‘Liberty and Justice for All’

happy independence day fireworks

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!

The last five words of the Pledge of Allegiance spell out the desire Americans naturally have for freedom and fairness for everyone in our country. As fitting that these feelings appear to be, everyone also has his or her own interpretation of what these words mean. And, therefore, what one thinks in regard to achieving liberty and justice may differ and even conflict with someone else’s view.

One good example is the term we repeatedly hear today—“social justice.” This has become a movement for some groups who claim they are not being treated fairly. And, therefore, they are being deprived of their liberty in their views. 

The aim of these groups is to tear down everything that they don’t approve of and create their own system. For most of these groups, anyone who disagrees with them must be taken out of the way, one way or the other. It’s not an exaggeration to state that if these radicals were to get their way, there would be no liberty and justice for all.

Of course, nothing on earth is perfect. There are always going to be flaws and failures no matter what system humans create and operate. But the best system we could ask for in this present age is one that recognizes “the laws of nature and nature’s God” in accordance with our Creator who created us equal, endowing us certain “inalienable rights” among which are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as our Declaration of Independence declares. Those who still believe in the wisdom of “one nation under God” will agree this is where true liberty and justice for all are found.

God our Father looks with favor upon the nation who recognizes and obeys his Word: “Blessed [happy] is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen for his own inheritance,” (Psalm 33:12, New American Standard Bible, NASB). This blessing directly refers to Israel as God’s chosen people (Deuteronomy 14:2). But any nation that recognizes Israel and their one true God will also be blessed. This promise goes all the way back to the Patriarch Abraham, father of the faithful (Genesis 12:1-3).

In Israel, those who chose to abide by God’s Laws were promised to receive God’s blessings including liberty for those in servitude. As one source says,

One of the final new commands from God in Jeremiah is the renunciation of slavery (Jer. 34:9). The Law of Moses required Hebrew slaves to be set free after six years of service (Exodus 21:2-4, Deuteronomy 15:12). Adults could sell themselves, and parents could sell their children, into servitude for six years. After that they must be released (Leviticus 25:39-46). In theory, it was a more humane system than the serfdom or chattel slavery known in the modern era. But it was abused by masters who simply ignored the requirement to set slaves free at the end of the term, or who continually re-enrolled slaves into a lifetime of consecutive six-year terms (Jer. 34:16-17).  (For further reading, see https://www.theologyofwork.org/old-testament/jeremiah-lamentations/work-related-themes-in-the-book-of-jeremiah/slaves-set-free-jeremiah-34)

When it came to social justice, Israel was commanded to treat the less fortunate, as well as the foreigners living among them, with fairness, kindness, and respect. Consider the following scriptures…

Exodus 22:21-22 “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.” (See also, Deut. 27:19; 28:1-14).

Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (English Standard Version, ESV)

Prov. 21:15 “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” (ESV)

Jeremiah 22:3 “Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.” (ESV)

Psalm 82:3-4 “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (ESV)

The blessings of liberty and justice for all is an important feature of being “under God” by submitting to him and his Word. As we put our faith in him and obey the teachings of his Word, we’ve chosen the standards that provide liberty and justice. God is the perfect Source of this blessing because he alone is perfect in righteousness and justice:

Deuteronomy 32:4 “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” (ESV)

Psalm 89:14Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” (ESV)

God’s holy standards concerning liberty and justice were also advocated and upheld in the early church. For example, James tied liberty with justice when he wrote,

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing,” (James 1:22-25, ESV)

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty,” (James 2:12, ESV).

We, as believers, use our liberty through Christ to speak and act according to the lifestyle approved by God and reflected in his Law. By God’s grace, he gave his only begotten Son to provide forgiveness and set us free from sin (Ephesians 1:7-8). But such freedom does not give us the liberty to live according to our sinful desires. Rather, it provides us the liberty of serving Christ and living according to the blessings that come by obeying his Word, as the Apostle Peter wrote,

“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God,” (1 Peter 2:16, ESV).

Likewise, the Apostle Paul wrote,

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another,” (Galatians 5:1, 13, ESV).

As we look to the future, there will only be true liberty and justice for all when Christ comes to establish God’s Kingdom on the earth. The prophet Isaiah recorded God’s promise that includes a time when Christ, himself, (God calls him, “my servant”; “my chosen”) will bring permanent liberty and justice for all…

Isaiah 42:1-9 “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it…” (ESV, Compare with Matthew 12:15-21)

The prophet also recorded,

Isaiah 61: 1 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…” (ESV) Jesus claims this prophecy as part of his fulfilment as the Christ (Luke 4:16-21).

Jesus’ return will bring a time of judgment and transformation of the entire world. This is the day believers eagerly anticipate and prepared for. This is a vital part of our pledge of allegiance to the Lord, himself, when we commit our lives to him!

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael

P.S. Christians love America because it is founded on Godly principles recognizing the opportunity for the nation to become a more perfect union built on liberty and justice for all. Here’s the Clark family singing, “I Love This Land,” https://youtu.be/BpS7y4dnWNA

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‘I Am Coming Like a Thief’

Like a thief

Home security is on a lot of minds these days. And “technology plays a major role in enhancing security and surveillance capabilities…” according to Statista, an online portal for statistics.

Many high tech security systems are being offered including alarms, access control devices and video surveillance. Statista reports, “In 2023, the video surveillance market is projected to be worth 62.6 billion U.S. dollars with infrastructure applications forecast to make over 36 percent of the global market.”

The demand for technical security is on the rise especially for the home. Statista Research Department published a report dated Feb. 19, 2020 that stated, “The number of smart home IOT (Internet of Things) devices, used for control and connectivity purpose was expected to increase over the period from 2017 to 2023. Nearly 284 million devices are forecast to be in use in 2023.”

If you’ll excuse the pun….A lot of people are evidently alarmed over the possibility they or a loved one could be the victim of a break-in. As the statistics show, it’s reasonable to conclude that more and more people want to be better prepared if a thief should try to invade their homes.

And that’s the key…preparation.

Preparation is also the key for Christians who are anticipating the return of the Lord. For it was Jesus who said, “Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his garments, lest he walk about naked and men see his shame,” (Revelation 16:15, New American Standard Bible, NASB).

One thing about thieves is that they (the “smart” ones, at least) won’t attempt to invade a home if they think someone is waiting there to catch them. They usually operate under the element of surprise. They want to catch their victims off guard and come away with as much loot as they can get and as quickly as they can get it.

Therefore, in order to prevent the thief from catching us off guard, we want to be ready at all times. This is what it means “to stay awake” when Jesus comes. His coming as a thief presents the analogy of not being caught asleep, so to speak, but alert and ready. The phrase “keeps his garments,” is analogous to the same idea of alertness. Indeed, if one is not alert and ready when Jesus comes, it will be most embarrassing and shameful, like being caught without one’s clothes on.

By the way, Jesus is saying he is coming as a thief in the context of the war that will end all wars—commonly called, “The battle of Armageddon,” (a.k.a., “Har-Magedon”) The place is a battleground notorious for being where many decisive battles in Israel’s history took place. It is strategically located between the Valley of Jezreel and the Plain of Esdraelon at the foot of Mount Megiddo. The town of Megiddo guarded the pass where caravans passed through carrying goods and supplies.

Today, Megiddo is a Palestinian city located on a pass connecting Egypt and Syria. And it will be where the armies of the world led by the “dragon” (symbolizing certain nations and their evil leaders), the “beast” (a.k.a., the “antichrist” orman of lawlessness”) and “false prophet” (ref., Revelation 12:3-4; 13:1; 17:3, 9-13) will fight against Jesus Christ when he returns from heaven to establish God’s Kingdom and reign on the earth as King of kings. This unprecedented time is referred to in various terms: “the great day of God”; “the day of the Lord”; “the day of Christ”; “that day”; “the day” in the Scriptures. It will commence with doom and gloom for those foes fighting against the Lord (Joel 2:30-31). But it will be a day of triumph and deliverance, good over evil, for those on the side of the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:8; 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:14; Philippians 1:6, 10; 2:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3).

When Jesus comes in power and great glory, we do not want to be surprised like someone who had his or her home burglarized by a thief. Imagine when Christ comes and you’re not living in a way that pleases him. There will be those who will find themselves going against Christ by opposing his truth and not living up to the standards he has set forth. You don’t want to be caught off guard like these sort of persons.

Jesus tells us to be vigilant and watch expectantly for his coming:

“Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.” (Matthew 24:42-44 NASB; See also, Luke 12:35-40)

The urgency of being spiritually alert and prepared for the coming of Christ continued to be the theme of the early church leaders. The Apostle Paul reminded the Thessalonian church,

“Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief…” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4, NASB).

The Apostle Peter wrote,

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness…” (2 Peter 3:10-11, NASB).

The Apostle John recorded a vision in which Jesus warned the church at Sardis,

“So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you,” (Revelation 3:3, NASB).

Believers don’t want to be caught anymore unprepared for the Lord’s coming than someone who is not ready if a thief should try to break into their home. Indeed, from a spiritual perspective, a truly smart home is one that is controlled and connected to Jesus Christ. While many are installing security devices in their homes, our security as believers is to be found faithful in him when he returns.  And when we follow the instructions of God’s Word, we’ll find the peace of mind that comes by installing Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives. Then we’ll be ready for him to come anytime.

Good News to You!
Pastor Michael

P.S. Here’s a song from Revelation 3:1-6 titled, “A Thief in the Night” sung by Ann Webb Davenport that reminds us to keep our garments white to be ready for that coming day, http://youtu.be/YzW_5FJCTZ0

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F.A.I.T.H. for Living

happy fathers day

I enjoy those old TV shows, especially the black-and-white ones from the fifties and sixties like Leave It to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, My Three Sons, and Father Knows Best. I like watching these sit-coms for several reasons—they’re clean, innocent, funny, nostalgic, down-home, and practical.

These were the shows I remember when I was growing up. Now, I know I’m dating myself. But I’m grateful that I was able to be around to watch them back then during my childhood days. For, now that some channels are showing the reruns some 60 years later, I can view them again yet from an adult perspective.

Back in “the good ol’ days” the shows were simply entertaining. I would get a laugh or two out of some of the mischief kids my age would get themselves into often identifying with them. Then, I would be fascinated to see how those kids would get out of their predicaments by the end of each episode.

As an adult, I am still entertained by these shows. But now I understand why I was fascinated when the kids came out okay. It wasn’t because the kids were especially clever. Usually, it was because they had a wise and understanding father there to advise and help them get out of their problem.

It’s easy to see this now that I’ve gone through my own fatherhood stage and now grandfatherhood. I can understand the importance of a father to provide guidance for his children through disciple, love, and setting a good example for them just like in those TV shows. At the same time, I can understand the predicaments fathers get themselves into at times they goofed things up themselves like the those old shows also depict. It’s good that we can laugh at ourselves when we make mistakes yet, at the same time, learn valuable lessons from them.

All in all, the fatherly advice by these TV dads is good and wholesome. And I don’t think they are outdated like some might assume. I believe their words to their kids are as realistic and productive as they were when those shows were produced.

ADVICE ON RIGHT & WRONG (Leave It to Beaver):

Ward Cleaver tells his boys, Wally and Beaver…
A thing is either right or wrong and if it’s wrong in the first place…then it’s still wrong no matter how many people do it.

Ward has a talk with Wally and Beaver

Ward has a talk with his sons, Wally and Beaver

ADVICE ON DOING ONE’S BEST (The Andy Griffith Show):

On his report card, Andy Taylor’s son, Opie, got a failing grade instead of an A. He tells his Pa he wanted to run away and return at another time when he could make him proud of him. In a tender moment, Andy consoles Opie…
You’re my son, and I’m proud of you just for that…You do the best you can and that’s all I’ll ever ask of you.

ADVICE ON GIVING:

Here’s a funny moment between father and son in another Andy Griffith episode…

Sheriff Andy Taylor says to his son, Opie…
Son, uh, didn’t you ever give anybody anything just for the pleasure of it? Something you didn’t want anything in return for?
Opie: Sure. Just yesterday I gave my friend Jimmy something.
Andy: Now that’s fine. What’d you give him?
Opie: A sock in the head.
Andy: I meant charity.
Opie: I didn’t charge him nothing.
Andy: I meant something for the joy of giving.
Opie: I enjoyed it.

andy and opie

Andy and Opie take it easy

ADVICE ON ACCEPTING DEFEAT (My Three Sons)

Chip quits the baseball team after a few games where he did not play well. When his father, Steve Douglas, is asked to be an umpire for the next game, Chip gets back into baseball thinking his father will be favorable when he’s finally called on to bat in the game. When Chip gets on base, the batter gets a hit. Chip ignores the third base coach’s signal to stop at third and heads for home plate. Chip is called out by the ump, his dad. Chip has a genuine chip on his shoulder which prompts his dad to have a talk with him later outside at their home.

After pointing out to his son that he should have stopped at third base and followed his coaches signal, his dad says, You know, we’re forgetting something here. Baseball is a game and a game ought to be fun, right?

Chip is still sulking.

DAD: Now maybe some of us don’t play quite as well as others but if you get fun out of playing what’s the difference? I don’t mean you shouldn’t play as hard as you can and in the best way you can…but if you don’t get fun out of it…Maybe later on you’ll feel differently about it and we can take another crack at it.

They part as Chip’s dad goes inside.

A little later, Chip enters the kitchen where his dad is standing. Just when his dad is saying to himself that perhaps his son wasn’t cut out for baseball, here comes Chip. Having time to think about what his dad said, Chip is feeling chipper. With his mitt and ball in hand he looks up at his dad.

Chip: Does anyone want to play catch just for the fun it?

My Three Sons (Original Cast)

My Three Sons (original cast)

ADVICE ON CITIZENSHIP (Father Knows Best):

When dad, Jim Anderson, finds that his children, Betty, Bud, and Kathy, are being irresponsible, he offers sound advice to them on being good citizens…

FATHER TO HIS KIDS: A good citizen doesn’t shirk his duties. He volunteers willingly and cheerfully.

When each of his children take him a little too literally, the father unwittingly finds himself involved in ways which test his own definition of citizenship. It could spell trouble for the Andersons. But all turns out well thanks to the father who must live up to his own advice. https://tubitv.com/tv-shows/237873/s01_e02_lesson_in_citizenship

Father_Knows_Best_

The Anderson’s Giving Thanks

Scenes like these get us to think about the way a father’s advice benefits families. They serve as vivid reminders that a father has the privilege and duty to apply the timeless principles that make for a good home. When a father offers sound advice to his children and sets a good example himself, then the home will be as God intends: a place for providing a stronger and healthier society for the next generation.

King Solomon saw the wisdom of passing on good fatherly advice to his children. In fact, he wrote an entire book with them in mind while reminding them that he, too, is a son: “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel,” (Proverbs 1:1. New American Standard Bible, NASB).

The king goes on to write, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head, and ornaments about your neck,” (Proverbs 1:8-9, NASB). Solomon then goes on to talk about wisdom for living the way that pleases God, our heavenly Father.

We highly value the advice of a father who is wise and faithful to God. For God, himself, has perfect wisdom for us to follow. A father who can reflect godly wisdom and demonstrate true faith as a role model for his children is to be greatly honored.

To remind us of this wisdom, we can think of an acronym that spells FAITH. The letters stand for Fatherly Advice Is Tremendously Helpful. When fathers live up to their position as God directs, they show the kind of example that is necessary for their children to imitate. In other words, they’re applying faith by giving advice that helps their children.

In his Word, God our heavenly Father actually tells parents, including fathers, how they can raise their children to be productive and have happier lives in the process—that is, to bring up their children “…in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” (Ephesians 6:4).

In fact, fathers have a duty to teach their children about the Lord. Fathers play an essential role for showing their children the correct way to live (Deuteronomy 11:18-21). Children are wise to follow the wise advice of a faithful father, as well as a godly mother, for it leads to living longer and being happier (Ephesians 6:4).

We pray for Christian homes where wise fathers give wise advice. Like the hymn says, “God give us Christian homes….” And through F.A.I.T.H. the father will help his children experience the joy and love that comes with God’s wisdom. After all, it all comes from God our heavenly Father.

Indeed, Fatherly Advice Is Tremendously Helpful especially in times like these where sons and daughters are in dire need of security, safety, and salvation. Seeing that we’re living in a day when the traditional family values our fathers and grandfathers believed in are eroding away, this is especially important. In fact, it’s probably too late to bring back the kind of TV shows we had years ago given the way fathers are stereotyped today. But it’s never too late for Christian father’s to apply F.A.I.T.H. in their own homes.  

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael

P.S. Here’s the hymn, “God, Give Us Christian Homes,” presented by The Mylon Hayes Family, https://youtu.be/ev-5jI5iWJ4

 

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Fixing the Flaws of a Flawed Morality

morality

In his book, Words We Live By, Brian Burrell tells of an armed robber named Dennis Lee Curtis who was arrested in 1992 in Rapid City, South Dakota. Curtis apparently had scruples about his thievery. In his wallet the police found a sheet of paper in which was written the following code, sort of a robber’s rules:

  1. I will not kill anyone unless I have to.
  2. I will take cash and food stamps—no checks.
  3. I will rob only at night.
  4. I will not wear a mask.
  5. I will not rob mini-marts or 7-Eleven stores.
  6. If I get chased by cops on foot, I will get away. If chased by a vehicle, I will not put the lives of innocent civilians on the line.
  7. I will rob only seven months out of the year.
  8. I will enjoy robbing from the rich to give to the poor.

This thief had a sense of morality, but it was flawed. When he stood before the court, he was not judged by the standards he had set for himself but by the higher law of the state.

Likewise when we stand before God, we will not be judged by the code of morality we have written for ourselves but by God’s perfect law. (Source: 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers, & Writers, Craig Brian Larson)

The above story illustrates the flaws of a flawed morality. Making up your own rules simply to satisfy your own desires is no guarantee that you’re doing things right. That’s because it doesn’t fully take into account the higher standards put forth in God’s Word.

The higher standards in God’s Word include The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:1-21). They are as follows…

10-commandments

It’s often quipped, “The Ten Commandments are not called ‘The Ten Suggestions.’” And yet, they may be treated just that way if they are not taken seriously as they should. Persons with a flawed morality might agree to some degree that these commandments ought to be obeyed. But, at the same time, they try to get around them according to their own idea or philosophy of what’s right or wrong.

I’m sure the robber in our illustration thought he was justified for stealing since he was doing it in a careful, orderly way. One of his excuses was that he was doing it for a good cause—“robbing from the rich to give to the poor,” like some modern day Robin Hood. But it didn’t change the fact that stealing is a violation of God’s Law. And the thief will have to answer to God for it someday just as all of us will have to give account for our own sins (2 Corinthians 5:10).

“Thou shalt not kill” is another example. It’s commandment #6 on the list. Those who commit murder, for example, are among the ones who will be judged by God and “their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death,” (Revelation 21:8, New American Standard Bible, NASB). It can’t be any clearer than that. And, yet, those with a flawed morality will try to justify themselves for it: “I didn’t mean to…” “I was crazy at the time…” “The victim had it coming to him (or her)…” “I was raised by mean parents and it rubbed off on me…”

A flawed morality is based on choice but it’s a wrong choice. You may often hear someone say, “It’s my body. I can do what I want with it. I have my rights!” The flaw in this thinking is that it’s a self-centered way to think. And, sadly, it all too often leads to the loss of innocent life. 

A flawed morality negatively affects social order. One with a flawed morality thinks that disorderly conduct is okay for making one’s feelings known or for changing something one doesn’t like. Those who think this way feel justified in causing others grief, destroying their property, and creating chaos in the community. It’s part of the get-even-with-’em mentality of today. But the reasoning for this behavior is flawed. Lawlessness and disorder violates God’s commands for maintaining a society that needs law and order if there’s to be security and prosperity for everyone.  

Those with a flawed morality are only fooling themselves. They can’t seem to comprehend there is a right and a wrong. For true morality is based on what God decides not on what they decide.

God demands the true morality of law and order: Romans 13:1-7; 1 Corinthians 14:40. Anything apart from that is lawlessness and disorder. History shows that any organization or individual that ignores or defies God’s law and order will suffer the consequences in due time.

God wants law and order and order because he wants everyone to enjoy what it brings:  harmony and peace (Romans 12:18; 14:19; Hebrews 12:14). But a flawed morality does the opposite of what God wants. A flawed morality is a warped sense of morality that is, in reality, immorality. Why? Because it distorts and destroys the intent of God’s higher standards.

Christians understand that God opposes disorder but requires orderliness and respect for one another. That’s why disorder was a serious concern in the early church. Just think of the meaning of the word, “disorder.” According to one source,

The word is found four times in the Epistles to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:6,7,11), “Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly.”; “We behaved not ourselves disorderly.”; “We hear of some that walk among you disorderly.” The word is a military term and has reference to the soldier who does not keep the ranks (inordinatus, Liv). Then it refers to people who refuse to obey the civil laws, and thus it gets its meaning, “disorderly.” It points to members in the early church, who, by their lives, became a reproach to the gospel of Christ (compare 1 Thessalonians 4:11,12). (Henry E. Dosker as cited in Bible Study Tools, q.v., “disorderly”)

While a flawed morality is destructive, true morality is constructive. When a flawed morality is changed into true morality, then it will be fixed to enjoy the good things that come from it. It’s like going from darkness to light. In fact, it’s what love is all about.

Here’s the true morality and its benefits as described by the Apostle Paul:

For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. 11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. (Romans 13:9-14, NASB).

The key to true morality is “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” into your life. One who has accepted Christ is transformed by his Power so as to think and act the way he wants. There’s no need to make up your own rules for his rules are perfectly sound and trustworthy. In fact, he is the Way to fix the flaws of a flawed morality. After all, his morality is flawless.

Good News to YOU,
Pastor Michael

P.S. While a flawed morality puts this world in turmoil and unrest, it’s only when we yield to the true morality God requires in which real peace can be found. Keep this in mind as you listen to Timothy Touchet sing, “Cover Me”: https://youtu.be/7hOhJfYU17M

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The Upper Hand

gods-hand-reaching-down-to-mine

Word or phrase origins are fascinating. For example, “the upper hand.” According to one source,

The phrase is speculated to have originated in America where the baseball team would be decided based on who has his hand on the upper side of the bat when both captains start from the bottom and keep putting their hand above the other. The one with the upper hand would win and get to decide his team.
Another explanation about the origin is from the way a couple holds hands. The one who has an upper hand is considered to be the dominant partner. The literary origin of the phrase comes from Thomas Macaulay’s work titled “History of England” which was published in the year 1848 but there is a record of it being used in a ballad in the 1600’s called “Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard”.
(Source: theidioms.com)

Another variation of “the upper hand” is “the whip hand.” This is said to allude “to the driver who holds the whip in a horse-drawn vehicle; it was being used figuratively by the late 1600s.” (Source: idioms.thefreedictionary.com/upper+hand)

The one who has the upper hand, therefore, is the person who has an advantage over someone else. It is usually due to having more authority and power through some means for exercising dominance and control. And it may be done for either good or bad intentions.

Politics is one of those areas where people fiercely compete to get the upper hand. One is always trying to get an advantage over the other to come out the winner. But this often leads to problems. When everyone thinks they have the upper hand for gaining control the whole system is prone to get out of control.

The story is told of a newly elected politician who was visiting Washington, D.C. to get acquainted. He was visiting in the home of one of the ranking senators who was trying to interpret the bizarre wonder of the capital. As they stood looking out over the Potomac River, an old rotten, deteriorating log floated by on the river. The old-timer said, “This city is like that log out there.” The fledgling politician asked, “How’s that?” The senator replied, “Well, there are probably over 100,000 grubs, ants, bugs, and critters on that old log as it floats down the river. And I imagine everyone of them thinks that he’s steering it.” (1001 Humorous Illustrations, Michael Hodgin, ed.)

Getting the upper hand could be due to dire circumstances. If the star quarterback gets injured in a football game, this might give the opposing team the upper hand. If someone comes down with coronavirus and the condition gets worse, the disease is getting the upper hand. If a husband cheats on his wife and destroys the marriage, she’ll get the upper hand in the divorce settlement.

On the other hand, getting the upper hand can result in good circumstances. If your pet is obedient to your voice you have the upper hand over his training. If you are the hardest worker in your company, you have the upper hand in getting a raise. If you genuinely show kindness to others all the time, you’ll likely have the upper hand for making friends.

When it comes to the upper hand for Christians, it will do good to consider the phrase in capital words as in The Upper Hand of God. God definitely has The Upper Hand since he is our Creator and Sustainer, the Almighty, “…one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all,” (Ephesians 4:6, New Amwerican Standard Bible, NASB). The eternal God is the sole Source of life and is in control of all that exists past, present, and future.

The Upper Hand of the one God is just, wise, and true (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; John 17:3; Roman s 16:27; 1 Timothy 1:17). We can, therefore, trust him, love him, and honor him. We can both believe him and believe IN him to provide the very best for us since he does have The Upper Hand.

But if we do not submit to God because of our own self-centeredness and egotism and rebel against him, we will receive the punishment of his Upper Hand. We will face the consequences of our sins the same way those in the past have experienced them (Deuteronomy 11:28; 1 Samuel 12:5; Hosea 8:7; Ephesians 5:6; Hebrews 2:2-3). For example, God’s outstretched hands were lovingly offered to save Israel, but Israel shunned him. And so they gave up the blessings God wanted to give them (Isaiah 65:2; Romans 10:21).

On the other hand, we will be abundantly blessed if we willingly and passionately give God our Father The Upper Hand over our lives (Proverbs 3:1-12). For his Upper Hand is the Highest Hand we can take if we only put our hand into his. His hand is always reaching out to us, to help us, to save us, and to give us the hope we need for life. As the Apostle Peter wrote,

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon him because he cares for you,” (1 Peter 5:6, NASB).

When Peter spoke of God exalting his church at the proper time, I believe he was looking to the future Age to Come at the resurrection of believers when Jesus comes again (Ephesians 2:7). Jesus spoke of the coming Age when those who follow him will receive eternal life in the Kingdom of God:

And He said to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life,” (Luke 18:29-30, NASB; See also Mark 10:30).

The Upper Hand of God is what we’re gladly and excitedly taking hold of as believers in Christ. In fact, he is literally sitting at the right hand of God’s throne in heaven right now giving us ready access to God’s Upper Hand (Ephesians 1:18-23). And when Jesus comes again, the advantage will be ours, to spend eternity with him as well as with all those who are waiting for that glorious Day to come. And when he removes the curse of sin and death, we’ll rejoice that God does, indeed, have The Upper Hand.

What’s amazing about The Upper Hand is that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, also chose to take it. Jesus took his Father’s hand to do his will, leading him to the cross and beyond, to his glorious resurrection. When we choose Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives, we choose The Upper Hand who gave his Son to give us the hope of eternal life. The nail-pierced hands and feet of Jesus remind us of the extent to which God our Father would go to give us The Upper Hand over sin and death. It’s neat how that works, isn’t it?

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael

P.S. Here’s a lovely tune inspired by the 23rd Psalm, “In God’s Safe Hand,” http://youtu.be/Ns2AnDyxTd0

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Trust & Obey—The Only Way

trust and obey_pic

Who is among you that fears the LORD, that obeys the voice of his servant, that walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God,” (Isaiah 50:10, New American Standard Bible).

One of my favorite hymns (and I have many) that I remember singing ever since I was knee high to a grasshopper is, “Trust and Obey.” It’s one of those songs that never gets old even if we do. That’s probably because the tune is simple and the words are as true now as they were when they were written 133 years ago…

1 When we walk with the Lord
in the light of His word,
what a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will,
he abides with us still,
and with all who will trust and obey.

Refrain:
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way

to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

2 Not a shadow can rise,
not a cloud in the skies
but His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt nor a fear,
not a sigh nor a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey. (Refrain)

3 Not a burden we bear,
not a sorrow we share,
but our toil he doth richly repay;
not a grief or a loss,
not a frown or a cross,
but is blest if we trust and obey. (Refrain)

4 But we never can prove
the delights of his love
until all on the altar we lay;
for the favor he shows,
for the joy he bestows,
are for them who will trust and obey. (Refrain)

5 Then in fellowship sweet
we will sit at his feet,
or we’ll walk by his side in the way;
what he says we will do,
where he sends we will go;
never fear, only trust and obey. (Refrain)

The story behind this song is intriguing. According to one of my sources,

John H. Sammis was the writer of the Christian hymn Trust and Obey in 1887 with music composed by Daniel Towner the year before. Sammis was born in 1846, in Brooklyn, New York and died in 1919 in Los Angeles, California. A man of business who later turned to preaching for a Presbyterian church, John Sammis additionally wrote the popular hymn He’s a Friend of Mine. He also was a teacher at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles.

The inspiration for this hymn began in 1886 when the composer of the music, Daniel B. Towner, was the music conductor during one of Dwight L. Moody’s renowned revivals. Towner offered the following testimony cited by Moody’s musical partner, Ira D. Sankey, in his biography, My Life and the Story of the Gospel Hymns:

“Mr. Moody was conducting a series of meetings in Brockton, Massachusetts, and I had the pleasure of singing for him there. One night a young man rose in a testimony meeting and said, ‘I am not quite sure—but I am going to trust, and I am going to obey.’ I just jotted that sentence down and sent it with a little story to the Rev. J. H. Sammis, a Presbyterian minister. He wrote the hymn, and the tune was born.” https://www.godtube.com/popular-hymns/trust-and-obey/

Sammis_Towner_Sankey

We’ll never know who the young man was whose testimony inspired the song title, “Trust and Obey.” But we can be grateful for him and the decision he made when he decided to accept the Lord. And we can also be grateful for the talented men of faith who wrote the words and music to this wonderful hymn.

When you reflect on the lyrics of this piece, you are reminded how trust and obey are truly the way to happiness in Christ. “The light of His Word,” guides us for abiding in God’s will when we just trust and obey him. Whether it be something that brings fear, doubt, a sigh, or a tear, “His smile quickly drives it away,” if we just trust and obey him. Even if we have an unbearable burden, sorrow, grief, loss, and any other cross to bear, we’re blest if we just trust and obey him. We really won’t know the delight of the Lord’s true love for us, the favor he shows, and the joy he bestows until we just trust and obey him. Moreover, our fellowship with him will only be sweet as we walk and talk with him without fear unless we just trust and obey him. For it’s all summed up in the refrain,

Trust and obey,
for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey.

Now, let’s face it: We realize it’s not always easy to put these words into action. Trusting God is an element of faith that takes much desire, loyalty, and commitment to apply. If we can’t trust God through Christ we won’t very easily obey him. It will not only mean following strict orders, but complete discipline built on love, respect, and gratitude. You could say it takes blind trust and obedience. Speaking of which brings me to this story…

A youth group leader took his kids to a ski resort, where he saw two people skiing down the slopes one behind the other. They were so close it was almost as if they were tied together. When he got closer, he heard the one in front saying in staccato fashion, “Left.” “Right.” “Straight.” “Right.” “Left.” He thought it was a little funny, and his kids were laughing at the sound of what looked like a ski instructor giving lessons to a student. So he thought he’d have a little fun with the student skier.

He started yelling out different commands that contradicted the ski instructor. When the person in front said, “Left,” he’d yell, “Right!” When the person in front said, “Straight,” he’d yell, “Curve!” But no matter what the youth leader said, the student in back seemed to be able to ignore his voice and fix on what the ski instructor was saying. Suddenly the skier stopped and turned around.

Much to the embarrassment of the youth leader, on the chest of the second skier was a sign: Blind Skier. Even though he could see nothing, since he knew his instructor’s voice, the blind skier could ignore all other voices—even those tempting and tormenting him—and go safely down the slopes. (Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola, Jesus Speaks: Learning to Recognize and Respond to the Lord’s Voice, Thomas Nelson, as cited in thepastorsworkshop.com.)

Like the illustration, there are a lot of other voices out in the world that try to distract us from our blind trust and obedience to the Lord. If we allow our selves to pay more attention to them than the voice of the Lord, then we’ll be let down and misled to go down another path that will lead to our unhappiness and regret.

In fact, bad experiences usually result when we trust and obey the promises and actions of mortal beings without regard to our “walk with the Lord in the light of His Word.” The Bible says,

“Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.
How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God…”
(Psalm 146:3-5, New American Standard Version, NASB)

Trust and obey isn’t easy if you’ve ever been let down by someone you truly believed in. It’s especially difficult if someone made you a promise that was broken, rejected you, or mistreated you in some way. But it isn’t that way with Jesus. We can put our complete confidence in him because he reflects the perfect character of his Heavenly Father who assures us,

“I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” so that we confidently say,”The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5b, 6, NASB)

In this day and age we are often tempted to trust and obey the wrong sources. Leaders who make us great promises, merchants who make marvelous guarantees, teachers who try to steer us with false ideas, and people who aim to manipulate us into doing things we know are morally wrong. Those are kind of distractions that will keep us from following the voice of the only person who can keep us on the right course that leads to eternal life. For the only way to be happy is in Jesus, if we but trust and obey him.

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael

P.S. Here are The Vagle Brothers singing four verses from the old hymn, “Trust and Obey,” http://youtu.be/KB4KcleYiWM

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Testing Positive for ‘Positive-itis’

positive_itis

If you need to find out whether or not you have contracted a disease, the last thing you’ll want to hear is that you’ve been tested positive. The news is most devastating, to say the least. At first, you want to deny it. But then, when reality sets in, you’re left with some very serious matters such as what you’ll do next, who you’ll consult for help and advice, what you’ll need to know, and the like.

On the other hand, you’d be so relieved if the tests for your diagnosis turned out negative. Your mind would be so at ease to hear the news that the tests showed no disease found. Your worst fears would vanish. It would be like a 100-pound weight lifted from your shoulders.

But, then, there’s the possibility the test results might give out misinformation. Tests could show a disease or condition is found when in reality there is no disease. These results are called false positive. Or, tests may not detect a disease or condition that turns out to be present in which case the results are called false negative. Not all tests are completely accurate and may have their own limitations.

Testing is now the popular concept planted in the conscience of our coronavirus concerns during this pandemic period. So, we seem destined to go through times of waiting for the results—some we’d dread to hear (positive), some we’d be delighted to hear (negative), and some we wouldn’t know what to believe when we do hear it (false positive or false negative). In effect, even the testing could test our patience, as well as every other virtue we might try to muster, while waiting for the results.

There’s a fascinating analogy you can draw in relation to testing for a disease, like coronavirus, and what the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippian Church. If you were a Christian from the town of Philippi and read this letter, you’d be most encouraged.

First, Paul was writing as a prisoner in Rome. He was confined according to Roman law. For two years, he was held “…a prisoner under military custody, chained by the right arm both day and night to the left arm of one of the imperial body-guard, and not at liberty to go at large except in company with the soldier (Acts xxviii. 16),” (Bible Study Tools).

Given this condition, you might be surprised that Paul didn’t consider it a burden. He remained positive in spite of the fact that he was watched 24/7, unable to go anywhere he wanted, constantly chained to a soldier. Certainly, not much freedom in that situation, yet, Paul didn’t complain about it.

Metaphorically, he made lemonade out of lemons. That is, he turned a sour situation into something good. He had certain rights as a Roman citizen, and he was known to use them to his advantage (Acts 22:25-30). So, in spite of his imprisonment in Rome, he could receive visitors and share the Gospel with them while living in his own “rented quarters” (Acts 28:30). 

Paul’s intention all along was to preach the Good News of Christ in Rome (Romans 1:15), the home of Caesar and capital of the Roman empire. But he didn’t enter the city under pleasant circumstances. He arrived as a prisoner, standing trial after being  falsely accused by his fellow Jews who’d plotted to kill him (Acts 21:27-40; 23:12, 23-35).

Though under dire circumstances, his appeal to the emperor gave him the opportunity to achieve his goal in Rome (Acts 26:28-32). So, even though the Apostle Paul had every right to complain about how he was unjustly treated by his own people, threats on his life, the hardships he’d experienced on his journey to Rome (e.g., the shipwreck, being bitten by a venomous snake, Acts27:14-28:6), and then his two-year-long house arrest while awaiting trial in Rome, he didn’t hold any grudges. He didn’t even complain that he was a Roman prisoner. Rather than thinking of himself as a prisoner of Rome, he looked at himself as God’s “…ambassador in chains; that I may speak boldly as I ought to speak,”  (Ephesians 6:20). 

A second thing about Paul’s letter is you’d appreciate that he starts out saying in his letter, “I thank my God in all of my remembrance of you…” (Phil. 1:3, New American Standard Bible, NASB). Wow! He’s not thinking of himself but of you! Here you are living in your own comfort while he’s out there sacrificing so much for the sake of Christ yet he’s remembering you. And then he goes on to say he’s praying for you (Phil 1:4, 9) as he encourages you to “…abound more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excelent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ,” (Phil. 1:10).

As you read further in the letter, it suddenly dawns on you—this apostle really is taking it all in stride. He’s really got a handle on it! In spite of all that he’s going through, he repeatedly expresses his joy as he urges others to rejoice, too: “….in this I rejoice, yes, I will rejoice!…And you too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way, and share your joy with me!” (Phil. 1:18; 2:18).

Thirdly, while some might think that Paul was being too optimistic about his imprisonment and perhaps disillusioned thinking he would be acquitted (Phil. 1:19-26; Rom. 15:22-25), the fact is he was simply sharing his own sincere attitude as a believer in Christ. He was even telling others to be of the same mind (Phil. 2:2). For sure, if there were such a thing as testing for a disease called “positive-itis,” the Apostle Paul would have tested positive for it.

Now, here’s the irony if this were a disease…It’s something we’d WANT to catch. While we’d abhor being tested positive with a disease or condition like the coronavirus, we’d welcome positive-itis with open arms. In fact, we’d rejoice as much as the apostle if we contracted it like him.

What we would NOT want to hear is that positive-itis was tested negative in us. Most times we’d rejoice if we were tested negative for something like the coronavirus. But not when it comes to positive-itis. If positive-itis in us were found negative we’d be missing out on the blessings we’d receive otherwise. And that would truly leave us with something we’d never want to come down with—negative-itis. This kind of “itis” would leave us feeling helpless and hopeless with bouts of grumbling and disputing unlike those with positive-itis (Phil. 2:14-15).

Positive-itis enables us to rejoice even when Christ is preached out of wrong motives. Paul said that at least, “Christ is proclaimed,” by these people and that’s a good thing. So, even though some proclaim Christ for their own gain, you can still rejoice as you go about serving sincerely and unselfishly (Phil. 1:12-20). 

Even if you should come down with some kind of threatening sickness, like one of Paul’s fellow workers did once (Epaphroditus), positive-itis will help you through it all with the support of other Christians (Phil. 2:24-30). Positive-itis helps us see the good in other believers who’ve suffered and the joy that comes by holding them up with high regard. And we can appreciate our own circumstances even better.

However, with positive-itis testing comes a warning. We do not want to be misinformed with false positive or false negative results. We could end up like “the evil workers” Paul refers to in chapter 3 of his letter (3:1-3). No doubt, they felt positive in their point of view, but they were positively wrong. They based their beliefs on the false idea of legalism via the Jewish rite of circumcision.

At the same time these “dogs,” as Paul calls them (Phil. 3:2), held false negative views toward him and others who had at onetime held the same beliefs (Phil. 3:4-6). They looked down on him because he’d changed his legalistic views when he accepted Christ into his life. As a result, Paul tested positive for Christ and found genuine joy and salvation through him (Phil. 3:7-12).

When testing positive for positive-itis, it’s good news because we’re seeing several symptoms of self-improvement while serving Christ. Paul lists these symptoms in Philippians 4:8. When our minds dwell on positive mindedness then we’ll be showing signs of “…whatever is true…honorable… right…pure…lovely…good repute…any excellence…anything worthy of praise….”  

It’s not like being tested positive for a life-threatening bodily disease where everything could, and often does, lead to something worse. Rather, our health will actually get better. We’ll think, behave, and look better than we’ve ever been. In fact, it will give us the incentive to leave the past behind as we reach forward to a higher goal we’ll attain in the future life. For as the Apostle Paul stated when he envisioned the Lord’s glorious coming and eternal life for all believers,

“I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 3:13-14).

Then, he urges his fellow Christians to catch the same positive-itis with which he and others are diagnosed. He says to them and us,

“Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us,” (Phil. 3:17).

Paul’s desire for the church was that they would come down with positive-itis, too. Then they would see relationships healed (Phil. 4:1-3), peace flourishing (Phil. 4:7), and all their needs abundantly supplied just as God has done for him (Phil. 4:19).

Yes, testing positive for positive-itis—now, that positively has benefits! Have you caught it? What’s your diagnosis?

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael

P.S. Here’s a positive-itis-kind-of song with a message that I hope you’ll catch, toohttp://youtu.be/niypYXVkf-Y

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Transforming to the Will of God

will of god

When we pray, “Thy will be done,” we automatically put forth a challenge between our inclinations and God’s regulations. For, since we are sinners, we’re naturally inclined to follow our own desires as opposed to the One we’re supposed to obey. Following God’s will means going the direction he wants us to go, whether we want to go that way or not.

Walter Knight told of an old Scottish woman who went from home to home across the countryside selling thread, buttons, and shoestrings. When she came to an unmarked crossroad, she would toss a stick into the air and go in the direction the stick pointed when it landed.

One day, however, she was seen tossing the stick up several times. “Why do you toss the stick more than once?” someone asked. “Because,” replied the woman, “it keeps pointing to the left, and I want to take the road on the right.” She then dutifully kept throwing the stick into the air until it pointed the way she wanted to go! (Today in the Word, May, 1989, as cited in different sources.)

In Romans 12:2, the Apostle Paul discusses how Christians “may prove what the will of God is” and it doesn’t necessarily mean throwing a stick into the air until it points the way we want to go. He wrote,

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect,” (New American Standard Bible, NASB. PLEASE NOTE: All scripture quotes will be from this translation unless noted otherwise).

Notice the two words the apostle uses which point in opposite directions—“conformed” vs. “transformed.” According to the Greek language, “conform” means “fashioned with the age.” The current age is characterized as evil.

In Galatians 1:4, Paul claims that Christ gave himself as an offering for our sins in order to deliver us from the evil of this age, thus fulfilling God’s will. He stated that Jesus Christ,
“…gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil age according to the will of our God and Father.”

The fashion of this age does not fit the mold or pattern for the way we, as believers, are to live. It’s basically influenced by ungodly people who advocate philosophies, theories, and lifestyles that go against the teachings established by God according to his Word. If you want to see a sample of what some of these fashions are, look up First Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21; and Revelation 21:8. You’ll notice that those who follow these fashions will not inherit the Kingdom of God in the Age to come, and will be judged for the Second Death. It’s a most serious issue!

Rather than fashioning to the spirit of this evil age, the Apostle Paul urges believers to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The Greek word for “transform” is interesting. It comes from the same word as “transfigured,” as in the transfiguration of Christ before the presence of Peter, James, and John (Matthew 17:2). As Paul applies the word, he is pointing to a real change—the same change that the disciples saw in their vision of Christ’s second coming when the Lord’s “…face shone like the sun, and his garments became as white as the light,” (Matt. 17:1-13).

Another fascinating feature about the word “transform” is that the Greek word for it, metamorphoo, is the same root for the English terms, “metamorphosis” and “metamorphize.” (HELPS Word-Studies, as cited in BibleHub.com.). You might recall biology classes during your school days learning about metamorphosis, such as caterpillars transforming into butterflies.

Paul is speaking in the imperative tense: “be transformed,” no “ifs,” “ands,” or “buts,” about it. Therefore, he is making it mandatory that believers must undergo a kind of spiritual metamorphosis if they are to ascertain and accomplish the will of God.

Paul is not exhorting believers to go half way but all the way for going the way God requires. It’s a matter of mind over not what matters to us, especially, but what matters to God. Indeed, what matters to God ought to matter the most to us, IF we’re transforming according to the Power of Christ in which we’ve chosen to submit.

In essence, this is the will of God. So that, in effect, we will experience something which has much better and longer lasting results than anything offered in this present evil age. For, as we read in Romans 12:2, God wants us to have a change of heart and life for three rewarding reasons: (1) It’s good; (2) It’s acceptable or well-pleasing; and (3) It’s perfect. You can’t get any better than that!

In fact, look at the following scriptures and you will see the wonderful benefits of transforming to the will of God:

+Psalm 40:8. It brings personal delight.
+Psalm 143:10. It keeps us on level ground.
+Matthew 12:50. It enables us to have a wholesome relationship with the Lord.
+Matthew 7:21-23. It keeps you from becoming a fake Christian.
+1 Peter 3:17-18. It puts our suffering for good in proper perspective.
+Hebrews 12:4-13. It provides personal discipline out of our Father’s love.
+2 Peter 3:9. It reveals God’s patience toward us so that we’ll be saved.
+James 4:15-17. It reminds us to humbly make the right choices.
+1 John 2:17. It inspires moral living with the aim of receiving eternal life.

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael

P.S. Here is Hillary Scott and the Scott Family presenting, “Thy Will,” http://youtu.be/nRBmoRa9cjo

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A Mother’s Prayer Inspires Mother’s Day

mom-and-daughter-praying

Hear my prayer, O Lord,
Give ear to my supplications!
Answer me in Thy faithfulness,
In Thy righteousness!
—Psalm 143:1

You don’t often hear stories of mothers and daughters and how their crusade led to a national holiday—Mother’s Day, a special day for honoring mothers.

It all began in the mid 1800’s in the Appalachian communities of West Virginia.

Anna Reeves Jarvis, born September 30, 1832, was raised in a Christian home as she was the daughter of a Methodist minister. In 1850, she married Granville Jarvis, the son of a Baptist minister. Granville established a mercantile business two years later in the town of Webster, which is now a part of West Virginia.

In those days, large families were not uncommon. And Anna and Granville were no exception. She reportedly gave birth to 13 children. The sad and tragic news, however, is that only four of their children lived to adulthood. The others were said to be victims of the epidemics prevalent at the time due to poor sanitary conditions.

It’s believed these unfortunate circumstances may have propelled Anna to have such a passion for helping others in their struggles against diseases such as measles and diphtheria. In surrounding communities she began Mothers’ Day Work Clubs which eventually became a nationwide movement for improving health and sanitary conditions. Because of her efforts, many mothers suffering from health problems received medicine as well as assistance from other women. Her organization was instrumental in educating mothers along with their families toward making health conditions better and preventing childhood diseases.

Then came the American Civil War (1861-1865). It was a divided nation. Some sided with the northern states in favor of the Union, and the southern states in favor of the Confederacy. It is said that Anna did her best to keep unity and remain neutral even while some in her Methodist church wanted to divide into northern and southern branches. She wanted to aid anyone who’d suffered the effects of typhoid and other ailments resulting from the war.

When the Civil War came to an end, Anna felt the scars it left behind. She believed that mothers played an instrumental role for helping to heal those scars and bring families together. She reportedly planned a Mothers Friendship Day in 1868 for soldiers on both sides of the war to help the healing process in the community.

It’s pointed out that while she continued as a social activist, Anna was an active member at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, in Gafton, West Virginia. Not only was she a Sunday School teacher, but she served as superintendent in the Primary Sunday School Department for twenty five years.

On top of that, Anna gave lectures at various churches and other places that not only illustrates her faith but her passion for helping families, especially mothers. For example, according to sources, her topics included, “Literature as a Source of Culture and Refinement,” “Great Mothers of the Bible,” Great Value of Hygiene for Women and Children,” and “The Importance of Supervised Recreational Centers for Boys and Girls.”

Anna’s devotion and determination to make a positive difference in the lives of mothers and their families spilled over into the lives of her own children. She especially had a great influence on one of her four surviving children who left her own mark in the world. And that mark continues to this day.

For Anna’s twelve-year-old daughter, Anna Marie, was listening to her mother teach a Sunday School lesson on the subject, “Mothers in the Bible.” Years later, Anna Jarvis said she’d never forget listening to her mother close the lesson with a prayer that included these words:

I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.

Anna Jarvis claimed this prayer inspired her to take up the cause to have a day for honoring mothers. When her mother died in 1905, it is said that Anna’s brother, Claude, heard her say at the graveside, “…by the grace of God, you shall have that Mother’s Day.”

On the second anniversary of her mother’s death, May 12, 1907, Anna led a tribute to her mother that was held at the church where she served. Anna reportedly donated five hundred white carnations, her mother’s favorite flower, to be worn by everyone in attendance. Later that day, a special service was held at the Wannamaker Auditorium in Philadelphia, which could seat no more than a third of the fifteen thousand who appeared.

From then on, there was more and more interest in having a day for honoring mothers. Not only was it becoming popular in the United States, but other countries were commemorating it, too. Eventually, Anna’s quest to see that her mother’s prayer was answered came true. By 1914, Mother’s Day was officially proclaimed a national holiday by President Woodrow Wilson to be held each year on the second Sunday of May.

jarvis-mother-daughter

Over the years, the founder of Mother’s Day has been recognized for what she accomplished. Anna Jarvis is known as the “mother” of Mother’s Day even though she never married or had children of her own. But the story doesn’t end there.

Sadly, it all turned bitter for the woman who campaigned so fervently out of remembrance of her own mother. For as the holiday started to take off with overwhelming support, Anna was disturbed to think that it was becoming too commercialized. And for this, she turned against it. In fact, she even filed a lawsuit to stop a 1923 Mother’s Day festival. Not only that, she was arrested for disturbing the peace at a mother’s convention where women sold white carnations.

According to sources, Anna is quoted to remark, “This is not what I intended. I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit!”

“A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who had done more for you than anyone in the world,” she is cited to have said on another occasion. “And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.”

Anna was allegedly disappointed over the idea that florists and candy makers were making money without crediting her. And because she held strongly to her convictions, she suffered economic hardship. She never personally profited from it. Her campaign for Mother’s Day was reportedly funded by her inheritance.

Just before Anna died in 1948, while living in a nursing home, she received Mother’s Day cards from all around the world. Ironically, upon her death, it’s said that her medical bills  were paid by people in the floral and greeting card industries. She was laid to rest at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania beside her mother.

But it still didn’t change the way she felt about commercializing Mother’s Day. She even went so far as to try to rescind it. She voiced to a reporter how she’d regretted starting the whole thing.

We have no regrets, however, thanks to a devoted daughter and the prayer of a caring mother. (Sources: Wikipedia; Time; Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations, Robert J. Morgan, ed.)

Good News to YOU!
And to all mothers…HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!
Pastor Michael

P.S. Here’s a new Mother’s Day song that will melt your heart, sung by children in honor of mothers, “More Than Enough,” by Shawna Belt Edwards: http://youtu.be/P7EfJRrJueY

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Contending With Coronavirus Anxiety— A Biblical Perspective

coronavirus anxiety pic

If there isn’t enough to worry about with the coronavirus crisis, now there’s the problem of anxiety.

According to Dr. Nicole Saphier, a full-time practicing physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Center, there are many being seriously affected by anxiety disorder due to COVID-19. She said,

A national survey from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) reported COVID-19 is seriously affecting Americans’ mental health, with half of U.S. adults reporting high levels of anxiety. Although nearly half of survey respondents (48 percent) reported feeling anxious about the possibility of contracting COVID-19, far more respondents (62 percent) said they feel anxious about the possibility of family and loved ones falling ill and potentially the future of our nation. (Source: Fox News, published 4/26/2020)

It seems we’re bound to hear this dire news given the warnings and dangers we’ve been bombarded with 24 hours, day after day, for several weeks now. As some places are just beginning to reopen, there will probably be more and more anxiety for fear that we could have another surge of the disease and things get worse than before. You go near someone, you hear them cough or sneeze, and you think, “Oh, no! I’m might get it, too!” And suddenly you feel a little panic coming on.

It has already been bad enough. The stay-at-home requirement has taken its toll on people’s patience. Kids home for the rest of school year, parents coping with their schedules, uncertainty about work, income, safety, health, what you can and can’t do, planned activities made months ago have changed, and so on.

Just the other week there was an article by Cyd Upson, Senior Producer at Fox News, who reported that anxiety is as much a health concern as the disease itself. Dr. Anna Yusim, a New York-based psychiatrist and Yale faculty member is quoted, “Fear and anxiety are as contagious as the virus.” She added, “With every patient, you have to get them through this trauma and then we have to find a silver lining.” (Source: Fox News, published 4/22/2020)

What’s unique about Dr. Yusim is that both she and her husband reportedly contracted the coronavirus themselves. Her husband had it worse than she. But, since then, both have thankfully recovered. And now she is helping others to deal with the disease.

I perked up when I read what she said about finding “the silver lining” in all of this. It’s not always easy to find, to say the least. I am among one of those who should know since COVID-19 took the life of my dear 90-year-old Dad just a few weeks ago. When the disease hits that close to home, you’d better believe how much more the stress level can rise at a time like this.

Yet we can and, indeed, we MUST find a silver lining for the sake of our own sanity when times get tough. Now, we can look in all directions for finding it—from health professionals to science experts to one’s favorite guru. I’ve even seen advertisements on contacting a psychic for help.

Well, to tell you the truth, my best source for coping with anxiety in these uncertain times is the infallible and most reliable Word of God. That’s not to say others can’t help. I like to think it’s good to talk to a God-fearing Christian, especially a qualified minister, for some good advice. But, we’re only human. And, therefore, the best place to turn to are the pages of the Good Book for it is inspired by direct revelation to men from God, himself, the Author. And thereby it is profitable to all who desire to spiritually profit from it.

As it says in Second Timothy 3:16 and 17,

“All Scripture is inspired [lit., “God-breathed’] by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man [as well as the woman] of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work,” (New American Standard Bible, NASB).

There are many scriptures that refer to anxiety in its various forms such as worry, fear, and stress. and how it can be dealt with in desperate situations such as pestilence and plagues (2 Chronicles 7:13-14; Psalm 91:9-10); threat of enemies (Exodus 14:13; Isaiah 41:13); insecurity (Psalm 34:4-7; Jeremiah 29:11); victimization (1 Peter 3:14-16); loneliness and depression (1 Kings 19:11-12); and illness (2 Kings 20:1-11; Psalm 103:3-5). You can be sure that from all of these examples, you’re not the first person to face anxiety in troubled times.

And it’s also important to know that whatever causes you to have anxiety, in whatever form it comes, God will be there to help you through it (1 Corinthians 10:13). Our heavenly Father has ways of giving you peace when times are turbulent; love when you feel rejected; joy when your heart is broken; and hope when everything seems hopeless. The Psalmist declared to God, “Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me,” (Psalm 63:7-8, NIV).

When we call on God to help us deal with our anxiety, we know we can rely on him to bring us peace. Why? Because he is the God of peace. And even when circumstances don’t seem to make sense, and we start to fume and fret over the tiniest issue, God will guide us through the strength he gives us in Christ Jesus, his Son.

I like what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4::6-7:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (New International Version, NIV).

Paul’s use of “anxious” is from a Greek word (merimnaó) that means “to be troubled with cares.” It literally means, “divided into parts.” Figuratively, it means to go to pieces, being pulled apart in different directions. (Strong’s Greek, Helps Ministries Inc., as cited in Bible Hub) What better way to describe how you feel when you worry yourself to pieces, especially while this pandemic is going on.

When he says, “Do not be anxious about ANYTHING, but in EVERY situation…” that must also include outbreaks like coronavirus and the anxiety it causes. Prayer is our first response. And with thanksgiving. You might wonder, “What is there to be thankful for?” Well, you can be thankful there’s Someone above to turn to in this time of need. You can be thankful for the support you have available—your family, church family, friends, health care workers, and so forth—to assist you through your problems.

As you focus on your many blessings, you can trust that the peace of God will calm your fear, even though you may not be able to completely understand why. It’s that inner peace that guards your heart (feelings) and mind (understanding) as long as your life is grounded in Christ the Lord.

In our struggle to keep from letting anxiety overpower us, we put forth our faith believing that God really does care for us. He wants us to get over it by humbling ourselves before him. He knows that if we do, he will be able to raise us above our problems in his own time. This is what the Apostle Peter is getting at in First Peter 5:6-7:

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon him, because he cares for you,” (NASB).

I think the Apostle Paul was thinking along the same line as Peter when he wrote to the Philippian Church. Near the end of his letter Paul reassured them,

“And my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:19, NASB).

The Greek word for “supply” (pléroó) in this verse means “fill to individual capacity,” (ibid.). In other words, the apostle is saying, “Every need of yours will be filled to capacity by God according to HIS riches in glory through Christ Jesus.”

By the way, the Greek word for “riches” (ploutos) here means “abundance, possessions of many kinds, materially or spiritually,” (ibid.). It reminds me of Jesus when he spoke of having the abundant life:

“…I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly [that is, to the fullest],” (John 10:10b, NASB).

And, in one of his benedictions, Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:20 and 21,

“Now to him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen,” (NASB).

Since God through the glory of his Son abundantly fills our needs, we know we will make it through our uncertainties even while we face the threat of a deadly virus. This we are determined to do with the assurance that we will come out stronger when it’s all said and done. And we will have overcome the anxiety through the Power of God at work in us through Christ our Lord.

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael

P.S. Here’s an uplifting song by Sherri Youngward taken from Philippians 4:6-7, “Be Anxious for Nothing”: http://youtu.be/UPzKtlJW6Tw

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