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May 31, 2017, 10:15 AM

A Memorial Day Meditation

The final weekend in May was a holiday weekend, culminating with the national holiday of Memorial Day on Monday, May 29, 2017.  The previous generation that went through the Second World War called it “Decoration Day,” because it was the day when people would go out to the cemeteries and place flowers, flags and other decorations on the tombstones of military members who had given their lives in combat.

Memorial Day is still celebrated with ceremonies and observances in national cemeteries, but for many it’s just a day off from work and the chance for retailers to entice shoppers with sales.  Yet in a city such as El Paso where there is a large military installation and a national cemetery, it is perhaps a bit easier to remember the purpose behind the celebration:  to be thankful to the military men and women who gave their lives to first establish the United States, and others who died to preserve our national independence and the freedoms we still enjoy.

For we who look to God the Father and the salvation that is ours through the sacrifice of Jesus, God’s Son, Memorial Day should also remind us of what our freedom from sin cost.  Like the citizens who think of Memorial Day only because it is a paid day off from work and an opportunity to pursue personal activities without dwelling on the purpose for the holiday, many who call the name of Jesus as Savior are also guilty of treating His sacrifice lightly.

We are so familiar with the account of Jesus being beaten and crucified, that we have sterilized it in our thoughts, making the physical agony He experienced painless.  We also tend to minimize or even dismiss entirely the spiritual torment Jesus experienced as God laid the entire burden of sin for all humanity upon His Son, separating Him from the spiritual unity they had always had as the Father could not even look upon the Son who was sustaining our sin. 

As we run into the summer months with thoughts of vacations and warm weather activities, let us not neglect the spiritual dimensions of our lives.  The greatest sacrifices of our slain military should cause us to pause and reflect.  But let us also remember the freedom spiritually that was won for us by a suffering Savior who, although innocent, bore the pain and humiliation we all deserve for our sin.  He endured so that we could be cleansed.  As Galatians 5:1 states, It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (NASB). 

After September 11, 2001, it was very common to see hats and t-shirts with American flags on them and the slogan, “These colors do not run.”  There was a renewed spirit of patriotism and a resolve to not be beaten by terrorism, but to stand firm for the principles on which the United States were founded.  Should we who are called Christians and disciples of Jesus not stand firm even more for our Savior who laid down His life?  Please join me in praying for our nation, not just for God’s blessings, but also for His convicting power to flow over our people.  Let us pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to create a genuine spiritual awakening in those apart from a personal relationship with the Father and a powerful revival in all who know Jesus as Savior.




May 2, 2017, 4:46 PM

Patience


Have you ever prayed the prayer, “Lord, please give me patience”?  I remember a pastor once said, “Don’t pray for patience, because God will send you to the DMV” (or in El Paso, the County Tax Assessor’s office).  Places like these are notorious for long lines and wait times to transact business. The principle this pastor was trying to communicate is that if you ask God to help you develop a specific character trait, He will allow you to be placed in a situation where that virtue is required to be exercised.    

Almost daily many are in positions where it is more natural to lose patience than to exercise it; to lose control and engage in an emotional display.  Yet when we calmly reflect on that set of circumstances, we realize often we reacted beyond what the situation called for.  So how do we deal with stress before it leads to an overreaction?  We must first recognize that our emotional responses are choices that are within our control.  We simply haven’t learned to decide how to react before allowing our emotions to take over.

Paul has given us the perfect prescription in Philippians 4:  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4–7, ESV). 

Two keys are identified here for achieving the peace of God.  The first is our focus.  Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord.  Rather than be focused on that which tempts us to lose control of our emotions, we are to be concentrating on God.  By making the Lord the priority relationship in our lives, He is always at the forefront of what we are thinking as well as what we are engaged in at the time.  That’s when the second key comes into focus:  the peace of God… will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  The term “guard” is the same word that means to detain or confine, as referring to a prisoner.  But it also has the sense here to preserve and protect, as one would watch over something valuable beyond measure. 

This is how our heavenly Father views us:  as being beyond measure.  There is absolutely nothing about you that means more to the Father than your heart and your mind.  It is your emotions and your intellect through which you express the special individual that you are.  Your uniqueness is showing!  God made you to be completely different from everyone else.  But He also wants you to be the best you that you can be.  So rather than let our instinct and reactions control us, why don’t we focus on our relationship with our Father, and hone what it means to seek God in every facet of our lives?  Remember:  you are promised to experience the peace that surpasses all understanding.   I could do with some of that, couldn’t you?

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March 30, 2017, 2:00 PM

Anticipating the Resurrection

Easter Sunday, or Resurrection Sunday as some refer to it, falls on April 16, 2017.  For some, anticipation of Easter means getting ready for family get-togethers.  Others, it means holiday-themed observances at church, ranging to children’s programs, egg-rolls, musical events or other seasonal programs.  For others, it is a rite of spring, and for many in our “non-religious” society it revolves around spring fashions at most or nothing at all.

For we who claim to follow Jesus as our living Savior, there is also a range of thoughts or ideas.  For some, there’s a mild curiosity as to how the pastor is going to try and preach on the old familiar resurrection story from a slightly unfamiliar perspective, in a fruitless attempt to make it somewhat interesting – after all, we’ve heard it every Easter for more years that many of us can count!  For other, however, it is that “old, old story” that we never grow weary of hearing.  As the old hymn says, “For those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest” (“I Love to Tell the Story” by Katherine Hankey).

How did the disciples of Jesus anticipate the first Easter?  They didn’t!  We know from reading the gospel accounts that despite Jesus’ repeated teaching that He would be betrayed, tried, executed and rise the third day, that His closest followers absolutely missed it!  They didn’t listen.  They heard Jesus’ words, but they didn’t “listen” with discerning.  They were so focused on their idea of what role the Messiah would take, they were unwilling to accept that Jesus would die.  At one point, as Jesus gave an exceptionally clear teaching on this, He received a strong rebuke from Peter – “God forbid it, Lord!  This shall never happen to You” (Matthew 16:22). 

Easter is when we celebrate the resurrection.  Yet every day is resurrection day for one who has trusted in Jesus as Savior and allowed Him to become Lord of one’s life.  But we must also guard against becoming like those disciples who walked with Jesus and had intimate time with Him during His earthly ministry.  We also have the tendency to restrict what Jesus can say to us and try and fit Him into our preconceived role for Him.  We ignore, sometimes, that Jesus has the right to make demands and place requirements on us as His followers.  Following the resurrection was His ascension back to the Father.  And prior to His return, He left us with clear “marching orders” – to go and make other disciples, training them to do the same. 

Let’s use this Easter season to not only rejoice in the salvation God provided through Jesus but to yield ourselves to being fully invested in His will for us as believers.  Be ready to learn, and then experience opportunities to utilize what God has taught us in reaching others for His kingdom.  Who can we reach this Easter?  Please know that it is a blessing from God to be used in His work.

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March 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

What is the Cost?

People are emotional.  The memories and driving forces that seem to impact us most are typically tied to experiences with strong, emotional impact.  A favorite worship song of many is the song Here I Am to Worship.  It begins by extolling Jesus who came into the world, and then the chorus part is a declaration on the part of the singer that he or she has intentionally come to worship the Lord.  Then the song states, “I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sins upon that cross.”  In a sense, everyone who has trusted Jesus for the forgiveness of sin knows what the cost of our sins on the cross was:  the very body and blood of Jesus; the life of the Son of God!  Yet I am certain the lyricist was seeking to express that we can never understand the depth of what that cost our Heavenly Father emotionally, as His only Son, Jesus, had to be beaten mercilessly and bleed and die on the cross to pay the price necessary for the sins of all of humanity.

What is expressed musically in this song reflects the biblical truth that sin has always required death as payment.  The command to not eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil included the warning that “… in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17).  When Adam and Eve sinned, they did not die physically but died spiritually by having their perfect relationship with God destroyed.  Filled with shame, they tried to cover their nakedness with fig leaves.  God ultimately sacrificed animals to provide them a crude garment of skins.  From that point on, we read of altars being built and sacrifices being offered to God for the covering of sin, even before the giving of the Law that specified the sacrifices and offerings.

The sacrifice of Jesus that has provided our spiritual redemption and right standing with God has cost us absolutely nothing.  It was initiated by God and carried out willingly by Jesus; all we had to do was receive it by faith.  Yet in another way, it does cost us as well.  It costs the complete surrender of our lives.  We sometimes speak about this surrender but don’t seem to take it very seriously.  We may sing the beautiful hymn, I Surrender All.  But do we, really?  Do we completely surrender to the Lord Jesus our lives?  Do we make Him Lord?  When we consider what our salvation cost the Father and Jesus to provide, it seems critical that we carefully count the cost daily of surrendering our lives to Him.  This is where our cost comes in. 

One final passage of Scripture comes to mind.  Both 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21 record where King David’s sin had caused judgment from God in the form of a plague on Israel.  The prophet Gad spoke to the king and instructed him to build and altar and offer a sacrifice to God to end the plague.  David was instructed to go to a particular place, a threshing floor owned by another.  David went and asked to buy the property to build the altar and make the offering.  The owner volunteered to donate not only the land but also the oxen for the burnt offering and the wood for the fire.  David replied, “No, but I will surely buy it for the full price; for I will not take what is yours for the Lord, or offer a burnt offering which costs me nothing” (1 Chronicles 21:24; cf. 1 Samuel 24:24).  I have to ask, “Am I as willing to make certain the offering of my life is an offering that costs me something as well?”  Am I willing to “surrender all?”




October 8, 2016, 1:28 AM

How Would God Have Me Vote?

Many Christians who seek to be obedient to God have expressed a deep frustration in the present Presidential election.  They feel they cannot in good conscious vote for either of the main party nominees.  Just yesterday (October 7) I saw a survey of pastors who were asked questions regarding the presidential race.  When asked who they would recommend someone vote for if asked, the most popular answer was "I don't know").  A while back, there was even a question concerning this sent to the “Ask Christian Leaders” column in the community Christian newspaper, the Messenger.  The question was asked if Christians were required to vote, as the one asking had been told it was a Christian duty, and therefore a sin not to vote.  Please allow me to provide my answer to that question as it was sent to the paper.  Perhaps this will help you as you prayerfully approach the election this year.

If you are an eligible voter, you have an obligation as a citizen to participate in the selection process of our nation.  As one seeking to follow Jesus, you need to realize that you need to approach the decision of how to vote from a spiritual perspective based on the Bible.  Look at two key passages.  The first is 1 Timothy 2:1-4.  Verses 1-2 speak about offering prayers on behalf of “kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”  If we are to pray for those in authority over us, doesn’t it make sense that the process in determining who to vote for in any election should also be bathed in prayer?  We must remember that everything we do needs to be approached asking, “God, what do you desire?”  The second passage to keep in mind is Romans 13:1-7.  The first two verses of this passage stress that God is the one who places persons in authority, while verse 5 says, “Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.”  Our voting choices must be guided by our relationship with God.  We must remember that God is not on the side of a political party or an individual candidate.  He is working to accomplish His perfect will.  As a Christian, we must seek to know all we can about the issues and the candidates, and prayerfully seek to know which candidate more closely aligns with the principles laid out in the Bible.  I would strongly urge every Christian to get and read a short book, “How Should Christians Vote?” by Tony Evans.  He gives solid, biblical guidance that I believe would be extremely helpful.

If I could, I would purchase and provide a copy of Dr. Evans’ book to every family in our congregation.  We have a great responsibility as citizens who seek to follow God in every area of our lives, and we must allow Him to inform all our decisions – including how we vote!  The week I am writing this, I received a letter from the Faith & Freedom Coalition that provides churches and ministries with legal, non-partisan voting guides (which they will send us closer to the actual election).  In that letter they reported that in 2012 and 2014, an estimated 17 million evangelical Christians did not bother to vote.  What an incredible failure on the part of God’s people!  It is no wonder that our society is pulling further and further from Biblical principles.  I urge you to register to vote if you haven’t already.  Please prayerfully consider all the issues and the various policies and stances of the candidates running for all offices in addition to that of the President of the United States.  While there may never be an ideal candidate for whom we can vote, we should exercise the unique rights we have in our nation to participate in this and every election.  Many politicians say, “God bless America” lightly, because it sounds appropriate or they think it may garner some votes.  But we will never see God’s blessings flow as He desires if we, His spiritual children, do not seek His direction as we actively participate as citizens in the electoral process.

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