When Trials Pile On, Keep Trusting God (a sermon on Psalm 3)

FCF: Believers can trust God for protection and peace from the attacks of unbelievers.

This last week has been a time when God’s people have come under attack repeatedly. I saw a political cartoon this week that had the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah asking God when He would strike New York. This is a question I myself ask. This last week, New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law legalizing abortion at any time prior to birth. This bill had passed their house several times but always been stopped in the state senate. This year, the new state senate had democrats in the majority party and they pushed it through. Cuomo signed it.

And they celebrated. It made me sick to read about this whole thing. Think about the evil that must be within a person to celebrate the “right” to kill an unborn child one minute before it would have been born otherwise. And under this law, nondoctors can perform abortions. I guess that old canard about being worried about the life of the mother pales in comparison to being able to kill your child.

Also in the last week, a group of Catholic young men from Kentucky were lynched in the media for the crime of wearing MAGA hats at the March For Life. They were harassed and provoked for 45 minutes, but the boys simply stood and some did school chants. One smiled at the man beating a drum in his face and trying to provoke him but the boy did nothing.

Even as the truth has come out, and it did within an hour of the events, many of the media were still reporting a heavily clipped video and saying it was all the boys’ fault. The school closed for several days due to threats caused by the slanderous reports. Celebrities have called for the boys to be punched. Luckily, lawyers have been already contacted the boys’ families and offered to handle the cases for free.

This should not surprise us. Satan has always been attacking believers. If you give him the slightest inch, he will take a mile. In David’s life, we see him constantly under attack from Satan. David lived a far from perfect life, but he always kept his life grounded with faith. David’s mistakes were bigger than most of us ever will have, but that’s because David was in a place of authority and had the opportunity to make big mistakes. We’ll make smaller mistakes that can mess up our lives just as much, but there won’t be people 3,000 years later reading about it.

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Posted in Assemblies of God, nonfiction, Old Testament, sermon, The Last Crusade | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

2018 in Review

2018 was an amazing year from the view of productivity. In May, I was ordained by the Iowa District of the Assemblies of God. That was the end of one journey and the beginning of another. My ministry will only be enhanced by that step.

Frank Luke Ordination

In the world of writing, Superversive Press released the revised and expanded SEVEN DEADLY TALES on Easter Sunday, 2018.

My publisher has asked me how the companion stories to the DEADLY TALES is coming along. I intend to have the seven stories on the cardinal virtues and heavenly graces done by the end of the first quarter of 2019. After that, it will go to my editor for consideration of publication. Between the editing and publishing, it can take some time.

Lou's Bar & Grill Cover

Lou’s Bar & Grill

The companion set is called JOSHUA’S PAWN SHOP. It’s a place where people go when they need it (but don’t know they need it). While there, they get the chance to change their lives. The pawn shop business cards read “Buy, Sell, Trade, Change Your Life!” I’m excited about it.

A grid will show the status of the individual works within JOSHUA’S PAWN SHOP.

 

Title ~Words Percent Drafted Beta Readers Revised
The Buick Eight: Wisdom 5,400 100% No* No
House of Cards: Justice 10,000 100% No* No
Balancing Act: Moderation 6,200 100% No* No
Fun & Games: Courage 15,900 100% No* No
Blood Ties: Faith 6,400 100% No* No
To He Who Overcomes: Hope 15,250 80% No No
Love’s Labor Won: Love 10,800 100% Yes Yes

*This piece has been through a beta reader and revised. However, I have learned much of the craft of writing since then and have revised it more. It will be going back through the readers again.

All told, my word count for 2018 was 110,300 words. 51,000 of those were in an original series I’m excited about but can’t talk about until it comes much closer to publication. Those who have read pieces of it have liked it. I think you will, too.

Posted in Christian, Fiction, Writing | Tagged | 1 Comment

Isaiah’s Invitation to Salvation

Need Being Addressed: All people need salvation, but only God provides true salvation.

Text: Isaiah 55:1-13

Scripture Introduction

When you think of Hebrew poets, you often think of King David. Surely, the Sweet Singer of Israel is an amazing poet, but he is far from the only one. After David though, it may surprise you to know that Isaiah is the second greatest poet.

Isaiah has often been called the John Milton of Israel. Milton is known for Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Isaiah’s book falls neatly into two divisions. Chapters 1-39 focus on judgment while 40-66 focus on mercy.

In Isaiah 55, he has written one beautiful poem calling for a response from the hardhearted people of Israel. As we read together, watch his emotions flow from pen to paper, and imagine yourself in the audience that hears this poem as the author recites it for the first time in public. Isaiah 55:1-13 reads:

Isaiah 55:1-13 “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost. 2 “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. 3 “Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, According to the faithful mercies shown to David. 4 “Behold, I have made him a witness to the peoples, A leader and commander for the peoples. 5 “Behold, you will call a nation you do not know, And a nation which knows you not will run to you, Because of the LORD your God, even the Holy One of Israel; For He has glorified you.” 6 Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. 8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. 10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth, And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. 12 “For you will go out with joy, And be led forth with peace; The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, And all the trees of the field will clap their hands. 13 “Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up; And instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up; And it will be a memorial to the LORD, For an everlasting sign which will not be cut off.”

Sermon Introduction

Civilizations come and go. They differ over time and from one to another. But people are the same forever.

Isaiah speaks to a people whose world is on the edge of a political struggle of titan proportions; the surrounding nations are having upheaval and revolt. However, the king of Judea has given his nation peace and prosperity throughout his reign. The men and women of Judah are comfortable, but Isaiah tells them they need to change their ways before God.

In this passage God uses Isaiah to call the Israelites into a renewed relationship with Him. In their day, it was called deliverance; we would say they needed salvation. Both mean the same thing. If you care to study the Old Testament concept of salvation/deliverance, you will find such the study a marvelous spiritual blessing. Deliverance for the Hebrews was part of who they were. They were first delivered as a whole from Egypt. Every year at Passover, they still celebrate the anniversary of their national deliverance.

However, the people had forgotten their roots. Judah was a land without justice. The wicked weren’t in jail, but were in the government and on the city counsels. The poor were left to fend for themselves at best. At worst, the rich took their small parcels of land from them. A nation once built on justice and serving God found itself morally bankrupt. Oh, the upper class was wealthier than ever… in their pocketbooks. Spiritually, the upper class was as poor as the lower class was money wise.

Isaiah preached to an audience that needed deep change. Many of them had all the money and food they needed, but they were spiritually hungry. Those who had only enough to get by day-by-day yearned to be filled both physically and spiritually. Their nation needed justice, but first their nation needed the citizens to change. Isaiah knew the only way the citizens could change was through God. God used Isaiah to call the Israelites into a relationship of salvation.

God’s call is still the same. Though we live on another continent and in another time, we need a change just like the Hebrews. Our nation has a chasm between upper and lower class like Jerusalem had then. Today, many government officials are corrupt. As the rich get richer and the poor stay poor, justice goes by the wayside. But let us rest assured that God never changes. Just like He did in the 8th century B.C., God still invites all the wicked and the weary to salvation.

You may be asking “how.” You may be asking “when.” Even “where.” But a better question would by “why.” Why does God invite wicked people to salvation? This poem suggests two reasons that God invites us all to salvation.

Point I: Salvation Gives Satisfaction (Isaiah 55:1-6)

The first reason God invites us to salvation is so that we can receive satisfaction. Look at verses one through six. Notice verse 2. Isaiah asks the audience why they spend money for what is not bread and labor for what never satisfies. The people are wasting their time and they know it, but they have no better solution. People will never have a better solution than God does. While they waste energy running after the wind, God says that He has the solution. In a few verses we will see that solution. I want you to pay attention to two characteristics of God’s solution.

  1. God Calls Everyone (vv. 1-2). Verse one states God’s invitation goes out to everyone. “Ho, every one that thirsts, come to the waters, and he who has no money — come, buy and eat. Yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Few places in Scripture have as clear a universal calling as the opening of this poem. From the start, Isaiah declares that God’s blessings are available to everyone who will receive them.

The thirst spoken of here is not a physical thirst but spiritual. God cares about the physical needs of His creation, but the spiritual needs outweigh the physical. A poor person may literally thirst for water while thirsting after God. On the other hand, even those with all the bottled water money can buy may have a tremendous thirst inside their very soul. Both can take of the same invitation and find their spiritual thirst satisfied.

You may remember the time Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman in John 4. In verse 13 he says, “whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.” Perhaps Jesus was thinking about Isaiah’s message when He spoke to the woman. Perhaps when He inpsired Isaiah to write the poem, He was thinking about the woman at the well. Isaiah and Jesus both offered water that satisfies forever and that same water is still available today. Take of the water while it is offered and thirst no more.

The verse also stresses the free nature of the wonderful gift, but while the receiver pays no monetary price, in Isaiah 52 and 53 says that the gift has a high price for the Giver. God offers this gift at the expense of His only and beloved Son. How deeply God must care for us to offer satisfaction at such high cost to Himself. A hymn puts it best: “Amazing love, how can it be that thou, my God, would die for me.”

God offers satisfaction. Does He tell how to find satisfaction? Indeed yes. In verse 3, we will see how to find satisfaction.

  1. The People Must Respond (vv. 2b-5). In verses 2b through 5, we see that the invitation may be for everyone, but the people must respond. Humans are not mere robots, God expects us to exercise our free will. We must make choices and bear the responsibilities of those choices. God made you a rational creature and wants you to choose Him. In two verses God gives three commands to the people and their satisfaction hinges on their response. If they listen carefully, they will eat God’s bread, and their soul shall delight itself in the good food of God’s table. If they bow their ear, they will come to God. If they hear God’s invitation, their souls shall live and God will make an everlasting covenant with them.

What is this everlasting covenant that Isaiah calls the “sure mercies of David”? In a poem on salvation, you can be sure that Isaiah would mention the coming Messiah. The Messiah comes as a witness, a Prince and a Commander to the people. He has already described Him as the Suffering Servant. Even with all the evil that had been perpetrated in Isaiah’s land, God was still working to provide for their salvation.

Isaiah then speaks to the coming Messiah for just a moment. “You shall call a nation that you do not know; a nation that did not know you shall run to you,” he says. As in the very first verse, Isaiah promises the satisfaction to everyone who wants it. Centuries later, non Jews will answer this very call to salvation and find their spiritual thirst quenched by the Messiah. The gentiles did not know Him, but some responded to God when the invitation came. We sit here today, because those outside of Israel ran to the Messiah’s open arms.

Isaiah further tells us why the nations will run to Him. “Because of the Lord, Your God, and for the Holy One of Israel. For He has glorified You.” Isaiah’s favorite name for God is “the Holy One of Israel” and we see much of Isaiah’s conception of God in the term. Isaiah sees God is holy, just and yearning for a people who will be made holy and just.

See also that no man brings salvation. God glorifies the Messiah and because of God will the nations be saved. It comes through the Messiah He sent to seek and save the lost world. The Messiah brings peace and is the everlasting covenant first promised to Eve in the Garden of Eden. The Seed of the Woman who shall crush the serpent’s head. The Messiah is the culmination of the promise to Abraham that through his descendants all nations would be blessed.

God has the covenant ready and in front of any, but Jew and gentile alike must choose to take it. In the early 1830s, President Andrew Jackson offered a pardon to a condemned felon named George Wilson. George Wilson knew his guilt and refused to accept the pardon. The Supreme Court ruled that he had that right. They could not understand why he would refuse a pardon, but he had the right. God’s offer of salvation is like that. You must accept the invitation to receive the benefits.

Now we have seen the satisfaction God offers. However, God doesn’t invite us to salvation just so that we can be satisfied. Isaiah tells of us another reason for this gracious invitation.

Point II: Salvation Changes Us Drastically (Isaiah 55:7-13)

In verses seven through thirteen, God presents the other reason. Not only does God invite us to salvation so that we can be satisfied, but He invites us to salvation to change us drastically. God wants to fellowship with us. Isn’t that exciting? The Creator wants to fellowship with the creation. We aren’t worthy of that fellowship, but God offers it anyway.

You don’t have to look very far to see that humans are a mess. God doesn’t want that, but every decision you and I make has consequences. God offers another decision: repent while you can, know God is higher than we, realize that God accomplishes His purpose, and be saved. Please, notice the order. People do not change and then get saved, people repent and turn to God to be changed. Nowhere does the Bible teach a works righteousness.

  1. Humans Must Repent When God Offers (vv. 6-7). As much as we may hate the idea, God has a time limit on this offer. Verse 6 says, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.” Clearly, the mercies of God will not always be available. For this reason, our Lord commands us “go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). This is the day of salvation! Some of you listening may have never responded to God’s call. He is still there and waiting for you. Take God’s invitation while He still offers it to you if you want to be satisfied. You must be on board the train before it leaves the station if you expect to reach your destination.

However, we don’t know when the train will leave. God hasn’t told us the timetable, just the destination. No one knows when God will give the last call. For that reason, the call is urgent. That is why we must “seek the Lord while He may be found.”

This offer is freely given, but God expects some changes. “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts.” God knows you can’t change on your own, but the desire to change must be there. God will change you from the inside out. Look here in verse 7. “Let the wicked forsake his way… and let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on Him….” Forsaking evil is parallel to returning to God. You can’t do one without the other. You can’t turn from sin unless you turn to God.

On one hand, God’s offer of salvation cost Him dearly, but we may partake of it freely. On the other hand, we must forsake our wickedness. I know of some people who have refused the call of salvation because they enjoyed their sins. The price was too high for them. I would do it. That is what God offers — jewels for junk! I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t take the offer, but some don’t.

  1. God Is Higher Than Man (vv. 8-9). In the next two verses, God provides us with more insight into Himself. God is not like us. We do not make God in our on image, but God makes us in His. We are like God’s shadow in that we have the outline, but not the inner substance. God gave us free will, but we lack the things that make God unique. Just for starters, we have a beginning. God doesn’t have a beginning or an end.

God and Isaiah illustrate the differences in us in verses eight and nine. Notice how the five phrases work together to make a single point clear. “My thoughts are not your thoughts… my ways are not your ways… the heavens are higher than the earth… my ways are higher than your ways… and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah’s analogy shows that we are not like God and can never even begin to reach the highness of God’s holiness. But God desires a holy people. Thankfully, God reaches down to Earth to give us His holiness.

God has another reason to tell us he is not like we are. In the surrounding countries of Isaiah’s day, the false gods were just big people. Their stories describe the gods in great detail. The gods of the other regions had arms and legs, often walked among the people, continually took girls for their own pleasure, had feuds amongst themselves and even wars. But God isn’t like that. He wanted the people to remember that He was totally different than they were and not just a few feet taller and stronger. Because He is different and holy, God can save while no one else can. If you examine the Old Testament, you will see that God saves when no one else can.

  1. God Will Accomplish His Purpose (vv. 10-11). God gives another analogy in verses 10 and 11. This one is not about the differences in man and God, but about how God gets the job done. The rain and snow fall from the sky and water the earth. In a similar manner, God’s word goes from His mouth and does whatever God pleases it to do. And because God is holy and higher than we are, we know that His purposes are good and that He can see things that we can’t.

Imagine that you are a soldier in an army. The colonel, who is in a lookout tower, tells you to fire the howitzer in a direction where you can’t see any enemies coming. Do you obey or fire where you think you should? Obviously, you fire where the colonel tells you to. Hopefully, you don’t fire just because he outranks you, but because you know the colonel’s reputation. You know he wants to win as much as you do. Moreover, he knows something you don’t and that he can see farther because he is in the tower.

The colonel has one purpose: win the battle. God has one purpose: save humanity. All through the Bible, God makes plans and promises that salvation will go to all the world. From Genesis to Revelation, God guides people to salvation. God’s one beautiful purpose benefits us. Everything He does seeks to bring more people into fellowship with Him. Whenever God plans to accomplish something related to salvation, He will make sure it happens.

  1. You Shall Be Saved (vv. 12-13).Here we talk about the joy of salvation. First, Isaiah talked about the satisfaction of salvation. Then he spoke of how God seeks to accomplish His purpose. Here we see the results of salvation.

Even though Isaiah has never used the word “salvation” or “deliverance,” we know Isaiah is talking about salvation because of his terms. “Go out” and “be led out” referred to the greatest salvation experience of the Old Testament — the Exodus from Egypt. Just as the writers of the New Testament refer back to the cross to talk about salvation, Isaiah and the Old Testament prophets refer back to the Exodus. What better picture of God’s love and grace than a nation walking out of slavery into freedom?

But not only will the saved be joyful, but all of creation will rejoice with them. The mountains and the hills will sing, while the trees clap their hands. Thorns and briers shall not grow anymore, but helpful trees like the fir and myrtle will sprout instead. The New Testament tells us that all of creation groans while people are not saved. Further, in Genesis, we read about the entrance of sin into the world and how the effects of the curse went beyond the man and woman to all of creation. One of the effects were these thorns and thistles that didn’t grow until sin came into the world. But God wants to reverse that. God will return the world to its original pristine state. Revelation 21 and 22 describe how God will renew the world. In a few chapters, Isaiah will write of a Return to Innocence.

The final fact I want you to see about verse 13 is the last line. “And it [salvation] shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign which shall not be cut off.” Forever and ever shall the saved continue in the presence of God. God will accomplish His purpose and fellowship with the people forever. Their continuance shall be a sign of God’s everlasting love for His people. And all they have to do is take the invitation to salvation. I invite you to join that group.

Conclusion

Today we have learned about the wonders of salvation from Isaiah. He has shown us how God’s salvation satisfies when nothing else can. He has also shown us how God changes humans when we turn to Him.

I don’t know where you are specifically in your search for God. I do know that God is anxious to meet you. You may have been sitting out there and realized that you are spending money on what is not bread and laboring for what never satisfies. You buy the newest book, DVD, or CD but it doesn’t fulfill you. Oh, it may make you happy for a little while, but not forever, and not for long. This invitation is for you. If you want satisfaction, come to God; listen to His commands and be saved; let your soul delight in God’s salvation. You won’t find true satisfaction anywhere else.

Maybe you already knew that God could satisfy, but you don’t consider yourself “good enough” for Him. My friend, none of us are good enough for God. God has expectations and standards, but we cannot live up to them. Instead God asks you to seek Him while He is near and repent from your sins. He will change you because you can’t change yourself.

Posted in Assemblies of God, Bible, Old Testament, Religion, sermon | Tagged | 1 Comment

Why No Bones

My wife and I enjoy watching police procedural together. Since becoming members of Prime, we’ve watched the entire runs of MONK and PSYCH, both of which were running the only time in our marriage that we had cable. And then we cut the cable between seasons of MONK. We’d always wanted to see how that played out. Once we did, we decided the series had run just the right length for character arcs and story line. The main mystery was solved, and the main characters were in better places than they had been to start with. Even Adrian Monk had a new connection and a new lease on life.
We didn’t say the same thing about PSYCH. In our opinion, the series went three seasons too long. I know they were trying to get Maggie and Shawn together, but since they had spent several seasons not advancing their romance at all, it could have been sped up. But we liked the characters.
Then BONES came up in the “you might also like” list. We watched three episodes and went to something else (THE CLOSER). Why did we close down BONES?
1. Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan was insufferably arrogant. This could have been a fantastic character arc. Imagine: the doctor stops believing that only the physical senses can be trusted and listens to her instinct during the investigation phase. Maybe that’s what they did eventually. However, in the beginning, she made sure to let her staff and the FBI agent assigned to her know that their opinions about the psychology and emotions of the victims were not welcome. For example, in the third and final episode we watched, she insisted the crime was suicide because all the evidence in the corpse pointed to that. When the agent showed her the victim’s medal of his patron saint and said, “He’s Catholic. He wouldn’t have committed suicide,” she brushed it off. Found out in the end it was a very good framing, the victim had been staged to look like a suicide. I hope the good doctor learned her lesson in subsequent episodes, but she had already struck out in my book because of the next two issues.
2. Waif-fu. Oh, dear! Our good doctor couldn’t have weighed more than 120. I believe in all three episodes, the writers found ways for her to show she had a black belt in waif-fu. I remember distinctly how she showed it in episodes one and three. In the first, I was willing to let it go because she took the guy by surprise, elbowed him in the stomach when he came up behind her to steal her purse (with evidence in it which he claimed was wrongfully obtained). Okay, elbow to the stomach, fist to the nose, he’s too stunned to continue and it’s in public, he doesn’t want to embarrass himself further.
Episode three’s waif-fu completely broke any disbelief I ever had for the show. The man she slammed to the ground was easily 250 maybe even 300 pounds. Twice her weight at the very least. He was a trained body guard and attacking her. Elbow! Fist! Flip slam! Yeah, sure I believe that. He never had a chance.
3. All religions are equal except they aren’t. This relates to Dr. Bones’ insufferable arrogance. In the third episode, she wouldn’t even entertain the idea that since the victim was Catholic, he might actually take his religion seriously regarding grave and mortal sins. This was dismissed by her long before they knew about the fornication he was involved in. You know, because even if a boy carries a medal of his patron saint on his person, he can’t be the least bit serious about his religion. That was the final straw with religion in my book, but it certainly wasn’t the first.
In the second episode, Dr. Bones had made a short but significant speech to Agent Booth about how all religions are just man-made attempts to control the people and thinking people pay it no mind. Wow. That’s some kind of insufferable arrogance there. Surely, she can’t mean it. No, she doesn’t. See, here in this episode, the perpetrator of the crime is a Muslim pretending to be a Christian. Little is said about this deceit, but when Doctor Bones finds the man’s hidden prayer rug and religious books, Agent Booth says, “Ah, the Koran.” She replies, “No. The teachings of some Iman twisting the Koran.”
I get it, Bones. Christian religion is bad, and we must point out hundreds of years later how it can never atone for its mistakes even when those actions are known from Scripture to have been against God’s will. However, even though Islam’s holy book commands Jihad, actually obeying said command is twisting the religion’s intent. Hold up, though. Didn’t she say in this episode that the intent of religion was to control the masses? Wouldn’t spreading by the sword control the masses? Especially when it’s in the book? I see why the character has to stick with physical evidence. She can’t follow abstract thought at all!

So that’s why we went to THE CLOSER. We’re several seasons in, and I have only had a couple of issues with the show. Few enough that I can go on with it. I’ve never felt like Brenda and her staff were belittling religion (though I have questioned the hermeneutics of several religious characters in the show). I do find Brenda irritating beyond belief in some ways, but I can also see this being used as a growth arc. There was one episode where a fight between her and her fiancée should have had repercussions in the following episodes if not him packing his bags after she stabbed him in the back on a shared case.

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