Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Frankenstorm


The storm is over, the recovery has only just begun. We experienced on the east coast a storm like no other.  We broke the record for the lowest barometer pressure ever recorded.  Flooding at our shore towns was historic and devastating.  Millions still remain without electricity with the prospect of days to weeks before it is restored.  Businesses and livelihoods were blown into the sea.  Lives have been lost and many others need to put the pieces of their lives back together again.  This is all the result of a freak and powerful storm named Frankenstorm where a hurricane was wrapped with a nor'easter and guided by a high pressure region right into the New Jersey coastline.  The odds of all of those things coinciding was probably a one in a million chance, but we all know that sometimes that one in the one in a million comes to be. 

Today is not the time to use this tragedy as an illustration for the many spiritual lessons that will come from this storm, today is the day for the storm it self.  It is not an illustration, it is a reality many are living with.  Now is also not the time to get preachy about global warming or building houses by the ocean, but it is time to help those whose lives have just been ruined.  Today is not a message but a call for prayer and for service.  This is a time when many are looking for God for answers and for help. 

I do not have much to write today except to say that today everyone is our neighbor.  Over the coming days, funds will be set up, needs will become more apparent, and the despair of many will grow as the shock wears off and current reality comes into focus.  Many are out of work, many are homeless, and many are not allowed to return to their homes to even see if it is still there.  Considering this kind of devastation is unprecedented, no one has lived through this before.  The first thing we need to do is pray.  We need to pray for their comfort, for their provision, for their safety, and even more for their salvation.  Coming through a tragedy such as this without God is a terrible place to be.  Without the hope of a God who promises to get us through and without the hope of the promise of an eternal life to come, it will be so much harder to even consider what just happened.  Without God, there is nothing to anchor your hope on in these trying times. 

Prayer is only the beginning, though.  While prayer is the first and most important thing we can do, it is not the only thing we should do.  Prayer is not just asking God to do things for other people, but to give you things to do as well.  It is not just a list of requests, but it is also reporting for duty.  Brothers and sisters, it is time to report for duty.  It may be as simple as spending more time as an intercessor or sending in some money or it may mean taking people in who have lost their home.  It may even mean helping to rebuild a home that was lost.  No matter what, this storm was so big that there is not one of who us who is not touched or knows someone who was touched by this storm.  For many of us, it is both.  For all of us, as God gives us comfort and hope, it is for us to pay that comfort and home forward to those who are reaching out.  As God provides for our recovery, it is for us to help others recover.  I urge you, pray for those suffering and hurting but also ask God what He would have you to do.  The Bible is absolutely clear that God loves to use His children acting in obedience to be the vessels to answer the prayers of others.  I will end with the parable of the Good Samaritan as that is the example we are to follow, especially in times like this. 
"But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. o he went to [him] and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave [them] to the innkeeper, and said to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.' So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?" And he said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."   Luke 10:33-37 NKJV

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Warning For Parents


There are two big topics of conversation in New Jersey today.  The first is the tragic case of the murder of a 12-year old girl and the other is of a massive storm heading our way.  I believe the storm is described as potentially "historic."  I have to be honest, that is not a word I like to be associated with storms heading my way!  Believe it or not, these two stories are related, at least metaphorically.  When we know bad weather is coming, we prepare.  We do everything we need to do to ensure the safety of our families.  It is those who do not pay attention to the brewing storm or ignore the warnings that usually come out the worst.  The same can be said for our children.  There is a storm heading right for our children.  This storm is made up of predators of all ages and with many motives and our children are their target.  Parents who put their head in the sand and ignore everything they see around them generally are the ones whose children come out worse, if even at all.  Some may think that what I am about to say is incredibly cold, but reality is often cold and many times it takes reality to smack us in the face to wake us up to the dangers that really exist all around us.  The fact is, though, the tragic murder of this 12-year old girl is a perfect example of parents who did not perceive these dangers.  Parents, if there is one lesson to take from this is that you need to prepare and take steps now to keep your child safe from these storms because once they come, it is too late to act. 
A prudent [man] foresees evil and hides himself, But the simple pass on and are punished.  Proverbs 22:3 NKJV
We live in a different world then when we were children.  I got my first computer when I was a young boy.  There was no internet.  In fact, my first computer had no sound, no color, no real graphics, and no disk drive.  It hooked up to a regular television and if you wanted it to do something you had to program it yourself.  The only storage was a cassette tape.  Yes, you would actually hook a tape deck up to your computer to save programs.  Today, young children carry cell phones that have more computer power than I could have even dreamed possible when I was that age.  These so-called smart phones allow anyone to instantly share photos, videos, personal information, and just about anything else with anyone else in any part of the world.  Sure it makes phone calls, too, but that has almost become secondary.  I myself seem to text more than I call.  Then there are social media sites like Facebook where, once again and without thinking, many of us share information with "friends" and anyone else who wants to see depending on your privacy settings. 

The internet and modern technology have given us many great things, but they have also created many new dangers.  Let's look at this recent case and see how this poor unfortunate little girl was a sitting duck for a predator.  First of all, a friend of mine posted on Facebook last week that she went to this girl's Facebook page (it was still up at that time) and there were zero privacy settings.  Anyone can see one of the many photos she had of herself, her home address, and even a handy map right to her front door.  Now this is not what happened to her, but it just as well could have.  Compounding matters, apparently there was little to no parental supervision of her Facebook account.  In recent days, it has come out that this girl and one of her eventual killers were conversing on Facebook just four days before that terrible day.  Someone saved a screen shot of that conversation (meaning it was public) and there are a few important points to make about it.  First of all, she is talking to a 15-year old boy about his "sexy" bike.  Remember, she is a 12-year old meaning she was in seventh grade.  Furthermore, his response was to (and he did this several times) invite her to come to his house.  Again, she is 12 years old.  No 12-year old should be even talking about going to a 15-year old boy's house to look at his "sexy" bike.  Another troubling aspect is when this conversation took place.  If you look at the time stamp of the message, she was talking to him at 3:00am.  Yes, that was 3:00am.  This 12-year old seventh grade girl was chatting with a 15-year old boy about coming over to his house at 3:00am to see his "sexy" bike.  Parents, you need to check your child's accounts.  In this case, it could have saved a life.  As we know, she did eventually go to his house, and that is where this boy and his brother strangled her to death. 

Of course every parents thinks that their child is different.  Parents often live with their heads in the sand thinking that theirs sons and daughters won't fall for the same dangers as other children.  I am sure this girl's parents thought the same way.  The thing is, though, she was no match for these con men.  Everyone knew these boys liked to steal bikes (even their father who has not even talked with them in years knew of it) and someone in the very same Facebook conversation pointed out that the bike in question probably did not even belong to him because the picture of it was not even taken at his house.  As for the boys, they basically operated a bicycle chop shop in their own home right under the nose of their mother.  They also hid this girl's personal items, her bicycle, and even her body in the very same house under that very same nose for days.  Of course, I know, your children are Christian.  While that may be true, you also need to take on your God-given responsibility of parents and do all you can to keep them from trouble.  I remember back when I used to minister to inner city youth. One night, at our church's youth group, someone pulled me aside and told me to make sure that the boys I brought to church did not flirt with this one particular girl (not that they even had that kind of reputation).  The father of this girl was an elder was concerned as she was very "innocent."  This father had his head in the sand.  It just so happened that this was also a night to sign up for a youth retreat.  Would you believe that this girl, without even asking permission, copied all the phone numbers from all the inner city boys into her cell phone?  She was not quite as innocent as her father wanted to believe.  Furthermore, I know of no less than two teenage Christian girls who got pregnant either on a youth retreat or with someone they met on a youth retreat.  I am not writing this to say that Christian boys and girls have loose morals, I am only saying that you can not take anything for granted.  There are many wolves, even in the church, and even among the youth. 

The fact is that parents need to be very aware of what their children are doing.  You need to know their Facebook and email passwords and check in on them frequently.  You need to have transcripts of their text messages.  You need to make sure where they are going and who they are going with and you need to have them check in frequently.  You are not called to be their friend, you are called to be their parent.  If you must give them a cell phone, there are many companies that sell ones that do not take pictures or connect to the internet.  I know not giving them the latest gadgets that every one else has is hard, but your job is to do what you need to do to protect your children.  Personally, I would not even let a child have a computer in their own room.  The internet is a wonderful thing in many areas, but it is also a gateway to the most sick and depraved things in this world. 

I am not saying that you should not trust your children.  As Ronald Regan used to say: "Trust but verify."  Even if your child is the most well-behaved child in the world, you still need to keep watch.  It is not just about trusting your children, but also trusting everyone they are in contact with.  Do not think your child is above falling.  They are at least just as likely to ever do anything wrong as you were.  That should give you pause.  Of course there are a few who were perfect little angels, but the reality for the 99% rest of us is that we lied to our parents at times, we hid things from our parents at times, and we did regretful things out of peer pressure at times.  Your child will be no different.  Yes. we should trust God to protect our children, but remember it is parents who He has equipped and charged with that calling.  You may never know if you save your child from any harm, but I am pretty sure you would rather live and never know what might have happened then living with the inevitable and crushing regret of wondering what you could have done to prevent what did happen. 
The rod and rebuke give wisdom, But a child left [to himself] brings shame to his mother.  Proverbs 29:15 NKJV

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Don't Say You Weren't Warned


When I was in the Outer Banks a couple of weeks ago, I finally got to use my Jeep as a Jeep and tour around 4x4 country looking for wild horses.  It was so much fun and I look forward to do it again.  For those who do not know, 4x4 country is an area of the Outer Banks where there are no roads.  Well, technically, there are roads I suppose as they have street names and houses, but there is no pavement or even gravel path.  It is just sand.  The beach is the highway and you need to navigate through the dunes and deeper sand to get to the houses.  It is only accessible with 4x4 vehicles and even those sometimes get stuck in the sand. Praise God, I didn't.  What is interesting is that there are signs coming into 4x4 country warning people that it is for 4x4 vehicles only.  Furthermore, anyone with common sense, a computer with internet, or a very basic understanding of the laws of physics would know that you need an off-road vehicle to be able to drive off-road in deep sand.  Some ignored the warnings, though, and tried to take their 2-wheel drive vehicles on the sand.  Personally, I saw two stuck on various days.  On one day it was a minivan (I kid you not) and the other was Toyota Corolla.  Needless to say, neither of them made it 100 feet from the entrance and their drivers and occupants were feverishly trying to dig themselves out of the sand.  While we laugh (and I admit that I did), it is also a sobering illustration.  Even us, in our pride, ignore the warnings in Scripture to our own peril.
Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for [their bodies] were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as [were] some of them. As it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play." Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all  these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.  1 Corinthians 10:1-11 NKJV
The point of that lengthy scripture is that we can not ignore the warnings given to us by God throughout His word.  All those things that happened to Israel are recorded as a warning and admonition to us.  We are not to lust after the things of this world, we should not commit sexual immorality, we should not be idolaters, and we should not tempt Christ.  The whole idea that we can sin and live however we want after coming to Jesus and expect blessings to fall upon us like rain runs in direct contradiction to this Scripture.  God promises to chastise us when we are not walking with Him, not bless us.  Yet, just like the foolish drivers who ignored the 4x4 only signs, we tread out into our lives of self gratification and expect to live a prosperous, healthy Christian life.  And, just like those foolish drivers, we get stuck in the sand.

Most of the time, God does not even need to supernaturally chastise us for bad behavior.  Many times the behavior itself brings its own chastisement.  It is almost like it was designed that way.  If you are sexually immoral, you can not expect God to protect you from the unwanted risks of that behavior.  You are just as likely to be forced into being a parent before you are married or catch some dreaded disease as anyone else in the world is.  If you drink or do drugs, you are wreaking the same havoc on your health and body as anyone not in Christ is. Many sins have many natural consequences whether it be broken families and relationships, dreaded diseases, financial ruin, and criminal prosecution just to name a few.  Life, for the Christian, is not a magic carpet ride through life where God promises to navigate us around the problems we are creating of our own sinful behaviors.  To live with that idea is not only tempting Christ, but playing chicken with Him. 

No matter what your sin is, its lure and luster will not last forever.  The Bible is very true in that you become the slave to whatever it is you present yourself.  What begins as fun oftentimes becomes obsession or necessity and what would have once been easy to turn away from now becomes ingrained into your life.  When that happens, the sin becomes not an escape to fun but an escape from the misery of not doing whatever sin it was your were doing.  It is just like a drug addict.  At one point, it was to get high, but now it is only temporary relief from withdrawal. 

There seems to be a convergence of two false teachings in the church today.  The first false teaching is the Health and Prosperity Gospel where coming to Jesus means promises of supernatural healings and wealth for all.  The other false teaching is the teaching that Christians should not be concerned for things such as sin, repentance, or righteous living.  This convergence means that coming to Jesus is meaningless for how we live our lives yet produces health and wealth to all who believe.  In other words, this doctrine teaches that coming to Jesus means you can be just as sinful as you have always been and not even have the slightest concern about it while expecting God to prevent you from ever getting sick and lavish you with wealth and prosperity with eternal life in paradise to look forward to.  I call this the Gospel of the Spoiled Brat Trust Fund Baby. 

I am not writing of repenting to be saved, but I am writing about repentance as a result of salvation.  To deny that sin bears consequences even for the Christian is to not only deny the reality we see all around us, but it is to deny very large portions of the Word of God.  The Bible is full of warnings in the Old and New Testaments as to the perils of living like the unsaved once you make a commitment to Jesus Christ.  We often do not think of the Old Testament, but Paul made it clear as day in 1 Corinthians that what was written in the Old Testament was written as a warning and admonition to us.  We ignore these warnings to our own peril.  When we face the consequences of our sin, we do so of our own fault for not heeding those warnings.  We may laugh at those who ignore warnings on the side of the road and get there cars stuck in the sand, but how much more foolish are those who ignore the warnings of God? 
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.  Galatians 6:7-8 NKJV

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Killer is Me


This past weekend in a story too close to home, a 12-year old girl went missing.  Last night, her body was found dumped in a recycling bin.  There is a certain kind of evil in this world I just do not understand.  It is an evil so depraved that even others who do evil things look down on it with disdain and hatred.  This is the evil where one person thinks that his desires are worth shattering the innocent of a little child and thanking that poor child for their forced sacrifice by killing him or her in the most brutal of ways and dumping their bodies in a way that does not even give back a shred of the dignity stolen by these wicked people.  As it turns out, this 12-year old girl was murdered for a bicycle part by two neighborhood children, which does not make this case any better.  Many others are killed for moments of perverted gratification.  I just do not understand how a person can think that their desires give them the right to hurt of child in unspeakable ways and then out of sheer cowardice to not even face the consequences of their actions, they often kill that child.  Yes, there is that kind of evil in the world today. 
"Again, you shall say to the children of Israel: 'Whoever of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell in Israel, who gives [any] of his descendants to Molech, he shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. I will set My face against that man, and will cut him off from his people, because he has given [some] of his descendants to Molech, to defile My sanctuary and profane My holy name. And if the people of the land should in any way hide their eyes from the man, when he gives [some] of his descendants to Molech, and they do not kill him, then I will set My face against that man and against his family; and I will cut him off from his people, and all who prostitute themselves with him to commit harlotry with Molech.' Leviticus 20:2-5 NKJV
God did not look kindly upon child sacrifice.  In these cases, these children are sacrificed not even to some false god that someone may believe in, but they are sacrificed in the ultimate worship of self.  These men become as gods in their own minds and take it upon themselves to use and sacrifice these children for nothing more than to satisfy their own desires.  This act was seen so wicked by God that if people knew about it and did not take it upon themselves to put this wicked person to death then God would judge them as well. 

Of course this can also be applied to abortion.  Maybe the child is not abused first, but the end is the same and that end is a brutal death without dignity.  In the case of abortion, what makes it even worse, is that the parent kills their own child and for no other reason than they do not want to be pregnant. Adoption is always an option, so I do not buy the whole "I am not ready for a child" argument.  The fact is that they do not want the inconvenience, discomfort, or responsibility of pregnancy and so they kill their own unborn child.  The laws of our nation and a large percentage of our population agrees with this practice, or at the very least agrees that it should be allowed.  Is it any wonder that our nation seems like it is moving backwards?  It is easy to judge a man who rapes and kills a child and feeling anger that a man would be so wickedly selfish that his own sexual desires are worth, to him, the life of an innocent child.  Why is it not equally as easy to have that same righteous anger towards a woman or couple who feel that their own sexual needs are worth the life of their unborn child?  It is the same thing and the death of an unborn child is no less brutal as they are dismembered, removed, and thrown in the trash just as we read in the stories of other missing children. 

And, finally, the same could be said for us.  Those of us who have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are free from sin.  When we sin, we willfully commit that sin knowing it is sin.  We also know what Jesus had to suffer as he bore the punishment for our sins.  We can deny it all that we want, but every time that me or you or anyone else claiming to be Christian chooses to sin, we recon our sin more important that the punishment borne by Jesus for that act.  I think this is something we need to consider whenever we are tempted.  We need to consider the pure blameless innocence of Jesus suffering for what we are considering.  Yes, He does love us enough to have suffered and died for whatever sin we commit, but perhaps we should love him back and not take for granted His pain on our behalf.  We hate the shedding of innocent blood no matter what the reason is, but we especially hate it when it is only motivated by utter selfishness.  Whenever we feel that hatred, we need to look in the mirror and remember that we are that man.  We need to remember that our sin shed the innocent blood of Jesus Christ. 

There is truly a terrible evil running amok in this world and the depths of that evil are something I do not comprehend.  What is even a greater mystery to me, though, is the limit of God's grace.  I am going to say something that may turn some stomachs and stir up some anger, but it is something absolutely true.  The rape and murder of an innocent child is not an unpardonable sin.  Jesus even died for them.  Jesus even bore the penalty for that sin on the Cross.  Jesus even wants them to repent and receive everlasting life.  When I see these pictures of these children on the news and when I consider that my wife and I are also trying and praying for a child, I can not comprehend that level of grace.  I think how can God forgive and even reach out in grace to someone who killed such innocence.  I think that if I was a father how could I ever forgive someone for taking the life of my child with such selfish abandon.  Then I look in the mirror and I realize something.  I am that man, Jesus is that innocent life, and God is that Father.  Some people may think that with the things I write that I do not properly understand grace.  They are right, I don't.  Quite honestly, though, I do not think that anyone really does. 
But He [was] wounded for our transgressions, [He was] bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace [was] upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  Isaiah 53:5-6 NKJV