Saturday, October 31, 2009

Babies have value before they are born (6)

In Psalm 139 we see at least 7 important truths that teach us that babies have value before they are born. Look at what God’s word says. God forms us, knits us, makes us, shapes us, weaves us sees us plans us. All before we’re born. Knowing when life begins is not above our pay grade. Not if we hear the heart of God.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

We oppose abortion for the same reason we oppose slavery—it is a fundamental violation of human rights. We affirm the inalienable rights of all people. All people are “created equal,” not just “born equal.” (Randy Alcorn, ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments, Appendix H).

The concentration camps of Nazi Germany are a testimony to what happens when people start deciding who has the right to live and who doesn’t. The sign at Auschwitz says “Never Again.” We hope that someday our country will admit that abortion kills babies before they are born and will say “Never Again.”

The stakes are high. If the pro-choice people are correct, then the freedom to choose an abortion ought to be a basic civil right. But if the pro-life people are correct, then the almost 4,000 abortions that happen every day in America are human casualties, more than all the lives lost in the 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Center in NYC.

This isn’t an issue; it’s a baby. It’s not a choice; it’s a child. It’s not politics; it’s a precious human being created in the image of God.

Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Abraham Lincoln said, “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cow-ards of men.”

Silence is never the solution. When churches are silent about abortion, we encourage it. Silence becomes a form of consent, a quiet permission. Let’s not be cow¬ards. Let’s stand up for truth; let’s reach out in compassion. Let’s make sure our public officials know where we stand on these issues.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.
Proverbs 31:8 (NIV)


Who is less capable of speaking up for themselves than little boys and girls who haven’t yet been born? If we don’t speak up for these innocent children, who will?

I grew up in the deep south in the 60s. In 1968, there were racial riots at my high school. I had friends on my high school basketball team who were black. But one thing I regret is that I didn’t do nearly enough. I was too into my own stuff. I didn’t speak up. I know I was just 15. But I wish I had done more to help with the civil rights movement.

We wonder, “How could it happen in our country that brave college students in Greensboro, NC — African-Americans — would sit at a lunch counter as bullies stamped out cigarettes in their hair, squirted mustard and ketchup in their faces, then kicked them while white policemen looked on laughing. Or how could it happen that black children and adults were sprayed by whites with high-powered fire hoses in Birmingham, Alabama? Or how could it happen that black people were falsely accused and hung and burned without a fair trial?” We wonder now, “How could something like that happen?”

I pray that we will look back someday — hopefully someday soon — and we’ll wonder about abortion, “How could something like that have happened?”

When that day comes, don’t you want to look back and be able to say, “I wasn’t silent. I didn’t hold back. I prayed. I gave. I spoke up.”

I agree with Jonathan Schaeffer of Grace Church in Middleburg Heights. In a message at the Cleveland Pregnancy Center Banquet this past spring, he said, “If I live to be a grandpa, it’s going to be difficult to explain to my grandkids when they ask, ‘Grandpa, were you alive when our country used to end the lives of unborn children?’" Like Jonathan, I want to be able to say that I did something. I don't want to be like that 15 year old kid who was just into his own stuff.

Don't forget. Babies have value before they’re born.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well (Psalm 139:14, ESV).

Friday, October 30, 2009

Babies have value before they are born (5)

In Psalm 139, we find 7 Hebrew words that teach us that babies have value before they are born. Here are the 6th and 7th words.

Before we are born God sees us.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance…
Psalm 139:16a

The Hebrew word for “saw” is ra’ah. The word literally means “to look at” or “to inspect.” So, the idea seems to be that in the process of seeing us in the womb, God is aware of everything that happens there. (TWOT - #2095)

We can pray, “You saw me before I was born. You watched my body parts grow. With your own eyes you saw my body being formed.”

Think about it, since God can see into the womb, God sees the destruction of life in every womb where an abortion takes place.

Of all the sins committed in the Old Testament, one stands out above the others in its utter abomination to God: the killing of children. Whether children offered to the demon god Molech then or the god of convenience and affluence today, God hates the killing of children. He says in Leviticus 20 that to kill children is “to defile my sanctuary and to profane my holy name.” He says in Proverbs 6 there are seven things that are detestable to Him. One of those is “hands that shed innocent blood.”

In 2 Kings 24, God says that He brought destruction on the nation Judah because of the evil of King Manasseh, for “he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood,” the blood of children.

In a “how to” manual, Abortion Practice, Dr. Warren Hern says, “A long curved Mayo scissors may be necessary to decapitate and dismember the fetus.” I recently watched a video of abortions taking place. To see the little dismembered arms and legs and heads is shocking.

I know we don’t want to read about these things any more than the German Christ-followers wanted to hear what was happening to Jews. But abortion is happening and we must face it. If we can’t face the truth in church, where can we face the truth? Please don’t get angry at me; get angry at the killing of innocent children and what legalized abortion has done to this country. (Randy Alcorn, A Sanctity of Life Message, www.epm.org.)

God sees what’s happening because He can see in the womb.

Before we are born, God plans us.

…in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
Psalm 139:16a

The Hebrew word for “formed” is yatsar. The word can be translated “fashioned” or “framed.” It’s describing how God devises something in His mind. It’s describing His preordained purposes. (TWOT - # 898)

We can pray, “Every day of my life moment was recorded in your book, was laid out before a single day had passed. Even before I was born, you had written out a plan for my life.”

We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

Question: When were we His workmanship? Answer: Before we were born. Question: When was He preparing us for good works? Answer: Before we were born.

Without getting into a discussion about the sovereignty of God, I think it’s safe to say that God had plans for every little one whose life has ended prematurely.

Children are not the only victims of abortion. Mothers and fathers and grandparents and uncles and aunts and others are victims, too. You may think our children’s classes at CVC are full, but they are missing many children. Maybe one of them would have been your child’s best friend or future spouse. Maybe some would have been teachers, doctors, pastors, missionaries.

If you have been damaged by an abortion, you are not alone. Every weekend, our churches are full of damaged people. All of us have been damaged by the loss of those who should be here with us today. (Randy Alcorn, A Sanctity of Life Message, www.epm.org.)

Before we are born, God plans us.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thrusting another sword into His side

You just have to read below what John Piper says in a 1981 sermon on Hebrews 13:4 about someone who willfully sins and does so because he says, "Well, after all, God is a forgiving God, right?"

"What would you say to a person about to commit a sexual sin because he was confident God would forgive him?

"I would say (and have said to such a person): 'If you believe that what you are about to do is sin, and you decide to do it because God has promised to forgive sin, then probably your decision will be evidence that you are not born again, you are not a Christian but are still 'in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity (Acts 8:23).'

"'Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?' Paul asks in Romans 6:1, 2, and answers, 'By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?'

"Those who are born of God and love Jesus cannot walk up to Jesus as he hangs on the cross and say, 'I know that you are suffering now for my sins and that it is your dying wish that I sin no more. But there's this one need that I have that I can only satisfy by sinning, so I hope you'll understand as I thrust this other sword into your side. There now. I sure am glad that every time I do that your blood forgives me.'

"Those who have been born of God cannot think like that.

"So all I have to say to a person before he chooses to commit sin is, 'Advance at your own peril. There may be no forgiveness, because you may be so decisively hardened by crucifying Christ afresh (Hebrews 6:6) that you will not be able to find genuine repentance anymore (Hebrews 12:16, 17).'"

Babies have value before they are born (4)

Psalm 139 contains 7 Hebrew words that teach us that babies have value before they are born. Here are words four and five.

Before we are born, God shapes us.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret…
Psalm 139:15a


We can pray, “You watched my bones grow while my body took shape, hidden in my mother's body.”

This is a different Hebrew word for “made” than the word in verse 14. It is ‘asa. This word means that God is taking the material that has been created in order “to fashion” or “to shape” it. So, the idea seems to be that God is actively shaping us in the womb. (TWOT - #1708)

Just google an image of a child in the womb at eight weeks old, when the earliest abortions take place. It won't look like a blob of tissue, does it? There is a measurable heartbeat twenty-one days after conception and measurable brainwaves at forty-nine days after conception. That means that every surgical abortion stops a beating heart and stops brain waves. (Randy Alcorn, A Sanctity of Life Message, www.epm.org.)

That’s taking a life. We have to let God finish what He’s shaping/making in secret.

Before we are born, God shapes us and He weaves us.

… intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Psalm 139:15b


“Depths of the earth” is a poetic expression for the darkness and secrecy of the womb.

The Hebrew word for “woven” is raqam. The word describes the weaving of a garment or needlework with many colors of threads. It literally means “to mix colors” or “to give variety to.” So, the idea seems to be that in the process of weaving us in the womb, God is creating an intricately beautiful and colorful work of art. (Gesenius’s Lexicon)

A skillful work of art is being described here. This same Hebrew word was used in Exodus 38:23 to describe what an artist in the Bible, Oholiab, did in weaving blue and purple and scarlet material together to make a fabric used in the Tabernacle, a portable place of worship that God’s people used in Old Testament days.

If you created a work of art in your home – a painting, a landscape, some pottery, a needlepoint – and someone came into your home or yard and destroyed it, you would feel violated. That’s the way God feels when someone invades a womb and desecrates His work of art – an unborn baby.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Babies have value before they are born (3)

In Psalm 139, there are 7 Hebrew words that teach us that babies have value before they are born. Here are the second and third words.

Before we are born, God knits us.

… you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
Psalm 139:13b


The Hebrew word for “knitted” is cakak. Here, it means “to weave.” Other times, the word is translated “to cover,” “to screen,” “to protect.” So, the idea seems to be that in the process of weaving us (knitting us), God is seeking to protect us. (TWOT - #1492) This word is used in Job 10.

You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit (cakak) me together with bones and sinews.
Job 10:11 (ESV)


God seeks to protect what He knits. And centuries before Psalm 139 was written, God showed that He placed a high protective value on an unborn child.

When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her… he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life.
Exodus 21:22-23 (ESV)


The scenario? There’s a brawl between men. A pregnant woman nearby is accidentally hit. The result is either a premature live birth or a miscarriage where the child dies. If “harm” is suffered by either the woman or her baby, the man who caused the injury is held accountable. If the unborn baby dies, it’s life for life.

In Psalm 139:14 God is saying, “Protect what I’m knitting – the lives of the unborn!”

Some abortion advocates say, “The unborn is part of the mother’s body. She should have the freedom to do what she wants to do with her own body.”

But look at the verse: “You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” There are three persons being talked about here. 1) God. 2) A baby. 3) A mom. The unborn person is separate from the mother. Every cell of the baby’s body is unique, each different from every cell of the mother. The blood type is often different. Half the time, the gender is different. There are 2 noses, not one. Four legs, not two. There are 2 skeletal systems, 2 circulatory systems.

The unborn is not part of a woman’s body. The unborn is in the woman’s body, but is a separate person in the woman’s body.

Alcohol-serving establishments in Oregon are required to post a sign that warns pregnant women not to drink because it might harm the baby. Why? Alcohol harms unborn babies. And mothers should not have the right to do whatever they want if it harms the baby. Question: If alcohol harms unborn babies, what does abortion do? (Randy Alcorn, A Sanctity of Life Message, www.epm.org.)

I am a strong believer in women’s rights. I have the deepest respect for my wife, for my mother, and for the women of this church. I don’t want to underestimate the trauma that women have gone through in making abortion-related decisions. But women (and men) have a God-given responsibility to help protect what God designed the womb to protect, the lives of those unborn babies He is knitting together.

Before we are born, God makes us.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…
Psalm 139:14a


The Hebrew word for “made” is palah. Sometimes, the word is translated “to separate,” “to distinguish.” So, the idea seems to be that in the process of making us, God separates and distinguishes us. (TWOT - #1772a)

We say, “Lord, I praise you! You made me in an amazingly distinct way. Thank you for making me so wonderfully unique!” How does He make/separate/distinguish us?

There is a point of creation, where one moment there is only an egg with twenty-three chromosomes and a sperm with twenty-three chromosomes, neither of which has a life of its own. But when they are joined, there is a new human being with absolutely unique DNA, a distinct identity, with the equivalent of hundreds of volumes of detailed information down to hair thickness, eye color, height and thousands of other markers. We are “made” – separated, distinguished by unique DNA. When did that creation come about? Conception.

This has tremendous implications, because no matter how soon after DNA is formed, after conception happens an abortion causes the death of a human being – of someone God has fearfully and wonderfully made. Think about it. The abortion pill the morning after pill) or an IUD destroy a fertilized egg – the DNA, the distinguishing marks of a special human being God has made.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Babies have value before they are born (2)

In Psalm 139, there are 7 Hebrew verbs that together make a compelling case that babies have value to God before they’re born. We can learn from the nuances of these words. Here's a post regarding the first of these words.

Before we are born God forms us.

For you formed my inward parts…
Psalm 139:13a


Based on this verse, here's a prayer we can all pray, "You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body. You are the One who put me together – who formed me."

The Hebrew word for “formed” is qanah. Here, it means “to create.” Other times, the word is translated “to get,” “to acquire,” “to own.” So, the idea seems to be that in the process of creating us (forming us), He owns us. (TWOT - #2039)

This word is used in Genesis 14.

God Most High [is] Possessor (or, Creator - qanah) of heaven and earth.
Genesis 14:19 (ESV)


This means that as Creator, God owns the baby in the womb.

There are probably dozens and dozens of women and hundreds of men at CVC who have made abortion decisions — some ten or twenty or thirty or forty years ago, some two years ago, some last year, some last month. With the 2,000 people in our combined services, I have no doubt that sitting in church every weekend are some who have made the decision and are planning abortions within the next few weeks.

And some have had conversations with a doctor that went like this: "The fetus may be deformed. It may not survive more than a few weeks after birth, and if it does, it will never be able to walk, talk, see, or have a normal life. I recommend you terminate the pregnancy.”

What do you do? Before you reply, think. The child is made and owned by God. If God chooses to take this child, that is His choice, just as if He would choose to take our 16-year-old or 22-year-old or 28-year-old. Let God do what He wants. The decision is His, not yours.

If you found out that your five-year-old was terminally ill, would you say, “Since he’s probably going to die anyway, we’ll just kill him.” No? Then don’t do it to your unborn child. Let God decide, not you and not the doctor. (Randy Alcorn, A Sanctity of Life Message, www.epm.org.)

Before we are born, God forms us and therefore, owns us. And that has tremendous pro-life implications.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Babies have value before they are born (1)

If the national statistics hold true, then about 25% of readers of this blog might be very strongly pro-choice. About 30% of may be very strongly pro-life. And about 45% aren’t really sure what they think. (Randy Alcorn, Why ProLife? p. 16.)

I’m asking the readers of this blog to go on a journey over the next few days through some scripture with me. We’ll see what God’s Word has to say about this issue. If you’re pro-choice and, after reading the posts, the pro-life side seems irrational to you, then reject it. But if the pro-life side seems sensible, then maybe you could rethink your position. If you’re on the fence with mixed feelings, then I hope to give you some ideas about how to go about a quest for truth. And if you’re pro-life, I hope you'll think through your position. It’s not enough to get all red-in-the-face and say to people, “I don’t know why, but I just know I’m right.” We need to know how to intelligently and graciously inform others. (Randy Alcorn, Why ProLife? p. 18.)

I know that when abortion is brought up, people can get hurt. That’s not my desire. But the alternative is not bringing it up and that, I think we’ll see, hurts God. What matters most to Him ought to matter most to us.

I think we sometimes forget that church is more than just a social club. We are not in the body of Christ simply to help each other feel good; we are in the body of Christ together to help each other be good in God’s eyes. And sometimes that means taking some medicine - looking at the hard truth - we’d rather not take in order to get well.

Here are the facts, the truth.

There are 1.4 million children killed by abortion in this country every year. That’s about 4,000 abortions a day. In my office is a vase given to me by a friend. In the vase are 200 baby bottles representing the 200 babies that are lost due to abortion in NE Ohio every week. In it are 200 white stones and 200 blue ones representing 200 moms and dads that are wounded from the 200 abortions that happen every week. And lest we think abortion is “out there somewhere,” it hits close to home. St. Albert’s Church in North Royalton has 80 little crosses in the front yard representing 80 abortions that happened in North Royalton families in the last year.

One in every four pregnancies in America ends in abortion. Statistics show that a soldier’s chances of survival in the front lines of combat are greater than the chances of an unborn child’s avoiding abortion. What should be the safest place to live in America— a mother’s womb—is now the most dangerous place. (Randy Alcorn, A Sanctity of Life Message, www.epm.org.)

Psalm 139 teaches us that God never designed it to be that way. The womb is the place where He does His greatest creative work.

Psalm 139 is a song of worship. Verses 1 through 6 say that God knows us and cares for us. Verses 7 through 12 say that God is present everywhere. Verses 13 through 16 say that God has a concern for us even before we’re born. The idea is that we should worship God and marvel over the mysterious process of a developing baby.

Babies have value before they’re born. Let’s read:

13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
Psalm 139:13-16 (ESV)


There are 7 Hebrew verbs in this passage that together make a compelling case that babies have value to God before they’re born. I don’t want to be tedious or academic, but we can learn from the nuances of these words.

So, over the next several days, we're going to be looking at these Hebrew words and thinking about thier implications.

Join me on the journey.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pour yourself out for the poor (5)

Isaiah 58 teaches us that a worship that does not produce a passion for social justice is worthless worship. But God promises that we will break forth like the dawn if our worship produces a passion for helping hurting people.

So, how can we as a church and how can you as an individual leverage our God-given resources and use them to fight what have been called “Global Goliaths?”

Some “global goliaths”:
extreme poverty
dirty water
malnutrition
pandemic disease
sexual slavery
lack of education

3 million people every year die from AIDS. That means that 8,000 people will die from AIDS today. You may know that it is the #1 killer in Africa. Are you OK with this?

4.2 million children die every year because of dirty drinking water. 11,500 children will die from water-related diseases today. Water-related diseases kill a child every eight seconds. Are you OK with that?

10 million children die every year because of hunger issues. That’s 26,000 children dying from malnutrition every day. Are you OK with this?

International Justice Missions says that there are 27 million sexual slaves around the world, which is more than at any other time in history. 2 million of these are sex slaves as young as 4 years old. Are you OK with that?

Most of us are ok with all this. And we're ok with it because these are issues without a name or a face. Most of us have never sat at the bedside of someone dying with AIDS. No one in our family has needlessly died from contaminated water. We've never held someone who is starving to death. We don't know anybody who has been kidnapped and sold into slavery.

But once an issue has a name and a face it changes everything doesn't it? God knows each of those names and faces and that is why it breaks His heart.

“Rick, are you OK with this?” I can't get that question out of my mind. “Are you OK with this?”

Now, what does all this have to do with politics? Be compassionate. Be educated. Be involved. Be vocal. Encourage the leaders in business, arts, church, and government to pour themselves out for the poor. Let's be aware that some political policies enable to poor to take advantage of the system. We ought to oppose those. But policies that elevate the poor ought to be enacted.

Bottom line? Pour yourself out for the poor. Are you doing that? That's not a left-leaning issue; it's a human issue. It's an issue that's close to the heart of God. It's a Jesus followers issue.

Jesus said, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22).

Are you truly following Jesus or are you just fooling around?

Pour yourself out for the poor. That's a big part of what following Jesus looks like.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Obama is the antichrist?

Our Groups Director at CVC, Dan Fries, sent the following email to me about a video that's going viral. The subject? Barak Obama is the antichrist.

***

Rick,

I received this video three times over email, the last time from a Community Group leader who was very disturbed by it (I think because it sounded true) and asked me about it. With the political environment the way it is, my guess is that some in our church may believe this stuff.

Here’s the video on YouTube if you’re curious:



Here’s what I wrote to [our leader]:

Don’t worry, this video is not very credible. I was writing a response when I decided to see if some other scholars had weighed in on this, and they did a better job than I could have. Here’s some links from two respected guys (Dan Wallace taught at my seminary).

Dan Wallace (professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, expert in Biblical languages [especially Greek] and textual criticism) responds here.

Michael Heiser (Academic editor of Bible Study Magazine & Logos Bible Software, Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible & Semitic Studies) responds here.

The concern that I immediately had is that Luke 10:18 is not talking about the rise of the antichrist, but about the defeat of Satan. The 72 disciples were experiencing victory over demonic oppression – the principle is that Satan’s authority is decisively broken as Christ’s kingdom advances. So even if the linguistic arguments were sound (and they’re not), the context doesn’t support the idea that Christ is describing the rise or identity of the antichrist (not to mention that the antichrist & Satan are not the same person). Hopefully this helps.

If you have any more specific questions that the articles don’t address, let me know.

Thanks,

Dan

***

Our own CVCer Dan Fries as well as Dan Wallace and Michael Heiser have done us a great service in showing the fallacies in the video that's gone viral about this issue.

Although we may not support some or even many of Barak Obama's initiatives and policies, we still have been commanded to live out I Timothy 2:1-3, Titus 3:1-2, and I Peter 2:13-17 in regard to our president.

Using shoddy "biblical scholarship" is not an acceptable way of challenging public policy to be more and more reflective of biblical values.

Let's elevate the conversation and not resort to poor biblical exegesis to make a political point.

Pour yourself out for the poor (4)

This week, I was reading about Doug Nichols, the President of Action International Ministries. Action International specializes in reaching street children around the world.

To show you the kind of passion he has to pour himself out for the poor. In an article on his website, he tells us what motivates him:

7 million children worldwide are refugees of famine and war
13 million AIDS orphans are suffering in Africa
800,000 girls ages 12 to 16 are involved in prostitution in Thailand
Over half a billion children are struggling to survive on under $1 per day
An estimated 30,000 children die each day from preventable diseases and hunger

Doug was diagnosed with colon cancer in April of 1993. The doctors gave him a 30% chance of living after his surgery and colostomy and radiation treatments. The next fall, he got on a plane and went to Rwanda. His non-Christian oncologist said he would die in Rwanda. Doug said that would be OK because he is going to heaven. The oncologist called his surgeon to solicit help in not letting Doug go to Rwanda. The surgeon is a Christian and said, "It's okay, Doug's ready to die and go to heaven."

A church in Minnesota got word that Doug was going—with his cancer and his colostomy—to Rwanda. The pastor gathered in the prayer room with his staff and very specifically was led to Isaiah 58:6-8 which says, "Is not this the fast that I choose... to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him? Then shall your healing shall spring up speedily..." And they prayed very specifically for Doug that the feeding of the hungry and the housing of the homeless in Rwanda would not kill him but heal him.

From Rwanda Doug called his Jewish oncologist and said, "I'm not dead." And when he got back to the states after the mission trip, he had a battery of tests which resulted in the assessment NED: no evidence of disease.

That diagnosis was over 16 years ago. And Doug Nichols is still alive and well and pouring himself out for the poor.

I’m not saying that pouring yourself out for the poor is the cure for everything that ails you.

But let's trust the Great Physician, the Lord our Healer. Let's worship rightly. Let’s fast for the right reasons. It will mean light and healing and guidance and restoration – all this with God Himself before us and behind us and in the midst of us. It doesn't get any better than that.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pour yourself out for the poor (3)

Why might our worship – our fasting – be unacceptable to God? What could be wrong with it?

As John Piper says in a message on Isaiah 58, "What can be wrong with worship is that it can leave the sin in our lives untouched." The only authentic fasting is fasting that includes a spiritual attack against our own sin – the sin of selfishness, the sin of materialism, the sin of greed, the sin of not caring about the poor/hungry/needy. We must learn to worship and fast to defeat sin and increase holiness.

It’s becoming a tradition around here at CVC on Good Friday to listen to a message that says, “It’s may be Friday, but Sunday’s comin’!" Maybe we need another message to become well-known, namely, "It may be Sunday (the day of worship), but Monday’s comin’!"

Whne we worship, what does God think of it? We’ll find out tomorrow: "It may be Sunday, but Monday’s comin’!" Will the devotion on Sunday produce a passion for social justice on Monday? That’s the question of Isaiah 58.

Now, let's see what happens when our worship – our fasting – pleases God because our focus is not on ourselves, but on the poor.

There’s the promise of light.

Isaiah 58:8 says, "Then shall your light break forth like the dawn..."

If we will worship and work on behalf of the poor, the darkness in our lives will become light. Do you want light in your life instead of gloom? Pour yourself out for another person in need.

There’s the promise of physical strength.

Isaiah 58:8 says, "... and your healing shall spring up speedily..."

Now, we ought not turn this into a “name-it-claim-it,” health-and-wealth” promise. But who knows how much health we are forfeiting? Who knows how much weakness is in us because we may not be pouring our energy into the weakness of others?

There’s the promise of God’s protection and presence.

Isaiah 58:8 says, "... your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard."

If we worship and fast this way, God will be in front of us and behind us and in the midst of us with righteousness and glory. God shows up with power behind us and in front of us. He surrounds us with His omnipotent love and protection and care.

There’s the promise of answered prayer.

Isaiah 58:9 says, "Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’"

Whenever the roll is called in prayer (God?), He always says, "Here!" We’re talking answered prayer.

There’s the promise of guidance.

Isaiah 58:10-11 says, "... then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually..."

I wonder how much confusion and uncertainty there may be in some of our lives that come from the neglect of ministry to the poor? It seems the Lord gives his most intimate guidance to those bent on giving themselves to the needs of others—especially the poor.

There’s the promise of satisfaction.

Isaiah 58:11 says, "... and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong..."

We are meant to be satisfied in God. Satisfaction in God grows when we share our time, talent, and treasure with others. Pouring ourselves out for the poor is the path of deepest satisfaction.

There’s the promise of fullness.

Isaiah 58:11 says, "... and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail."

It is a paradoxical spiritual principle in Scripture: as you pour yourself out, you become full. As you give away, you get more. When you are watered with God's grace you do not merely become a wet, moist, living garden; you also become a spring.

There’s the promise of restoration.

Isaiah 58:12 says, "And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in."

There it is. Restorers. I asked you, “What’s broken in your life, in your family, in your church, in your community, in our nation?” You’ve asked God to fix it, maybe even asked God to use you to restore what’s broken. God says, “Worship the right way. Focus on helping the last, the least, the lost. And watch Me work. I will use you to restore what’s broken.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pour yourself out for the poor (2)

In Isaiah 58, God tells us a right motive and focus for worship and fasting. He says,

Right worship results in sharing your bread.

Sometimes people fast and pray because they want God to fix something for them. And sometimes, that kind of fasting is really self-centered. It’s all about me. But what kind of fast pleases God?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry...
Isaiah 58:7a (ESV)

God is saying that no worship — no preaching, no singing, no playing of instruments, no praying, no fasting, however intense or beautiful — that leaves us in the grip of greed – no worship or fasting that leaves us like that is true, God-pleasing worship.

God wants us to fast so we can share our bread with the poor.

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors Him.
Proverbs 14:31 (ESV)

Right worship results in opening your home.

We build these homes with all these security systems to keep ourselves safe. We build these elaborate decks with fencing in the backyards to shelter our families from others. Many of us are isolated in our homes. But what kind of fast pleases God?

... and bring the homeless poor into your house...
Isaiah 58:7b


God says, “Be hospitable. Make your house a shelter to those who don’t have one.”

Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.
Proverbs 21:13 (ESV)


Right worship results in clothing the naked.

You’ve got the remote in your hand. You see people in need on some channel. And what do you do? Lots of us just keep on channel surfing. We don’t want to see the suffering. But what kind of fast pleases God?

... when you see the naked, to cover him...
Isaiah 58:7c


God says, “There are needs all around you. Meet them.”

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his deed.
Proverbs 19:17 (ESV)


Right worship results in seeing the pain.

It’s easy for us to say, “That’s not my responsibility. They are not my people. Someone else needs to step up.” But what kind of fast pleases God?

... and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Isaiah 58:7d


We’re all made of the same stuff. Red. Yellow. Black. White. Brown. God is saying, “Don’t hide yourself from your own flesh – from other humans who hurt. And don’t jsut give your stuff. Give yourself.”

Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.
Proverbs 28:27 (ESV)


Right worship results in pouring yourself out.

Lots of us do a little. And we think that’s enough. But what kind of fast pleases God?

...if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted...
Isaiah 58:10


True ministry to the poor is not merely giving things. It is giving self. It's not just relief. It's relationship. It’s pouring yourself out.

Question: Are we right worshippers or wrong worshippers?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pour yourself out for the poor (1)

What’s broken in your life, in your family, in your church, in your community, in our nation? I’m guessing you’ve asked God to fix it. Maybe you’ve even asked God to use you to restore what’s broken. But it’s still broken.

And because it’s still broken. we can get disappointed with God. Let’s be honest. God often just doesn’t come through for us the way we thought He would, the way we think He should. So, we step up our spirituality to get God off our back and on our side.

We know that we are not all we should be, but we read our Bibles. At least some. We pray. At least a little. We come to church. Most weekends. We live decent lives. Better than most. But when we ask God for some favors – for some blessings – it seems like He’s not holding up His end of the deal.

Maybe your thinking, "Lots of stuff around me is broken; broken relationships, broken ministries, broken communities. And I want to see God work through me to restore things, but nothing good happens. So, I’m disappointed with God."

We have to know that there are times when God is not answering our prayers – not using us as restorers – because our hearts are not right with Him. Isaiah 58 tells us how our hearts need to change if we want God to use us to restore what’s broken around us.

The chapter starts with God telling Isaiah to shout and tell the people about their sins. God is bringing an indictment against His people.

In verses 1-5, we see that God’s people are acting all holy. They come to the place of worship. They seem delighted to learn about God. They outwardly act like people who care about God’s will and God’s ways. They pray. They ask God to move in their lives and in their behalf. They want God to bless them, so they even fast, giving up food so God will answer their prayers. These are people who show up at church and worship.

But God’s not impressed. God says, “You’re deluded.”

They say to God, “We have fasted before You, Lord. Why aren’t You impressed? We have sacrificed for You and You don’t even notice it!” And God says, “I’ll tell you why! It’s because you’re fasting for the wrong reasons.”

That’s scary.

All their religious activity is just for show, it’s a veneer that covers lives that are not really pleasing to God.

This is not just an ancient problem. It’s our problem, too.

Maybe you love to go to worship. You talk the talk. You want God to intervene for them. You’re asking God to work in your behalf. But things are not going well. Something is wrong. And maybe you’ve praying harder and longer, even fasting to get results. But the fasting isn't working.

See, there is a kind of worship – a kind of fasting – that is not pleasing to the Lord. It’s the kind of worship – the kind of fasting – we do not want to have at CVC. And I don't want it in my life.

So, just what does please God? Start with Isaiah 58:6.

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

God is going to tell us a right motive and focus for worship and fasting. Bottom line? Pour yourself out for the poor.

Monday, October 05, 2009

A prayer for people in difficult marriages

This is a prayer I shared in Sunday's message:

***

Lord, in my marriage,
I cannot do what I used to do
I cannot do what other people do
I cannot do what You call me to do;
and over this weakness I mourn.

Lord, I long to live for You in my marriage, yet I cannot do it.

Unless You help me I can do nothing right.

Unless You help, there will be...
… no love in my actions,
… no patience in my words,
… no tenderness in my feelings,

Fill me with Your own holy energy. Lord, help me! Help me keep my promises and have staying power. Help me seek holiness more than happiness.

Help me thrive, not just survive so that I can love my spouse even when I am not loved in return. I draw on Your strength in my difficult marriage. Lord, I cling to You for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Tough decisions in corporate America

I have a friend who is in upper level management of a large company. He is responsible to help make some tough personnel decisions. To help the company make it through these tough economic times, he's having to have conversations that will likely result in terminating some employees. I let him know that I have been thinking of and praying for him.

He wrote back, "Thank you for the prayers and thoughts. We started the process last week... We then had to meet with every department head and give direction on what they each need to do to meet payroll needs. So... my job [now] will be to terminate a whole bunch of good people."

My response, "I’m sorry you’re having to do this. Man. Tough stuff. I’ll pray that you stay connected to Jesus as you take on this difficult task. What if in your terminating people, they could still feel the love of God through you? Or, better yet, what if God gave you ideas about a way to keep at least some of the people? Check out John 15. From my message from a few weeks ago, I’ve tweaked a prayer for you."

An “abiding in Christ” prayer

Lord Jesus,

I honor You as the true Vine – the only true Source of life and wisdom. I thank You that You have made me a branch who can find life and fruitfulness in You.

I confess that I have not clearly understood how much I need You. I confess that have tried to do much in my own strength. I confess that I have not allowed You to bear fruit through me to bless the world.

You know that I have a very tough assignment ahead of me – terminating the jobs of some good people. I want to do this in a way that reflects Jesus.

So, now, I offer myself as an empty branch to You. Apart from You, I am lifeless, hopeless, and helpless. I ask that You fill me with Your fullness, Your life, and Your love. I desire a complete and close connection to You so that I can be a fruitful branch now. Somehow, Lord, bear Your fruit of love through me even as I engage in these difficult decisions and conversations. If there is a way for us to keep these dear people employed without jeopardizing the futures of everyone else in the company, please show us the way.

Let me more and more clearly live out this amazing union between You and me. Guide me into an ever-increasing communion with You, Lord.

Jesus, be the True Vine to me. Nourish me. Fill me to the full to make me bring forth Your fruit abundantly. Live through me. I am Your branch, Jesus, abiding in You, resting on You, waiting for You, and living in You so that through me You can give Your fruit to these employees who so desperately needs You.

By faith, Lord Jesus, I claim Your strength for my weakness; Your riches for my poverty; Your supply for My need. I yield myself wholly to You. I am nothing without You. I can do nothing without You. But through Your life in me, as I express my leadership in the business community, help me to accomplish all Your holy will and bear much fruit for the Father’s glory.

Amen.

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