Bethany Church news
Yesterday, I talked about the importance of maintaining the simplicity of Christianity in the face of an increasingly complicated world. Today, I want to tell you a story to point out the OTHER extreme which we must guard against.
This true story is a conversation overheard at an ivy league college between the head of the astronomy department and the dean of the divinity school. The astronomy professor said, "Now, let's face it. In religion, what it all boils down to very simply is that you should love your neighbor as you love yourself. It's the Golden Rule, right?" "Yes, I suppose that's true," replied the dean of the divinity school. "Just as in astronomy it all boils down to one thing--'Twinkle, twinkle, little star.'
Just as with all things, we must guard against OVERDOING this simplicity; there is the overly simple on one side, and the overly complex on the other, and we must steer the center course, the course of moderation. The plan of salvation is so simple that a little child can understand it, yet the working of God is the subject of the finest minds the world has ever known, and they are STILL not completely understood, nor is there any hope that they ever shall be by mere mortals.
The Word of God tells us:
Isaiah 44:24-25 (KJV);
“Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself; That frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish;”
I Corinthians 14:20 (KJV);
“Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.”
Life is getting more and more complicated, isn’t it? I can remember when one major thing all the kids in school had to learn was the names of all the states and their capitals. Even that was less complicated then, though – after all, we only had 48. We all learned to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag every morning – but even that was shorter then; they had not added “under God” to it yet. There are some atheist activists that are working to relieve our children of memorizing those two extra words even as I speak to you.
Now, the kids have to learn all this situational ethics stuff, and all the social conscience stuff and multiculturalism and sensitivity training, not to mention the mechanics of safe sex. Most of us lived on farms back then, and we knew most of what we needed to know intuitively. We had witnessed the mechanics of procreation before entering school, and all knew that people had to get married first. We knew right from wrong, and it didn’t change depending on what part of the county you lived in. Most of the boys my age owned a gun or two, and we all knew they were not for shooting each other without the schools having an armed guard to ensure this. We were curious about the first people we encountered whose skin was a different color than ours, but it didn’t take us long to realize that this was only skin deep, and people were good or bad based on what was inside of them rather than outside.
Do you need more proof that things are getting more complicated?
The operating manual for our government, the Constitution of the United States written over 200 years ago, is the formula for governing this country of 300 million people, and it is 21 pages long. The operating manual for my 2014 Nissan Pathfinder, which seats eight people, is 363 pages long and that does NOT include the navigation system manual or the service guide.
The Word of God tells us that the most important things there are, the truth of God, are so easy to understand that all can know them:
Psalm 119:130 (KJV);
“The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.”
We are indeed getting more complicated –
But we are not getting better in the process.
Two Eskimo men visited Miami from the northern part of Alaska. They saw many marvelous things, things which they had no conception of, things which they had never been exposed to in their arctic homeland. On the bus to their hotel, they witnessed a speedboat go past, with a water skier in tow. The only boats they had ever seen were man powered kayaks and canoes, and the only skis they had ever seen were snow skis. At this marvelous site, one man asked the other, "What make boat go so fast?"
His friend studied the scene, then replied, "Man on string push it."
All of us do the same thing these Native Americans did. We all bring our own set of judgment criteria to every situation we deal with. We filter the world through our own set of lenses, and what we think we experience is controlled in large part by what we EXPECT to experience. I think that is in large part the reason for so many different denominations of churches; we all have the same instruction book from God, the Holy Bible, but we each filter it through our own expectations, and we come up with many different fine nuances of meaning, which causes many different shades of belief. Then, we band together with people who have taken this or that passage in the same manner we have, and we form a new denomination around that interpretation.
And do you know what I think? God does not CARE about all those minor doctrinal differences! God is NOT going to save all Lutherins, nor reject all Methodists! He is NOT going to check the name over the door of the church you attend to see if you are upwardly mobile, or on the fast track to the nether regions. Jesus Christ is going to see if you are written in the Book Of Life, and that is the ONLY thing that will determine your eternal abode. And your name is written in that book the instant you accept Jesus Christ as your savior, and make Him the Lord of your life!
Jesus tells us in his own words in the Instruction Book, in the most famous verse of all, John 3:16 (KJV); “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
So – am I pulling you, or are you pushing me? It doesn’t matter, as long as we are going to the same place!
I love to take walks in the woods when it is a cool, moist morning, or following a rain on a cloudy day. At these times, the dead leaf carpet is wet and silent when stepped on. I can slip along almost soundlessly at those times, and instead of hearing nothing but the sound of my own passage, I can hear the sounds of the forest. The sound of a squirrel jumping from branch to branch, the rap of a woodpecker seeking a meal, the wings of a blue jay – all the things that would normally be overshadowed by the leaf rustle of my own footsteps.
Thomas Merton wrote in Leadership magazine:
“When your tongue is silent, you can rest in the silence of the forest. When your imagination is silent, the forest speaks to you, tells you of its unreality and of the reality of God. But when your mind is silent, then the forest suddenly becomes magnificently real and blazes transparently with the Reality of God.”
This extends beyond the forest, and into all of life;
I must be silent in order to hear the sounds of the world –
I must be silent in order to hear what you have to say –
I must be silent in order to hear the still small voice of God.
Deuteronomy 4:29 (KJV);
“But if from thence thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.”
Isaiah 55:6 (KJV);
“Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:”
I Kings 19:11-12 (KJV);
“And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.”
Shame is only partly about knowing that we deserve the blame for something. Of course, we do feel ashamed of ourselves when we are guilty, and we should, because sin is, after all, a disgrace. Like Peter, who wept bitterly after his betrayal of Jesus, we rightly feel simultaneously guilty and ashamed of our sins. But often--according to the experts, very often--our feelings of shame attach to things that have little to do with our moral or spiritual deficiencies and have everything to do with a whole array of other areas in which we simply believe we fall short.
The Word of God tells us of those things for which we should be ashamed:
Psalm 38:4-6 (KJV);
“For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness. I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long.”
And for an example, the shame of Peter at his denial:
Luke 22:54-62 (GWT);
“So they arrested Jesus and led him away to the chief priest’s house.
Peter followed at a distance. Some men had lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard. As they sat together, Peter sat among them. A female servant saw him as he sat facing the glow of the fire. She stared at him and said, “This man was with Jesus.”
But Peter denied it by saying, “I don’t know him, woman.”
A little later someone else saw Peter and said, “You are one of them.”
But Peter said, “Not me!”
About an hour later another person insisted, “It’s obvious that this man was with him. He’s a Galilean!”
But Peter said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Just then, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. Then the Lord turned and looked directly at Peter. Peter remembered what the Lord had said: “Before a rooster crows today, you will say three times that you don’t know me.” Then Peter went outside and cried bitterly.”
These are the kinds of things we should be ashamed of – and no others! Never be ashamed of anything that is not in your control!
Jeremy Bentham was the founder of London's University College. He passed away in 1832, and left a rather bizzare set of instructions for the disposition of his remains. He requested that his skeleton be fastened together in it’s proper form, and that a wax head be attached to it. He then wanted it to be dressed in his best suit, and put in a glass case in the meeting room of the college's board of governors. His wishes were followed, and for many years the deceased Bentham attended every meeting of the board. The scrupulously exact minutes of these meetings always described him as “present, but not voting."
I know some Christians who are very much like Jeremy Bantham. They are spiritually dead, but continue to show up at the proper occasions as if attempting to disguise the fact of their demise. They are “present”, but not doing much of anything else. They are “present” in the body of believers, but never serve God by helping any one, neither inside nor outside of the formal body of believers.
The Word of God tells us that we are to SERVE!:
Deuteronomy 10:12 (KJV);
“And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul,”
Mark 10:42-45 (KJV);
“But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.”
Brothers and Sisters, do NOT just be present “present but not serving”. Reach out today and HELP someone.
Yesterday, I touched on being faithful to the church. In that vein, I thought you might enjoy hearing this letter which was sent to a pastor:
You often stress attendance at worship as being very important for a Christian, but I think a person has a right to miss now and then. I think every person ought to be excused for the following reasons and the number of times indicated:
Christmas (Sunday before or after)--1
New Year's (Party lasted too long)--1
Easter (Get away for the holidays)--1
July 4 (National holiday)--1
Labor Day (Need to get away)--1
Memorial Day (Visit hometown)--1
School closing (Kids need a break)--1
School opens (One last fling)--1
Family reunions (Mine and wife's)--2
Sleep late (Saturday night activities)--4
Deaths in family--4
Anniversary (Second honeymoon)--1
Sickness (One for each family member)--5
Business trips (A must)--3
Vacation (3 weeks)--3
Bad weather (Ice, snow, rain, clouds)--6
Unexpected company (Can't walk out!)--5
Time changes (Spring ahead; fall back)--2
Special on TV (Super Bowl, etc.)--3
Pastor, that leaves only one Sunday per year. But you can count on us to be in church on the fourth Sunday in February, God willing.
Now, that letter is a joke – but how many of those excuses have YOU used to stay out of church?
Frequently preachers, including myself, talk about being separate from the world, and why. We tell stories, give illustrations, and read bible verses to support the contention that we Christians should be separate from the world.
Today, I want to temper that with consideration that there are things in the world which we can profitably apply to our Christian walk. Some of these things were brought out by a pastor who was once asked to define "Faithful Attendance at Worship," His reply was:
“All that I ask is that we apply the same standards of faithfulness to our church activities that we would in other areas of our life. That doesn't seem too much to ask. The church, after all, is concerned about faithfulness.
Consider these examples: If your car started one out of three times, would you consider it faithful? If the paperboy skipped Monday and Thursdays, would they be missed? If you didn't show up at work two or three times a month, would your boss call you faithful? If your refrigerator quit a day now and then, would you excuse it and say, "Oh, well, it works most of the time?" If your water heater greets you with cold water one or two mornings a week while you were in the shower, would it be faithful? If you miss a couple of mortgage payments in a year's time, would your mortgage holder say, "Oh, well, ten out of twelve isn't bad"? Now, considering all that, If you miss worship and attend meetings only often enough to show you're interested but not often enough to get involved, are you faithful?”
I liked his answer, and I can also see a few other areas in which we could borrow from the world to apply to our Christian lives as well:
Why do we scream our lungs out at a sporting event, but are too shy to say “Amen!” at church?
How can we ski, sled, and snowboard for relaxation, but skip church because there is snow on the ground?
How come we can golf and fish in the rain, but can’t drive to Church in it?
While we must be separate from the world, in many cases we would profit from applying the same standards and enthusiasm to the church which we apply to worldly things - -
I will talk to you again tomorrow if it isn't raining or too cold - and may God RICHLY bless you.
Recently, I talked about the fact that anyone should be able to pick you out of a crowd as a Christian, by your actions and demeanor. Today, I want to give you just one reason why you should be separate from the crowd.
There is a story about a farmer who went each week to the Farmers' Market to sell goods from his farm. Among these things were cottage cheese and apple butter made on his farm. He carried these in two large tubs, from which he ladled the cottage cheese or apple butter into smaller containers the customers brought. One day he got to the market and discovered he'd forgotten one ladle. He felt he had no choice but to use the one for both products. He ladled out some cottage cheese with it, then some apple butter, then some cottage cheese, on and on, back and forth, and before long he couldn't tell which was which due to the mixing together of the two.
That's the way it is when we try to dispense the good news of Christ using hearts, minds, and tongues too recently immersed in the coarseness and one-up-manship of the world. Nobody gets any nourishment. For our testimony to be effective, we must ourselves be separate from the things of the world!
The Word of God addresses the error of this duplicity:
James 3:8-12 (KJV);
“But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.”
And it tells us, of course, which of the two we should cling to:
Colossians 3:2 (KJV);
“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”
And in this way, we are to be IN the world, but yet separate from it!
Look around you, and see how many Christians you see that you do not know personally. What? Are you saying that if you do not know them, you do not know if they are Christians or not? But knowing Jesus is supposed to make a CHANGE in each life, isn’t it? Then how is it that you can not pick the Christians out of a crowd of people?
Some just wish to blend in; they do not WANT to stand out in a crowd. If they give thanks for their food in a restaurant, they do so quickly and silently, while handling their silverware to hide the moment of prayer from onlookers.
Some would be willing to be overt and obvious in their Christianity, but some other Christians are so reserved that they would look at them with disapproval for any such actions, so they refrain.
Most of the followers of Jesus Christ are satisfied with a life so conformed to the world, and so like it in almost every respect, that to a casual observer, there is no difference between the Christian and the non-Christian.
The Word of God addresses this:
2 Kings 17:15 (KJV);
“And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the LORD had charged them, that they should not do like them.”
Titus 2:12 (KJV);
“Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;”
James 4:4 (KJV);
“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
Make sure that, if someone around you attempts to find a Christian, they do not have any trouble spotting you in the crowd.
Recently I told you a story about the bravery of some young Alaskan Native hunters. It is important to realize that such courage is not restricted to leathery, strong, vibrant adults. Bravery and self sacrifice comes in many packages.
There was once a six-year-old girl near death, a victim of disease from which her older brother had made a marvelous recovery two years earlier. Her only chance for life was a blood transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the illness. Since the two children had the same rare blood type, the boy was the ideal, and most likely the only possible donor.
"Johnny, would you like to give your blood for Mary?" the doctor asked.
The boy, looking around at all the tubes and needles, hesitated. His lower lip started to tremble. Then he smiled, and said, "Sure, Doctor. I'll give my blood for my sister."
Soon the two children were wheeled into the operating room--Mary, pale and thin; Johnny, robust and the picture of health. Neither spoke, but when their eyes met, Johnny grinned at his small, pale sister.
As his blood siphoned into Mary's veins, the Doctor could see new life come into her tired body. The ordeal was almost over when Johnny's brave little voice broke the silence, "Doctor, when do I die?"
It was only then that the doctor realized what the moment of hesitation, the trembling of the lip, had meant earlier. Little Johnny thought that his sister needed ALL of his blood to survive. He thought he was being asked to give up his life for her.
In that brief moment, he had made his great decision.
Jesus tells us:
John 15:12-13 (KJV);
“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
And he did just exactly that – for this is the God we serve, and this is the measure of his love for us. Greater than the love of a small boy for his sister, greater than the love of a hunter for his village – the love that Jesus has for every single person on this earth.
In the mid to late 60’s, Judy and I lived in Alaska. It is the most beautiful country you will ever see, and it’s beauty is equaled only by the harshness of it’s environment. Here in Tennessee, it is considered cold if you can see your breath. In an Alaskan winter, your breath (and the breath of every other living thing) makes a much denser white cloud, but it STAYS! It is called Ice Fog, and accumulates from the ground up as winter progresses. By the end of the frigid temperatures, you can drive up a hill outside of town and see Fairbanks as just a white lake of Ice Fog with the tops of the tallest buildings visible above the surface.
During hard times in these arctic winters in an Eskimo village a young man of great courage might go out into the bitter cold in search of food for his people. Armed only with a spear and his compassion for his starving village, he would wander, anticipating the attack of a polar bear. Alaskan wildlife, at least at that time, had no natural fear of humans; a polar bear will stalk and eat a man. In the attack the Eskimo hunter would wave his hands and spear to anger the bear and make him rise up on his hind legs to over ten feet in height; and then, with the spear braced to his foot, the hunter would aim for the heart as the weight of the bear came down upon his spear. With heart pierced, the bear might live long enough to maim or kill this noble hunter. Loving family and friends would then follow his tracks out of the village and find food for their survival and evidence of this selfless courage.
Early missionaries to the Eskimos would use this native hunting method to proclaimed Jesus Christ to them. They would explain that Jesus Christ is the "Good Hunter" who lays down his life for the world.
Jesus does not describe himself as the Good Hunter, but he does tell us:
John 10:1 (KJV);
“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”
I think the missionaries found a perfect way of telling the native Alaskans about Jesus Christ, and one that is quite consistent with scripture. Our Lord did, indeed, lay down his life so that we might live -
I read about a preacher who is marketing a line of condoms, which he encourages parents to purchase and furnish to their children. The outside of the individual packages bears a drawing of Jesus, with the question “What Would Jesus Do? Underneath it. He believes that this will be sufficient to stop children from experimenting with sex prematurely.
While I praise his intentions and dedication, I believe this is a seriously misguided effort. This idea will have no effect at all, in my opinion. The young people today who are determined enough to have sex to carry a condom will certainly not be deterred by any such wording on the package.
Things are MUCH worse than most people think. In a survey a few years ago taken in the housing projects of a large city there were some frightening results. They surveyed young male children concerning how many of them had had sex. The results were split up by age group:
Percentage of 10-year-old boys that had had sexual intercourse: 28%
Percentage of 13-year-olds that had had sexual intercourse: 76%
Percentage of 15-year-olds that had had sexual intercourse: 100%
It will take more than a drawing and a saying on a package to correct this; it will require parents who TALK to their children, not give them packaged prophylactics. It will take parents who get INVOLVED with their children, and know where they are at, and who they are with, at ALL times.
I have a friend whose young teenaged son wanted a pager. In selling the idea to his dad, he told him that with a pager he would be able to call him any time, could ALWAYS reach him. His dad told him that he didn’t need a pager to reach him, because he always knew where he was SUPPOSED to be, and he could call him there anytime he wished – and he had better NEVER be unable to reach him WITHOUT a pager.
The Word of God tells us of the condemnation for the sins of even our youth:
Job 13:26 (NCV);
“You write down cruel things against me and make me suffer for my boyhood sins”
As a parent, it is our job to protect our children from anything harmful; especially if that thing is their own hormones.
Many of the churches today make me afraid for them. I hear so much about “stepping out on faith”, which is the way many churches justify building programs that are implemented with borrowed money. These are programs which are for things which they really do not need, and which they do not have the means to pay for.
One reason for this is that the most respected members of the congregation are on the church boards. The financial committee is filled with successful business owners and managers, who bring the philosophy of the secular world of trade into the House of God, thinking NOTHING of sinking the church deeply into debt, since that is the common way that businesses operate today.
There is certainly nothing wrong with the church looking ahead, but it is terribly important that it should be done with a very critical eye, and in connection with the look inside, into the church's own nature and mission. It should also be done along with a look behind at her own history. If the church does this, she is less likely to take her cues from the business community, the corporation, or the marketplace. The church is here to lead the world in the ways of righteousness. So often, it is the other way around; it is the world that leads the church in the ways of materialism, with church growth planned like a business venture.
The Word of God tells us:
Acts 20:28 (KJV);
“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”
I have been in a large church in Peoria, IL, that consisted of a huge auditorium. They did not even have hymnals, but a projector that showed the music and words to the hymns they sang. They had a very spirit filled service; it was an uplifting joy to go there.
I have been in several large churches that had young married programs, elderly programs, youth programs, counseling programs and special services of all kinds. You could go from room to room, building to building, and not feel God anywhere.
The first example had nothing, and everything.
The second had everything and nothing.
But a great spiritual danger always accompanies that democratic spirit. The danger is that we may seek to rid our lives of not only human but also divine dominion. The danger in a popular democracy is that we may try to democratize God. If we don't like God's program, if "our eyes are opened" and we conclude that God isn't necessarily any better qualified than we are, we can simply vote him out and run for office ourselves.
I know many people that are critical of the way God does things; either openly or internally, they are running through the methods and steps which they believe God should take to correct this or that problem. I have received a better understanding of these folks several times over the years, as I have watched the creek rise beyond it's banks and take out both our drive and the drive to the church. The thought that God could have moderated the rain is very tempting to embrace - -
The Word of God tells us:
Exodus 15:18 (KJV);
“The LORD shall reign for ever and ever.”
2 Kings 19:28 (NCV);
“Because you rage against me, and because I have heard your proud words, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth. Then I will force you to leave my country the same way you came.”
1 Timothy 1:17 (KJV);
“Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”