That ‘Sacred Fire of Liberty’

the spirit of the Lord and freedom

The celebration of American independence centers around the words in the famous declaration signed and affirmed by the founders in 1776 that included these words,

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…”

Liberty to them meant freedom from the tyranny of an oppressive government, namely, England, at that time. And that by declaring independence, the original thirteen colonies was declaring self-governance for maintaining and preserving the unalienable (meaning, impossible to be taken away or transferred) rights of everyone. As the first president of the United States put it,

“The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” – George Washington

Ever since the nation was born, the “sacred fire of liberty” has brightly blazed in American hearts, minds, and souls. It’s what helps make American exceptionalism exceptional. It’s emphasized in our Pledge of Allegiance to the United States flag, “…with liberty and justice for all.” It’s enshrined on the Statue of Liberty. And don’t forget The Liberty Bell! Yes, it’s virtually echoed throughout every American sector—the yearning to be free. And who, may I ask, put that “sacred fire of liberty” there in the first place?

I believe it goes back much farther than the Declaration of Independence. It really goes back to ancient times. More specifically, we can trace “the sacred fire of liberty” to Biblical times—to the founding of Israel, God’s chosen nation.

Keep in mind that for about 400 years, the children of Israel were sojourners in Egypt (Genesis 15:13; Acts 7:6). For hundreds of years after Joseph and his generation were gone and new generations were born, Israel was put into slavery under the tyrannical rule of Pharaoh (Exodus 1:8-14). The children of Israel cried out to God that he would deliver them out of bondage so they could escape the land and be made free (Exodus 2:23-25). Then, God heard their prayers and called forth Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt and to their promised land, thus establishing liberty for his people (Exodus 3:10-22).

When Israel received God’s Law during their wilderness wanderings, civil liberty was established as an integral part of the Law. In the Sabbath Law, for example, the people were instructed never to forget they were once slaves in Egypt but by God’s mighty hand they were delivered (Deuteronomy 5:15).

Their Law incorporated the Year of Jubilee as an emancipation proclamation of sorts. The people were to count off seven Sabbaths of years, seven times seven years, or 49 years for themselves. But on the following year, they were to release all land and property in dedication to the Lord, Therefore, every 50th year—called the Year of Jubilee—there was to be a full releasing of people from their debts, all slaves were to be freed, and each one was to return property to those who owned it. The land was to be at rest: no reaping or harvesting that year. and each one was to return to their families and loved ones. It was on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29-34) that a ram’s horn was sounded to signal the start of the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:1-22).

It is significant to point out that when God established his Law for Israel it was their life-line of liberty for bringing them countless blessings. Psalm 119—the longest chapter in the Bible—is all about loving God’s Law and the liberty it brings:

“So I will keep Your law continually,
Forever and ever.
And I will walk at liberty,
For I seek Your precepts.”
(vss. 44-45; New American Standard Bible 1995, NASB 1995)

In the New Testament, James refers to the Law as “perfect” saying,

“But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” (NASB 1995)

Notice James calls it “the law of liberty.”  If we desire to strive for perfection, we are going to desire the liberty to pursue it. But there’s just one catch that we cannot ignore: While there’s no flaw in God’s Law there are plenty of flaws in our human nature. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23) and thus we cannot attain to the perfect Law of liberty on our own initiative.

That’s what seems to make the “sacred fire of liberty” that much more intense. We truly want liberty but the harsh reality is, no matter how hard we try, we cannot achieve it because we are sinful human beings. The more we attempt to attain it through our own efforts and ideas, the more likely we are to fail.

So, does that mean there is no way to satisfy our yearning for liberty and genuinely enjoy the fruit it produces? The Good News is, “No, there is a way.” In fact, it’s the only way that God, himself, has arranged according to his grace.

Back in the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah recorded,

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners.”
(Isaiah 61:1, NASB 1995)

Israel’s long-lasting hope is based on this promise—that when their Messiah appears—he will lead them to eternal glory and bring everlasting liberty to all along with peace, prosperity, healing, and joy. Moreover, they would be a blessing to all nations of the earth. (Isaiah 60:1-3). What hasn’t happened, yet, is their acceptance of the One who came to set them free in the first place—Jesus the Christ.

Jesus affirmed that he is the One that God has chosen to bring liberty to all. When Jesus was in the synagogue before his fellow Jew, he stood up to read from these same words from Isaiah and he said to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” (Luke 4:16-21, NASB 1995) In proclaiming liberty, Jesus claimed his God-given right to set us all free through him.

It’s important to emphasize that Jesus, and not any human government or any other philosophy or religion, or person, can bring liberty like Jesus (John 14:6). Indeed, he is the Son of God and Son of Man who perfectly fulfills all that the Law of liberty requires.

So, what we cannot fully attain ourselves, Christ has done for us for he is our atonement, the perfect, sinless sacrifice who died for our sins. And he was raised for our justification so that we may receive eternal life when he returns at the sound of a trumpet in power and glory (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18; Galatians 5:1; Romans 5:6-11; Hebrews 9:11-14).  When Jesus comes again, he will remove the curse of sin and set all believers free from sin and all of its results, including death (1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Revelation 21:3-5; 22:3).

Whether the “sacred fire of liberty” burns in a nation or any individual, it’s Good News to know that all liberty is in God’s plan and purpose. While we long for it, we know God wants us to have it for it is truly rewarding in so many ways. We do not want to abuse it, but we do want to use it as God directs and not through our own futility or foolishness.

Remember the words of Jesus in John 8:36,

“If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”

Good News to YOU!
And to all Americans, Happy Independence Day!
Pastor Michael
P.S. Here’s a prayer in song that reminds us where our liberty comes from and why we can rejoice on account of it: https://youtu.be/VKj7FLg3WVA

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Belief in God and the Return to Normalcy

always-believe-in-god-faith-quoteThe Gallup Poll headline (published June 17, 2022) stood out like a sore thumb: “Belief in God in U.S. Dips to 81%, a New Low.” ((https://news.gallup.com/poll/393737/belief-god-dips-new-low.aspx)

According to the report by Jeffrey M. Jones, statistics reveal the vast majority of Americans who said they believe in God has been getting lower for more than a decade. From 1944 when the question, “Do you believe in God?” was first asked, 98% answered in the affirmative. But as of 2011, the number fell to 92%.

And the numbers continue to spiral downward.

Surveys from 2013 to 2017 reportedly revealed another drop to 87% who believed in God. But now, five years since Gallup’s last survey, another dip was reported—this time down to 81%.

Even though this figure indicates there is still a high amount of Americans who believe in God, it is alarming to find that more and more Americans no longer profess belief in God. One has to wonder what will happen if this trend continues.

More Gallup findings help to explain why there’s a belief-in-God decline in America. According to their report,

“The groups with the largest declines are also the groups that are currently least likely to believe in God, including liberals (62%), young adults (68%) and Democrats (72%). Belief in God is reportedly highest among political conservatives (94%) and Republicans (92%), reflecting that religiosity is a major determinant of political divisions in the U.S.”

“Religiosity” appears to be the key word in the context of belief in God. The Gallup report added,

“And while belief in God has declined in recent years, Gallup has documented steeper drops in church attendancechurch membership and confidence in organized religion, suggesting that the practice of religious faith may be changing more than basic faith in God.”

In view of this change, it’s apparent to me that spreading the Good News of Christ is as important now than it has ever been. Believing in God forms the foundation for believing the Good News of Christ. When that foundation becomes weak and starts to crumble (Matthew 7:24-27), so do all the blessings we enjoy so much.

Hebrews 11:6 says,

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (English Standard Version, ESV)

Going by this verse, those who do not believe in God and seek him will not enjoy the good rewards God wants us to have. Not believing in God, therefore, is to refuse to recognize him as the Rewarder—literally, the Paymaster—of the abundant life now and the eternal life believers will receive when God’s Kingdom comes.

Central to belief in God is the requirement to accept Jesus (God’s only begotten Son) as Christ (Messiah, God’s Anointed) and believe in him as Lord and Savior of one’s life.

Romans 10:9-10 says,

“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (ESV)

It’s important to emphasize that the recognition of God’s existence and faith in the salvation he promises through Jesus Christ his Son is a normal response. Of course, the unbelievers of the world would have you think the opposite. They want you to believe that if you believe in a higher power—such as the one, true living God, our Creator and Sustainer and his Son—then you are out of step with “normal” people who wish to question and even deny his existence.

In reality, however, the reverse is true. The “normal” people who jump on the bandwagon that no longer believe in God and his Son are really acting and thinking abnormally. And the “abnormal” ones who do believe in God and his Son are really acting and thinking normally.

How do we know this? The Apostle Paul points out the difference between the wise (those on the side of normalcy) and the foolish (those on the side of abnormalcy). In First Corinthians 1:18-21, he is paraphrased to say,

“The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,
I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as shams.
So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered stupid—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.” (The Message, MSG)

To believe in God and what he’s done to save us is natural. As the Apostle Paul said, “It makes perfect sense” to the wise. But the foolish—those who say they do not believe in God—are refusing to accept what is normal since evidence of God is clearly seen in and throughout his creation.  

Dr. Alva Huffer commented,

“Men normally believe in God. God created man with an inborn ability to recognize His existence. When man under ordinary conditions seriously thinks about the universe, the recognition of God’s existence naturally arises in his mind. [Psalm 8:3-9] When a child is taught that God exists, he spontaneously perceives this to be true. Man is so made that he is naturally religious. It is normal for man to believe in God; it is abnormal for him to be an atheist.” (Systematic Theology).

Atheism is, indeed, a major factor when it comes to belief in God reaching an all-time low. If you go by the statistics I’ve already shared, you find that the intensive effort put forth by various groups last century to promote atheism to one degree or another is coming to fruition in our current century (particularly the growing attraction toward the fundamental tenets of Marxism). In other words, the chickens are coming home to roost in the denial of God’s existence.

According to Romans 1:18-31, when people refuse to accept the evidence of God’s existence (vss. 19-20), they become “futile in their speculations” and, therefore, they become fools even while “professing to be wise,” (vss. 21-22). As a result, they “exchange the truth of God for a lie” and turn to everything else—whatever their “depraved” minds can imagine—“to do those things that are not proper,” (v. 28). This pattern inevitably leads to social decay and destruction (vss. 29-32; 2:1-8).

Dr. Huffer stated,

“Atheism is doomed to ultimate failure. Men normally believe in God’s existence. Atheism is abnormal. Atheism fights a losing battle. It travels the wrong way on a one-way street. Any apparent success is only temporary. When men regain normalcy, they return to belief in the existence of God.” (ibid.)

As I see it, the only way to counteract the decline in belief of God is get back to the basics of God’s Word, teaching his wisdom and truth to our children, upholding the moral values that we are commanded to follow, and showing others that God’s way is the best way if we’re to have a better life than what the unbelievers of the world have to offer. I think it’s time for the church to take action and be the church that God through Christ has always intended (Matthew 5:13-16; 28:18-20).

For we know that belief in God is the return to normalcy (and sanity).

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael
P.S. Here’s a real inspirational Gospel song by Brian Free & Assurance, “I Believe God.” https://youtu.be/zXzsQav-weE

 
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Don’t Get Rid of Daddy!

fathers-day-wishes-2017

There’s a funny story about a family who talked Mother into getting a hamster as long as they took care of the creature. Two months later, when Mother was caring for Danny the hamster, she made some phone calls and found a new home for him. She broke the news to the children, and they took it quite well; but they did offer some comments.

One of the children remarked, “He been around here a long time—we’ll miss him.”

Mom agreed, saying, “Yes, but he’s too much work for one person, and since I’m that one person, I say he goes.”

Another child offered, “Well, maybe if he wouldn’t eat so much and wouldn’t be so messy, we could keep him.”

But Mom was firm. “It’s time to take Danny to his new home now,” she insisted. “Go and get his cage.”

With one voice and in tearful outrage the children shouted, “Danny? We thought you said, ‘Daddy’!”

Of course, it was all a misunderstanding. But it’s interesting that the children didn’t have as much a problem giving up Daddy than they did Danny. Daddy’s faults seemed so obvious to the kids they didn’t seem too opposed to get rid of him. But does that mean Daddy has to go?

I was recently listening to a recorded podcast episode by The Christian Outlook that was aired on May 3, 2014. The main topic was, “The Irreplaceability of Fathers.” Host, Kevin McCollough was interviewing Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family who was promoting a new film they just released titled, “Irreplaceable,” about the family and fatherhood.

In the interview, I was concerned to hear Daly report that 85% of men in prison didn’t have a dad involved in their lives. Moreover, 71% of teens that committed suicide also did not have a dad involved in their lives. I think if we fast forward to today’s social problems, we will still find that many dads are not being engaged with their kids. And this includes fatherless homes.

The National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) reports, “The Statistics Don’t Lie: Fathers Matter.” It says,

“According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2021), 18.4 million children, 1 in 4, live without a biological, step, or adoptive father in the home. That’s not enough children to fill New York City twice or Los Angeles four times over. Research shows that a father’s absence affects children in numerous unfortunate ways, while a father’s presence makes a positive difference in the lives of both children and mothers.”

NFI cites the many problems that accompany a father-absent home—such as, four times greater risk of poverty, increase in behavioral problems in children, delinquency, drug abuse, and teen pregnancy, just to name a few. But NFI says that whenever fathers are engaged with their children, there’s a lower risk of childhood outcomes—for example, children are less likely to have behavioral and emotional problems and more likely to have better school performance, health, and safety outcomes.

Another organization, The Fatherhood Project (TFP), reported, “10 Facts About Fatherhood Engagement,” (June 18, 2015) which shows how positive father involvement leads to many good outcomes for children—greater academic success; more positive social behavior; fewer conduct problems, better self-esteem; and reduced contact with the juvenile justice system. Imagine how this helps to improve the quality of life and prevent much of the violence we are seeing in our schools and other places today.

A father who provides and protects for his family is usually a major reason why homes are healthier and more apt to thrive than those who don’t. Statistics not only reveal this fact, so do the teachings of God’s Word. Indeed, when fathers live up to the moral standards set forth in the Scriptures then they are much more likely to have a stronger, healthier family that will make a stronger, healthier society in which we can all live and thrive.

A good father is a godly father and a godly father will instruct his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. According to the New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation, Ephesians 6:4 says,

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

The Message (MSG) paraphrases this verse to say,

“Fathers, don’t frustrate your children with no-win scenarios. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.”

I believe that’s the best advice one could give to a father who truly loves and cares for his family. Being careful not to be overbearing so as to discourage his children (Colossians 3:21), he will discipline them (Proverbs 3:11-12; 13:24), instruct them (Proverbs 1:8; Deuteronomy 6:6-9), be a good role model for them (Proverbs 10:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12), pray for and with them (1 Chronicles 29:19; Job 1:5), worship with them (1 Corinthians 16:13; Hebrews 10:25), and lead them in a way that will prepare them for adulthood and their future roles as mothers and fathers (Proverbs 22:6; Matthew 7:9-11). But if you leave out the father element of the family unit, you will find that society in general and children in particular will be more apt to lose out on the benefits that otherwise they would gain.

Speaking of the benefits, I can give you a long list of ways I benefited from the upbringing my dear dad (now resting in peace) gave me. One of them was the time we shared at a baseball field inside a church camp behind our house when I was a kid.

Just about every day when he’d return from work, I’d beg my dad to take me across the street to the ballfield behind our house and pitch me some balls to hit. I was too young and naïve at the time to understand how tired he must have been after working eight hours at that punch press all day. He would often say how sore his fingers were from inserting steel plates one at a time into the machine that would press the metal into the desired shape for what went into manufacturing cash registers.

But regardless how tired my dad was, he never refused to go with me to the ballfield. He gave up his rest and his time to play ball with me. It taught me sacrifice, unselfish devotion, and love of one’s son—something for which I’ll always be grateful.

Oh, by the way…just an added benefit…I am also grateful that my dad coached me into becoming a fairly decent ball player which helped me up from my youth all through my high school years. In fact, Dad was literally my baseball coach in little league. And, to his credit, he always had winning teams. 

I listened to a radio talk show this week as the host invited his listeners to recall stories about their fathers and what it meant to them. There were many heart-warming testimonies of those who shared wonderful memories of their dads like the one I just mentioned about my dad. I was intrigued to hear how they, like me, were so blessed to be raised by good fathers in their homes.

So, let’s be careful. Even after a misunderstanding like the kids had about, “Danny,” don’t get rid of Daddy! Daddy is too valuable to give up regardless of his “faults.” Homes need good Daddies. I think they’re worth keeping! 

Good News to YOU!
And for all you fathers…
Happy Father’s Day! God Bless!
Pastor Michael
P.S. Here’s a song by Tyler Wood that illustrates the benefit of a good father: https://youtu.be/kSh6rlNnW14

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The Problem of Being ‘Proud as a Peacock’

peacck strutting

 Whenever someone is known to be arrogant, boastful, or vain, that person is said to be, “proud as a peacock.” This idiom is said to go as far back as the 14th century. In The Reeve’s Tale (c. 1387), Chaucer wrote the line, “A miller lives there. He is as proud as a peacock.”

You may be wondering what a peacock has to do with pride. According to The Encyclopedia of Words and Phrase Origins, by Robert Hendrickson,

Although the word is now used for both male and female of the species, the peacock is strictly speaking the male of the peafowl, distinguished by the long, green iridescent tail that it spreads out like a fan. The male peacock’s beauty and bearing led to its name becoming a synonym for a vain, self-conscious person and to the expression, “proud as a peacock.”

Right away, you arrive at the conclusion that being “proud as a peacock” is not how you’d want to be identified. It seems no one would want to be thought of as an excessively vain and ostentatious person. And yet, the truth is, people do strut their pride like a peacock without any embarrassment or guilt whatsoever. On the contrary, they’re proud of it.

But proud as people are, what could this indicate? Has our society become so prosperous and independent that pride comes before principles? Are we too proud to turn to the Higher Power—namely, God—who gave us our blessings in the first place? Here’s what one famous person said:

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. 

When I first read this quote I thought it was written in recent times. I was surprised to find this was the Proclamation of a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer, by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It was a tumultuous time with a nation that was truly divided but President Lincoln sought to unite the nation, putting his finger exactly on the problem—too much pride—and the solution—turn back to God.

The president was wise. He knew the Bible well enough to understand that being proud as a peacock has its penalties. And this is as true for individuals as it is for a nation.

It’s not hard to figure this out once you see what’s smack dab in the middle of the word spelled, p-r-I -d-e. The I (as in me and myself) in pride is at the center of self-centeredness. And that goes against the grain of God’s plans and promises.

After all, pride IS listed as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. In fact, it heads the list followed by envy, wrath, gluttony, lust, sloth, and greed. Pride becomes a deadly sin for it has the tendency to lead to our downfall according to the Bible. Proverbs 16:18 says,

“First pride, then the crash—
    the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.” (The Message, MSG)

Long ago, a minister by the name of C. H. Spurgeon said, “Be not proud of race, face, place, or grace.” 

This points to fact that self-pride is usually the culprit behind many of our troubles. It’s a part of the worldly characteristics that God will deal with in his time. And it goes with First John 2:16-17 which says,

“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (English Standard Version, ESV)

We see in the Bible that pride has its failures and weaknesses. It denies God (Psalm 10:4); it’s at the heart of wickedness (Proverbs 21:4); it’s deceitful (Galatians 6:3; 1 Corinthians 10:12); and will bring about a fatal end (Isaiah 2:12).

When people in power are puffed up in pride there are serious consequences. Take, for example, the king of Babylon (Isaiah 14:4). It says he boasted great things about himself, and even thought of himself as God: “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High,” (Isaiah 14:14, New American Standard Bible, NASB).

But God brought the high and mighty king down to earth, so to speak, and his pride became his ruin. By the way, this will also happen when the “man of lawlessness,” a.k.a., the “Antichrist,” rises to power and meets his end along with all those who follow him (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 1 John 2:18; Revelation 13:5-6; 19:20-21).

There are many other examples I could show from the Bible why pride is nothing to be proud of. On the other hand, God gives grace to the humble. James 4:6 says,

“But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” (ESV)

The Apostle Peter wrote,

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you,” (1 Peter 5:6-7, ESV).

But even when you’re humble, be careful not to let that go to your head as well. From his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin wrote,

There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive. Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility. 

In this day and age we hear so much about this kind of pride and that kind of pride. There are a lot of people proud as peacocks in this world. But what we rarely hear is the significance of being humble like it says in Proverbs 22:4,

“The reward for humility and fear of the Lord
    is riches and honor and life.”

Likewise, Second Chronicles 7:14 says,

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land,” (New International Version, NIV).

Which brings me to this question: What if humility and fear of the Lord were celebrated as much as pride? However, do be cautious: We don’t want to be proud as a peacock about it.

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael
P. S. Just when you feel like strutting like a proud peacock, here’s a song to remember from James 4:6 and 10, https://youtu.be/At9MX98qUho

 

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What could be better than Zen?

Meditation_Bible_Psalm 19_14ZEN IS EVERYWHERE

It’s another one of those trends (Or, a movement perhaps?) on the rise in our culture today: Zen.

Zen meditation is promoted and endorsed by business people, sports stars, entertainers, health professionals, and many other people of prominence. Even some church people are using it. They call it Christian Zen.

Many in the business world can’t get enough of Zen. You can have a Zen business if you’re interested. Zen software is available.

Speaking of business…While gyms and spas are favorite places for body building and maintaining good physical health, it’s not uncommon anymore to see health enthusiasts in the Zen Yoga positions tending to their mental health. But now we can foresee new structures popping up that will be built exclusively for Zen. For example, in High Point, NC, there’s a new Zen-Stations Studio and Spa that just opened for business. Will there be a Zen-Station location near you soon?

Oh, and I see where Amazon has introduced ‘Zenbooths’ to their over-stressed warehouse workers. Companies and organizations insist their workers need it for better performance and peace of mind.

That’s the way all those who are sold on it feel no matter the field in which they perform.

Speaking of field…Have you noticed Zen now showing up in between Major League Baseball TV commercials during games? I assume the sights, sounds, scenes in and around the stadium ballfield presented with soothing effects are intended to bring Zen to the inner soul. I suppose it’s supposed to bring a sort of calm in between those stressful innings especially when your team is creating so many stupid errors you feel like throwing your beverage at the TV. Put on some Zen. Calm down.

And speaking of TV….I even saw the word plastered in bold capital letters over the front of an old standard telephone sitting on the news counter of two TV anchors.  That’s not too surprising given the liberal bent of our media. But it’s a real head-scratcher when you see “ZEN” staring at you on the news counter of a conservative network. Huh?!?

And don’t think schools won’t be left out of Zen, either. If you are a parent with a school-aged child, don’t be too surprised if you find out sometime that your dear one is attending a Zen Den—a room that looks more like a meditation room than a classroom, with mats replacing all but a few desks. It has already recently started at a school in North Las Vegas. It’s for helping kids with coping skills.

Yes, Zen is here and time will only tell if it’s here to stay. Of course, it’s been around for thousands of years, dating at least as far back as the 5th century. It has been practiced throughout various dynasties and periods in the Far East—such as China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. And it has undergone many developments and changes over the centuries.

WHAT IS ZEN?

In our modern age, Zen has been embraced by many in our part of the world who are seeking a way to deal with pressures of life for finding meditative calmness. The word itself means “meditation.”

According to an article in MSN.com,

…. But what is Zen and will it really help with our modern day stress, malaise and post-pandemic anxiety?
Zen literally means meditation,’ says Julian Daizan Skinner, the first Englishman to go to Japan and become a Zen master – he gave up his career as a scientist, sold his house, gave all his money away and entered a monastery 30 years ago.
‘Meditation is fitness training for the mind, or more specifically, the attention,’ he tells Metro.co.uk. ‘And in this world, which is awash with distraction, the ability to control our attention will transform your health and your life.’ (The Big Happiness Interview: How to Become More Zen and Transform Your life, by Suzy Walker, 5/22/2022)

One can’t disagree with wanting to achieve happiness and finding inner peace and calm. And meditation is a great way to achieve it. But what kind of meditation does Zen offer?

From the Buddhist perspective, Zen meditation reportedly doesn’t focus on an object—for example, no books or set of rules or scriptures. It takes on a different spiritual path.

In the book, Theology, Ethics and Transcendence in Sport, authors Irena Martinkova and Jim Parry write,

Although   in  different  schools   of Buddhism   there  are different   ways  of   meditating,  generally  we   can  say  that   meditation  is  mediation   to  the immediate. The main characteristic of meditation in Zen Buddhism is that it does not have an object to relate to. It is not meditation about something, but rather it is meditation without any object. Therefore Zen meditation is not a kind of concentration in the usual sense of the word, but rather a quiet awareness of whatever happens (Watts, 1957: 155).

ZEN OR BIBLICAL MEDITATION?

Christians are also taught to meditate but, unlike Zen Buddhism, we focus on something that is different —something that has a different meaning and outcome. It lies not within but outside of ourselves, based on God’s inspired Word—the Bible.

God’s Word is infallible, filled with wisdom, and more powerful than anything humanity can imagine (Hebrews 4:12).. So when our meditation is on him, we are tapping the One Source that is superior and perfect in every way. Just as God testifies in Isiah 55:8,

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine, (New Living translation, NLT).

In Biblical meditation we’re thinking, reflecting, and concentrating on principles, promises, and purposes that are divinely inspired.  When a Christian meditates, it’s with the aim of absorbing what God wants us to know and do in view of his will, his plan, and his purpose.

It includes meditating on his perfect Law. Joshua 1:6-8 says,

“Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. (New International Version, NIV).

As it says in this passage, meditating on God’s instructions brings prosperity and success. It dovetails with James 1:25,

25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it (NLT).

God’s blessings may not necessarily appear in a material sense, although that could be a part of it, as well. But it especially includes a spiritual awakening that will transform your thinking on a higher level for enabling inner peace, joy, and love that only God provides. In turn, he will give you the Power to eat better, sleep better, and live better through his grace or favor (Psalm 63:6; Daniel 1:8, 15-17; Philippians 4:7; 3 John 1:2-3). Take some time to read Psalm 119 and note all the many benefits of meditating on God’s Word.

Biblical meditation puts you on God’s spiritual path. It’s the path of righteousness and goodness that no other religion or philosophy or belief can provide (Proverbs 4:10-19). Psalm 1:1-3 says if you mediate on His Law or Word day and night, you will prosper:

Oh, the joys of those who do not
    follow the advice of the wicked,
    or stand around with sinners,
    or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the Lord,
    meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
    bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
    and they prosper in all they do. (NLT)

BIBLICAL MEDITATION AND FAITH THROUGH CHRIST

Biblical meditation is based upon faith in God through his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the One who makes meditation the revelation of God’s Word. So, when you meditate and fix your thoughts on Jesus, God’s Word comes alive to bring about true enlightenment in your life. Like it says in Philippians 4:6-9,

 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. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you, (NIV).

BIBLICAL MEDITATION AND PRAYER

For Christians, Biblical meditation has an added dividend. For it goes hand-in-hand with prayer. In fact, meditation helps us to get closer to God when we pray. It sets the tone for prayer so that when we make our requests known to God, we are more receptive to his wisdom and will (Psalm 143:1-12).

So when it comes to choosing between Zen (or any other kind of meditation) and Biblical meditation, you can weigh the balance between their differences and what there is to gain.

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael
P.S. Here are some selected passages to meditate upon: “Meditating on God’s Word: Psalms & Prophecies of Peace & Victory,” by Steven Furtick, https://youtu.be/qEBH0y7PzDI

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Why God Makes Rainbows

rainbows

Some use rainbows to make social and political statements. Others use rainbows to make money via fashion, entertainment, and media. Still, others use rainbows simply to adore for they are so eye-catching. 

Indeed, who isn’t fascinated when viewing their imposing size, glorious grandeur, perfect shape, and bright array of beautiful colors? They do draw one’s attention wherever they are seen. And sometimes the oohs and aahs grow twice as loud when a double rainbow appears in the sky above.

Yet, others go further in their awe of rainbows. It’s almost to the point of worship. To them, rainbows hold a sort of magical even mystical meaning. Some persons will go so far as to associate rainbows with the angels. Perhaps it has something to do with them symbolizing a bridge between heaven and earth. (NOTE: This concept may not be too far-fetched since rainbows are mentioned in the Bible. More about this later.)

However, on the opposite side of the spectrum, there are a lot of mythologies about rainbows that would appear peculiar to our culture. Wikipedia cites many examples of rainbow deities. For example, it says according to Chinese mythology, Hong is a two-headed dragon that represents the rainbow. There’s a Rainbow Serpent deity in the Aboriginal Australian mythologies. And it’s reported that for the Karen people of Burma the rainbow is considered as a painted and dangerous demon that eats children.

But getting back to our culture…

There are the more romantic aspects. When you look up and gaze at a complete rainbow high in the blue sky following a refreshing shower of rain above, you may be momentarily awe-struck. A little tingle of fascination goes running down your spine. It gives you a warm, wonderful, fuzzy feeling for reasons that are hard to explain.

Much might be left to your fantasies. Perhaps you imagine the Irish legend of the pot of gold you’d like to find at the end of the rainbow providing, of course, you can get past the Leprechaun guarding it. Or, maybe you get the same feeling Dorothy (Judy Garland) had in the classic movie The Wizard of Oz. I’m referring to the farm scene just before the cyclone hit and she started singing,

Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high
There’s a land that I heard of, once in a lullaby;
Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream, really do come true…

To make the lyrics even more effective, you also have to imagine the tranquility of the farm setting: the animals moving freely, Toto the dog cheerfully prancing about, birds chirping, while the orchestra plays gently and calmly. And then comes the serene scene during the song when sunbeams of light are shooting out through a gaping hole in the darkening clouds overhead. It all gave meaning and significance to the rainbow in Dorothy’s song.

Well, so much for the melodrama.

Rainbows are also a science. When I was in science class back in my school days I learned how to remember the colors of the rainbow. I was told to remember the name, ROY G. BIV. Maybe you learned this, too. The name was in the form of an acronym with each letter standing for a certain color—namely, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.

I also learned in science class how the colors in the rainbow form. It has to do with a prism-effect—that is, as the sunlight passes through the rain droplets, it bends as it moves from the air to the droplets. It then produces a spectrum of color called a rainbow. The reflection off the sides of the rain drops results in the all of the white colors of the sunlight separating into a spectrum of the seven colors of the rainbow.

As “natural” as that might scientifically be, there’s also a “SUPER natural” feature about rainbows that we need to remember and emphasize. For it goes way beyond all the other uses and beliefs about rainbows I’ve mentioned thus far. It does relate to religion, but more than that it’s about a promise that could only come from the Supernatural—Almighty God, our Creator.

If you believe in God’s Word—the Bible—then you believe the account of Noah and his family who were saved in the Ark which kept them from being destroyed in the Great Flood over all the earth. The people living at the time were so corrupt and evil that God decided to bring judgment on them and send the flood to destroy everyone and everything on earth  (Genesis 6:1-8:22).

The only person found to be good and righteous was Noah who “found favor in the eyes of the Lord,” (Genesis 6:8).  It rained for forty days and nights and flooded the whole earth. The rain subsided. Many weeks passed into months until dry land eventually began to appear (Genesis 7:12, 17, 18, 24; 8:13). The Ark rested in a place where Noah, his family, and the animals inside could all finally disembark.

It was there on Mount Ararat that God commanded Noah to leave the Ark. In his gratitude and worship toward God for saving them, Noah made a sacrificial offering with an aroma that pleased God. Then, God made a promise that he has always kept (Genesis 8:21-22, New Living Translation, NLT):

21 And the Lord was pleased with the aroma of the sacrifice and said to himself, “I will never again curse the ground because of the human race, even though everything they think or imagine is bent toward evil from childhood. I will never again destroy all living things. 22 As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night.

Then God blessed Noah and his family giving them further commands to live by including something every person should remember to this day (Genesis 9:6-7, NLT):

If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image. Now be fruitful and multiply, and repopulate the earth.

Now, here’s where God’s glorious rainbow comes in (Genesis 9:8-17, NLT):

Then God told Noah and his sons, “I hereby confirm my covenant with you and your descendants, 10 and with all the animals that were on the boat with you—the birds, the livestock, and all the wild animals—every living creature on earth. 11 Yes, I am confirming my covenant with you. Never again will floodwaters kill all living creatures; never again will a flood destroy the earth.” 12 Then God said, “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come. 13 I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth. 14 When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, 15 and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures. Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life. 16 When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth.” 17 Then God said to Noah, “Yes, this rainbow is the sign of the covenant I am confirming with all the creatures on earth.”

From this passage, the rainbow you see in the sky is a “covenant sign,”—that is, it’s God’s solemn and unbreakable promise that he will always keep his word from Noah’s day, to our day, and on until the Blessed Day Jesus Christ returns to earth.

By the way, since we’re on the subject of rainbows, there are three other references about them in the Bible. Two have to do with descriptions of God Almighty and one has to do with a “strong angel” of God which comes from heaven. They are a part of visions of prophecy: Ezekiel 1:28; Revelation 4:3-4 and 10:1.

The Prophet Ezekiel saw the surrounding radiance of God in his glory “as the appearing of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day,” (New American Standard Bible, NASB). God is not only awesome but is to be held in holy reverence and strict obedience as well as love. Ezekiel’s vision of God’s rainbow of radiance led him to record, “I when I saw it, I fell on my face,” which means bowing low or falling down to the position of touching his nose to the ground to show his humility and awe toward God.

In Revelation, John sees in his vision an extraordinary rainbow over the head of the Almighty God on his heavenly throne: Revelation 4:3, “There was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance,” (NASB). However, this “rainbow” may have taken more a halo shape as implied by the original Greek word, iris.

In Revelation 10:1, John sees a vision of “a strong angel.” John envisions this angel “coming down out of heaven and the rainbow was upon his head, and his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire,” (NASB). Heavenly angels are messengers of God. They represent God in all of his holiness, power, and authority. Each of the items depicted imply rainbow (beauty), sun (righteousness), fire (purity).

From the Bible, you see something far different than the way rainbows are portrayed in our modern secular world.

Sadly, God’s rainbows have been misused and abused due to human failure to fully recognize what they really mean.  Much of what is made about rainbows and their colors in today’s world are depictions and creations representing their own faulty fantasies and corrupt ideas. Their beliefs cannot compare to the real truth behind God’s reason for establishing his rainbow in the sky.

The truth is, God’s rainbows are divine reminders of his promises whenever they appear. They tell us that God will keep his Word regarding true hope, harmony, and happiness. For, as God sent the rainbow as a covenant-sign to us, he also sent his Son to be our covenant-sign of salvation.

Which brings this to mind…

Between the American and Canadian border at Niagara Falls, there’s an arched bridge that spans over the Niagara River gorge below. It’s called, The Rainbow Bridge. The origin of the name is said to be unknown. However, there’s an engraving on the Canadian side of the bridge that includes the quote from Genesis, “a bow in the clouds.”

As though to put an exclamation point on the name, another one of God’s wonders can be witnessed. If it’s a sunny day and you’re standing on the Canadian side facing toward the Rainbow Bridge in the background, and look out over the billowing mist forming from the Falls, you can actually see a rainbow. rainbow niagara falls bridge

I’ve seen this many times and it brings to mind the role Jesus plays in our lives. For, in a large way, Jesus Christ is our Rainbow Bridge—our Mediator or go-between, between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). Through him, we can be certain God will fulfil his wonderful promises not only now in this life but in the glory that will come forevermore in his coming Kingdom.  

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael
P.S. The truth about God’s rainbows is so plain to see that even children in all their excitement and energy can understand and accept it. I think you’ll see evidence of this as you watch a lively service led by Hillsong Kids singing, “Rainbow—Super Strong God,”  https://youtu.be/CmKJcPVjU_4


							
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Good Listening—A Good Cure for Bad Communication

listening before speaking

Imagine a conversation the following family is having as they sit in their living room one spring evening. The husband, Roger, is watching the baseball game. His wife, Lisa, is lounging in her chair in the corner browsing the email on her iPhone. And their 10-year-old son, Brian, is playing nearby with his pet gerbil, Softy. The fresh smell of popcorn that Lisa just finished making for herself and the family fills the air. The sun has begun to set and it’s beginning to get dark.

Lisa flips the light on the lamp beside her and says to her husband: “Honey, I got a message from Bobbi’s Boutique that my favorite clothing store is going out of business soon. I’m really disappointed. They have such fine tops and jeans and at great prices, too.”

Roger, not taking his eyes off the TV: “Oh…Yeah. If my team doesn’t start a winning streak soon, we’ll all pay the price. I lost a small fortune on them the last few weeks at the office pool and this week doesn’t look any better.”

Brian: “I wish we had a pool.”

Lisa: “It looks like they’re having a closing out sale tomorrow. I think I’ll see what they have left. Honey, since my car is getting fixed at the shop, can I borrow your car?”

Roger, still glued to the game: “I’m not sure until I look at my schedule. Just one more hit and we go ahead. Oh, rats! He got out! Still down a run and we’re tied at three.”

Lisa: “Since you won’t need it past four tomorrow afternoon, I’ll run over to the store after that when you get home.”

Roger sets down his popcorn-filled bowl on the coffee table in front of him: “I sure wish they do get a run home next inning so we make it at least four on the score and go ahead.”

Brian: “Mom, I can’t find Softy. I think I saw him running toward Dad’s popcorn bowl.”

Brain tries to get his dad’s attention: “Earth do Dad. Earth to Dad. Softy was seen going toward your popcorn. Hello!”

Roger: “Yesss! My team is up.”

Suddenly, Roger jumps up, makes a fist pump. bumps the stand, and almost spills his popcorn yelling, “Yeeha! Homerun!” loud enough to wake up the dead.

Still excited, Roger turns to his son: “Did you say popcorn, Son? No, I still have some, as he gleefully celebrates by stuffing a big handful of the popcorn into his mouth.”

At that moment, Roger’s face turns from satisfaction to a most sour look: “Yuck! Hey Linda. What did you do? This popcorn tastes terrible!”

Brian: “I still can’t find Softy! Oh, Dad!”

If only you could be a fly on their wall, I’m sure you’d get a laugh over their conversation. Obviously, this family was having a communication breakdown and it left a “bad taste” if you get the drift.

Actually, there was no real communication at all. Each one was too preoccupied to listen to what the other one had to say. True, each one heard pieces and parts of what the other person was saying. But there was no real conversation going on according to our definition of “communication.”

WHAT COMMUNICATION IS

So, what is communication? H. Norman Wright, a licensed counselor and author of many books on communication, says,

“Communication is the process of sharing yourself both verbally and nonverbally in such a way that the other person can understand and accept that you are sharing.”  (More Communication Keys for Your Marriage.)

This is about as clear as one can get in explaining what communication is all about. It’s a process, a sort of two-way street. Whether one speaks verbally or not, it includes sending a message down the street to someone who is supposed to receive it. The person who receives it at the other end sends the message back to the sender along with his own message. The sender receives the message and back and forth it goes.

But all too often this message doesn’t make it down or back up the street. The receiver may get the message if there’s not too much interference to prevent the message from arriving (for example, distractions). Or, the receiver may not be ready to receive it (such as, preoccupation with other matters; or simply, lack of interest in the message). Or, the receiver sends the message back, but when it arrives, the sender is not ready to receive it. He has something else he wants to send. And, in the process, he may take the other person’s message the wrong way in which it was intended.

Roger, Lisa, and Brian’s conversation is a typical illustration of what happens when messages do not go up and down the street very well. Of course, their problem is the result of what usually happens when communication breaks down—something that most of us can relate to: poor listening!

Wright says that communication, …means you also have to attend with your ears and eyes so that the other person can communicate with you.”

Naturally, this makes sense. One wouldn’t think of receiving a gift from someone such as a video recording, and then having one’s ears and eyes covered while attempting to enjoy it. Likewise, if we do not open our ears and eyes to the gift of someone’s message, we’ll not be likely to get anything out of it.

Nothing can cause more embarrassment than to not listen clearly when persons give us information about themselves which results in a total mix-up and misunderstanding of what was said. This can particularly happen if we’re not paying attention when someone tells us his or her name.

WHAT’S IN A NAME

Related to this, I read about a not-so-unusual, comical incident which happened to Denise Smoot one time when she visited the dentist. Here’s how she tells it:

“Thanks so much for coming in, Mrs. Snoot.”

I sat down in the chair in the dental office waiting room. “The name is Smoot,” I said as I smiled at the receptionist and reached for a magazine:

“Oh, yes—well, Mrs. Snoot, if you’ll just sit right down here. The doctor will be with you in a minute,” she replied from her window at the counter.

“Good,” I said. “By the way, my name is Smoot.”

Yes, Snoot, okay. By the way, would you like something to drink while you’re waiting?

“I concluded there was no use correcting her again. She wasn’t listening. I’m really a nice person—I try really hard not to be snooty to anybody—and my last name is Smoot, with an ‘m’.”

Then, Smoot reflects on these kind of mistakes she has made herself. She says,

“My children call it ‘pretend listening.’ That’s when I respond with the ‘Uh, huh’ and ’That’s good,’ and ‘Oh, really,’ and don’t hear a thing. I’m good at ‘pretend listening.’ I do it all the time, but, boy, was it annoying to have someone do it to me today.”

“‘Whoops, Mrs. Snoot,’ I say to myself as they lead me to the dental chair. ‘You need that.’ It was a reminder, ‘Mrs. Snoot, to turn up your hearing!’” (Daily Guideposts)

Mrs. Snoot, (Excuse me, I mean Smoot.), talks about something that—we must all confess—we do quite often: “pretend listening.” We’re listening, but not really. We just respond as though we ARE listening. As Smoot says, this sort of listening is annoying, especially when it happens to us.

I’m sure we can identify with this. Wright asks this poignant question: “Have you had the experience of being really listened to?”

GOD IS A GOOD LISTENER

If there are times when communication is not what it ought to be and poor listening is a major part of the problem, it’s comforting to know that someone IS listening. Here are some verses from God’s Word that tell about how God is a good listener:

When David cleverly escaped from a powerful king, King Abimelech, who threatened his life, David declared in Psalm 34:15-18 (New International Version, NIV),

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are attentive to their cry;
16 but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to blot out their name from the earth.
17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

It’s helpful to know that when we’re having difficulties of any kind, God will listen to us. All we need to do is call upon him and he will guide us and save us from anguish. Through the prophet, Jeremiah, God says in Jeremiah 33:3,

‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’ (NIV)

God’s perfect listening ability shows us what communication is all about and how we can improve upon it in our own lives. It basically starts with caring about the other person. As God cares for us and listens closely to every need we share with him, so are we to genuinely care for the person who is talking to us.

If there are times when we really aren’t listening, and just “pretend listening,” then could it be that we really don’t care anyway? Maybe we hear what’s being said but if we seriously take interest in the other person’s message then we would be listening.

LISTENING AND HEARING

Wright makes an interesting distinction between listening and hearing. He says,

“Hearing is basically to gain content or information for your own purposes. Listening is caring for and being empathic toward the person who is talking. Hearing means that you are concerned about what is going on inside you during the conversation. Listening means you are trying to understand the feelings of the other person and listening for his sake.”

Looking back on it, Roger and Lisa were hearing one another but they were not listening. At the time, each one only cared about what he or she wanted and not as much about the wishes of the other. They heard the content of one another’s messages. But, because they were not being as empathic or understanding as they should have been, they were not listening.

And, as what usually happens, those indirectly involved in the conversation also suffer—in this case, Brian. He was bewildered and bothered because he lost his pet gerbil. When communication breaks down, it often affects innocent bystanders.

GOOD COMMUNICATION—THE CURE

But these ill effects can be cured when good communication is applied through proper listening. This happens when we concentrate on what the other is saying, first, instead of being too busy thinking what we’re going to say when the other person stops talking. Proverbs 18:13 (NIV) wisely says,

“To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.”

Also, one must listen without prejudging what the other person is saying. Proverbs 21:11 (The Living Bible, TLB) says,

11 The wise man learns by listening; the simpleton can learn only by seeing scorners punished.

And proper listening also means that one is actively listening through direct eye contact, pertinent questions, sincere interest, and a pleasant tone of voice. By applying these features, good communication will save us from a lot of grief. And the popcorn will taste better, too. Just ask Roger.

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael
P.S. If there’s one ingredient that will help cure communication and enable good listening it’s love. Here’s Newsboys with, “Love One Another,” https://youtu.be/vJ6a4ptyyF8

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The Way Seems Right But…

right way_wrong way

I remember “the good ol’ days” when maps were the resources we used for finding locations. They were handy for persons in sales like me at the time whenever I was trying to get to an address on my customer or prospect list.

The problem with using a map, however, is that it was difficult to keep one’s eyes on the road while looking down at the map without veering off into a ditch or hitting a mailbox at the same time. And if the maps were not updated with newly constructed roads, I would end up driving around in circles unable to find the place I was looking for.

If I was way out in the country where roads turned into nothing more than cow paths, maps didn’t help at all. I would have to get out of my car and hunt for the nearest house I could find to ask for directions. I’d be told something like, “Well, ya go over that ridge up yonder, past the field on the right, ‘round the curve till ya see a bridge. Cross over the bridge, go down the hill, and it’s down the long driveway on yur left just a fur piece, the third house by the crick. But watch out fur the cross dog. Better just honk yur horn and they’ll come out if they’s home.”

I think about how wonderful it would have been back then if I had my iPhone that I use now. If I were in sales now, I’d be a little more confident knowing that all I have to do is tell my GPS (Global Positioning System) to take me to such-and-such an address and my worries would be over. I could even phone ahead to make sure the person I needed to talk to was at home. Or, better yet, I might not even have to drive there as long as they had an iPhone and we could facetime together.

Yes, GPS is a wonderful invention for getting us where we want to go. On the other hand, lest we get too comfortable relying on it, there is a word of caution: GPS hasn’t always been the most trustworthy tools either. Just sayin’.

There have been instances when trusting our GPS could lead us in the wrong direction if we’re caught off guard.  Then, we pay the price for it. Here’s one example I was just reading about:

One dark and foggy Saturday morning in 2011 a father driving his wife and their two children in South Brunswick, New Jersey, followed his GPS and ended up crashing straight into a house. The driver reportedly approached a T-section in the road with options of turning right or left. Instead of turning either way, the driver followed his GPS directions and went straight. He missed the initial stop sign and kept on traveling 100 feet before hitting the house. The driver’s wife and 13-year-old daughter in the car with him were not wearing their seatbelts and suffered neck and head injuries but fortunately the son also in the car was not seriously injured. (NBC New York)

Thinking of our dependency on maps, phones, and GPS, I am reminded of Proverbs 14:12 where this wise advice is offered:

“There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death,” (New Living Translation, NLT).

This proverb must be important. It is repeated again in Proverbs 16:25:

“There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death,” (NLT)

Note that the pathway seems right.” You might want to follow the way that appears to be right but that’s just the problem. Just as maps, phones, and GPS devices cannot always be depended on to steer you the right way due to potential human error, neither can you always depend on what you think is right due to potential human error. And, even more seriously, your life could be at stake on account of it.

Whether they realize it or not, we see a lot of people advocating what seems right to them, but sadly having destructive results. Here are just a few examples that come to mind:

  • To some it seems right to kill an unborn baby when the mother chooses but it obviously leads to the death of an innocent life.
  • To some it seems right to invade another country but many innocent lives are needlessly lost in the wake of the destruction and chaos.
  • To some it seems right to make court decisions that unjustly free criminals who then go out and commit more crime and take more lives than before.
  • To some it seems right to tax people into the poor house and put the lives of many on the line.
  • To some it seems right to go down the pathway of pleasure via drugs, alcohol, illicit sex, and all other kinds of hedonism but all too often someone is bound to suffer a fatal outcome because of it.
  • To some it seems right to brainwash little children so that they are confused about their gender and they end up having psychological problems even to the point of wanting to end their lives sometime down the road.
  • To some it seems right to divide the country with false history and fake news while it brings division and ends up snuffing out the freedom we hold so dear.

The fact is that the difference between doing what seems right and what truly is right is based on following the Good News of God’s Word and God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Interestingly, whenever this is left out that’s when people suffer the ill effects of their own choices (Proverbs 14:34; Matthew 7:13-23).

We don’t have to depend on what seems right if we’re going down the pathway of what is right for the Good News is that Jesus is the One who will take us down the right way of life if we’re willing to trust and obey him.

You could say if there was any perfect, flawless, map, phone, or GPS for taking us in the right direction that leads to life it’s Jesus Christ. He is the complete, living revelation of God’s Word and he is the One and only person who will take us down the road to everlasting life in God’s Kingdom to come. Jesus said,

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6, NLT).

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael
P.S. When we give our lives to Christ, we have chosen not what seems right but what is right so that no matter what he will guide is in the right way to go. Here is Ryan Stevenson singing, “No Matter What,” https://youtu.be/It_xQ4NYtDQ

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Honoring Our Mothers

mother's day

Mother’s Day is here again and it’s time we honor our mothers. Actually, we should always honor them, but this is the day when we do something special for them. We owe it to them. After all, we couldn’t have entered the world without them, you know.

We like to honor our mothers by giving them gifts: Flowers, greeting cards, candy, remain some of the most popular ones. Then there are other, more creative gifts: Tee-shirts, coffee mugs, hand-made crafts, and such that say something like, “Best wishes to the best mom in the world.”

Mother’s Day would not be complete, however, if mom wasn’t pampered in some special way. I think I can say for sure that there’s not one mother who doesn’t appreciate her children taking her out to dinner on her day. Now, even if her children cannot treat her out for some reason—perhaps they live a long distance away—there’s always that phone call or facetime that children can make.

However it’s done, there are three precious words that are guaranteed to bring a smile and a blessing to one’s mother: “I love you.” If possible, a great big hug and kiss only add more sweetness to the sentiments.

Having said all that, there are some humorous stories that come with honoring our mothers. Or, should I say, our attempt at honoring them.. Even with good intentions, there may be times when our plans may not exactly work out so well.

There’s the one about a small boy who went to a lingerie section of a large department store and shyly approached a woman clerk working there. “I want to buy a slip as a present for my mom,” he said.
“Is she tall or short, fat or skinny?” asked the clerk.

“She’s just perfect,” the small boy beamed. At that, the clerk wrapped up a size 34 for him.
Two days later, Mom came to the store by herself and changed the slip to a size 52.

Kids naturally enjoy doing something that will please their mothers particularly when Mother’s Day comes. But kids might not quite understand what would really make them happy. Here’s a for instance:

A little boy was talking to the girl next door and inquired, “I wonder what my mother would like for Mother’s Day.”
The girl answered, “Well, you could promise to keep your room clean and orderly; you could go to bed as soon as she tells you; you could go to her as soon as she calls you; you could brush your teeth after eating; you could quit fighting with your brothers and sisters.”
The boy looked at her and said, “No, I mean something practical.”

This story reminds me of something I really did do for my mom when I was a boy. I got up early on Mother’s Day and made her a breakfast. As I recall, it consisted of scrambled eggs, toast, juice, and instant coffee. I put it all on a tray and served it to her in bed. I can still see the surprised look on her face when I woke her and she saw me standing there with the breakfast wishing her a happy Mother’s Day. It put one of the biggest smiles on her face not only then but every time she’d tell others what I did for her that morning.

While mothers truly do appreciate what their children want to do for them, sometimes moms can be thrown a curve especially when they think they’re getting a break:

After dinner one Mother’s Day a mother was washing the dishes when her teen-age daughter walked into the kitchen. Horrified to see her mother at the sink, she exclaimed, “Oh, mother, you shouldn’t have to do dished on Mother’s Day.”
The mother was touched by this seeming thoughtfulness and was about to take off her apron and give it to her daughter when the daughter added, “They’ll keep till tomorrow.”

Well, so much for honoring mothers. No matter how they are honored it all comes down to the Scripture that commands us, “Honor thy mother,” (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Matthew 15:4; Ephesians 6:1-3).

Even if our mothers are no longer with us, we can still honor them through our good memories of them and how they touched our lives in some way. We can go to God in prayer and tell him how thankful we are for them even though there may have been times when we didn’t get along so well with them.

This is a great time to honor all mothers as we express our appreciation to them, showing them our love and respect. We’re also thankful for their God-given authority, and the important role they play in our families today.

Good News to YOU!
And to all you mothers: Happy Mother’s Day!
Pastor Michael
P.S. Here’s a video tribute to our mothers presented by Morning Light Music, https://youtu.be/yZSLutSBAPA

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Got a Problem with Obedience? Good!

obedience

Most of us can probably identify with a remark that Mark Twain once made: “When I read the Bible, the parts that trouble me the most are not the ones I don’t understand, but the ones I do understand.”

Evidently, Mark Twain had a conscience for he wouldn’t have been troubled over the things he understood from reading the Bible. The Bible lays out in very plain terms what is right and what is wrong. But to obey those words—to do what is right and not do what is wrong—is something that can bother what we’re all programmed with: a conscience.

Yes, obedience requires a conscience. And that’s the problem. A hardened conscience will make obedience to God and his Word less possible and disobedience more probable. This is one of the prevailing problems in the last days before Jesus comes back (1 Timothy 4:1-4).

This seems to make more of a problem to those who are serious about obeying God and his holy standards than those who aren’t. It’s not very difficult to get our way and disobey. For the more you know, the more you are expected to live up to Biblical instructions. And that’s a major responsibility on the believer’s part.

Take, for example, what we tell our children in their formative years. The parent says, “Obey what I tell you, or else.” In the old days, a child usually understood what the “or else” meant since his back side might feel a little hot for a while if he didn’t obey. Nowadays, the punishment might not be so severe or maybe no form of discipline at all for the kid.

Good parents know what’s likely to happen to their kid and the regret they’ll have later on, when there’s a lack of discipline. It’s said that juvenile delinquency is the result of parents trying to train their children without starting at the bottom. Like the Bible says,

“He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently,” (Proverbs 13:24).

Whatever forms “the rod of correction” takes, love must be the incentive for it or else one does not really love that child. This seems kind of harsh to say but there lies the problem of obedience. It’s not easy to apply. Obedience takes what some call “tough love” for love is the essence of obedience to God’s commands (John 14:15, 23, 24; 1 John 5:3). But love doesn’t easily come if one does not sincerely desire to obey (1 Corinthians 13:3-7).

Interestingly, the Bible compares God’s discipline toward us as that of a good, loving father who punishes his child. In Hebrews 12 it says,

And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (New International Version, NIV)

Through God’s nature of holiness and love we can appreciate how his discipline is for our own good. And yet, because of our nature, our tendency is to resist and rebel as a child does toward his or her parent.

The problem we have in this case is whether we will truly submit to him or go our own way.

The Bible tells us the consequences no matter the choice we make. I submit that the problem of choosing to obey God and his standards is a good one to have, rather than not obeying him.

When Moses was leading the people of Israel to the Promised Land one of the last instructions he gave them was this according to Deuteronomy 30:

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (NIV)

As believers, we have the same challenge before us like Israel if we want to enter the Promised Land of God’s Kingdom. Clearly, the choices are not hard to understand according to the Bible. But like Mark Twain pointed out, that’s what bothers us the most.

While this might seem like a problem, it could also become a learning experience. I don’t know who it was but someone said, “Don’t think too much about your problems in life. They are just test papers given by God to see how much you have learned from his subject called life.”

When we follow the Bible and deal with what bothers us the most, something wonderful happens: We find that the problem of obedience provides the opportunity from which we can live, learn and grow.

Good News to YOU!
Pastor Michael
P.S. Here is a song titled, “Yes (Obedience)” recorded live at a concert by Christian artists, Dave & Nicole Binion: https://youtu.be/lbLqWfyl2QQ

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