Stimulus Plan Kills Older People

Posted on February 10, 2009. Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Ok, so that’s a scare title. But not by much.

Buried deep in the so-called Stimulus Plan are new government-mandated health-care restrictions. Here are some snippets -


The bill’s health rules will affect “every individual in the United States” (445, 454, 479). Your medical treatments will be tracked electronically by a federal system.




One new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective. The goal is to reduce costs and “guide” your doctor’s decisions (442, 446).




Hospitals and doctors that are not “meaningful users” of the new system will face penalties. “Meaningful user” isn’t defined in the bill. That will be left to the HHS secretary, who will be empowered to impose “more stringent measures of meaningful use over time” (511, 518, 540-541)




Hospitals and doctors that are not “meaningful users” of the new system will face penalties. “Meaningful user” isn’t defined in the bill. That will be left to the HHS secretary, who will be empowered to impose “more stringent measures of meaningful use over time” (511, 518, 540-541)




Daschle says health-care reform “will not be pain free.” Seniors should be more accepting of the conditions that come with age instead of treating them. That means the elderly will bear the brunt.




The stimulus bill will affect every part of health care, from medical and nursing education, to how patients are treated and how much hospitals get paid. The bill allocates more funding for this bureaucracy than for the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force combined (90-92, 174-177, 181).



I think most Americans will object to this being buried in a panic-induced overreaching deficit bill without debate. Why is our Obamanation ramming stuff like this down our throats without debate? If these are so important, why can’t they be voted on individually so each portion can be judged on its own merit?

Please, government, stop helping us. We can’t afford it. Just put the checkbook down, back away, and nobody will get hurt. We don’t need a “stimulus” plan. It’s that’s sort of government “help” that got us into this mess in the first place.

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When All Hope Seems Lost

Posted on April 20, 2008. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Coptic-Arabic manuscript, Ayyubid period, AD 1249-50. Images depict Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene, the kiss of Judas, the arrest of Christ, his appearance before Caiaphas, Peter's denial at cockcrow, Christ before Pilate, and the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.
This week we follow Joseph into prison. If we’re headed to prison with him, let’s recap how we got here. We know that Joseph was born into a family that was trying to follow God’s will but at the same time was highly dysfunctional. Joseph had eleven other brothers, born to four different women. His own mother had passed away. His father Jacob showed favoritism to Joseph because Jacob learned that from his father Isaac.

Joseph has a dream that God will make him ruler, and Joseph’s family will bow down to him. Joseph’s brothers are less than enthused by this dream, and they throw him in a well, expecting to kill him. Now, when I was growing up, my brother and sister and I fought, but we never threw any of us in a well. At least not that I remember. At least not for very long. And we never sold one of us to the Egyptians which is what Joseph’s brother decided to do, rather than kill him.

When Joseph was at the bottom of the well, things looked pretty hopeless. No food, no water, and the only people around that could get him out of the well were the same ones that threw him into the well in the first place. Joseph knew God’s plan for him held great things in store for him, but how were they possibly going to come true if Joseph is dying at the bottom of a well? I think we can learn from Joseph about how to handle serious setbacks in our life and how we should respond. I came up with four ways, but I’m not going to tell them to you yet because the lesson would be over and it’s too early for lunch.

Instead of killing Joseph, his brother decided to sell him to the caravan to Egypt. I was always amazed at that caravan to Egypt that “happened” to come by, right at that moment, while Joseph was at the bottom of the well. How many months had that caravan been traveling to reach that exact spot at that time? From Joseph’s perspective at the bottom of the well, things must have looked bleak. Things must have looked hopeless. But God was in control all along. He knew Joseph would be in a well that day, so months earlier he sent a caravan to pick him up and take him to Egypt to fulfill His plan.

And for a while, it certainly looked like Joseph was living the dream. Head servant to Potiphar, officer to the Pharaoh himself, Joseph is given great responsibilities and freedoms because of his faithfulness and trustfulness. But then, Joseph is a victim of seduction and false accusations. Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph, but Joseph denounces the seduction as a wicked sin. Potiphar’s wife isn’t named in the scripture; she’s one of the unnamed people in the bible, like Lot’s wife or David’s mother or the Magi. Scholars believe her name was Zulieka, married to Ptahwer, an officer of Pharoah Ahmenemhet III of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Zulieka’s shade is observed by Dante in the Eight Circle of Hell. She doesn’t speak, but Dante is told the Eight Circle of Hell is reserved for perjurers that violate the ninth Commandment not to bear false witness and she will spend all of eternity with a burning fever. And this is the kind of thing that sidetracks me when I’m studying and I need to get back to Joseph. Joseph flees from the sin of temptation but he leaves some article of clothing behind, and because of this evidence, Potiphar has Joseph thrown into prison.

I think sometimes we tend to think that if we follow God’s will, we will only see God’s blessings. Or perhaps we think that if we’re going through some challenge, we’re in some dark well or we’re in prison to our sin that God has forgotten us. Joseph had been in a tough position, what would be sexual harassment today, a daily temptation. If he resists Potiphar’s wife, she’ll be mad, and if he gives in, Potiphar will be mad. God will be offended. Clearly, Joseph had no choice that was without serious consequences. Joseph chose to do the right thing and was thrown into prison for it. And again, where was God? Would God send the equivalent of another caravan to rescue Joseph? Let’s read Genesis 39:21 and see.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that being the best darn prisoner in all of Egypt is not what Joseph expected when he decided to follow God’s will. But when all hope is lost, when we’re in a well or we’re in some prison and we don’t know how we’re going to get out, we can learn the first way we can respond to serious setbacks in our life. How many ways are we going to study? Four, that’s good, just checking to see if you were paying attention.)

I. We can trust God

We can trust God, that He has a plan and He will see His plan done. While Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him. We might be tempted to ask, well, if the Lord was with him, why was he in prison in the first place?

Well, the Lord doesn’t seem to work like that; there is a place for suffering in the lives of Christians. Paul tells us in Romans 5:3-5 that suffering will produce perseverance, character and hope. James 1:2-4 tells us that the trials we face gives us spiritual maturity. Faith in an all-benevolent, gift-giving God is easy; to increase our faith, God grants us trials so we not only believe in Him, but we learn to rely on Him. God is interested in our circumstances, but He is far, far more interested in our response to our circumstances.

Joseph was in a place of hopelessness, a life imprisonment. The only he had going for him was the fact that Potiphar didn’t execute him, the customary punishment for adultery. Potiphar must have believed him, but it didn’t keep him out of prison. Joseph has no family to comfort him; it was his family’s actions that setup this circumstance in the first place. He’s a slave, in a foreign land. Joseph had one thing and one thing only. Scripture says the Lord was with Joseph.

Sometimes, when things look bleak to us, this is the only thing that can sustain us. The Lord is with us, even when we can’t see it. Family members hospitalized, troubled marriages, abuse, traumatic accidents, lost jobs.

Q: What does it mean to you to trust God? How does the promise of God’s presence build your trust in Him?

We know Joseph’s future. Joseph only has his knowledge of what the Lord has told him in a dream. If Joseph knew what we knew, having faith in prison for a crime he didn’t commit would be easy. Joseph didn’t have such knowledge, but he did have faith that God is true. And that’s the same thing we have. We have God’s word that He is with us, no matter what. You’ve heard it said that if it is written once in the bible, it’s important, but if it’s written twice, better sit up and pay attention? Look at Deuteronomy 31:6 -

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

And Joshua 1:5 -

No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

And Hebrews 13:5 -

…because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

And Matthew 28:20, Jesus says,

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

God is with us. Emmanuel. God is with us. What’s our first step to dealing with troubles in our lives? Trust in God, for He is with us.

II. We can serve others

Let’s read Genesis 40:1-8 -

Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them.

After they had been in custody for some time, each of the two men—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison—had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own.

When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected. So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?”

“We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.”

Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”

Joseph could have been wallowing in self-pity. He had a lot to wallow about. He could have used his situation as an excuse; “I can’t help you know, can’t you see I’m in prison? Sheesh!” But instead, Joseph looked to serve others. In verse 4, the term “served them” or “attended them” or “ministered to them” could mean he performed menial service, but Joseph’s care goes further than that. It was Joseph that noticed their faces were dejected. Joseph took the time to care about them, inquire about their welfare, and taking the time to listen to their stories.

And Joseph credited all the dream interpretation to God. Just like Joseph, even when we’re troubled, we can still find a way to minister to others. Joseph used his faith to reach out to others in their need, just as we can serve others in the Lord’s name as a way to comfort others.

Helping others is a sure fire way to take your mind off your own troubles. If you can do nothing else for somebody else, just take the time to listen to them.

One of the reasons we suffer is so that we may understand others who suffer. People afflicted with cancer relate better to a cancer survivor. Recovering alcoholics attend AA meetings to be with other people with the same struggles. A large reason Diane relates so well to the elderly is because many of the aches and pains they have, Diane identifies with them because she’s had them, too.

Nobody understood that better than Jesus. Jesus suffered, died and was buried for our sins. Do you think Jesus can’t identify with your pain? The humanity of Jesus gave him direct access to the worst pain that can be inflicted on a man, and His anguish troubled Him so much His sweat was like blood. Jesus knows suffering. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 -

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

Q: What kind of things can we do today that makes a difference in somebody else’s life?

III. We can seek help

So Joseph offers to interpret their dreams, and the chief cupbearer goes first. Genesis 40:9-15 -

So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.”

“This is what it means,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.”

Just giving comfort to others helps us, consider that getting comfort from others blesses them, too. Joseph saw an opportunity for somebody to help him, and he wasn’t afraid to ask. Joseph’s ordeal had him in prison for the rest of his lift, and the prophecy of this dream coming true gave Joseph hope for the future. He was not afraid to ask for help. “Mention me to Pharoah and get me out of this prison.” Sometimes there is a solution to our problem that’s available if we just ask for it.

The cupbearer received good news from Joseph’s dream interpretation. The baker now asked for Joseph to interpret his dream. Genesis 40:16-19 -

When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.”

“This is what it means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat away your flesh.”

Well. Sucks to be the baker, I guess. Actually, there is a lesson here. Joseph approached the cupbearer for help because he knew the cupbearer would eventually be in a position to help him. It’s important to use discernment when seeking help. Seek those who can provide Godly wisdom and comfort or who may be in a position to help. And don’t be a baker in Pharaoh’s prison.

Q: How did God use others to encourage Joseph? How has God used others to encourage and help you?

IV. We can be patient

And lastly, we can be patient and wait on God whose timing is perfect. Genesis 40:20-23 -

Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand, but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation.

The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

Patience is hard; patience is a virtue. Patience takes practice. There are many places we wait in life. We wait in traffic. We wait for the microwave to finish. We wait for the right job to come along. We wait for the right spouse to come along. We even wait on our spouse to become the spouse God intends, just like our spouse waits on us. We’re waiting for children to grow up, we’re waiting for children to move out, we’re waiting, waiting, waiting.

Have you ever considered that we’re sometimes just waiting in God’s waiting room? We see a situation in our lives or the lives of someone close to us, and we wonder why God doesn’t fix it now. Surely it is God’s will for this thing to happen. Why is He taking His time?

God has great plans for Joseph. Plans to prosper him and not to harm him, plans to give him hope and a future. But for now, Joseph is in God’s waiting room. And sometimes, we are, too. God has a plan for each and every one of us. He wants us to love Him, He wants us to love one another. He wants us to grow spiritually in a closer relationship with Him. And sometimes He uses time to accomplish His will.

Are you waiting on God for something? For somebody to come to faith, for somebody’s heart to soften, for somebody to apologize, for the pain to stop, for the health to improve? I understand, waiting is hard. God understands waiting is hard, but sometimes it takes time for God to work His will, not because God is slow, but because people are slow to respond. As Joseph is getting to depend on the Lord and serve the Lord, he’s waiting in prison. His hope for the chief cupbearer to tell Pharaoh at the birthday party about Joseph’s innocence did not happen. The chief cupbearer forgot. But God remembered, and when His timing was right, we’ll see Joseph delivered. But he has two more years to wait on the Lord.

Be patient. Whatever you are waiting on is a small part of the picture. God sees the whole picture in the fullness of time. When God acts, it may look like good timing, or bad timing, or no timing at all, but its God’s perfect timing. Keep Romans 8:28 in mind,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

God will act when He knows the time is right. In the meantime, we continue to grow in Him by serving and studying and being obedient and praying. Timothy must have asked Paul about the persecutions and the injustice he saw, and Paul told him in 2 Timothy 3:14 to just continue.

Q: Why do you think the cupbearer forgot Joseph? Why is it so hard to wait when facing a hopeless situation?

Q: Which one of these four steps is the easiest to do? Which one is the hardest?

These four steps take practice. Pray and lean on Him when you’re going through difficult times. Our human nature often leads us to respond incorrectly and in ways that are ultimately destructive. Joseph could have responded with anger and bitterness. He could have said ugly things about Potiphar’s wife. He could have been mad at Potiphar. He could have harbored resentment towards his brothers. Joseph’s life so far includes abuse, abandonment, hatred, slavery, false witness, and now prison, all while Joseph tried to do the right thing. Can you picture Joseph years later, a 90 year man, eaten up with bitterness about how he was treated? Anger and bitterness are not the solution.

Or Joseph could have turned his back on God and taken the situation into his own hands. Joseph could have gossiped about Potiphar’s wife, you know how many slaves she sleeps with, she’s such a tramp. And that Potiphar, what an idiot for believing her. Sometimes we want to take charge of the situation and change it, only to make it worse. Some people see trouble and turn their back on God, not understanding the pain and the waiting could possibly be from a loving God. And they seek other sources of comfort in alcohol, drugs, infidelity, materialism, whatever. Others see the same pain and waiting and understand God’s perfect timing as a time of spiritual growth and develop a deep confidence in waiting on the Lord.

In an Expositional commentary to Genesis, I read this story told by Billy Graham. Billy Graham told a story of a friend that went through the Great Depression who lost his job, all his savings, then his wife and then his home. But he was a believer in Jesus Christ and held onto his faith even through he fought with depression about his circumstances. One day he stopped to watch some workmen doing stonework on a huge church. One man out front was chiseling a piece of stone into a triangle. Curious, he asked what the triangle was for.

See that little opening on the top of the spire? I’m chiseling this down here so it’ll fit up there. And his friend left with grateful tears; God was doing the same to him, shaping him for heaven by chiseling him through his ordeals.

So trust in God. Continue to serve, and to ask for help, and be patient and wait on God’s perfect timing.

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Feverish Dreams

Posted on November 29, 2007. Filed under: Personal Stuff | Tags: , , , |

I’m a little under the weather. Whatever *that* phrase means. Aren’t I always under the weather?

I came down with a cold or flu right after wearing those colonial clothes in my last post. Nothing major; sniffles, running nose, occasionally cough. My eyes burn and my scalp is tender. I may have a low grade fever that comes and goes.

I didn’t eat much yesterday, and drank a 20 oz bottle of Diet Coke in the afternoon. I think the lack of food, the excess caffeine, and the shot of Nyquil I took before bedtime gave me weird, weird dreams. I don’t feel like I slept, though I’m sure I did. My brain felt active all night, stumbling across weird images, propositions, conversations.

My dreams are always active; it’s like going to the movies. Usually, there’s some sort of plot or esoteric meaning (or perhaps only some regurgitated bell pepper) in my dreams, but last night was just random stuff. I’ll give you a sampling; tell me if it makes your brain go *pop*.

I’m dreaming that my laptop is on the fritz; no matter what application I’m using, pressing the F1 “Help” key pops up pictures of random zoo animals. I take it to, where else, a hospital, to have my laptop looked at.

While I’m waiting for my turn to see a doctor, Tom Cruise comes in. Apparently, he’s had some sort of stroke, but before the doctors medicate him, he wants somebody to call his fiancée. Except he now has an odd lisp, and it comes out “fiance-pay.” The doctor asks what the heck a fiance-pay is. Since I have a laptop, I thought I’d google the entertainment news to see if Tom Cruise is actually engaged, but I can’t get Internet Explorer to come up.

As an alternate, I decide to look up “fiance-pay” to see if that’s a real word, but my Microsoft Word aborts with an error. I press F1 for Help, and a drawing of an aardvark pops up on my screen, and the doctor asks me why I’m looking at aardvarks at a time like this.

I think the word “aardvark” sounds funny, so I repeat it 3 times. Aardvark, aardvark, aardvark… and wake myself up laughing at the word aardvark.

Awake yet again, I roll over, and start the next random Nyquil-and-caffeine-induced dream sequence. And I thought of stuff just like this all night long.

Today, I’m very tired. And sniffly. And drinking another Diet Coke.

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Review: The Case for the Real Jesus

Posted on September 15, 2007. Filed under: Christian Book Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , |

Medium ImageChristian apologetics books can be pretty dry, but Lee Stroble makes it warm and personable. Instead of lecturing the reader on such topics as “Did the church alter early gospels to suit a political purpose?” and “Was Jesus married to Mary Magdelene,” the author instead takes you on a journey to visit world renowned archaeologists and historians. These sources are not necessarily Christian; Strobel is looking for sources that believers and non-believers can respect.

Then Strobel narrates his visits with these experts, asking tough questions while describing the chair he’s sitting in and the hospitality of his experts and how refreshing the hot tea they serve.

One thing is clear from his research – most of the questions raised in major madia and fiction such as Dan Brown’s work are easily debunked. Historical inaccuracies and a misunderstanding of Jewish culture abound in the “alternative” gospels; in most cases, it is possible to trace these other books to gnostics, Syrians, and other groups trying to push an agenda.

That still goes on today, doesn’t it?

If you’d like to read an excerpt, Zondervan has made one available at The Case for the Real Jesus. Whet your appetite; I think you’ll find it’s an excellent addition to an apolgetic’s library.

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Christian Carnival CLXXXVI

Posted on August 22, 2007. Filed under: Christian Carnival | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Christian Carnival #186 is up… here! Chasing the Wind is humbled to host the Carnival this week. Without further ado, here are this week’s best Christian blogging.

Oh wait, here’s a little more ado. I’ve divided this week’s post in sections with a brief description about how this relates to Christian living. Ok, *now* we’re out of ado…

CHRIST. No Christian blogging would be complete without pondering our Lord and Savior and what He means to us. Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Doug presents Christ at Creation posted at Bounded Irrationality. Doug examines how Jesus could be present as man and God before creation.

This week at Light Along the Journey John considers what is exactly The Right Thing to Say.

JR Madill presents The Public Spectacle posted at Theology for the Masses.

CHRISTIAN LIFE. It’s one thing to study and pray (well, ok, that was two things), but it’s another thing entirely to live the Christian life. How do you apply and think and live as a Christian?

Patricia presents 30 Ways to Instantly be a Better Parent posted at A Better You Blog.

Stretch Mark Mama presents Passing on Perspective posted at Stretch Mark Mama.

Chad Dalton at The Minor Prophet considers Abraham’s Tradition. Thoughts on Abraham’s burial of his wife Sarah.

Jody Neufeld presents The John Webb Winter Golf Tournament posted at Jody Along the Path. Reflecting on the experience of coordinating this event that raises money for children hospitalized with serious illnesses.

blue skelton presents Simpsons Porn, Funny or Immoral? posted at Production Blog. An article that asks, Is it still a sin to watch pornography if it is a cartoon. We are looking for a other Christian’s Viewpoint on this issue.

BIBLE STUDY AND PRAYER. While the glory of the cosmos practically scream out the power and majesty of a creator, to truly know *the* Creator requires study so that God’s Word can speak to you, and it requires prayer so that you can speak to God.

William Meisheid presents Wholistic Salvation posted at Beyond The Rim…. An attempt to look at salvation in a more wholistic [sic] manner.

Ian Spencer presents Dispensationalism and the Interpretation of Scripture Part 2: Prophetic Literature posted at Philosophical Orthodoxy. The second part of a continuing series critiquing dispensationalist methods of interpreting Scripture.

Richard H. Anderson presents Assembly of Yahweh posted at dokeo kago grapho soi kratistos Theophilos.

Tom presents The Remarkable 19th Psalm posted at Thinking Christian. With our modern Christian and scientific viewpoints, we might easily fail to notice what this psalm does not say. It’s an appreciation of the sun, a joyful one at that. And yet–there is not a hint of sun-worship in it. Remarkable.

Ann Shorb presents GOD HAS ME posted at Christian Counseling & Educational Services.

Henry Neufeld presents St. John Chrysostom on Hebrews 6 posted at Participatory Bible Study Blog. St. John Chrysostom gives a comprehensive and interesting view of Hebrews 6:4-6 and the impossibility of restoration for the apostate.

Lingamish: The Lord of
Rage
Somebody’s knocking at the door. But it’s not who you think.
Lingamish looks at Nahum’s vision of an angry God and finds a hidden place of
safety.

CHURCH. When two or more are gathered in His name, He is there. As a group of Christians, we are the bride of Christ, His church. What do we believe and how to we implement it?

FMF presents How'd You Like to Be Taxed for Going to Church? posted at Free Money Finance. How would you like to pay a tax to go to church?

Steven Krager presents Have you lost faith? | faithdoubt posted at faithdoubt. This is a posting in response to an article about an LA Times writer and his Christian faith journey. It is about problems in the Church and losing faith.

Diane R presents Deacons posted at Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet. What are deacons exactly? And why don’t most churches have them? What are they supposed to do? In my church we have one of the best deacon structures I’ve ever seen so our church members won’t fall through the cracks when in need.

Brian Russell of the Real Meal blog
wrote Thinking about
Natural Disasters
. In the middle of another hurricane season, it is critical for clear theological reflection on natural disasters and the preparation for a missional response to those who suffer.

RELIGION. Sometimes we study what a Christian is. How does it differ from other religions? How do we see it in public, in politics, in others?

Sammy Benoit presents Islamic Hatred of anything Christian posted at YID With LID.

thomas robey presents “Christian Faith and Reason” posted at Hope for Pandora. “Christian Faith and Reason” is a new magazine that seeks to engage Christians and skeptics on topics of science, politics and faith. The Christian blogging community should check it out and consider contributing a piece for publication.

Ali presents An alternate solution to the American Civil War? posted at Kiwi and an Emu.. Considering, many years too late, how Christians in Northern and Southern parts of the United States could have agreed on the subject of slavery.

Weekend Fisher at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength discusses Security, Apostasy, and Knowing Christ. A Lutheran’s-eye view of the debates over eternal security and whether apostasy is real, and how Christ is often left out of the debate.

John presents Richard Land and Moral Agency posted at Brain Cramps for God. There’s a new meme in the abortion argument.

Jeremy Pierce presents Barack Obama on faith and politics posted at Parableman. A look at Barack Obama’s thoughts on faith and politics, Part III of a three-part series (the first two looked at John Edwards and Joe Biden).

Mark Olson presents Western Eyes posted at Pseudo-Polymath. Religious toleration, a artifact of the Enlightenment, or might it not be from much earlier.

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Stay Focused on God

Posted on April 22, 2007. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Have you ever driven down the highway, 65 mph, and decided just to let the car drive itself? Get the car going straight, set it on cruise control, take your hands off the steering wheel, maybe climb in the backseat to look for some munchies?

What advice would you give a student with an important exam coming up? One possibility is to tell him not to worry, perhaps take some time off and relax. After all, the student has probably studied for other tests in the past. It wastes a lot of time to keep studying over and over again.

What advice would you give if you knew the end of the world was imminent? How about, “Don’t worry, this sort of thing happens all the time. Just make sure you pack an extra pair of underwear.” Our lesson today begins with 1 Peter 4:7, “The end of all things is near.” Let’s not climb in the backseat to look for munchies, let’s see what Peter has to tell us about living in the last days.

We know the end of all things is near… “for the bible tells me so…” but we mortals have such short memories. We forget and we take our focus off God. Peter, the author of our book today, was our textbook example of taking our focus off of Christ. When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, Peter’s eyes were on Jesus and Jesus called him. And Peter walked on water! But then Peter looked at the world around him and noticed how high the waves were and how deep the sea was and started to sink. Peter’s salvation was still secure – Jesus reached in and caught him – but would Peter have sunk if his eyes remained on Jesus?

In the middle of going to work, shopping for groceries, exercising at the gym, we look at our watch and think, “What time was the world supposed to end?” And the end of the world becomes less important than picking up the dry cleaning. But the end of all things are near, and it’s not hard to imagine the last days becoming closer. If you forget the end is near, turn on the TV and watch the news for 5 minutes.

Daily focus on Christian living is important. I’m not talking about a checklist of Christian things to do daily – I had my quiet time, I prayed over my meals, I read my bible – I’m talking about minute-by-minute focus on how God wants us to live. What do we do, what do we think, what do we say. We are to live in a way that glorifies our Living God every single moment. Last week Fred taught us about living with joy in the midst of suffering. We’re first class passengers and we know our plane is landing safely, so a little turbulence is exciting. With joy in our hearts, what do we do with our lives? We glorify God through our character, and we glorify God for the way we endure suffering.

What do people see when they watch you and listen to you? In Matthew 5:16, Jesus says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” With every action and with every single word, what do people see when they look at you? Are you Christ’s ambassador?

I. Glorifying God through our Character
A. Focused Prayer

1 Peter Chapter 4 is about our character and how serving and suffering interact. To be good servants and to be good witnesses, we must be developing a character that glorifies our Lord. All of us – and especially me – tend to focus on the characters of other people and how they do not meet our needs. We think it’s very easy to fix somebody else’s problem. That’s a mindset that takes focus and prayer to overcome. Instead, we are to focus on our own character and how we can meet the needs of others.

1 Peter 4:7, “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” The very first thing toward building a focused Christian character is to pray. To pray effectively, be clear-minded and self-controlled. As children of God, we have a communion with the Holy Spirit living inside of us that interprets our prayers and gets answers from God for His glory. Our prayers are powerful and God desires them, it moves God to work in our lives. But to have effective prayers, the NIV says we must be clear-minded and self-controlled. KJV says serious and watchful. NLT says earnest and disciplined. To do this we must be focused on what God wants, not what we want. We clear our minds and we seek God’s will. The best way to do that is to study God’s word and see what God’s will is. Through study, prayer, and meditation, we clear our thoughts, we seek His will, and then we can exercise a disciplined prayer to God.

B. Focused Love

1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” This is agape love, the self-sacrificial love that Christ showed us. We are to sacrifice for each other with no hesitation or reservation. I don’t think the NIV captures the essence of the word “deeply” here. The Amplified bible calls it “intense and unfailing love for one another.” This agape love is from God working through us and has nothing to do with how we feel. Sometimes we don’t “feel” loving. Love anyway. Sometimes we feel irritated. Love anyway, because love covers a multitude of sins, both their sins and especially our own sins.

What is agape love? 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 tells us exactly what love is and what is not. As an engineer, I’m sort of spreadsheet oriented and I’ll eventually have the entire bible categorized properly in a giant spreadsheet like it should be, but for now, here’s a spreadsheet on love that you can stick on your refrigerator:

1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Attitudes
Actions
Love is Love is not Love does Love does not
Patient Jealous Rejoice with truth Brag
Kind Arrogant Bears all things Act rudely
  Provoked Believes all things Seek its own
    Hopes all things Keep a record of wrongs
    Endures all things Rejoice in unrighteousness

C. Hospitality

1 Peter 4:9, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Have you ever been asked to do something and you say, “oh, all right, I’ll do it. Sheesh, why does everybody always ask me to do it?” Whatever we do, do it in love and joy. Offering to help somebody while being grumpy about it does not glorify the Lord. God loves a cheerful giver, so… give cheerfully.

D. Use Spiritual Gifts

Hospitality is one of the spiritual gifts described in the bible – we all have gifts, and as faithful stewards of these gifts God has given us, we are to use them for His glory. Give yourself to others cheerfully because you are doing the Lord’s work. In 1 Peter 4:10, he says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” You have a spiritual gift, an ability given to you by God. Are you using it? Are you unsure whether you have a gift? There are three main scriptures that describe spiritual gifts and are listed in Ephesians 4:11, Romans 12:3-7, and 1 Corinthians 12:1-12, 28. These scriptures clearly say that each one of us as a member of the body of Christ are given one or more gifts, each member is just as important as any other member, and that gifts we are given are to be used to glorify God.

What is your gift? If you’re not sure, get clear-minded and self-controlled and pray about it. God always answers those prayers when you’re asking His will. If you’re still unsure, pick one. Your gift will not grow unless you’re using it. Volunteer for something – anything – and start building your spiritual character. To some extent, our spiritual gifts will fall into two broad categories, gifts of speech (such as evangelism, encouragement and teaching) and gifts of service (such as administration, giving and mercy).

1. Guarded Speech

When we speak, speak carefully. I think this is one of the hardest things to control. We can talk the good talk, but it is so hard to remember 24 hours a day to control what we say. James 3 has very strong words about what we say, that the very same tongue we use to praise God we also curse people who are made in God’s image. What comes out of our mouth reflects what is really inside our hearts. And our words can be destructive, like a small spark that can set an entire forest on fire. James 3:6 says our “tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” That makes me shudder.

Listen to how important our speech is: Peter says in 1 Peter 4:11 that “If you speak, you should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.” When you profess to be a Christian, every word that you speak represents Christ on earth, for you are Christ’s ambassador to your brothers and sisters in Christ, to your spouses, to non-believers. Every word you say reflects your heart and reflects Christ, so choose each and every word carefully. Once you say them, you can’t take them back.

2. Serve with Strength

When we serve (and serve without grumbling), we are also using our God-given gifts. But sometimes when we serve, we take credit for the service we’re providing. Whatever and whoever we are, we did not create ourselves. Whatever IQ you have, you didn’t create your own intellect. God gave you your brains. Whatever ability you have to serve others, God gave you that ability. You didn’t grow your own arms and legs, God gave those to you. So when you use them, don’t depend on yourself. Learn to lean on the strength of Christ. 1 Peter 4:11 says, “If you serve, you should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.”

Why do we serve? For the same reason we exist – to glorify our king. God doesn’t want you to do it alone – God will grant you the strength you need to accomplish what He wills for you. Philippians 4:13 says “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Good Christian character is focused prayer, hospitality without complaint, words that reflect the Holy Spirit within you, and service that depends, not on you, but on the strength that God provides. We glorify God through our character.

II. Glorifying God through Suffering
A. Testing

We also glorify God for showing our Christian character when we suffer. Peter tells us that we are to expect hardships, trials, and suffering. 1 Peter 4:12, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Why do we suffer? It tests this character we have been building. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Without hardships, our faith doesn’t grow, it atrophies.

B. Christ’s Suffering

Just as James says, “consider it pure joy,” Peter says in 1 Peter 4:13, “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” Pure joy! Rejoice! Wahoo, I’m suffering! Ok, that’s a little over the top, maybe, but the minor suffering we endure mirrors the suffering of Christ. To focus on the suffering itself focuses us on this temporary life. When we focus on eternity, though, these hardships are only temporary.

1 Corinthians 4:16-18 says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” When we reach our heavenly destination, all this suffering will seem as nothing, all totally conquered by the saving grace of Jesus.

C. Verbal Abuse for Christ’s Name

1 Peter 4:14, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” This is what Peter means by “participating in the sufferings of Christ.” Christ was persecuted and crucified because of who He is, and if we are persecuted because of who He is, we share in His suffering. Peter tells us that we are “blessed” and it can be difficult to understand how persecution is a blessing.

Our Chinese friends returning back to China have told us they miss our church here and the freedom of worship. In China, the official position of the Communist Party is that party membership and religious belief of any kind are incompatible. Religious organizations are required to register with the government and accept supervision from the government. The official position from Beijing is that no one is persecuted for their beliefs, but evangelism is not permitted. Worshipping in groups is often prohibited. Peter tells us that those persecuted in this way are blessed. More than just being happy, the blessing is the favor that God finds with these martyrs for the Holy Spirit of God rests upon them. Knowing that God finds favor in us for persecution in His name gives us encouragement.

D. When Suffering is Not from God

Not all suffering comes from God, though. Just because we are suffering doesn’t mean God is blessing us. Sometimes we deserve the suffering. 1 Peter 4:15, “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.” “Or even as a meddler” – I found that interesting. If we’re punished because we’re bad, we deserve it. If we commit murder or we steal and go to jail, Christ is not honored and the suffering endured is merely punishment. If our persecution is because we’re sticking our nose into other people’s business and it annoys them, we’re not blessed. We’re bringing hostility on ourselves and Christ is not honored.

E. Suffering for Christ

Christian suffering that brings God’s blessing is specific; “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” Martyrs that preach the name of God to their captors are blessed. Cassie Bernall was reportedly asked by the Columbine shooters if she believed in God, and when Cassie said, “Yes,” she was killed. God blesses those persecuted in His name. Peter, the author of our book today, was also martyred preaching the name of Christ and was supposedly crucified upside down outside of Rome. Do not be ashamed, the end of all things is near, and persecutions in the last days will increase. Stay focused on God and not the light and momentary persecutions of this temporary life. We have hope in Jesus.

F. Judgment

In verse 17 & 18, Peter tells us that the time of judgment is near. The followers of Christ will be judged and found righteous through the covering of the sacrifice of Jesus. As sons and daughters of God, we have no fear of judgment. We know we are sinners, but we also know that Christ our Lord died for those sins so that we may appear unblemished before God.

Sometimes we long for the Rapture to come and take us away from this wicked world, to save us from this corrupt generation. But God placed us here for a reason, and God doesn’t make mistakes. If we long for the Rapture because we want to be closer to the Lord, that’s a beautiful thought, but our purpose in this life is not simply to exist then go to heaven. Our purpose in this life is to see His will done on earth as it is in heaven, and He will use us and give us the strength we need to do His will. Why do you exist today? Because God is using you to show His glory. Your looks, your body, your possessions, your talents and your spiritual gifts are given to you by God to show His glory in us. We have purpose in this life, given to us by God.

Those that do not know the good news, that Christ died for us and that we may have a relationship with the living Christ need to know this. Suffering and persecution are all around us, but those that suffer for Christ have hope. It can be a difficult life, but Peter reminds us that we should not be surprised, this fiery ordeal tests us. How much harder then, is it on those that do not know the love of Christ and do not know why they suffer? We exist so that the love and hope of Christ may shine on them with every word, with every deed, with every hospitality we show them in order to bring glory to God. This is God’s will. Verse 19, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

So Pray. Love. Serve. Speak His name. Live like there’s no tomorrow because someday you’ll be right.

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Hand of God

Posted on December 17, 2006. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I have some good news for me this week; I’m done traveling for a while, I hope. There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home. I had some difficulty on this trip; there were last minute changes to the agenda by the client who scheduled me for 8:00am meetings that he couldn’t make, and at the last moment he tried to send me two days early. I came into the office early to take care of some last minute items and a queue formed at my door for brand new issues. When I finally escaped to have lunch with my wife on the way out of town, all packed and dressed to go, I spilled some oriental sauce down the front of my shirt. I went home to change, and good thing I did because I had forgotten to put on a belt earlier and didn’t even know it. When I got to the airport lounge, they didn’t have an internet connection so I couldn’t take my email to go. And then my watch stopped.

Travel can be difficult. I don’t know how many times as a kid I’d hear, “We can turn this car around right now!” Today we’re going to study someone who traveled but with more planning and a whole lot more protection. Let’s turn to Ezra chapter 7, where Ezra finally makes his appearance in the book named after him.

We’re going to cover 4 chapters of Ezra today so we won’t be able to study them verse by verse and get out of class before lunch or even Christmas, so we’re going to study just some key verses. Fred did a terrific job last week summarizing the history and putting the book of Ezra in perspective; this is the second journey from Babylon to Jerusalem which Ezra will lead. It wasn’t as large as the first group but it was a fine selection of leaders and priests. Let’s meet Ezra; the first 5 verses introduce the lineage of Ezra, and if you’ll remember from our study of Hebrews before Jesus became our priest in the order of Melchizadek, priests were required by Mosaic law to be descended from Aaron the Levite, so if you’ll look at the last name of verse 5, whose name is listed there? Aaron. Ezra was a Levitical priest, and if we continue to verse 10 we also see that Ezra also devoted himself to the study, the practice, and the teaching of the Mosaic laws. Dr. Ezra Young, maybe.

Ezra uses the phrase “the hand of God” several times as he describes his journey, and it summarized the faith that Ezra placed in the Lord. Ezra used the phrase frequently to show that Ezra was following God and any credit for success would also go to God. What sort of person was Ezra that the hand of God should be upon him? The answers are in a very short verse:

Ezra 7:10
For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

Let’s pick this verse apart like the last pieces of white meat off that Thanksgiving turkey.

“For Ezra had devoted himself.” Ezra had a cause for the Lord that drove his life. Ezra was committed to serving the Lord and had made a decision that drove all other decisions; any decision or action in the future had to be in line with Ezra’s devotion and dedication.

“to the study.” Ezra wanted to know what God says and devoted himself to the study of the scriptures. Acts 17:11 says,

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

Studying the law with great eagerness and examining the scriptures to find the truth. If you want to know what the Lord wants for you, you have to study.

“and observance of the Law of the LORD” Luke 6:46, Jesus says, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” It is not enough to study the Word, but you must obey. Otherwise, is Jesus really the Lord in your life?

“and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” Notice that Ezra devoted himself, studied for himself, and applied the law to himself first. The next step is to share it with others. Ezra taught the law, he was putting into practice the spiritual gift the Lord had provided. What is your gift? Mercy? Hospitality? Giving? Praying? Evangelism? Your gift is not for you alone, but for you to share with others.

When you are knowledgeable about God’s will, devoted to study, practice, and sharing God’s word as Ezra was, then the Hand of God will be upon you.

Verse 11 through 26 of Ezra 7 is a letter from King Artaxerxes not only giving Ezra permission to travel from Babylon to Jerusalem, but offering Ezra assistance and authority. The king gives Ezra silver and gold for Ezra to use for sacrifices and for whatever other purpose Ezra so desires, and if Ezra needs anything else, he may help himself from the royal treasury. And if that’s not enough, when Ezra arrives in Jerusalem, the local treasurers are supposed to provide him even more stuff – silver, wheat, wine, olive oil, and salt without limit. Ezra was not only a very learned man, but very trusted by the king. Why did the king do this? Let’s look at the second half of

Ezra 7:6
“The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.”

From this one sentence, “The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him,” what does the Hand of God provide? (Giving, blessings, everything you need).

This phrase shows up again 4 verses later in Ezra 7:9 when Ezra’s journey is completed successfully.

Ezra 7:9
He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him.

Besides the blessings from the hand of God, when you are in the hand of God, God is … gracious. God granted Ezra a successful journey, and God receives the glory.

Let’s go to the end of the king’s letter, to Ezra 7:25. The king charges Ezra to keep the law of God and king.

Ezra 7:25-26
And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates—all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them. Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment.

Ezra was charged to uphold the laws of God and to teach those who did not know the law. Punishment could be severe for those who would not obey.

At this point in the book of Ezra, he switches to first person.

Ezra 7:27-28
Praise be to the LORD, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the LORD in Jerusalem in this way and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king’s powerful officials. Because the hand of the LORD my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.

Ezra recognized that the Lord was in charge and Dr. Ezra Young was fully learned in what God will was. Ezra was doing the Lord’s will, and so he knew the Lord’s hand was upon him. What did the hand of the Lord provide Ezra? Ok, that was a gimme. Courage. What makes a king out of a slave? Courage. What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage. What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage.

Let’s have the courage, then, to move forward. In Chapter 8, Ezra tells us details about his journey, who the family members were, and then in verse 15, Ezra discovers there are no Levites among the travelers. Levites were necessary because the Mosaic law said that only Levites could carry temple items used in worship, and they had all these temple items. They needed some Levites to accompany them, so they sent word that they needed help.

Ezra 8:18
Since the gracious hand of our God was on us, they sent us a man named Sherebiah, along with eighteen of his sons and brothers. He was a very astute man and a descendant of Mahli, who was a descendant of Levi son of Israel.

We can’t use “gracious” since we already did that, so let’s focus on what God provided. He provided an astute man, a man of insight; some versions use “capable.” What did the gracious hand of God provide? (Wisdom, guidance, … ) and then in verse 21,

Ezra 8:21-23
There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.

The gracious hand of God provided … protection. Ezra was quite concerned about the success of this journey, it was roughly 800 miles and they would be carrying a significant amount of gold and silver and relics. And they had already boasted to the king how great God is. Ezra was ashamed to ask for protection. I’m not so sure this was the wisest move – God certainly expects us to depend on each other, and Ezra had already accepted help from the king in a financial way, but no doubt Ezra as a Levitical priest who studied and taught every day and has a book in the bible named after him might have a better understanding of God than I do. So the hand of Lord on Ezra brought him safely to Jerusalem with all the temple articles intact.

When they arrived at Jerusalem, they counted and weighed all the silver and gold and found it was all present and accounted for, so they sacrificed burnt offerings to the Lord, and everybody lived happily ever after. Well, at least until Book 9.

In Book 9 of Ezra, Ezra discovers the people of Israel had been unfaithful to the Lord. Before I cover this part of Ezra, remember what Dr. Young – Ed Young, not Ezra Young – taught this past autumn about claiming God’s promises? When you study the Word of God, you must be careful to see if the Word applies to you, to a particular person, to a particular time. Sometimes the bible teaches us about God through scripture that applies to a specific place and time. When God told Moses to use his staff to part the waters of the Red Sea and then lead Israel does not mean that you should get a staff and part the waters of Lake Conroe and then the greater Houston area will follow you. The scripture applied to a particular place and time. We can learn from such scripture – in the case of Moses, we can learn about obedience, faith, fear, and so on, but not necessarily about flood control.

In Book 9, Ezra is approached by the leaders of Jerusalem with bad news.

Ezra 9:1-2
After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”

Israel is special to the Lord. Israel is the Lord’s holy people. And the accusation here is very specific – the men and priests and Levites had not separated themselves and kept their nation holy as God had commanded. The problem here is not one of marriage – while Exodus 34:11-16 and Deuteronomy 7:1-4 prohibited foreign marriages, Joseph and Moses married foreign wives and God did not condemn them. Rahab and Ruth were not only foreign wives that God praised, they’re also listed in the genealogy of Jesus. Clearly it is not the fact that the women were foreign.

No, the problem here is who they married. There are eight neighboring people listed here that had what? Detestable practices. The Hebrew word for doing these “detestable practices” is “tow’ebah” (to-ay-baw’) which means a disgusting, wicked ritual abomination. The Lord God was thoroughly repulsed that His chosen people were marrying pagan women, and the husbands were casually accepting and tolerating the worship of false Gods in their homes. When God says “Thou shalt have no other God before me,” it’s not a polite request, it’s a commandment.

What’s worse, it wasn’t just the men of Israel marrying women who were religiously unclean, but it was the priests and Levites marrying them, too. These were the men responsible for maintaining the holiness of Israel, and instead they were leading the abominations. Instead of remaining holy, Israel was becoming indistinguishable from its pagan neighbors.

The word holy means “set apart”. The church sanctuary is holy; it is set apart for the use of God. My car, even though I drive it to church, is not holy since I drive it to work and the movies and so forth. Marriage is holy matrimony; the relationship we have with our spouses are unique. I have a relationship with Diane that is blessed by God; it is unique and set apart.

Paul says in Ephesians 5:22

“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.”

Wives, think about just the last week. How did you treat your husband? What words have you said to him? Did you treat your husband the way the Lord should be treated? Your marriage is holy. Do you seek the Lord’s will daily through study and prayer and treat your husband the way the Lord requires? Let’s pause just a moment to think about that.

Husbands, your turn. Paul says in Ephesians 5:25-27,

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Husbands, do you give yourself up for your wife? Christ loved the church so much He died on the cross for us. What do you give up for your wife? Do you have selfish needs or habits that annoy your wife? Or do you cleanse her with the word of God? Do you forgive her daily the way Christ forgives you? When you look at her, is she without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish? Do you see her as holy and blameless? Let’s pause for a moment to think about that, but not as long because we husbands don’t have that sort of attention span.

Holy things are set apart for the glory of God. Israel as God’s chosen people were to remain holy, yet they participated in acts abhorrent to God. If you thought of something about your holy marriage that abhorred you, you can understand Ezra’s response. The first thing Ezra did in verse 9:3 was to tear his clothes and pull out the hair from his head and beard and sit down appalled. Convicted of sin. Devastated. The Hebrew word is “shamem” (shaw-mame’) which is the same word used after a locust plague devours a field. Ezra had spent his life in devotion, study, and application of God’s word, only to find that God’s holy people had defiled themselves.

Ezra was a true man of God, though, and even in his desolation, he continued to do God’s will. Ezra was convicted of his sin. The fact that it was his people sinning and not him specifically didn’t matter; Ezra included himself in the conviction of sin. Verse 4 says “everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness.” It was a sudden realization of their sin, a realization that they had been living a lie. Telling themselves that their little sin was ok, but it grew into a big societal sin that permeated even the religious leaders. As a society, we have tolerated a little sin in each other that has grown into a much larger sin that permeates even the religious leaders of some churches, have we not? I sometimes wonder if we’ve truly learned God’s lessons 2500 years after Ezra.

Not everybody gathered around Ezra; only those that trembled at God’s word. Ungodly people do not tremble at God’s word; ungodly people do not become convicted of their sin and gather around religious leaders. They may have trembled also because if you remember, the king told Ezra that Ezra was to teach and uphold the law and execute his people that didn’t.

That evening, still with torn clothes and hair, Ezra fell on his knees and prayed. The word used implies falling not just once but repeatedly. This was the second thing Ezra did after his conviction. I wish we had time to read Ezra’s prayer slowly and dissect it. It begins with confession, “I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.” Consider this your homework this week to read Ezra’s prayer in chapter 9 to see how a godly man with the hand of God upon him prays to his maker. First the confession, then praise and thanks, calling the Lord “gracious” for the relief from bondage and for giving them another chance to build a temple to worship Him. Ezra acknowledge specifically their sin; the command from the Lord in Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and Ezekial were to enter the promised land, not to even seek a friendship with their detestable neighbors, and instead they married their daughters. Then Ezra acknowledges God’s sovereignty and wisdom, that God has every right to destroy them all and not even leave a remnant this time, but also acknowledging that God’s grace has punished them less than they deserved. The third thing Ezra did was to repent of the sin.

The fourth thing that Ezra did after his conviction was to correct the error. After conviction of sin and then praying, action must follow or it is not true repentance. If the people of Israel are to be holy and set apart, then all impurities must be eliminated. This is true in your marriage, too. If your marriage is to be holy and set apart, then any impurities must be removed. In Ezra 10, the holy people of Israel realized that to be pure in God’s sight, they must send the foreign women away. They interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1-4 that a husband was to write a “divorce certificate” and place it in her hand if the there was “something improper about her.”

Now the word “divorce” is very rare in the Old Testament and it’s not used here in Ezra; the word is that the foreign wives were “sent away” with custody of their children. Now here is where we say this does not apply specifically to us. Even if your wife is pagan and worshipping idols, you don’t send her away. You are not the people of Israel and part of God’s chosen people and to be kept apart and holy. You are a Christian spouse. There was plenty of confusion about Deuteronomy’s rules; “something improper” could mean she snores too loud. In the 10th book of Mark, Jesus says it was because of Israel’s hard hearts that Moses wrote that law, but under the new covenant the rules were clarified. Paul clarified it some more in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; the unbelieving wife or husband is sanctified through his or her spouse. So if your husband leaves the socks on the floor yet again, sending him back to Egypt is not an option, ok? Just want to be clear on that.

Ezra 10:12 says the whole assembly responded in a loud voice, “You are right, but not now, it’s raining!” They realized that unraveling the sin was going to take both time and accountability, so they spent several days appointing leaders for accountability and to investigate all the marriages in Jerusalem and to make proper arrangements to send the foreign women back to their pagan societies. And all of those guilty had their names written down here in Ezra 10:18 for us to see 2500 years later. Each of the men listed repented of their sin and offered sacrifices for their guilt. OK, now they all lived happily ever after, at least until we turn to the book of Nehemiah next month.

So let’s summarize what we’ve learned today. This is the type of person that God will put his hand on:

• One who is devoted to the Lord;
• One who studies the Word;
• One who obeys the Word;
• One who applies the Word in service to others.

This is what the hand of the Lord provides;
• Blessings
• Grace
• Success
• Courage
• Wisdom, guidance
• Protection

When sin is in our lives, we
• Are convicted
• Repent
• Pray
• Act

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Exercise Confidence

Posted on November 5, 2006. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

Do you recognize those words? The Little Engine That Could, carrying a trainload of toys over the mountain. The load was so heavy and the journey was so long, the Little Engine was ready to give up. Defeated. I can’t do this, the load is too heavy. Then what happened? The Little Engine found courage, confidence, and strength to carry on. I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could.

We’ve spent the last two months learning how Jesus is better. Better than angels, better than Moses, better than Levitical priests, a better sacrifice, a better covenant. We’ve listened to how we should place our faith in Jesus because He is better than anything else we can know. Hebrews chapter 1 through the middle of chapter 4 tells about God’s Word. From there to about the middle of chapter 10, we learned about God’s Work.

With this faith in Jesus, how shall we live? The next four weeks in the month of November, the rest of the book of Hebrews answers the question, “So what?” So what if Jesus is better? What does that have to do with me? And today’s lesson will describe the confidence we find when we totally give ourselves to Jesus, our perfect sacrifice and advocate in heaven.

Diane has to listen to my occasional complaints about work; I try not to complain too much, but I find sharing some of my struggles with her builds me up and makes the rest of the day easier. Work can take a toll on us. But it was easy compared to what the Hebrews were going through. As new Christians, they were being fed to the lions by the Romans and being stoned by the Jews. As you can imagine, this can cause a little pessimism because of all the persecution. My work day seems a little easier by comparison. The writer of Hebrews tells the Hebrews to be confident. As they have accepted Christ, they know how the battle ends; the Christians win, one to nothing.

All of us here may struggle with being a confident Christian. I overheard a table at a restaurant the other day; the woman was saying she was getting married and asked one of the 3 guys if he was thinking about marrying his girlfriend. He said, “Why would I want to do that? It’s just a ring and it’ll just cost me a lot of money.” Perfect opportunity to speak up about God’s plan for a man and a woman to cleave and become one flesh and how Christ treats His church is our model for how a husband should treat his wife. And… I just sat there. Part of it, of course, is because I inadvertently eavesdropped, but a bigger part, if I am to be honest, is that speaking up uninvited to a table of strangers was intimidating, scary. What was I afraid of? Was it not God’s plan for all of us that I wanted to share. Was it a lack of confidence?

We profess to be the children of Christ, and among us children we are not afraid to discuss our faith in the Lord. Think back on this last week. Where are places where we could have spoken up, but didn’t? Work? Gym? Grocery store? What keeps us from speaking up? Are we like these early Hebrews, even if the obstacles to sharing God’s word are so much easier to overcome?

We’re going to walk through this part of Hebrews one part at a time and discuss it, so let’s open to Hebrews 10:19-21:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God,

Dr. Young likes to remind us that when we see a “therefore,” it’s a conclusion for all that came before it. When we see a “therefore,” we ought to remember what it’s there for. The author calls these young Christian Hebrews “brothers,” and reminds them what we have been studying the last 2 months. We’re told to have confidence because Christ is superior to the Old Testament system of offering sacrifices for sin over and over again. Christ’s sacrifice is once and for all sufficient for all of our sins. Confidence to do what?

Hebrews 10:22-25:

let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Christians are encouraged to do 5 things, 5 exhortations here -

  • Draw near to God
  • Hold unswervingly to the hope we profess
  • Consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds
  • Don’t give up meeting together
  • Encourage one another

Just like the ancient Hebrews that were questioning the cost of becoming a Christian, the writer tells them they can have confidence by practicing these five simple things.

First exhortation, we draw near to God. We do this in 4 steps -

First step, with a sincere heart. When we come to church to worship the Lord, we must focus on God’s desire for us. We all want to approach God for help; “God please do this for me. God, please give me a promotion at work. God, please make me healthy. God, please smite my enemies, and here’s a list of who they are.” But that’s not a sincere heart. A sincere heart is, “God, please show me your will in my life. Please use me for your glory. Let me be your servant at the job you have provided me. Let me show your glory when you heal me, or let me show the joy in have in you in suffering. God, show me how to turn the other cheek and love my enemies.”

Second step, in full assurance of faith. In full acceptance of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. In full acceptance of the sacrifice Jesus made for *me* personally. I don’t have to seek out a Levite preist and ask him to intervene for me in the holy of holies. Jesus died for me and I can approach him directly. He is my advocate and intercedes for me at the right hand of God. I have confidence knowing that Jesus did these things for me, and knowing how much He must love me.

Third step, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience. When we accept Christ, our sins are forgiven. Are we still walking around like beaten dogs? Goodness knows I can look back on my life and see many, many things I regret. The disrespectful things I’ve said to my parents growing up. The trouble I got into as a youth. The times I’ve cheated and lied. But Christ has forgiven me, and the Lord God says He will remember my sins no more. Why should I continue to remember my sins? Paul tells me in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that if I am in Christ, I am a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come! Why should I walk around defeated? I am free of my guilty conscience and I should live boldly for Christ and stand up to challenges. I don’t have to be embarrassed because I’ve done wrong. I can stand up and proudly say that my Lord has forgiven me. How great is the Lord that can do that!

Let me remind you that for our sins to be forgiven, we must confess those sins and repent or turn away from that sin. When the adulterous woman was brought before Jesus to be stoned, his words to her were “then neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” Jesus didn’t say her sin was ok with him. He was showing us that we should turn from sin in front of Jesus, and he promises to remember that sin no more.

Fourth step, having our bodies washed with pure water. Think back to the day you first gave your life to Christ. What was one of the first acts of obedience you did as a new Christian? Thats right, you were baptized. The Greek word, baptizo, means to immerse, to plunge, to dip, or be buried in water. Romans 6:3-5,

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

I believe this “bodies washed with pure water” is an admonishment that we also called to be obedient to God’s word, starting with baptism.

Our second exhortation is to hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. Why? For He who promised is faithful. When we studied Malchizedek a few weeks ago, we studied how God is faithful through the ages. He promised Abraham many children, He promised Israel the Promised Land, and He promised us a savior. When God makes a promise, God fulfils His promise. What is the greatest promise God has given us? The gift of salvation! God has made this promise to us that we know He will fulfill, and because we know this, there is reason for our hope!

What’s our third exhortation? To spur one another towards love and good deeds. Spur us! Craig what happens when you spur a horse? I bet it hurts, and I bet it makes that horse move a whole lot faster, doesn’t it? As children of Christ, I believe God has a purpose for each and everyone of us. When we’re actively involved in the ministries of Christ, God works in us and through us. When we’re praying for the health of someone ill, when we’re volunteering for Angels of Light, when we’re using any of the spiritual gifts of hospitality or mercy or administration or teaching or giving or healing or discernment or whatever, God is working in us.

Remember that parable about the man who gave his servants a sum of money, and one of the servants buried the money for safekeeping? The master was outraged when he found out and took the money away from him and gave it to another that had already doubled the money? Everyone who has, more will be given. Those that have nothing, even that will be taken away from them. And so we are to serve the Lord with the gifts we have been given and spur our brothers and sisters to do the same.

Our fourth exhortation, “Don’t give up meeting together.” Go to church, go to bible study, go to social and mission activities, do things together as Christians. We have strength in numbers and when we’re together we can spur each other towards love and good deeds. When we separate, when we are away from our bothers and sisters, we seem to lose confidence in our faith. That’s why when we’re at work, at the gym, at the grocery store, when we’re next to a table of people saying that marriage is just an expensive ring so why bother, we just sit there without saying anything. We’re told that whenever two or more of us are gathered in His name, Jesus is with us, so let’s remember that when we’re making our plans for the week.

Our fifth exhortation is the encourage one another. Notice how positive this message is. It doesn’t say, “Criticize and backbate each other when you don’t think they’re doing a good job.” It doesn’t say, “if you don’t like a brother, smack them upside the head with a family-edition bible.” We are to be positive, to spur our brothers and sisters towards love, toward good deeds. There’s no room in this exhortation for criticism. There’s a good reason for that, we don’t respond well to criticism. I know I don’t, so don’t even think of starting that with me. Tell a brother how well he is doing something, and you can be sure he’ll do more of it. Positive spurring towards love, positive spurring toward good deeds.

At this point, the writer of Hebrews reminds us in very scary language worthy of Halloween why we are to live our lives this way. Let’s read Hebrews 10:26-31:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Let’s remember that the writer of Hebrews is talking to Christians. These were recently converted Jews who were considering rejecting Christ in order to go back to being Jews again. So the writer says, “remember all that stuff I told you about Christ being the complete and perfect sacrifice forever and ever? The old system is dead. There is no other way to be saved.”

The Lord’s judgment is perfect. We like how that sounds when we think about evil people like murderers and thieves. When we see “It is mine to avenge, I will repay,” we think, “Alrighty, then Lord, come smite mine enemies, and I want a front row seat!” When we admit that we ourselves are sinners, we’re not too thrilled with the idea of an almighty, all powerful, all seeing omnipotent being determining what sort of judgement we deserve. “Lord, I ain’t so bad. Smite somebody else, will you?” This passage reminds us that Christ died for our sins, but it’s not a free pass to go on sinning. It’s sort of like asking Christ to die for us, over and over, to pay for our continuing sin. Those without the covering blood of Jesus have no hope in salvation, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and raging fire.

When I read this, I am reminded that often we act like part-time Christians. We’re Christian on Sunday, then go home and email some raunchy joke to a friend. We’re Christian on Sunday, then say something critical about our spouse when he or she is out of earshot. We’re Christian on Sunday, then cuss at a co-worker and take the Lord’s name in vain. We’re part time Christians. Matthew 7:13-14 says,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

How narrow is this gate? Why do we continually try to see what we can get away with, instead of trying our hardest to walk dead-center down that narrow road? How do we walk down the middle of the road? By continually re-examining our thoughts, actions, and words to be in line with God’s will.

The last part of this chapter of Hebrews returns to an encouraging note again, Hebrews 10:32-34:

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

These are some of the light and momentary afflictions we Christians can expect if we are to boldly proclaim the good news of Christ. These Hebrews stood their ground in the face of suffering, insulted, persecuted. They joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property. Joyfully? I suppose once you come to grips with the fact that you can’t take it with you, then you can be joyous. You don’t get to keep in anyway.

Let’s conclude with Hebrews 10:35-39

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while,
“He who is coming will come and will not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith.
And if he shrinks back,
I will not be pleased with him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

If we are confident in our faith in Jesus, we will be richly rewarded. If we persevere by doing the will of God, we will receive our salvation. We can be confident because we know our eternal destination has been promised to us. We should be confident – we have direct access to God through Jesus. Romans 8:31, if God is for us, who can be against us? And Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

The most stirring example of confidence I can find in the bible is the story of David and Goliath. I got to see the statue of David in the city of Florence Italy several years back by Michelangelo. You know, until that trip, I had no idea that statue of David was the same David that faced Goliath. And when I saw the statue up close and saw the sling over David’s back, it finally dawned on me. Goliath and David faced each other and Goliath was thinking to himself, “What the heck is this little fellow doing? He’s naked as a jaybird!” *Thwack* he gets nailed in the forehead by a rock.

In 1 Samuel 17, the Philistines lined up for war on one hill, and Saul and the Israelites were on the other. Neither side wanted to go first because they’d have to run down into the valley and would be target for the archers on the other side. Then Goliath of the Philistines came out to challenge them. Verse 4, and I’m going to use the version from The Message –

A giant nearly ten feet tall stepped out from the Philistine line into the open, Goliath from Gath. He had a bronze helmet on his head and was dressed in armor — 126 pounds of it! He wore bronze shin guards and carried a bronze sword. His spear was like a fence rail — the spear tip alone weighed over fifteen pounds. His shield bearer walked ahead of him.

Goliath stood there and called out to the Israelite troops, “Why bother using your whole army? Am I not Philistine enough for you? And you’re all committed to Saul, aren’t you? So pick your best fighter and pit him against me. If he gets the upper hand and kills me, the Philistines will all become your slaves. But if I get the upper hand and kill him, you’ll all become our slaves and serve us. I challenge the troops of Israel this day. Give me a man. Let us fight it out together!”

When Saul and his troops heard the Philistine’s challenge, they were terrified and lost all hope.

No confidence. Terrified at the giant before them and ready to give up. David shows up at this point, just in time to hear Goliath’s challenge, and volunteers to fight. They tried to put armor on him, but it was too heavy and David could hardly walk. So he took all the armor off. I don’t know if he was naked, but he didn’t have any armor on him. Instead, he picks up 5 smooth stones.

When he walks toward Goliath, Goliath taunts him again. “Come on,” he said. “I’ll make roadkill of you for the buzzards. I’ll turn you into a tasty morsel for the field mice.”

David didn’t shrink back. David answered,

“You come at me with sword and spear and battle-ax. I come at you in the name of God-of-the-Angel-Armies, the God of Israel’s troops, whom you curse and mock. This very day God is handing you over to me. I’m about to kill you, cut off your head, and serve up your body and the bodies of your Philistine buddies to the crows and coyotes. The whole earth will know that there’s an extraordinary God in Israel. And everyone gathered here will learn that God doesn’t save by means of sword or spear. The battle belongs to God—he’s handing you to us on a platter!”

God blessed David for the confidence David had in God. We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. For Christ, I think I can, I think I can, I know I can.

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Burning Babies

Posted on October 25, 2006. Filed under: Faith, Politics | Tags: , , , , |

I can hardly imagine the cognitive disassociation necessary. Here’s a controversy from London; women are upset that, after an abortion, the hospital burns the aborted fetuses in the hospital incinerator.

One local woman, who asked not to be named, said after the heartache of deciding to have an abortion she was mortified to find the hospital had used the same furnace they burn rubbish in to incinerate her terminated baby.

She said: “I am furious and very hurt. Imagine my horror when I discovered that my baby was incinerated in the same furnace as the hospital rubbish.”

Can somebody explain to me why the woman is upset? To my mind, the fetus is one of two things -

- If the fetus is a baby, the abortion kills the baby. If one believes that (or even if one is not 100% sure), then if you don’t want the baby to be burned, don’t abort the baby.

- If the fetus is *not* a baby, why does it matter what happens to it? It would like discarding any other refuse.

What am I missing?

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The Meaning of Life

Posted on August 13, 2006. Filed under: Bible Study | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

We started a new bible class today, and I am blessed to teach adults this year every 2-3 weeks. Not that I wasn’t blessed teaching 3rd graders last year, but teaching married adults will be infinitely more challenging. I look forward to what God teaches me this year.

Anyway, I’m going to try to share my notes each time, so here’s this week’s lesson:
(more…)

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