Monday, April 28, 2008

Your Mark

Robert Orten once said, "A graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that 'individuality' is the key to success." When you think about it, he is correct. All over our nation similar ceremonies with similar regalia will be happening this year. Many of the same thoughts like, "changing the world," or "here we come," or "nothing can stop us," or ""we've only just begun," will be heard all over the country. But before you scoff and say it is just the same old ceremony, many parents and grandparents will beg to differ. There may be millions of graduates from different centers of learning, but only one of those graduates is going to belong to them.

Those of us who are older can probably remember the assessment tests that were required by the state. While today everything seems to be computerized, in my day you needed a number two pencil. In honor of assessment tests and graduation, I would like to use some of the guidelines we once went by when we had to take those tests. I hope they will some provide some help for our graduates, as they try to make their mark in this world.

1. Read the entire question before you answer.
Our world is too fast paced. Many of life's questions will come at you quickly. But don't be in a rush to answer before you have considered all the facts. Who will you marry? Where will you live? What will be your occupation? These are going to take some time and prayer. Don't be in such a hurry. It may hurt your overall performance.

2. Choose the answer that best fits the question.
I always hated these questions! Why can't it just be a simple yes or no? And then there were those: neither A nor B, both A and C, none of the above, all of the above questions. I hated those even more! As life went on I discovered that many of the decisions I had to make turned out to be this way. There may not be an easy solution to your next challenge. Do the best you can to give an answer that suits the circumstance. Put your faith in God to help you through the difficult questions.

3. Make your mark dark.
We had number two pencils, and Scantron machines. We had to make sure we filled in the whole circle and that we filled it in dark enough for the scanner to read our test sheet correctly. If a person didn't make their mark dark, their answer wouldn't count. There is a very important analogy here. If you want to make a difference in the world, you need to make your mark with confidence. God only made one you. He has a purpose for you. He gave you a mark that is individual and unique. Make your life count. Jesus made marks that were dark. They went right through His hands and feet. They made an eternal difference. The greatest mark we can make will help others get to heaven. This is the mark of Christ.

The future lies before you
Like a field of driven snow,
Be careful how you tread it,
For every step will show.
~Author Unknown

"That they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments." ~ Psalm 78.7

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

James 5:16

Someone recently asked the question - "I have heard more and more in the past few years that James 5:16 '...The effective , fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much' (NKJV) means that only the prayers of the righteous are heard by God. I personally do not feel that this verse says that. I would like someone to give me some other verses that either confirm or deny this thought. It is hard for me to beleive that God does not hear any prayers unless that person is a righteous Christian. How, then would a fallen Christian gain the faith to become right again? Through prayer? Not if what I am hearing is correct. How about the person that has never heard the gospel and prays something to the effect of 'Lord, please show me what I need to do to be saved' and in time is led the the church? I just want more to back up what I have heard from some and I hope that you can help."

It is important to note that the emphasis of this verse deals with God's inclination to act when a rigtheous person prays. This does not mean God is not listening to all who call on His name. Psalm 33:13-15 says, "The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men. From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works." God is looking down upon every soul, hoping that we will respond to His love for us. In this sense God is listening to all men, small or great, strong or weak, ignorant or learned. He takes into consideration all of these matters when a person seeks His face.

In the context of James 5, James is specifically considering the prayer of faith (5:15). In the first chapter James said that if we are to ask God, we should ask believing. If we don't believe, then we shouldn't expect to receive (1:5-7).Then in James 5:16-17, he mentions the faithful prophet Elijah. He points out that this righteous man prayed to God continually and earnestly (cf. 1 kg. 18:41-46). Elijah was just an ordinary man. But his faith was extraordinary. Therefore God, seeing his excellent faith and his fervent spirit, answered His prayer accordingly.

This is the true meaning of "the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." It is understanding what God is looking for in us when we pray. God is listening to and considering the works of all men. But he is most inclined to bless those who humble themselves, obey His will, and truly believe in His power.

"I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting" ~ 1 Timothy 2:8

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What You Need to Know About VBS (Part 1)

It is about time that time again. Churches all over the country will be preparing for their annual Vacation Bible School programs. Some congregations no longer take a full week for VBS. Instead, many have elected for a one day Family Bible Day event. Usually these are held on Saturdays. For those who like to attend week-long VBS programs, there will still be plenty of opportunities elsewhere. Some churches will have morning sessions, while others may have their VBS at night.

But, beware which VBS programs you let you children attend. I would think that most of us would know better. But their are some folks that turn VBS into a babysitter. There are parents who let their kids go to VBS's all summer long. This includes denominational VBS programs. While some might think there is no harm in letting their children attend these services, that it can only be good, there is a stark reality that is much different than they might expect.

Over the last few years, in my visits with young families, I have had some very disturbing reports about VBS programs. How would you like to find out after the fact that your 4 or 5 year-old was "saved" or "baptized" at VBS? Many denominational churches are using VBS to add to their number of adherents. They are telling innocent kids who do not yet understand and who cannot understand that they need to be saved during VBS. If you think this is far fetched, I know of couples with young children who found out later that their kids had been "saved" without their knowing of it or discussing it. I can tell you, that these parents realized that they made a big mistake. Their children will not be going back, and we can be thankful for that. But now they are going to have to de-program their kids. This leads to much confusion and discouragement for their children.

VBS has a primary purpose. It is to educate our children, to teach them the basic truths that the Bible supplies. We are building a foundation for our children, so that when they come of age they will know what they must to do be saved and to stay saved. VBS is not for indoctrinating children. It is for equipping them. I think we need to see that there is a big difference betwen these two things.

Parents, please be wise. Do not just send your kids off anywhere. Sending them to a place that is going to teach them false ideas about God and salvation can be even worse than allowing them to go where Satan is more visible. Satan is doing his best work when he appears as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Vacation Bible School can be a great experience for children. But parents need to get involved. The church is not your babysitter.

"And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord." ~ Ephesians 6:4

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

More Teen Violence

Teen violence is a problem on the rise in America. Nearly 40 children are killed on school grounds in our nation every year. They are being gunned down, stabbed, and beaten to death. Sometimes one individual does all the damage, and sometimes, they move in packs.

This morning the Today Show ran the story about the teenage girls and boys responsible for a violent beating of one of their own. This link had been posted but the Today Show was forced to remove it from their website due to usage restrictions. What basically happens is the victim is lured in to a house by some girls who scream at her and beat her for 30 solid minutes. In the meantime, the whole beating was videotaped while two boys stand lookout outside the home. See Teenage Beating.

Consider some of the following statistics:
  • 160,000 children skip school each day because of intimidation by their peers. (The National Education Association)
  • Two-thirds of young people have been teased or gossiped about in a mean way at least once in the past month. (Study conducted by Families and Work Institute and funded by The Colorado Trust - study polled more than 1,000 youths in fifth through twelfth grades.) Additionally, almost one-third of 6th to 10th graders - 5.7 million children nationwide - have experienced some kind of bullying. (National Institute of Health study released in the Journal of the American Medical Association.)
  • Homicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24 overall.
  • A study done in 2004 reported that 17% of teens had carried a weapon of some kind to school in the last 30 days. 33% of teens had been in a physical fight with a schoolmate in the last 12 months. 9% were physically violent with their boyfriend/girlfriend in the past 12 months.
There are more statistics. But what is at the heart of the problem? The following factors seem to be a large part of why teen violence is on the rise:

1. Antisocial beliefs and attitudes.
2. Cliques in school.
3. Fame lust.
4. Culture and entertainment.
5. The breakdown of the family.

Number five on the list is the most critical. While every teen needs to learn responsibility, the bigger problem is with what is being allowed by the parents. In the case of the Florida cheerleader pack attack, a mother of one of the culprits tried to defend her daughter's actions on the Today Show. She basically implied that the beaten teenager got what was coming to her. What can we possibly say to that? Only that we hope the state of Florida will also see the need to try the offenders as adults, and allow the law to give them the punishment they deserve.

Parents, guard your children. Teach them respect for authority. Teach them respect for their fellow man. Teach them to love their neighbor. Teach them the vengeance of a perfectly just and holy God.

"The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, "The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth." ~ Genesis 6:11-13