Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sermon Video: Hezekiah's Revival, Part 1 (of 4) - 2 Chronicles 29

When Hezekiah became king of Judah, he inherited a kingdom in grave crisis.  His father Ahaz had suffered multiple military defeats and left Hezekiah with enemies on all sides, including the aggressive Assyrian Empire to the north which had recently destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel.  How was Hezekiah to respond, where should he even begin?  Hezekiah chose, in the first month of his reign, to focus his energies and attention upon the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem.  Enemies without were not his first concern, for Hezekiah knew that the spiritual corruption and root within Judah would surely destroy his kingdom by bringing down upon them the wrath of God's justice.
With the temple defiled and in disrepair, Hezekiah brought together the priests and Levites, putting them to work on the task of getting the temple ready once more for worship of the LORD.  16 days later, the temple was ready.  The very next day, Hezekiah brought with him the leaders of Jerusalem for a ceremony of re-dedication that contained a significant focus: atonement.  Until the sins of the nation had been atoned for, the wrath of God still hung over the kingdom, Hezekiah knew how serious this situation was, he not only fulfilled what the Law of Moses required to atone for sin, but went beyond it as well.  The resulting ceremony not only featured sacrifices for sin, but vocal and instrumental worship as well, followed by an opportunity for the people to demonstrate their thankfullness to God.
Hezekiah knew his nation desperately needed revival, he began in the only place that will work, with repentance and re-dedication to the worship of the LORD.  If we, as a Church, or as a nation, truly desire revival in our day, we will heed Hezekiah's example and begin with purifying our own hearts and committing ourselves to truly being disciples of Jesus Christ.

To watch the video, click on the link below:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A lesson learned from the victories and defeats of running

I'm sure I lost some potential readers already when they saw the title and realized this is about running, perhaps I gained a few to even them out who wouldn't have read this otherwise.  For those who don't know me personally, I was a competitive runner in high school, making it to the state finals my senior year with a best time of 16:54 (5k), and a somewhat competitive runner in college at Cornerstone University, where I was never quit able to make my goal of 28:30 (8k) in order to be an Academic All-American.  Having worn my knees down to a nub, running became an occasional thing for me after college until we moved here to Franklin, PA.  For fifteen years after college I had played basketball each week with the same group of guys, my primary exercise during that period.  When we moved here, I looked for a competitive and enjoyable basketball game to join, to no avail.  So I took up bike riding, knowing that it would be easier on my knees and knowing that we have excellent trails here along the river.  Unfortunately, my back was not a fan of this plan, it made a hard workout on a bike enough of a pain that it was no longer enjoyable.  Which brought back running.  About four years ago I received custom orthodics (would have saved me a ton of pain in HS and college) which alleviated much of my knee pain which I had for years endured as "normal".  Why not take up serious running again?
That first year I lost 20 pounds, almost down to my old college weight, the goal I'm inching closer to.  I also ran in the Applefest 5k, proving to myself that my old sub-20 times were going to be well out of reach without some serious hard work.  The second year of running saw my 5k time fall to 20:11, good enough for 1st place in my age division, which was (gulp) now 40-45.  I also tried something I had never attempted before, a 50k (that's 31 miles).  And not just any 50k, the OC100 held at Oil Creek State Park along the Gerrard Hiking Trail.  This "trail" is a rock and root strewn obstacle course with about a dozen significant hills along its huge loop amount to many, many feet of elevation gain during the race.  I had trained for the race, to an extent, and went out at a blistering 9:30 pace for the first 12 miles, good enough for 9th at that point (remember the hills, road race comparison times are not valid here).  And then the dehydration hit me, hard, I finished the race barely able to walk at 6 hours, 40 minutes, a brutally slow pace to finish the race, with about two dozen people passing me.  It was frustrating, a hard lesson learned about hydration.
Which brings me to the lesson I learned these past couple of weeks.  Beginning this past January I decided to run more than ever before, using my new Garmin watch to gauge my progress.  I ran while the snow was still on the ground, excited about trying the 50k again this year.  And then I didn't get in.  The available spots fill up very rapidly, dozens of people missing out on a spot.  So I decided to try to find my speed again and focus on my 5k goal this year.  I trained harder, and more consistently than even in my college days, confident that my sub 20 goal would be easily reached.  June brought a calf injury, slowing my progress.
When the Applefest 5k rolled around I had a plan, at the turn (1/2 point) I was at 10:05, only five seconds off my pace, well within striking distance.  But it didn't happen, my legs just didn't have more speed in them that day; I finished 2nd in my age group this time, a disappointing 21:07; slower, than last year, despite at least three times as much training and hard work.  I tried again at another race this the next weekend, only to turn in a 21:11.  It was frustrating to say the least.
I had set a goal, one that felt realistic, worked extremely diligently toward it, only to come up short.
What then is the lesson?  It could easily be that a 41 year old is not as fast as he was when he was 18, but we all new that already.  What I learned from running came during two of my training runs out at Oil Creek on those rugged trails.  I had missed out on the 50k this year, a real bummer, but still ran out there some because of the beauty of running through those rugged wooded hills.
The course I was running is an out and back from the bottom of the hill (a serious hill) at Petroleum Center to the campsite at Cow Run and back.  My previous best on that course, last year, had been about 1:39.  Last month I decided to see how fast I could do it, and went much harder than before, finishing at 1:29:40 (an 8:54 pace).  I was certainly happy with this significant improvement, but following my dual disappointments at the 5k distance, I gave it another shot two days ago, this time 1:26:03 (and 8:24 pace).  It was an amazing feeling, watching my old personal record fall by 10 minutes, and then taking another nearly 4 minutes off of that.  Next year, maybe I'll be able to get it down to 1:20.
What did I learn, something akin to that quote about the best laid plans of mice and men.  I wanted to prove to myself that I could be "fast" again, at least for 40+, no such luck.  But that didn't mean I couldn't achieve a goal, I just needed to search for another one, one without the crowds or awards of an official 5k, just me, the woods, and my Garmin.  Don't give up, even if your goal remains inches out of your reach; search for another.  Find something else you can achieve, keep trying.  God has given me some ability as a runner, I intend to continue to find ways to put it to productive use.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sermon Video: The disastrous reign of Ahaz - 2 Chronicles 28

It takes a lot of incompetence or wickedness to be considered among the worst leaders in a nation's history.  History is full of candidates for the title of "worst leader ever", sadly there have been many vying for it.  The history of Israel is no different, both the combined kingdom and the split kingdoms of Israel and Judah had leaders who were disasters for their people.  Among this litany of woe is Ahaz in Judah, a king who only reigned for 16 years, but who nearly destroyed the kingdom even so.  Ahaz's father Jotham had been a great king, even if he is little known to us, serving the LORD faithfully his whole life.  Ahaz was the complete opposite of his father, he not only became an apostate himself, walking away from the LORD, but did seemingly everything in his power to lead the entire nation away from the worship of the LORD, going so far as to remove the sacrificial impliments from the temple and shut its doors.
In addition to his violations of the first and second commandment through apostasy and idolatry, Ahaz also practiced an abomination in his worship of the Canaanite god Molech: human sacrifice.  In this case it was even worse than what you're thinking, for the sacrifice was that of Ahaz's own infant son.  The moral bankruptcy of Ahaz and the people of Judah who followed after him, brought the wrath of God down upon them, leading to multiple losses in battle that severely crippled the standing of the nation.  Ahaz, however, did not repent, he only kept digging deeper, piling sin upon sin.

To watch the video, click on the link below:

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The "lesser of two evils", an anti-Biblical viewpoint

Much has been said of late about the desire to choose between the "lesser of two evils".  These two choices being discussed by many self-declared Christians are both acknowledged to be "evil" to one degree or another.  Which raises the question: Is it Biblical to choose between the lesser of two evils?  Why do I ask if it is Biblical?  Because this is the only standard by which we, as Christians, have been commanded to order our worldview.  Thus if something is anti-Biblical, it is by necessity anti-Christian.  A person may disagree with an assessment that both choices that are being considered are indeed "evil", but once that assessment has been made without self-interested excuses in the way, it is incumbent upon the Christian to refuse to choose either.  The lesser of two evils is still evil.  Nowhere in the Scriptures are we commanded, encouraged, or even permitted to choose evil.  God's Word to us is rather this, "Be holy, for I am holy."
The philosophy behind the "lesser of two evils" mentality is Pragmatism, otherwise known as Utilitarianism.  While this may be an exceedingly popular way of governing in the world today and throughout human history, the common usage of pragmatism in moral decision making in no way makes it Christian.
Let me offer some examples from recent American history, beginning with WWII, to illustrate decisions that were made with a "lesser of two evils" viewpoint.  Again, a person may disagree with one of these examples, thinking that in these difficult situations that it can be excused and not called an "evil", but the consequences of these actions weigh against that conclusion. (1) The appeasement of Hitler prior to WWII, putting off the confrontation until Germany was far stronger and making the Holocaust a possibility. (2) The alliance with Soviet Russia, and evil regime if ever there was one, during WWII, which led to 70 years of Communist domination of Eastern Europe. (3) The fire bombing of German and Japanese cities during WWII, which caused hundreds of thousands of non-combatant deaths and failed to shorten the war at great cost in material and lives on the Allied side. (4) The use of the atomic bomb on two cities to end WWII. (5) The failure to prosecute fully Nazi war crimes because those same Nazis were useful for the West in the Cold War. (6) Alliances made with brutal dictators all over Africa, Latin America, and Asia during the Cold War because they were anti-communist.  (7) Support of the Shah of Iran, leading to the revolution which set the groundwork for the anit-Western obsession of Islamic fundamentalism and the terrorism plaguing the world today. (8) Involvement in Vietnam to stop the "domino effect" of communist expansion. (9) Leaving Saddam Hussein in power in 1991, and then coming back twenty years later to remove him. (10) The U.S. government allowing and/or encouraging torture following 9/11.
The list could be longer, I could keep listing pragmatic decisions by world leaders throughout history, many of which led to more evil, not less.  These leaders may have thought that they had no choice, or that the choices before them were only evil, but such thinking will not stand up before a holy and just God's scrutiny.
For Christians, it is tempting to excuse immoral behavior by saying that the only choices available are bad ones, therefore we must choose one of them.  For all those who choose to embrace an evil choice, remember this, you will answer for all of your decisions in life, and the attitudes that led you to make those choices, while standing before Almighty God.  Far too often, Christians have embraced pragmatic morality in their pursuit of wealth, fame, and power, this has to stop.  It is time for the Church, for Christian organizations, and for individual Christians to disavow pragmatic morality.  We have been called to live holy and righteous lives, we will be judged for how we live, for we are Christ's ambassadors here on earth, our Savior never chose the "lesser of two evils".

Romans 3:8  Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!
- The context is about sinning so that God's holiness can be more clearly seen, yet Paul's emphatic reply should be warning enough against attempting to justify an evil choice on the hope that good will come of it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Sermon Video: The Steadfastness of Jotham - 2 Chronicles 27

In an era when fame, for any reason, at any price, is valued highly by so many, it is certainly worth our time to consider those mentioned in the Bible who aren't household names, never having achieved either fame or infamy.  Jotham, as a king of Judah, fits into that category.  Because Jotham died at only 41, his 16 years on the throne were not memorable enough to make us remember him as we have other kings of Israel and Judah, whether that be for their righteousness or their wickedness.
Jotham, unlike his father who died of leprosy as God's judgment, lived a life of steadfast devotion to God, consistently doing his best with what he had to work with during the time that was allotted to him.  It wasn't flashy, but it was a life pleasing to God, and just as importantly, devoid of the regrets that had plagued his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.
Jotham also showed wisdom in that he retained that which he learned from his father's capable administration of the kingdom, and at the same time entirely rejected the mistake that his father made in pride of presuming to usurp priestly duties.  For anyone to emulate what was good about our upbringing, and reject that which was bad, and then go on to live a life of walking before the LORD steadfastly, surely this is a worthy life.  You may not remember Jotham, but any of us should be glad to have a life lived as honorably.

To watch the video, click on the link below: