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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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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:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Amazing Love

Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983)

Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983)

About a month ago I found a book titled,Amazing Love: True Stories of the Power of Forgiveness,” originally published in 1953 (this latest edition was published in 2011) by one of the most inspiring Christian women I have ever have the privilege of knowing through her writings. I wrote about her eleven months ago in another blog post (click here to go to that post). Her name is Corrie ten Boom.

Corrie was a Dutch Christian who lived through the horrors of Nazi Germany during WWII having been held prisoner–along with her sister, Betsie–in Ravensbrück death camp. Corrie survived (due to a clerical error); however, Betsie did not. Their amazing story and the story of how the entire ten Boom family hid Jews in their house at the time of the Nazi invasion in the Netherlands is told in her book, The Hiding Place,” first published in 1971 (and still in print). The following information was gleaned from Wikipedia:

On February 28, 1944, a Dutch informant told the Nazis of the work the ten Booms were doing, and the Nazis arrested the entire ten Boom family at around 12:30 p.m. The family was sent first to Scheveningen prison, where their elderly father died ten days after his arrest. While there, ten Boom’s sister Nollie, brother Willem, and nephew Peter were all released. Later, ten Boom and sister Betsie were sent to the Vught political concentration camp, and finally to the Ravensbrück death camp in Germany. Betsie died there on December 16, 1944. Before she died, she told ten Boom, “There is no pit so deep that He [God] is not deeper still.”

Corrie ten Boom was released on December 28, 1944. Later she learned that her release had been due to a clerical error. After the war, ten Boom returned to The Netherlands to set up a rehabilitation center. The refuge houses consisted of concentration camp survivors and sheltered the jobless Dutch who previously collaborated with Germans during the occupation. She returned to Germany in 1946, and traveled the world as a public speaker, appearing in over sixty countries, during which time she wrote many books.

Ten Boom told the story of her family and their work during World War II in her best selling book, The Hiding Place (1971), which was made into a film in 1975 (source here.)

Corrie’s second book, Tramp for the Lord,” was published in 1974 (still in print) and takes up where The Hiding Place left off. Beginning in 1946, Corrie traveled the world telling people about Jesus Christ and visited over 60 countries until she moved to California in 1977 at the age of 85. “In 1978, she suffered two strokes, the first rendering her unable to speak, and the second resulting in paralysis. She did not regain function for the remaining five years of her life, dying on her 91st birthday, April 15, 1983, following a third stroke” (quote source here). On the back cover of Tramp for the Lord is this statement:

This is Corrie ten Boom’s story: beginning where her profoundly moving bestseller [The Hiding Place] ended, taking us on a uniquely thrilling tour to the nearest and farthest corners of the earth. She is a modest and simple woman who has seen and known a world few others could imagine; a survivor of Hitler’s worst concentration camps and one of the most remarkable evangelists of our time.

Miracles do happen; Corrie ten Boom’s life is living proof. From her near-destitute days in postwar New York to heart-stopping adventures in Africa, let her be your once-in-a-lifetime guide on a worldwide trip that could only have been planned by God.

Corrie totally depended on the Lord for all of her needs including all of her financial needs throughout her many trips around the world. Tramp for the Lord is a testament to God’s faithfulness in Corrie’s life as to how He provided for her over and over and over again when circumstances and finances seemed impossible. If you’re in need of inspiration–and who isn’t–I can’t think of a more inspiring book to recommend than this one.

In this latest book that I picked up, Amazing Love: True Stories of the Power of Forgiveness,” originally published in 1953, Corrie shares in 27 short chapters from some of her “amazing encounters with people in camps and jails, with students and actresses, and with the sophisticated and illiterate. We meet on these pages not Corrie, but Corrie’s Christ” (quote from the back cover) that took place during the first few years of her “wanderings” (as she called them). I’d like to quote a few short paragraphs from Chapter 1 titled, “Plans” (pp. 10-11):

Human hearts are amazingly alike. As I talk with people in America, England, Switzerland, Germany and Holland, I frequently find the same need, the same ignorance of what we can be in Jesus Christ if only we accept the Bible in a simple, childlike way as the Word of God, the Word that teaches us the foolishness of God that is wiser than the wisdom of men, the love of God that passes all understanding.

When we read the Bible, we should never use as our guide the wisdom of men or the standards of our own reason.

I was once a passenger aboard a ship that was being guided by radar. The fog was so dense we couldn’t see even the water about us. But the radar screen showed a streak of light, indicating the presence of another ship far ahead. The radar penetrated the fog and picked up its image. So also is faith the radar that sees reality through the clouds.

The reality of the victory of Christ can be seen only be faith, which is our radar. Our faith perceives what is actual and real; our senses perceive only that which is limited to three dimensions and comprehended by our intellect. Faith sees more.

I am not a scholar, but much of the little I do know, I learned as I faced death in front of the crematorium in Ravensbruck. That is why God sometimes uses me to help people who know far more than I.

Going Not KnowingOf the many very inspiring short stories in this book, one in particular stood out because it spoke so clearly to me of a circumstance in my own life and I used those same words as she used in the title of the story regarding a place that has devastated my own life (and caused these past four and a half years of unemployment with all of the challenges involved). For me, that place is Houston. For Corrie, it was Germany. Since it is one of the shorter stories in the book, I’d like to share it with you (found on pp. 35-37):

Never Again to Germany

When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, He Himself
will give
us the love with which to do it. We are
neither factories nor
reservoirs of His love
only channels. When we understand
that,
all excuse for pride is eliminated.

Returning to Holland after my release from the German concentration camp at Ravensbruck, I said, “One think I hope is that I’ll never have to go to Germany again. I am willing to go wherever God may want me to go, but I hope He’ll never send me to Germany.”

If we want to experience the guidance of God in our lives, we must accept one condition: obedience to Him.

On my trips to the United States, I often spoke on the conditions in Europe during the post-war years, and when I talked of the chaos in Germany, people sometimes asked me, “Why don’t you go to Germany, since you know the language?”

But I didn’t want to go.

Then darkness came into my fellowship with God; when I asked for His guidance, there was no answer.

Now God does not want us ever to be in doubt as to what His guidance is and so I knew that something had come between God and me; and I prayed, “Lord, is there some disobedience in my life?”

The answer was very distinct: “Germany.”

Before me I could see again the land I had left in 1944. In my mind I could hear the harsh voices, “Schneller, aber schneller” (faster, faster); and my answer to God was long in coming.

“Yes, Lord, I’ll go to Germany too. I’ll follow wherever You lead.”

Then when I returned to Holland from the United States. I learned that it was not yet possible for Hollanders to obtain a visa for visiting Germany.

And I was glad.

I received an invitation to attend an international conference in Switzerland, and God told me that I would meet some Germans there who would help me obtain a visa. Arriving at the conference, I found representatives from many countries but not one single German.

And I was glad.

But on the last day of the conference, there were two new arrivals. The instant they appeared, I could see they were Germans. I asked them if they could help me with my papers, and one of the latecomers turned out to be a director of the “Evangelisches Hilfswerk,” the church organization for the assistance of refugees.

“If I send you an invitation to come to Germany, you will be able to get your visa,” said he.

And so I went back to Germany.

Was it difficult? At times it was; at times it was not.

There is a sanctified Germany and a poisoned Germany. There is a Germany that has lost everything, where the hearts of people are a vacuum. Who is going to fill them? It is wonderful to be able to speak there about Him who renews hearts, and fills them with His joy.

Years ago I told the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes to a class of feebleminded boys. Carl had become so absorbed in the story that he jumped to his feet and shouted, “There is enough, there is enough–take as much as you want, there is enough!”

Dear little Carl, I wish more people were as much on fire about it as you.

Here we have the great riches of the Bible, and people misuse their time quibbling about its interpretations.

Is this a time for controversy?

Just imagine that your house was on fire, and the firemen were wrangling about their uniforms.

I heard that General MacArthur asked for a thousand missionaries to preach the gospel in Japan. There is a hunger for the gospel in that country. The harvest is plenteous; the laborers are few.

Not only there.

Also in Germany.

While the details of my situation in Houston are different from Corrie’s in Germany, these past four and a half years of unemployment (a type of prison in and of itself) are directly related to my seven months of employment in Houston that ended in a very unpleasant manner. I do, however, have some very pleasant memories of folks I worked around during my time there and some of them are still working there. So for me, Houston remains a conundrum of sorts, but after a brief return trip to Houston in late August 2012 with dismal results, I decided it was not meant to be for me to return there to live.

heart and musical notesStill, it feels like I have unfinished business in Houston. I have no quarrel with anyone, not even the fellow or the HR Director who fired me (the latter person is no longer employed there anyway). In fact, one of the fellows I was most fond of there and regretted that I couldn’t say goodbye to him when I was fired (because of the manner in which I was fired and he did not work in my department) recently joined LinkedIn.com (a professional networking site) and I was able to make a connection with him on it. Every time I think of him it brings a smile to my face as he is genuinely a very nice guy (he’s married and my interest is not romantic) and I wrote to him to say that if he had been my boss, I mostly like would still be there.

By connecting with him I found myself thinking about making a return visit to Houston and visiting my former place of employment (it is located in a different building now) in order to bring some kind of closure to what happened to me there so long ago that has so detrimentally affected my life to this very day. Call it a sort of peace offering more to benefit me as I’m sure they (the employer, I mean) don’t really care. And I’d love to see him and some of the others still working there that I couldn’t say goodbye to when I was terminated. And who knows, maybe I could find employment in Houston again while I’m there.

I have to admit, however, that it is with a fair amount of trepidation as I consider returning again. After my last visit there in late August/early September 2012, I said I’d never return to Houston again. I was still angry at what had happened to me there, and it’s taken a long time for that anger to subside (mostly because I can’t find employment after all this time). Now I just want peace. And employment would be nice, too . . . .

While Corrie’s situation was far, far worst then my situation in Houston, when I read her story about “Never again to Germany,” and what happened after she finally did return, it helped to see that her response in returning would most likely be the same as mine if I were able to return back to Houston and visit my former employer. What she stated about Germany is thisWas it difficult? At times it was; at times it was not.”

While I recently repeated that statement that I would never return to Houston again, God has not let it leave my mind. I can’t imagine why I would need to go back there except for what I have stated above (and also the fact that I can’t find employment here). Yet God has His reasons. In my last blog post, The Cost of Discipleship,” I quoted Rick Warren, and at one point in the quote he states, “To say ‘No, Lord’ is to speak a contradiction.”

Corrie’s answer to God was long in coming, but she finally said, “Yes, Lord, I’ll go to Germany, too. I’ll follow wherever You lead.” A few days ago when I realized God was calling me to go back to Houston, I swallowed hard. I remember thinking, “What is the point in doing that again? There is nothing there for me.” And what I got was silence, just as Corrie described.

And so I finally made my decision this morning, and it is this . . .

“Yes, Lord, I’ll go back to Houston . . .

“I’ll follow wherever You lead . . . .”

YouTube Video: “Put On Your Dancing Shoes” by Steve Winwood:

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

The Cost of Discipleship

cost-of-discipleshipAs a product of the Baby Boomer generation (born between 1946-1964), I grew up during the Cuban missile crisis, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War; the hippie revolution with its “free love” rampant sexuality and massive drug use; women’s liberation and “the pill”; Roe v. Wade; and a don’t trust anyone over 30 mentality. We tuned in, turned on, and dropped out by the millions. Woodstock was our theme as well as the Arlo Guthrie song, “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant,” and the Beatles’ song,Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” We were cool, hip, and nobody could tell us what to do or how to live. Groovy, right?

Well, we did change the world, at least the world as we found it, but I’m not so sure it was for the better in the long run. As the years passed we turned our “free-wheeling” lifestyle into massive greed and materialism; played musical chairs with our relationships and marriages (“disposable” comes to mind), left our children to grow up in daycare centers while we made our mark in our careers, and we developed a fierce “looking out for #1” mentality. And now it’s mostly our generation that runs Hollywood, Wall Street, and most of the corporations in America as well as holding many of the important political, military, university, church and religious, and law enforcement positions around the country.

We have made some astounding contributions to technology, the sciences and medicine, military prowess, and a wide assortment of other “stuff,” but when it comes to personal relationships, we haven’t done so great. And our greed has cost us big time. Wall Street has massively crashed twice now (after the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001 and in 2008) sending shock waves around the world and it hasn’t gotten any better (in fact, if we knew the truth, we’d never sleep at night). And regarding our relationships? Well, the divorce rate is at 50% and much, much higher for second and third marriages, and it doesn’t matter if we are Christian or not. And we now have rampant pornography on the internet and just about everywhere else and sex is up for grabs and available in any form or way we want it and just about anywhere, too. And our movies—even the PG rated ones—would make a previous generation roll over in their graves. And modesty? We’ve extricated the word from our dictionary because we are just way too cool for stuff like that.

And what about many of our churches? Hey, “You can get anything you want. . .” in a lot of our churches nowadays, too. Only in many of our churches, we are told that we can get it from Jesus if we know the right words to pray. Sin and repentance are rarely, if ever, mentioned. Sin? How archaic! We are told that we can pray a simple little “Jesus prayer” that might mention our “sins” and then we are told afterward that we now have Jesus and Heaven, too, while we continue to go on living our lives any way we want. Never mind that Jesus probably wasn’t even mentioned in the sermon before the prayer was offered (if it was offered) or if he was mentioned it was only on a superficial level. And besides, everybody knows you can’t grow a church by talking about sin or how we should be living, so we just avoid the whole topic. We just do what we want and be nice to others at least while we’re at church (and sincerity is often lacking with the second half of that sentence).

We are good, however, at pointing fingers at others (you know, those “sinners” out there who aren’t like us) and we are especially good at it during an election year. And we can gossip and destroy others with our words and/or actions and feel smugly superior and justified without so much as blinking an eye. But to actually pay attention to the Sermon on the Mount or any of the other teachings of Jesus as to how to live our lives and follow him? Well, we are just way too busy to have time to pick up the Bible let alone read it. And actually apply what it says to our lives? Are you kidding? Who does that anyway and who has time for it? Right? RIGHT? After all, we’re the cool, hip, “Baby Boomer” generation and we set the standard on how we want to live and how we choose to worship God, and our children are now following in our steps (and their children are, too). And we’ve left a staggeringly vapid spiritual legacy to our children and our children’s children. And it shows, too. It shows in ways we can’t even imagine.

In Luke 9:23-25, Jesus states, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”

Deny ourselves and take up our cross daily . . . those are not words that “Baby Boomers” are used to hearing. We been so busy trying to “gain the whole world” that we have forfeited our very selves (and sold our souls). We want Jesus on our terms and we want the benefits that come from knowing Jesus Christ without having to do anything in return for it. And a plethora of churches cater to that crowd and bookstores are filled with the latest Christian bestsellers on how “You can get anything you want . . .” in three or four or five or maybe ten easy steps. And it doesn’t work that way, folks, and it never did . . . .

James 4v14I love what Rick Warren has to say in his “Foreward” in the book, Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s ‘The Cost of Discipleship’,” by a friend and associate, Jon Walker. Here are the opening paragraphs from his forward (p. 11):

Contrary to popular book titles, there are no “Easy Steps to Christian Maturity” or “Secrets of Instant Sainthood.” Mature Christians are grown through struggles and storms and seasons of suffering. But most of all they are grown through obedience to Jesus.

The Cost of Discipleshiphelped me understand this when I read Dietrich Bonhoeffers book as a young believer. In fact, it is one of the reasons I’ve spent a lifetime encouraging believers to follow Jesus with purpose, to surrender their lives wholeheartedly to him.

Sadly, millions of Christians are confused about what it means to surrender to Jesus and so they go on living their lives without ever changing the way they live. Thecheap gracethat Bonhoeffer describes inThe Cost of Discipleshiphas so deeply saturated our congregations that, despite our evangelical theology, the idea of surrender is as unpopular and misunderstood as the idea of submission.

Surrender implies losing, and no one wants to be a loser. Yet, Jesus says we must be losers, losing our lives in order to find life in him (Matthew 16:25-28).

We speak too often of winning, succeeding, overcoming, and conquering and too little of yielding, submitting, obeying, and surrendering. Yet, we can only follow Jesus when we obey Jesus and his commands. To say “No, Lord” is to speak a contradiction.

Surrendered people obey God’s word, even if it doesn’t make sense. Surrendered hearts show up best in relationships. You don’t edge others out, you don’t demand your rights, and you aren’t self-serving when you’re surrendered. Being surrendered to Jesus costs us just as it cost Jesus when he surrendered himself to the cross for us . . . .

The idea of surrender, submission, or being thought of as a loser goes against our very grain; yet, that is exactly what is required of us if we are to be followers of Jesus Christ. As Rick Warren stated, “We speak too often of winning, succeeding, overcoming, and conquering and too little of yielding, submitting, obeying, and surrendering. Yet, we can only follow Jesus when we obey Jesus and his commands.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship,” describes “cheap grace” as follows: “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (quote source here).

Cheap grace, in effect, makes Jesus Christ out to be our magic genie of sorts here to grant us our every request instead of our Savior and Lord to whom we owe everything, including our very lives. And while that may suit our lifestyle, it has absolutely nothing to do with knowing and following after Jesus.

Again, Jesus stated in Luke 9:23-25: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”

It’s time we stop trying to gain the whole world while pretending to follow after Jesus Christ. And the first step in doing that is by really getting to know who Jesus Christ really is as he stated in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father [God] except through me.” In fact, the very best place to start learning exactly who Jesus Christ really is is by reading the Gospel of John and following it up with the other three gospel accounts that include his teachings: Matthew, Mark and Luke. And then if you really want to see what the Church is supposed to look and act like, read the Book of Acts. And pray!!! And if you aren’t sure how to pray, just talk to God and ask Him to show you the truth about Jesus Christ. He will if you truly want to know and seek him.

I highly recommend Dietrich Bonhoeffers book, The Cost of Discipleship,” as well as Jon Walkers book, Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s ‘The Cost of Discipleship’,” as an addition to–but not in place of–the Bible (starting with the four gospel accounts) in order to truly understand the true cost of discipleship in following Jesus Christ. However, the Bible should always be, first and foremost, our ultimate guide.

As the saying goes, “this life is not a dress rehearsal.” It’s the only one we get, and while we are frantically trying to get everything that we can in this life, it is all-too-quickly slipping away. James 4:13-14 states, “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.” Don’t let your life slip away. It’s never too late to start, so why not consider starting today?

Now is the time . . .

Before it slips away . . . .

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

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Seeking Explanations

Are you in need of some encouragement today? I sure was at the time I read this blog post this morning. After four and a half years of unemployment with still no end in sight, I feel like I’ve been living in a lion’s den or a fiery furnace as a semi-permanent place of residence!!! I sooooooo want it to end!!!

I especially liked a quote near the end of this post from a woman who wrote:

Lord, I’m drowning in a sea of perplexity.
Waves of confusion crash over me.
I’m too weak to shout for help.
Either quiet the waves, or lift me above them–
It’s too late to learn to swim.

While I’ve learned a whole lot during this very long time of living in the “Valley of Unemployment” (e.g., lion’s den, fiery furnace, and everything in between), I feel just like the woman who wrote that short prayer and I totally agree with her when she ended it by saying: “It’s too late to learn to swim.” (Well actually, I already know how to swim.) So, if you’ve reached the same place as I have (whatever your particular circumstances may be), read this blog post for some much needed encouragement!!!

And thank you, Thought for the Day,” for sharing it!!! ~Sara’s Musings

Thought For the Day

I have some news you won’t like, especially if you are experiencing confusion, pain, and suffering. None of us like those kinds of things and we want (and sometimes expect) that we can snap a finger and Voilà! There it is, fixed and resolve!

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Possible Impossibilities

im-possibleDoes the title of this blog post sound like an oxymoron? Do you believe in miracles? I do, and I believe they happen every single day–and in many places–on this planet of ours. Some people call themcoincidences.” Others call them chance or luck.” However, Jesus told us that “All things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). That cuts out coincidences, chance and luck.

Let’s look at that verse in context to understand the full meaning of what it’s really saying to us. That verse is part of a dialogue between Jesus and a rich, young man who wanted to know what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, and it is found in Mark 10:17-27:

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Sell everything you have and give to the poor . . . and then follow me [Jesus]. . . . The young man hadn’t murdered anyone; nor had he committed adultery. He hadn’t stolen anything, nor had he ever given false testimony about anyone or anything. He even honored his mother and his father; however, what was it that Jesus told him? He told him he lacked one thing: “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” And the young man’s face fell and he went away sad because he had great wealth. Jesus showed him how to have “treasures in heaven” . . . which lasts for eternity; yet the rich young man choose to keep his great wealth which is so, so temporary compared to eternity. He chose this temporary world and could not see beyond his wealth.

This brings to mind a parable Jesus told about the “rich fool” in Luke 12:16-21:

And he [Jesus] told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Money and possessions blind people all the time. It’s not money that is inherently bad, but the love of money, the greed for more of it, and the all-consuming nature of money that gets to all of us whether rich or poor. And it’s obvious, especially in a society like ours here in America, that one has to have money to survive which makes it’s hard to get away from the pressure to always be seeking more of it. But while the rich seek more, the poor need more. It’s a vicious cycle that can trap anybody no matter where we happened to be on the socioeconomic level.

I Timothy 6:10 clearly states, “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.” And Hebrews 13:5 also clearly states, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’

Before I go any further, I want you to know that the focus of this post is not on money. I’ve written other blog posts (the most recent one back in May titled, The Secularization of American Christianity) that centers on that topic and how much trouble we can get into when we try to serve both God and money. And in Matthew 6:24 Jesus makes it clear that we can’t do both: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” No . . . the focus of this post is on miracles–on the “possible impossibilities”–seeing beyond the obvious to where Jesus is and wants us to be. As long as we are convinced that money and material possessions or anything else will give us what we want in this life and we get to have Jesus, too, we will never “get it.” What He had to say to the rich, young man, He says to us today who are seeking after everything this world has to offer while claiming to follow after Him. Whether we realize it or not, we end up walking away from Jesus just like the rich young man did. And Jesus has already told us nothing in this world will ever satisfy us–not if we are truly seeking after Him and the kingdom of God.

I read a devotion this morning in Open Windows,” published by LifeWay titled, “Possible Impossibilities,” by Darla Brantley, adult Sunday School teacher, First Baptist Church, Winfield, Alabama, and she writes the following (Note: devotional passage reference is Mark 10:23-27 and she starts by quoting Mark 10:27):

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” ~Mark 10:27 (NIV)

The disciples may have recognized the needle Jesus mentioned as a gate with a narrow opening that would require a camel to be relieved of his load and stoop low in order to get through. That would have been an inconvenient undertaking for travelers (and for the camel). Proverbially, a camel trying to squeeze through the eye of an actual needle was presented as a total impossibility. In the same manner, the rich, young ruler found that giving up all his possessions would present a personal difficulty—albeit, an impossibility.

The disciples could not believe what Jesus was saying. The religious traditions of their day suggested that people became rich because they were highly favored by God. If wealthy people could not get into heaven easily, then how were a bunch of fishermen and tax collectors going to get there? Astonished, the disciples must have felt like giving up. Once again, tradition muddled their understanding of God’s work.

Jesus explained that wealth was not the ticket to God’s Kingdom. Human understanding can never surpass God’s miraculous grace. He is truly Lord of all, and nothing is impossible for Him.

“Father, remind me that, in You, all things are possible.”

Faith moves mountainsThere are a lot of wealthy Christians in America today and we tend to see their wealth as a sign of being “favored” by God (which can leave the rest of us wondering why we don’t fit that mold). However, God is no respecter of persons (in other words, He doesn’t play favorites when it comes to His children). Here’s what Peter had to say about this in Acts 10:34-36: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” God has His remnant at all levels of society in every nation on this planet from the highest to the lowest. And Romans 9 is the classic chapter on God’s Sovereignty and how He uses us for His purposes. In fact, Romans 9:21 states, “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?”

As we can see from the verses above . . . it’s not about money or what we have or don’t have but that God “accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what it right.” That goes for the richest Christian on the planet to the poorest Christian on the planet. It’s not about our status in the eyes of others, or a pecking order (which we find in a lot of churches and religious institutions), or–as the rich, young man stated regarding his virtues–what we have or haven’t done. It’s about whether or not we are willing to lay everything we have and own; our jobs or our status in society; our current situation (in my case, 4 1/2 years of unemployment) and our very lives at the feet of Jesus Christ and let Him use us as He sees fit. As Jesus stated in John 12:25-26: “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”

I remember at the time I was offered that job in Houston that I felt God was really smiling on me by giving me a director position in a very creative environment at the highest salary I had ever been paid in my life–in fact, it was almost $15,000 more a year then I was paid at the job I left to take it. And I was convinced, like so many earnest Christians in America have also been convinced, that outward “prosperity” was a sign of God’s favor. What I didn’t realize at the time (because it isn’t preached on very much anymore) is that God’s favor is not found in “stuff” and the outward trappings of success. Jesus wants US and He does whatever is necessary for us to reach that realization in each one of His children. There is no “better job” or “bigger salary” or earning “one more degree” to climb a career ladder or anything else we hold dear or strive after that will ever satisfy us, and acquiring any of that is not “proof” that God loves us or loves us more than anybody else. It’s allowing Him to have total control of every area of our lives, holding nothing back. Nothing. And it’s at that point that we can begin to see “possible impossibilities.”

Proverbs 4:23 states: Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” I have to admit that at the time I landed in Houston to start that ill-fated job my heart was torn in many different directions, all of which were clouded by my personal needs and desires along with all of the messages thrown at us from our society and well-meaning Christians who don’t understand what it means to “give up everything” and give it all–every bit of it–to Jesus.

I started doing just that when I landed in Houston. It took a long while to get rid of some of things that I held dear but with every step I began to see the “possible impossibilities” in a lot of little areas in my life. As I let go of each of the things that held me in bondage (and we seldom even realize what things are “bondage” in our lives), I started to see this world from a different perspective–it was no longer just my own little world that I lived in anymore. It’s been a long haul over these past five years since I started that job and ended up losing it seven months later and then going through all that I have experienced during this very long time of unemployment. And I took my relationship with Jesus very, very seriously and became a student of the Bible in a way and frequency that I’d never done before or at least not for many, many years.

Also, I can’t emphasize enough how the discipline of fasting (for me that means going three days with no food and drinking only water–regular water and not the “flavored” water) has changed me and broken some of the strongholds I’ve had in my life (but that is not the only benefit). I started my first three-day fast back in March 2011 and have only fasted when I felt it was something God really wanted me to do. And sometimes it is only a one-day fast. Fasting is a Biblical discipline for us today as Jesus stated in Matthew 6:16-18: When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Now I realize there are folks who can’t fast due to medical reasons and I’m only relating what it has done for me. For me it’s a very private matter and I’ve never shared it with anyone other then to let you know how beneficial it has been to me. I found an excellent article titled, Spiritual Fasting: What Does the Bible Say About Spiritual Fasting,” that can give you a start in thinking about this discipline and you can access it at this link.

All thing as possible - Mark 9v23I realized today as I started writing this post that there was one thing I had not given to Jesus yet for Him to deal with; however, I have complained about it a lot over these past four and a half years, and I’ve begged Him a few times to end it (of course, I’m talking about this very long time of unemployment). Shocking as the realization was to me, I have never “given” my unemployment situation to Him. I was just expecting Him to change it when the time was right (and I thought it was the “right time” three years ago if that tells you anything). Now while I know He had and has His reasons for this very long time of unemployment, it’s about time I actually give it to Him, don’t you think? So in front of God and everybody here goes . . .

Heavenly Father, I come to You in the name of Jesus. You’ve taught me so much over these past five years. You’ve taken the mess that was my life and cleaned it all up; and You’ve gotten rid of some very significant strongholds I’ve had in my life (some that I didn’t even realize were strongholds). You’ve shown me things that have absolutely astounded me, and You’ve provided for every single one of my needs in ways I could never imagine. You’ve protected me in the midst of a very severe trial, and You’ve shown me that the “stuff” of this world is so incredibly insignificant compared to You. For all of that and much, much more, I thank you in the name of Jesus. And now, Lord, I give you this one last item (at least that I know of for now). You know the struggle I have gone through trying to understand this very long time of unemployment, and how desperate I’ve been at times to see it come to an end. But right now, Lord, I give it to You–every bit of it–and if You want it to go on for ten more years You have Your reasons. You are the Potter and I am the clay. It’s “Your will be done” and not mine. So I give it to You and I leave it with You because there is nobody on this planet that I trust like I trust You. You have been an incredibly faithful God to me and I thank You for all that you have done for me during this time and in my life.

Thank you, Lord . . . .

In Jesus’ name,

Amen . . . .

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

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The Time of Testing . . .

A very thought-provoking post from Thought for the Day.” It’s too easy to just “coast along” with the Christian crowd and lose sight of the whole reason we came to Jesus Christ in the first place, and that is especially true for those of us who have known Jesus as Savior and Lord for many years. But has He really been Lord? Savior, yes, but who really controls our lives? Do we? Or does He? Maybe that is why our relationship with Him has grown either cold or lukewarm. Doing “the church thing” won’t satisfy the longing for a personal relationship with Him, and it can, very well, mask it. Maybe it’s time to take off that mask. Spend some quality time with Him to find out–and no excuses! Do it today! ~Sara’s Musings

Thought For the Day

Jesus said, “You are my friends, if you do the things which I command you” (John 15:14) Then we read in the Song of Solomon: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love is more delightful than wine . . .” (Song 1:1)

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