Importance of Fasting

Fasting with prayer is promised to be very effective.  Mass fasting in Nineveh brought great revival (Jonah 3:9, 10).  It can happen again!

The mighty outpouring of the Spirit promised in the last days has begun.  Praise God!  However, we have not seen it in its fullness yet.  We quote and claim the promise in Acts 2:16-21 and Joel 2:28-32:  “It shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh…” It is important to note that fasting is mentioned three times before the original promise of the outpouring of the Spirit in Joel.  Read:  Joel 1:14 and Joel 2:12, 15.

It is God’s promise that He will pour out His Spirit and show signs and wonders.  As we seek God with faith, it is imperative to sanctify ourselves by fasting, repenting, and confessing.  When we fulfill our part, He will perform His promise.

A combination of the Word, fasting, prayer and praise can bring God’s miraculous intervention into a situation. At this ending of a year and beginning of a new one, let us “humble ourselves and pray” for:

  1. A genuine spiritual awakening among us and beyond us.
  2. God to manifest Himself in power among us.
  3. A fresh anointing, empowerment and protection on all of our pastors.
  4. Fresh fervor and faith for the harvest upon our evangelists.
  5. Our leadership to be more sensitive than ever before to the leading of the Holy Ghost.
  6. Our cities and communities to be touched and drawn to the manifest presence of God.
  7. The nations and cities of our world and those who labor there to be empowered and used mightily by God to bring His Kingdom on location.
  8. The United Pentecostal Church must be the “United Praying Church.” Become a part of the WNOP.  Be a part of apostolic praying in one accord.  Every church is requested to:
  9. Have a designated, “furnished” prayer room and dedicated prayer groups and prayer times.  
  10. organize for someone to be in prayer and fasting for the pastor every day.
  11. Teach children to pray.
  12. Adopt specific missionaries (home and foreign) and leaders for consistent prayer, and let them know you are praying for them.
  13. Become a part of the Prayer Net by praying for the church and pastor directly north, south, east, and west of your church; one each week during every month of the year!

I’ve Got Leaving On My Mind

No, I’m not talking about a song, I’m talking about what should be sacred saints.  Every now and then a virus comes through the body of Christ – the Leav-ola virus.  You always know it’s hit when you hear a number of people say, “I feel led to leave.”  There’s usually many reasons given; occasionally none are offered except that, “The Lord spoke to me….”  That’s a little bit hard to deal with, to say the least.

In addition to this, there are people who are simply spiritual nomads.  They don’t know what it means to be planted in the house of the Lord (Psalms 92:13).  John Bevere had an interesting observation on this.  He said, “Most of us do not leave churches the right way.  The Word of the Lord says, ‘You shall go out with joy and be led out with peace’ (Isaiah 55:12).  We think of churches as spiritual cafeterias.  We can pick and choose what we like, we feel led to stay as long as there are no problems.  But the Bible does not say, ‘God has set the members, each one of them, in the body, just as they please.’  Rather, it says, ‘God has set the members, each of them in the body, just as He pleased’ (I Corinthians 12:18).”

You can rest assured of this, if you are where God wants you to be, the devil is inevitably going to try to offend you to get you out.  He wants you uprooted because as long as you are being pulled up by the roots and replanted in one place and then another, you are not going to take root and grow.  No root; no fruit.

I recently read the confession of a man who left a church.  He said the church he attended was pastored by one of the finest preachers in the nation.  He had often sat with his mouth open as God fed his soul with profound Biblical truth.  After awhile, he admitted, he began to see flaws in the preacher.  Well, who doesn’t?  Then he got to listening to a couple of staff members who seemed to be “discerning” the same things.  The pastor was just not leading and feeding correctly.  Then, these friends decided they had to get on with the call of God in their lives and that meant they had to leave the church.

If they would have just left, that would have been all right.  But, they left a transmitter in the church with whom they could communicate frequently.  Proverbs 26:20 says, “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out and where there is no talebearer the strife ceases.”  The brother I referred to was a recipient of some of their negative transmissions.  He said, “What they were saying to us may have been correct information, but it was wrong in the eyes of God because it was adding wood to the fire of offense.”

Finally, he confessed that he and his wife decided they would leave their church and begin to attend their friend’s church.  It didn’t take long until they discovered only the geography had changed.  They were still struggling, their spirits had no joy.  Things just didn’t feel right.

Let the old former Superintendent/Bishop Emeritus pause here to give you a little advice:  The Word of the Lord says, “That which is bound on earth is bound in heaven…that which is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven.”  You are best kept in Christ where you are bound to Christ.  It is usually better for a man to stay with the assembly into which he was birthed or bound to the Lord.  This is not an absolute principle, but it is one that is usually true.

Now, back to the couple I referred to…They confessed that finally they knew they needed to return to their home church.  They did, with humility.  Humility only grows over the grave of pride.  They had to bury their pride.  They had to admit they had left the church out of pride and offense.  They had to admit the issues they were trying to resolve were issues of their own hearts, not of the pastor or the church.  When you are out of the will of God you will not be a blessing or help to any church.  Our friend confessed, “My wife and I found out the hard way.”

“Offended people typically react to their uncomfortable situations and do things that appear right, even though they are not inspired by God.  However, we are not called to react but to act.  Yet what are we to do when we are trying to be obedient to God but He doesn’t seem to be speaking?  In most cases, that means He is saying, ‘Stay right where you are; don’t change a thing.’  If you leave, the next thing you know the devil will condemn you for doing that.”  You’ve just got to stay planted somewhere to amount to anything in the spiritual realm.

One writer observed, “When a fruit tree is put in the ground, it has to face rainstorms, hot sun, and wind.  If the young tree could talk, it might say, ‘Please get me out of here.  Put me in a place where there is no sweltering heat or windy storms.’  If the gardener listened to such a tree, he would actually harm it.  The storms are necessary to produce a root system.  And so it is in the church of God.  As I’ve already said, “No root; no fruit.”

Remember, God’s word says, “Great peace have they that love thy law and nothing shall offend them.” Don’t let offense drive you from the place where God wants you to mature in Christ.

John Bevere made another observation.  He said, “Once we leave the place God has chosen for us, our root systems begin to dwindle.  It becomes easier and easier for us to flee from adversity because we have been careful not to root ourselves deeply.  We then become spiritual vagabonds, wandering from place to place, suspicious and afraid that others will mistreat us.  We struggle in a self-centered life eating the remains of the fruit of others.”

When God did not accept Cain’s offering, he was offended.  Rather than repent and allow the situation to strengthen his character, he vented his anger on his brother and murdered Abel.

The Lord told him, “When you till the ground it shall no longer yield its strength to you; a fugitive and vagabond you will be.”

He was rejected, cut off from production.  Bevere observed, “Offended Christians likewise cut off their ability to produce fruit.  Cain’s fields were barren.  The soil of an offended heart is barren, poisoned by bitterness.”

Hear my plea!  Don’t get leavin’ on your mind.  Proverbs 18:1 says, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire.  He rages against all wise judgement.”

Bevere made one more observation I want to bring to your attention.  “Spiritual vagabonds protect themselves in their isolation, try to find safety in the controlled environment they have constructed, having no contact with anyone who disagrees with them.  They no longer have to confront their own character flaws.

Rather than facing the difficulties, they try to escape the tests that confront them.  The character development that could come by working through the conflicts with others is lost as the cycle of offense begins again.  They join the tribe of Gad whose leader is Cain the vagabond, always moving on, never taking roots, constantly saying, “We’re led to leave.”

Spend some time in prayer and soul-searching. . . And, if you find yourself “led to leave” make sure you know who’s leading.

Why I Am Pro-Life

On January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court handed down the landmark decision in Roe vs. Wade and established that all women have a basic right to abortion, developing the idea that the Constitution protects a person’s privacy, particularly when it comes to matters involving children and procreation.

In January of 2008, America crossed the shame-filled line of over 50 million reported abortions since 1973’s Supreme Court ruling.  This number represents a population greeater than any state – greater than California (36 million) and greater than the next two states combined (Texas and New York with 23 and 19 million respectively).  If you took the 25 states with the lowest population, the total of those 25 states is less than 50 million.

So let’s talk about why I am – why we are – pro life.

No, I do not believe that the human fetus is nothing but a conglomerate of tissue mass in the womb of a woman.  No, I do not believe that at the will and wisp of the mother-to-be that pregnancy should be terminated.  Abortion should never be used as a measure of birth control.  The church through the ages has stood united against abortion.  It is tragic to think that one of the most dangerous places a child can be in America today is in its mother’s womb.  I’m not here to give a bunch of statistics as to how many are aborted and what the socio-economic status of the mother or father might have been.  I’m just here to state facts.

Recently a man by the name of James Bynum authored an article entitled, “Key Facts In the Pro-Life, Pro-Choice Debate.”  In this article he traces the development of the child in its mother’s womb.  With some editing I reproduce what he said.  Let God’s Word, as well as your conscience, be the guide before you ever think of the abortion alternative.

Month One:  Brain, heart, eyes, mouth, inner ears, digestive system, arms, and legs develop.  The heart starts beating by the 25th day.  The baby is 1/2-inch in length and weighs less than an ounce.

Month Two:  Facial features, elbows, knees, fingers, and toes develop.  The baby has all major body organs, and brain wave activity can be recorded.  The placenta attaches to the baby and allows for nutrient and waste transport.  This is done by diffusion across two sets of capillaries, the mother’s and the baby’s.  The blood never crosses the placenta.  Blood type and Rh factors are often different, and contact of mother’s to baby’s blood could cause a reaction that would initiate an immune response from the mother which would cause a miscarriage.  Muscles begin gentle kicking exercises, and baby has permanent fingerprints.  Baby begins to respond to touch and move away from painful contact.  Baby sucks its thumb.  Baby is now 1-1/8 inches in length and weighs less than an ounce.

Month Three:  Baby is completely formed.  It begins kicking, can turn its head, squint, and frown.  Teeth, lips, and genitals have begun to develop.  Kidneys develop and begin to produce urine.

Month Four:  The baby has a strong heartbeat, moves, kicks, sleeps, wakes, swallows, and can pass urine.  Baby has eyebrows and hair on its head.  Skin is pink and transparent.  Vocal cords and taste buds are present.  Baby weighs 5 ounces and is 7 inches in length.

Month Five:  Baby is kicking, turning from side to side, moves head over heels.  Fingernails have grown, sleeps and wakes at regular intervals.  Weighs 1 pound and is 8-12 inches in length.

Months Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine:  Baby exercises, opens and closes eyes.  Bones are hardening, systems are continuing to develop, and baby can hear sounds outside the body.

There are four rather common pro-choice arguments:

l.   We can’t really know when life begins. Scripturally, the beginning of life is easy to prove.  (See Jeremiah 1:5).  Biologically, the answer is slightly more complex.  When the egg and sperm join, they begin dividing and growing.  They use nutrients, energy, and give off wastes.  Even before conception , the sperm and egg require nutrients to go through day-to-day life functions and they give off waste.  In essence, life exists before conception.

At conception 23 chromosomes come from the man and 23 from the woman.  When they combine, the new cell is everything genetically it will ever be.  It has all the physical potential it will ever have to be a thriving, growing human being.

Some would say, “But it’s not viable in the woman so it isn’t consistent with life.”  We could take that argument further and say that until 16-18 months after birth the child is not viable.  If a mother breast feeds, or bottle feeds, the baby relies completely on its caretaker for food and protection.  The prenatal baby is no different.  It also requires from its mother (the primary caregiver) nutrients and protection.  They only difference is in how these things are provided.  In the womb, nutrients are transported across the two blood supplies and the mother protects the baby by providing a safe place for it to develop, and by watching what she puts into her body.  After the baby is born, the mother provides nutrients through breast milk or (by any caregiver) a bottle.  Protection is accomplished by the parents’ constant vigil to keep the child out of harm’s way.

2.   I’m pro-choice, not pro-abortion. In this country where freedom has a premium value, that sounds really good, even to most Christians.  So, what’s wrong with this?  The problem is the choice we are protecting.  Upon closer examination, we see that it isn’t the choice that’s being protected but the consequences.  We’ve found a way to do whatever feels good and not have to be held accountable.

Choosing to have sex is like choosing to speed.  It’s between responsible and irresponsible behavior. The ticket is the consequence; it’s being held accountable to a standard.  And isn’t life more important and precious than a traffic ticket?  Abortion is a means to fulfill selfish desires without paying the price.

3.   It’s my body and you can’t tell me what to do with it.  On the surface that even has a ring of sensibility.  Remember 23 chromosomes come from the father.  This makes the baby genetically different than either the mother or the father.  To elaborate, the mother’s immune system doesn’t recognize the developing baby as the mother’s cells and begins to attack it.  It is only by a special defense mechanism that is built into women that keeps all new pregnancies from spontaneously aborting.

The blood supply of the baby is not the same as the mother.  Many times it is a totally different blood type and the two blood supplies don’t mix.

4.   It’s just a blob of flesh.  The DNA in the new cells gives specific directions how to make new cells.  By the fifth day the cells are already starting to specialize to make different organs and tissues.  That’s very organized, not the blob that the enemy would like us to believe.

From conception to death, each moment of life is genetically directed.  There is no happenstance in how we grow, develop, and function.

I am a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather.  I have lived almost eighty years.  I believe in the sanctity of life . . . from its very beginning to its very end.

For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.  I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.  My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.  Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! (Psalm 139:13-17)

IF…

The legend is told of a pastor who, one wintery Christmas Eve night, escaped to his study for a brief respite from the noisy festivities of his church and family celebration.  He settled in his favorite wingback chair, pulled close to the fireplace, picked up his Bible and began to read in the Gospel of John.  Weary from a full day of counseling and sermon preparation and other pastoral duties, he dozed off to sleep and dreamed of a world into which the Savior had never been born.

In his dream, he wandered through his empty house, his footsteps echoing forlornly.  There were no family pictures on the walls.  There wasn’t a bough of greenery to be found or a flickering Christmas candle.  No stockings were “hung by the chimney with care.”  No food was set out for the parishioners.  For you see, in this world to which he had awakened, there was no family, there were no parishioners.  Leaving his lonely house, he wandered the streets of his community.  He was frightened and dismayed at the changes wrought by the absence of Christ.  All around him were sinners without hope.  Looking closely he recognized the face of a familiar friend huddled around a street fire.  But his eyes!  How hateful they were!  What was in that bottle he clutched so desperately?  And that woman there on the corner, dressed so provocatively…yet looking so very, very lost…No!  It could not be!

Hurrying back to his house, he looked for his Bible, seeking some words of reassurance…vaguely remembering the writing of one called John…only to find that his Bible ended with the words of Malachi.

The ringing of the doorbell awakened him.  Startled, the pastor looked with a great sigh of relief at the opened Bible in his lap that showed the heading “The Gospel According to John.”  He heard his wife call his name, beckoning him back to join their guests.  He said, “Just a minute, dear…” and paused to ponder the very words of Christ…”If I had not come…”

Can you imagine what your life would be like today if He had not come?  What if there had been no manger?  What if angels had never heralded the coming of a Savior?  What if there had been no Incarnation?  What if there was no “Emmanuel”, God with us?  And if He had not come, He could not have died, and where, oh where, would we all be without His Name, without His blood, without His love?

Jesus was speaking his last address to His disciples in John 15, instructing and instilling Himself in them when He said, “If I had not come…” and “If I had not done…”

This is the message of Christmas.  He did come!  He did!  As Max Lucado put it, “We live on a visited planet!”  As bad as our world seems to be, as mixed up as our society is, we still live on a visited planet.  While Americans spend multiplied thousands of dollars to save whales and owls, yet spend even more to take the lives of unborn children…While untold millions are going to bed hungry tonight even in America…While rioters rampage and criminals stalk the innocent…We still live in a place He came to.

And because He came…there can be peace on earth, goodwill toward men – at least in our hearts.  Because He came, the broken-hearted can feel the tender hands of a loving and understanding Savior bind their wounds.  Because He came…captives can find liberty, prison doors can be opened and men can walk freely, no longer bound by sin.  Christmas proclaims the acceptable year of the Lord.  Because He came, we have traded beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.  Because He came we now walk a road called righteousness and are so very blessed.

Because He came to where we are, someday we can go to where He is.  “I go to prepare a place for you…that where I am, there ye may be also…”  And, that, my friends, is perhaps the best Christmas gift of all.

GIVE THANKS

It’s Thanksgiving time in America, a holiday first celebrated in 1621 to commemorate the harvest of the Plymouth Colony.  When it was first inaugurated as a holiday, only a few eastern states participated.  However, through the effort of Sarah Hale, a young woman fired with determination, the whole nation joined in setting apart a national day for giving thanks to God “from whom all blessings flow.”  She resolutely engaged the press with an endless flow of letters and articles to the various newspapers and journal of her time.  She pleaded long and earnestly with three Presidents:  Filmore, Pierce, and Buchanan.  In 1852 her campaign succeeded in uniting 29 states in marking the last Thursday of November as “Thanksgiving Day.”  But then came the dark days of Civil War.  Who would listen to the lone woman persistently pleading for “just one day of peace amidst the blood and strife?”  One man did.  In l863, President Abraham Lincoln officially proclaimed the last Thursday of November as a day for the nation to give thanks unto Almighty God.

Almost 150 years have passed since that time.  America takes the day off work, families and friends gather for everything from simple to elaborate meals.  Sometimes, some people still give thanks.  I’ve begun to wonder, though, if we have lost the art of being thankful.  If our hearts have become ungrateful, and our lives lacking in praise.

We’re not very good at saying, “Thank you” these days.  In fact, as I’ve tried to use those two little words more than usual these past few weeks, I’ve noticed that it is so rare that it startles people.  Kindness costs nothing but its value is untold.  We are often like the little boy who returned home from a birthday party to be queried by his mother, “Did you tell Mrs. Jones thank you for the party?”  His reply was simple:  “No.  I was going to but the little girl ahead of me said, ‘Thank you’ and Mrs. Jones said, ‘Oh, don’t mention it.’ So I didn’t.”

The story is told of a diary entry by the Bible commentator, Matthew Henry, after he was robbed.  He wrote, “Let me be thankful:  First, because I was never robbed before; Second, because although they took my wallet they did not take my life; Third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and Fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”  Matthew Henry lived out the Scripture’s command of “In every thing give thanks….”

William Law, in his “Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life” wrote, “Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world?  It is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms, or is most eminent for temperance, chastity, or justice, but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God willeth, who receiveth everything as an instance of God’s goodness, and has a heart always ready to praise God for it.”

Henry Ward Beecher once wrote, “If one should give me a dish of sand, and tell me there were particles of iron in it, I might look for them with my clumsy fingers, and be unable to detect them; but let me take a magnet and sweep through it, and it would draw to itself the most invisible particles.  The unthankful heart, like my finger in the sand, discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day, and as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find some heavenly blessings.”

This year, as Thanksgiving Day approaches, as the season of Thanksgiving settles in, shall we all commit to making this year a year of truly giving thanks?  Can we designate the entire month of November as a time to be thankful to God, our friends, our family members?  The word “thanks” occurs 73 times in the Bible, in 71 verses.  Thirty-nine times in the Scripture the two word command, “Give thanks…” appears – “Give thanks unto the Lord…make known his deeds among the people…” (I Chronicles 16:8).  “Give thanks unto the Lord for He is good; for His mercy endureth forever” (I Chronicles 16:34).  We are to give thanks for He is good, for His mercy endureth forever, at the remembrance of His holiness, because of His righteous judgments.  To the Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “In every thing give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Let this year be the year, this month be the month, that we live out in our lives the writing of John the Revelator:  “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be unto our God for ever and ever.  Amen.”  Think to be thankful.

I close with one final quote from Abraham Lincoln, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven.  We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity.  We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown.  But we have forgotten God.  We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.  Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become to self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to God that made us.   It behooves us, then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Unity of the Church

Dr. Donald Barnhouse stated that a watch company and heart surgeon provided him with the most unique insight on unity.  Both allowed him to listen to tape recordings.  The sound of the fine watch magnified 100 times showed its mechanical perfection with the smooth click-click-click.  The tape recordings of an athlete’s healthy heart sounded more like glub-dub – glub-dub – glub-dub.

Jesus Christ founded a church that had heart – glub-dub – glub-dub – glub-dub.  Men founded click-click-click – the mechanized church – the one that’s seeker friendly and not cross deadly.  Several hundred years after the church was established, the Constantinople headquarters of click-click got in an argument with headquarters in Rome about who should be the most important.  The side issues were the godhead, Christology, and the interpretation of certain Latin words.  However, when you have a big fight you never tell the real reason for it – especially in church matters.

Dr. Barnhouse said, “Nobody is going to say, ‘I don’t like the way he runs it and I want to run it.’” How true!  What they do is try to pick out some false doctrine – real or imagined – in the other.  Most divisions in the church are founded on low lying hypocrisy.  Constantinople wanted to run the show.   Rome said the doctrine was click-click-click. Constantinople said, “Oh, no!  It’s glick-click-glick-click.”  Sounds about the same after it gets started.  Both sides had missed the heartbeat of Acts 2 – glub-dub, glub-dub, glub-dub.  True unity never changes.

Later came Martin Luther with justification by faith as virtually his sole message.  Click-clack – click-clack – click-clack.  Then came Calvin with the Lord’s Supper as a memorial.  Clack-click – clack-click – clack-click.  I don’t care what clackety-click or clickety-clack you belong to – the sound of one church, one true Apostolic church of the New Testament is glub-dub, glub-dub, glub-dub.  I do believe if any man truly believes Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior and that he is born again according to the Acts of the Apostles, that I should fellowship with him.  He might not belong to the same organization I do.  He may not say Shibboleth like I do – but if He believes Apostolic truth I may not be separated from him because I don’t like him personally.

Dr. Barnhouse went on to say, “I cannot separate from my brother because I think he has some queer doctrine.  Some of my most beautiful and unique interpretation of the scriptures may be considered queer by some other people and I definitely consider that many members are all fouled up in their theology and they think I’m all fouled up in my theology.  I think it perhaps more than they think it.”

If you don’t believe that’s true, go to a good prophecy conference.  Get in a good discussion about lifestyle standards.  I’ve often said some men say they are standing for truth when they are really standing for their interpretation of the truth.  We have fought each other over dead issues while the living perish.  A man’s love for God can be measured by the love he has for the man he loves the least.

One writer said, “Some will tell you you have no right to associate with anybody who associates with anybody who associates with those with whom I do not associate.”  If you try to love everybody that’s born again unfortunately you’ll find some Christians who will kick you in the face for it.  But second degree separation is a sin.

Someone quotes, “Come out from among them.  Be ye separate.”  I am just not going to let any of you get away with applying that phrase to the church.  That order to “come out and be separate” referred to the temple of Venus and Jupiter – where they poured out libations to the demon gods – where one temple in Corinth owned more than 10,000 prostitutes.  Yes, come out from among them and be ye separate.  That doesn’t mean I separate from you because you believe a woman ought to wear a hat and I don’t.

Another pungent illustration is found in the words of Jesus.  “Ye are the salt of the earth…”  Dr. Barnhouse showed that if salt (sodium chloride) could be separated chemically both sodium and chloride are deadly poison.  Yet, sodium chloride in the form of salt is necessary to life.  Christianity is composed of two deadly poisons.  Separate they kill; together they are life.  The two poisons are theology and ethics.  You must never separate them.  If you do, you can end up with a  bad attitude and/or a bitter spirit.

I know men who are as faithful about the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the atonement – as anybody could be.  But you can’t trust them as far as you can throw a church.  They have no ethics.  I’ve heard it said, “He’s as honest as the day is long…but you better watch him when the sun goes down.”  He may be theologically correct but he doesn’t have integrity.  It’s also possible to have zeal without knowledge.  Sodium without chloride – ethics without theology.  Together they bring unity and are a savor to the world.

No, I don’t want to end up with less brothers and sisters than God has sons and daughters.  I can love and accept someone without agreeing with everything they say.  We must learn to celebrate our diversity.  Our unity is around the infallible word of God and the articles of faith of our church.  Beyond that, let’s give one another plenty of latitude.

The only prayer Jesus ever prayed that we can answer is when He said, “That they may be one as we are one….”

Little Is Much

An advertising company somewhere in America no doubt virtually made a mint off the Nike promotion, “Just do it!”  It has just the right note of exasperation.  You can almost hear that the time for excuses is past, the time for action has come.

In my lifetime, I’ve heard a lot of excuses for not getting involved in Kingdom enterprise.  This is not a problem unique to this day in which we live.  When God called Moses, Moses answered with a list of excuses why he shouldn’t even be the one asked to do what the Lord was calling him to do.  Too often our supposed inabilities, our lack of training, and untested inexperience leaves us on the sidelines observing instead of on the field playing ball.  What we fail to take into consideration is the ability of God to take whatever we offer Him and use it mightily to accomplish His purpose.

The little boy with the sack lunch could have decided himself that there was no way two loaves and five fishes would even make a dent in the hunger of the crowd that day.  He could have hidden his lunch pail.  He could have refused when invited to share.  Instead, little became much in the hands of the Master!

D.L. Moody told the story of a passenger on an Atlantic steamer.  The gentleman was overcome with a severe case of seasickness while a storm raged outside.  In the midnight hours, he heard the cry, “Man overboard!”

“May God help that poor fellow,” he prayed, “but there’s nothing I can do.”

Though restless and weary with his sickness, he had a thought.  “I can at least put my lantern in my small window,” and with no small effort he did so.  Fighting his own nausea, dizziness, and weakness he lifted the lighted lantern to the small porthole window’s hook and made his way back to his bed, exhausted by the effort.

The man who was drowning was finally rescued.  In recounting the story the next day, he said, “I was going down in the darkness for the last time when someone put a light in a porthole.  It shone on my hand, and a sailor in the lifeboat grabbed it and pulled me in.”

Even if you are too weak to rescue the drowning man, remember it may just be that a light in your window that will light someone else’s way.  If you think you are incapable of something, you are probably right, especially if you refuse to allow God to enable you.  However, if you simply release your faith and believe that if He calls you, He will equip you – who knows how God will use you?  I can promise you one thing:  If you are willing, He is able!

Often, if our excuses are not about ourselves, they are about others.  Pastors often hear, “Pastor, I’d teach a Sunday School class but kids today don’t have any respect for their elders and I’m not going to waste my time.”  Or, “I’d work on a ladies team, but you know, Sister Sue doesn’t like me….”

“Anyway” –  a  bit of homespun sort of philosophy appeared in Reader’s Digest in 1982.  It is said to have been found written on the wall of the orphanage founded by Mother Theresa in Calcutta, and/or also on the wall of her own room.  It was actually written by a young man named Kent Keith in 1968 as a part of a leadership book for student leaders.  These “paradoxical commandments” as they have been labeled, are noteworthy:

“People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.  Do good anyway.

The biggest people with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest people

with the smallest minds.  Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.  Fight for some underdogs anyway.

What you spent years building may be destroyed overnight.  Build anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.

Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.”

Remember the words of the old song:

“Little is much when God is in it.

Labor not for wealth and fame.

There’s a crown and you can win it

If you go in Jesus name.”

One of the verses of that song says,

“Does the place you’re called to labor,

seem so small and little known.

It is great if God is in it and

He’ll not forsake His own.”

Whatever He calls you to do, just do it…He’ll do the rest.

LET’S HAVE A BARBECUE!

Who hasn’t heard the term “sacred cows?”  Seems someone is always being warned of not touching one or changing one.  The language comes from India, where certain of the bovine species are so sacred they cannot be touched, killed or eaten.  Deity is attributed to them.

There is a restaurant in Kolkata (Calcutta) in India that has on it’s menu a simple entry: #118.  There’s no further description, no explanation, just a number.  Because in India cows are sacred, they do not advertise or publicize in any way that they serve steak.  Consequently, anyone that knows what that number indicates, recognizes they are ordering a steak, though it is not listed as such on the menu as such.

You just don’t touch sacred cows.

We laugh at the preposterousness of such a thing, but in reality, we all have encountered sacred cows in our lives – maybe in the workplace and maybe – just maybe you might have even encountered one or two in the church.  It is something that obviously has no particular deity attached to it, but someone mentally made a god or an idol out of it.  The absolute truth is, the best thing to do with a lot of sacred cows is to make hamburger out of them.  Better than hamburger – how ‘bout let’s have a barbecue?  I’m not talking about sacred truth, I’m talking about sacred cows.

In my many years as District Superintendent (Bishop) of our denomination’s churches in Louisiana, on one occasion I was called upon to arbitrate conflict in a church over when Sunday School should start.  The discussion had nearly split the church.  To me, the time to start Sunday School is a sacred cow, not sacred theology.  In another situation, the dear pastor had “dared” move the piano.  That piano had been in that place for many years.  What was he thinking?  What an upheaval!  It was just another sacred cow that needed to be barbecued!  I remember the pastor that moved an altar rail – wow!  – what a dilemma! Then, there was the deacon who thought he would just rearrange the plaques on the back wall of the church.  More sacred cows!

How is that we can work up $100 worth of adrenalin over a 10-cent incident, use all that creative energy for non-essential issues?  I’ve often said – and say again – I’ve never arbitrated a conflict in a church over an eternal issue.

Paul ran into some sacred cows in Athens.  In fact, author Terry Teykl made this observation: “Paul was greatly distressed to see there were many sacred cows in Athens.  The people were holding tightly to systems of thought and belief that were preventing them from really hearing the Good News.”  Think of that!  And the Athenians were highly intellectual Grecians.

One sacred cow was the love of ideas and the worship of education.  Acts 17:21 says they spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or hear something new.  They spent a great deal of their time sharing the latest information and exchanging new theories.  They worshiped at the altar of education and ideas; it was a sacred cow.

Another sacred cow was their system of religion.  In verse 23 Paul said, “As I passed through I considered the object of your worship….”  They had objects of worship more than a person of worship.  Have you ever seen anyone worship objects above the person of our salvation? They even built altars to their objects.  Whenever structures and objects become a substitute for the true worship of God those things are sacred cows.

The third sacred cow Paul noticed was their love of the status quo.  They were resistant to change and many sneered at the idea of repentance.  In verses 30-32, when he spoke of the raising of the dead, judgment to come, and the need to repent some of them mocked and others said, “Well, we’ll just have to think about this.”  No changing them, even when exposed to truth.

The author I mentioned earlier made another observation.  He said: “As I visit churches across the country I see these sacred cows grazing everywhere.  They live in all kinds of churches.  They feed on the desire in all of us to maintain control.  We don’t want anything to happen that we can’t define, explain, and understand.  We want to relate to God with our head and not our hearts.”

I do believe God is far more concerned with how we relate to Him than how much we know about Him.  He wants to give us life not religion.  I really believe that what we need in some churches is a good old-fashioned barbecue – to do away with the cows and make room for the truths of God, for the freshness of the spirit, and new revelations of the Holy Scripture as it’s breathed upon by the Holy Spirit.

If you’ll hold the barbecue, I’ll bring the sauce!

WHAT IS CHARACTER?

There’s an old adage that says, “Reputation is what people say you are; character is what you are.” Character is what you do in the dark. Character is determined by what would transpire if you knew you’d never be found out. Character is the making of a man of God.

I read a story recently about Coach Cleveland Stroud and the Bulldogs of Rockdale County High School. Rockdale High School is in Conyers, Georgia. They had just had a tremendous basketball season: 21 wins, 5 losses. They were on the way to the Georgia boy’s basketball tournament and what they were sure would be a state championship.

Ironically, the new glass trophy case that was purchased for what they knew was a cinch is bare in the school gymnasium. The Georgia High School Association deprived Rockdale of the championship after school officials said that a player who was scholastically ineligible had played 45-seconds in the first of the school’s five post-season games. 

Coach Stroud said, “We didn’t know he was ineligible at the time. In fact, we didn’t know it until a few weeks ago. Some people,” he contended, “have said we should have just kept quiet about it, that it was just 45-seconds and the player wasn’t an impact player. But you’ve got to do what is honest and right and what the rules say. I told my team that people forget the scores of basketball games but they don’t ever forget what you are made of.” That is what you call character.

Ability will enable a man to go to the top. But it takes character to keep him there. Character is what the Psalmist spoke of when he referred to the man that would swear to his own hurt and change not.

Character refuses to give in to pressure. Character does not just go with the flow. Character is not socialized by peer pressure. Character is what God is interested in.
Daniel and the three Hebrew boys were 500 miles from a teaching priest, 500 miles from the remnants of the temple, 500 miles from the godly influence of their parents. But their convictions and character were the same in the courts of Babylon as they had been in the dusty streets of Jerusalem. They had what you call integrity.

Joseph’s brothers took his freedom. The slave traders took him into bondage. Potiphar made him a slave. Potiphar’s wife painted him as immoral. Forgotten in prison, yet never once did Joseph lose his character. He was the same in the prisons of Egypt as he was under the scrutinizing eye of his father in the tents of Jacob. 
Homes are built on character. Nations are built on character. Institutions are built on character. Churches are built by men and women who are not for sale.

If there are examples of character in the sports world, how much more so should there be examples in the church? 

Bits and Pieces told the story of Ruben Gonzales, who was in the final match of a professional racquet ball tournament. He was a champion and he was supposed to win. In the fourth and final game, at match point, Gonzales made a super-kill shot into the front wall. The shot won it for him. The referee said it was good. One of the two linesmen affirmed that the shot was “in.” After just a moment’s hesitation, Gonzales turned and shook his opponents hand and declared that his shot had skipped into the wall, hitting the court floor first. The result was that he lost the match. He walked off the court. Everyone was stunned. The next issue of National Racquetball magazine displayed his picture on its front cover. People could not imagine why he did it. A player with everything officially in his favor, with victory in his hand, yet he disqualified himself at match point and lost. He was asked by the magazine why he did it. Gonzales said, “It was the only thing I could do to maintain my integrity.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is character and regardless of the cost that is what we’ve got to have in the church. The only one who eternally counts knows and He is the one I must face when hidden things will be “shouted from the housetop.”

“Let the Words of My Mouth…”

Ramona Cramer Tucker wrote an article entitled, “Loose Lips” that was published in Christian Reader, a periodical published by Christianity Today. I’ve heard it said that a gossip is a person who knows how to turn an earful into a mouthful. It’s been called halitosis of the brain. Friendships have been destroyed by it; marriages disrupted by it; jobs terminated because of it. Wars have been ignited over gossip. I have often said that unless you are part of the solution – or part of the problem – or are personally involved in some way – it is gossip. 

Job cried to his accusing comforters, “You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you! If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom” (Job 13:4-5, NIV). The wise man of Proverbs cautioned, “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28, NIV). Jesus himself said, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37, KJV).

In her article, Ramona Tucker related the following true account of an incident “When Gossip Destroyed Trust:”

“It happened over a diet Coke at my friend Ann’s house. As we both “tsk-tsked” about the escalating divorce rate, Ann, whose husband had left her four years earlier, commented, ‘I’m so sorry for the women behind the statistics. I know what it’s like to be alone and scared about what’s going to happen next.’

Just then, I thought about asking Ann to pray for Maris, a mutual friend who had just told me her marriage was in trouble. I rambled on with details of Maris’s marital woes. Ann hadn’t a clue our friend’s marriage was so deeply troubled. She felt terrible that Maris hadn’t told her about it.

After our conversation, I felt sick, but I pushed my feelings aside. However, as the days wore on, I realized——painfully——that I’d been wrong to share news that hadn’t been mine to share. Not only had I broken my struggling friend’s confidence, but I also had put Ann in the midst of a distressing situation.

I swallowed my pride and phoned Ann to apologize. Then, taking a deep breath, I phoned Maris and asked if I could come over. Before we even sat down, I blurted out in misery, ‘Maris, I blew it. Remember a month ago, when you shared with me how you and Mark were struggling in your marriage? Well, last week when Ann and I were talking, I told her about you and Mark. I had meant to talk in general terms, but then——well, your name slipped out.’

Maris’s jaw dropped. Her lips quivered. She got teary-eyed.

I plunged ahead. ‘I don’t know what to say. I wish I could take my words back, but I can’t. Can you ever forgive me?’

Maris sighed. ‘I wish you hadn’t said anything,’ she said slowly. ‘Having someone else know about it only makes it harder on me——and Mark. But you’re right. You can’t take your words back. I’ll phone Ann, so she knows you talked to me——and I’ll ask her to keep it confidential.’

Ouch. Although Maris and I had been friends for five years, I knew it would take a long time before she would trust me again.

‘Maris,’ I said, reaching over to hug her, ‘I’m really sorry. I promise I won’t share your confidences——or anyone else’s——in the future.’

‘Don’t promise what you can’t keep,’ Maris said softly, looking me straight in the eye. As soon as I got to my car, the tears flowed. I thought of Proverbs 15:2: ‘The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.’ I knew which one I represented.”

Given the opportunity to be wise or foolish – wisdom is always the better choice. Sometimes, though, we find ourselves guilty of “gushing folly.” We can repent. We can “make it right” with the brother or sister we’ve injured. And we can commit ourselves to David’s prayer, “Let the words of my mouth…be acceptable in Thy sight…”