Thomas Jefferson, the Bible, and Political Correctness

Jefferson BibleSeveral years ago, I preached for a congregation on Sunday morning. That day I shared a message that, in many ways, has become a driving force of this ministry. I talked about walking in biblical unity.

One of the main points I shared that morning was that we as believers must be willing to follow the leadership that God has given us. I based this section on scriptural texts like 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, “…respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work,” and Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them…”

These verses don’t seem even slightly ambiguous. They’re very clear and straightforward.

However, after the service, a man approached and said that he really appreciated the things I said and agreed with everything … except for the part about following leadership in the Church. I took him back through the above passages, being careful to be sure he understood what they say.

He responded, “I know it says that. I just don’t believe it.” I was stunned.

I told him that at that point, he wasn’t disagreeing with me, he was disagreeing with God. And that’s a very dangerous place to live.

I am a very strong proponent of the Church as a whole walking in unity. At the same time, we can’t play fast and loose with Scripture. We don’t have the luxury of getting to choose the parts we like and to discard the parts we don’t. That’s what Thomas Jefferson did when he cut out the parts of the gospels that he thought particularly important — pasting them into a new volume — and left the rest behind.

Unfortunately, that’s the current norm in our society. If there is something we don’t like — a passage that might hit too close to home for our comfort — it gets jettisoned. Don’t talk about any of those topics that aren’t politically correct. You might get into hot water.

With all due respect, that did not seem to be a high consideration for Jesus’ original disciples — or even Jesus Himself — did it?

Maybe as Christians, and especially as leaders, we should be more God-oriented and less concerned what people might think.

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Praying … Correctly

prayingI’ve got a tricky question for you: Was the Old Testament prophet, Elisha, a man of prayer?

Okay, maybe that’s not a tricky question. Of course he was. It seems to go without saying that true prophets must be people of prayer. And Elisha was one of the most renowned prophets in all the Bible.

Which is why I find his prayers … interesting.

Remember when Elisha and his servant were surrounded by the Syrian army? The servant was afraid and Elisha prayed for him. “O Lord , please open his eyes that he may see.” (2 Kings 6:17) This English rendering is the lengthy version. It’s actually just six Hebrew words.

Moments later, Elisha prays again, this time against the enemy army. “Please strike this people with blindness.” (2 Kings 6:18) Another six-word prayer.

While I was researching the story of the amazing revival that happened in Estonia, I met Janis Ozolikievts. Janis (pronounced YAHnis) is a Pentecostal preacher. He visited the church where he heard God was doing miracles. But he was skeptical. Why? Because they didn’t pray “correctly.” He was Pentecostal and knew how to pray. Loud and verbose prayers were his standard. The quiet and less-wordy prayers of the leaders at Oleviste Church were clearly not going to be effective.

Yet they were. Janis saw with his own eyes that God heard and answered those “incorrect” prayers.

I have encountered those in the Body of Christ today who look down on others because they don’t know the “right way” to pray. Short, concise prayers certainly can’t bring results. But they did for Elisha. Each of those six-word prayers was answered in a truly miraculous way.

Jesus said that we shouldn’t think God is listening to us just because we use lots of words. (see Matthew 6:7-8) Prayer is much more about the heart and faith than it is about the number of words or tone of voice.

Regardless of how you pray, many or few words, God’s Word tells us to pray:

  • at all times,
  • for one another,
  • when we need direction,
  • for the eyes of unbelievers to be opened to see Him,
  • without ceasing,
  • in the day of trouble,
  • and so much more.

So pray!

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God Will Prevail

Rein Uuemõis

Rein Uuemõis

Rein Uuemõis is one of the most amazing — and humble — people I’ve ever encountered. He is a retired pastor in Tallinn, Estonia. When he was just nine years old, his father was taken away to Siberia. He was gone for three and a half years. The living conditions in Siberia were unspeakable. Those who guarded the prisoners had little concern about whether those prisoners lived or died. If they were worked to death or frozen to death, so be it. Being subjected to such conditions can change one’s appearance dramatically. When Rein’s father returned, the family barely recognized him. He, in turn, scarcely knew his children because they had grown and changed so much.

However, when his father returned, he came back, as Rein phrases it, as a “wholehearted believer.” Something had changed during his incarceration in Siberia. God had used that horrendous and grueling ordeal to draw Rein’s dad closer to Himself.

The Lord does not need to have what we might think of as ideal circumstances to do His work. He can cause His plans and purposes to be realized, in spite of dark and difficult times. Sometimes that can happen specifically because of those dark and difficult times.

Today, in our country, there is a seemingly ever-increasing anti-Christian sentiment — and in some cases even open hostility toward Christians — in both the society and the government. Christian-bashing, in many ways, is in vogue. Statements — made by media personalities or government officials about Christians and the Christian faith — would never be tolerated if such statements were made about Muslims or Hindus, but Christians are open targets.

Some people would say that the Lord can’t work in such circumstances, yet history would repeatedly deny such an idea. In the book of Acts, the Church grew initially by thousands at a time, under extreme persecution. Today, the nation with the most believers is China. Realistic estimates range to more than 200,000,000 Christians in that anti-God, Communistic society.

Someone recently sent me a profound quote. In the movie, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Albus Dumbledore says, “Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” What an apt description of our society today. Living as a true believer in Christ is not necessarily easy in an anti-Christian society, but it is still the right thing to do, and God will strengthen you to make it reality, if you ask Him.

If you’re waiting to do something until everything is perfect, you will be waiting far longer than necessary. Don’t allow the anti-Christian bent of our culture to stop you from trusting His faithfulness and sovereignty. God is still ruling and reigning. Even in the midst of difficult times, He will ultimately prevail.

(Adapted from The Great Soviet Awakening, by Tom Kraeuter, ©2012 Training Resources, Inc., Hillsboro, Missouri. Get your copy at http://www.TheGreatSovietAwakening.com)
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Dungeons, Poisons … and Keys

keyMany years ago my wife, Barbara, and I read the classic book, Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan, to our then-7-year-old son. (Where has the time gone?!) In the story, Christian is journeying on the straight and narrow path to the celestial city. On his way he encounters many situations that parallel our lives as believers.

One of my most vivid recollections from the book occurred during a time when Christian was travelling with a fellow-sojourner named Hopeful. As they journeyed, they grew tired and decided to take a rest. Lying down in a meadow just off the path, Christian and Hopeful quickly fell asleep. While they were sleeping a giant named Despair awakened them and forced them to return with him to his castle. There he put them into his dungeon.

Once Christian and Hopeful were incarcerated, the giant showed them no mercy. He beat them. He refused to give them food or water. He showed them the bones of pilgrims who had died there before them. He even offered them poison to drink so that they could end their suffering. He tried to convince them that they may as well consume the toxic drink because they were going to die there like so many before them. At one point Christian was so distressed that he almost drank the poison, but Hopeful talked him out of it.

Finally, Christian remembered that earlier in the journey he had been given a key, known as the Key of Promise. When he remembered the key he quickly tried it in the lock of the dungeon door. With a bit of work he opened the door and Christian and Hopeful walked out, free.

Not long after reading this story I was given some very distressing news about our ministry’s finances. Since, for all practical purposes, the ministry consists of Barbara and me, this news definitely affected me. It is not necessary to go into details, but suffice it to say that I was anxious. I was extremely worried about the final outcome.

The day after I received the news I was in our home office working on a computer. Because of the worry about our finances, my usual typing action was replaced by a rather pronounced banging on the keys of the computer keyboard. I made no attempt to hide the fact that I was upset. My wife, sensing my anxiety, said, “That giant, Despair, has really got a hold of you, hasn’t he? Did you check your pocket for any keys?” With that particular illustration so recent and so vivid, her comment should have been enough to cause me to change my attitude. However, this particular day, I was not just anxious, I was engulfed in anxiety.

Because I did not respond in the way she had hoped, a while later she began to hum a chorus. I knew the words very well and realized that the song was directed at me. The lyrics are:

God is bigger than all my problems,
bigger than all my fears.
God is bigger than any mountain
that I can or cannot see.

I finally realized she was right. She was inviting me to choose joy. She knew I could still have joy even in the midst of that very worrisome time. Guided by her promptings, I jumped up from my desk and, in a very positive way, said, “Okay, I’m getting it!” Right then and there I chose joy. I made the decision not to allow the joy-thief—anxiety—to steal away my joy. The situation was still the same, but my heart was changed. That change of heart made all the difference. I chose to live above the circumstances in life by choosing the joy of the Lord.

(Adapted from Worshiping God in the Hard Times, by Tom Kraeuter, ©2009 Training Resources, Inc., Hillsboro, Missouri. Get your copy at http://www.training-resources.org/worshiping-god-in-the-hard-times/)
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Something To Look Forward To

heaven's gatesWhen Jesus sent forth the seventy-two disciples, part of what they were told to do was “heal the sick” (Luke 10:9). When they returned, the disciples were beside themselves with excitement. “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (Luke 10:17). Can you picture those enthusiastic missionaries jumping up and down and laughing as they shared their amazing experiences with Jesus?

Maybe one told about a man whose legs were bent at odd angles away from one another. Walking was not merely difficult, it was impossible. Then Beriah prayed and the man’s legs snapped into the proper position. Everyone heard a loud crack and the man’s legs looked like everyone else’s. “It was absolutely amazing,” whispered a still shocked Beriah.

Perhaps another told of a woman who was in such excruciating pain that she hadn’t slept in two months. Her face, gaunt and ashen, appeared as though she had already died. But when Hanniel prayed, the woman fell to the ground in such a profound sleep that no one could awaken her for three days. When she finally did wake up, she was totally and completely healed. Tears streamed down the cheeks of Hanniel as he recounted the story to Jesus and the others.

Obviously these are simply my imaginings. However, I’m sure that my imaginings fall far short of the miracle-working power of God. After all, Scripture says that God is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). Those disciples surely saw and experienced the power of God and so they “returned with joy” (Luke 10:17).

In the midst of their excitement and enthusiasm, though, Jesus said this, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20, author’s emphasis).

As much as the miracles are spine-tingling events, the real excitement is reserved for the fact that we are headed for heaven. No matter how miraculous an earthly event may appear, it will never compare with our heavenly home with God.

(Excerpted from Worshiping God in the Hard Times, by Tom Kraeuter, ©2009 Training Resources, Inc., Hillsboro, Missouri. Get your copy at http://www.training-resources.org/worshiping-god-in-the-hard-times/)
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David, Solomon and Unforgiveness

Get 'emWhen David was passing along the kingship mantle to his son Solomon, he told Solomon about some people. Of course, David begins his final words to his son with an admonition to follow the Lord. We would expect that from David. It would be the right and appropriate thing to do. But what comes next seems odd to me.

David told Solomon about three different people — actually two people and one family. David reminded Solomon about how Joab had killed two of his commanders and how Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, had cursed David. He told Solomon to deal with them according to his wisdom. In fact, of Shimei David said, “You shall bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” (1 Kings 2:9)

David, what were you thinking? What an awful legacy to leave your heir-to-the-throne son. [Cue the mob boss voiceover] “Take care of these guys. They caused me problems, and I ain’t never forgotten it. Get rid of ’em.”

One of the things I so love about God’s Word is that it doesn’t gloss over real-life situations. We see the good, the bad and the ugly. And this is one ugly situation.

Let’s rewind for a minute and play this scenario back differently. What if we rescript it so that David doesn’t hold the grudges? What if he had chosen to simply forgive? Would that make a difference in how the story plays out?

Of course it would! Instead of passing the baton that has the “get rid of ’em” instructions attached, he could have handed Solomon a clean slate. David still could have told of the family he wanted Solomon to take care of, the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, the family that had showed him kindness. But he certainly didn’t need to make Solomon into his henchman, his retaliator. Solomon should not even have been involved in those disputes. Yet he was, because David held a grudge. He refused to let it go and forgive.

Unforgiveness will  definitely hurt the one who refuses to forgive. But it may also affect others if they’re dragged into that unforgiveness scenario. The better choice is to forgive.

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What’s It Worth To You?

What's It Worth To You?When I was young, living at home with my parents, everything I had or owned was given to me. Apart from what my parents gave me, I had no means to obtain anything. As I grew older, occasionally I could do a large job that would earn me money. Years later, I got an actual outside-the-home job and earned enough money to purchase a car and other items that I wanted.

Over the years I realized that things that I purchased on my own were of inestimable more value than those that were simply given to me. I cherished the possessions that I worked to earn more highly than the others. Why? Because I had an actual investment in them. Part of me: my skills, intelligence, giftings, time and education helped me obtain those things. I had labored to make them mine.

Near the very end of the book of 2 Samuel, King David made a great and memorable statement. “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24)

David was about to offer a sacrifice to God to avert a plague that was devastating the nation of Israel. The sacrifice was to take place on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. That location was by God’s directive. And Araunah offered to give King David the oxen for the sacrifice and even the wood to burn the sacrifice. “All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king…. The Lord your God accept you.” (2 Samuel 24:23)

But David wouldn’t hear of it. He responded, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.” (vs. 24)

David recognized that offerings that cost nothing were worth nothing. If it wasn’t something in which he had an actual investment, then it wasn’t worth giving.

So let me make this personal. Do you make an actual investment in your worship, or is it just a ritual with no real forethought?

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