Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Christian Shift: Stop the Hate, by Pastor Ed Evans

A Christian Shift: Stop the Hate
by Pastor Ed Evans

Scripture:  Daniel 3
1  Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.
2  Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.
3  Then the princes, the governors, and captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, were gathered together unto the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
4  Then an herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages,
That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up:
6  And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.
7  Therefore at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of musick, all the people, the nations, and the languages, fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.
8  Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews.
9  They spake and said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live for ever.
10  Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, shall fall down and worship the golden image:
11  And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.
12  There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
13  Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Then they brought these men before the king.
14  Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?
15  Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?
16  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.
17  If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
18  But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
19  Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated.
20  And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace.
21  Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.
22  Therefore because the king's commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flames of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
23  And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.
24  Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counselors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king.
25  He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.
26  Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire.
27  And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king's counselors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them.
28  Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.
29  Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort.
30  Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon.

For as long as God has created people, there has been hate.  It begins in the eighth verse of Genesis 4.  We in this generation have seen an abundance of it.  Now, it is time for a Christian shift in society, a shift in how we treat one another, how we deal with one another.
Let us recognize some given facts of which we are all aware.  There are two kinds of people in the world, neither of which are going to change the others' minds.  There are those who belong to God, and those who belong to Satan. 
Any mention of God, of Christian ethics, of Biblical standards lights up the hate machine, and it roars.  It was never more evident than in this latest dustup about the same-sex supporters' call for a boycott of the Chick-Fil-A chicken franchise, and they absolutely heaped the hate on those who refused to bow down to the false god of same-sex.  But some of those who called themselves Christians reciprocated, and that is not of Christ.
We in America have many people, some even in the Christian church, who are using the world's values to make their decisions about spiritual matters, and that is always a mistake.  God has a standard of conduct, He has had His say about those standards thousands of years ago.  What He said remains the same.  He is not going to change.  It is up to us to change.
Change is actually what is badly needed right now; a dramatic change in America's political, economic and cultural integrity.  Having integrity is a matter of being complete and undivided, having the quality of honesty with strong moral principles.  We see the clash of hatred today because when those who follow Jesus Christ hold the line on what God has said, and refuse to compromise His standards, those who will not respect our commitment call that hatred.  That is an attempt to bully others by controlling the language.  We see the same thing at work when those who support same-sex ethics insist on being called "gay."
However, while that has its own effect, that is not where the battle must be fought.
The battle for a shift in integrity, morals and ethics in America must be fought on spiritual grounds even though the opponents of such a shift will deny it, and will claim a false moral and spiritual ground for themselves.  They demand, on those false grounds, that Christians approve what God has said cannot be approved.  Christian believers today occupy the same battleground as Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego when they were set up by the Chaldeans to incur the wrath of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. 
But what is significant about this historic test of wills is that at no time were these three young men angry, disrespectful or revengeful against King Nebuchadnezzar, against those who set them up, or even against those who threw them into that fiery furnace.  These were three young men who had been taken captive with the rest of the Jewish nation.  They had been separated from their families, but they remained true to their faith in the face of opposition.
No one was ever convinced to change their mind by being nasty to them, calling them names, telling them they are going to hell, or hating them.  Arguments don't change minds, they only build resistance.
Separated from all they knew, in a foreign land, under foreign laws, yet they lived out God's law of Leviticus 19:17-18, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart: you shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.  You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people; but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am Jehovah."
They were set up before King Nebuchadnezzar by the Chaldeans for death, and yet they refused to respond in kind.  They obeyed God, and He was faithful to them.
If the nation of the United States of America is to survive in this world beyond what we know, there must be a national shift which only Christians can bring about.  But it will not be accomplished through pride or right or might.  It will only be accomplished through the power and the actions of Almighty God.  And in that environment, in those actions, there is no place for hate.  For these three young men whose story is told in the book of Daniel, they knew from Genesis the story of Esau and Jacob, and the impact many generations later when God spoke through the prophet Obadiah to the men of prideful Edom, because of the sin of Esau, saying "For the violence done to thy brother Jacob, shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off for ever."  For the slaughtered warriors were but a portion of the loss of life, loss of wealth, and loss of a future before God.
There must be a shift of dramatic proportions in how America sees success, but hate has no place in that.  We have a chilling reminder in 1st John 3:15, " Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."
As Christians, if we want to recommend the way of Jesus Christ to others, we must be respectful, and not hateful, to those who hate us.  We can be respectful to President Barack Hussein Obama without agreeing with his policies and decisions; we can be respectful to Muslims without worshiping their god; we can be respectful to politicians and others without agreeing to support their goals and programs.
That's what we must do.
What we also must do is hold the line on what God requires.  Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego were respectful to King Nebuchadnezzar and his court, but they still said "We will not eat your pork and other foods unlawful to us," and "We will not bow down and worship your god, but will worship the Living God only."
As followers of Jesus Christ we can respect each person for the creation of God that they are, but we will still not agree to condone what God has said is wrong, we will not agree with worldly values and programs that support rebellion against God, with programs that harm the innocent, that do not support the orphan and the widow.  With all respect and love of God, those things we cannot do.
Psalm 18:2 reminds us, "The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower."
When Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego made their stand before King Nebuchadnezzar, they said to him in Daniel 3:17-18, "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."
Like these three brave followers of the Living God, Christian followers today must respectfully and lovingly take the stand our God has placed before us, but stand we must, like the rock that is our Lord.  Why would anyone follow Jesus Christ when all they see coming from His followers is drenching hate?  He does not tell us to hate or to attack.  Jesus did say to feed the sheep, not beat the sheep.  This is His battle, and He will fight for us, but we must stand firm on who He is, and what He has decreed, for all of us.  Amen.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Bad Day To Be A Chicken, by Pastor Ed Evans

Scripture:  Psalm 51:1-12
51:1  Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
51:2  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
51:3  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
51:4  Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
51:5  Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
51:6  You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
51:7  Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
51:8  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
51:9  Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
51:10  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
51:11  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
51:12  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

          In 1968, the Sunday after Martin Luther King was assassinated, Pastor Joe McKeever writes in his blog at that he changed his sermon and preached to the congregation at Greenville, Mississippi’s Emmanuel Baptist Church about what our country was going through. In the middle of the message, a lady got up and walked out. He writes that she phoned him that afternoon to let me know she had.
          “What are you going to be preaching on in tonight’s service?” she asked.
          He told her, then asked, ”May I ask why you wanted to know?”
          That’s when she told him she had walked out that morning, saying, “We come to church for some peace and quiet. We get enough of the world situation on the news, and don’t need to hear about it from the pulpit.”
          Pastor McKeever goes on to point out in his blog, entitled "What the Church Forgot," that too often Churches overlook movements and trends they do not understand and cannot appreciate.  And the two-fold solution to that happening is, first, preach the whole word of God, and second, preachers should stay alert to the world around them.
          Pastors already have the first charge from 2nd Timothy 4:1-2, "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” 
          And the second point just seems common sense; make the message timely.  Following the attack of September 11, 2001, or after Hurricane Katrina, who would not have preached about what the people of God were facing?  Hardly the time to preach on the sins of gossiping or how to feel better about yourself.
          But there is such a thing as getting so caught up in the crafting of your message that you miss the point.
          The story is told of the pastor who just couldn't seem to come up with that last illustration to finalize his sermon.  His wife suggested they take a drive in the country to clear his mind, so they did.  Out in the country they came upon a family's house on fire, with neighbors forming a bucket brigade, everyone working together to put out the fire, and off the side the grieving family being comforted in their loss.
          "That's it," he said, and rushed home to put the finishing touches on that sermon.
          But that Sunday, after the sermon, as he and his wife drove home, the Pastor allowed as how he really thought that illustration would have been received better, about everyone working together for the good of that family in need, describing the bucket brigade and all.  But it just didn't seem to work, he said, the congregation just sat there and looked at me.
          His wife smiled at him, and said, "Well, dear, you forgot to tell them the house was on fire."
          All across the nation this past Wednesday, you would have thought something was on fire.  Millions of people crowded into 1,600 fast food chicken restaurants in such numbers that the lines to get in wound around the buildings and the drive-through lines stopped traffic on nearby streets.
          Now, there has been a great deal of heat and smoke about this issue, so let me begin by adding some facts.  First of all, this was mainly a news media-generated event.  You see, a Baptist newspaper, the "Baptist Press" interviewed the CEO of Chick-Fil-A, and they asked him about the claim that his business is operated on traditional Christian values.  He said it was his opinion that we are "inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, 'We know better than You as to what constitutes a marriage."
          CNN TV news then picked that up and misquoted the CEO, claiming he had come out against same-sex marriage.  Is he against it?  He does not support it.  However, he had not just out of the blue decided to attack everyone who is for same-sex marriage.  But you see, the news media in America today seems to have this mindset that conflict sells, so they seem to approach every story with "let's you and him fight."  Then they have news.
          The extremist supporters of same-sex marriage reacted to this in the very way I believe the news media thought they would, and demanded a nationwide boycott of the restaurants.  More news to sell!
          Now understand, there are homosexual people working at these restaurants, because Chick-Fil-A neither discriminates in its hiring of people nor its serving of people.  But the boycott was on.
          Former Presidential candidate and Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee then used his TV show to set last Wednesday as Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, and encouraged people of Christian values to take part in a "buycott" on that day, giving the restaurant their business.  And they did, in a big way.  Chick-Fil-A has not released sales figures for that day, saying only that "it was an unprecedented day."
          Five other nationally known companies have now stepped up to say they stand with Chick-Fil-A's traditional family approach.  In North and South Carolina, 75 Wendy's hamburger places posted signs outside saying, "We stand with Chick-Fil-A."
          In the meantime, Chick-Fil-A has issued a statement saying, "Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena."  The same-sex organizers however, have vowed the battle isn't over and they claim to be organizing "kiss-ins" at the restaurants.  Other same-sex organizations have refused to participate, calling it a "shallow way" to voice opposition.
          So before I lose my connection to the illustration, let me assure you, the house is on fire.  I say that because sometimes we get so caught up in trying to interpret scripture and what it means to us today, and what the activities of this age mean to us, that we are like the preacher talking about the beauty of the bucket brigade and the depth of emotion of the grieving family -- and we forget to mention, the house is on fire.
          You see, there is a great effort to say this is more about the issue of free speech, and I agree to the extent both the CEO and those who disagree with him have the right to say their piece.  But in this case, the house really is on fire.  I don't want to be like those who fill us with cute stories that tug at our heart in order to motivate people to do all the right things, but without telling them the house is on fire.
          It's in Romans 1:18-32 that we find a wide range of the sins of mankind detailed -- sinful desires of their hearts, sexual impurity, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, shameful lusts, gossipers,  slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, boastful, and more. 
          But it is in 1st Corinthians 6:9-11 that scripture is very specific about whom we will not see in heaven: "Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God."  And make no mistake, by "house on fire" I mean hellfire.  At the end of life we have only two choices, heaven with God or hellfire with the Father of Lies.
          Some make the argument, "Oh, that's too harsh!"  I agree.  Harsh.  But your argument is not with me, it is with the Creator of us all, the Living God, who has said time and again He will not put up with unrighteousness.  Our only hope is to put on the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  And He wants us to do that.
          And many will say, oh yes, they know all about Jesus Christ.  But there is much more than a semantic difference in knowing of Christ, and believing in Christ.  To make it more pointed, all we need do is look at the words of John 14:15, where Jesus says, "If you love me, you will do the things I say."  Almighty God has already had His say on this issue.  He does not change.  We can change, and we should.  He love us, but He will not change, for He is truth and He is righteousness.  Walk away from the house on fire.
          This past week was a bad day to be a chicken, or to be a supporter of same-sex marriage.  But it will always be a bad day for those who rebel against God.  There is so much more joy and fulfillment waiting for us, more than anything the flesh, which disappears, can offer.  Accept what Jesus Christ offers through His shed blood on the cross at Calvary -- His righteousness.  Accept the gift of life He offers. 
          Let us repent of our sins so that as the Psalmist says, God will hide His face from our sins, and blot out all our iniquities.  Let us pray with the Psalmist as in verses 10-12, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your holy spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit."  Amen.

Week of Worship
August 5, 2012

Invocation:  Almighty God, create in us a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within us, that amid the din and confusion of this noisy world we may always choose the more excellent way.  Through Christ.  Amen.

Read: Psalm 73

Daily Scripture Readings
Monday                Luke 10:38-42
Tuesday               Romans 8:18-25
Wednesday          2nd Corinthians 6:1-13
Thursday              Revelation 19:1-8
Friday                   Hebrews 10:19-39
Saturday               Colossians 3:5-17
Sunday                 2nd Samuel 15b-24; Ephesians 4:1-6; Psalm 34:11-22;
                             John 6:24-35 

Reflection: (silent and written)

Prayers for the church, for others, for yourself.

Hymn: "Dear Jesus, In Whose Life I See"

Benediction:  My Lord, today I will make a thousand choices, bit and small, consequential and trivial.  In the midst of all these decisions, help me to choose the one thing needed for a richer, more vital life in You.  Amen.