The Selfish Laodecian Church

The church at Philadelphia was giving church bent toward ministry to others:
1. They had a little strength, but willingly offered themselves.
2. They were open to and relied on God’s wisdom to make the best use of what little they had to offer.
3. They put others first.
4. They ministered as God led them, even in the face of opposition and naysayers.
These were probably the biblical principals they lived by:
1. Dying daily (1st Corinthians 15:31)
2. Living for the One who saved them (2nd Corinthians 5:15)
Unlike the Church at Ephesus, the Church at Philadelphia had not left their first love…which was people…
Philadelphia had it right:

1. They loved people enough to give of themselves
2. They ministered to people by putting them first
3. They sought God’s will in ministering most effectively
4. They didn’t quit
The Church at Laodecia was a selfish church that manifested its selfishness in at least three specific ways that we’ll see in a moment.
There was NO ministry. There was NO thought of others. There was NO consultation with God. There was NO sacrifice. There was NO love of others. There was NO concern for others.
Revelation 3:14-21:
A. The Church at Laodecia was a “lukewarm” church, “neither hot nor cold.” (verse 15)
1. May have been hypocritical in their outward lives
2. May have been inconsistent in their daily walk
3. May not have been fully committed to God or the world
4. Unlike the Church at Philadelphia, they didn’t want to sacrifice, be put out, or face difficult situations.
5. They we very willing to turn from satisfying God one minute to focus on satisfying the world the next.
6. On fire for God one moment and cold and indifferent toward the things of God the next.
7. This characterizes the self-preserving, self-serving Christian…which characterized the entire church. They elevated themselves and their well being above God.

B. They told the Lord, “We are rich…materially…we are all set.” (verse 17)
1. The church at Laodecia was indeed a very wealthy church.
2. In or around 60AD, an earthquake devastated the churches at Laodecia and Colassae.
3. Laodecia was able to rebuild itself on what they had amassed without any help from the governing Roman Empire at the time.
4. They probably had lots of nice things in their church being part of such a wealthy community.
5. Their members probably had the means to have lots of toys.
6. There was probably an emphasis on lifestyle and leisure among this wealthy church…they were.
7. Their focus was likely on the here and now.
8. This church was a self-sufficient, self-gratifying, self-supportive church. They did not need God.

C. God said to the church, “Knowest not…?” (verse 17)
1. Wretched—people feel sorry for wretched people. One would NOT want to be wretched.
2. Miserable—people who are miserable are sad and pathetic in their appearance and attitude and the way they carry themselves.
3. Poor—these people lack essential needs. They don’t have the necessary means to provide for those essential needs.
4. Blind—anyone who is blind is either lacking vision, or has NO vision at all if they are completely blind.
5. Naked—in one sense, being naked means one is completely vulnerable. In another sense, being naked is a metaphor for the fact that one has no shame.
6. This indicates to us that the church at Laodecia was a church that did their own self-assessment. They did not see what God saw.

As individuals, how do we measure up to the church at Laodecia?

1. Do we conduct our lives to serve God on a case by case basis ONLY when it’s convenient for us and won’t cause us any undue hardships?
2. Do we live our lives as though we are all set where we are with what we have and thereby live our lives needing nothing from God and having no need to rely on Him for anything?
3. Are we truly unaware of our present state? Do we dare look at the Bible and assess our lives against God’s standards or do we do our own self-assessment to make ourselves look better than we really are?
The church at Philadelphia was a loving and giving and self-sacrificing church.
The church at Laodecia was a selfish, self-serving, self-preserving, self-sufficient, self-satisfying, self-gratifying, self-supportive, self-assessing church.
As a member, how are you helping to define your church?

Posted in Backsliding, Blessings, Character, church, Compassion, cross, Culture, Family, Godliness, Holy Spirit, Love, Ministry, Prophecy, Recommitment, Reputation, Stewarship, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

As Father’s Day Approaches…

Being the head of anything brings with it much excitement for me.  Usually there’s responsibility, perks, challenges, rewards, and many other things.  As the head, I get to some extent, control people, conditions, environment, etc.  It’s not for everyone, but if you’re a pastor, husband, or dad, it’s expected of you whether you like it or not.  Most of the time I enjoy being a man and being the head of my household, except when I begin thinking of the awesome responsibility I have and the expectations God has for me as the head of my family, for which I will one day have to give an account.  It doesn’t stand to be a very good accounting when I juxtapose my headship to Christ’s example.

And He hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all(Ephesians 1:22-23).  Let’s understand that at the forefront of the study on headship is the need to get the fact down that Christ was set as head of the church by God.  We, the church, are His body.  Christ is head over all the members of that body (Ephesians 4:15-16).  Again, Colossians 1:18 reminds us that, He is the head of the body, the church…that in all things He might have the preeminence.”  But not only does Christ serve as the Head of the church, but He also feeds and nourishes it.  Read Colossians 2:19, “And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.”  In other words…the church draws strength and nourishment from Christ, and, since we all are members of one body, Christ should be the head of each of us, as we draw strength and nourishment from Him individually.

Now, if you look, there is a hierarchy that extends from the God to Christ to the Church and ultimately to the family.  Study 1st Corinthians 11:1-12 and you’ll see this plain and clear.  Verse 3 pretty much encapsulates everything:  But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”  See…God is the Head of Jesus.  Jesus is the Head of the man.  The man is the head of the woman.  Now what’s interesting is that even though those “under” us are to be subject to us, it’s a two-way street my friend.  Jesus was obedient and subject unto God His Father, but God certainly provided His needs throughout His ministry.  We are subject unto Christ’s Headship, but He provided salvation for us through His shed blood on the cross at Calvary.  So too, your wife and children should be subject to your headship, but the same responsibilities Christ has toward you and the rest of His church, are your responsibilities to your own family, and I think I can make that argument clear by taking you to Ephesians 5:23-33.

I’ll not transcribe here the entire text, but I’ll hit a few bullet points to make the case.  “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the Head of the Church: and He is the Saviour of the Body” (vs. 23).  Husbands and Christ share the same repsonsibilties for their respective bodies…the husband for the family…Christ for the Church.  As Husbands, we’re also expected to sacrifice for our families: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it” (vs. 25).  Just as Christ “sanctifies and cleanses” His church, we, as husbands and fathers should be watching out for the spiritual well being of our family.  Is there a difference in your family when compared to an unsaved family in your neighborhood?  Christ is working to make His Church body better, we must work on making our family better.  Why work so hard to make our families better?  “That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but it should be holy and without blemish” (vs. 27).  We will not be able to bring about total glorification to our families, as that is the sole job of Christ.  But we can help the Lord in the process of sanctification along the way as we lead our families.  Through actions such as prayer and direct involvement with our families, we can help their spiritual growth and development, to help them reach a point of having a testimony of blamelessness before others.  Lastly, according to Ephesians 5:29, we are to “nourish” and “cherish” our families.  We are to feed our families and love our families.  First and foremost we should feed our family spiritually with all God has to offer to us, through daily prayer for the needs of our families.  But the only way we will pray daily for our families is if we cherish and love them.  Our families need to mean as much to us as the Church means to Christ.  Even during those times when our families disappoint us, we can’t turn on them, because Christ’s example is that He doesn’t turn on us when His Church disappoints Him.

There are two scriptures that explain why there are “heads.”  We’ve already looked at Colossians 2:19 earlier.  Ephesians 4:15-16 states:  But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ:  From Whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”  As the heads of the households, we should teach our families the truths of God’s Word and what it is that God expects out of our families.  To be a Christ-like, obedient, and blessed family should be the goal that we have for our families.  Also, we should recognize that each member of our families is important to the functioning of the family as a whole.  We should make it our goal to encourage growth in areas where the family is weak, and utilize and further develop our strengths.  Then, not only will we have stronger families, but stronger churches, and an overall stronger Body of Christ globally.

Another very interesting thing about the head is that it is the only part of the body to hold all five senses:  touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight.  In Ephesians 4:15-16 we saw that the head can be responsible for nourishment and growth.  The fact that the head is the only part of the body containing all five senses leads me to believe that the head is also responsible for protecting the body.  Consider the human body.  If we touch something hot, our body will immediately retract from that heat source.  What happens is that a signal is sent from the hand, to the brain, which then processes the information and realizes that there is potential harm and immediately sends signals to the arm to retract the hand away from the source of harm.  That’s what we should do as the heads of our families…we should protect them.

But protection doesn’t mean that you walk around with an attitude of you know best and it’s your way and that’s final!  No, that’s not how our brain works with us.  Before a decision is made by the brain to make the body remove itself from danger, it processes information and makes decisions after input from the other parts of the body.  The brain does not act in an authoritarian and dictatorial mode.  There’s communication between the body and the brain before the brain makes the ultimate decision…all in the best interest of the body.  Incidentally, just like the arm obeys the brain when the brain senses danger; so too should children and other’s subject to the authority in the home, listen to the heads of their respective families, to ensure their physical and spiritual safety (Ephesians 6:1).

As Father’s Day approaches, may we be subject to Christ’s authority and learn from Him, so we can be the proper heads of our families as God intended from the beginning.

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The Church at Philadelphia

 

In Ephesians 5:23 we find comparisons between the way the church hierarchy is constructed by God and how the family is constructed by God.

Christ is the Head of the Church.

The father is the head of the home.

The church is subject to Christ’s authority while the family is subject to the father’s authority.

Both the family and the church are made up of individual Christians.

Therefore…sometimes…when God says something to a church, it can be applied to the individual person as well.

Israel was a peculiar people set apart for God (Deuteronomy 14:2) and that could be considered God’s original “Church.”

We too are a peculiar people according to Titus 2:14 and again in 1st Peter 2:9.

Paul encapsulates this connection between individual saints and the Nation of Israel (the original “Church”) in 1st Corinthians 10:11…

Keep that in mind as we study the ministry of Philadephia…

Who doesn’t want to minister?

Who doesn’t want God to open doors to minister?

Who doesn’t want to impact another person in a positive way?

Who does not want to be part of God working a miracle?

Revelation 3:7-13…The Church at Philadelphia…

  1. God holds the keys to certain doors (vs 7)
  2. God alone can open and close doors (vs 7&8)
  3. God gave Philadelphia an open door (vs 8)
  4. God opened the door to Philadelphia for three reasons:
    1. They had a little strength
    2. They kept His word
    3. They did not deny His name

Tonight I want to focus on one specific aspect of the Church at Philadelphia…and that is the first point…that they had a little strength.

This was not said in a tone of condemnation at all.

God did not say, “Because you ONLY have a little strength…”

NO, God was GIVING them OPEN DOORS because they had a little strength.  That’s the bare minimum God wanted to see out of His church, and we as individuals…so let’s look at some people…

John 6:1-14… “The feeding of the 5,000”

  1. Open door to minister was given (NOT to the desciples)
    1. They doubted (Philip in verse 7 & Andrew in verse 9)
    2. They dismissed what the boy had to offer as “not enough” (verse 9)
  2. The Open door was given to that boy who had come forward with the “little” he had (verse 9)
    1. In a crowd of over 5000, it’s doubtful the disciples scoured the mass of people looking for what people in the crowd had…assuming they were even willing to share.
    2. With so many adults there, it’s doubtful they would have even looked upon children for food they were unlikely to be carrying.
    3. Jesus knew this boy’s heart and knew he was willing to give to Jesus all he had even though humanly speaking it wasn’t much at all (verse 9)
    4. It’s likely this boy came forward and offered what he had to Jesus through the disciples.
    5. God took that “little” bit of food and ministered miraculously to thousands.

So…Aspect Number One of effectively ministering…you have to be WILLING to give whatever you have, no matter how little.

2nd Kings 4:1-7…The widow’s little bit of oil

The widow had some financial issues.

The creditor was going to take her sons to become slaves to pay off the debt owed to him.

She had not enough money to repay the debt and spare her two sons the horror that awaited them.

All she had was a LITTLE oil in a flask.

She was a godly wife of a godly man who died in “Bible college” while studying under Elisha.

She sought Elisha’s help and he told her to gather up “not a few” empty pots, but to gather MANY.

Then he told her to pour her LITTLE bit of oil out of the flask and into an empty jar…and it filled the jar…it actually multiplied and filled ALL the empty jars she gathered.

In the end there was enough to pay off the debt and to live off of for a considerably long length of time.

Aspect Number Two of ministering is to seek godly counsel or godly wisdom and follow it.  Don’t waste what little you have, as God can work a very visible miracle if you follow His guidance.  Take what little you have and use it as God leads you.

Mark 12:41-44…The widow with the two mites

Jesus is observing very rich people dropping into the treasury very large and significant gobs of money.

One after the next the people come parading in…some maybe even trying to better the one that went before them.

It was a show of opulence for OTHERS to see and make themselves feel important as the givers of such great gifts.

It was also an opportunity for these rich men to flaunt their wealth so as to make others envious of them and want to be like them some day.

This was a very carnal and selfish act that took place by many that were there that day…except for this woman…

All she did was meekly and humbly with a spirit of humility come and offer 2 mites…hardly anything compared to what was given if you quantify its face value.

But it was WAY more in relative value because the Bible tells us it was ALL that she had.  She gave every last LITTLE mite she had to the treasury.

Aspect Number Three of ministering…others first.  Ministering may mean having to be put out for a while.  Can’t buy food and clothing with no money…but she took no thought to that!!!

1st Samuel 17:32-50 “The little shepherd boy”

The mighty fighting men of Israel were getting whooped by the Philistines.

Goliath was taunting the frightened Israelites…and they fled in fear (verse 24).

David basically stood there and rebuked the captains of the Israeli army (verse 26).

Eliab, his brother rebuked David and accused him of being prideful and questioned his motives (verse 28).

One by one the people sided with the army and Eliab (verse 30).

David now faced Saul who didn’t really offer much encouragement to David…because he was LITTLE (verse 33).

Even Goliath took verbal shots at David (verse 42-43).

Goliath threatened him (verse 44).

Then comes David’s response to the verbal onslaught he took (verse 45-47).

David prevailed (verse 49-50).

Aspect Number Four…If God told you to do it, He will get out of what little you have to offer, whatever it is that He wants…just trust in Him the way David’s faith held firm against the naysayers.

So whether you have a little strength (like the Church at Philadelphia) or you have a little money, or a little time, or a little talent in an area…no matter what, God is able to perform miracles if we keep in mind the following we just learned about…

  1. Be willing to give that little bit to God like the boy and his lunch.
  2. Be willing to follow godly counsel and follow it so as to do the right thing with what little you have to ensure it doesn’t go to waste the way the godly woman sought godly advice from Elisha…the prophet of God.
  3. Be willing to be put out for ministering, but keep others first, the way the widow did when she gave away her whole life worth in one shot.
  4. Be willing to trust God even in the face of opposition and people trying to discourage you from ministering and making you feel like what you have to offer is insignificant, the way David just trusted and called out his God before everyone.
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Eliminating Needless Stress

Stress!!!  We laugh about it to ourselves and to our closest friends.  Some people actually brag about their stress as though it were a badge of honor.  Some people will even squabble with each other over who has the most stressful life.  We find posters amusing that show a completely frazzled person on the verge of a breakdown with the caption reading:  “God didn’t do it all in one day…what makes me think I can!”  In our fast-paced life, we have stress put upon us just by the mere fact that we exist.  That kind of stress is not easily controlled, but, how we let it affect us is within our control.  But the other aspect of stress that we have extreme control over is the stress that we put upon ourselves!

Too many of us have needless stress in our lives…and it’s our own fault.  As a child, we worried (a form of stress) that we wouldn’t get the presents we so desired for our birthday.  As we grew, and matured, we stressed over getting good grades to get into the college we wanted.  While at college, we stressed over finding a mate, and then graduating and eventually fearing going off into the real world.  Once on our own, we stressed about marrying our college sweetheart, finding a job, buying a house, trading in that car that we abused during our college days, and settling into suburbia.  Once we finally got to where we wanted to be…we stressed over what it takes to maintain that lifestyle.  We were willing to work hard, but we stressed over whether or not our company was stable and our jobs secure.  Would we be laid off?  Then, children entered the mix and the stress was ratcheted up several notches higher.  Multiple children meant multiple trips to multiple activities all in the same day, with overlapping schedules!  The cycle goes full circle now.  As your children go through school and college, you find yourself experiencing stress over their struggles with the same things you stressed about when you were their age.  Only now, the disappointment you’ll feel FOR them is ten times worse than any disappointment you stressed over for yourself.  What a life cycle…oh yeah… then you die!

In 2009, a Southwest airline 737 was at 30,000 feet when the roof of the fuselage peeled back from the plane, causing an immediate depressurization forcing an emergency landing.  The culprit was tiny STRESS fractures that were barely noticeable upon inspection.  Several planes in the 737 fleet worldwide were found to have these stress fractures.  Stress affects our body in negative ways as well.  Without getting into too much physiological detail, stress can cause stomach ulcers, irritable bowels, high blood pressure, strokes (caused from the high blood pressure), headaches, changes in your mental status and behavior, heart attacks, and several psychological phenomena including conversion disorder, panic attacks, general anxiety disorders, and depressive disorders brought on by feelings of learned helplessness (when the stress controls you and you give up).

In the Bible, the word stress is not used.  Though, we can find several stories of people experiencing stress, or being in stressful situations.  Some of these people handled the stressful situation well…without stressing themselves, while others seemingly created their own stress.  The difference between these two groups of people was whether or not they involved God in their stressful situation.  I’ll give you four examples (albeit very brief) of people who did not involve God in their stressful situations, and went in “alone,” with not so good outcomes, and I’ll show you three examples of people who had positive experiences to stressful situations by involving God.

In Luke 10:38-42, Martha had invited Jesus into her home to sit with Mary and herself.  Martha began feeling that cleaning the house was more important than taking time to rest, listen and hear Him teach them.  She was stressing so much over this, that she got mad at Mary for not helping and then scolded the Lord over allowing Mary to remain seated while Martha did all the work.  Martha’s stress, like many of us, was caused by misplaced priorities.

In Mark 5:35-41, the disciples were in a boat with Jesus and He asked them to take Him to the other side.  Suddenly, a storm arose and the disciples feared for their lives.  Feeling like your life is in danger is probably the most stressful situation you can be in.  This storm, that the Lord knew was coming, caused them stress because of their lack of faith.  We will have trials that will not take the Lord by surprise, and He’s willing to help us…if we just show some faith.

In Matthew 14:22-33, Jesus had sent the disciples out to sea while He went and prayed.  Again, a different storm arose.  Jesus then appeared to them, walking atop the water.  Peter saw this and pleaded with the Lord to let him walk on the water to meet with Jesus.  A miracle was performed and Peter was doing something that was not humanly possible apart from the Lord’s help.  Then, because Peter momentarily lost faith, his life, again, was in peril.  We oftentimes beg God for miraculous help on our behalf, only to doubt our ability to continue doing this seemingly impossible task, in the Lord’s strength.  We then find ourselves faltering, floundering, and going under.  All the while, we get stressed about it.

In 1st Samuel 21, we find that David was running for his life from Saul.  He backslid so far that he found himself living among his enemies, acting like a madman, sinking to disgraceful lows, to protect himself.  Imagine the stress of trying to protect yourself from those who want to kill you by living a less than godly life among your enemies.  This was brought on by David himself through the telling of two lies earlier, as he fled Saul.  Sometimes we cause our own stress through the sinful acts we commit.

Those were the negatives.  Let’s now focus on the positives!

In 1st Samuel, at a better time in David’s life, while Saul was seeking to kill him, very early on, David relied on God and God made sure that David had an ally who helped him to escape.  David was able to flee, thanks to the help God had provided to him, in the man of Jonathan.  What I want to point out here, though, is the fact that David still found himself in a stressful situation (his life was in danger).  The source of this stress was that David was living a godly life and being blessed greatly, which made others bitter toward him, especially Saul, who was extremely jealous.  Sometimes we’ll find that people will cause us grief because they are jealous of us, and we are doing nothing more than what God wants us to do.  If that’s the case, don’t fret.  God will bring you people to help you get past the hurtful and mean things those who are jealous of you may want to bring upon you.

In Daniel 3:15-30, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego underwent the stress of potentially losing their lives for refusing to go against their moral convictions.  Their faith in God, however, was stellar.  They essentially told King Nebuchadnezzar that God would spare them their lives, and if not, they would be with Him in Heaven.  They had such faith, that they believed they could have the best of both worlds…having their earthly lives spared or moving on to eternal life with the Lord.  Like these three, we need to realize that if we stick to obeying godly principals, precepts, and commands, we may find ourselves in stressful situations, but God will reward us in one way or another, in front of our persecutors…and it may just draw them to the Lord.

In Daniel 6:1-28, Daniel was faced with a similar situation.  Politically, Daniel was elevated to a high position in Darius’s kingdom.  His life was in danger because he refused to put the laws of man ahead of the laws of God when they conflicted.  His stress was caused by making the Lord truly his Lord.  We’re not going to have an easy time of it in this life, while boldly speaking out against those things which our government decrees that go clearly against the Bible.  Though Daniel nearly lost his life in the lion’s den, we may face the stress of losing our job for refusing to pick up extra time on Sunday, at the boss’ request, so you can attend church.  But again, if we have the faith that Daniel displayed, it will go a long way in ministering to your boss, especially if you are favored by your boss for being a good, godly, and trustworthy employee.  Just like Daniel’s king hated being forced to throw Daniel in the lion’s den, so too may your boss be torn over the thought of firing you.  Trust God like Daniel did, and put nothing ahead of God.

Do you know what one of the consequences can be of succumbing to stress and anxiety?  Remember Martha who was “troubled about many things?”  Because she did not take the time to learn from the Lord that day, she probably missed out on some important teachings that would have helped her to grow spiritually.  Just like the parable of the sower and the seed in Mark 9, the “cares of this world” are one of the things in verse 19 that will stunt spiritual development.  The unsaved will hear the gospel, but be too preoccupied with their busy lives to give it much thought.  Whether Martha was a saved lady at this point, or one that the parable spoke of, stress and anxiety will stunt any spiritual growth.  The unsaved may remain unsaved while the saved will remain unfruitful babes.

Philippians 4:6 wants us to worry about nothing!  But in everything (storms, trials, disappointments, fearful times, and any other stressful situation) we must pray to God for our needs to be met.  Needs, such as help to get through the trial in a godly manner that glorifies the Lord, is one thing we should pray for.  But, we must be thankful at the same time.  Thankful that we have a God that wants to hear our prayers, and answer our prayers.  If we do that, and we pray believing, God’s peace will keep our hearts and minds in ways that the unsaved will not understand.  So as the economy continues to teeter on the edge, and you are worried about finding a job, bring these anxieties to God and find peace in the fact that He is in control of everything in this world.  Cast all your care upon God for He cares for you (1st Peter 5:7).

When you’re called on to minister to someone in need and you don’t know what to say, or your asked to defend your faith, don’t worry about it because God’s got it under control (Matthew 10:19).  Don’t worry about the basic necessities of life like food and clothing, because God’s got that all figured out as well (Matthew 6:25-28).  If you worry, again, your spiritual growth will be thwarted (Luke 8:4; Mark 4:19; Matthew 13:22).

Let’s wrap this up by looking at the Apostle Paul.  In 2nd Corinthians 11:28, we find, at the end of a long list of stressful things, Paul had a healthy concern for the churches.  Even a noble thing like genuine concern for the brethren can be stressful.  The Apostle Paul had many reasons to be stressed…but he never succumbed to the stress.  We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2nd Corinthians 8-9).  Paul knew exactly what to do with the stress he encountered.  Therefore I take pleasures in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake:  FOR WHEN I AM WEAK, THEN AM I STRONG” (2nd Corinthians 12:10).

Paul looked at his stressful situations as an opportunity to magnify the Lord.  Paul knew that getting distressed, depressed, or anxious over the stress in his life would have diminished God to the others he was ministering to.  I guess that’s the point to make in all of this.  We shouldn’t get overcome by the stresses in our lives.  We have a God that is in control of everything, including what’s stressing us.  He is able to sustain us and see us through.  But if we fall prey to the stress in our lives, we diminish God in front of the very people whom we are trying to minister to.  That will be a lousy testimony, and the greatness of God will be hidden…that’s the point I’d like to STRESS!!!

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The “Mind Games” of Christianity

Romans 12:1-2 clearly teaches that there is a mental aspect to being a godly Christian.  “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your MIND, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  It’s our mind that plays a key role in keeping us holy, and helps us avoid adopting a lifestyle of the world.

If we adopt a lifestyle of the world, we will have a hard time fellowshipping with God and living any kind of life that would be worthy of His blessings.  James 4:4 gives the reason why, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?  Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”  Whether that is the mindset of an individual or an entire family, we risk being disqualified from receiving the blessings of God, as it’s likely that God won’t bless His enemies.

The “Promised Land” that was promised to Abraham all the way back in Genesis, was a very real, physical land that would flow with milk and honey, and was meant to be enjoyed in this earthly life by the Israelites.  This Promised Land was a place where they could live and enjoy the continued blessings of God.  But it is also a place that Christian families can enjoy today, only on a different level.  However, the same stipulations given to Israel for entering and enjoying the Promised Land still hold true today. We have to draw parallels to the Nation of Israel and our family to see what God expected out of that group of people and apply it to what God still expects out of your family…a smaller, but similar, people group.

We have to remember that God promised this land to the forefathers of Israel, but it was only available to those Israelites who were redeemed from the bondage of Pharaoh in Egypt (a picture of Satan).  Through the deliverance of Moses (a picture of Jesus, our deliverer), and under the power of God, Israel was redeemed from the bondage of slavery (sin) and set free.  God had freed the Israelites from a horrific life under the rule of Pharaoh, and set them on a path to get to the Promised Land (blessings).  The only stipulation to entering the Promised Land was obedience.  That was all.  Follow God.  Obey God.  Trust God.  This was available only for saved people.  We, as Christians, have been set free from the bondage of sin, under the power and rule of Satan.  Now, we are able to pursue our Promised Land because of the fact that we are saved.

Sadly, a journey that should have taken less than two weeks to get to the Promised Land, took forty years instead.  Imagine that!  Forty years it took Israel to reach the threshold of the Promised Land.  In a family, that is enough time for babies to be born, and those children to be raised up to adults, to have their own children.  If we’re not careful, we can forfeit God’s Promised Blessings on our families for potentially two whole generations (or more really).  Imagine raising your children for twenty years and then enjoying your grandchildren for the next twenty years, all the while missing out on God blessing your family the way He wants to because your family just isn’t being and living the way it should, and therefore isn’t worthy of God’s blessings.  What a wasted opportunity!!!

But back to the role the mind plays in all of this.  The mind is where most sin and disobedience starts.  For example, if we’re not careful, our minds jump right to a myriad of inappropriate things that only a fool would share out loud:  “A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards” (Proverbs 29:11).  After what does a wise man keep his words in, you may ask.  After he brings into captivity every thought to the OBEDIENCE of Christ (2nd Corinthians 10:5).  In other words, this wise person is not controlled by his mind, but rather controls his mind. This man can then practice the command in James 1:19, to be “…slow to speak…”  And obedience to this brings blessings, such as, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stirreth up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).  And what’s more of a blessing, holding your tongue and controlling your mind before you speak, thereby avoiding an argument, or shooting your mouth off impulsively and stirring up anger and getting into a fight?  I’d say being obedient to the command to think before we speak brings the blessing of peace in our interpersonal relationships.

The mind will lead us to sin, and Jesus knew this when He was giving His sermon of the mount.  In Matthew 5:28, Jesus goes beyond warning His followers to not commit physical adultery, but also to not even look upon another woman in lust, as that will get the MIND going to places it shouldn’t.  Once the mind is involved, it becomes very easy to obsess over the thoughts one is having and eventually those thoughts may lead us to commit the very physical act of adultery.  Consider another example in 1st John 3:15 where we are told under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that if we hate our brother, we are guilty of murder.  Why?  The reason is that if we think about those feelings of hate against another, it becomes a very small step to committing the actual act of killing that person (for some people).  Another example of the mind leading us to sin is in the Ten Commandments where we are asked not to steal, and then later on, not to covet.  Coveting, or wanting something that is not ours, may eventually lead us to want to steal it to have it for ourselves.  Our minds have the capability of obsessing, and those obsessive thoughts can lead us to commit the actions most explicitly forbidden by God in the Old Testament and Christ in the New Testament.

The heart and mind in many cases are virtually synonymous.  Consider these following verses.  “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…” (Proverbs 23:7a).  “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).  Whether or not the mind and heart are synonymous in every instance is up for debate (though I do believe there is a small but distinct difference), but CERTAINLY, the mind plays a key role in controlling the heart, whatever the “heart” is.  And in some cases, the mind makes decisions that the heart is not even involved in. I, myself personally, believe the heart is actually the portion of our minds that is capable of being in tuned with the Holy Spirit’s influence.  The part of the mind ruled by the conscience is what I believe the heart is in the Scriptures.

In Deuteronomy 5:29, God stated, “Oh that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever.”  I believe that in this verse, the heart is referring to the part of the mind that is influenced by the Holy Spirit.  In Romans Chapter Seven, Paul talks about not doing the things he wants to do, and doing the things he doesn’t want to do.  There are clearly opposing influences at work here.  Perhaps the mind refers to the fleshly aspect of our capacities to make decisions, where as the heart refers to the spiritual aspect of our capacities to make the correct, God honoring, God obeying decisions…like what He is looking for in Deuteronomy 5:29.

James 4:8 reads, “Draw nigh unto God, and He will draw nigh to you.  Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.”  It almost appears that the mind, according to James, can not only flip-flop in decision making, but also be very much responsible for leading the person to sin.  Very different than Deuteronomy 5:29, where God asks us to obey with our hearts.  So, again, I believe that the heart is the decision making mechanism within us that is influenced by the Holy Spirit and is directed by our conscience…our minds, it would appear, are not that way at all.

Perhaps that is why in Moses’ discourse on the threshold of the Promised Land in Deuteronomy Four, he warned about the use of the mind.  See, Moses knew the mind wasn’t all bad.  It’s the first place information gets processed and the mind is also responsible for remembering.  It is part of the God-created body.  So it isn’t all bad.  In fact, if used properly, it can work WITH the heart.  In Deuteronomy 4:9, Moses pleads with Israel, “Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou FORGET the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life…”  In Deuteronomy 4:23, Moses basically implores Israel the same way, “Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye FORGET the covenant of the Lord your God, which He made with you, and make you a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, which the Lord thy God hath forbidden thee.”  In other words, when the mind starts going, and the tendency is for your mind to lead you to sin, take a moment to stop and think.

In the wilderness, Israel had seen with their own eyes God’s blessings upon their nation for obedience and God’s chastisement upon them for disobedience.  In chapters one through three of Deuteronomy, Moses reminds them of all the things God has done to them and for them as a result of either their obedience or disobedience from Egypt to the shores of the Jordan River.  Chapter four of Deuteronomy is Moses’ call for obedience once inside the Promised Land, so they will be able to enjoy all of the things God has brought them there to enjoy…a land filled with continuous blessings.  A state of being constantly blessed, but for obedience to God’s statutes, and precepts, and principles, and laws.

What Moses knew about the mind back then still holds true today.  Our mind will have the tendency to make us act impulsively and can, in many cases, lead us to sin.  That is why today, before we act, we must do two things.  First, we must stop and pause a moment and evaluate if what we are thinking about doing violates our conscience, and would our heart want us doing those things.  Remember, the mind can lead to physical adultery, stealing, and murder in extreme cases.  The heart doesn’t want us doing any of those things.  Therefore, acting on the thoughts created in our minds act contrary to our heart and conscience and the Holy Spirit’s urgings…therefore…we must bring every one of those wrong thoughts and conform them to the obedience of Christ (2nd  Corinthians 10:5).

Secondly, we must utilize the mind’s capacity to remember.  If we pause to remember all that we have personally seen or experienced first hand, or at least heard about second hand, all the things God has done as a result of obedience or disobedience, it will help us put those thoughts into conformity with the way Jesus would have thought…and eventually done.  And once our minds are in conformity with what Christ would do, the next step is to actually do what Jesus would have done…not sin.  According to 2nd Corinthians 5:21, Jesus never sinned and it’s spoken of Him in John 8:29 that He always pleased His Father.

The takeaway for this lesson is this.  Think before you act.  Don’t dwell on fantasies or daydreams of sinful acts, as that’s a slippery slope to sin.  Be sensitive to whether or not what you are thinking of doing violates your conscience.  If it does, bring your mind’s thoughts in line with the intents of the heart.  Lastly, use your mind’s capacity to remember all the times you personally received a blessing from God and suffered chastisement from God, and that will help you make the right decision.  Once the right decision is made, act upon that decision accordingly.

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A Donkey and an Ox Won’t Get It Done!

The truth I want to share with you, the truth many teens and adult singles and families choose to ignore, the truth that is disregarded in many of today’s churches is the doctrine of being unequally yoked.  The proof text is found in Second Corinthians 6:14-18:  Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers:  for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?  And what communion hath light with darkness?  And what concord hath Christ with Belial?  Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?  And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?  For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK IN THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.  Wherefore, COME OUT FROM AMONG THEM, AND BE YE SEPARATE, saith the Lord, AND TOUCH NOT THE UNCLEAN THING; AND I WILL RECEIVE YOU.  AND WILL BE A FATHER UNTO YOU, AND YE SHALL BE MY SONS AND DAUGHTERS, saith the Lord Almighty.”

Allow me to do a bit of expository teaching here, in an attempt to convey the seriousness of such a doctrine, and why God chose to put such a teaching in the Bible, with both Old and New Testament examples.  If you review the above passage, God makes five contrasts that serve as examples of areas in which two people can be unequally yoked.  Let’s look at them in the order in which they appear in the text.

First, righteousness versus unrighteousness could be explained this way.  Moral versus immoral.  Holy versus sinful.  Should a Christian go to a party where drinking and sexual promiscuity will be present?  Of course not.  So if one is a Christian, one should never accept an invitation to such an event.  That’s a no brainer.  So it’s the parent’s responsibility to know what your children are doing and where they will be while they are out with friends for the evening.  Teenagers, young adults, and everyone else, the Bible clearly instruct us in 1st Corinthians 10:31 that we need to do all to the glory of God.  You can’t go out in mixed company and engage in ungodly activities and obey 1st Corinthians 10:31.  So be mindful of that.

Second, look at the contrast between light and darkness.  Consider this to be referring to the knowledge Christians have of the things of God.  For example, so many churches are getting away from believing and teaching a literal seven-day creation of the world by God as recorded in Genesis.  Churches are beginning to blend creationism and evolution in an attempt to make the truth of God’s Word fit with the lies of evolutionary theory.  These churches call it “intelligent design.”  Basically, there is a god behind nature, but it has evolved under the watchful eye of this god.  Bible-believing Christians ought not to be buying into theories such as these.  Have no part with them.  Separate yourselves from them.  As individuals, our lights need to shine and we need to bear witness to the truths to whomever we are engaging at the time.

A third contrast is between Christ and Belial.  The word Belial may have different meanings (wickedness and the like) but here it refers to Satan.  The same root word is used here as in 1st John 2:13,14.  Whose lordship are you under?  If you’re a Christian, can you claim the name of Christ and still willingly be under the tutelage of Satan himself?  Satan is the god of this world.  Who do you grow in knowledge the most?  Do you spend much of your time learning the precepts of God by reading His Word or do you spend your time watching sitcoms, going to R-rated movies and listening to unholy music until you become desensitized to sin to the point where you say, “Oh, I know that movie scene depicted fornication between two unmarried young adults, but it was tastefully done.”  Or what about this compromise, “Oh, I don’t listen to the sinful ungodly lyrics, just the music.”  God says we ought not to be under the tutelage of the devil.  (It’s probably time I inventory my CD collection).

Fourthly, he that believeth versus an infidel admonishes us to understand that to get together with anyone, whether it’s for business partnership or a romantic relationship, we should be of one accord with respect to faith.  Faith, in this case, refers to the saving knowledge of Christ.  One who has faith in his heart that Christ is the Savior is a believer and those who ignore, disregard, or just plainly reject the Gospel of Christ unto salvation is an unbeliever, heathen, and infidel.  It’s difficult enough for true believers to always be in one accord, even when they all possess the Holy Spirit, but to attempt to have good fellowship on a regular basis with someone who rejects Christ and the importance of salvation is ludicrous.  You may be faced with the temptation to get involved in an unscrupulous business practice, or, in the case of a teenager, you may be asked to engage in immoral activity while out on a date.  Why put yourself in that position in the first place?

Last, we have Paul’s inspired epistle contrasting the temple of God versus idols.  What do we worship?  As Christians, we should be worshipping the one and only true living God.  We should be worshipping the God of the Bible.  We should be in church on Sundays (at least).  We should be attending mid-week services and prayer meetings and fellowships and Bible studies and so forth.  But do you skip church out of convenience or even less legitimate reasons?  I have.  At that point in time I made wrong choices.  These excuses became idols.  Oh, I never bowed down and worshipped them, but on those particular days, they were more important than God.  Christian, do you work six days a week and play golf on Sunday?  Both golf and money are idols and have the pre-eminence in your life if you sacrifice church for the pursuit of those things.  We need to turn down Sunday morning tee times and tickets to the pro football games that are notorious for being held on Sundays.  The world has their idols and we should not be partaking in their “worship.”  Teen, how would you handle the most popular boy in school asking you to go out to breakfast with him on Sunday morning?  Businessman, how would you handle one of your suppliers offering to take you to their luxury box at Gillette Stadium one Sunday for a game?  One compromise can lead to further compromises and before you know it, the world takes precedence over the things of God.

This doctrine of unequal yoking has a very good visual depiction in the Old Testament.  In Deuteronomy 22:10, God instructs that, Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together.”  Think about it.  As for the task at hand, plowing the field, the ox is far superior for that task than the donkey.  God equipped the ox to complete the task for which it was called on to do.  The donkey, though strong in its own right, and a generally good choice to perform many of the tasks a farmer may have, is no ox.  Here’s where the analogy is so pertinent.  The ox and the donkey are not of equal strength or resolve.  The ox will be held back by the added weight of the donkey, which will not pull and heave anywhere near what the ox is able and willing.  The ox will be less effective because of the donkey.  So too will a Christian be less effective for God in many ways should he allow himself to be yoked up with a heathen person.

You may say to yourself, “If a Christian comes in contact with an ungodly person he should be strong enough to influence that person for Christ.”  That may appear to be a reasonable expectation given the fact that Christ Himself sent us out into the world to teach and preach and make disciples of all men.  However, the Bible clearly warns against being among the heathen in common endeavors that are not godly.  Consider the unity of the church at Corinth that was in jeopardy because sin, though in small amounts, was present in the church.  Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians 5:6, Your glorifying is not good.  Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?”  Again in Galatians, Paul exhorts the church to understand that A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump (Galatians 5:9).  If Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write something twice, you better believe it’s important.  A very plain warning that the ungodly can harm the testimony and witness of a believer is found in 1st Corinthians 15:33, Be not deceived:  evil communications corrupt good manners.”  The analogy in Deuteronomy 22:10 is validated by 1st Corinthians 15:33.  If left together, the donkey, though overall less powerful than the ox, will hinder the work of the ox and soon the two will walk and work as one…but at the donkey’s pace.

The implications to this doctrine are too numerous to detail, but here are just a few as they relate to the family from a woman’s testimony about being married to an unregenerate person:

·         If Christ is the center of a believer’s world, it’s not so for the unsaved.

·         If your morals are based on the Bible, you better research upon what your potential mate bases their morals and values.

·         If you marry and have children with an unsaved person, will you have the freedom to raise them as active members of a church?

·         Will you be strong in your devotionals or will you eventually become inconsistent?

·         How are you going to explain stepping out in faith when you believe God has asked you to do something for Him?

·         Will it be easy to give up mutual activities that may not be glorifying to God as you mature?

·         Can you become obedient to God in tithing as a family?

·         What about Sunday morning brunch vs. going to church?

·         Are you willing to risk all these things because you’re sure that over time your potential mate will get saved?

 Just like Israel, God has called us to be separate from the world (Romans 12:2).  Remember the Old Testament illustration of the ox and the donkey in Deuteronomy 22:10?  Consider this twist…to the Jews, an ox was a clean animal and a donkey was considered unclean.  Here, God reiterates to the New Testament believers not to touch the unclean thing, referring back to Deuteronomy’s example.  Interesting how God teaches.  Now let me give this final exhortation to teens, young adult singles, and parents…

We’re to let our light so shine to bring others to salvation.  We can’t do that while getting into improper relationships and putting ourselves into situations where we will have to choose whom to follow…God or the world.  Don’t forget that evil communications corrupt good manners (1st Corinthians 15:33).  None of us are perfect so don’t put yourself in a situation that will only make it easier to prove that concept.  Don’t give the devil a foothold by dating (or allowing your child to date) an unsaved person.

Consider these two examples:  First, Samson, who was a Nazarene and military leader of Israel and was raised in a godly home (Judges 13 finds his father Manoah praying several times).  He was then raised by God to deliver the Israelites from the hands of the Philistines.  But Samson became infatuated with a Philistine woman and married her (Judges 14:1-7).  But he didn’t stop there.  He went into Gaza and spent some time with a prostitute (Judges 16:1) and eventually got caught up in immorality with Delilah who robbed him of all his power by having her servants cut his hair while he lay sleeping on her knees (Judges 16:3-22) rendering him powerless.  One value and moral compromise after another until he was drained of all his power and all he could do was one last mighty act for the Lord, but only by dying in the process.

Then there’s King Solomon.  He had many, many wives.  But these wives were not all Israelite women.  No, many of them were from neighboring countries given to him as gifts in return for political or military favors.  But many of the countries did not worship the God of the Israelites.  He compromised many times over many issues and it eventually cost the entire nation, and Israel’s prominence decreased and the country began to fall on hard times.  1 Kings 11:4-6 tells the story of Solomon’s spiritual demise: For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father.”

So there you have it…two godly men appointed by God to do mighty works for Him.  But they fell victim to the truth spoken of in 1st Corinthians 15:33.  These men led godly lives but were corrupted by the evil associations they kept (Samson and his women; Solomon and his wives).  If it can happen to these adult godly men, why do teens and young adult singles think they can handle having one foot in the Bible and one foot in the world when it comes to friendships and relationships and potential marriage partners.  And parents…with these two glaring examples before us…how can we not unapologetically get involved in every aspect of our children’s lives that may hurt them spiritually (as was the case with Solomon) or even prove to be deadly (as was the case with Samson).

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End of Life Issues

We all understand that people don’t live forever in this mortal body.  Some people die suddenly under tragic circumstances.  Other people die of natural causes at an age that makes it somewhat easy to accept.  Then there are the other deaths that occur after long illnesses that are sometimes physically debilitating to the patient and emotionally draining to those loved ones going through the illness with the patient.  These deaths are often harder to deal with than the sudden tragic losses.  What’s usually seen in these terminal cases is a decrease in the “quality of life.”  Patients decline physically and cognitively and all those involved begin to wonder what is in the “best interest” of the patient.

It’s around this time that the loved ones have to make decisions.  These decisions are about whether or not to continue life-saving treatments, medications, and other “heroic measures.”  People know it as having to decide whether or not to “pull the plug” on a loved one.  That is certainly a hard decision to make at such an emotional time, so maybe a discussion about these end-of-life issues during a moment of calm and reason would serve us well.

If you’re the person facing a terminal illness such as cancer, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, advancing multiple sclerosis, end-stage liver disease, and many others, there are some things you need to consider as far as what your wishes are once you become too incapacitated to make your own decisions.  For example, deciding not to take chemotherapy for your cancer, when you weigh the prognosis against the other health problems and side effects of chemotherapy, may be a decision you feel is what will give you the best quality of life for the remaining time you have.  That’s different than choosing to end your life via physician-assisted suicide (legal in Oregon and some countries), or self-inflicted suicide.

You may ask what the difference is between choosing not to take treatments that may prolong my life versus hastening my death.  Well, for one thing, it is God that gave you life in the first place (Genesis 2:7; Isaiah 44:2).  We all have an appointed time to die (Hebrews 9:27).  If you look at the account of the fool in Luke 12 who stored up for himself many years worth of harvest to which he decided to “eat, drink, and be merry,” God said, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee” (Luke 12:19-20).  The context of that story is having a wrong focus on materialism, but what I want to highlight is the fact that no one knows the time of their death, so opting for suicide versus letting the Lord progress your disease as He sees fit is arguably hastening your death.

So let’s say, for example, you discover you have a terminal illness and your physician explains to you that the course of the disease is aggressive, and taking treatments will not cure the disease, but may “buy you more time.”  If you choose to allow the disease to take its course, you need to make that perfectly clear to family, especially next of kin.  Go to a lawyer and develop a Living Will and assign someone to be your Durable Power of Attorney.  A Living Will explains to the medical community what your wishes are beforehand so that when the time comes that you are unable to communicate those wishes, they are still able to be carried out.  This Living Will can explain that in the event of respiratory or cardiac arrest, you do (or do not) wish to be revived.  The Living Will can state whether or not you want a feeding tube placed once you become unable to eat.  The courts have continuously upheld the patient’s rights to refuse or discontinue such things as ventilators and feeding tubes.

The importance of a Durable Power of Attorney is that this document goes into legal effect once you become incompetent to make your own decisions regarding, but not limited to, medical decisions.  This is where the difficulty arises for family.  Suppose someone suffers a cardiac arrest and is revived after 45 minutes.  There is brain death now because of the lack of oxygen.  All of a sudden, a healthy individual suffers a catastrophic event, but is still alive, but lacking the ability to make decisions like remaining on the ventilator, and what to do if the person goes into another cardiac arrest.  Does the person want to be revived or not.  Those are questions no family member wants to make at that time, especially not knowing the wishes of the patient.  Not only that, but add to the equation the fact that the decision to “do everything possible” would mean this patient living in a “vegetative state”  for an indefinite number of years going forward.

Here’s a true story that speaks to the need for planning for such occasions.  In 2002, an 82 year old lady from Washington State developed pneumonia.  She already had emphysema, probably from years of smoking.  She rapidly declined in her health.  She soon became unresponsive and unable to make her own decisions.  Some in the family told the medical staff that it was the patient’s wishes to die without any “heroic measures” being taken.  The staff took the patient and put her in a room where the family could hold vigil privately until she passed.  She received no medication, no IV fluids, no oxygen (remember she has emphysema and pneumonia), she ate and drank nothing.  Days later, she rallied and recovered.  She recovered so much that at 83 years old she published a biography.  Now catch this…she was upset when she discovered her family believed she wanted to die.  She most certainly wanted to live.

The problem with putting your family in the position of having to guess what your wishes are is that medical science is not infallible.  There are literally hundreds of cases that have baffled medical doctors.  So to decide to end life-sustaining measures in a comatose or unresponsive patient is a decision based on a medical staff’s best estimation of how the patient will (or won’t) progress.  Do you want to know how heart-wrenching that decision is?  A girl had suffered a traumatic brain injury from a car accident.  She was in a coma for about seven years.  She had been able to breathe on her own all these years, but she had a feeding tube.  With her physical body contorting because of lack of use and her muscles wasting away, for whatever reason, the parents fought in the courts for the right to stop her feedings.  This court battle took three years.  Finally, the parents were granted permission to stop the feedings (her only source of water and nourishments), and twelve days later, she died.  Now here’s the unfair toll it takes on family members.  Knowing that there are some people who recover from comas and traumatic brain injuries, her father was NEVER sure he did the right thing in stopping her feeding and letting her die.  He was so distraught that he hung himself six years later.

I’m not going to give you a definitive answer about the end-of-life issues and how to make those decisions, but I will give you a few of things to think about that may help in deciding what to do, should you find yourself as either the patient or the family member.  The first thing to look at is the “quality of life” issue.  The other thing to look at is the resilience of the body that God created.  Lastly, just what is the role of suffering in the Christian’s life?

What is “quality of life?”  Well, it can’t be quantified because it’s extremely subjective.  People like Christopher Reeve (before his passing) and Congressman Jim Langevin (D-Rhode Island) enjoy a high quality of life even though they are confined to wheelchairs.  In the case of Christopher Reeve, now deceased, he headed foundations, took up causes, acted, and directed.  He was also on a ventilator.  At any point, he could have called it quits.  Ever hear of Stephen Hawking?  He is probably the world’s leading authority on physics and space and advocated combining Einstein’s Theory of Relativity with Quantum Theory (I have no idea what all that means, except that the man has intelligence).  He still uses his intelligence while confined to a wheelchair because he is suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease.  So, in some instances, quality of life has to do with a person’s perception of whether or not they are still productive in some way.  Some infirmed fear becoming too much of a burden to their caregivers.  If you’re a Christian, who’s going to decide if you’re still useful and productive?  God will decide that.  I’ll cover that in the last portion regarding suffering.

Now, what makes medical science so fallible is that God has created a body that is resilient and can overcome some problems.  Not only that, but He created the body so intricately that we have yet to know everything about the body, especially in the realm of the brain and how it works.  Here are a few examples of the resilience of the body.  The liver is an organ that can actually regenerate itself to a certain extent after being minimally damaged.  The heart is amazing in that, if a coronary artery is blocked, and blood can’t supply the heart with adequate oxygen, over time, new blood vessels will grow above the blockage and reach into the areas of the heart that are affected.  This is called collateral circulation (God’s version of bypass surgery).  Lastly, in the case of patients in comas, or “vegetative states,” the brain can, over time, grow new neuron pathways.  People in comas, who have recovered, have stated they heard everything that was said by their bedside, and can recount stories with amazing accuracy.  They are sometimes trapped inside their bodies, unable to respond, but fully aware…some…not all.  And not all will recover.  Annually there are 10,000-25,000 adults and 6,000 to 10,000 children in the US alone diagnosed as being in “vegetative states,” most never awaken and the majority of them die within six months…but you never know…

Let’s look at the final point of end-of-life issues…suffering.  Here’s the truth about suffering.  You can suffer gracefully or you can be absolutely miserable to everyone around you.  Suffering can belong to the patient as they progress through their disease, but it can also belong to the caregivers who face life-changing decisions to care for a loved one unable to care for themselves.  First of all, if you’re the patient who is suffering, consider this; how you handle the suffering during this terminal illness may prove to be the testimony that brings someone else to the Lord.  If you’re a Christian and walk around with a woe-is-me attitude, and you don’t show your desire to lean upon God and draw strength from Him, why would unsaved family or friends want to trust in your God?  And as the caregiver, if you bemoan daily the stress and incredible personal sacrifice you have to make to care for a debilitated stroke patient in your home everyday, it again doesn’t make those around you want to get to know your God.

I don’t want to have a terminal debilitating disease, nor do I want to have to be caregiver for a debilitated loved one, but I’d like to think I would at least recognize that the grace to get through it is available.  Paul tells us in Romans that we have a comforter in the person of the Holy Spirit to find grace in times of suffering.  Paul later, in Second Corinthians explains the source of comfort in times of suffering and why it is so important to find that comfort.  The reason is because as God comforts us in our suffering (our terminal illness or our caring for a debilitated loved one) and we get through it with His help, we are then to comfort others with the same thing that comforted us (the Lord).  This is how we can still be productive and enjoy a satisfactory quality of life despite our current condition…by helping others get through it.  For a more eloquent exposition on this subject, read Second Corinthians 1:3-7.

In a 1992 edition of the Baptist Bible Tribune, the magazine tackled the subject of end-of-life issues, and mainly cautioned the readers to consider the ethics of “pulling the plug.”  But I wanted to show you that there are many more considerations needing to be made BEFORE you reach that point.  What are your wishes and why?  Who knows what those wishes are?  Are those wishes legally spelled out?  What are the ethics and morals of such decisions?  Are you going to go and “pull out all the stops” and display grace during suffering?  Are you ready to die?  Can my loved one in a coma be witnessed to and accept salvation?  If so…what then?  All these questions are difficult questions with answers rooted in philosophy, humanism, social mores, popular opinion, and Biblical truth.  I guess, within the context of the trials that come our way regarding end-of-life issues and the grace we seek to get through them, we must claim James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”  The Word of God does not so easily spell out the answer for every question that befalls man, but God’s Word is filled with the principles we need to apply to end-of-life issues to make true, biblical, and Godly decisions as God leads us.

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