Monday, May 25, 2015

MEMORIAL DAY - 2015

(This is the message I will give today at the Memorial Day observance here in our town. I speak those thoughts that the veterans that I know would wish to say)

MEMORIAL DAY - 2015

We cannot say “thank you” enough.

We come together on Memorial Day to say thank you to all the men and women of our armed forces who have given of their lives to protect and sustain that which we all believe to be important. They have given of themselves to gain and to preserve our freedoms.

For this we say, “thank you.”

Some of these have not only given of their lives, but they have given their very lives. In the struggles to win and preserve our freedoms, they were called upon to die in the conflict. I am not sure if it is correct to say that we owe to these a greater thanks than the rest, because all who put on a uniform of the United States must be willing to die, should that come to them. But certainly to those who actually were killed in conflict, and to their families, our thanks comes from the deepest parts of our beings. Our thanks comes from our very hearts.

Today we find ourselves again in conflict in the world. It is a conflict not of our choosing, in fact, it seems to me that we have been going out of our way to avoid being in conflict. However, an ever growing number of people in the world see the United States as the great enemy. They are set on harming us and even destroying us.

When you think about it, this change of image of the United States in the world is quite remarkable. The Statue of Liberty, given to the United States by the people of France in the year 1886, includes an inscription on its base that reflects the attitude that most of the world nations of that era of history had of America. The inscription, written by Emma Lazarus, reads:

     “Give me your tired, your poor,
     Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
     The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
     Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
     I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Today, instead of viewed as a sanctuary in a troubled world, our country has become hated by many people in those same nations. They hate us enough that they seek to destroy us.

The present conflict that we are in is different than any previous war or conflict that the United States has ever been involved with, for this conflict is actually of a religious nature. I know that many in our government are trying to avoid calling it that, and certainly, I think that we can say that for our part, it is not.

However, those who are hate us in the most vitriolic way are calling themselves the Islamic State, and they have demonstrated their hatred for Christian people in their own lands. Their ultimate goal is to impose their Shari law upon all conquered lands.

We may not see ourselves as fighting for religious reasons, but we had better realize that those who are fighting us are. This is an attack not only on our way of life, but upon our very faith.

But if the basis for this conflict is religious in nature, I would say that we are in great danger, for we in America have forgotten our spiritual roots. Our nation was founded on principles of dedication to the God of the Bible and to his teachings, but through the decades, those principles have eroded away from our society.

We have forgotten our spiritual lives and have given ourselves over to secularism. We have forgotten that there is a right and a wrong, and now see everything as fifty shades of gray. We have forgotten our love for God, and now seem to base every decision on our love for our self. We often seek only what makes us happy.

It is important to have a strong military in today’s world, but even more important than that is to have a strong faith in God.

Today we honor those who have given of their lives to protect America. Having a day to honor these soldiers is nice. Saying “thank you” is nice. But the America that they swore to protect is quickly disappearing.

All the days set aside in their honor, all of the parades and the flag waving, all of the thank yous, mean nothing if we do not uphold the America that these men and women have often fought and bled for, and have even died to preserve.

These men and women did not give of their lives to protect an America where government officials do not wear a flag lapel pin, and in other ways refuse to honor our flag, the symbol of our country, because they do not want to “offend” anyone or to show favoritism. Nor did our veterans give of their lives for a county where, when saying the pledge of allegiance, we leave out the phrase, “under God,” so we do not offend anyone.

No, these men and women fought for a nation that, with great reverence, honored the symbol of our nation. We did this not out of self-pride, but because we as a nation honored God. “One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”

Our intention in America was never to impose our own form of Sharia law, but to give men and women the freedom to choose their own path.

And today, we in turn, honor those men and women who gave of their lives for this cause. We say “thank you,” but the greatest honor that we can give is to remember how God has blessed our nation, and in turn we honor our Lord and Savior.

Of course, this begins with each one of us. Honoring God does not come about by an act of congress. Honoring God as a nation comes about by each one of us honoring him individually in our own lives. It begins with you. It begins with me.

When we speak of those who gave their lives so that we can be free, we must also speak of Jesus Christ, who gave his own life not only so that we can be free in our political rights, but so that we can be free in our very lives. The Bible says, “If Jesus makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

The Bible also says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found.”

We today still have the freedom to seek the Lord without fear, but many of us think that it is unimportant. We think that to seek God interferes too much with our fishing and our play.

But if we do not heed this advice from the Bible to seek the Lord while he may be found, it is not inconceivable that that freedom will disappear. It is not at all inconceivable that there will come a day when we will want to seek for God in our land, but he will not be found.

Today we say thank you to the men and women of our military. Let us say thank you not only in word, but also in our lives. Let us return to the values of honoring our God upon which our nation was founded and which our veterans have struggled to protect.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

INFATUATED WITH GOD - CONCLUSION

(This post is a continuation of the two below. Before reading this post, please scroll down to read parts 1 and 2)
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Loving God

The same is true in our love for God. Just as many people enter into a marriage with unrealistic expectations, many people come to God with unrealistic expectations. They expect God to fulfill their every whim.

Like the man who says he best worships God while out in nature, as long as his emotional needs are met, he sees himself as worshiping God. Every day is a clear blue day on the lake and every time I cast out my line I catch a fish. But this is not loving God. This is not worship. We are focused not on God but we are rather focused on the feeling within ourselves. It is what we are getting out of the relationship that is important to us.

Just as our relationship with our own spouses, if our relationship with God only succeeds or fails on the basis of whether or not we receive our own emotional rewards, then that relationship has not yet become a true love. It is only an infatuation. It is infatuation with God.

If our purpose for serving God is only for whatever benefit that we might receive from the relationship, then I am afraid that this is not love of God. It is more like love of self.

True love of God, true worship, means that we are focused on God. This is despite our own feelings and despite whether or not we think that we are receiving anything out of the relationship. 

Demonstrating Our Love for God

This might all seem clear, but how then are we to put this into practice? It is easier to see this when we are talking about demonstrating our love to our wife or to our husband. We can do things to please them, to make them happy. But how does one make God happy? How do we serve God in such a way that demonstrates that we are doing it only for him and expecting nothing for ourselves?

God has demonstrated his love to us. We have that familiar verse in Romans that says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8 ESV). In fact, John also mentions this in this same passage when he says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9 ESV).

But how are we to show our love for God? How is our love for God made manifest? Christ showed his love for us by dying for us. Does that mean that the way to show our love for God is best shown by dying for him? As strange as it may seem to us, that is what many people involved with what they call “holy wars” believe.

But what about on the practical level? We know how we can demonstrate love to our spouses and even to other people. We see a need and we meet it. But with God, it is different. We cannot see God or approach him to do anything for him. Besides that, he has no needs.

John makes this very point. “No one has ever seen God;” he says. But then he adds this point – “If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12 ESV)

This is the way! It is in the way that we treat each other that demonstrates our love for God. “Beloved,” John says, “if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11 ESV).

We love God by loving one another. We serve God by serving each other. This is the way of the Christian.

If I asked you if you love God, probably you would say that you do, and I have no reason to doubt that you do love God. I say that I love God. But how are we doing in our demonstration of our love? Are we loving God just by what we hope to receive from the relationship, or does our love for God motivate us to do something for only for him?

“Beloved,” John says, “if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

We love God by loving one another. We serve God by serving each other. This is the way of the Christian.

Monday, May 18, 2015

INFATUATED WITH GOD - PART 2

(This post is a continuation of part 1, which is below. Before reading this post, please scroll down to read it.
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Falling into Love

In these days we are inundated by people who claim to be “experts” on the subject of love, but no one teaches us more about the concept of love than does the Apostle John. He teaches us mostly about our love for God, but we can see that this has wider applications as well. Here is what he wrote in one of his letters: 

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8 ESV) 

What John is telling us in this letter that he wrote long ago is that all true love actually emanates from God, for love is the very essence of God. “God is love,” John tells us.

We often hear that love is something that one falls into, but John says that it is instead something that we receive. If we are to love, then that love must come from God, for “Love is from God,” as John says.

When many people think of being in love, they see themselves as being driven by this love to act – to do something about it. Probably most of us can relate to this driving force of love in one way or another. We say that we have fallen into love, which prompted us to do something about it – ask that girl out for a date.

I will not say that this is not love, but I think that it is important to see that this is only the emotional part of love and only the beginning stages. It is the part of love that is prompted by our emotions. That is why we call this “falling into” love. No one intentionally trips and falls when they are walking. It is something that happens to them. Likewise, in the beginning stages of love, the infatuation part, this attraction just happens. We did not necessarily intend to be physically attracted to the other person. It just happens to us. And we cannot actually control it.

Putting Love into Practice

However, as we have seen in the words of John, true love, a mature love, is not something that we fall into, rather it is something that we receive from God. This is the part of love that goes beyond mere emotion. It still includes emotion, certainly, because a mature love will involve every part of our personality. But it also goes beyond that.

In the verse above, John told us to “love one another.” It is a command. It is something that we must choose to do. When we are infatuated by someone, we are driven less by choice. Instead, it is our emotions that are driving us to take action.

But John sees that there is also a need to instruct us to “love one another.” This is a level of action that does not come naturally to us. Even having received love from God, it is up to us to put it into use. It does not come automatically but it is something that we must initiate and sustain. We must do it purposefully.

All those who have remained married for many years know that the commitment to remain in that relationship must go beyond mere emotion. If emotion would be all that sustained a marriage, it certainly would not last many weeks.

When many people marry, they are merely seeking emotional and physical fulfillment and nothing more. These marriages do not last unless the couple involved learn to move beyond that initial stage and learn to truly commit themselves to one another in a loving relationship.

This is not news to you. Any of you who have been married for an extended time already know this.

But this is also true in loving other people. Sometimes we do something for someone else because we are driven by emotion to do so. Perhaps they have suffered a tragedy in their lives and need help. We are so driven by pity that we respond in some way.

This is good. It is good to act in such a way. But what happens if the people are not thankful or if they misuse what we have given them? We often then turn around and feel just the opposite toward them. Many times this change of opinion comes about because our own emotional needs were not met in the situation. We expected them to overflow gratefulness to us and a warm fuzzy feeling to be returned to us, and that did not happen.

I am not saying that we cannot learn some wisdom when our good deeds are misused by others, but what I am saying is that when we do something motivated by love, it is not done for reasons of what we will receive in return. It is done for the good of the other person. We are focused not on ourselves but on the other person.
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In a few days I will conclude this post by explaining how to know if we have a true love for God

Friday, May 15, 2015

INFATUATED WITH GOD


A teenage girl, who has just started dating, asks her mother, or a son his father, “How do you know if you love someone?”

The mom or the dad, with all the wisdom in the world, gives some sort of answer that sometimes is really just quite silly. They might say, “Well, if you have a dizzy feeling when you are around someone, or if you feel a kind of sickness in your stomach, it means that you are falling in love.”

Perhaps their answer may not be quite as nonsensical as that, but the point is, very few people have a clear idea of what love is. Despite all of the studies about love and despite many people making millions of dollars teaching us about finding true love, the subject of love remains for many a very mysterious concept.

Why is it that we have come to have such a misunderstanding of love, and why is that we have mostly come to equate it with a feeling that is felt between two individuals?

Most of us may understand that the first crush that we had on someone was not really true love, but at the time, it may have seemed like it was. And quite frankly, the first feelings of attraction that we have for someone may indeed grow and become a lifelong commitment. But even taking this into consideration, we usually make a distinction between what it means to be infatuated with someone, rather than truly being in love.

Our Love for God

The same is true when we begin to talk about loving God. Often, we associate loving God with certain feelings we must have, or with some kind of emotional experience. We see this in some worship services in churches, where the leaders try to work up the emotional level of the congregation in order to have them experience what they call “worship,” and the congregants themselves are looking mostly for some type of emotional experience for themselves.

Another example where too much emphasis placed on feelings becomes especially evident this time of year, when we again take to the out-of-doors in great number. Up here in Wisconsin, fishing season opened a couple weekends ago, and anglers are again enjoying being out on the lakes. It is again the time of the year when many people go camping or travel to state or national parks to enjoy the out-of-doors.

Every year we hear people say, “When I am out in nature, I can worship God more than I can in any other place.”

I understand what they mean, for I am also someone who loves the out-of-doors. But by saying this, these people demonstrate that they do not have a complete understanding of what it means to worship God. To them, worshiping God is connected only to a certain feeling that they have when they are on a lake or in the woods.

Of course, this indeed may be true worship of God, but just like having that first crush on someone, it is only based on a mere physical and emotional connection. These people are merely in the beginning stages of knowing who God is, and they think they have reached the heights of knowledge. They are like a thirteen year old girl who has just had her first crush on a boy and who says, “Now I know what it means to love someone!”

This girl does not really know love yet. True, it might be that she is in the very beginning stages of learning about true love, but what she is experiencing is not yet love. We often call this “puppy love,” or infatuation.

In much the same way, people who say that they can know the love of God simply by being outside in nature may be in the beginning stages of knowing who God is. But they do not really know God yet. They are simply infatuated by God. They have been enthralled by what they see of God’s creation, but not necessarily by God himself.
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In a few days I will continue this post by talking about how we can truly fall in love with God