Monthly Archives: February 2015

SINS OF THE HEART

Robert McDonald, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, misrepresented his military record in a recent TV appearance by falsely stating that he was in an elite special operations division. McDonald was a West Point graduate who served with the 82nd Airborne Division but never served in Special Forces. McDonald apologized for his statement and acknowledged his claim was “inaccurate”. Simply put, it was a false statement.

There is much power in our words. Solomon wrote, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits,” Proverbs 18:21. Men in authority are not always held accountable for the words they speak. Concerning Secretary McDonald, the White House has accepted his apology and said, “that this will not impact the important work he’s doing to promote the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans.” However, God will hold each one of us accountable for the words we speak. “For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned,” Mathew 12:37.

We expect the words spoken by those leading our country to be words we can trust. Far to many of our political leaders do not hold themselves accountable to God for their words and their actions. Many speak with secular views on leadership and morality. More and more of them insist on a separation of state and religion. They would demote religion to a gathering of believers on Sunday mornings in a nice church building. They would give religion no place in “normal” everyday life.

Things were much different in the early days of our country. Our early leaders were men who did hold themselves accountable to the God of heaven. Consequently they often brought God and His will into their public speeches and into their writings. Our early Presidents and leaders sought to please God by their words and by their actions.

Our first President, George Washington, often spoke of God and the necessity to acknowledge Him and His will. He said, “The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.” Concerning moral behavior Washington said, “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

Sadly, the leadership of our nation today thinks morality can be legislated by human wisdom and laws. The courts of our land have no authority to legislate moral behavior that is forbidden by the laws that are found in the Bible. Doing so will only bring God’s wrath upon us all. President Washington also said, “It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible”. Amen, President Washington!

In Ezekiel 16:48-51 God condemned Judah for being more wicked than the northern Nation of Israel. He compared them to Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 28:22-33) who were destroyed by fire and brimstone because of their immoral lifestyle (along with other sins). However, from Ezekiel we learn more details about the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Indeed, they were the sins of Judah also. Perhaps they are the sins of America too. What were the sins of the heart that caused these people to bear such a grievous punishment from God?

THE SINS RECORDED IN EZEKIEL 16:49-51

  1. Pride: The Hebrew word means: “rising excellency”. It is to think too highly of oneself. “Pride goes before destruction”, Proverbs 16:18.
  2. Excess of food: It is not a sin to be prosperous. However it is a sin to hoard up our treasures for our own selves. Read about the prosperous farmer in Luke 12:13-21 for confirmation of this truth.
  3. Prosperous ease: This sin speaks of an abundance of idleness. That is, having too much time on our hands. While rest and recreation are important, serving the Lord is far more important. Read Amos 6:1-7 to see how God viewed the people of Judah when they spent too much time at ease in Zion.
  4. Failure to help the poor and needy: God has always expected his people to help the needy. We should not expect the government provide for all of the needs of the poor. Christians are expected to participate in helping the poor and needy, James 1:26-27; Galatians 6:10.
  5. Haughty: means “to be high”. This is the person who believes he is better than anyone else. Jesus spoke of just such a person when He told the parable of the publican and the sinner, Luke 18:9-14. One was haughty – thought he was better than others. The other was humble – considered himself unworthy of God’s blessings. Read the text and see which of the two men God blessed.
  6. Committed abominations: The usual definition of this word is “detestable”. It would include various kinds of sin. In the Old Testament, idolatry is called an abomination more than any other sin (Deuteronomy 7:25-26) Wickedness is also an abomination (Proverbs 7:26). Following after omens, sorcerers, wizards and other magical arts is also an abomination to the Lord (Deuteronomy 18:11-12). Such behavior does not please the Lord our God.
  7. Sexual sins: From Genesis 18 (the story of Sodom and Gomorrah) we learn that, in addition to the things listed above, those people practiced sexual immorality. The people of those cities tried to indulge in sexual sins even after the Angel of God struck them blind. The Bible contains a definite moral code concerning sexual behavior that needs to be followed by everyone. Those who disobey this moral code will not be allowed to enter the kingdom of heaven (Galatians 5:19-21).

Ezekiel was expressly speaking of Judah, the people through whom Christ came. The Lord promised they must bear their disgrace through punishment. Afterwards the Lord would bless them once again. Just remember: spiritual blessings are only given in response to faithfulness. People cannot continue in sin and expect God to bless them (Romans 6:1). As a general rule, sins of the heart are shown by our words and by our actions. O Lord, help us to have a pure heart so others can see the light of your word by the words and the deeds of your people.

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WE REAP WHAT WE SOW

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life,” Galatians 6:7-8 (ESV)

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The movie “Secondhand Lions”, staring Robert Duvall and Michael Caine, is the story about a shy, young boy sent by his irresponsible mother to spend the summer with his wealthy, eccentric uncles in Texas. Among the adventures the boy experienced was the effort made by the uncles to plant a garden. They bought seed from a vendor and planted what they thought was a variety of vegetables.

They did a wonderful job of preparing the ground. Neat rows showed precision and hard labor. The seed was planted with each row marked by an empty seed packet in order to show what had been planted. Once the crop came up sufficiently to observe the fruit of their labor they discovered the vendor had cheated them by putting corn seed into each packet. Consequently they had no tomatoes, no green beans, and no carrots. All they had was row after row of corn. Needless to say, they were very angry with the vendor for deceiving them. They learned the hard way that, regardless of what it says on the seed packet, you WILL reap what you sow!

On the third day of creation, God put forth vegetation of all kinds and set forth His law for nature’s bounty. “God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so,” Genesis 1:11 (ESV). In the very next verse, God declared this natural order of fruit bearing to be “good”. His law of seed bearing continues to this day. No one expects oranges to come from an apple tree.

This principle of reaping what you sow is also true in the spiritual realm. Consider our opening verse (Galatians 6:7-8). Mankind will produce the fruit of the seed he planted in his heart. If we plant evil thoughts we will reap corruption. If we sow the seed of the Spirit we will reap eternal life. We MUST be careful what we sow. We can mis-label our seed calling it love, joy, and peace but if what we have sown is seeds of hatred, sorrow and strife, we will NOT bear the fruit described on our labels. It is true that spiritually we WILL reap what we sow.

Jesus said, “a tree is known by its fruit”. Read the Savior’s words in Matthew 12:33-37. “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (ESV)

Far too often people say cruel or mean words and then excuse themselves by saying “Oh, I didn’t mean that.” Jesus says the source of unkind and evil words is heart disease. What is in our heart dictates what we say and what we do. Is it any wonder the Bible says so much about the heart and the tongue? James said, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world,” James 1:26-27. (ESV) Can you see how the tongue is a reflection of what is in our heart?

Read James 3:2-12 for an in-depth look at the dangers the tongue can bring to our life. In these verses we learn:

  1. The perfect (mature) man does not stumble by what he says, 3:2. That is because he has sown good things into his heart and not evil things.
  2. The uncontrolled tongue is compared to a horse’s bridle, the rudder on a ship, and a forest fire that is started by a small flame. We may think what we say has little consequence but it is possible that the words we say could erupt into a disaster that could only be likened unto a forest fire.

James notes that the tongue can be unruly. When we bless God and curse man we are doing something that ought not to happen. The tongue is likened unto a spring that has both fresh and salt water. Or to a fig tree that bears olives. Or to a grapevine producing figs. Or to a salt pond that yields fresh water. These things cannot be. Evil words are the result of planting evil seed in our heart. The only way we can be pleasing to God is to root out the evil seed and sow good seed in its place.

Truly, our words are a reflection of the condition of our heart. If we were to have an issue with our human heart we would rush to a doctor to see if there was a cure for our affliction. Unfortunately, some human ailments cannot be cured. On the other hand, when we go to Doctor Jesus seeking a cure for spiritual heart problems He has the medicine that will cure us, the word of God. Take a strong dose of Scripture. Ask the Lord for forgiveness and you will be cured. Then begin to practice what you preach. With a healthy spiritual heart, you will not have a problem with evil words. Remember, a tree is known by its fruit. Take a good look into the mirror of God’s word and you will be able to see the kind of seed that is in your heart.

Dear Lord, we know it is true that we reap what we sow. Please help us to sow the proper seed into our hearts so that we can become a tree that bears good fruit – All to the glory of your Holy Name. In Jesus name, Amen!

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A TEST FOR FOLLOWERS OF JESUS

CHORUS of John Denver’s Song “Follow Me”

Follow me where I go, what I do, who I know

Make it part of you to be a part of me.

Follow me up and down,

All the way and all around,

Take my hand and say you’ll follow me.

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The apostle Paul would have loved John Denver’s chorus. It is in complete harmony with what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be ye followers of me even as I also am of Christ” (KJV). In tune with this thought we are going to take a test from Matthew chapter seven that will help us to determine if we are truly followers of Jesus. For certain, just saying we follow Him does not make it true. Jesus said:

“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness,” Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV)

There are many people who claim to follow Jesus. They profess His name but do not follow His ways. Being a disciple of Jesus demands total commitment to follow Him in every realm of life. The words of Jesus show us the very obvious truth that “talk is cheap”. To talk the talk and not walk the walk will result in being told to depart from the Lord. Jesus Himself declares such people to be workers of lawlessness.

Isn’t it shocking to learn from Matthew 7:21-23 that the ability to prophesy in Jesus’ name, the power to cast out demons in His name, and the dedication to do many mighty works in His name is not the measuring stick that proves a person is following the Lord. Hearing and doing the will of our Father who is in heaven demonstrates true faithfulness.

What, then, must we do to be faithful followers of Jesus? While there are many approaches to answering that question, today we will take a test for followers of Jesus from Matthew chapter seven. When I was in high school, I did not enjoy taking tests. To do well it was necessary to study hard in order to cram vital information into my head. Without dedication to study I could not pass the test. However, it was always rewarding to make a passing grade. Life itself is a test. Here are the test questions for testing our spiritual faithfulness.

  1. Where are you going? “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13-14. In this passage Jesus describes the Christian walk. Our Lord speaks of two available paths. One is broad and the other is narrow. One is the easy way and the other is a difficult path to follow. Yet, only one of these two choices demonstrates faithful followers of our Lord and Master. Read the verses and understand what the Lord demands of his followers. He demands we take the road that is more difficult. Jesus never said following Him would be an easy task. Worthwhile, yes – easy no! Where are you going? The path you take will determine your destiny.
  1. What do you teach? . “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:15-20 Please take the time to read all of the verses contained in this passage to learn the fruit we bear is the result of the teaching we accept as true. Do not follow false prophets. Rather, test them to see if what they say is true, 1 John 4:1. Do not be deceived. There have always been false teachers and prophets who speak in the name of the Lord but do not speak the word of the Lord. The prophet Jeremiah put it succinctly when he wrote, “Both prophet and priest are ungodly. Even in my house I have found their evil, declares the Lord,” Jeremiah 23:11. In verse sixteen of this same chapter Jeremiah wrote, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” Following Jesus is not based upon a person’s powers of persuasion nor is it based upon the outward piety and religious fervor one exudes. The question is: “What do you teach?” If your theology is different from what was taught by Jesus and his Apostles then you fail the test.
  1. Whom do you obey? Matthew 7:21-23. We looked at this passage at the beginning of this article. It clearly teaches us that who we are, or what we say, and or how powerful we are does not determine whether or not we are saved. We are only pleasing to God when we obey Him. The question is: “Whom do you obey?” If one does not obey God he has failed the test. He will be pronounced to be a worker of lawlessness.
  1. What is the foundation upon which you stand? Matthew 7:24-28. This familiar passage shows us the folly of building our spiritual house upon the sand (as opposed to building it upon the rock). The beginning of the passage speaks of a person who hears the words of Jesus and does them. His foundation is Jesus and the word of God. His spiritual house will stand firmly when troubles come along. The house built upon the sand will not stand when the storms of life engulf it. The house built upon the sand will fall and great will be the fall of it. The question is: “What is the foundation upon which you stand?” According to Jesus, those that hear and do the words of Jesus are the only ones who can only build a stable house. These are the people who pass the test.

Look over the test questions presented in this reading. Look deeply into your heart and answer the four questions that were presented: 1) Where are you going? 2) What do you teach? 3) Whom do you obey? 4) What is the foundation upon which you stand? When you answer these questions correctly you WILL pass the test. Ultimately, you will receive “the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him,” James 1:12.

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WHAT KIND OF WORLD?

What kind of a world are we leaving our children? To my wife and I it seems like the number of crimes being committed by young people in America today is on the rise. What do you think? Are you shocked by how frequently the news agencies report violent crimes being committed by young Americans?

One of the most shocking crimes we heard recently was an ABC News report telling of a 14 year-old girl in Dallas, TX who is facing murder charges after she intentionally drowned a two-month old girl she was babysitting. Afterwards the teen called 911 and reported the death. Police say it was definitely murder but they still don’t know the motive for the killing.

A few weeks ago two Kentucky teens, Cheyenne Phillips, 13, and Dalton Hayes, 18, fled through several Southern States before finally being captured while asleep in a stolen Toyota Tundra in Panama City Beach, Florida. They had .45 and .38 caliber handguns in the back seat. Over a period of weeks they stole pick-up trucks, vandalized other people’s property, including the pick-up trucks they had stolen.

As Christians, it saddens and shocks us to the core when teenagers commit violent and senseless crimes. Why are these things happening? What kind of a world are we leaving our children? How about today’s world? Is the USA a safer or a more dangerous place to live today than it used to be? I am now a senior citizen. Consequently I have seen many things change in our world. Some of the changes are wonderful but others are not.

When I was a boy we lived in a two-bedroom house in New Mexico. Our house did not have a lock on the front door. We never locked our car when it was parked outside the house. Does it surprise you to know that our house was never burglarized? For certain, in this day and age, people in my hometown DO have locks on their doors. In addition they do not allow their young children to wander all over town unsupervised. Times have changed and not for the better. Could it be that a decline in spiritual training has prompted the increase in violence in today’s world? According to statisticians 30% of the young people in America have been arrested for committing a crime. That is up from 22% in 1965.

When I was a boy we knew our neighbors and they knew us. Mr. and Mrs. Leigon lived next door. Mrs. Perry and her grandson lived just another house down the block. My best friend, Donnie, lived less than a block away from us. The elementary school was just a block away so I walked to school, by myself, every school day. No one ever tried to kidnap me nor did they try to harm me in any way. In fact, I walked all over the neighborhood. On a few occasions one of our neighbors would call me by name and ask, “Does your mother know where you are?”

As a teenager I rode my bicycle all over town. In addition to joy riding on my bike I also delivered newspapers house-to-house. On Saturday’s we would receive .25 from our parents so we could go to the Saturday morning movies. We walked the several blocks to town and enjoyed the movie. We had this freedom in common with all the other children in town. For the most part Tucumcari, New Mexico was a safe place to live.

Parental training is crucial if we are to ensure safe neighborhoods for our citizens. Parents have the obligation to “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it,” Proverbs 22:6. The principle stated in this Scripture gives us a general rule for raising good citizens. Of course there will be some who turn aside from the teaching of their parents. That is because much of a child’s behavior is patterned after the friends he choses to be with. The Bible warns us “Do not be deceived, bad company ruins good morals,” 1 Corinthians 15:33. .

God gave commandments to the Israelite Nation that included teaching proper behavior to their children. The Nation of Israel did a poor job of following God’s commandments. During the period of the Judges they sinned generation after generation. It seems when God blessed Israel they fell away from faithful service to the Lord. Consequently God allowed the Gentile Nations to rise up and persecute them. After a long time of mistreatment the people turned back to God. In response to their repentance and prayer, God raised up a judge to deliver them. Once again they were blessed by God only to repeat the destructive cycle demonstrated by their forefathers. This pattern repeated itself numerous times in the book of Judges. The reason for their failure is documented in Judges 21:25. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Their bad behavior made the world in which they lived a dangerous and unhappy place.

It seems to me that the spiritual problems that exist in American today are a result of our following the same pattern followed by Israel during the period of the Judges. That is, everyone in America feels free to do whatever is right in their own eyes. When will we learn that God’s ways are not man’s ways, Isaiah 55:8-9? When will we learn that human beings cannot find the path of righteousness by their own wisdom? The prophet Jeremiah said, “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps,” Jeremiah 10:23. When we turn to the Lord for instruction the world will become a safer place to live.

Acceptable human morality cannot be legislated by Congress, or by the White House, or by the Supreme Court. God, in the Bible, has already given us the only moral guidelines that are acceptable to Him. These guidelines do not change with the passing of time. The only way to raise children in a way that will help our communities become better places is to train them in the ways of the Lord. The instructions for good moral and spiritual behavior listed below will serve us very well in the 21st Century.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And, these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,” Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

“You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies and his statues, which he has commanded you. And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you,” Deuteronomy 6:17-18.

The best chance we have to raise good children is to teach them the word of God. Parents also need to show their children the right way to live by their own example. Words alone are insufficient. Parents, use the example of the Apostle Paul and tell your children to “be imitators of me as I am of Christ,” 1 Corinthians 11:1. If we raise our children in the way of the Lord, then when others ask us, “What kind of a world are we leaving our children?” the answer will be: A safe world. A godly world. A place where our children are shining their spiritual light to others in a way that glorifies our heavenly Father, Matthew 5:14-16.

 

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