November Meaning

Before we get into the Christmas season, and start taking about Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherds, we need to look at what November means. November doesn’t have all the lights and tinsel. November is about home. There is the Homecoming, the homemade pumpkin pie, and the family coming home for the holidays. November is about coming home. It can be a time of great gladness and great sorrow. My family lost a family member this year. And there will be an empty place at the table. I doubt my story is unique.

But November also reminds us of great sacrifice. For the original thanksgiving was celebrated at great personal cost to Gov. William Bradford and the colonists of Plymouth Rock. It is a story that deserves to be retold as part of our nation’s history and religious heritage.

The Pilgrims’ story begins as their religious sect is marginalized in English society. Their stance on morality and virtue are too strict for some, and they are persecuted. They move to Amsterdam where any religion is welcome, but they find the morals there too loose, and are afraid their children will emulate them.

The make the decision as a congregation to emigrate to America, the newly discovered land where the English King has little power, and the English Church has little influence. Their chartered ship, the Mayflower, sets sail in the harsh North Atlantic, and finally sets sight on the Massachusetts coast that fall.

Their first winter was cruel, with cross after cross erected on the hill outside of the settlement. It is not an easy thing to be a settler in the new world, and it is not until they make some peace with the Indians, through the help of Squanto, that they are able to make any success.

The story of the pilgrims as we remember ends with the celebration of Thanksgiving in their first good harvest in the new world. Around their table was welcome one and all. It is this celebration that most people remember, not the sacrifices and lessons that preceded it. But this distant mirror of the marriage supper of the Lamb may yet remind of our celebration with the Son of God when at last our labors are done.

And maybe those two stories, of our family griefs and joys, and the sacrifice and faithfulness of the Puritan pilgrims, at some point intersect and intertwine, because our struggles are the same. Could we find in their story hope for our own? If we understood the faith of those pilgrims, perhaps we will find courage ourselves.

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Armored for October

As we prepare for the festival the last Sunday of the month, it is high time we get ready with our costume. My kids start to get excited around the first of June talking about costumes for Halloween. One always wants to be a princess, and another a Jedi. So they start planning and trying on different pieces until the costume is just right. The costume just isn’t complete until all the pieces are applied. A princess needs a gown, a wand, and a tiara, along with gloves, shoes, makeup and hairstyle. A Jedi needs a robe, a lightsaber, the right shoes, and a determined attitude. It started to make me wonder what kind of costume a Christian should wear. What would be a distinctive costume for a Christian?

So much of what makes us different are concepts and ideas. We can’t exactly “wear” our theology or ethics on our sleeves. But after looking at those short lists above, maybe you were reminded of something. There is a list in the Bible similar to the costumes above, with sword, helmet, breastplate, sandals, shield and belt. These are the garb and armaments of a Roman soldier of Paul’s time, and we find this list in his letter to the Church of Ephesus. It is a letter written while Paul is in prison, guarded by a soldier at all times. But he takes occasion to immortalize the costume of the soldier into a Christian’s suit of armor.

When we look at Ephesians 6:14-18, we see “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,” (ESV)

I want to encourage you to take up the “costume” of the Christian, so that you can stand up to the powers of darkness that threaten every one of us.

Forget Not His Benefits

When the Affordable Care Act engaged in full force, small businesses were already making hard choices, hiring employees for part-time rather than full-time. Many people who were promised not to lose their healthcare were faced with losing their jobs. Now with labor day on the horizon, we begin to see the condition of jobs and benefits deteriorate unlike we’ve ever seen before.

Now, these same folks love Jesus, go to church, and are good Christian folks. But while the preacher goes on and on about the sweet by and by, they are hurting in the here and now. Does the eternal, holy, and good God see my needs where I am? Are God’s good gifts only eternity? Or are they for the here and now? What are God’s promises for his children while they tread upon this earth?

When we start a new job, we have come to expect certain kinds of benefits, including health insurance, dental insurance, vision and a retirement plan. Some jobs even include a life insurance policy in effect while we work for that job to help take care of our families. And these will be the subjects of our messages this month, for God supplies richly and abundantly the benefits of His kingdom upon those whom He has called.

But all those benefits assume that you are doing you job. Even these heavenly benefits are contingent upon the practice and growth of your faith. Are you expanding your toolbox by reading and studying God’s Word? Are you strengthening your relationship with Jesus by spending time in prayer? Does the practice of your faith include both going to church weekly and sharing your faith daily, with family, friends and people you meet?

Our job description is clear: As you go, make disciples, baptize believers, and teach them to be like Jesus. This is our great commission as the church, which applies to each of us if it applies to any of us. Each of us has been called, however we are equipped by the Spirit, to make disciples, to show others even if only by our example, what it means to be a Christian. Whether in tough times or easy, how do you labor for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ? Does everyone you know know you are a Christian? If not, repent of this sin, and seek to show others your faith. It’s ok to make others uncomfortable. We weren’t called to make them comfortable, but to bring their souls to Jesus. This is our job, and we have this job to do.

We find that the benefits to this job far outweighs the headaches and frustrations.

Health Insurance

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
(Jas 5:14-15)

Dental Insurance?

“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,” declares the LORD.
(Amo 4:6)

Vision Insurance

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
(Mat 7:3-5)

Retirement

even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.
(Isa 46:4)

Life Insurance

And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.
(1Jn 2:25)

All Roads Lead to God?

A common objection to avoiding Church is that “all roads lead to God.” This is the idea that sincerity itself is the measure of a “true” religion. All one really needs to do to be saved is to pick the religion that best suits themselves, and then sincerely practice that religion (even if it is Atheism) and they will be fine when the god(dess)es come for them. This is a dangerous mix of “your truth is your truth, and my truth is mine” (moral relativism) and “everyone is going to be fine” (universalism) at the end. There is a lie common to both. It is the lie that says “all roads lead to God.”

First, let us establish that there is such a thing as truth (epistemology). There are truths about life that are true regardless of where you live or what you believe. 1+1=2. This is always true, whether here or Timbuktu. If you want to test it, try it with your checking account. Try telling the bank you have more money than you have deposited. They will remind you of the truth of this right away. $100+$0 does not equal $500. If it is possible to know absolute truth (something that is always true) in everyday life, isn’t it just as likely that there is absolute truth in spiritual things?

To this end, not every religion says (as a statement of truth) there is a god. Wiccan, for example, leads one to mother earth, or nature herself, which can be manipulated through spells and witchcraft, if properly appeased through sacrifice. Buddhism doesn’t even worship a god, since Buddha himself was only a spiritual guide, not a god. Atheism, though not properly a religion, tries to answer the same questions, and ends up with the Universe as the mother and Time as the father. Worshippers must deny their uniqueness and manufacture their own purpose in the accidentally random landscape of (the god of) Chance.

Other religions depend on a number of gods. The Ba’hai is the best example of this, since they believe every god is legitimate. They have eight doors and eight altars to honor eight different gods. All are equal in Ba’hai. They will tell you they are all emanations of the same god, but this is certainly a god with multiple personality disorder, since no two agree. Others, like the Latter-day saints, believe in One God, but also in other, lesser gods, like Jesus and Satan. Jehovah’s Witnesses also believe that Jesus was a lesser god, if not a Man that God glorified. But believers in these religions hold these statements to be true.

Biblical Christianity, however, states that God is a Trinity. God is Three, yet One. He is same in substance, but different in person. This God is the Creator of the Universe in the Father, Savior of the World from Sin in Jesus the Son, and Provider, Counselor, and Sustainer in the Holy Spirit. The Three agree as One, exist as one, but work as three. Multiple personality disorder? Only if you can find a case where all three exist at the same time in the same space, and all agree on purpose. But then we get ahead of ourselves here. This is best a subject for an article all its own.

The point is, if all religions are equal, then we are truly insane. The rules of logic dictate that two facts that contradict each other cannot both be true. It is impossible, and at least one of the two is a lie. If a murder suspect says he was at the bar at 1:00am on Thursday night, the police check his alibi. Only if it’s true will they dismiss him. Why? Because he cannot be at the bar and at the scene of the crime at the same time. Those two facts contradict each other. [FACT – a statement that can either be proven or disproven, not by definition “true.”]

If one religion states there is no god, another states that there are many gods, and a third says there is only One God. At least two of the three religions are lies. They cannot all be true. Because if there must be a God (and I believe there must be due to a preponderance of evidence (Creation, Morality, The Bible, Jesus Christ, etc.), not merely by blind faith), then two of these statements have to be false, and therefore discarded. Not all paths lead to God because not all paths are true. Most are false. As a human being, you must make a decision as to which path is true. You cannot embrace them all or you’ll end up in the nut house.

Does Science have all the Answers?

Science is working very hard at making our lives easier, and along the way, has come up with some profound insights about our origins, and perhaps even our future. Science has helped saved countless lives through medicine. Science has given us better homes, the internet, the ability to talk to people on the other side of the world. We owe much of our standard of living to science. But when science starts to tell us about where we came from, or tests those things that we call “miracles,” the science begins to break down. Let me tell you why.

True Science is based purely and simply on the scientific method, developed by Rene Descartes about 500 years ago. The Method is as follows: 1) Develop a theory about how the world works, 2) test that theory through experimentation and observation to see if it holds true (generally), 3) either confirm your theory with your observations, or revise your theory in light of them. Note that the theory, once confirmed, can become a Law (of nature) like gravity, but only in a general sense. If you can apply 50,000 lbs of rocket thrust, you can refute gravity in near-earth orbit. These Laws, once confirmed describe what “normally” occurs, under normal circumstances.

Science requires observable phenomena. Science cannot occur if you cannot measure the results of your experiments or observations. For example, I could theorize that Green Men live on Pluto. I have no way of discovering this, and thus no way to observe or experiment. Thus, it remains a theory. This is also why experiments always have a “control,” one part of the experiment that represents normal, in order to measure the effects of the abnormal. If you were testing a new drug, you would have one lab rat that would be given no drug whatsoever (the control) in order to test the effects the drug has on other rats (the experiments). In any case, in order for your results to be valid, they must be observable. Any scientist who said to the FDA, I “believe” all the rats lived from taking this new drug, rather than presenting physical evidence, would be rejected. Fantasy evidence or imagined results (how things should have done or ought to be) is no substitute for real evidence in science. And any scientist that pretends or imagines evidence for his theory will be laughed out of the lab, except in one special case.

There is one theory that has been around since the 1800’s that still plagues us today. Its implications are so appealing that it probably will not die. That Theory is Evolution. It tries to explain everything from the origin of the universe to the origin of man, and yet, there is no evidence, no experiments, not even the lab rats themselves that can tell us whether it’s true. Why? Because you cannot repeat it. All attempts to repeat it in the lab have fallen short. And those scientists that have declared their proof cannot repeat their experiments. Evolution is a Theory without evidence, and yet, it is branded as Law. Why? Because of the numbers of scientists who “believe” it. Science is not determined by majority vote, but by majority experiment and observation (the evidence). If 1000 of your neighbors believed you smoked marijuana in your home, would that be enough to convict you? Or would rather let the evidence decide? If the majority believes in something that has not been proven true by the evidence, does that make it true anyway? This isn’t science. This is faith.

And what about faith? Science makes statements about miracles (they couldn’t happen) that science simply cannot address, because by definition, miracles are not repeating events. They are SUPERnatural. Science can neither prove nor disprove miracles, including the miracles of Jesus, the Creation of the Universe, or the Resurrection of Christ. But there is a secondary source of evidence often relied upon in the courtroom to determine truth, eye-witness testimony. Science cannot invalidate what a person witnessed, nor can it validate it. It is a completely different kind of evidence, but trustworthy nevertheless.

Therefore, if science makes truth claims about miracles, especially the origin of the universe, or the resurrection of Christ, they are lying to you, making a statement from their own brand of faith, because science simply cannot make statements about non-repeatable events, whether they were true or false.

We believe in Christ based on eye-witness testimony of the Apostles. We believe in Creation based on the testimony of Genesis. We believe in Miracles because the Bible records them, and we have no reason to doubt the truth of the Bible. Science has some of the answers, but true science never contradicts the Scriptures. That may sound like a brainwashed cult, but rather than a cult, we believe because of the EVIDENCE, not in spite of it.

Does Religion Matter?

One of the first objections to Church and organized religion is this question; does religion really matter? Does it really matter what you believe? Does it make a difference? This question stems from our modern sensibilities regarding faith and tolerance. Tolerance simply means to allow others to practice as they please, without interference. But more recently, acceptance has been masquerading as tolerance. Now tolerance means that you accept, if not embrace, the beliefs of another person, because to resist such acceptance labels you as “intolerant” and a “bigot.” Take for example the homosexual agenda. The Homosexuals, their associations of political groups and so on, demand tolerance of their lifestyle, when in reality they demand acceptance. They don’t want straight people merely to tolerate their behavior, but to accept them as equals, with as much right to practice their brand of affection in the public square as heterosexuals. They demand celebration by those that don’t share their “beliefs” in allowing them to celebrate their “weddings” and their victory over the traditional family and decency.

But let me step back to the position of one who would just as soon have nothing to do with religion, thinking that all religions are bunk and worthless, if not dangerous. Remember 9/11? That wasn’t an inside job, it was a religious job. Remember Waco? That was a religious nut making trouble, and an angry government response. Remember 12/31/1999? A lot of people were afraid because they thought that was going to be the end of the world! Why? Because of their religion. How can religion be so dangerous? Because religion is about beliefs, and beliefs matter.

Organized religion is defined as a system of beliefs organized for the practice of its believers. Every religion has one. And anyone who tells you that he doesn’t do organized religion, but goes off to a mountaintop or hillside to pray is lying to you. If a person doesn’t buy in to a “organized” religion, he will make up one of his own. Religions inherently follow rules. It is built in to them. Even a person that says his religion doesn’t have rules just made a rule. “No rules!” is a rule unto itself. Why does the person who eschews organized religion have to go to the hillside to pray? Hmmm? Sounds like a rule to me. And it sounds like an organized religion.

Back to our original question: does religion matter? Using our above definition, let me re-ask the question. Do beliefs matter? Does what you believe about how the world works and how people act and react matter? A belief is anything that cannot be proven absolutely with evidence. I believe that the chair I’m sitting on will not collapse from under me. I can’t prove it, despite all the evidence of sitting down, because I know all things wear out (2nd law of thermodynamics), and one day, this chair will collapse. Therefore, I believe that this chair will not collapse as I am sitting on it.

I believe the world will always spin, that I will always be held to the earth, that my wife and my children love me, and that the sun will come up in the morning. Is that religion? You can make a religion out of anything. All religion requires is someone to put it all together into an organized structure. Atheism is a religion, just as any other system of beliefs is. But there’s one element I forgot that make the real difference between mere beliefs, and religion, and that is Faith. Faith is a devotion to your beliefs that is so strong, you cannot be shaken from them. And Faith usually finds the strongest belief and clings to it.

For the most part, when a person says, religion doesn’t matter, what they are really saying is, “I refuse to believe in Christianity” because Christianity demands change. Why is Christianity always the one that stands in everybody’s way? Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He makes the difference between mere beliefs, an organized philosophy, and Truth.

Religion does too matter. Don’t kid yourself. We define ourselves by our beliefs. We are who we because of our beliefs. If you choose to ground your self in loose and broken beliefs, that’s your own business, I suppose. But if you choose to ground your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you will not be disappointed.

Whose Afraid Of The Big, Good God?

“For I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendor I could not do such things.” Job 31:23

Have you ever been afraid? I know I have. Fear is something that grips us when we are caught in something we don’t understand and presents itself as a threat, like Medicare part B, or overdue mortgage payments, or high gas prices. Our safety is threatened, our life is threatened, and we are powerless to do anything about it. Fear can paralyze us, its icy chill freezing our blood in its veins. But it also makes a powerful impression, and motivation for action. If I am afraid of losing my house, I will put in longer hours at work, or if I am scared of Medicare, I will pour more time into studying it.

Job’s words are interesting, if not ironic. Job says these words as he is sitting in an ash heap, covered in painful sores. Job has received the business end of destruction, with all of his children killed by a whirlwind (1:18, 19), his wife scorning him for being faithful to God (2:9), his property destroyed, raided, or carried off by invaders. If you or I were sitting there with Job, we might say, “hey, uh, Job? Do you think you’ve seen destruction yet?”

Job is confessing to his fear. He dreaded, or as some translations read, was terrified. Job felt real terror when he thought about the destruction that God could wreak upon him. Why? Because Job had a healthy understanding of who God is. God spoke the world and the universe into existence (Genesis 1) and upholds it still, that is, keeps it together, by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). Scientists have yet to discover everything about the universe, but they have discovered one important thing. At the level of the sub-atomic, the atoms are held together by an unknown force, which they call a “strong force” which counteracts the “weak force” which threatens atoms’ flying apart. Scientists can’t explain how each force works, but they know that they do. Job knew what that force was: “the word of his power.” Job knew that in God’s word, power and strength, the very atoms he was composed of held together, the very atoms that composed all of his great wealth, his family, his possessions were held together by the Creator. Thus the great Creator could also wreak untold havoc upon him if He so chose. Jesus put it this way, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) There is a place for fear, a healthy fear of God, a terror perhaps, but a motivating fear. What did this fear motivate Job to do?

If you read the rest of Job 31, you find a man who has committed himself to a path of righteousness. He knows what the alternative is. He swears off lust (vs. 1), lies (5), dishonesty (6), adultery (9-10), injustice (13), closing his ears to the poor (16-20), greed (24-25), idolatry (26-27), gloating (29), cursing (30), inhospitableness (31-32), and overworking his soil (38-40). Job is sensitive to what God requires of him, and has been very careful to be obedient. This was motivated in part, by his fear.

Despite his innocence, Job realizes that the destruction has come upon him anyway. “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded had happened to me.” (3:25) But Job was not hopeless, for he knew that his integrity would ultimately triumph, despite his dark circumstances, for he says , “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” (19:25-26) Does this sound like a man in utter despair and hopelessness? It should, but it doesn’t. Though what he had feared had come to pass, he has found that destruction isn’t the worst thing that could happen to him. The worst thing is to have his soul cast into hell. He knows his Redeemer will not allow it, and one day he will see God in his flesh. Job learned that his fear wasn’t sufficient as a motivation to serve God. Fear alone will service a tyrant, fear without love will lead to rebellion. Thankfully the Bible doesn’t leave us in fear.

“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:15, 16) God’s children? This isn’t fear (though I will confess I’ve been afraid of my Dad on more than one occasion). This is love. If you are a Christian, you are not motivated so much by abject fear of what God would do to you, so much as what God has done for you through His Son Jesus Christ. God has expressed such love for us that He has sent His Son Jesus to die for us, cleanse us from our sins, and bring us into sonship with God. We are no longer strangers and aliens but children. What Job says in faith we repeat with full assurance, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” We have been bought back from sin and brought into God’s love as His children.

The invitation is to you, your household, and all who are afar off. Choose this day whether you will serve God in love, or be afraid of Him and of His judgment for the rest of your life. The invitation is open. Get to know your Father.