Question of Responsibility

August 25, 2019

This is one of those topics that cannot be explained in 1,000 words or less, or even 1,000,000 words.  But, I can raise some questions you might want to think about.

Responsibility is complicated, and often involves the lives of other people.  My actions may affect others, positively, negatively, or a combination of both.  Am I responsible for my brother?  Or, put another way, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, which was Cain’s question to God when he murdered Abel.  Of course, the answer is ‘Yes’ you are your brother’s keeper, at least to some degree.

Let’s get down to basics, and try to sort out this mess.  I am responsible to others to the extent of what is possible.  There are some situations I might like to solve for others, but it is often not possible, and even if it was possible, may not be the correct thing to do.

Responsibility for others sometimes brings guilt and shame, sometimes deserved, but often not.  The parents of mass killers often face guilt, shame, and questions.  “What could I have done differently to prevent this?”, “Was there something I did wrong in the raising of this child?”  As often as not, the responsibility lies not with the parenting, but with the individual who planned and committed the acts.

But, this does not completely relieve us of all responsibility.  If I have food, and my brother is starving, I may have some responsibility to relieve his suffering.  But, on the other hand, you cannot solve all the world’s problems, either.

So, where do we draw the lines, so we can bring some sanity to this discussion?

Perhaps, one answer goes back to the old serenity prayer.  There are things you can change, and you should have the courage to do so.  And, there are many things you cannot change, and you must let them go.  There are some things that only God can change, and for us to try and do those things will only bring frustration and needless suffering.  The key, of course, is in knowing the difference.

I have certain responsibilities to my family, but I cannot solve all of their problems.  I sometimes encounter personal sadness in my inability to change certain situations, but I must learn to find a way to let them go.  If I don’t it will only hurt my ability to do those things that I can do.

You cannot fix everyone’s problems.  But, there may be some things God brings your way that you can fix, or at least offer advice on.

To live the life God has given you means there are often some things you must sacrifice in order to help someone else.  In other words, the worse type of life you can live is one of selfishness, where all you think about is yourself, and your own wants and needs.

The perfect example is to take a look at the life of Jesus.  A careful study of the Gospels shows that He did very, very little for Himself.  In fact, most everything recorded shows He did and said things for the benefit of others, not Himself.  He, Himself, said that if you want to be ‘great’ you must be a servant to all.

So. responsibility is a tough thing to sort out and understand.  But, to some degree, we all have responsibilities, and they cannot be laid aside or ignored.  While you cannot fix everything, there are some things you can fix or help.  To ignore these opportunities is to put limits on our fruitfulness and purpose.

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Double Punched

August 21, 2019

Sometimes we think the Devil has been turned loose on the world, or ourselves, and has no limits, but this is not true.

He (the devil) can only do what God allows him to do.  This is important for Christians to understand, as there are some misconceptions about this in the Christian believing world.

Misconception #1 – the devil has no limits.  I can refute this by simply saying if this statement were true, then we’d certainly have a lot more chaos, confusion, destruction, and hurting in the world, and in our own lives.  While, at times, it appears evil is unrestrained and turning the world upside down, this is also untrue.  For even in the darkest places God has placed certain limits on the enemy.

Misconception #2 – the Christian has an invisible shield that the enemy cannot penetrate.  This one is a bit more complicated.  It is true that God protects the believer, and there are things the enemy cannot touch.  However, it is also true there are times when bad things do happen to Christian believers.  Hurtful things.  Lies told.  Liberties stolen.  Finances impacted.  But, and here’s the catch – there is nothing that happens to the believer God does not know about, or has allowed.  This is a hard concept for some believers to accept, as it seems to indicate a lack of caring or love on the part of God.  But, any examination of the New Testament writings in the Book of Acts, or fourteen epistles of Paul, will show there are times when believers go through trials and tribulations.  Once again, though, the enemy is limited in what damage he can do.

All of this does not mean the world is exempt from the forces of evil.  But, at present time, most of the evil inflicted by the devil is manifested through his manipulation of unbelievers.  In other words, he creates the pain, confusion, and chaos we see in our present world indirectly, through unbelievers, and if we are not careful, through unaware believers, also.

There appears to be only two places in the scriptures where we see the devil unleashed on the world with very few limitations:

  1. During the Tribulation period (7 years)
  2. A short time after the 1,000 year reign with Christ

Going back to my title ‘Double Punched’ I loosely define as the two-fold hit the world will receive during the Tribulation period:

  1. Punch #1 – during the early part of the Tribulation the devil is loosed on the world and its inhabitants, through the Anti-Christ and his key subordinates.
  2. Punch #2 – during the latter part of the Tribulation (also called the Great Tribulation) God will pour out his judgments on the world, its inhabitants, and the Anti-Christ and his cohorts.

I cannot tell you when the believers will be lifted out of this world, or during what phase of the Tribulation.  I can tell you it is not God’s practice to judge the righteous with the wicked, and, therefore, we can expect to depart this world before the final judgments of God are poured out during the last half of the Tribulation period.

So, let these few words be an encouragement to you, and your faith.

What Heaven Lacks

August 21, 2019

We normally think of heaven as containing everything, even things that are not available or possible here on earth, and that is partially true.

I say ‘partially’ true, as there are some things that are missing from heaven.  Look as hard as you want, search, turn over every stone and there are some things you won’t find in heaven.

Here’s a short list of some of those things:

  • Pain and suffering – pain and suffering come in many forms here on earth, such as physical pain, mental or emotional pain, stress, anxiety, relationship pain, separations, loss of loved ones, etc…
  • Death – there will be no death in heaven.  No one knows how deeply death affects individuals than Jesus.  That is at least one reason why Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb.
  • Fear – fear from the future, fear of the unknown, fear of what lies in darkness, fear for our family, our nation, and future of the world.  Fear of failure.  Fear of death, itself.
  • The Curse – we live under a curse that was ushered into our earthly existence from the time of Adam and Eve.  It has never left us, but will not be part of our heavenly existence.  We have become accustomed to the curse, so it is hard to image it being lifted and done away with, but it will not follow us into heaven.
  • Sadness and grief – these are as much a part of life here on earth as joy and rejoicing, but they will not follow us into heaven.
  • Failure – sometimes we face failure in our own lives, and in the lives of those we love.  This will also not make it into heaven.
  • Rejection, Hatred, and Violence – while we will be part of God’s army, it will be a different situation than those armies and conflicts experienced in our heavenly existence.  War and violence here on earth bring sorrow and suffering, while any fights as part of God’s heavenly army will only bring victory and joy.

This list is not complete, as there are other things that won’t make it in.  Nothing unholy will enter in.  This normally would exclude us, too, but we will be washed and cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, and we will enter wearing His righteousness, not our own.

Aren’t you glad there are some things that won’t make it into heaven?

Don’t Be a Squirrel

August 11, 2019

Poor squirrels.  Not a day goes by I don’t see one or more squirrels dead on the street, hit or run over by an auto or truck.  I don’t see too many other animal types, mostly squirrels.

As I have observed these animals move about I find they possess two traits that have proven deadly for them:

  1. They change their mind frequently – cross the road, don’t cross the road, cross the road – smack!!
  2. They invariably seem to wait until traffic is heaviest to cross the road.  In short, their timing is lousy.  If they would have crossed a few seconds before or after they would still be alive, but instead seem motivated to cross the road when traffic is heaviest.

What does this have to do with us?

Well, it occurs to me we might learn a few things from the squirrel’s mistakes.

Granted, there are times when changing our mind is warranted, but I would dare say that flipping back-n-forth on a critical decision on a frequent basis is a recipe for disaster.  The scriptures even support this concept:

“A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways”

Make up your mind, and then go for it.  You might stand less of a chance of being whacked.  Will you make wrong choices?  Maybe, sometimes, but there are circumstances where flipping back-n-forth on a decision is worse than making a wrong one.  When I worked electrical construction (many years ago), I had several foreman who, after looking at the blueprints for several minutes declared, “Well, let’s do something even if it’s wrong!”…..  At the time I was a young man and this seemed like a very strange statement to make, but now that I’m older it actually makes more sense.  Indecision can be a terrible thing, and if you are a squirrel it can be deadly.

The second item is a bit tricky.  To some degree we all have issues with timing.  I may be the world’s expert on timing – that is, less than excellent timing.  But, I’ve tried to learn from my mistakes, and to exercise better timing.  There is a time to be angry, and there is a time to be calm.  There is a time to speak, and a time to be silent.  For a full list check out Ecclesiastes.  He says a lot about timing.

Now that we’ve covered the squirrel, we won’t want to leave out the armadillo.  In Texas we have more than our share of armadillos, and many of them are killed on the highway.  They are slower than squirrels, but that is not their primary fault.  Most armadillos don’t die by being run over by cars or trucks.  They die because when frightened they jump – straight up.  When a car or truck passes over and they get scared and jump disaster follows.

We all get scared or frightened from time to time, but take a lesson from the armadillo – this is not the time to jump unless you want to get whacked.

Seeing Into the Invisible

August 5, 2019

Fourteen books of the New Testament are generally attributed to Paul the Apostle.  He wrote about many topics.  His primary focus was on providing Christian instructions to new and struggling churches, and their congregations.  Some of his instructions were in the practical, while some are deeply spiritual.  He was an accomplished writer who could move from spiritual to practical, and back again.  He wrote many passages dealing with encouragement, as the early church, as well as the church of today, desperately needs encouragement.

He wrote about the visions and revelations God had given him.  He tied together Old Testament passages and references to show that God had a plan, even in the early days before Israel was established.  He showed the faith that Abraham exhibited was the same faith required today.  He showed there was a future beyond the present world, and a reward for those who hold a steady course.

He showed that forgiveness, of others, and ourselves, is necessary to maintain a healthy Christian relationship with the Lord.

He told of the coming rapture, and the resurrection of the saints.

Of all of these things I think the most important, at least to me, is his insight into the invisible.  His understanding of what is yet to come.  His assurance of reward and punishment.  His calm confidence in the transference of our existence from this world to the next.  There was no wavering, no second guessing, no doubts.  He KNEW.

Some might question the writings of Paul, but as best we can tell he was not talking about what he ‘thought’ about the spiritual and eternal destination, but was speaking by revelation and vision straight from the throne of God.  What God had revealed to him, and shown him on a very personal level.

Paul paid dearly for this walk with His Savior. He was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned, and ultimately beheaded, according to historians.  But, even these things did not detract him from his constant mission to encourage and lift the spirits of those who needed encouragement.  Even from his dark dungeon cell, he was constantly giving hope and enlightenment to those willing to read his writings.

So, what does this have to do with us?

Well, it has to do with a very old saying, “What goes around, comes around”….  I encourage you, and you encourage someone else.  Someone else encourages me, and I pass it on to someone else.  One week I may be up and you are down.  But, the very next week, it may be turned around, and I need you to encourage me.  It’s not always a direct exchange.  There are certainly people who have encouraged me, that I may never have an opportunity to encourage them back.  But, I can pass it on.

In fact, the ‘what goes around, comes around..’ is really just another take on the Golden Rule – ‘do unto others as you would have them do to you’.  These days we have taken this an twisted it a bit to say something like , ‘do unto others before they do unto you’.  But, in the original the reward comes after you have done your part, not before.  And, it’s not presented in the ‘me first, no one second’ attitude that is so strong these days.  In fact, the Golden Rule says go ahead and make someone’s day, and your reward is sure.  If you do not receive a reward here, you will certainly be repaid by God Himself.

Solomon’s Folly

August 3, 2019

In the book of Ecclesiastes, mostly attributed to Solomon, David’s son, and King, we find quite a bit of meandering, complaining, and just plain depression and despair.  This is interesting as it is written by the world’s richest and wisest man of all time.

While much has been written about Solomon’s decline in later life, not much has been written about his state of mind at the time of his writing Ecclesiastes.  Most scholars believe his decline was attributed to his many pagan wives who drew his heart away from God and into idol worship, and there is certainly some truth in that.  But, is that all we can say about this man?

What if the truth was deeper than that?  A careful study of Ecclesiastes shows that although the writer is deeply disturbed, it is still the writings of a very intelligent and wise man.  One who has seen and studied every aspect of life.  One who has studied human behavior.  One who has explored every crevice of human existence, and in the end has found it ‘all vanity’.

Wise? Yes.  Maybe too wise.  Now let’s be clear – God did not give Solomon wisdom to destroy him, but to help him.  The problem doesn’t appear to be in solely the wisdom Solomon was given, but that without God wisdom can be very bad, indeed.

History has clearly shown that men and women who were given great wisdom also carried great burdens.  Many became depressed, and even suicidal.  Some went mad.  Why is this?  Well, we don’t know for sure, but my opinion has to do with using what wisdom God has given us for His purpose, and not our own.  When we are given wisdom and we venture away from God we are headed for great danger.

Why would we be in danger?  Because life doesn’t always make sense.  And wisdom alone cannot explain the inequities and injustices of what we see and experience in life.  Wisdom alone is not very useful without a relationship with God.  Wisdom causes one to ponder, to reason, to sort out answers to life’s unanswerable questions.  This quest can be detrimental to one’s physical and mental health, which we can clearly see in Ecclesiastes.

Wisdom with God can be a great gift, not only to the person, but to others.  Wisdom alone, is like playing with fire.

Called to the Ministry

July 24, 2019

There are quite a few people these days who feel ‘called to the ministry’.  This is good, and I’m certainly not one to tell someone they are not called.  But, being called to the ministry can sometimes be confused by:

  • Emotions
  • Willingness to help people in their spiritual walk
  • Enthusiasm in witnessing
  • Desire to lead

All of these have their place, but it is hardly a true call.  There are folks who are well-meaning, and who have taken their place in the ministry ranks, who really are not where they should be.

First let’s be clear.  To some degree every Christian is ‘called’ to do some ministry work, although this work may not be credentialed or preaching from the pulpit.  The area of ‘ministry’ actually covers a broad spectrum, far beyond pastoring, preaching, or even teaching.

A true call to ministry is a God-chosen, God-called task.  It is not based on how we feel, what we think, or what we may reason.  It is not based on career, family background, or even on skill or talent (God can provide some skills).  God, Himself, is the caller, and assigner of ministry tasks, or at least that is how it is supposed to be.  Some take matters into their own hands, and suffer because of these ill-advised choices.

Besides all that, ministry can change over the years, as God leads the way.  It is not static.  We can see this clearly in the life of Paul, who started off as an evangelist, then overseer, and finally as an author of about 14 books in the Bible.  He is still Paul, but God has moved his ministry to fit where He needed Paul at various times in Paul’s life.

So, how does one know if they are called to ministry?

Good question, and the answer is I don’t know.  Some people receive an audible instruction from God, while others are lead their through circumstances of life.  Some receive instructions via prayer.  Only you can answer whether you are called or not.  But, as stated above, everyone is called to do something.  It may be something that is completely behind-the-scenes, or it may be something that is not a position.  The key is to be willing to do those things God instructs us to do.

I do believe that in the end, no one guides his/her own ministry.  It should be led of God.  Only then can we fulfill the commission God has given for our life.

Not Santa

July 13, 2019

Virtually everyone has a different view of who God is.  I would not presume to try and sort out everyone’s personal view of God, but I will say this – He is not your personal Santa Claus.

He is also not Aladdin’s Lamp, or the Genie.  He brings hope, love, and restoration to millions, but there is more to God than simply being a grandfatherly figure who grants our every wish or desire.

Of course, we need things from God, and it is perfectly normal to ask Him for the things of life that we need.  But, there is more…

God is not just a request fulfiller.  According to His own Word, what He wants from us is RELATIONSHIP.  All other things are secondary.

If we look carefully at the roll-call of famous ‘good’ men and women of the Bible you will find they have one thing in common – RELATIONSHIP with God on a personal level.  So, what does it mean to have a relationship?

I think it means at least three things, possibly many, many more:

  1. Right standing – you cannot have a meaningful relationship with God if you are steeped in your own sin.  And, according to His Word there is only one path to ‘right standing’ with Him, and that is through the forgiveness of sin made possible by the blood of His Son.  But, this is not automatic.  There needs to be some confession, and willingness to receive instruction and help for our weaknesses.  When all of this comes together we can achieve ‘right standing’ with God, which is the first step to having a meaningful relationship.
  2. Thankfulness – He has already done many things for you.  Some things you are aware of and know about, and some things He has done that you have no clue about.  A thankful heart is the second step to a meaningful relationship.
  3. When you have right standing and a thankful heart, you can now make your requests known to God.  He wants to answer your prayers, but if you lack right standing, and are not thankful, then you might find more frustration and wonder why He is not responding to your prayers.

All of those things are important, but there are a few more, namely love and faith.  These are also necessary for meaningful relationship with Him.

And, isn’t a meaningful relationship with God what it’s all really about?

Practicing Sin

July 7, 2019

Interesting title.  What does it mean?  My definition of ‘Practicing sin’ goes something like this – “the act of engaging in a pattern of sinful behavior with fore-thought”.

While sin is sin, there are differences.  Practicing sin is a behavior that destroys Christian witness, and endangers the salvation and long-term spiritual relationship we have with Christ and God the Father.

Practicing sin requires fore-thought, planning, and deception.  It is a behavior pattern designed to let the believer eat from both the tree of forbidden fruit, and from the tree of life.

While it is a myth that Christians ‘must’ sin because they are human, it is true that because we are human we not yet perfect and make mistakes.  And sometimes we sin.  Sometimes we make mistakes.  Sometimes we make wrong choices.

These sins are covered by the blood of Christ, but repentance and forgiveness are still required.  However, practicing sin falls into a different category.  Here are some of the things I think are the biggest problems with practicing sin:

  1. It becomes a pattern.  This pattern changes our thinking, our behavior, our future path.
  2. It promotes more sin, as practicing sin can become addictive.  One sin can certainly lead to others more easily.  “If I’m already in trouble, then it really doesn’t matter what I do”, becomes the thinking of the individual who has fallen victim to practicing sin.
  3. It challenges our relationship with God.  The more we practice sin, the more unresponsive we become to the guidance of the Spirit in our life.  In other words, our hearts become ‘hardened’.

The Christian must be aware of the danger of falling into the trap of practicing sin.  No one is immune, or so spiritual as to not be tempted.  But, the chain can be broken.

 

The Seven Stars

June 19, 2019

As we know, the beginning of the Book of Revelation starts with a revelation of Jesus, and seven letters to the seven churches.  This vision of Jesus shows Him in the midst of seven golden candlesticks, and in His right hand seven stars.  The explanation is given that the seven golden candlesticks represent the seven churches, and the stars represent the angels of the churches.

Jesus doesn’t actually address the letters to the churches, but to the angels of the churches.  No doubt these angels are special as they are represented by stars, bright, brilliant, and beautiful.  Not only in appearance, but because He holds them in His right hand – the hand symbolic of power and strength.

Now there are only two plausible explanations for these angel/stars:

  1. They are actual angels of God, put into each church, and possibly in charge of each church.
  2. They are the pastors of the churches.

If we consider explanation #1, then it becomes clear God has placed an angel in charge of each church.  Not just these seven churches, but in every church on planet earth.  What a thought!  An angel of God overseeing every church.

Explanation #2 is also significant, for it would illuminate the responsibility and authority God has granted to each pastor of every church.

What about the candlesticks?

They represent each church is to be a light in a dark world.  A light that cannot be hidden.  A light that darkness cannot overtake.

So, while sometimes the outlook may look bleak, and it may appear God’s church is weak in the face of the darkness in the world, the truth is somewhat different.  Each church is a candlestick, and has a star to guide them.  These stars are held in the right hand of Jesus Himself, and Jesus, Himself, is walking in the midst of the golden candlesticks.  He is not removed.  His not distant.  He is among His people.  And, ultimately, His church will prevail.

While pastors may endure great trials and conflict, and travail in prayer, Jesus holds them in His right hand, and no one is powerful enough to remove them from His hand.  The same hand that was pierced in order to purchase the church and give them a certain future.  So, pastors, chin up.  Your efforts will be rewarded.