Why is God a stranger?

19 09 2008

O the Hope of Israel, his Savior in time of trouble, Why should You be like a stranger in the land, And like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night? Why should You be like a man astonished, Like a mighty one who cannot save? Yet You, O LORD, are in our midst, And we are called by Your name; Do not leave us!”  (Jeremiah 14:8-9)

 

This passage of Scripture was written during a very bad time in Israel. The people had strayed from the Lord, in spite of many repeated warnings, to the point that God had become like a STRANGER in the land. They had grieved away His presence, and the result was that they became vulnerable to their enemies.

 

If God’s presence was seen among them, it was only like that of a man who was passing through. The sense of God’s nearness and readiness to defend His people from their foes was no longer felt in the land.

 

How does this apply to us? Can it not be said that God is a stranger in our land as well? Once He was our Savior in times of trouble, our Hope, the imminent One who dwelt in our midst. Now, if He is noticed at all, it is as if He doesn’t belong… “like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night.”

 

Consider the evidence that God is a stranger in our land…

 

1.       Think of how FEW CONVERSIONS there are among us. I’m not talking about people walking down aisles, repeating a forumula “sinner’s prayer,” then continuing to live the same sin-drenched lives they always have. The lack of genuine conversions can be seen in the lack of a transformed culture. When Jesus changes lives, the whole dynamic of society is changed – from the individual, to the family, to the workplace, to the church, to the city, state and nation. When God is moving among a people, things CHANGE. The fact that our neighborhoods and our nation are not only NOT CHANGING, but actually digressing further and further into sin is a sign that God is a stranger in our land.

 

2.       Think of how much DEADNESS there is among professing Christians. While those who name the name of Jesus pursue their own advancement and claim financial blessings as a right of faith, the lost are ignored and the oppressed are passed by. Religion is not a license to sin, or a guarantee of a prosperous life. James gave us the most concise definition of religion: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). Nothing about health, wealth and prosperity there! Not even a mention of doctrinal orthodoxy, as important as that is. God defines pure religion in terms of personal holiness and sacrificial service. The lack of these defining attributes in the vast majority of those who call themselves Christians is further evidence that God is a stranger in our land.

 

3.      Think of how BOLD sinners are to continue in sin. When God’s Spirit is present among a people, there is a restraint upon wickedness. In our land iniquity parades itself through the streets. Wicked leaders boast of their plans to silence God and overthrow His truth. Men and women in the streets pursue lust and practice deceit and ungodliness with the pride of people who are doing heroic deeds. This too is a sign that God is a stranger in our midst.

 

The withdrawal of God from our land is something greatly to be feared. One of the chief ways that God judges a people is simply by giving them over to their own sinful ways and desires. When He removes the restraints of His grace, a society crumbles under the weight of its own evil. We are far down that path, fam!

 

It’s not that God hasn’t been seeking to get our attention. Wars, calamities, and disasters have been His messengers. A few bold prophetic voices have been raised, but they are invariably ignored and marginalized. For the most part, preachers have been content to build their own empires, “choosing rather to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin than to suffer affliction with the people of God” – a virtual reversal of the faithful example of Moses in Hebrews 11:25. 

 

Among the people there is little interest in hearing the Word of God. Give us short sermons and lots of entertainment! Prayer has not only been banished from the public square, but also diminished in the home and family. And the vast majority of people aren’t even sensitive to the fact that something is wrong! Much less are they aware of the only source of hope and salvation, which is Jesus Christ.

 

It is time for the people of God to wake up! The prayer of Jeremiah needs to become the fervent prayer of our own hearts…

 

O the Hope of Israel, his Savior in time of trouble, Why should You be like a stranger in the land, And like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night? Why should You be like a man astonished, Like a mighty one who cannot save? Yet You, O LORD, are in our midst, And we are called by Your name; Do not leave us!”  (Jeremiah 14:8-9)





The “Todd Factor”

17 09 2008

              

Media coverage of the 2008 presidential race has spotlighted, as it traditionally does, the spouses of the Republican and Democratic contenders for the Oval Office – our country’s potential First Ladies. What is striking in this election cycle is the copious amount of attention being given to the spouse of Vice Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin – Alaska’s “First Dude,” Todd Palin. Even in 1984, when Walter Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro as the first female V.P. running mate in U.S. history, there was nothing to equal the media obsession currently raging around Todd Palin. Can anyone remember Ms. Ferraro’s husband’s name? (It was John Zaccaro). But times have changed.

Consider the current race. Have you seen any special reports or news features focusing on Jill Biden, the wife of Democratic V.P. candidate Joe Biden? Me neither. And why not? Well, quite frankly, it’s just not news. If Senator Obama wins in November, Jill Biden will be nothing more than the wife of the Vice President – not a position that generally draws much attention. Even if the election sets the stage for Biden to mount a Presidential campaign of his own in four or eight years, Jill would simply join the ranks of First Ladies. And make no mistake. The current focus on Todd Palin has nothing to do with his relationship to a potential Vice President and everything to do with his relationship to a potential President of the United States.

So why all the to-do about Todd? You might chalk some of it up to novelty, but that doesn’t fully explain the current phenomenon. Remember John Zaccarro? Me neither. Things are different in 2008 than they were in 1984. We have experienced a full-blown cultural shift. Todd Palin represents the consummation of this radical transformation. It’s not so much about a woman’s rise to power. It is also, and perhaps even more-so, about a man’s recession to the background. Feminism is not about gender equality – it is about role reversal – the subordination of man to woman. That’s what makes Sarah and Todd Palin so important to the feminist agenda. Here is Todd Palin – by all accounts a rugged, masculine, man’s man – a commercial fisherman, outdoorsman, and entreprenuer – and he is willing to assume the role of the fawning, adoring, supportive “help-meet” to his wife as she stands poised to assume the office of the second most powerful leader of the free world. Should she parley that role into a successful Presidential bid in 2012 or 2016, the conquest will be complete.

This is not about “conservative” versus “liberal” politics. Governor Palin is known as a political conservative. She is pro-life, pro-second amendment, anti-big government, pro-domestic oil drilling. Yet, as a member of the group, Feminists for Life, she exposes the socially liberal ideology which has ultimately brought her to where she is today. Even the name of the organization rings of contradiction. Feminism has long been the champion of the pro-abortion cause. But Sarah Palin represents a new breed of feminist – which sees no contradiction between espousing and defending “conservative values” while at the same time advancing a liberal social agenda that undermines the traditional family.

Now, I am fully aware that the advocacy of traditional role distinctions between men and women is labeled as “sexist” by the popular culture. Dr. Voddie Baucham was branded with that label by a supposedly “neutral” news anchor when he recently defended those views in an interview on CNN. Yet, for the Christian, truth is not defined by popular culture, but by the Word of God which stands forever. This is the crisis facing our nation at this crucial stage of history, and this is what is at stake in the current presidential race. It’s about questioning and discarding the plain statements of the Bible, which is God’s own Word, in favor of our own preferred lifestyles and choices. Has God really said that woman was created to be the helper of man? Has God really said that woman is not to exercise authority over man? Has God really said that one of the marks of a nation in decline is that it has women in positions of leadership? Has God really said that a wife should be a keeper of her home? Has God really said that a woman who dedicates herself to the role of wife and mother will find great reward in this high and noble calling? It really comes down to a question of Biblical authority. Whose word is the supreme guide? God’s or mine? This is always where Satan draws the lines of battle. Don’t believe me? A 24 year old blogger named Michelle from San Francisco summed it up this way:

“Christianity is overwhelming proof of the prevalence of sexism in a America AND the most powerful force perpetuating it. Churches are still denying jobs to people based on their sex! How is this acceptable in a country where that is illegal for every other type of organization?? Patterson is obviously a nutjob, but please consider that ALL Christians (75% of Americans) look to the Bible for guidance. The Bible that says:

1. God is a male
2. Man came first and Woman was created from a derivative of man
3. Woman brought sin into the world
4. Men did everything that was ever significant short of the “virgin” birth (I am sure if men could give birth they would have been credited for this accomplishment too).

A LOT of old writings are sexist but still valued for their scientific, literary, or otherwise academic value. You could make that same argument for the bible – that we can look past the sexism and extract the value. But the difference between the bible and those books is that 75% of Americans don’t look to those books for moral guidance. They don’t use those books to back alogical political decisions. They don’t claim those books are written by God, or that they are instruction manuals for how to live our lives. They don’t read those books to their kids at bedtime.”

There it is. If you believe such outlandish things: that God is male; that He created man first and woman as a helper to man; that Eve sinned first; that God has established distinct and particular roles for men and women – you, my friend, are guilty of sexism! If you plan to propagate such antiquarian notions, I hope you’re ready to be marginalized, villified, ridiculed and dismissed as a right-wing nut job. Now that evangelicals are flocking to support Sarah Palin because of her political conservatism, those who hold to Biblical views on the distinction of roles between men and women in the church and society will find themselves on the radical fringe indeed.

When it finally does become illegal for churches to deny the job of pastor to women because of their sex, evangelicals will have only themselves to blame for not recognizing the subtle erosion of Biblical truth because it came packaged in the form of a capable and winsome leader and her smiling and supportive husband.





Three things that hinder prayer

12 09 2008

If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.” (Psalm 66:18)

 

Love of the world and love of sin puts a barrier between man and God so that the heavens are like a ceiling of brass that bounces back prayer and keeps it from reaching God’s ears.

 

Have you ever felt like that? Have you complained that the Lord isn’t hearing and answering your prayers? Have you worried that He has forsaken or abandoned you because He doesn’t seem to listen to you? God has not forsaken you, but He wants you to forsake your sin and abandon your love of self.

 

Why is it that a man’s regarding iniquity in his heart (literally, cherishing or loving sin) hinders his prayers from being heard favorably by God? Here are three key reasons

 

1. If you cherish sin in your heart you cannot pray by the Spirit. All prayers that are acceptable with God are the breathings of His own Spirit within us (Romans 8:26). Without the intercession of Christ we can’t have our prayers accepted, and without the intercession of the Spirit we can’t pray rightly. If your spirit is infatuated with some sinful desire or activity, God’s Spirit within you is grieved, and your prayers are tainted.

 

2. If you cherish sin in your heart you cannot pray in faith. You can’t build a rational confidence upon any promise that God will accept you. The Bible teaches us that faith always respects the promise, and the promise of acceptance is made only to the upright in heart. As long as you cherish a love of sin in your heart, you fail to understand the promises of God, and so pray without understanding. At best, your prayers are presumptuous, because you are asking God to bless you while you are taking His grace and mercy for granted.

 

3. If you cherish sin in your heart you cannot pray with fervency. Next to sincerity, this is the greatest qualification for effective prayer that is acceptable before God. “The effectual fervent prayer of the righteous availeth much.” The cause of fervency or passion in anything that we seek is our love for it. The more we love something the harder we will pursue it. As long as the love of sin possesses our hearts, our love toward spiritual things is dull, heavy and inactive, and so is our pursuit of them.

 

This is a wretched error with which our souls deceive themselves. At the same time we love our sin and pray against it. At the same time we plead for grace, with a desire not to prevail. Such are the mysterious, intricate treacheries by which the love of sin will make a soul deceive and undo itself. Truth told, we pray sluggishly for spiritual mercies, because if we receive what we ask, we will have to put away our sin! The soul thus deceived cannot pray against sin in earnest. We fight against it, but with neither hope nor intent to conquer.  Like lovers in a game against one another, we fight with a desire to lose.

 

Do your prayers for deliverance seem to bounce off the ceiling? Then pray for God to give you a true hatred for your sin and a true and fervent love for His holiness and purifying presence. Pray that He will purge your heart of any lingering desire for the passing pleasures of sin. Only then will you be able to pray in the Spirit, in faith, and with the fervency that will reach the gracious ear of your patient and loving Father in heaven.





Voddie Baucham is my hero!

11 09 2008

Check out this clip from CNN in which pastor Voddie Baucham is grilled on the question of the role of women in the church and society. He is even called a sexist by the “neutral” female anchor. But this faithful brother stands his ground and represents the truth as a good and faithful servant. Would that God might be pleased to raise up many more godly ministers like this!

Of course, you can bet that CNN did its research on Rev. Baucham before inviting him to represent the religious right on this segment. This is exactly the kind of thing the world will use to portray conservative Christians as backward and out of touch. We need to pray that God will honor those who uphold His Word without compromise and spare our nation from its headlong plunge into judgment.





What are you talking about?

11 09 2008

“Is it possible that any man should love another and not commend him, nor speak of him? If thou hast but a hawk or a hound that thou lovest, thou wilt commend it; and is it consistent with love to Christ, to seldom or never speak of Him nor of His love, never to commend Him unto others, that they may fall in love with Him also? Is it consistent with this life of love, to be always speaking about worldly affairs, or news at the best; both week-day and Sabbath-day, in good company and bad, at home and abroad? I tell you, it should be one main reason why you desire to live, that you may make the Lord Jesus known to your children, friends, acquaintances, that so in the ages to come His name might ring, and His memorial might be of sweet aroma, from generation to generation. If before thy conversion thou hast poisoned others by vain and corrupt speeches, after thy conversion thou wilt seek to season the hearts of others by a gracious, sweet and wise communication of savoury and blessed speeches; what the Lord hath taught thee thou wilt talk of it to others, for the sake of Him whom thou lovest.” –Thomas Sheppard

 

How many words do you speak or write in a day? It would be mind boggling to count them. Christian rapper shai linne said, “Every rapper is a preacher the only question is, What’s your sermon about?” It’s true not only of emcees but of all of us every day. How much do we talk about Christ compared to how much we talk about worldly junk and nonsense? The words I speak are an overflow of my heart. What spills out of my lips is evidence of what I love and cherish. Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

 

Listen to yourself today. What is the subject of your speech. What are you promoting? Is it the new movie you just saw? Is it that hot new song your friend hipped you to? Is it the latest plot twists of your favorite TV show? Or is it that Scripture the Lord just laid on your heart with fresh understanding? Or the sermon you heard last Sunday that really spoke to your conscience? Or the challenges you’re facing in seeking to share Christ with someone who’s lost but listening? Or the beauty of Christ and His grace that you have been discovering lately in your prayer life?

 

Every life and conversation is a sermon. The only question is “What are you preaching about?”





Have you blessed your pastor today?

10 09 2008

I’ve been so blessed by Christian rap artist Tedashii’s tribute to faithful pastors and teachers in This Song’s For You from his debut solo project Kingdom People

 

Nine years old, gettin’ dropped off at Sunday School,

Class-clownin’ with my boys, I jus’ wanna be cool,

See I grew up thinkin’ that church was for the preacher

Until I met brothers who wanted to reach us and teach us

How to study our Bibles to see what it means

And show Christianity isn’t just about what it brings

But sadly there are those who live opposite Scripture

Christians to the public who muddy up the picture

‘Cause for too long cats like Kells and Mace been the spokesmen

All the while the public see us as a joke, man

So this song’s for the true shepherds who prove selfless

Whose aim is to aid the true helpless

I mean brothers like Spurgeon and Piper,

Tom Nelson, John Edwards, brothers who make disciples

Those who because of Ezekiel 34

Shepherd the flocks as a true pastor of the Lord

 

Let’s hear it (1) for the pastors and preachers,

Those who were burdened to teach us just so they could reach us…”

 

Paul tells us that faithful pastors are the gift of Jesus to His Church. In Ephesians 4:11-12 he says, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…”

 

So here’s my question…

 

What have you done lately to bless your pastor for the sacrifice that he makes to bring you the most precious thing you could ever receive: the Word of God that renews and edifies your soul?

 

Being a pastor can be a thankless job (believe me, I speak from experience). Not that true pastors do it for worldly gratitude. They don’t. They are servants of Jesus and they seek their reward from Him. But it is also true that pastors are human beings, just like everyone else. And they get discouraged, just like everyone else. And their job is extremely difficult — more than anyone else because as the writer of Hebrews points out, “they keep watch over your souls as men who must give an account.” That’s a tall order, people! Your pastor carries the weight of your soul on his shoulders!

 

So here are a few ways that you can encourage your pastor today:

 

  1. Call him up and thank him for his ministry.
  2. Take notes during his sermons and be sure to tell him personally how particular points he made spoke to you and challenged you to grow in your walk.
  3. Stop by his office and offer to pray with him for God’s blessing on his work.
  4. Invite his family over for a meal and give them the royal treatment. Take time to tell them how much you value their sacrifice.
  5. Ask for his counsel when you have a problem.
  6. When you have an opportunity to pray at a prayer meeting, make a point to thank God publicly for giving you a faithful minister and blessing you through his work.
  7. Next time you hear someone bad-mouthing him or complaining about petty things, remind them that He is God’s gift to the church.
  8. Show up early for church and offer to pray with him for God to bless his message to the hearts of the flock.
  9. Next time there’s a congregational meeting and the budget is being discussed, make a motion to give the pastor a raise because the work that he does is worth more than anything the congregation could give him.

 

A faithful old Puritan pastor wrote, “Do you have a godly pastor? Confer with him. Go to him for comfort and counsel; profit from his company, sit under his ministry frequently; count him worthy of double honor. Never imagine that it is a small blessing to have a faithful minister. Thank God for giving this mercy to you, which He has denied to so many others.”





What’s so great about sin?

9 09 2008

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.” (Ephesians 5:11)

“Back off… I don’t need any of that religious stuff! I’ve got everything I need! I’ve got cars and toys and women and status. What do I need with church and all that Jesus stuff? I’m fine, thanks. I don’t need to change. Its all good. Really.”

Ever heard anyone talk like that? Folks like to think that their life is good without the Lord. Their heart and lifestyle may be full of sin and ungodliness, but the devil has them deceived (and they deceive themselves) into thinking that they’re living the good life. Problem is, in their heart of hearts they know better. They just don’t like to admit it.

The fact is that every sinner, whatever he or she may boast, is ashamed of sin. How do I know this? Think about it…

1. Sinners cover their deeds by giving them new names. They call good evil, and they call evil good. If their sinful actions were really something to boast about, why do they need to disguise them with euphemisms? It’s not revenge… it’s defending my reputation. It’s not greed… it’s getting what’s mine. It’s not drunkenness… it’s getting loose with my crew. It’s not fornication… it’s social networking. Nobody’s going to say, “Hi there! I’m a vindictive, drunken, fornicator!” But you’ll hear them brag about their exploits under other names. Why is this, if sin is really not something to be ashamed about?

2. Sinners do what they do, as much as possible, in the dark. But why should they try to hide their actions if they are nothing to be ashamed about? Fact is that they know deep down that what they’re doing is not right. So they sneak around and keep on the low to avoid being discovered.

3. Sinners are tormented while they are living in sin. Truth told, they find their own acts and lifestyles painful. They stick their hand in the honeycomb, but they get stung in the process. Their conscience accuses them in the very act of sinning. So they put on a hard front, but it only hides a deep inner sense of emptiness and misery. They live in constant fear that the consequences will catch up to them in the end, and the pleasure they think they are gaining from sin only produces more unrest and dissatisfaction. Sin ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. Satan never delivers on his promises.

4. Sinners deny their actions when they are confronted. Now if sin was all good, and being a sinner was a great way to live, why would this be so? Yet every sinner, when his sin is set before his face, will lie and deny that he has done it.

5. Sinners can’t escape a strong sense of guilt for their actions. They try to shrug it off and dismiss it, but their conscience testifies against them in the quiet hours when no one is around to impress. They are restless and unsettled. They fear judgment and condemnation. In extreme cases, this sense of guilt drives them to insanity or even suicide. But why all this if a sinful lifestyle is the good life?

The answer is only found in Jesus Christ. One of my favorite Christian hip hop musicians, shai linne, said it best: “Stop frontin’ and give your life to the Lord Jesus!”

Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)