Monday, June 25, 2007

Obtaining God's Bessings

Obtaining God’s Blessings
Haggai 2:10-19

10 On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, 11 "Thus says the Lord of hosts: 'Now, ask the priests concerning the law, saying,

12 If one carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and with the edge he touches bread or stew, wine or oil, or any food, will it become holy?" ' " Then the priests answered and said, "No." 13 And Haggai said, "If one who is unclean because of a dead body touches any of these, will it be unclean?" So the priests answered and said, "It shall be unclean."

14 Then Haggai answered and said, " 'So is this people, and so is this nation before Me,' says the Lord, 'and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean. 15 'And now, carefully consider from this day forward: from before stone was laid upon stone in the temple of the Lord--

16 since those days, when one came to a heap of twenty ephahs, there were but ten; when one came to the wine vat to draw out fifty baths from the press, there were but twenty. 17 I struck you with blight and mildew and hail in all the labors of your hands; yet you did not turn to Me,' says the Lord.

18 'Consider now from this day forward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day that the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid--consider it: 19 Is the seed still in the barn? As yet the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have not yielded fruit. But from this day I will bless you.' "

Are there any among us who do not desire God’s blessings on our lives? I often ask the people I encounter throughout the day how I might pray for them. They usually mention a difficulty at work, or a family difficulty, or a rebellious child, or a health issue. Everybody wants God to bless them.

Yesterday, as Diane and I were returning from a brief Family outing, I stopped for fuel at one of those places which majors on alcohol. A young woman walked in wearing so little clothing as to leave almost nothing to the imagination. The female clerk looked at her and said, “Hey girl, you ain’t never gonna change are you?” She replied, “Nope. I do what I want to do and wear what I want to wear.”

These were the people of God Haggai was speaking to. They were the chosen people. They expected God’s Blessings because of that. They had been set aside and then delivered out of slavery into a land which flowed with milk and honey. Their king became the most powerful man in the world and the nations marveled at his wisdom.

1. If one carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and with the edge he touches bread or stew, wine or oil, or any food, will it become holy?" The answer to this question is absolutely not. Holiness does not transfer. The people possibly have come to believe that one can become holy by associating with or participating in holy things. Here it appears that unrepentant Jews participating in God’s Holy Worship had polluted that worship.

They continued to live in sin, even though they attended church and paid their tithes. They continued their former lifestyle without a change, and their very participation seemed to desecrate God’s Temple.

Over and over again Scripture teaches that there is a difference between God’s people and the world. That difference is not merely one of activity. It is one of relationship. The unique people of God have such a relationship with Holy God that the world is made to wonder at the cause of their joy in the midst of both success and persecution.

We need to learn today that wearing a cross or carrying a Bible does not make us holy. Praying in a restaurant before meals does not make us holy. If we remain clothed with the filthy rags of the world, if we continue to pursue the same goals as the world, if we crave the attention of the world, we are not changed.

How do you react when something good happens to you? Do you praise God and rejoice in His glorious mercy? Perhaps many do. So how do you react when something bad happens to you? Do you grouse around while griping, grumbling, and complaining, or do you rejoice in God’s glorious mercy? You see, the genuine Believer is to rejoice and give thanks “ all things...”

Proverbs tells us in chapter 15:8, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.” God is not pleased with the religious exercises of those who continue to thumb their noses at God while determined to continue their own paths.

2. "If one who is unclean because of a dead body touches any of these, will it be unclean?" When Haggai asked this question, the priests were quick to respond, “Yes.” The law made clear that holy things could be contaminated by direct contact with uncleanness.

In this age it is very important that we understand the implications of this. A man or a woman, a boy or a girl, can develop polluted thinking by the things they associate with. That is why it is so important to guard our ears from certain sounds, our eyes from certain sights, and our lips from certain delicacies.

Those things we dabble in, those things we casually touch, those things we carelessly listen to come into our very soul and become authorization for the enemy to establish a beachhead within our lives. That is why Paul warns us in Ephesians 4:27 to not give place to the Devil. That is phrase speaking of warfare, and it is closely associated with what our U.S. Marines try to do when they are put ashore on an hostile shore. They try to establish a beachhead. From that beachhead, the Marines set up a command post and build up a stronghold. That is precisely what the devil attempts to do in your life by the things you associate with.

That is why parents have such responsibility to guard the activities of their children. Over and over I hear parents lament the condition of their children. Yet they refuse to obey God and lovingly discipline their children consistently. Today’s children often decide too many of their activities. They decide with whom they will play, what they will listen to in terms of music, which movies they will watch, and they are allowed to choose to emulate terrible role models in dress and makeup. Children need firm boundaries to guide them as they learn how to make the kind of decisions which will enhance both their lives and those of their progeny.

3. And now, carefully consider from this day forward: from before stone was laid upon stone in the temple of the Lord. Haggai tells the people to mark this day, the day they re-started their work upon the temple. The day they decided to do things God’s way. For all these sixteen or so years that they had allowed the temple of God to just lie there, they had not been blessed. Their harvests had not been full. The work of their hands had not brought satisfaction. Their labors had been just so much empty activity. But from the day they chose to obey Him, they would see that He had already begun to bless them. They might not see it, but as the prophet Habbakuk had proclaimed, “...the just must live by faith...”

It is time for them to begin acting as if they believe God. They need to live in anticipation of the harvest to come. Elijah, we’re told, was a man subject to the same passions which plague all of us. Yet one day, after a drought of three years, he went up on a mountain and prayed for God to bring relief. Then as he looked out over the horizon and detected a faint wisp of a cloud in the distance, he said that’s enough. He said, “Folks, it’s going to come one of those stump floating, gully washing down pours.” Elijah believed God and he began running for home.

That’s what Haggai is telling the people here. You’ve planted your seed. You can now anticipate the harvest. God will bless.

Now this presupposes several things to us: (1) We’ve gathered and stored good seed. (2) We’ve prepared the ground properly to receive the seed. (3) We’ve spread the seed evenly over the area. (4) We’ve tended the plot where the seed has been planted. (5) We’ve made preparations for the harvest. (6) We’re prepared to put harvest to work.

I remember, as a child, that four of us would take a bed sheet and toss shelled corn into the air allowing the wind to blow away the husks and refuse. Then that corn would be carefully examined and preserved for next years planting. In our area, it was always important to keep good seed corn because it was just too expensive to purchase new seed corn each year. Now the seed we store up is the Word of God. It is good seed and we need to spend time ingesting it into our souls so that it might be ready for planting in God’s planting season.

Preparing formerly cultivated soil is always different from preparing new ground. With formerly cultivated soil one only needs be careful to rotate the crops so that the nutrients are allowed to regenerate regularly. The breaking up of the soil is fairly easy, and one doesn’t anticipate discovering roots or huge stumps hidden beneath the surface. But preparing new ground is a different story entirely. Brush and trees have been cleared leaving untold and unknown obstacles beneath the surface. For two or three years, one might continue to catch his plow on a heretofore unknown root or boulder. Such a discovery often requires the use of considerable energy and a sharp axe or kaiser blade to remove. In the case of a large boulder, one might be forced to dig around it to dislodge it enough to move it out of the field.

The seed planted in new ground often grows quite fast, but it also has considerable competition because even the most through inspection will not discover the seeds of the briars, morning glory vines, and cockle burrs mingled with the soil and the good seed.

Once the seed starts to grow we take the mule and using a “gee whiz” we clear out from between the rows and toss freshly turned dirt against the young stalks to protect the roots from the harsh sun and remove some of the competition for the precious moisture.

While the plants are growing, storage facilities must be maintained, and in some instances new facilities built or existing facilities enlarged in anticipation of the bountiful harvest. Nothing is worse than having a great harvest with no place to put the grain.

Then some of the grain is turned into feed for livestock, some for food for the family, and some is sold on the market, and the best is retained for next year’s crop.

God says through Haggai that they need to begin acting as if they anticipate a bountiful harvest. He said, “I’ve already begun to bless you. The seed may still be in the ground and you might not be able to see its growth, but I’ve already begun to bless you. Mark this day that you began to walk in obedience and you’ll see that I’m faithful.”

Now, folks, let me add a bit of caveat here. God does not bless those who act in order to be blessed. He blesses those who act out of a heart which desires to serve and obey Him. That is why the people of Israel were so troubled. They were doing what they did in order to receive a blessing, not out of an obedient and loving heart. That is why God had withheld His blessings.

The people were now concentrating on building up God’s Temple. Haggai could promise them on the authority of Holy God that God’s blessings had already begun.

Exactly what is your motivation for what you do? Is your worship pure and guileless? Are you trying to worship Christ while hanging on to the old dreams and aspirations? Do you live each day in promise of His blessing?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Shooting Fireworks

The Fourth of July is nearly upon us. When you ask what people think of first, it is usually fireworks. I’m both blessed and cursed in this matter of fireworks. God has allowed me for several years now to supplement my income by shooting professional fireworks displays.

We shoot shows for churches, cities, athletic teams, birthdays, weddings, and almost any occasion. However, July Fourth is by far the time when we shoot the most. While there is little danger associated with watching a professional fireworks display, there is always the danger of operator error, or a manufacturing error, or even a mechanical error. Such errors always put the pyrotechnician at risk.

The photo at the left showed me shortly after I had made a terrible error while shooting a show in October of 2001 on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This photo is why people must be very careful around fireworks.

I’d like to show you some of the things we’ve done.

The Mississippi Braves located in Pearl, a suburb of Jackson, Mississippi is a farm team of the Atlanta Braves. Each Friday home game features a fireworks extravaganza following the game. The fireworks are colorful and designed to create a widely varied effect as they are shot to various musical themes.

The First two photos on the left along with the lead in photo at the top were taken following Braves Games.

The photo to the left was taken from across the lake as we shot the Meridian, Mississippi Fourth of July Show in 2004.

The shot below shows the Meridian show in 2005 after it is set up and the crew is relaxing with a fishing pole.

The photo to the left shows the lake and the firing location for the Meridian show. The Audience is located across the lake

This photo shows a moderately small finale wrapped in tin foil to prevent premature ignition.
The racks contain tubes called mortars.

In this photo the shooter is about to begin hand lighting with a road flare.

This is part of the finale for the Meridian, MS show for July Fourth 2004

More of the Braves Friday Night Show

The fans always give thunderous applause at the Braves show.

CBF--A Different Denomination

Yesterday Patricia Heys, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) communications person, released to the news agencies a new CBF global missions strategy.

CBF Global Missions coordinator Rob Nash said that both a new structure and new strategy will be introduced at the annual meeting in Atlanta.

Those who continue to believe that the CBF is not building a separate denomination are seeing the world through glasses conveniently tinted to mask that fact. I applaud them in their energetic and forward looking approach, however, I find distasteful the insidious continuance to present themselves as Southern Baptists.

It appears they think they can have it both ways and some churches and pastors seem inclined to go along with that rather than risk alienating a portion their congregations which are already fractured by theological divisions.

Where are the Baptist Statesmen of years gone by who would stand and fearlessly denounce the liberal and theologically challenged positions of those who dare to claim the name Baptist? Where are the Bill Powells who will take on the entire denominational network to expose the liberal policies and teachings? Where are the B. Gray Allisons who will take on the entire seminary system and affect reform by establishing a conservative seminary? Where are the Charles Spurgeons, a 5-point-Calvinist, who railed against the abuses and excesses of hyper-Calvinism. Where are those, who with the intellectual eloquence of an Adrian Rogers, stirred our hearts to reclaim our historic commitment to God’s Word? Where are the Criswells whose bombastic pronouncements elicited fearful cries of “uncle” and drove the enemies of Biblical authority into the CBF dungeon?

Today we need men of wisdom and courage to confront openly those who seek to divide and undermine our mission. Enough of this fearful accommodation! Churches and preachers need to decide where they stand on this matter. For me, it is a theological position. The CBF consists primarily of the most liberal leaning segments of Southern Baptist Life. I welcome the constitution of that denomination and bid them God’s Speed. I do not fear a loss of influence when churches defect to the CBF. That which we lose, is what we never had anyway; so how can we say we lost it.

I’m reminded of the bi-vocational pastor who returned to work after a week or revival meetings at his church. When asked how the revival went, he replied, “Great.” When asked how many people were saved, he answered, “None.” When asked how many joined the church, he said, “None.” When asked how many rededications, he replied, “None.” When asked how it could be a great revival if there were none saved, no additions, and no rededications; he answered, “We had some blessed subtractions.”

I think Southern Baptists need some blessed subtractions. A good start is with those who still hope to convert us to their liberal theological position and support a de facto denomination while trying to call themselves Southern Baptists. How do we accomplish it? Not the way Missouri is attempting to do it, by challenging the autonomy of the local church, but by statesmen exposing them for what they are. Grassroots Baptists will respond when they know the truth.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Grave Error at SBC

Tonight I ache to bottom of my soul. In what I can only assume was an attempt to mollify the moderate leaning wing of inerrantists within SBC life, the messengers at the annual meeting in San Antonio approved a motion to limit the ability of trustees to set criteria for the hiring of personnel and the appointing of missionaries to the skeletal statement of faith comprised in the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000. Where or where were the great leaders of the past who would have quickly explained the import of such a motion and exposed the diabolical plot to promote the seemingly self-serving agenda of those who’ve been trying for two years to bring this about.

This appears to be a blatant attempt by the Burleson/Cole/McKissic group to allow missionaries who believe in tongue speaking and social drinking, as well those who have questionable baptism to be appointed as missionaries. Rebuffed last year in their attempt to intimidate the IMB trustees and convention, they seem to have resorted to a more devious ploy this year. Rather than bring their pet beliefs before the convention which almost certainly would have issued them another resounding defeat, they couched their nefarious ploy in confusing and baptistic sounding language.

Trustees currently are free to employ guidelines which they believe reflect the standards of the vast majority of Southern Baptists in appointing missionaries and hiring personnel. The vote at the convention will remove the trustees ability to use criteria other than that codified within the BF&M to determine the worthiness of individuals to be appointed.

Currently there are a significant number of individuals who desire to serve as missionaries, but do not qualify because they speak in tongues, drink socially, or have questionable baptism. While the vast majority of Southern Baptist laity believe that tongues is so much gibberish, the trustees will be forced to appoint such individuals to the mission field. Such action will result in local churches refusing to send mission monies to the co-operative program and opting to support those missionaries they know personally, or it will result in a cumbersome and highly codified statement of faith.

Motions to modify the BF&M are already being formulated. Battle after battle will be fought over the matter of Alcohol, Tongues, and Baptism in the years to come as statements reflecting the Biblical views of the majority of Southern Baptists are presented for adoption into the BF&M, which the action of the convention meeting in session has made necessary by one mistaken vote.

The Baptist Faith and Message is not intended to be a comprehensive compendium of Baptistic Belief. Rather, it is a skeletal statement of basic beliefs which we consider absolutely essential for fellowship and co-operation. The perpetrators of this heinous and insidious proposal played on the fears of 5-pointers, who often seem to act as if they are only one step from being dismissed from SBC life, anyway. Such a coalition, however wrongly constituted, was able to carry the day in this matter to what I’m certain will be the bane of Southern Baptists in the months to come.

Should I be proven wrong, I will happily recant my wild prognostications. I just don’t think I am.

May God have mercy upon us as we hold forth the faith once received.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Political Intrigue Permeates the Air Around Southern Baptists

June, each year, begins the final push for political factions within the Southern Baptist Convention to advance their causes. Already, I have been frustrated by the position of one admired individual on a particular subject, while dismayed by the position of another on a different subject. What am I to do? None of those presented for leadership seem to understand Biblical Theology as thoroughly as I. For should they have my understanding, it is inconceivable they would take positions on any topic contrary to my own. Is it possible that the demise of the Southern Baptist Convention is imminent?

Last year, Frank Page was not my choice for SBC President. However, enough of those delegates, who obviously lack my astuteness on theological matters, voted for him to elect him on the first ballot. Dread, gloom, and despair overshadowed my normally effusive disposition. For the first time since 1976, my candidate had not been elected. What should I do? Should I call a press conference and announce that I’m leaving the SBC? I quickly realized that not even my wife would show up for that.

In the wake of Page’s earthshattering defeat of all right thinking Southern Baptists, I decided to hunker down and try to ride out what I envisioned as a disastrous year for Southern Baptists. Now, I’m really in a quandary. In spite of Page’s obviously callous decision to refrain from availing himself of my great store of wisdom on all subjects extant, he has not affected great harm to the SBC. In fact, he might have strengthened it. Of course, that just goes to show that God’s blessings fall both on the just and the unjust.

All of this brings me to the current dilemma. What should I do? I have certainly not been shy about expressing my well thought out, and extraordinarily accurate position on the subjects at hand. Is it possible that the SBC can sustain two successive years when those elected to office do not have my seal of approval? I must make a decision. I fully realize the gravity of said decision because it will either validate or invalidate the actions of the convention as a whole. Such burdens should not be placed so squarely upon the shoulders of one man. Albeit, an incomparable man, yet one man nevertheless.

For those who wait with breath abated for some word as to which is the correct path, please be assured I do not take this responsibility lightly. Pursuant to said responsibility, my revelation-like insight will be available immediately upon receipt of such insight. In the interim, please occupy yourself with prayer, trusting that God may in His own mercy, see fit to also provide you with direction through the current political morass.

© Mike Rasberry 2007