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Friday, January 16, 2015

When Others Try To Discourage You

Do you sometimes feel discouraged? Do you feel that no matter what you do it may never be enough? That
your spouse, children, boss, co-workers, friends will never be satisfied? They will always look for ways to belittle you or put you down? As a writer, I often feel discouraged when I query an agent or editor, after putting forward my best effort, and never receive an acknowledgement. Or when I do, it's followed by a "No, thank you." No matter how many times it happens, rejection still stings.

I imagine that must have been the way Moses felt when the people of Israel grumbled at him in the wilderness. They had been under tremendous oppression from Pharaoh for four hundred years and had been crying out to God for deliverance. But when He finally delivered them through the hands of Moses, the Israelites sought every opportunity to complain. It began when they neared the Red Sea and saw Pharaoh and his army pursuing them.

 "Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt?
 Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness" (Exodus 14: 11-12).

But God parted the Red Sea so the Israelites were able to cross over on dry land. Then when they had all crossed over, God sent a wind to blow the sea back and cover up the Egyptians. The Bible says, "And Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses" (15: 31). 

However, the people soon returned to complaining and disobeying God, and their journey lasted forty years instead of days.
Moses tried his best to be a good leader, but no matter what he did, the people were never satisfied. On one occasion, he became so angry he struck the rock when the people complained they had no water to drink. But despite his discouragement, Moses continued to do what God had called him to do. He served the people, and God, well.

We can all learn from Moses' example. He did not get to enter the promised land, but God took him up into the mountain and showed it to him. Then Moses died and God buried him there. What an honor! We are told that  "Moses was an hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated" ( Deuteronomy 34: 7).

Whatever may be causing you discouragement, remember this: your success does not depend on anyone but yourself and God. Keep on serving and honoring God and He will honor you.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

What Are Your Values?

 Everyone has values. A child may value his toys, a teenager his plug-ins, a woman her beauty, a man his

strength, physical or otherwise. As Christians, we are held to a higher standard than the rest of the world. Even when we are unaware, people are watching us. So what are those values, principles, teachings we should live by? I think there are three overriding principles that should guide us in living the Christian life.

1. Faith in God. The Bible says, "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11: 6). Therefore faith encompasses everything. Abraham showed faith when he followed God's command to take his son Isaac up to the mountain to sacrifice him. But an angel of the Lord restrained him and provided a lamb instead for the sacrifice. And God deemed him righteous because of his faith. Throughout the Bible there are stories of men and women who displayed great faith. In speaking of these men and women, the writer of Hebrews says, "Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions" (11: 33).

2. Love. As we grow in Christ, we should pray that we learn to love others as He loved. In the sermon on the mount Jesus told His listeners, "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5: 43 - 44). 

The apostle Paul explains it this way: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.   Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth" (1 Corinthians 13: 1 - 6). 
 Love encompasses everything.

3. Righteousness . Man is by nature unrighteous, corrupted by sin, but through God's love we are made righteous through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5: 20). The Pharisees were self-righteous; they obeyed the law rather than following the teachings of Christ. They were haughty, proud and boastful, believing that their works would get them into heaven. But Ephesians 2: 8 tells us, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- "  

A new year is as good a time as any to reexamine our values. What are yours? Do you value things more than you value people, or the One who created all things? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you reevaluate yourself this year and show you the areas where you are lacking. Then surrender those areas to Him and watch Him make the necessary changes in you.  God bless.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Reflections Of 2014

As the year closes, it is customary to look back on the past months at the things that impacted us and the
world around us in some way.  And in case we forget something, we can always count on the news media to remind us. So as I watched a quick recap of highlights of 2014 on CNN, I couldn't help thinking how much we need Jesus in our day and age. Let's look at a few events, in no chronological order, that kept us riveted to the screen.

The Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 with 227 passengers and 12 Malaysian crew members that disappeared while flying from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia to Beijing Capital International Airport. Despite the combined effort of many nations and despite being the most extensive and expensive search (reportedly over AU 52 million) in aviation history, there has been no confirmed sighting of debris from the missing plane. Where is it? Only God knows.

This, along with the Ray Rice scandal, the Bill Cosby rape allegations, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, increased persecution of Christians by terrorist groups, police shootings in the US and the resulting protests, made 2014 a bumper year for depressing news. Is 2015 going to be any different? We have to wait and see. But through it all, we can be assured of one thing. Despite the increasing darkness in our world, the light of Jesus Christ continues to shine. In fact, the darker it gets the brighter the light. Now, if that isn't comforting I don't know what is.

Happy New Year!  

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Angel And The Shepherds

Have you ever tried to visualize the scene when the angel appeared to the shepherds to bring them the news of Jesus' birth? From the description the Bible gives us, we know that angels are majestic beings, tall and dressed in dazzling white. Can you imagine the reaction of the lowly shepherds, in their rough, smelly clothing accustomed to being surrounded only by nature and their sheep?  If the angel had appeared to one shepherd he might have thought he was hallucinating, but since it was a group, they held on to their wits.

And why did God allow them to be the first to see the heavenly Babe? I think it was to show us that God esteems highly those whom society considers insignificant. Remember when the prophet Samuel went to Jesse's house to anoint one of his sons to be king, Jesse didn't consider David. When none of Jesse's sons received God's nod of approval, Samuel asked him, "Are these all the sons you have?" It was only then Jesse remembered David.

"There is still the youngest," Jesse answered, "but he is tending the sheep" (1 Samuel 16: 11).

The father's words are full of meaning. He is a shepherd, dirty, smelly and of no account. But David was the man God chose to be king. 

I think another reason the angel appeared to the shepherds was to introduce them to the one who would one day become a shepherd like them, not to save animals, but to save the human race. 

Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10: 11).  

This Christmas season as we think of God's great love in sending His dear Son into the world to die for us, let us consider how far-reaching that love is. It extends not only to the rich and powerful, but to the humble, the lowly, the outcast. It extends to each one of us.  

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Songs Of Christmas

Holiday songs on the streets in Sonoma
Holiday songs on the streets in Sonoma (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There is nothing like music to stir the soul and set the mood for any event. This is why we have music at sporting events, at parties, in church and even at funerals. Most of us have special types of music we play when entertaining our friends at home. Christmas time is no exception. Because this is such a joyful occasion, we celebrate by singing Christmas carols at home and in church. Nowadays, few radio stations play the traditional songs, but I have been fortunate to find one that does. If you are interested, it is The Bible Broadcasting Network (BBN). You can listen live on the internet or on your smartphone.

 When I was a child, caroling, as it was called, was a very common practice. A group of young people dressed in white outfits with red capes, led by their choirmaster, went from house to house singing the beautiful carols. At the end of their presentation, the homeowner would give them money and/or refreshments. I grew up to love Christmas carols, whether sung live or on the radio. I think it is fitting that we should show our praise and adoration to our Savior for leaving His heavenly home and coming to dwell among  us. 

The Bible tells us that after the angel appeared to the shepherds and announced the Savior's birth, there came "a heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2: 13). The Bible doesn't say they were singing, but they may have been, because this was a joyful occasion. 

Therefore, if you think the birth of Jesus was a happy occasion why not fill your heart and home with the songs of Christmas? This video by the unforgettable Mahalia Jackson will surely warm your heart and put you in the Christmas spirit.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Fundamentals Of Christianity

Today I visited a forum where a question was asked about the fundamentals of
Christianity. The person who asked the question described himself/herself as a "progressive" and said that progressives and fundamentalists usually don't get along because fundamentalists make a lot of noise and offend everybody.

While I didn't understand what the person meant by being a progressive, someone in the forum seemed to support this view by saying that Christianity was changing and we ought to change with it. This made me wonder, what does a "progressive" believe in? Christian beliefs do not change because God does not change. (Malachi 3:6) And if He does not change, neither does His word.

One of the fundamentals of Christianity is the deity of Christ, that He is God in the flesh and He came to earth to redeem man to Himself.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1). 
 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (v 14). 

Christmas, the time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, fulfills the first fundamental of Christianity. Another essential of the Christian faith is that He was born of a virgin. This was foretold by Isaiah centuries before Jesus was born.

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (7: 14).  

Behold , a virgin shall be with child , and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us (Matthew 1: 23).  

This is why Christmas is such a special time in the Christian calendar. It's a time when we attend church services, get together with family and friends and exchange gifts. But more than that, it shows the world what we believe in - God who came to the world in the person of Jesus Christ.

Everyone is free to believe whatever one chooses, but the Bible gives clear reasons for what we must believe. 1. The deity of Christ. 2. Salvation by grace through Jesus Christ  3. The resurrection of Christ  4.  The truth of the gospel and  5. There is only one God. 

It's impossible to believe one and not believe all, and that's why they are called fundamentals. 

Saturday, December 06, 2014

What Does The Bible Say About Justice

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civ...
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, look on. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"Let justice roll down like waters ..."

These words from the book of Amos flashed through my mind as I watched hundreds of people, black and white, march in protest of a Grand Jury's decision not to indict a white police officer for the killing of an unarmed black man. Suddenly, it seems we are back to the days of the Civil Rights Movement when people took to the streets to protest the unfair treatment meted out to them by a justice system that left them feeling marginalized and dehumanized.

As if this were not bad enough, African Americans have been and continue to be the disproportionate victims of violence, poverty, illegitimate births, sickness and disease. We, especially black males, have become an endangered species. The Bible has a lot to say about justice and the way we treat those who are less fortunate. Let's look at some of these verses:

'Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. Leviticus 19: 15

"Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow." Deuteronomy 27: 19

The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. Proverbs 27: 9

those who with a word make a man out to be guilty, who ensnare the defender in court and with false testimony deprive the innocent of justice. Isaiah 29: 21

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! Amos 5: 24

And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off ? Luke 18" 7

As with everything else, the words of the Bible are always relevant, and so is its Author. He is aware of what is taking place and has promised, "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice" (Isaiah 42: 3). 

At a time when the majority of us are looking forward to celebrating Christmas with our loved ones, the Garners, the Browns, the Martins and others who have lost loved ones through these senseless slayings are in mourning. To them I say, "Take heart. 'The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed' (Psalm 103: 6). May the Prince of peace comfort and strengthen you at this Christmas time."