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Archive for September, 2009

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:4,5,8-10).”

In Hamlet Polonius tells his son Laertes, who is preparing to travel abroad, “This above all:  to thine own self be true.”  This line from Shakespeare speaks of the fact that we all have our own personal values.

Sometimes people adopt the values of the culture in which they live. For example , cowboys in 19th century America lived by the unwritten Code of the West. Cowboys were required to be brave and defend themselves. If they proved themselves to be cowards, they were shunned.

Other people create their own personal identity and live according to that. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, Amory Blaine developed his own philosophy as a teenager.  Amory’s was  the Code of the Young Egotist. He believed himself to be superior to others physically, mentally and socially.

 The Jews in the book of Acts lived by the Law of Moses.  This code came from God and it was good.  But because of man’s sin, it was impossible to keep.  Since God is just, this code was a curse for those who tried to keep  live by it (Galatians 3:10).

But the apostle Paul proposed to them a new code. This code was one of grace, made available through the work of Jesus Christ.  They could accept forgiveness of their sins and stop trying to keep the old code, which would only lead to failure (Acts 13:38,39).

Let’s call this new philosophy the Code of  Grace. With this code, we get new values and a new identity from God.  This code emanates from God’s love, and is meant to produce his character in us.

Any other code is inferior to this one.

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” ‘Because he loves me,” says the LORD, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him (Psalm 91:14,15)’.”

Three times in the last few years I have been delivered from what seemed to be impossible circumstances.  The most recent deliverance has just occurred.

I feel now as I have in the past.  I am stunned. At least on one of these occasions I awoke the next morning and felt like it was all a dream.  None of it seemed real.

The apostle Peter had a deliverance like this. He was in prison, sleeping between two guards and ready to go on trial for his life.  Suddenly his cell filled with light, an angel gave him specific instructions and he miraculously escaped prison.  Peter thought he was dreaming. The angel even had to to tell him to get dressed he was so out of it.   But he soon realized it all was very real. God had used one of His angels to engineer his deliverance (Acts 12:6-11).

In one respect the rescue glorified God.  His friends couldn’t believe it. One girl got so excited when she saw him at the gate that she ran to tell the others without letting him in (Acts 6:12-16). They couldn’t believe it.

On the other hand, the reaction of others was negative. The Roman soldiers got in a tizzy and the king executed Peter’s guards (Acts 12:17-19).  They looked at things strictly from a human point of view.

When God does a miracle for you (and He does them), expect God to be glorified to those who are in touch with Him.  But also expect some bad reactions from people who are not “in the know”.   But don’t worrry about the latter, although the negative responses may hurt and sting, and even surpise.

Focus on the grace of God in caring so much for you that He brought the miracle to be.

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).”

Sam Cooke was one of the superstar singers of his generation.  He recorded such tunes as “You Send Me”, “Wonderful World” and “Cupid”, singing these tunes with his mellow voice.

Cooke grew up in the church. His father was a minister, Sam sang in church and he eventually became a gospel music sensation.  Yet, something went wrong along the way.  He eventually was killed under questionable circumstances at a motel where he was staying with a woman who was not his wife.

After his death, a song he wrote called “Change is Gonna Come”, an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, was published.  One haunting section of the lyrics portrays his state of mind:

“It’s been too hard living but I’m afraid to die
Cuz I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming but I know
A change gon’ come oh yes it will.”

Raised with a minister father, hailed as a gospel superstar, Sam Cooke had no assurance of his eternal salvation.  What a sad testimony.

Contrast Cooke’s story with the testimony of the apostle Peter. He was able to bear witness of the work of the Holy Spirit in his life and the lives of others (Acts 2).  When he was questioned by church leaders about the new work of the Holy Spirit  in the lives of Gentiles, he was an eyewitness.  He didn’t make things up. He “explained everything to them precisely as it had happened” (Acts 11:4).

The work of the Spirit of God is a mystery. It’s described as being somewhat like the wind (John 3:8; Acts 2:2).  But Peter could at least share his own experience. 

Bob Dylan, a major influence on Sam Cooke, wrote “Blowin in the Wind” to comment about society’s problems.  In a statement about his lyrics, Dylan says,” …ain’t too much I can say about this song except that the answer is blowing in the wind. It ain’t in no book or movie or TV show or discussion group. Man, it’s in the wind—and it’s blowing in the wind. Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is but oh I won’t believe that. I still say it’s in the wind and just like a restless piece of paper it’s got to come down some  …But the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know …and then it flies away..”.

The apostle Peter found his answer in the wind of the Spirit of God. Sam Cooke let the wind blow by him and ended his life in a hopeless state.

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“One thing I ask of the LORD,  this is what I seek:  that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple (Psalm 27:4).”

My wife has put me on the most stringent diet of my life.  It rules out a lot of the things I love, such ase ice cream.  It includes things that in the past I would have never thought of as tasty, foods such as cracker bread, buckwheat without milk, and beets.  I eat these things because I trust my wife and what she says about food.

In addition, I eat them because there is something about being hungry that makes these formerly appalling foods appealing.  Proverbs says, “He who is full loathes honey, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet (Proverbs 27:7).”

God of course knows this. After all, he is the Source of all truth.  So he used this truth to communicate something to the apostle Peter.  One day Peter was having some prayer time up on a rooftop and became hungry. While he was waiting for his meal, he fell into a trance and saw a vision from God in which he was presented with a buffet.

God told him to eat the foods He was offering.  Peter refused because his previous experience told him they were unclean. Maybe his hunger tempted him to partake of the spread, but his background stopped him in his tracks. But God in effect told him, “I am the expert on what is pure, so don’t argue with Me (Acts 10:9-16).”

Unbeknownst to Peter another man also had experienced a vision while he was praying. Cornelius, a Roman soldier, was told to send some men to go fetch Peter and bring him back.  In the past, Peter would not have come because Jews could not fellowship with Gentiles. But he came because the message of God’s vision to Peter was that he should accept all men (Acts 10:1-8,24-29).

As a result of this visit, many Gentiles came to faith in Christ and received the Holy Spirit. The gospel was made available to all peoples.

Imagine if Peter and Cornelius were not the men of prayer they were.  But fortunately for most of us, they had regular devotions.  Their habit of meeting with God led to the availability of salvation for all men.

This makes me want  to go and have my quiet time.

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“… let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance…(Proverbs 1:5).”

“Right from the start — from the hyperactive verbosity of the recordings first track ‘Blinded by the Light’ — Bruce Springsteen’s first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. (1973) explodes with its troubled vision of a world gone awry.”  So speaks Jeffrey B. Symynkywicz of the singer’s first work in his biography, The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen: Rock and Redemption from Asbury Park to Magic. 

Springsteen was a product of that raucous era known as the 1960s.  His lyrics in “Blinded by the Light”  are autobiographical and are difficult to interpret.  Symynkywicz says you would need a line by line commentary from Springsteen to understand them.

A reading of them reveals that he may have been looking for escape from his troubles in the wrong places, perhaps drugs or sex.  Springsteen speaks of  being “blinded by the light, cut loose like a deuce (the poker card), another runner in the night.” Perhaps he was not only seeking escape from his troubles, but running from them.

Saul of Tarsus was a hard runner himself.  He was running hard to be somebody in religious circles.  Saul ambitiously pursued Christians, a people he thought were heretics, entering their homes and dragging them off to prision.

But one day he was blinded by the light of Jesus, who appeared to him while traveling to contínue his persecution. “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do (Acts 9:5,6).”  That was it, no great instructions, just get up and wander blindly into town and you will be told the next step.

Fortunately for Saul, Ananias was a man who listened to God and obeyed Him. Despite his misgivings he found Saul and guided him into his new faith in Christ. Saul was no longer blind (Acts 9:15-19).  Before his life was like Bruce Springsteen’s, one gone awry. Now he was himself about to turn people’s lives upside down on behalf of Christ.

 When Jesus shows up, His appearance is so stunning that we are in effect blinded. It’s wonderful, but we don’t know what to do or where to go next. When this happens, it’s time to ask God to give us an adviser of the same ilk as Ananias.

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“Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me (Psalm 50:14,15).”

Money makes the world go round, at least that’s what the performers in the movie “Cabaret” sang. The story is set in Depression-era Germany, and the song is illustrative of the focus at that time.

Songs and slogans reflect the culture. Bill Clinton ran on the phrase, “It’s the economy stupid” in the early 1990s and resoundingly beat George Bush, the sitting president.

In addition to songs and slogans, the top news stories of the day also show what is important to people. After all, the media has to sell their product, and people won’t buy if what is published doesn’t address what is on our minds. Today’s headlines? “New Push for Global Currency”; “US May Face Armageddon If China, Japan Don’t Buy Debt.” Our generation’s own economic crisis that hit in 2008 is still going on and of great concern.

Sorry folks, but despite the troubling economic crunch, discouraging unemployment and the like there is something more important than money: our spiritual condition. A fellow named Simon living in ancient Samaria learned this from the apostle Peter.

A spiritual revival took place in Samaria and Simon, formerly a sorcerer, came to faith in Christ. When the Peter came on the scene and began laying on hands, people were given the Holy Spirit.

Simon thought this was a great trick. He wanted a piece of the action, so he offered Peter money for the secret to the magic. Peter as a nice Christian gently rebuked Simon. NOT! He told him, ” May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money (Acts 8:20)!”

A relationship with Christ can do a lot of things for us, but it’s not meant to enrich us so we can accomplish our selfish ambitions. God’s plans for us is to trust Him with the finances we need to carry out His will.

Groucho Marx said, “Lack of money is the root of all evil.” My take: “Following Christ is the basis of all joy.” Money is just a means to that end. First, determine where Jesus is going; then ask for the means to follow Him  there.

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“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19,20).”

Breitbart.com reports that the average British man or woman has slept with 2.8 million people.  It’s not that these UK folks literally have had  that many partners. The average person has “only” slept with about 8 people.

The figure in the millions was determined by a calculator which shows how many people these active Brits have exposed themselves to in terms of risk of sexually transmitted diseases.     

According to the head of sexual health at the pharmacy which developed the calculator, “When we sleep with someone, we are, in effect, not only sleeping with them, but also their previous partners and their partners’ previous partners, and so on.”

I don’t  think this is what God meant when he commanded Adam to “be fruitful and multiply…(Genesis 1:28)”.  But this is what we humans have done.  We have exponentially produced not only good results with our behavior, but bad ones as well.

People have spread all over the earth, which is what God intended. But we have also sought to multiply our riches and change marriage partners frequently to the exclusion of God, something He warned about (Deuteronomy  17:17). 

If we are going to spread anything, it should be the gospel. And if we are going to multiply anything, it should be disciples of Jesus (Acts 6:7).

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