross, you can live a life of freedom and liberty - a life free from the slavery of sin through the forgiveness that Jesus offers. 

And just as we should never forget what Memorial Day is all about, namely those who sacrificed their lives for us, we should never forget the One who's death gives us eternal life. The next time you take the Lord's Supper, take it with a sincere and grateful heart, and remember the One who set you free.

Monday, May 20, 2013

What Exactly Is A Christian Anyway?

According to Christianity Today, as of 2010, there were 247 million Christians in the US. That's approximately 80% of the population. In other words, if I were to ask the person on the street if they are a Christian, 8 out of 10 would say, "Yes."

That sounds good, but is it really? I'm afraid many today label themselves Christian in terms that are much too loose. Some claim to be a Christian because they were brought up by Christian parents. Or because they went to church when they were children, but don't go as adults. Or because they go to church on Christmas and Easter. Or because they believe Jesus really once existed, but that's as far as it goes, without any personal relationship with Him.

Early on, those who were part of the Jesus movement, if you could call it that, were called "The Way". I love that term. I wouldn't mind being associated as one who was of "The Way".  Several times in the book of Acts this title is used. ("About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way." - Acts 19:23). After all, Jesus is the way - the way to live this life, the way to peace and joy and fulfillment, the way to forgiveness, the way to overcome the world, the way to the Father, the way to salvation, the way to eternal life.

The term Christian was eventually used widely. (The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." - Acts 11:26). Obviously, "Christian" has the word "Christ" imbedded in it,  and the word "Christ " means Messiah. So those who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and who became disciples or students of Him, were called Christians.

In today's world, I see those who call themselves "Christian", in reality, actually fall into 3 categories:

1. Christ Seeker
2. Christ Believer
3. Christ Follower

A Christ Seeker
A Christ Seeker is one who is curious about Jesus, and wants to know more about Him - who He is and what His teachings are. A Christ Seeker who is truly and sincerely seeking will naturally progress to becoming a Christ Believer, especially after seeking Him through the Bible.

A Christ Believer 
A Christ Believer is one who admits that Jesus is who He claims to be - the Son of God, the Messiah, and all the truths about Him found in scripture. However, believing is one thing, and taking action on that belief is another. Some simply stop at belief.

A Christ Follower
A Christ Follower is someone who decides to associate themselves on a personal level with Jesus. It's someone who wants to listen to Him, learn from Him, follow His example, His teachings, and pattern himself after Him. It will be evident that someone is a Christ follower by the way they live. A Christ Follower is someone who wants to do life with Him.

Obviously, the term "Christ Follower" carries a higher level of commitment. But that's what we should be! Christ Followers. If I were to ask the person on the street, "Are you a Christ Follower?", I'm sure the percentage of those saying "Yes" would be much lower than 80%.

I'm reminded of the time Jesus called the fishermen, Peter and John, out of their boats. "Come follow me!" Remember what they did? They dropped everything and began walking with Him, listening to Him, learning from Him. believing in Him, having faith in Him, doing life with Him, trying to think and act like Him, and ultimately living for Him. Wow! Great examples for us. That's what we should be doing.

A true Christ Follower will naturally show signs of their commitment - a teachable spirit, a repentant heart, will have been baptized into Him, and will be trying to live righteous lives, aligning themselves with Jesus, and coming into a loving relationship with Him. A Christ Follower will still be seeking to be closer to Jesus, and have a growing faith in Him, but will be trying to live by that faith.

Personally, I much prefer to be called a Christ Follower rather than simply the general term, "Christian". If you are not yet a Christ Follower, the best way to become one is to read the New Testament, starting with the Gospels. It will satisfy your seeking, strengthen your believing, and lead you to faithfully following Him. ("Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ." - Romans 10:17).

OK - so you claim to be a "Christian", but who are you really? Are you a Christ Seeker, a Christ Believer, or a Christ Follower? Actually, all are good, as long as you are progressing toward being a Christ Follower. After all, He is calling all of us, "Come follow Me!" How will you respond? It's time to get a little more serious.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Best Worship Songs

Can we worship God without music? Of course. But for me, music is the best vehicle for worship. But before talking about worship songs, we need to look at the concept of worship. Worship is that deliberate moment in time when we connect with God spiritually, and sincerely and humbly express our reverence, adoration, praise, and awe to Him. So for music to be called 'worship' music, it must contain avenues for those types of expressions. 

True worship is always a one way street. In other words, it's all directed to God. Although worship can be expressed in a prayer, it is never a prayer asking God to do something for us. It's fine to ask God for something, but that's not worship, that's prayer. And we should be doing that. However, when our prayer to God is strictly an expression of praise, or adoration, or reverence, or awe, then that is worship. 

Music is a major part of life. So why did God invent music? Like everything he invented, if used in its rightful way, it is to ultimately bring Him glory. Music and singing is an emotional expression. It is a great way to communicate with emotion, our worship to God.

Why is music and singing so closely associated with Worship? Music and singing is a very effective tool that can be used to promote an avenue for worship to happen. The use of songs can make the path easier to approach and worship God. One reason is because music is emotional and touches the soul. Music and singing is expressive. It can be intimate and personal in nature, and it can create excitement and celebration. It can set a mood or tone and help soften the heart and open the mind.

Another reason that music and singing is closely associated with worship, in a corporate sense, is because it provides a means of participation. Through use of tempo, meter, rhythm, rhyming, and melody, all can join together to sing in unison, or harmony. It’s a way to effectively unite our efforts and our expressions of worship.

So, back to worship songs. It's important to define a 'worship' song. A worship song is a song that is strictly addressed to God. A worship song usually contains a phrase like "God, You are.....". A worship song is different than a praise song.  A praise song is a great one to sing, but it's different from a worship song in the sense that it is not addressed directly to God, but addressed to each other. A praise song usually contains a phrase like "God is.....".

When worship songs are sung from the heart with understanding and conviction, in spirit and in truth, they are essentially melodic prayers, and are a very powerful and personal form of worship, even in a corporate setting. Jesus said that we must worship in spirit and truth. Not only does this mean that our worship is spiritual in nature, but also, our worship must be done sincerely, and in line with the truth of scripture regarding who God is.

"But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him." (John 4:24)

So to summarize:  The best worship songs.....

1. Are addressed directly to God.
2. Are not asking God to do something for us
3. Are expressions of reverence, awe, adoration, and praise to Him
4. Are sung with a sincere and humble spirit
5. Are filled with truth

Here is an example of a great contemporary worship song, "You Are My King (Amazing Love)" by Billy Foote.

"I'm forgiven, because You were forsaken.
I'm accepted, You were condemned.
I'm alive and well, Your Spirit is within me, because You died and rose again. 

Amazing love, how can it be, that You, my King, would die for me?
Amazing love, I know it's true.
And it's my joy to honor You.
In all I do, to honor You.

You are my King.
You are my King.
Jesus, You are my King.
You are my King."

Notice how that song has all the attributes of a worship song. There are many great praise songs and worship songs today. Practice on distinguishing the difference. And when you hear a true worship song, one that is directly addressed to God, let it prompt you to engage in personal worship. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

How To Get Rid Of All The Evil In The World

The kidnapper in Cleveland, Ohio who abducted 3 women and kept them locked up in his house for ten years makes me want to puke. That guy is a monster. And we haven't even heard the half of it. Actually, I don't want to hear much more.  I sure wouldn't want to be on that jury and listen to all that mess. They probably wouldn't let me on it anyway, because I'd say, "Guilty!",  right off the bat!!! 

With all that we see in the news lately, are things worse today than ever before? Maybe. But humans have always been really evil. Evil in the world is nothing new. It started with Cain and Able, children of Adam and Eve.  Cain attacked his younger brother, Able, and killed him. Everything goes downhill from there. There was a time that evil became so predominant in the world that God decided to destroy the entire human race!

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7 NKJV)

So, God sent the great flood that covered the earth. Fortunately, Noah was found righteous in the eyes of the Lord. He and his wife, his three sons and their wives (8 in all) were spared in the ark. Everyone else was wiped out. You know what that means? We are all descendants of Noah! 

Unfortunately, thanks to Satan, the great deceiver and destroyer, it didn't take long for evil to creep back into the world. And so it goes. Even today.

What's really terrible is the fact that there is a lot more evil going on in this world than just what we hear on the news. Just in the US, according to the Center for Disease Control, there were 16,259 homicides in 2010! That's 45 murders every single day of the year, just in our country alone!!! And just think of all the other crimes going on. Then think of all the atrocities and crimes going on all over the world. Yes, this world is a mess. Seems that since the fall of man, the world always was a mess, is still a mess, and will always be a mess. There are, however, three ways that evil could be eradicated from the world. 

(1) The first way to get rid of all the evil in the world is to wipe everything and everybody out! Well, that's unlikely to happen, unless God gets totally fed up with this world again. Don't rule that out though. He must be getting close!

(2) The second way is to convince people to be transformed and live new lives. In other words, convert everyone to real Christianity. By Christianity, I mean real, obedient Christ Followers. Well, we've been working on that, but it's a real battle.

(3) The third and sure way to get rid of all the evil in the world is for Jesus to come back, as He promised, and totally annihilate Satan and all evil. Since Satan is the root cause of all evil, then destroying Satan is the only way to end evil. Satan and his followers will go to eternal damnation and Jesus and His followers will be take to eternal paradise. One thing for sure, when Jesus comes back, He's not coming back as a meek, humble servant. 

Here's what the Apostle John saw in his vision of prophecy regarding the return of Jesus......

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:11-16 NKJV)

Now that's power! And authority! And victory! The book of Revelation goes on to describe how Satan is utterly defeated, and is ultimately tossed into the eternal lake of burning fire. So, if it takes Jesus coming back to end all evil in the world, I repeat the words of the Apostle John, near the end of the book of Revelation, "Come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:20) The sooner, the better. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

My Euphemism Nightmare!

Here is something I wrote a few years back, but never posted it in my blog, so here is a rewrite............

My wife and I and a group of friends had just finished hearing a sermon that warned us about the use of euphemisms. The topic was fresh on all of our minds as we arrived at a friend’s house to play cards. A euphemism is a word that is used as a less offensive substitute for an objectionable word. The preacher implied that we all have developed a bad habit of using euphemisms as substitutes for blasphemous words. 

He suggested that this was not acceptable because our intent was still the same. Therefore, in a religious context, his conclusion was that we were still guilty. For example, instead of using the Lord’s name in vain, such as the exclamation, “O my God”, or blurting out "Jesus Christ", we substitute a euphemism such as, “O my Goodness”, or "Jiminy Cricket". Instead of saying damn, we say darn. 

Was our good intention of substituting certain words for 'bad' words acceptable with the Man above? As our card game got underway, we mulled over the question of our guilt in the use of euphemisms. And as time went on, all of us began to be more critical of how we substituted words.

On the first round of cards, my wife got a bad hand and quickly shouted, “O sugar!”. Immediately, we pointed at her and found her guilty of a euphemitical error. We knew that she really meant was, “O sh__”. 

With each hand we began to spew out more and more euphemisms, and each time a person said one, the others would point at the accused and find them guilty on the spot. On one round of cards, someone exclaimed, “Son of a gun”. We all pointed and yelled. We knew what they meant. The next round someone got a good hand but said, “Holy cow”. Again, we all pointed and jeered. The more we played, and the more intense the game got, the more we became accursed. “Gosh darn it”. “Jeepers”. 

After a while it seemed like it was safer to say nothing, but the card game kept us off track through the excitement and challenge of the game. The euphemism accusations continued until we couldn’t seem to draw a line between an acute case and a mild case, or as the Catholics might say, a mortal euphemism and a venial euphemism. This started to accelerate when I was dealt three aces and innocently said softly, “wow”. Everyone pointed at me and yelled, “Euphemizer!”

After a while, things escalated to the point where it seemed that no one knew when to draw the line. Was any form of exclamation a euphemism? Even someone’s “whew” drew wrath. A cough was questioned. Clearing of the throat was out. After a while I started guarding my language to avoid any chance of a euphemism. Could I possibly make it through the game without any more accusations? The game was not of cards anymore but was a challenge to see who could complete the game without saying any more euphemisms. 

I was determined to make it through. However, to my demise, it didn’t take long until I made a fatal error. During the last deal, I couldn’t help being excited over what was certainly the winning hand. In a sense of confidence and pride, I slightly raised my right eyebrow. O No! I immediately realized what I had done, but it was too late. I had been spotted, and accused of yet another euphemism. Guilty, I was utterly defeated. Thanks preacher! I hope I don’t go to heck because of all of this!