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Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

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The Triumph of Grace

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Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

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How Should We Then Live?

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Not a Timid Christianity

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Finishing the Race

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Because the Time is Near

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Revelation Song (YouTube)

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Where The Wind Blows

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Doing Great Things

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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Power of Forgiveness

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Created for Relationships

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The Only Way I Know

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Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

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Our True Home Address

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‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Cherry Picking 101

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Love Sweet Love

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So Goes The Culture

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Idols of the Heart

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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The Perfect Gift for Christmas (or Anytime)

"Simeon's Moment" by Ron DiCianni

“Simeon’s Moment” by Ron DiCianni

Christmas is definitely in the air, whether you live in a cold and snow-filled place or a warm, sunny, tropical location like I do in Florida. And, it’s only ten days away now. The hustle and bustle of buying gifts is everywhere, but at least the agony won’t hit until sometime in January with that first credit card bill that keeps on giving for several months into the new year.

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year whether I spend it alone or with others. I love walking into stores and heading for the area filled with Christmas decorations, or driving around and looking at all the houses festively decorated. Here in America Christmas is highly commercialized and, unfortunately, the true meaning of Christmas gets lost in the shuffle of Santa Claus and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, and gift-giving, and parties, and that frantic search for the “perfect gift” for everyone on our list. Yet the real gift of Christmas won’t bring a headache in the mail in January or any other time of the year, and this most perfect gift has no bill attached yet it cost God everything when He sent His only Son as a baby to this earth. And it is this very Gift that Simeon waited a lifetime to see at the time of Jesus Christ’s birth (Luke 2:25-35):

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Luke 2 contains that first Christmas story of the birth of Jesus Christ and the account of Simeon who was in the temple at the time of the purification rites required for all firstborn males by the Law of Moses, and he saw with his own eyes God’s plan of salvation when Jesus was presented. “When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’” (Luke 2:22-24). And at that point Simeon told his mother, Mary, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (vv. 34-35). Simeon spoke of the cross that was in Jesus’ future.

The cross of Jesus Christ–“a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (I Corinthians 1:23-25). Let’s read the surrounding verses in I Corinthians 1:18-31:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things— and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

The greatest giftGod’s plan of salvation, born in a manger, dying on a cross, and resurrected to give us (those who believe) eternal life–“a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Stripping away all the commercialism and festivities of this time of the year–the story of Jesus Christ is the real message of Christmas.

The most perfect gift available in this world is available at anytime, in any place, and not just at Christmas. A Pharisee named Nicodemus found it in John 3 in his conversation with Jesus, succinct in three verses (John 3:16-18):

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

In the hustle and bustle and frenetic activities that accompany Christmas every year, let’s not forget the real reason for Christmas–the reason the Prophet Isaiah foretold thousands of years ago when he said in Isaiah 9:6-7:

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

“Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.” Jesus stated in Revelation 22:12-13, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” And the invitation is given in verse 17, “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

“The free gift of the water of life” . . .

Available now, this Christmas, and at anytime . . .

Don’t miss it . . . .

YouTube Video: “Mary Did You Know?” sung by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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No Compromise

Margaret ThatcherI watched a wonderful movie last night titled, The Iron Lady,” (2011) about one of the most powerful and controversial women of our times. She passed away this past April at the age of 87. Her name is Margaret Thatcher, and she was “a British politician who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 and the Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990” (quote source here). The nickname “Iron Lady” became associated with her due to her uncompromising politics and leadership style.

Born in 1925, Margaret Thatcher entered the political arena when she was elected Minister of Parliament for Finchley in 1959; appointed Secretary of State for Education and Science in 1970; elected as Leader of the Opposition and the first woman to lead a major political party (Conservative Party) in the United Kingdom in 1975; and winning the election for Prime Minister in 1979. She became Prime Minister at a time of high unemployment and ongoing recession (source: Wikipedia).

At the age of 26, Margaret “married wealthy British businessman Denis Thatcher, who lovingly referred to her as ‘The Boss.’ Throughout their marriage, she often relied on Denis for his strong support and unconditional love. Denis once told the press, ‘I have been married to one of the greatest women the world has ever produced. All I could produce, small as it may be, was love and loyalty.’ In 2003, Denis passed away at the age of 88 after almost 52 years of marriage” (quote source here). Their children–twins, Carol and Mark–were born in 1953. Margaret paid tribute to Denis in her memoir, “The Downing Street Years,” stating “Being Prime Minister is a lonely job. In a sense, it ought to be: you cannot lead from the crowd. But with Denis there I was never alone. What a man. What a husband. What a friend” (quote source: Wikipedia). At the time of her own death on April 8, 2013, The Telegraph published an article titled, Awed, never. Denis Thatcher was a man deeply proud of his wife (click here for article).

I have to admit that I did not know much about Margaret Thatcher until her death this past April which brought about many and varied reactions. She was, without a doubt, a powerful force, and as quoted in an article in The Week shortly after her death, during her “three terms as Prime Minister she brought enormous change to the UK. An objective assessment of her greatest achievements (and failures) isn’t easy – opinions are still divided. But there is some consensus on her legacy” (see the article and quote source here).

It goes without saying that “no compromise” was second nature to her and she was fearless in her leadership capabilities. As I watched the movie, The Iron Lady (Meryl Streep is excellent in her role as Margaret Thatcher), I was most struck by two things: (1) her presence, power, composure, and personal and political convictions as the only woman (and also the leader) in a sea of men; and (2) the powerful and loving relationship between her and her husband and confidant, Denis (which is remarkably touching). In her time she was, indeed, a lightning rod.

While compromise is not necessarily a bad thing and is often mutually beneficial (as in marriage relationships and in a myriad of other social, business or political settings), it depends on what is being compromised. Dictionary.com defined compromise as follows:

1. a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modifications of demands.

2. the result of such a settlement.

3. something intermediate between different things: The split-level is a compromise between a ranch house and a multi-storied house.

4. an endangering especially of reputation; exposure to danger, suspicion, etc.: a compromise of one’s integrity.

5. to settle by a compromise.

6. to expose or make vulnerable to danger, suspicion, scandal, etc.; jeopardize: a military oversight that compromised the nation’s defenses.

Compromise can be innocuous or scandalous. Again, it all depends on what is being compromised. As I look back over the years from a time when it appeared, at least on the cultural and even spiritual level, that some very clear standards were still in place (whether or not they were lived out individually or privately) and the delineations between “right” and “wrong” seemed rather clear; there has been an erosion in our society over the past several decades by a series of compromises that have changed the very fabric of our cultural mores, starting back in the hippie era of the 1960’s (mainly because it was the start of the unraveling of morality on a massive scale in America as well as the introduction of massive drug use across the board). Of course, materialism and greed took center stage around the time of the dot.com bubble which produced millionaires and billionaires practically overnight. And let’s not forget the greed on Wall Street which has significantly harmed Main Street and entered full force into the business world (now everybody wants to be rich, right?). And, that greed combined with religion bred an aberrant gospel known as the Prosperity Gospelgreed using God. And Jesus had something vital to say about that in Matthew 6:24 (e.g., it can’t be done–not if we are truly following God).

Gone are the days where folks took a stand for doing right and stuck with it, regardless of the cost to them personally. Now we compromise on just about anything, good or bad, and in or out of the spiritual arena.  Situation ethics,” a Christian ethical theory that was principally developed in the 1960s by an Episcopal priest, Joseph Fletcher, came along and told us that the ends can justify the means or rules can be used to justify the means if a situation is not intrinsically bad (source here), but who is defining what is “bad” nowadays? It appears “bad” only means bad if it’s bad for us individually, and we don’t much care how it affects someone else as long as it’s not negatively affecting us.

no compromiseLooking back, it seems the 1960’s did more harm than good to our nation. That decade certainly started us down a different path, and an incredibly selfish one at that. The Me Generation (Baby Boomers–born between 1946-1964) gave birth to many of the Gen X′ers (born in early 1960’s to early 1980’s) and to Generation Me (Generation Y–born in the early 1980’s through early 2000’s) and “self” was propelled into the mainstream of everyday life–self-actualization, self-fulfillment, self-love, self-image, self-preservation, even a magazine (still in publication) titled, “Self Magazine. Self, self, self, self . . . ad-nauseam . . . .

And it has affected the way we do religion in our culture now, too. The compromises that began in the 1960’s have exalted self at the expense of sin and nothing matters anymore and if it feels good, go ahead and do it, right? Like gossip, for example. Even in our churches. And we even rationalize away our sin nowadays. After all, isn’t that what the Cross is all about? Well, isn’t it? The answer is no, it’s not.

When was the last time anyone read the book of Hebrews (in the New Testament)? Self-actualization is not the theme of Hebrews. In Hebrews 10 in a section titled in the NIV, “A Call to Persevere in Faith,” let’s read verses 26-39:

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

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For,

“In just a little while,
he who is coming will come
and will not delay.”

And,

“But my righteous one will live by faith.
And I take no pleasure
in the one who shrinks back.”

But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

Those words are some serious words, folks. Christianity is not a thing to be lived according to our own rules and our own lifestyles. And it’s not about us and what we can get in this life, either. Our ancestors in the faith didn’t live selfish lives and a whole lot of them paid dearly for taking a clear and strong stand for the faith. Read Hebrews 11 to get a very clear picture of those folks and what they endured. And then read on in Hebrews 12 where it starts out in verses 1-12 with the following:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.

So much of the time in America our Christianity is so watered down that we hardly even recognize it when compared to what the Bible has to say about how we should live our lives. And it all starts with compromise and a low opinion of sin and a very high opinion of self. Many folks who started out their walk with Christ with a very clear love for Jesus Christ and wanting to serve him have ended up on the ash heap of complacency because they failed to recognize that over time they have allowed themselves to become hardened to sin. They have become steeped in the things of our culture and this world with a cursory showing up at church on Sunday morning and/or hanging out with a Christian crowd that compromises with the culture in the same way.

In Revelation 2-3, Jesus Christ gave a clear message to the seven churches located in Asia and that message still rings out clearly to the Church today to those of us who will listen to and heed that message. Here is a brief description of those seven churches with more information at the links (source here):

(1) Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) – the church that had forsaken its first love (2:4).

(2) Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) – the church that would suffer persecution (2:10).

(3) Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17) – the church that needed to repent (2:16).

(4) Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) – the church that had a false prophetess (2:20).

(5) Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) – the church that had fallen asleep (3:2).

(6) Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) – the church that had endured patiently (through persecution since they had little strength left, and God gave them an open door) (3:10).

(7) Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) – the church with the lukewarm faith (also known as the wealthy church that needed nothing which made it lukewarm towards God) (3:16).

Only two of the seven churches were not rebuked–Smyrna and Philadelphia. The rest were rebuked for their unfaithfulness and sin–the same types of sin that are still very much rampant in today’s churches. Jesus Christ stated in Rev. 3:19-20, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

Compromise has eaten away at our convictions in a culture where nowadays anything goes and where money and materialism, gossip and greed, and everything that follows it is worshiped in place of God. And now is the time to repent and get back to God . . .

Before it’s too late . . .

No compromise . . . .

YouTube Video: “Make My Life a Prayer to You” (1978) sung by Keith Green:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

And the Beat Goes On (for Christmas)

DSC00108As of today, it’s 25 days until Christmas and 31 days until the brand new year of 2014. I’m hoping for a great new year and hope you are, too! I’m taking a break from blog post writing for the month of December and want to send all of my readers a wish from a song by Rascal Flatts that best sums up what I want to say during this Christmas season. So without further ado, here is “my wish” for you (YouTube Video below):

My Wish

by Rascal Flatts

I hope the days come easy and the moments pass slow,
And each road leads you where you want to go,
And if you’re faced with a choice, and you have to choose,
I hope you choose the one that means the most to you.
And if one door opens to another door closed,
I hope you keep on walkin’ till you find the window,
If it’s cold outside, show the world the warmth of your smile.
But more than anything, more than anything . . .

My wish for you is that this life becomes all that you want it to,
Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small,
You never need to carry more than you can hold,
And while you’re out there getting where you’re getting to,
I hope you know somebody loves you, and wants the same things too,
Yeah, this is my wish.

I hope you never look back, but you never forget,
All the ones who love you, in the place you left,
I hope you always forgive, and you never regret,
And you help somebody every chance you get,
Oh, you find God’s grace, in every mistake,
And always give more than you take.
But more than anything, yeah, more than anything . . .

My wish for you is that this life becomes all that you want it to,
Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small,
You never need to carry more than you can hold,
And while you’re out there getting where you’re getting to,
I hope you know somebody loves you, and wants the same things too,
Yeah, this is my wish (my wish, for you).

Merry Christmas
&
Happy New Year 2014
Everyone!!!

YouTube Video: “My Wish” (2006) by Rascal Flatts:

Photo taken by author

Being Thankful (and Joyful, Too)

being_thankfulIn two days here in America we will be celebrating Thanksgiving and this year it also marks the first day of the Jewish holiday, Chanukah (Hanukkah). And even though the specter of unemployment still looms over my life after more than four and a half years now, I have much to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day and everyday.

Eight days ago I wrote my latest blog post titled In God We Trust – True or False? and then the very next day my wireless modem died and along with it my internet connection to the world. It was 3 ½ years old and had served me well, and while I did everything I knew how to do in the following days to try to revive it, the consensus was that it was dead. I mourned the loss as I knew a new wireless modem would cost more than I wanted to spend right now. I never dreamed that when I lost my job in April 2009 that I would still be unemployed over four and a half years later, and as much as I try not to worry about finances (my only income during this time was the unemployment benefits I received which ended in May 2011 and I have had no income since that time), to have unexpected expenses on an already tight budget gives me pause for thought every time it happens and sends me back to the place I talked about in my last blog post–e.g., do I really trust God to see me through every circumstance. To say the least, it humbles me.

And I have a confession to make . . . . After over four and a half years of unemployment with still no light at the end of that tunnel, there is one portion of Scripture that I recently found rather annoying (at least in the first sentence of the passage). It is found in James 1:2-18. Let’s read it:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

It is clear from the start of the passage that we (e.g., Christians) will encounter trials of many kinds throughout our lives and that these trials come our way as a testing of our faith which produces in us that much needed quality of perseverance if we allow it to (vv. 2-3). And it is that quality of perseverance that will make us mature and complete, lacking nothing (v. 4). And in order to acquire this perseverance, we must have God’s wisdom and God has clearly told us to ask him for it and he will give it to us generously and without finding fault as long as we truly believe that he will and not doubt (vv. 5-8). Well, I can’t tell you how many times I have asked God for his wisdom over these past four and a half years (five, actually) and he has given it to me every time I have totally trusted him to do it and not relied on my own understanding.

However, at the beginning of this portion of James is this statement, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sister, whenever you face trials of many kinds . . .” (v. 2). I have to admit that after four and a half years joy doesn’t exactly describe how I have been feeling lately. Tired, frustrated, isolated, restless . . . yes; but joyful? Hardly . . . . I found joy to be in very short supply when one mini-trial would end only to give birth to the next one and all of them in the midst of the major overarching trial of long term unemployment. And I was still encountering a major anger issue from time to time regarding my former boss in Houston who started this whole mess in my life when I first arrived for that job in Houston in late September 2008 and from which he fired me from in April 2009.

Now, mind you, my anger at him has in no way affected him at all. In fact, he doesn’t even know about it. The last time I saw him or talked with him was the day he fired me (April 21, 2009). His life has kept right on going through a couple of promotions while I’ve been unemployed the entire time. And then last night I read a quote on Facebook that really brought it all back home to me. While I couldn’t find a reference for the author of the quote, here is what it stated:

The one that angers you
Controls you.
Don’t give anyone that power
Especially the one
Who does it intentionally.

Human anger is destructive. It can and often does destroy others and always destroys us in the long run if we do not deal with it appropriately and in God’s way. Only godly anger can be constructive, but we humans rarely experience that kind of anger. Our anger is usually followed up with a strong desire for revenge. And the Bible is very clear that revenge belongs to God and not to us—see Romans 12:19. I have stumbled over my anger more times than I can count over this long time of unemployment, and it is the biggest stumbling block preventing me from experiencing real joy in the midst of a major trial that, at least from my very human and limited perspective, has lasted way too long and has stretched the lesson on learning perseverance to its limit.

Choosing joy todayHowever, as I read through Psalm 139, I am reminded that God knows everything about me (and he knows the same about you, too)—including every moment of my life and every circumstance and trial that I have encountered and I am currently encountering (and the same also goes for you). He knew me from my mother’s womb and “all the days ordained for me were written in your [God’s] book before one of them came to be” (see vv. 13-16). And as King David said right after that acknowledgement in v. 17: “How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you.”

As I mentioned in my last post, In God We Trust—True or False?”, so often we take our eyes off of God and place them squarely on what we think needs to be done in any given situation. And once we take God out of the equation of our circumstances (or ask him to bless what we are about to do instead of asking him for his guidance in the situation when it happens and while we are going through it) we are on very shaky ground. Deadly ground, actually.

This whole experience with my internet modem dying last week has brought this point back home to me once again. I fretted and stewed about what to do; what it was going to cost me; how I could do it the cheapest way possible; how I was going to recoup the financial loss with no income whatsoever coming in, etc., etc., etc.; in fact, by yesterday morning when I woke up I was totally frustrated and had worked myself into a frenzy. I spent time over the past several days checking out all the options, weighing the pros and cons of each decision, and, quite frankly, wore myself out with the ensuing frustration of trying to figure it all out on my own.

Now, mind you, during this time I was aware that God was trying to get my attention but I had inadvertently assumed that I had to give him some help with it (how often do we do that, folks?). By the time I got up yesterday morning I had made that proverbial mountain out of a molehill and it was time to get off that mountain. And by yesterday afternoon I gave it all up and said, “Okay, God . . . please show me what I should do about this situation.” So I packed up my laptop and headed out to the store that I had almost written off as an option (I checked them out last week along with some other options) . . . and, well, you can probably guess what happened. I ended up getting a wonderful sales clerk who gave me a fantastic deal with a brand new and fast 4G wireless modem with whistles and bells and no contract required and some discounts I didn’t expect (I’ve been a long term customer with this particular company with my cell phone service) that will be saving me at least $15/mo from what I was paying for my 3 ½ year old much slower wireless modem with a different company that died last week right after I wrote that post that asked “Do we really trust in God?”

Talk about an object lesson . . . .

So now, once again, I bring to God this anger issue that just doesn’t seem to be resolving itself on its own. I’m tired of being angry, folks. Really, really tired . . . about as tired as I was yesterday morning when I woke up totally frustrated about what I needed to do to get connected with the world again after my wireless modem died a week ago. And that little saying I quoted above that I found on Facebook last night brought it home to me. I want God and not my anger at my former boss and my unbelievably long-term unemployment situation to be in control, so I give the entire situation (and my former boss) back to God right now . . . right this very moment . . . .

So with all of that being said, this Thanksgiving I am enormously thankful and grateful that God is always in control–even when I’m out of control–and if I will let go of my preconceived ideas or my own understanding which has limited perspective on the whole issue and truly ask him to guide me in everything I do, he will do exactly that—just as he promised he would do in James 1. And this morning, I can feel that joy that has been eluding me for so long seeping back into my life . . . and just in time for Christmas, too.

Are you in the midst of a trial that you can hardly stand anymore and any joy you once experienced has been robbed from your life? Then maybe it’s time to stop trying to figure it all out on your own. Leave all of the options up to God—he’s the only one with the right option (and with him, it’s never an option).

Christmas is coming soon and there’s no better gift to receive than God’s wisdom (through Jesus Christ). So stop the struggling on your own; ask God for it, and don’t doubt . . . .

Starting right now . . .

And consider it pure joy . . . .

YouTube Video: “Joy to the World” sung by Whitney Houston in the movie, The Preacher’s Wife (1996):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

In God We Trust — True or False?

For Psalm 25Throughout his life, King David (who started out as a shepherd boy) learned to put his complete trust in the Lord, no matter how dire his circumstances. The book of Psalms is filled with many of his songs to the Lord not only seeking the Lord’s help to rescue him during the many crises that came up during his life but to cleanse him from his sins and to praise the Lord’s name forever and ever. While David was far from perfect (see article at this link), God testified that David was “a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do” (Acts 13:22). David learned to trust in God completely, no matter what the circumstances. How often do we do that today? Most of the time we say we trust God, but we really trust in ourselves or our money or our status or our position; or our own “wily ways” and just about anything else that we can see, do, or manipulate. The kind of complete trust that David had in God and not in himself or anyone else is, unfortunately, often rare in our world today. It was rare in David’s world, too.

How often do we trust in our own “wily ways” (status, money, power, deceit, etc.) and how often have we placed our trust in others (e.g., family and friends, relatives, spouses or significant others, employers or coworkers, even pastors or deacons or elders or church folks, government officials, teachers or professors, etc.) only to have it fall flat when we needed it the most? More times then we’d like to admit, I’m sure. Trust is a very fragile thing, and humans aren’t very good at it or with it especially when push comes to shove. Selfish motives and/or self-protection is pretty much the rule of the day . . . even among folks who call themselves Christian. And we trust in our paychecks, government checks, or retirement accounts more than we trust in God to be there for us.

The answer to this whole trust issue is found in the very middle verse of the Bible—Psalm 118:8—and it states the following:

It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in humans.

That just about covers the waterfront, doesn’t it? “Humans” is all inclusive of the entire human race and that includes you and me, folks. None of us can be trusted all of the time, most of the time, or even some of the time. Ulterior motives reign supreme and self gets in the way. Only God can be trusted, and it is only in God that we should place all of our trust. Even our money here in America states, “In God We Trust,” but the reality–and the irony–is that we far too often place our trust in all of that money instead of God who created the entire universe including that money that we crave more then we crave Him. Money cannot save anybody, folks, and any “loyalty” it buys is shallow and self-serving at best. And Jesus even said in his Sermon on the Mount that “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Unfortunately, most of us serve money while claiming to serve God but the way we act and live and treat others tells the truth. And the love of money is idolatry and can end up destroying our lives and/or getting us killed.

Psalm 25v14-15David’s trust was not in wealth or possessions (and he had a great deal of both as King) nor was it in people (just look at how King Saul tried to kill him many times without success before he became King). And even when David had the perfect opportunity to kill King Saul (see I Samuel 24), he chose to trust in God for the outcome and not in his own wits, and he spared Saul’s life. Did you get that? He spared the life of the very man who wanted to murder him in the worst way. That, folks, is what complete trust in God–and not in our own ability and bent towards retaliation and revenge and hate–looks and acts like, and it’s not often found in our world. And in the end King Saul took his own life (see I Samuel 31) and David became King.

The cry of David’s heart was always to God and not to any person regardless of how powerful they might be. One of my very favorites Psalms over the years (and there are many, but this one has always stood out) is Psalm 25. Let’s read it:

Psalm 25
(A psalm of David)

In you, Lord my God,
I put my trust.

I trust in you;
do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you
will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
who are treacherous without cause.

Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good.

Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.
All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
For the sake of your name, Lord,
forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

Who, then, are those who fear the Lord?
He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.
They will spend their days in prosperity,
and their descendants will inherit the land.
The Lord confides in those who fear him;
he makes his covenant known to them.
My eyes are ever on the Lord,
for only he will release my feet from the snare.

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart
and free me from my anguish.
Look on my affliction and my distress
and take away all my sins.
See how numerous are my enemies
and how fiercely they hate me!

Guard my life and rescue me;
do not let me be put to shame,
for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness protect me,
because my hope, Lord, is in you.

Deliver Israel, O God,
from all their troubles!

When was the last time we can say we totally trusted God without trying to run interference for him? Be honest now. Look at the sequence of events found in this Psalm. Do we start off our request by stating, “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust” and if so, do we really mean it? God knows our hearts far better than even we know them. Proverbs 3:5-8 states:

Trust in the Lord with all you heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

In God We Trust @ robertluisrabello.com A-3While I can’t speak for anyone else, I am the first to admit that “my own understanding” gets in the way all the time. I don’t begin to have all the pieces to the puzzle of any circumstance I find myself in (such as my very long trial with unemployment and the many challenges it has presented in my life over the past four and a half plus years now), yet I try to figure out the entire situation all the time and only end up enormously frustrated most of the time. While God has given us the ability to understand some things, what he is telling us in these verses is not to “lean on” that understanding. Even if our own understanding is partially true, we don’t have the whole picture–only God does–and that is why he tells us to trust him with all of our heart and not to lean on our own understanding. That’s incredibly hard to do but it’s not impossible, because God never gives us anything that is “impossible.” Never. But we have to trust him and not ourselves and we literally have to let him guide us step by step each day and not three weeks into the future. No . . . his guidance is RIGHT NOW . . . and not tomorrow. He’ll take care of tomorrow when it gets here and we trust him (and not ourselves) with it.

Just as Kermit the Frog (in “Sesame Street”) said, “It’s not easy being green,” we can relate by saying, “It’s not easy being human.” We want the control, and we want to tell God how to solve our problem(s) or at least help him with it. And that’s not how God works. He is the potter and we are the clay. The clay doesn’t tell the potter what it wants to be. No, the potter makes the clay into what he wants it to be. And if we insist on having our own way, we’ll only end up as cracked pots that are good for nothing in the end. Unfortunately, we don’t believe that most of the time and think that we know best until it is too late. So who is really in control–us or God?

David knew who was in control of his life. . .

Do we know who is really in control of ours?

YouTube Video: “Total Praise” by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Be Still and Know

"Be still and know that I am God" - Psalm 46:10

“Be still and know that I am God” – Psalm 46:10

Psalm 46 (NIV)

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth give way

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams
make glad the city of God,

the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

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YouTube Video: “Be Still and Know” by Steven Curtis Chapman:

Photo credit here

The Woman, the Judge, Justice, and God

scale of justiceJesus Christ often taught in parables (short stories that illustrate truth) and there is an interesting parable found in Luke 18:1-8 that Jesus told His disciples regarding a woman (in this case a widow), and a judge who–after much time and persistence on the woman’s part–finally gave her the justice she needed from her adversary. Let’s read this short parable:

Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

A study note in the MacArthur Study Bible regarding the judge’s response to the woman’s plea and then Jesus’ response (vv.5-8) states the following:

“What the judge would not do out of compassion for the widow or reverence for God, he would [and did] do out of sheer frustration with her incessant pleading.” [And Jesus responds by telling us to listen to what the unjust judge said] “(e.g., listen to the point of the story), namely, that God, who always does right and is filled with compassion for believers who suffer, will certainly respond to His beloved ones who cry for His help. He [God] may delay long, but He does so for good reasons (2 Peter 3:8-9) and when He acts, His vengeance is swift.”

The lesson this parable illustrates is found in the very first sentence—Always pray and don’t ever give up!!! We are not told how long the woman kept coming to the judge with her request for justice from her adversary nor what her adversary was doing to her that was causing her so much pain and injustice; however, she persisted and persisted and persisted—she never gave up. And while it appears to have taken a fair amount of time for the judge to finally grant her request for justice from her adversary (and the judge was not a God-fearing man nor did he care about what other people think), it was because of her continual persistence that he finally gave her the justice she so desperately needed from her adversary.

Are you going through a hard time that you don’t think will ever end? If so, remember this parable when you feel like giving up and remember, too, that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). God’s unfathomable and ever present help and bringing to mind the lesson in this parable when times have been really tough have kept me going through over four and a half years of still ongoing unemployment, and I’m not giving up! Don’t you give up, either!!!

So seek God’s face and always pray . . .

And don’t ever give up . . . .

YouTube Video: “My Help” sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir:

Photo credit here

Get It While We Can

Genuine loveThe “it” referred to in the title of this blog post is “love.” You know, that elusive feeling that is usually disguised as infatuation, or lust, or giddiness, or passion and/or greed (for a person, or an object–like money and the things it can buy). And how often do we say things like, “I just love that car,” or “I love chocolate” or “I love my job” (well, that last one probably isn’t all that common—we mostly love the money we make from the job we really don’t like all that much). Well, you get the idea. We toss “love” around like it is available in large quantities, but that kind of love is really pretty shallow, and it really isn’t love at all.

So what exactly is love? Well, zillions of songs have been composed trying to explain it and vast quantities of books have been published describing or portraying it. And movies? Well, movies are filled with various takes on what Hollywood thinks is love–well, romantic love or mostly lust/sex or whatever, right?

And love seems to be in very short supply when considering the divorce rate in this country—close to 50%; and the percentage is even higher for second and third marriages (and lots of couples today live together foregoing marriage altogether). And when one gets tired of the relationship, they just move on (leaving the deserted person fractured in their wake). And what about all of the infidelity that goes on in many marriages today?

In many ways it is unfortunate that we live in an “instant” society where just about anything we want is readily available (maybe not accessible to everyone but available nonetheless) as it makes us incredibly myopic, self-centered, and self-serving. And this pattern on a large scale (especially since the “free love” hippie era of the 1960’s) has been a part of the fabric of our society for decades. Just read some of the words from a song sung by Janis Joplin (1943-1970) over forty years ago, Get It While You Can (YouTube Video at the end of this post):

In this world if you read the papers
You know everybody’s fighting on with each other
You got no one you can count on
Not even your own brother
So if someone comes along
He’s gonna give you some love and affection

I’d say get it while you can
Get it while you can
Get it while you can
Don’t you turn your back on love, no

Don’t you know when you’re loving anybody
You’re taking a gamble on a little sorrow
But then who cares?
Cause we may not be here tomorrow, no
And if anybody should come along
He’s gonna give you his love and affection

I’d say get it while you can
Get it while you can
Get it while you can
Don’t you turn your back on love

Love—real genuine love—is obviously in very short supply just about everywhere today. If we look at the description of what love looks like in I Corinthians 13:4-8, we’ll find that we all fall amazingly short a fair amount of the time. Here’s what it has to say:

Love is patient,
love is kind.
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 . . . .

Now I don’t know about you, but I fall short way too often for my liking in some of those categories (more than I want to admit). For example, it’s taken me years to stop being angry about what happened to me when I lost my job in Houston that has lead to over four and a half years (and still ongoing) of unemployment. I don’t very often feel loving (e.g., keeping no record of wrongs) towards those folks who fired me, and it’s been a huge struggle for me since it happened back in April 2009 (mostly because I haven’t been able to find another job since then). And after four and a half years of trying to find another job my patience has certainly been tried to the “nth” degree!!!

As I read that list of attributes, I find that not only do I fall short more times than I care to think about with some of those attributes; I also find them to be in short supply generally in our society. For example, take driving in rush hour traffic (or driving in traffic at any time): rude drivers are everywhere—they are not patient, not kind; and they are definitely self-seeking and easily angered, keeping records of every slight (by yelling, giving folks the “finger,” practically running into others to make them move out of their way), and they couldn’t care less about the truth (e.g., driving safely or caring about other drivers). They just want their way and they want us out of their way. And that attitude extends way beyond rush-hour traffic. How about in our relationships with others, including close family members and friends and extending to coworkers and others we come into contact with on a daily basis.

We all fall short, and many times we feel justified (ah, there’s that self-centered attitude showing up). We keep records of wrongs done to us for years, even decades or a lifetime, and every thought of that person brings on anger no matter how many years have passed. And it only hurts us in the end. Only sociopaths storm their way through life not caring in any way about anyone else other than themselves (and they seem to be on the increase in our world today).

love never failsHere’s a reality check for all of us—this world does not owe us anything. It is what it is—the good, the bad, and the ugly. And it is often fueled by hate and selfishness and ideologies that we don’t even begin to understand (see Ephesians 6:10-18 to understand just what we are up against). Just look at the massacre of innocent children and others at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, or the millions of Jews slaughtered during the Holocaust in Germany during WWII, or the millions massacred in China during the revolution and a hundred other examples of pure evil decimating communities, cities, countries, and nations, and destroying untold millions of lives over the centuries and with an ever increasing frequency in our own times. And just glancing over a newspaper or listening to news reports on any given day speaks to the evil present in our own society at an ever growing rate. Random, unexplained evil is definitely on the increase, and genuine love is in very, very, very short supply.

Unfortunately, we often have a tendency to fight evil with evil (as in retaliation). And often when we do that it backfires on us, not to mention that it destroys relationships. We are so consumed with our own lives that the need for self-preservation at all costs rules our lives (e.g., that whole “looking out for #1” mentality). And self-preservation is the opposite of genuine love as described in I Corinthians 13:4-8. Genuine love is selfless . . . it cares more for others than itself, and it’s so very rare to find. Jesus Christ is our example of genuine, selfless love. It’s a sacrificing love . . . it’s a love that lays down its very life willingly for others, which is exactly what Jesus Christ did on the cross at Calvary. John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And for those of us who believe in him, he has stated in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” And in John 15:12-14, 17, Jesus states, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command . . . . This is my command: Love each other.”

If we are truly Christian, we no longer belong to ourselves. We belong to Jesus. And we are not to live our lives concerned about only ourselves and living like the rest of the world. If we do that, then we really don’t know or belong to him. If we truly belong to him, he has given us the Holy Spirit to guide and lead us every single moment of every single day, but we have to yield to him every single moment of every single day, and not live for only ourselves and what we want. And it is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to love others with a genuine, selfless love—the kind of love stated in I Corinthians 13:4-8.

Regarding the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul stated in Galatians 5:16-26:

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

The book of Hebrews is a much needed book in the New Testament for all Christians to read on a regular basis. The greatest warning throughout the book, written to Hebrew believers and for us today, was and is the warning against hardening our hearts and turning away from the living God due to the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:7-19, 5:11-14). Sin runs virtually unchecked in so many of our churches today as the subject is rarely addressed (and if you don’t believe me, take gossip, for example). And sitting in church every Sunday morning or listening to sermons on the Internet is no guarantee that our hearts aren’t hardened; however, the way we treat others is a good indication of how far we’ve fallen away (especially through gossip and judging others, or how we treat others including our enemies).

Living in a society where sin is rarely addressed in Christian circles and churches anymore and where many Christians look and act like the rest of society (while claiming to know Jesus Christ), it is paramount that we take stock of where we, as individuals, stand in our relationship with Jesus Christ. If you don’t know where to start, read the list in I Corinthians 13:4-8 at the beginning of this post and honestly reflect on each of those attributes of genuine love and where you stand with each of them, and then read the book of Hebrews (13 chapters) and take to heart what it has to say to us—a clear warning to us to not fall away due to sin’s deceitfulness.

In the song mentioned at the beginning of this post, Janis Joplin sang, “Don’t you know when you’re loving anybody you’re taking a gamble on a little sorrow. But then who cares ’cause we may not be here tomorrow.” Too often in our society today there are churches out there selling us a bill of goods that is no good—and it’s all about us and what we can get from God. True, genuine love—the unselfish kind—had nothing to do with us, and yes, it will cause us sorrow and persecution (Jesus even stated so in John 15), but if we truly love Jesus and want to be his disciples and serve him, it won’t matter because this life is not about us and what we want, it’s about him and telling others (and also showing by how we live and through our actions and attitudes) about Jesus. So now is the time to take stock of where we stand, and if we are falling short or we’re just coasting along . . .

We need to get it while we can . . .

’Cause we may not be here tomorrow . . . .

YouTube Video: “Get It While You Can” (1970) by Janis Joplin:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Because the Time is Near

the time is near“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us . . . .” (John 1:14).

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them” (Luke 2:1-7).

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
“And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

“There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

“(John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:6-18).

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

“Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One” (John 1:29-34).

It is at this point that Jesus’ three-year public ministry began, the events of which are recorded in the four gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. From the very beginning he was taunted by the ruling religious folks–the Pharisees and the teachers of the law—right up until he was crucified by them three years later at the time of Passover; but then he rose from the dead and showed himself to his disciples and many others before returning to his Father in Heaven (Acts 1:1-11). His earthly mission was completed and with it, he brought salvation to the Gentiles (Romans 11), and he said he’d be coming back after he prepared a place for us (believers) in Heaven (John 14:1-4), and to watch and pray; and he gave us the signs to watch for (I wrote about them in my last blog post titled, The Gospel Cannot Be Contained).

The Pharisees and teachers of the law never “got it.” Their hypocrisy and lust for public accolades got in the way. One of the most scathing accounts of what he told them is found in Matthew 23. Yet at every turn they mocked, ridiculed, and accused him and eventually killed him; however, this was in the very plan of God that he die and be raised to life again to make possible salvation for humankind (on an individual basis—not a “blanket” or all-inclusive basis). However, not all of the Pharisees ridiculed him. In fact, one of the most famous dialogues between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus took place in a passage that contains one of the most well known verses in the Bible—John 3:16. Here is that dialogue (found in John 3:1-21):

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Jesus’ entire three-year ministry took place within and in the areas surrounding modern day Israel. He was born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth in Galilee, and crucified outside the city gates of Jerusalem (where he also rose again). And not only did he tell us that he is coming back while he was here on earth, the entire last book of the Bible–the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ–gives us this very account of the things to take place at the time of his return. Revelation 1:1-3 states:

The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

revelation because the time is nearMany books and four main theories have been written in an effort to explain the book of Revelation, and the point of this blog post is not to add any more speculation to what is already floating around out there. The book of Revelation starts off by addressing the seven churches that were in Asia at the time of the writing and here is a brief description of those churches from Got Questions?org”:

The seven churches described in Revelation 2-3 are seven literal churches at the time that John the apostle was writing Revelation. Though they were literal churches in that time, there is also spiritual significance for churches and believers today. The first purpose of the letters was to communicate with the literal churches and meet their needs at that time. The second purpose is to reveal seven different types of individuals/ churches throughout history and instruct them in God’s truth.

A possible third purpose is to use the seven churches to foreshadow seven different periods in the history of the Church. The problem with this view is that each of the seven churches describes issues that could fit the Church in any time in its history. So, although there may be some truth to the seven churches representing seven eras, there is far too much speculation in this regard. Our focus should be on what message God is giving us through the seven churches. The seven churches are:

(1) Ephesus (Revelation  2:1-7) – the church that had forsaken its first love (2:4).

(2) Smyrna (Revelation  2:8-11) – the church that would suffer persecution (2:10).

(3) Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17) – the church that needed to repent  (2:16).

(4) Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) –  the church that had a false prophetess (2:20).

(5) Sardis (Revelation  3:1-6) – the church that had fallen asleep (3:2).

(6) Philadelphia (Revelation  3:7-13) – the church that had endured patiently (3:10).

(7) Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) – the church with the lukewarm faith  (3:16) [e.g., also known as a church that was wealthy and self-satisfied (3:17)] (quote source here).

The rest of the book of Revelation describes the last seven years of the history of this planet and is known as the Tribulation (and the last 3 1/2 years is known as the Great Tribulation) before Jesus returns at the end of the seven years to set up his kingdom (see Revelation 20 regarding the 1,000-year reign of Christ). Revelation 21 describes the creation of a new heaven and a new earth and “the Holy City, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (21:2). Revelation 21 & 22 are two of the most thrilling chapters in the Bible for true believers regarding their future home in Heaven. As the apostle John, the receiver and writer of the book of Revelation, stated in Revelation 21:3-5:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (the rest of Chapter 21 & 22 can be read here).

In the last chapter in Revelation (Rev. 22), specifically the last verses that contain the epilogue with both an invitation and a warning in Revelation 22:12-21, Jesus states:

Epilogue: Invitation and Warning

“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

Regarding the book of Revelation, Revelation 1:3 states: “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near” (NIV, 1984). May those of us who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord not get so wrapped up in the things of this world that we forget just how temporary everything in this world really is. After all, as James 4:13-14 reminds us, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” And as I Corinthians 13:12 states, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

So let’s not waste our lives living for what is temporary, but rather let us live with eternity in mind . . .

Because the time is near . . . .

YouTube Video: “Jerusalem of Gold” (2007) sung by Liel Kolet and Klaus Maine:

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The Gospel Cannot Be Contained

gospel cannot be containedThe Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be contained by anyone or anything, and not even the “gates of hell” can prevail or come against it (see Matthew 16:18). And Jesus made this very clear in His end times discourse in Matthew 24 when He stated: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). So what does this “end times” world look like, and how will we know when it has arrived (see specifically the fourth paragraph in the passage below)? Let’s read Matthew 24 to find out what Jesus had to say about it:

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel [Daniel 9:27, 11:31, 12:11]—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.

“If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time.

“So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.

“Immediately after the distress of those days

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

the-gospel-changes-everythingNow, a plethora of books have been written and innumerable discussions have taken place about this particular passage in the Bible and I have no interest in adding to either, even in a blog post. However, I do take what it says at face value and I believe the generation that Jesus spoke about in Matthew 24:34-35 could very well be our generation right now living on this planet of ours. In fact, let’s take a look at what the Apostle Paul had to say to his young protégé, Timothy, about what the end times would look like in 2 Timothy 3:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Read that first paragraph again . . . “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power.” That, folks, sounds like front page news today.

Many folks–famous folks–in our society have been saying and writing about the seriousness of what we are facing here in America today and some have even wondered out loud if we are, indeed, the terminal generation. For example, John Hagee published and updated a book titled, Can America Survive? 10 Prophetic Signs That We Are The Terminal Generation,” and Joel C. Rosenberg recently published a book titled,Implosion: Can America Recover from It’s Economic and Spiritual Challenges in Time?And there are many others in our society writing and asking the same questions.

Getting back to the original topic of this post when Jesus stated, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14), at no other time in history until now–thanks to technology–can and is the gospel of Jesus Christ being preached throughout the entire world to all nations. Anything written, created, and placed on the Internet is available to the entire world! In fact, I just added a page to my blog site that includes the ability for it to be translated into 56 other languages besides English! Think about that, folks! At no time in history has there been the possibility of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the entire world like we have available at our very fingertips today!

While there are many people in our world today who think the gospel of Jesus Christ is sheer foolishness, there are others out there who want and desperately need to hear the life-changing message of Jesus Christ and His power to change lives. And, when it comes to the folks who refuse to believe for whatever reason they give, the Apostle Paul clearly stated in I Corinthians 1:18-31:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
[Isaiah 29:14]

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Regardless of the opposition (e.g., those who mock or refuse to believe), are those of us who call ourselves Christian willing to speak out as Paul spoke out (and not just in a crowd of other believers but to the world at large) in Romans 1:16-17:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

The gospel of Jesus Christ will never be contained even if we remain silent. But if we remain silent in these turbulent times that require us to take a bold stand for Jesus Christ, do we really believe what we say we believe? Or do we just go along with the crowd for whatever reason(s) we give (e.g., fear, wanting to be “accepted”; not wanting to “rock the boat”; love of money and material possessions, fear of persecution, selfishness, etc.). Time will eventually run out for all of us, and the time to take a stand will be gone forever.

We need to pay attention to these words that Jesus gave to his disciples (and that includes us if we call ourselves Christians) in Matthew 16:24-26, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

While no one knows “the day or the hour,” time is running out, folks . . . .

What will be your answer?

Your way or His way . . . .

YouTube Video: Bob Dylan’s song, “Gotta Serve Somebody” sung by Shirley Caesar:

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