Sacrificial Love

The Sermon on the Mount” can be summed up in one word: love. Jesus said we should love God, love our neighbor, love ourselves–and also love our enemies [emphasis mine]. The idea of loving our enemies wasn’t a radical new command from Jesus. It was part of the Levitical code (‘Do not take revenge on others or continue to hate them, but love your neighbors as you love yourself. I am the LORD’ —Lev. 19:18), and also a feature of Old Testament wisdom (‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them a drink. You will make them burn with shame, and the Lord will reward you’ —Prov. 25:21-22)” —quote by Jon Walker in Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s ‘The Cost of Discipleship’” p. 137-138.

“The only way to overcome our enemy is by loving him” –quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship,” p. 147. From these two quotes we can clearly see the difference between a Christian response and the response from the rest of the world regarding how to treat our enemies. The world seeks revenge or to “get even” or to hate their enemies. Christians are called to love their enemies . . . and not just love them, but as Jesus said in Matt. 5:44-45: “. . . I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

I don’t know about you, but if you’re like me, loving my enemies doesn’t come naturally–not by a long shot. And doing good to my enemies? Well, I just try to stay away from them if/when I can. This kind of radical, sacrificial love is not a part of the human psyche. As Jon Walker states in Costly Grace,” “It is a love beyond human understanding. ‘We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice,’ says the Apostle Paul. ‘But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use to him’ (Rom. 5:7-8 MSG). We are only able to love our enemies because God’s love flows through us. And this is what makes our love extraordinary, a love that shows we are living in the kingdom of heaven and trusting that even the worst of our enemies is not beyond the power of God’s power to change lives,” pp. 138-139.

The next several paragraphs are direct quotes from Jon Walker’s book as he says it much better than I can say it as I still struggle with loving my enemies on a frequent basis. Both of the books I have mentioned above (both based on The Sermon on the Mount) are worth reading for any serious disciple who sincerely wants to walk out this faith as Jesus has called us to do.

“Bonhoeffer says Christ calls us to love our enemies with the same love we would have for a precious lover [Wow, that is not a concept I had considered before]. ‘The Christian must treat his enemy as a brother, and requite his hostility with love,’ says Bonhoeffer. ‘His behaviour must be determined not by the way others treat him, but by the treatment he himself receives from Jesus; it has only one source, and that is the will of Jesus.’

“Jesus enables us to love our enemies with patience, kindness, encouragement, humility, service, trust, truth, hope, perseverance, and joy (I Cor. 13:1-13). Costly grace creates in us a love that is sincere, service-oriented and Spirit-directed. It allows us to approach those who oppose us faithful in prayer, generous in invitation, and full of blessings for them (Rom. 12:9-21).

“This kind of love ‘cuts right across [our] ideas of good and evil,’ says Bonhoeffer. It is offensive to us to think in this way, but it is a sure sign we are entering the kingdom of heaven when we begin to see our enemies with the eyes of Jesus, understanding that God’s way to defeat them is by loving them.

“Fallen men and women cannot do this, only those who carry Jesus within and who respond obediently to the commands of Jesus. Only those who obediently believe in Jesus can love with the love of God flowing through them. Otherwise, their love is a diminished love that lacks the power to overcome evil, a shadow love that mixes selfish motives–perhaps in the face of an enemy the motive of self-preservation–with unqualified, godly motives.

“Bonhoeffer says Jesus calls us to a love that makes no distinction between one enemy or the other and no distinction between a private enemy or a public one (that is, someone we personally know or someone, say, in public office whose policies are designed to harm us). Regardless we are to offer unqualified love to our enemies. We’re to bless them, do good for them and pray for them.

“Jesus commands us to an active love of our enemies. Our love is more than just a passive bearing of persecution and hatred. We must engage [emphasis mine] in loving our enemies by blessing them, doing good for them, and praying for them regardless of who they are or what they have done. Bonhoeffer says, ‘We are not to imagine that this is to condone his evil; such a love proceeds from strength rather than weakness, from truth rather than fear, and therefore it cannot be guilty of the hatred of another.

“It is a fearless love, where we recognize God loved us even when we were  his enemies, and now, by his love within us, we can love our enemies with the same love aimed at redemption” (pp. 139-140).

Those words pierced right through the shell of my reasoning that kept whispering to me, “If/when my enemies own up to what they did to/said about me then I can let go of the hurt and I can finally release them (if not in person then at least in my own mind) from the anger I feel at what they did.” Sound familiar? Most of the time our enemies feel justified in what they did or said (we are all blind to our own shortcomings and our capacity to justify our own actions is, dare I say, gargantuan), and an apology is not ever likely to come our way. If we don’t let go of that reasoning and allow Jesus to truly change us from the inside out, it’s a vicious cycle that will keep us tied up in anger and bitterness and keep us from experiencing true forgiveness for ourselves and extending it to our enemies. And it keeps us from genuine, sacrificial love.

“We are to love in deed [emphasis mine] as well as word,” Jon Walker continues, “Jesus calls us to an active love [emphasis mine]. The Apostle Paul says, ‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them a drink; for by doing this you will make them burn with shame’ (Rom. 12:20).

“Doing this is humanly impossible, but it brings you daily to the door of dependence upon Jesus, where you must draw upon his strength to love those who hate you: ‘To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me’ (Col. 1:29).

“It requires faith to do the good works Jesus requires of us as we face our enemies, where we enter their lives by showing them the uncommon compassion of Jesus” (pp. 140-141).

This has given me a lot to think about and pray about and put into actionStaying close to Jesus 24/7 is where it starts, and a willingness to change and let Him change us is next. And Jesus doesn’t give us the option to bail out.

No, His way is the only way. . . .

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Our Default Mode

“Pride is the default mode of the human heart,” states Mark Driscoll in his latest book, “Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship & Life Together,” coauthored with his wife, Grace Driscoll (Thomas Nelson, 2012, p. 157). He continues, “As sinners, we are prone toward pride. It is a besetting sin and the root of all sin that we must continually seek to be conscious and repentant of. No one can claim they are humble . . . .

“Throughout the Bible, pride is dealt with in the sternest of terms. God’s emotion toward pride is ‘hate’ (Prov. 6:16-17; 8:13). God’s action toward the proud is punishment (Prov. 16:5) that includes ‘destruction’ and ‘a fall’ (Prov. 16:18). This explains why God said, ‘Clothe yourself, all of you, with humility towards one another, for ‘God resists the proud, but give grace to the humble”’ (James 4:6; I Peter 5:5) [Ibid, pp. 157-158].

The opposite of pride is humility. And we all like to think that we are humble most of the time. That, in itself, speaks to how much pride has control over us (it’s thinking we are humble and not actually being humble that gets us in trouble). And, as Mark Driscoll noted above, pride is the root cause of all sin. Pride is what got Lucifer (known to us as Satan) thrown out of Heaven. And even though sin had nothing to do with causing all of the tragedies that hit Job in rapid succession (see Job 1:6-22), after his conversations with his wife (very brief—Job 2:9-10) and three friends (covering Job 3-31) it is noted that “these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes” (Job 32:1). That got him in trouble with a young man, Elihu (see Job 32-37) and the LORD spoke to Job in Job 38-41 by stating at the beginning of those four chapters, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me” (Job: 38:2-3).

To Job’s credit, he responded to the LORD in Job 42:2-6, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked me, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you. And you will answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” And “after Job prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before” (Job. 42:10).

Pride is defined at as “a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.” It is the one sin that we fail to recognize in ourselves but are eager to point out in others. It is the greatest of all sins in our Adversary’s arsenal because it is at the root of all other sins. Pride usurps God’s authority in our lives. Pride says we can run our own lives. And its at the root of the very first sin by Eve and then Adam in the Garden of Eden at the beginning of the world (see Genesis 3). Pride is all about “self” and not about “God.”

We cannot serve others when we are full of ourselves. As Phil. 2:3-11 states, our attitude should be the same as Jesus Christ: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

And in Phil 4:4-8 the Apostle Paul exhorts us to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

In “Spiritual Warfare: The Battle For God’s Glory” (B&H Publishing Group, 2009), author Dr. Jerry Rankin states, “God will not share His glory with anyone. We dare not take credit for doing anything that comes only by God’s blessings and favor. He alone is worthy of all glory and honor for every success and anything worthwhile in our lives. Pride may not necessarily be limited to someone who is arrogant or conceited; it is more typically an attitude of self-sufficiency [emphasis mine]. To presume that we can do anything in ourselves . . . is extremely dangerous. Satan will feed our success and gloat in the recognition and attention we get. . . . When we are not humbly submitting to God and relying on the Holy Spirit, pride will bring ultimate defeat” (p. 176).

Dr. Rankin continues, “We are so vulnerable to pride because, like unforgiveness and anger, it is aligned with the nature of our flesh, that old nature that is centered on self. We should recognize the caution light is flashing when we are obsessed with what people think of us, find ourselves living for the approval of others and have a constant need for acclaim and recognition. God gives us everything we need to live life to the fullest; He blesses us with results and success, but we dare not take credit or think that it is due to our own ability. Whether we experience success or failure, both should stimulate us to yield in humble submission to God and His Lordship” [emphasis mine] (Ibid, p. 178).

One of my regular readers made a comment on my previous blog post, Stop Apologizing, regarding a song composed by Bob Dylan titled “Gotta Serve Somebody” and she said she considered it to be one of the best Gospel songs ever written. And, indeed, we all do “gotta serve somebody.” Pride tells us to serve self in all of its various forms and even sometimes in the most seemingly innocuous ways (remember what I said earlier—we always recognize pride in others but never recognize it in ourselves). God hates pride and it’s at the top of the list of seven things that are an abomination to Him (Prov. 6:16-18): “These six things the Lord hates; yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.” Also “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). It will lead to our downfall if we don’t recognize it for what it is in our lives and deal with it just like Job did in Job 42:1-6 by recognizing who God is and who we are not and by repenting.

Repenting . . . it’s something we need to do often as Mark Driscoll stated in the first paragraph of this post: “It is a besetting sin and the root of all sin that we must continually seek to be conscious and repentant of. No one can claim they are humble.”

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (I Peter 5:5-6).

YouTube Video: “Gotta Serve Somebody” written and composed by Bob Dylan and sung by Shirley Caesar:

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Come Let Us Reason Together

Since the postmodern age began a few decades ago, we like to think of “sin” as an antiquated word. Irrelevant . . . obsolete . . . inconsequential. Nothing could be further from the truth. And I don’t mean “truth” in the postmodern definition of truth. I mean truth as in “absolute truth”–the kind that never changes and comes from the Bible. And the absolute truth of the Bible states truth like this: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Those words are the words of Jesus Christ, the One and Only Son of God. And it was sin that sent Him to the Cross–not His sin, but ours. OURS.

Sin is what brings down judgment on individuals and nations. How many Old Testament prophets came into the picture to tell the Hebrew people and nation to turn from their sins or face impending judgment if they didn’t–and how many times did it happen? Even pagan cities received notice–for example, Ninevah, which was spared when the people of the city repented after the prophet Jonah was sent to warn them. Other cities, such as Sodom and Gomorrah, were completely destroyed because the sin in those cities was so great and not even ten righteous (repentant) people could be found within those cities (Gen. 18-19).

Eugene Peterson has written an excellent Introduction to the Prophets (introducing the sixteen writing prophets in the Old Testament–starting with Isaiah and ending with Malachi–in The Message Bible and can be found at and I recommend that you take a few moments to read it. You can open the document below in a new window making it larger and easier to read by clicking on the “up arrow” box in the upper right hand corner:

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Here’s an excerpt from the text above:

“The prophets purge our imaginations of this world’s assumptions on how life is lived and what counts in life. Over and over again, God the Holy Spirit uses these prophets to separate his people from the cultures in which they live, putting them back on the path of simple faith and obedience and worship in defiance of all that the world admires and regards. Prophets train us in discerning the difference between the ways of the world and the ways of the gospel, keeping us present to the Presence of God.”

He goes on to state that prophets were not easygoing nor were they popular. They were not celebrities and were “decidedly uncongenial to the temperaments and dispositions of the people with whom they lived.” They weren’t “particularly sensitive to our feelings” and had “modest relationship skills.”

“The hard-rock reality” he continues in his description, “is that prophets don’t fit into our way of life,” which is an understatement to say the least here in America.

The last quote from the inserted text that I want to be sure you read are the last three paragraphs:

“One of the bad habits that we pick up early in our lives is separating things and people into secular and sacred. We assume that the secular is what we are more or less in charge of: our jobs, our time, our entertainment, our government, our social relations. The sacred is what God has charge of: worship and the Bible, heaven and hell, church and prayers. We then contrive to set aside a sacred place for God, designed, we say, to honor God but really intended to keep God in his place, leaving us free to have the final say about everything else that goes on.

“Prophets will have none of this. They contend that everything, absolutely everything, takes place on sacred ground. God has something to say about every aspect of our lives: The way we feel and act in the so-called privacy of our hearts and homes, the way we make our money and the way we spend it, the politics we embrace, the wars we fight, the catastrophes we endure, the people we hurt and the people we help. Nothing is hidden from the scrutiny of God, nothing is exempt from the rule of God, nothing escapes the purposes of God. Holy, holy, holy.

“Prophets make it impossible to evade God or make detours around God. Prophets insist on receiving God in every nook and cranny of life. For a prophet, God is more real than the next-door neighbor.”

We all need to read the prophets, especially Isaiah and Jeremiah, on a regular basis to keep our lives in perspective especially with regard to sin and it’s consequences. I had to learn a very hard lesson in my life when it came to sin when I landed in Houston back in September 2008 and that lesson was this: Sin has very deadly consequences, and if we truly belong to Jesus, He will get our attention one way or the other when we have veered off track. The choice is still ours to make (we can ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our lives and suffer the consequences or we can humble ourselves, repent, turn from our sin and walk with Him once again). I chose to humble myself before Him, repent of the sin that had a stranglehold on my life for so very many years, and follow after Him in all areas of my life once again. That is not to say that I didn’t reap what I had sown all of those years–I did when I lost my job in Houston. However, during this very long time of unemployment God has set me aside for a time to learn what it means to truly follow after Jesus (and, no, I’m not perfect at it nor do I claim to be but my whole focus in life has shifted to Him and away from me and the things of this world that so entice us to sin in so many and various ways). There were clearly other issues in my life that needed attention during this time, too, which He has graciously pointed out over the course of the past three years and of which I’ve written about in previous blog posts.

I have been accused of being harsh and condemning in some of my blog posts. Almost always when I talk about specific sins that are so prevalent in many of our church cultures here in America I include my own flaws. Granted, not every sin I’ve discussed has been a particular weakness of mine. However, sin is what brings down people and nations, and our nation is reeling from decades of pervasive sin that is being allowed right in the church at large and is being ignored and we are suffering the consequences in devastating ways as individuals and as a nation. Church discipline, the likes as described in the book of Acts and other portions in the New Testament, is practically nonexistent in our churches today. A lot of pastors are more worried about “church growth” or being “sensitive to the culture” then they are about preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and living according to Biblical principles and standards, and it infects the people in their churches, and sin runs rampant in the corridors and among the people who claim Jesus Christ as their Savior. Again, this is not a “blanket” statement against all churches or Christians as excellent, Bible-believing churches do exist, but I’m afraid their numbers are quickly decreasing as the culture continues to invade churches everywhere.

If I sound harsh it is only because I have experienced in my own life the horror of the results from unrepentant sin and the devastation it can cause. My clarion call to those who profess to be Christian in this nation is that God does, indeed, take sin very seriously . . . so seriously that it cost His Son His life on the cross to pay for that sin debt. And it’s only by repentance and accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord over our lives and turning from that sin that we become new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17-20). And that is the only way. Read those verses with me:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

“Be reconciled to God.” We cannot be reconciled to God if we continue in sin without any remorse for it, turning from it, or a refusal to see it for what it is in our lives. We only deceive ourselves if we do that. And that separates us from God.

I can think of no better verse to end this post with then the compelling invitation found in Isaiah 1:18:

“Come now, let us reason together,”
says the LORD.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.”

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Stop Apologizing

I read an interesting blog post this morning that hit on something that’s been on my mind for the past 24 hours. You can find this particular blog post at: Stop Apologizing for Your Art | Goins, Writer.

I have a tendency to apologize a lot, even when I have nothing to apologize for, and that bothers me. And I want to stop doing it. So today I officially stop doing it.

As I mulled over what Jeff Goins wrote in his blog post, I realized that there was a part of me that wanted to apologize to Christians in my reading audience who might be offended because I post comments, statements, and YouTube videos from secular sources. One thing that has always bothered me in our “Americanized” version of Christianity is how easily offended many Christians in America become at the drop of a hat. At one point not long ago I was pretty much admonished to “stick with the Bible” when writing my blog posts as the person stating this was obviously offended that I quoted sources other then the Bible. There was no point in discussing this with him so I just smiled and walked away. I’m glad I didn’t know what church he attended in the area because I’m afraid it smacks of legalism.

Listen up, folks. God does not live in the box we put him in all the time. If you don’t believe me, read Isaiah 55:8-9. He is not confined by the small mindedness of Christians who demand their own rights about how He operates. God is sovereign over the entire universe and everything that happens on this earth, whether a person believes in Him or not. My blog posts include quotes or music videos from “non-Christian” sources as well as Christian sources that tie in with what the Bible has said all along to show that God is sovereign and in complete control and we are not!

I refuse to “play church.” Many, many people are really, really good at “playing church.” I’m tired of church folks who are so easily offended that you can’t even have a decent conversation with them without them disagreeing about something. This world is full of hurting people who need to hear about the gospel of Jesus Christ but they don’t need to hear it from a bunch of folks who are mean spirited and demanding and who “play church.” Outward appearances mean nothing, and hurting folks know that. “God talk” is cheap . . . living it out isn’t. And most folks don’t “live it out” but think they can tell others how to do it. WRONG!!!

I’m old enough to know that many Christian books written back in the 80’s had a lot more substance to them than much of what is published today. There’s a chapter in one book published in 1983, “Dropping Your Guard,” by Dr. Charles Swindoll, titled “Needed: Shelter for Storm Victims” that screams out to be heard by today’s church folks. Here’s a quote from the opening paragraphs of this chapter:

“Churches need to be less like national shrines and more like local bars . . . less like untouchable cathedrals and more like well-used hospitals, places to bleed in rather than monuments to look at . . . places where you can take your mask off and let your hair down . . . places where you can have your wounds dressed.

“It’s like my Marine-buddy, recently turned Christian, said, as he lamented the absence of a place of refuge:

“. . . the only thing I miss is that old fellowship all the guys in our outfit used to have down at the slop shoot . . . we’d sit around, laugh, tell stories, drink a few beers, and really let our hair down. It was great!

“But now I ain’t got nobody to tell my troubles to, to admit my faults to. I can’t find anybody in church who will put their arms around me and tell me I’m still okay. Man, it’s kinda lonely in there!”

“He was looking for people who demonstrated authentic love . . . I found myself churning, wishing it were not so. I was hoping the new Christian was nit-picking, but he wasn’t. Stop and think. Where does a guy go when the bottom falls out? To whom do we Christians turn when stuff that’s embarrassing or a little scandalous happens? Who cares enough to listen when we cry? Who affirms us when we feel rotten? Who will close their mouths and open their hearts? And, even though we deserve a swift kick in the pants, who will embrace us with understanding and give us time to heal without quoting verses? Without giving us a tape of some sermon to listen to? Without telling a bunch of other Christians so they can “pray more intelligently” (this folks, is just a disguise to gossip most of the time). Yeah, we need more shelters for storm victims. It’s okay if they look like churches on the outside, just so folks don’t act churchy on the inside. Most hurting people I know are fed up with churchy Christians. What we really need is that special something many people find in a local bar. Put on your shock boots and see if you agree with the following comparison between the bar and the church.

“The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give His church. It’s an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality, but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets and they usually don’t tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the prices of a few beers.

“With all my heart I believe that Christ wants His church to be . . . a fellowship where people can come in and say, ‘I’m sunk!’ ‘I’m beat!’ ‘I’ve had it!'”

“What if your wife is an alcoholic? Or your son recently told you he’s a practicing homosexual? Let’s say your husband just walked out . . . or what if he is sexually abusing your two daughters? Or you?

“Who can you turn to if you just got fired? . . .  Or you just got out of jail? . . . Or your 15-year-old daughter told you last night that she was pregnant? . . . Or you beat your kids and you’re scared–and ashamed? . . . Or you can’t cope with your drug habit any longer? . . . Or you need professional help because you’re near a breakdown?

“Do you know what you need? You need a shelter. A place of refuge. A few folks who can help you, listen to you, introduce you, once again, to ‘. . . the Father of mercies, the God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction’ (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Christianity may be ‘like a might army,’ but we often handle our troops in a weird way. We’re the only outfit I’ve ever heard of who shoots their wounded. That’s what my Marine buddy was afraid of. He had had enough of getting shot. Frankly, so have I.”

And, so have I. Nothing has changed much in the church since that book was published back in 1983, and, indeed, I believe it has gotten much worse. At the moment I have no desire to darken another church door yet I know that we are admonished to “not forsake our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25). Unfortunately, I’m very, very tired of Christian folks who smile to my face but talk behind my back. That is far from encouraging . . . and nobody seems to be aware that “the day is drawing near.”

I’d rather stumble along and continue to try to “live it out” then to ever “play church.” A “religious spirit” is ugly and never draws people to Jesus Christ. I’d rather show my flaws and how Jesus is changing me in the midst of them to a watching world so that a hurting world can see that Jesus doesn’t require perfection or a “religious spirit” to come to Him.

Perfect people don’t need Jesus–hurting people do.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (–Jesus in Matt. 11:28-30 MSG).

**Dr. Charles Swindoll wrote three books in the early 80’s, “Improving Your Serve” (1981); “Strengthening Your Grip” (1982); and “Dropping Your Guard” (1983) which are now available in one hardcover volume titled “The Treasured Writings of Charles Swindoll” (Inspirational Press, 2004).

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A Heartfelt Thanks to Andy Rooney

“There’s something wrong with anyone who’s never been fired from a job,” so states Andy Rooney in Andy Rooney: 60 Years of Wisdom and Wit(Public Affairs, 2009, p. 121). I found this gem of a book in hardcover yesterday at Books-A-Million for $5.97, and for an unemployed book lover like myself, it was a major find. Andy’s wit and wisdom always cheers me up and I smiled after I read that line because of the sting of being fired almost three years ago in Houston by my former boss who had a heart of stone (I’m still dealing with trust issues). And I was almost 57 at the time. And it hurt like hell. And I’m still unemployed.

Andy Rooney died on Nov. 4, 2011 at the age of 92 just three weeks after “retiring” after his 1097th appearance on “60 Minutes.” That’s the way I’d like to go if I ever find another job again, not that “60 Minutes” would ever hire me but that he kept busy making people think and challenging assumptions right up to the end. He was never afraid to state his mind and when he made mistakes he acknowledged them, even reading letters from some of his harshest critics on the air. And he apologized when he went over the line. That trait is quite rare. He was truly “one-of-a-kind.”

As quoted from a New York Times article written at the time of his death, “Mr. Rooney frequently said he considered himself ‘one of the least important producers on television’ because his specialty was light pieces. ‘I just wish insignificance had more stature,’ he once said.” There was no greater champion of “insignificance” than Andy Rooney, and we owe a debt of gratitude to the stature he gave to it. Life is lived out in the “insignificant” moments of our lives–insignificant to the world, maybe, but not to us. He wore our shoes and wasn’t afraid to tell others exactly how they felt. And, even though we knew how they felt, he championed our cause. There was absolutely nothing insignificant about Andy Rooney.

I really related to a section in his book titled “It’s A Writer Who Makes A Fool Of Himself” (pp. 108-110). I love to write although I’ve never been able to make a living at it. I’m a creative type in my own little world and in my younger years spent a lot of money trying to be an artist (my bachelor’s degree is in art and design). However, acrylics dried too fast and oils dried way too slow and watercolors, well–mine came off looking like mud. However, I always got high grades on the frames I had to build from scratch to frame them. Sometimes my analytic side takes my creative side hostage. Drawing, however, was my forte whether in pencil, ink, or charcoal. I could draw with the best of them.

Over the years, though, my favorite mode of creating has been with words. It doesn’t require a lot of money, like creating artwork does (just price art supplies if you don’t believe me). I’ve been known to scratch out notes on napkins in Denny’s for future reference. And, technology has been the greatest invention for writers. Who knew blogging could be so much fun? My laptop screen is like a blank canvas waiting to be filled with words (and pictures and YouTube videos of music to go along with those words). And all for the price of an inexpensive laptop and internet connection. Sweet.

But back to Andy Rooney . . . . He states, “Writing is difficult. That’s why there’s so little of it that’s any good. Writing isn’t like mathematics where what you’ve put down is either right or wrong. No writer ever puts down anything on paper that he knows for certain is good or bad” and a little further down on the page he asks, “When do I arrive as a writer?” (Ibid, p. 108). At the end of this short essay, he concluded “If writing is difficult, it’s also one of the most satisfactory jobs in the world…. I already knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be a writer. I wish I was a better one (‘were a better one,’ if you prefer, I don’t) but I enjoy being the one I am. If I was forced to choose between appearing on television and writing words to appear on paper, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second. I’d give up television” (Ibid, p. 110). However, as we all know well about him, he was great at both.

At the moment my greatest note of gratitude to Andy Rooney is an essay in this book in a section titled “Plain-Spoken Wisdom” on the topic of “Trust” (pp. 141-143). I’ve had some rather significant issues with “trust” over the past several years, and it had reached an all time low point just this past week (you can read about it in my last blog post titled Love Never Fails).

Most of my life I’ve trusted people, even people I didn’t know well. Mr. Rooney states, “It’s amazing that we ever trust each other to do the right thing, isn’t it? And we do, too. Trust is our first inclination. We have to make a deliberate decision to mistrust someone or to be suspicious or skeptical. Those attitudes don’t come naturally to us” (Ibid, p. 141)I felt better after I read those words and I realized that my basic instinct to trust had not been wrong as the attitude to mistrust doesn’t come naturally to us. Our first instinct is to trust. He goes on to state, “it’s a damn good thing, too, because the whole structure of our society depends on mutual trust, not distrust. This whole thing we have going for us would fall apart if we didn’t trust each other most of the time . . . . We do what we say we’ll do; we show up when we say we’ll show up; we deliver when we say we’ll deliver; and we pay when we say we’ll pay. We trust each other in these matters, and when we don’t do what we’ve promised, it’s a deviation from the normal.”

“A deviation from the normal” . . . that’s been the kicker for me for these past few years. It seems as if society as a whole has deviated from the normal when it comes to trust especially in the past decade or so. People say, “you can trust me,” with their fingers crossed behind their back. Trust, like truth, has entered “the Postmodern Zone.” People have become sincerely “insincere.” And it’s hard to trust insincere people, even when they smile brightly.

“It happens often that we don’t act in good faith and in a trustworthy manner, but we still consider it unusual, and we’re angry or disappointed with the person or organization that violates the trust we have in them. (I’m looking for something good to say about mankind today)” as Mr. Rooney continued in his essay. “I hate to see a story about a bank swindler who has jiggered the books to his own advantage, because I trust banks. I don’t like them, but I trust them. I don’t go in and demand that they show me my money all the time just to make sure they still have it.”

“. . . There isn’t time in life to distrust every person you meet or every company you do business with. . . . It’s interesting to look around and at people and compare their faith or lack of faith in other people with their success or lack of success in life. The patsies, the suckers, the people who always assume everyone else is as honest as they are make out better in the long run than the people who distrust everyone–and they’re a lot happier even if they get taken once in a while” (Ibid, pp. 142-143).

His words have given me food for thought today as I try to work my way back from the level of distrust I’ve been feeling. I’ve been hurt a lot in these past three years, and even when I’ve forgiven people who have hurt me and tried to trust in them again, some of them just turned around and hurt me again. And that, folks, gets really, really old. There are some people out there that I can forgive but cannot trust again because they have proved, on more than one occasion, that they can’t be trusted. However, the words of Andy Rooney have helped me to see that just because I know from experience that I cannot trust a few, I don’t want to turn my world into varying shades of gray on the whole trust issue with everyone I meet.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). It’s hard to live at peace and get along with everybody holding a wary eye of distrust at the outset. As Andy Rooney stated in his essay, “There isn’t time in life to distrust every person you meet or every company you do business with” and that’s so very true.

I think I have my perspective back on this issue of trust, and for that, I owe Andy Rooney a debt of gratitude. And even when all else fails, we can always:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart 
   and lean not on your own understanding; 
in all your ways acknowledge him, 
   and he will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6)

Photo credit here

Love Never Fails

Richard Starkey (aka Ringo Starr) composed and sang a song a while ago titled “It Don’t Come Easy” (you can listen to the YouTube video of the song at the end of this post). I’m sure most of us, well maybe all of us, can related to his words:

“It don’t come easy,
You know it don’t come easy.

It don’t come easy,
You know it don’t come easy.

Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues,
And you know it don’t come easy.
You don’t have to shout or leap about,
You can even play them easy.

Forget about the past and all your sorrows,
The future won’t last,
It will soon be over tomorrow.

I don’t ask for much, I only want trust,
And you know it don’t come easy.
And this love of mine keeps growing all the time,
And you know it just ain’t easy.

Open up your heart, let’s come together,
Use a little love
And we will make it work out better.

Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues,
And you know it don’t come easy.
You don’t have to shout or leap about,
You can even play them easy.

Peace, remember peace is how we make it,
Here within your reach
If you’re big enough to take it.

I don’t ask for much, I only want trust,
And you know it don’t come easy.
And this love of mine keeps growing all the time,
And you know it don’t come easy.”

Well, I don’t know where you’re at in your life right now, but for the past three years I’ve been “paying my dues and singing the blues” since my experience in Houston left me unemployed for what seems like now is about to enter the “forever” zone.

I have had a set of circumstances come up in the past week or so that have taken me back to a place I didn’t want to go—not physically, but emotionally. While it was the physical setting that set it off, the emotions involved took me down for several days afterward. It was a place of bittersweet memories, more bitter than sweet. It was a place where bad things happened, and no apology was ever extended. It was a place that eventually lead me to Houston, and by now if you’ve been following my blog posts you know what happened in Houston.

The details are unimportant. I dare say we’ve all been there a time or two. Horrible things happen at the hands of others and they get to go on living their lives but our lives are devastated. No apology is ever given; indeed, those “others” feel justified in what they did that devastated us. It’s a place where “loving your enemies” seems absolutely impossible. It’s a place where grief cries out for justice. And for me, it was a place that lead to even more heartache awaiting in Houston.

I’ve always had a hard time understanding mean people. By “mean” I mean people who are cold and calculating when it comes to dealing with others. I always believed that if you were kind enough or nice enough to people who were mean to the bone that it would eventually warm their hearts. I have tire tracks all over my face from trying to be nice to the few really mean people I’ve run up against in life. To this day I still don’t understand people who apparently have a heart of stone. Perhaps I will never understand totally.

Unfortunately, I’ve landed in the land of “unemployment” where I’ve had to learn a few hard lessons–like how bad our current economy is in finding employment. The biggest lesson–that life is not fair–goes without saying if you’ve been alive for any time at all; however, resident evil (no, not the movie) is very real in our world. And many times evil comes in the form of people with stone cold hearts. They disguise it in any number of ways but the end result is still the same. In fact, many times I think they were blinded by just how stone cold their hearts had become. And in these few cases, once in a while I actually got to see the human side of them when their defenses came down a bit but it never lasted long.

After these past few days I realized that bitterness can lead you down the path to a stone cold heart. As hard as the past several years have been on me, the struggle to make sense of life sometimes just collapses in a puddle of mud. I am reminded that “God’s ways are not our ways” (Isaiah 55:8-9) and that what is actually going on “out there” in the total scheme of things beyond my own small world is huge compared to the mud puddle I find myself in. While the fact that God is capable of connecting “all the dots” and I am not is beyond frustrating at times, it is at that point where I must grab hold of the Anchor of my life in the midst of life’s battles and see beyond the “seeable” to the unseen, where God resides.

“Forget about the past and all your sorrows,
The future won’t last,
It will soon be over tomorrow.”

The Apostle Paul said those words, too, way before Ringo Starr did, who echoes them in his song. As Paul wrote: “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3: 13-14). Indeed, the future here on earth won’t last, but we who are Christian should be pressing on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus. Our future resides in heaven, not here on earth.

One of the more crushing things to come from what I have experienced during these past few years is that I’ve lost trust in people. People disappoint–some intentionally and some unintentionally. Psalm 118:8, the middle verse in the Bible, states: “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.” In fact, my “life” verses have always been Prov. 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” Too many times I have put my trust in man and leaned on my own understanding, and my path became crooked.

“I don’t ask for much, I only want trust,
And you know it don’t come easy.
And this love of mine keeps growing all the time,
And you know it don’t come easy.”

It’s true that love and trust “don’t come easy.” However, the two verses right above Prov. 3:5-6 state: “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man” (Prov. 3:3-4).

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you” — this is the only way to escape from traveling down the road called bitterness that leads to a stone cold heart. At the first sign of bitterness let us learn to stop it in its tracks. It’s taken me more than a week to recognize it for what it is—a root that leads to evil, to a stone cold heart. And I have repented in sackcloth and ashes.

The Apostle Paul shows us a more excellent way in I Cor. 13:1-8: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

 “Love never fails . . . .”

Yes, indeed–love never fails . . . and may we always keep that at the forefront of our lives and our actions.

“Open up your heart, let’s come together,
Use a little love
And we will make it work out better.”

YouTube Video: “It Don’t Come Easy” composed and sung by Ringo Starr:

Photo credit here

An Open Door

Jesus gave a message to the Church in Philadelphia, also known as “The Faithful Church,” in Rev. 3:7-13 and He clearly stated: “Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut” (verse 8). About a year ago I heard the most powerful message I’ve ever heard regarding this verse in connection with Christians right here in America and the not-too-distant future of America if we don’t wake up. The message is titled An Open Doorby Dr. Michael Youssef at Leading The Way Ministry and is approximately 30 minutes in length.  He is also the founder and senior pastor of The Church of the Apostles (they are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year–1987-2012).

This week (the week of February 12, 2012) Leading The Way is broadcasting this message–An Open Door–again on TV and you can listen to it this week by clicking on the highlighted link with the title above as it is linked as their “current message” for this week (the message will automatically start once you’ve clicked on the link). After this week you should be able to access it by clicking on the highlighted link above and look for it in the “Video Archives” list, which lists the titles of previous messages that are available on their website.

Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of listening to this message and it is well worth spending 25-30 minutes it takes to listen to it. If you are like me, we get so caught up in our own little world on a daily basis that we can be asleep at the wheel regarding the dangers in our society that will change the way we live in this country in the not-too-distant future if we fail to heed the warning and continue to focus our lives on ourselves.

And it’s a warning we need to heed . . . .

Photo credit here

Back Soon


Please enjoy this great tune from
the Doobie Brothers/Michael McDonald: “Takin’ It To The Streets”

Hopefully I’ll find a job soon . . . after almost three years of unemployment
(and close to 500 job applications since April 22, 2009) and counting. Whew!

Meanwhile, I’m “Takin’ It To The Streets”
and asking ya’ll to

There are a LOT of us out here who
and the current administration
is doing

to help us.

**This ad has been paid for
through years of previously loyal employment

by an unemployed Citizen
and Vietnam-Era Veteran

of the
United States of America**

The Heart Of The Matter

All of us of a certain age remember the line made famous by comedian Flip Wilson, “The devil made me do it.” Indeed, most likely the remembrance brings a smile to our face as we nod in agreement. Truth is, the devil can’t “make” us do anything we haven’t already agreed in our heart to do. We cannot blame the devil, even though he is an extraordinarily stealth and cunning adversary in our lives and throughout this world. And, we can’t use the excuse of ignorance when we cave in to temptation or evil.  “At some point in every life, ignorance ceases to be the issue, and we either choose to heed the voice resonating in the hollows of our soul or we opt for willful disobedience” (Dr. Charles Swindoll, in “The Greatest Life of All–Jesus,” Thomas Nelson, 2008, p. 159).

We can’t point a finger in another direction when we cave in to temptation and sin. Oh yes, we do it all the time, but it is a moot point. It doesn’t change the facts. It does not ease the conscience. It is only our pride that makes us think otherwise. And pride was the sin that brought down our adversary in the first place. It will do the same to us, too. “. . . the battle line between good and evil doesn’t run along borders or around races or even across thresholds. The cosmic battle between good and evil divides heart from heart without discrimination, for each person chooses his or her side” (Ibid, p. 159). Every time we yield to temptation or sin, we give in to pride and self importance. And there is no way to disguise it although we try in many ways.

In my previous post, Change Me,” I began this topic on temptation but it just won’t let me go with only one post as it destroys so many lives in it’s wake. The ways we are tempted throughout our day are as innumerable as the grains of sand on the seashore. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning until we close them again at night our adversary assaults us. And because our adversary’s time is limited and the end of the age is coming, he leaves no stone unturned in his effort to derail us and destroy our lives. And yes, even though as Christians we know he can’t ultimately destroy our soul, he can destroy our lives, our relationships, indeed, everything we hold dear and do it in the most cunning and seemingly beautiful ways. The sin that trips us up is rarely disguised as something we detest. No, it is disguised as something we end up ultimately wanting more than God. And our lust replaces love.

What do you want more than Jesus? Money is the biggest item on the list. That’s why the “properity gospel” is so prevalent in our society. It replaces God with materialism and money. “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24) but the prosperity gospel says, “Oh yes you can, and let me tell you how.” Indeed, “The purity of silver and gold is tested by putting them in the fire; The purity of human hearts is tested by giving them a little fame” (Prov. 27:21 MSG). Give a person money and fame, and more times then not he or she ends up selling his or her soul to the world and the praises of men and women. And the real travesty is that they think they are serving God when they’ve fallen for one of the oldest deceptions in our adversary’s arsenal.

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (I Tim. 6:10). The key words in this passage are “the love of money” as money in and of itself is not evil. But, take away people’s money and prosperity and will they still serve God (like Job)? That is the true test especially in America. A little fame will do it, too (Prov. 27:21). Hell is populated with people who deceived themselves into thinking they were serving God when they were really serving money.

How about another hot topic . . . sex. If you are single, divorced, or widowed are you having sex with anyone? And, if you are married are you having sex with anyone other then your spouse? Well guess what? It’s sin. And, if you are even thinking about having sex with anyone else other then your spouse if you are married, or with anyone if you are single, divorced, or widowed, it’s sin. And no, the devil didn’t make you do it. You did. And most of the time we excuse it off because everybody does it, right? Our churches are filled with people who do it all the time and still show up on Sunday morning. That’s America’s version of Christianity, which is no Christianity at all. The Bible makes it very clear that there is no excuse for sex outside of marriage. None. You are deceived if you think otherwise. And it all starts in the mind and where you let it go (Matt. 5:28): “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Okay, one last item for this post–religious pride (as in the Pride of the Pharisees). Many of our churches are filled with it. Legalism, Inc. is what I like to call it. We make up our own rules and regulations and point fingers at other people’s sins without doing anything about our own. We show up for church every Sunday and follow all the rules and may even tithe 10% of our income (although in America that doesn’t happen a lot) and then gossip behind everyone’s back and think we are better than those “other sinners.” Our sins are never as “bad” as someone else’s sins. Smacks of white-washed tombs (Matt. 23:27). Jesus has a lot to say in his “Seven Woes” to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees and you can read it in Matt. 23. However, you can tell if you’re in a church like this if the following description fits: “Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend'” (Matt. 23:4-7 MSG).

Now, that is not to say that every pastor who has a doctorate or is called “Reverend” falls under this category. The issue is not about education, it is about pride and arrogance. There are many excellent and high profile pastors with doctorates in America who are not prideful and have excellent ministries that are serving the Lord. It is about pastors who “say one thing and do another” and require people to live up to the rules they don’t even live up to that is the problem.  White-washed tombs . . . . Pride is deadly because it is so insidious.

Well, enough for today. At the heart of the matter is this . . . Jesus warned us what life on this planet would look like at the end of the age (Matt. 24-25) and He stated in Matt 24:12“Because of the prevalent disregard of God’s law the love of the great majority will grow cold.” That is the true heart of the matter and one of the key signs of the end of the age, and that, folks, is where we are at in a lot of our churches in America today just as it was in“the days of Noah.”

It’s time for us to stop making excuses for sin and wake up before it’s too late.

YouTube Video: “Change Me” written and sung by Shannon Wexelberg (CD: “Faithful God” 2007):

Photo credit here

Change Me

Temptation . . . we face it many times every single day and give into it more times then we can count. It can be disguised as giving in to anger over a particular situation or person, listening to and spreading gossip, eating food beyond what we need that does more harm then good, indulging in sexual immorality whether in the mind, on the internet or other media, or in actual action such as fornication, if you are single, or adultery if you are married, or greed–materialism, love of money, wanting “more, more, more.”

The list of temptations is endless, but for Christians there is a way out. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry” (I Cor. 10:13-14). Unfortunately, we have so acclimated to our culture that we don’t really want a way out of many of our temptations until it is too late and it has destroyed our lives.

Temptation is linked to idolatry. And idolatry is anything or anyone that takes the place of Jesus Christ and His influence in every area of your life. Yes, every area. If you truly seek to follow after Jesus Christ with your whole heart you don’t get to keep any secret areas in your life just for your own indulgences. None. And if you think you can, you are only fooling yourself.

I’m not pointing fingers. I’ve been there myself, and I’ve had to learn an incredibly hard lesson late in life that God doesn’t fool around if you really belong to Him. In previous posts (Zero Tolerance, Second Chances) I’ve confessed the idolatry that had a stranglehold on my life for fourteen years and affected my relationship with Jesus Christ. And, once I repented of the idolatry and got it out of my life, He restored my relationship with Him.

Understand this . . . once you have allowed something or someone to control your life outside of Jesus Christ, that something or someone starts eating away at other areas of your life. Whether it’s another person who takes His place, or your profession, or your desire for materialism and money (wealth), or a quest for power and recognition, or your anger or love of gossip, or pride, or fear . . . and the list goes on . . . ultimately, if you do not heed His voice when He brings about circumstances in your life that tell you to “pay attention,” repent, and turn from it and turn back to Him, it will eventually destroy you (see my previous post, “Choices).

In my case, I reached a point where I was forced to make a decision and as excruciating as it was for me to end a very close friendship, I knew I had to make a clean break and repent or face some very serious consequences. So I ended the friendship, humbled myself before God, and repented. And, amazingly and almost immediately, the deep emotional attachment I had to this person that I allowed to rule my life was broken off of me and I felt absolutely free. It was also the beginning point of getting other detrimental “stuff” out of my life over the course of the past almost three years since I ended the friendship–things like anger that had built up over my lifetime; fear of people who tried to control me; and a poor self-image (because I was finally able to get beyond my “self”). And those things were and are continually being replaced with a deep love for God and His ways, and a love for others that goes beyond how they treat me (though I must admit I’m still working on this but, day-by-day, there is improvement and a “letting go” of attitudes that hinder my relationship with God and others).

Because of the culture that we live in here in America it is so easy to give in to temptation. In fact, I venture to say that we don’t even recognize some of the things we do as giving in to “temptation” because we’ve done it so many times in the past. As an example (and I’m guilty of this one), take overeating–the Bible calls it gluttony and sin. In our land of plenty we have fast food restaurants on every corner all across America that are open 24/7 as well as grocery and “convenience” stores. How often do any of us who overeat even give thought to the fact that what we are doing is sin? We like to call it names like “emotional eating” which fits in with the mindset of the culture all around us.  And, that sounds better than sin, right?

As the Newsboys sang in their song Stay Strong,” we live in a culture where sin has become cliché. We fall for temptation and excuse it off, and then we become so entrenched in it that we no longer see it as sin. And we do suffer the consequences. America has one of the highest obesity rates in the world—maybe even the highest. Not only are we ruining our health but we empty our wallets spending billions on the latest fad diets, only to fall off the wagon and repeat that vicious cycle all over again. Or look at the divorce rate even within the Church which is now at levels comparable to the culture at large. Adultery takes a devastating toll all across our land. Or what about the multi-billion dollar porn industry that destroys relationships, treats people as objects, and also empties our wallets? And look at what greed has done to people at all socioeconomic levels. Wall Street is just a microcosm of the greed found in the culture at large.

We pay a very heavy price for sin. When we yield to temptation, it always leads down a path of destruction. Gratification may be immediate, but the long-term effects and consequences are devastating. Unfortunately, we have become a people who are extremely short-sighted and are more concerned with immediate gratification then doing the right thing by resisting temptation in the first place. We need to get back to our first love, Jesus Christ, and keep our eyes on Him and not on our “lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and the pride of life” (I John 2:16).

We do have an option and one we don’t take very often. It’s in the two verses quoted at the beginning of this post: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry” (I Cor. 10:13-14).

It starts with us. We are in need of being changed. God has said that He will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear and that He will provide a way out so that we can stand up under the temptation. Therefore, we are without excuse. So, will we continue to give in to temptation?

The good news is that Jesus Christ can show us the way out. It starts with repentance and a willingness to let Him change us.

What will you choose to do today?

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; 
     test me and know my anxious thoughts. 
“See if there is any offensive way in me, 
     and lead me in the way everlasting.”
     —Psalm 139:23-24 

YouTube Video: “Change Me” written and sung by Shannon Wexelberg (CD: “Faithful God” 2007):

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