Heresy 101

sound doctrineI am a big fan of Dr. A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) and I have included some of his writings in several of my previous blog posts. He pulls no punches and tells it just like it really is, without all the flowery language or the “tickling of ears” so common in our churches today (and in his day, too) as stated in 2 Timothy 4:3:

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

And there is no shortage of teachers like that especially if they can make a lot of money off of it, too. That was happening in Tozer’s day and it is happening with ever increasing frequency in our day, too. And Tozer was not afraid to call it what it is–heresy. Tozer’s words are as fresh and piercing today as when he wrote and spoke them even though the language is often reminiscent of his era–the early and mid-20th Century including the exclusive use of the KJV Bible. He had a true heart and unbridled passion for God that was not often seen in or heard from others in his day. With the many Christian celebrities across our landscape today touting a plethora of Christian books and materials to go along with their celebrity status, Tozer’s writings still pierce through the glut. And while he could have lived a “celebrity” lifestyle, he chose not to do so.

During Tozer’s 44 years of ministry, he authored “more than 40 books, and two are regarded as Christian classics: ‘The Pursuit of God’ and ‘The Knowledge of the Holy(the latter is also available online at this link). His books impress on the reader the possibility and necessity for a deeper relationship with God. Living a simple and non-materialistic lifestyle, he and his wife never owned a car, preferring bus and train travel. Even after becoming a well-known Christian author, Tozer signed away much of his royalties to those who were in need. Prayer was of vital personal importance for Tozer. ‘His preaching as well as his writings were but extensions of his prayer life,’ comments his biographer, James L. Snyder, in the book, ‘In Pursuit of God: The Life of A.W. Tozer.’ ‘He had the ability to make his listeners face themselves in the light of what God was saying to them,’ writes Snyder” (quote source here).

There is so much out there in our society today that goes by the title, Christianity,” and much of it is just as Tozer described in his day–heresy.” GotQuestions?org defines heresy as following:

A basic definition of heresy, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, is “adherence to a religious opinion contrary to church dogma.” A second definition is “dissent or deviation from a dominant theory, opinion, or practice.” That’s a good starting point for us. These definitions identify two key elements: a dominant position and a contrary position. With regards to religion, any belief or practice that goes against the official position of the church is considered heretical. . . .

Regarding biblical Christianity, what is heresy? Second Peter 2:1 says, “There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.” From this verse, we see that heresy is anything that denies the teaching of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 11:19, Paul takes the church to task for having heresies among them—heresies that led to schisms in the body. These verses touch on both aspects of what constitutes heresy in the church: denying the doctrines God has given, and dividing the body He has created. Both of these are dangerous, destructive actions that are soundly rebuked by Scripture. See also 1 John 4:1-61 Timothy 1:3-62 Timothy 1:13-14; and Jude 1 (quote source and full definition here).

In My Daily Pursuit: Devotions for Every Day (2013), by A.W. Tozer; compiled and edited by James L. Snyder, Tozer states:

Heresy abounds today, with people believing only what they want to believe. Heretics emphasize certain words or phrases so they can follow along and accept one while rejecting another; doing one thing but refusing another. Heretics are pickers and choosers among the Word of God.

The most dangerous aspect about heresy is that in many regards what they believe is right. It is not what one believes, but rather, it is what one refuses to believe that makes heretics very dangerous. If they were all bad, they would not have much influence in the evangelical church today.

What makes it worse is what they say you can accept and believe, and by doing that they suck you down a certain pathway and eventually lead you away from all the truth. It takes all the truth to make it God’s Word. You cannot take only one slice of truth and disassociate it from the rest of the Bible.

Evangelicals need to be careful not to ride their favorite hobbyhorse while ignoring other things and compromising the power of God’s Word (quote from p. 44 for February 1).

One of the biggest reasons this happens is because sin is not taken seriously by many of those calling themselves Christian today. Tozer states (from the same book mentioned above):

An idea that seem to be gaining strength these days is that sin is not quite as serious as some of us have imagined it to be. There are all kinds of ways to excuse sin. Perhaps the best way is to call it by some other name.

For some, sin is just a mistake. After all, nobody is perfect. The problem is that being perfect has nothing at all to do with not sinning.

When we lessen the seriousness of sin, we are in dispute with the entire Bible. No matter if you go to the Old Testament or the New Testament, sin is always presented as a terrible thing. The Old Testament sacrifices emphasize God’s thoughts about sin. To read through the sacrifices laid out in the Old Testament is to become very weary. God takes a very dim view about sin.

I must look at sin and think about sin as God does. As I pursue the Word of God, the Holy Spirit will impress upon me how terrible sin is in God’s mind.

God rejects worship not founded on the redeeming blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (quote from p. 42 for January 30).

No crossMost of us certainly don’t think of sin in those terms today, and much of that comes from the religious professionals (as in pastors and teachers) preaching to us in the pulpits across America who don’t emphasis or treat lightly the subject of sin combined with a low view of God (a subject about which Tozer also has much to say–see devotional titled, A Right Belief about God at this link and quoted below). In fact, beyond the point of saying a little “Jesus” prayer to accept Jesus into our hearts and lives, sin is treated almost as if it is irrelevant beyond that point. In fact, often they make it sound like we can still keep on sinning and doing anything we want and treating others any way we like just like we were doing before we “accepted” Jesus. And whoopee, we get a free pass to heaven, too.

And that’s heresy at the base of its very rotten core . . . .

Another book titled, I Call It Heresy (1991), by Tozer, compiled and edited by Gerald B. Smith, contains a series of essays written on the topic of heresy and other timely topics from the book of First Peter (the book is available online in PDF format at this link). In a chapter titled, “Holiness Is Not an Option!”, Tozer states:

There is something basically wrong with our Christianity and our spirituality if we can carelessly presume that if we do not like a Biblical doctrine and choose not to “buy” it, there is no harm done.

Commandments which we have received from our Lord or from the apostles cannot be overlooked or ignored by earnest and committed Christians. God has never instructed us that we should weigh His desires for us and His commandments to us in the balances of our own judgment and then decide what we want to do about them.

A professing Christian may say, “I have found a place of real Christian freedom; these things just don’t apply to me.”

Of course you can walk out on it! God has given every one of us the power to make our own choices. I am not saying that we are forced to bow our necks to this yoke and we do not have to apply it to ourselves. It is true that if we do not like it, we can turn our backs on it.

The record in the New Testament is plain on this point – many people followed Jesus for a while and then walked away from Him. Once Jesus said to His disciples: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). Many looked at one another and then walked away from Him.

Jesus turned to those remaining and said, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67). Peter gave the answer which is still my answer today: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Those were wise words, indeed, words born of love and devotion.

So, we are not forced to obey in the Christian life, but we are forced to make a choice at many points in our spiritual maturity.

We have that power within us to reject God’s instruction – but where else shall we go? If we refuse His words, which way will we turn? If we turn away from the authority of God’s Word, to whose authority do we yield? Our mistake is that we generally turn to some other human – a man with breath in his nostrils.

I am old-fashioned about the Word of God and its authority. I am committed to believe that if we ignore it or consider this commandment optional, we jeopardize our souls and earn for ourselves severe judgment to come (pp. 62-64).

As I mentioned above, our capacity to wink at and/or justify our own sins is bottomless, and it is often combined with our low opinion of God. God is not a “Christian” version of Santa Claus, as we often make him out to be in America today. Tozer would have none of it back then, and we should have none of it now. In the devotion by Tozer that I mentioned above titled, A Right Belief about God,” he states:

It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the 20th century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity.

All the problems of heaven and earth, though they were to confront us together and at once, would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about Him.

The man who comes to a right belief about God is relieved of 10,000 temporal problems, for he sees at once that these have to do with matters that at the most cannot concern him for very long; but even if the multiple burdens of time may be lifted from him, the one mighty single burden of eternity begins to press down upon him with a weight more crushing than all the woes of the world piled one upon another. That mighty burden is his obligation to God. It includes an instant and lifelong duty to love God with every power of mind and soul, to obey Him perfectly, and to worship Him acceptably. And when the man’s laboring conscience tells him that he has done none of these things, but has from childhood been guilty of foul revolts against the Majesty in the heavens, the inner pressure of self-accusation may become too heavy to bear.

The gospel can lift this destroying burden from the mind, give beauty for ashes, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. But unless the weight of the burden is felt, the gospel can mean nothing to the man; and until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden. Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them (quote source here).

Read the last two sentenced again. “But unless the weight of the burden is felt, the gospel can mean nothing to the man; and until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden. Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.”

We need to ask where the “woe” is in the easy-believism of today’s modern church. (See discussion on What is easy believism? at this link at GotQuestions?org.) Asking people to repeat a little Jesus prayer without any context as to what, how, and why it is actually taking place (often given at the end of a sermon that rarely had anything to do with Jesus) doesn’t change anyone. And churches today are full of folks who don’t really understand at even a basic level what “following Jesus” means. And, an ever growing number of pastors and/or teachers emphasize all the benefits without counting any of the costs involved (and 2 Peter 2 and Jude has a lot to say about them, too).

Unless the weight of the burden is felt, the gospel can mean nothing to the man . . . 

Until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden . . .

And no gospel, either . . . .

YouTube Video: “High and Lifted Up” sung by Hillsong:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Show Me The Money

show me the moneyMost of us remember a quote made famous in the movie, Jerry Maguire (1996), starring Tom Cruise as Jerry Maquire, a sports agent, and Cuba Gooding, Jr., as wide receiver Rod Tidwell (see this link for a synopsis of the movie). The quote (which is also the title of this blog post) is found in the following dialogue (quote source here):

[Rod has just told Jerry he will keep him as his agent]

Jerry Maguire: That’s, that’s great. I’m very… happy.

Rod Tidwell: Are you listenin’?

Jerry Maguire: Yes!

Rod Tidwell: That’s what I’m gonna do for you: God bless you, Jerry. But this is what you gonna do for me. You listenin’, Jerry?

Jerry Maguire: Yeah, what, what, what can I do for you, Rod? You just tell me what can I do for you?

Rod Tidwell: It’s a very personal, a very important thing. Hell, it’s a family motto. Are you ready, Jerry?

Jerry Maguire: I’m ready.

Rod Tidwell: I wanna make sure you’re ready, brother. Here it is: Show me the money. Oh-ho-ho! SHOW! ME! THE! MONEY! A-ha-ha! Jerry, doesn’t it make you feel good just to say that! Say it with me one time, Jerry.

Jerry Maguire: Show you the money.

Rod Tidwell: Oh, no, no. You can do better than that, Jerry! I want you to say it with you, with meaning, brother! Hey, I got Bob Sugar on the other line; I bet you he can say it!

Jerry Maguire: Yeah, yeah, no, no, no. Show you the money.

Rod Tidwell: No! Not show you! Show me the money!

Jerry Maguire: Show me the money!

Rod Tidwell: Yeah! Louder!

Jerry Maguire: Show me the money!

The dialogue goes on a bit longer but you get the message. And we’ve become a nation full of “show me the money” folks, too. As I stated in my last blog post, No Free Lunch,” it is based in our voracious appetite for accumulating as much as we can in wealth and material possessions in this life. And, unfortunately, many Christians in America are just as caught up in that mentality as the message of material prosperity has been propagated by many of the more famous (and rich) among us through their various ministries. And they would have us believe that “faith = money,” and nothing could be further from the truth.

We need to take a look at what genuine faith really looks and acts like as stated in Hebrews 11:

Faith in Action

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance,admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a cityfor them.

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.

By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.

By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames,and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

By faith . . . . And there is nothing in those verses that even eludes to “faith = money.” So why do we often equate money and material possessions with faith? The bottom line is it’s because of our greed. We are far more focused on the “here and now” and what we can get in this life then we are about living out a real and dynamic faith in Jesus Christ that has nothing to do with this “material world” of ours. And there is nothing in that entire chapter that eludes to faith being equated with the acquiring of money and material prosperity. Nothing!

In-God-We-Trust-copyIn fact, when Jesus spoke about money, it was not in a positive direction. For example, Jesus clearly stated in Matthew 6:24, “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.” So why don’t we get that? Because of greed and what we want in the “here and now.”

Faith is proved out by action, not appearances. Our American “success model” of Christianity would have Jesus living on Prosperity Street in a big house at the end of Success Way if he was physically walking on the earth today. And his ministry today (if you believe some folks) wouldn’t include a cross; instead, it would include a pot of gold at the end of some rainbow and all the “get rich quick” schemes including ten easy steps of faith to acquire it. And sin? Well, we all know God winks at sin, right? Right?

And that’s blasphemy . . . yet we find that kind of thinking and rationale everywhere in our culture today.

Let’s look further on the topic of Jesus and money and what he had to say about it. Let’s take a look at the dialogue he had with a rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22?

The Rich and the Kingdom of God

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell everything that he had and give it to the poor, and then he would have treasures in heaven. In heaven, not here on earth. And the rich younger ruler went away sad as he couldn’t do it.

If we are mostly concerned about acquiring more money and material possessions and that whole “more, more, more” mentality, we aren’t operating on faith at all. We are operating on greed as in the heretical equation of “faith = money.” And there’s a lot of that aberrant teaching going on out there in our society today. In fact, it’s made a whole lot of those folks rich and famous. But the rest of us? Not so much. But try to convince folks that they aren’t really focused on money instead of Jesus and see how far you get. It’s like beating a dead horse. And greed will eventually turn a heart stone cold.

In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus tells us a parable regarding a rich fool. Let’s read it:

The Parable of the Rich Fool

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he 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.”

Running after prosperity leads to spiritual death, because the focus is on us and what we can get from Jesus instead of on Jesus and what he wants from us as his followers. While there is a whole “theology” out there driving some ministries that states Jesus was really rich and they focus on material prosperity in the “here and now,” nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, early on in his ministry Jesus made this statement to a teacher of the law who told him he would follow Jesus anywhere (see Matthew 8:18-20):

When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man [referring to himself] has no place to lay his head.”

There is a cost to following Jesus Christ, but you won’t find it on Prosperity Street at the end of Success Way, or wishing you could live there and doing anything you can to acquire it (which can and often does enter into questionable ethical/legal issues).

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.” But no matter how many times we may read that verse, we still believe we can be one of the few who can handle money/possessions without loving them and wanting more and doing anything to get more, too, if the opportunity presents itself. We are blinded by greed and the insatiable desire to have more, no matter what the actual cost is to us and to others in the end.

Right after the parable of the rich fool (stated above) in Luke 12:13-21, Jesus made the following statement, which is far more important for us to consider then chasing after money and material possessions (Luke 12:22-32):

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”

And that kingdom is the kingdom of heaven, not the kingdoms we try to build for ourselves here on earth.

I’ll end this post with this verse from Hebrews 13:5:

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.”

And that’s a promise God will keep, but don’t overlook the condition to receiving it. Jesus said we cannot serve both God and money . . . .

So which will it be?

The choice is ours . . .

God or money . . . .

YouTube Video: “Money” by Pink Floyd:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

No Free Lunch

No Free Lunch “‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’ is a popular adage communicating the idea that it is impossible to get something for nothing” (quote source here). The phrase was popularized by Nobel Prize winning free-market economist Milton Friedman (1912-2006) in his 1975 book with the same title. The adage “indicates an acknowledgement that in reality a person or a society cannot get ‘something for nothing’. Even if something appears to be free, there is always a cost to the person or to society as a whole” (quote source here).

There is no free lunch, folks. And while looking for it at the bottom of it all is greed. In a 2012 article titled, Greed, Justice and Deception,” by Edward Hadas, the opening paragraph states:

Greed contributes to all the economic and financial woes of prosperous societies. The United States and other rich countries produce much more than is needed to support all of their people in comfort, so if desires were all truly modest, there would be few problems. Greed encourages people to decide that their own share is too small. Greed influences the popular desire for GDP growth (more, faster), financial gains (higher house prices as a human right) and total economic security (guaranteed pension, come what may). Voters’ greed encourages governments to spend more and tax less (quote source here).

He goes on to state:

The problem is profound, and not merely economic. In all domains, greed can be crude. Think of a toddler reaching for a sibling’s toy or slice of cake. But it often masquerades as a virtuous desire for a deal that is “only fair.”

. . .Greed distorts everyone’s perceptions and judgments. The rich are particularly easy targets in a society which is theoretically committed to equality. Consider how bankers responded to their boom-time bonuses – almost all measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. On most trading floors the mood on announcement-day was funereal. To a man (there were few women traders), they were persuaded that their rewards were unjustly low. Only members of their charmed circle could possibly see anything other than greed at work.

However, the temptation to feel hard done by is not limited to the rich; it is universal. The welfare state with its entitlements culture has helped propagate disguised greed among the poor; the inflation of house prices did the same for the middle classes. If bankers were greedy when they lent excessively to homeowner-speculators, the borrowers were at least as greedy when they signed on for loans they could not afford to repay. The rapid increase of medical costs, for rich and poor alike, is best explained by disguised entitlements-greed in a domain where justice can easily be invoked to demand the prolongation of life at any cost (quote source here).

“Greed distorts everyone’s perceptions and judgments.” A concise definition for greed is “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed” (quote source: Of course, I dare say that all of us have a rather warped idea of what constitutes a “need.” And most of what we think are “needs” are really “wants.” For example, we may not really need a new car, but we sure want one. And the iPhone 5 ends up being replaced as soon as the iPhone 6 hit the market. And clothes? Well, you get the picture. The list of “wants” is endless. Our actual needs are really very, very basic–food, clothing, shelter (and I’m not talking about the fancy and/or expensive stuff either), safety, love. Beyond that, we get into our “want” categories. And that’s where greed takes hold.

The Bible has a lot to say about greed and none of it is good. The following is taken from GotGuestions?org in answer to this question:

Question: “What does the Bible say about greed?”

Answer: There are many warnings in the Bible about giving in to greed and longing for riches. Jesus warned, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal… You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:19 and 24). Did Jesus pursue the acquisition of money? No. On the contrary, He became poor for our sake (2 Corinthians 8:9) and had “no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). The only disciple concerned with wealth was the embezzler Judas, who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

Greed and a desire for riches are traps that bring ruin and destruction. “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” and Christians are warned, “Do not put your trust in wealth” (1 Timothy 6:9-1017-18). Covetousness, or wanting more than we have, is idolatry. “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Ephesians 5:5). The principle to remember is contained in Hebrews 13:5: “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.’”

It is the love of money, and not money itself, that is the problem. The love of money is a sin because it gets in the way of worshiping God. Jesus said it was very hard for rich people to enter the Kingdom of God. When the rich young ruler asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life, Jesus told him to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:16-22Luke 10:17-31). By instructing him to give up his money, Jesus pointed out the young man’s main problem: greed. The man could not follow Christ because he was following money. His love of this world interfered with his love for God.

People are more likely to cry out to God when they are in need than when they have plenty. Too often, the wealthy become complacent and self-satisfied and ascribe their riches to their own efforts instead of acknowledging that every good gift comes from God. The easier our lives become, the more enjoyment we derive from our wealth, the greater the temptation to store up treasures on earth, instead of in heaven. If we focus on earthly things like material wealth and possessions, then we fail to give God the glory and worship He deserves. We are to serve God, not waste our time trying to become rich (Proverbs 23:4). Our heart’s desire should be to store up riches in heaven and not worry about what we will eat or drink or wear. “But seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:25-34). (Quote source here.)

Gain the world lose your soul“The only disciple concerned with wealth was the embezzler Judas, who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.” That should give every single one of us who call ourselves Christian a big pause for thought. What are we willing to do to get rich if we could do it? If we are willing to do anything, including betraying anyone to get rich (and no reason is good enough), we are on very shaky ground. And we are exactly like Judas.

Also, as stated above, Greed and a desire for riches are traps that bring ruin and destruction. “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” and Christians are warned, “Do not put your trust in wealth” (1 Timothy 6:9-1017-18). Covetousness, or wanting more than we have, is idolatry.” And in answer to the question, “Why is the love of money a root of all kinds of evil?” GotQuestions?org makes the following statement:

Why is the love of money a root of all kinds of evil? To help us answer this, we must look at the passage in its greater context. Near the end of the letter (1 Timothy 6:2–10), Paul is exhorting Timothy regarding the need to “teach and urge these things” to his congregation, “these things” referring back to earlier material in the epistle. Paul then warns Timothy about false teachers who will seek to warp and pervert the content of sound doctrine for their own greedy gain (verses 3–5). Now notice what the apostle says at the end of verse 5: “Imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” These false teachers do what they do for the fame and notoriety they achieve, along with the financial rewards it brings.

Paul wants to steer Timothy away from that trap. In doing so, he tells him the real source of “great gain;” namely, godliness with true contentment (verse 6). Contentment, in a biblical sense, is the recognition that we come into the world with nothing and that everything we have is a gift from God’s hands (verses 7–8). Yet those who desire to be rich (i.e., those who have the “love of money”) are the ones who are led into temptation and fall into a snare (verse 9). Paul concludes the passage by telling Timothy that the love of money leads to all sorts of sin and evil. (Quote source here).

As Edward Hadas stated in his article at the beginning of this post, greed is incredibly deceptive. We can often see it in others, but not in ourselves. And in America, the desire to be rich is everywhere and it has invaded the church culture, too. It has even invaded pulpits and entire congregations.

Greed is never satisfied. “The greedy will use deception to acquire material goods. The greedy will lie and use false pretenses to acquired goods at the expense of others” (quote source here). In an example given of a woman who won the lottery, she stated afterwards, “People are so mean. I hope you win the lottery and see what happens to you” (quote source here). When it comes to greed, it touches everybody, and it can destroy everybody, too. Jesus made it very clear when he said, “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” (Matthew 6:24). And don’t even fool yourself into thinking you can somehow be the exception to that rule.

The bottom line on greed is this:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:7-9).

Greed destroys everything it touches, and it will destroy us in the end if we allow it free reign in our lives. We live in a culture that consumes anything it can get its hands on without any thought for the consequences. Don’t get pulled into that mess, and if you are already there, get out now . . . .

Do not be deceived . . .

God is not mocked . . . 

Don’t learn that lesson the hard way . . . .

YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul,” by TobyMac (with Kirk Franklin & Mandisa):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Cherry Picking 101

cherry pickingWe all do it. We choose what we like and cast off what we don’t like, often with little regard as to what it is we are really casting off. In science it is defined as “choosing to make selective choices among competing evidence, so as to emphasize those results that support a given position, while ignoring or dismissing any findings that do not support it–a practice known as “cherry picking” –and it is a hallmark of poor science or pseudo-science” (quote source here).

Now bear with me through this next definition:

Cherry picking, suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence is the act of pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position. It is a kind of fallacy of selective attention, the most common example of which is the confirmation bias. Cherry picking may be committed intentionally or unintentionally. This fallacy is a major problem in public debate.

The term is based on the perceived process of harvesting fruit, such as cherries. The picker would be expected to only select the ripest and healthiest fruits. An observer who only sees the selected fruit may thus wrongly conclude that most, or even all, of the fruit is in such good condition. A less common type of cherry picking is to gather only fruit that is easy to harvest ignoring quality fruit higher up the tree. This can also give observers a false impression about the quality of fruit on the tree.

Cherry picking can be found in many logical fallacies. For example, the “fallacy of anecdotal evidence” tends to overlook large amounts of data in favor of that known personally, “selective use of evidence” rejects material unfavorable to an argument, while a false dichotomy picks only two options when more are available. Cherry picking can refer to the selection of data or data sets so a study or survey will give desired, predictable results which may be misleading or even completely contrary to actuality. (Quote source here).

Okay, you can stop snoring and wake up. You get the idea. Selective choosing or “cherry picking” is often accomplished by suppressing evidence in order to support a given position. What brought this subject to my mind was a bookmark that I purchased when I was at a Christian bookstore in Houston in December. This bookmark had the following statement written across the top, “Prayer Changes Everything,” with the accompanying verses printed below the caption:

If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. ~Matthew 21:22

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 4:6-7

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances. ~I Thessalonians 5:16-18

After almost six years of unemployment on top of the difficulty I found recently while trying to secure affordable housing on a very limited income while I was in Houston (I did not find it after looking for 14 weeks in Houston and I’m back looking for it here in Florida again), I found that bookmark to be very encouraging so I purchased it. And last night as I was contemplating for the umpteenth time in the past six years when this particular trial of mine (long term unemployment and now the housing issue added to it) was finally going to come to an end, I ran across that bookmark in my Bible. Of course, regarding my long term unemployment situation I have also become aware over this long period of time of circumstances beyond my control that are involved. Yeah . . . .

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I am “up” 98% of the time regardless of this ongoing trial of mine, but since a few days before Christmas when I was still in Houston until now (almost a month later) I’ve been battling a cold/flu type illness that has been determined to hang on through my road trip from Houston back to Florida and the two weeks I’ve been back. Fortunately, it is nearing it’s last cough and sniffle.

Isaiah55_10-11Anyway, as I mentioned above, last night I pulled out my Bible and the bookmark was in it, and I read those verses (see above). As a read Phil. 4:6-7 I was reminded of the fact that the only promise contained in those two verses was not that my prayers and petitions would be answered in the way I was/am hoping for, but that by “not being anxious about anything” (e.g., including the housing situation and the long term unemployment problem ad nauseum) and presenting my requests with thanksgiving to God for all He has done for me during these six years; that it is the peace of God that he promises to give me, which truly does transcend all human understanding and will guard my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus (and it will do the same for you, too). After reading those verses I decided to read the entire book of Philippians (it’s not long, only four chapters).

So often we (as Christians) focus on the verses that we like to hear while ignoring their framework (as in context, context, context). Verses like those cited above make for great bookmarks, posters, and all the other things we tend to print them on, but they don’t tell the whole story. They only tell a tiny piece of it–the pieces we want to hear while ignoring the rest. There are no quick and easy Cliff Notes on how we can get everything we want without any cost to us when it comes to living out genuine, authentic Christianity.

We tend to “cherry pick” our way through the Bible, selectively choosing what we want and leaving the rest (which tends to be most of it) behind. The Apostle Paul wrote the book of Philippians while he was in prison, and in Chapter 1 he goes to great lengths to explain how his “chains” were advancing the Gospel. In America we don’t often equate being in chains (e.g., in Paul’s case, in prison) with the success model of Christianity we have so often been sold on–a model that is completely opposite from the biblical evidence of the New Testament. Let’s read what Paul had to say in vv. 12-30:

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me [his imprisonment] has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

Read that last verse again, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” We are in a war, but often here in America we are fast sleep to that fact and the enemy has come in like a flood. We are often more interested in “what’s in it for me” (e.g., the verses we like to read) then what it really means to follow after Christ and what is required of us (as in counting the cost of following Jesus Christ). And Paul clearly describes that war and how we are to fight it in Ephesians 6:10-18.

There is so much to learn in these four brief chapters in Philippians and not just those few “catch phrase” verses that end up posted on bookmarks, postcards, coffee cups, etc. We need to “dig in” and search just as hard as we do with our work or our entertainment or all the things that keep us distracted and from doing it. There is no “coasting along” in the Christian life. None. 

Forget about the “success model” of Christianity that is so prolific in our culture and find out what the true model of Christianity looks like by reading about it in the Bible and not getting it second hand from the latest best selling Christian book to come off the presses. Cherry picking doesn’t work when it comes to our relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s all or nothing, and you’ll find it all in the Bible. And the Bible doesn’t lie or have ulterior motives like some folks do (as Paul described in the verses above).

Let’s look at the context surrounding Philippians 4:6-7 (the “bookmark” verses). It gives us the whole picture (vv. 4:4-9):

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

“Rejoice in the Lord always . . . let your gentleness be evident to all” –that puts those verses in the right context. And the following verses tells us what we should be setting our minds on–things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable; things that are excellent or praiseworthy. “And the God of peace will be with you.” And Paul admonished us to “put it into practice.” So put it into practice . . .

Put it into practice . . .

Put it into practice . . . .

Got it?

YouTube Video: “Gotta Serve Somebody” sung by Natalie Cole:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Price of Neglect

neglectedThe alarm goes off . . . you roll over and hit the snooze button for five more minutes of precious sleep. It goes off again, and this time you jump out of bed and rush headlong into another busy day with too many things to do and not enough time to get them all done, and that doesn’t even include any family responsibilities that get squeezed in unless the kids or your spouse woke you up before the alarm did. At least single folks don’t have that last challenge listed. Life in the frenetic zone is well entrenched in the American culture and nobody seems to have enough time to get done what is truly needed.

It’s the tyranny of the urgent” (a phrase coined by Charles Hummel in his 1967 booklet with the same title–click link to read) that takes control. And the things that are truly important often get pushed aside for another day that, again, never seems to have enough hours in it to get everything done. And for those of us who call ourselves Christian, taking care of our spiritual life can end up at the bottom of a bottomless list of things to do. Unfortunately, that affects everything else that we do.

A.W. Tozer (1897-1963), widely regarded as one of the deepest theological thinkers of the 20th Century, wrote a book titled, The Price of Neglect,” and the first chapter of the book is titled by the same name. Here is what he had to say in that chapter:

Plato has somewhere said that in a democratic society the price wise men pay for neglecting politics is to be ruled by unwise men.

This observation is so patently true that no one who values his reputation for clear thinking is likely to contest it.

In America, for instance, there are millions of plain men and women, decent, honest and peace loving, who take their blessings for granted and make no effort to assure the continuance of our free society. These persons are without doubt far in the majority. They constitute the main body of our population, but for all their numbers they are not going to determine the direction our country will go in the next few years. Their weakness lies in their passivity. They sit back and allow radicals and those in the minority but who shout the loudest to set the course for the future. If this continues much longer we have no assurance that we can retain that liberty which was once purchased for us at such appalling cost.

The price good and sober Christians pay for doing nothing is to be led by those highly vocal minorities whose only qualifications for leadership are an overweening ambition and a loud voice. And there have always been and always will be such persons in the congregations of the saints. They know least and talk most, while sane and godly men too often give up leadership to them rather than to resist them. Later these same docile souls may shake their heads and lament their captivity. But by that time it is too late.

Within the circles of evangelical Christianity itself there has arisen in the last few years dangerous and dismaying trends away from true Bible Christianity. A spirit has been introduced which is surely not the Spirit of Christ, methods employed which are wholly carnal, objectives adopted which have not one line of Scripture to support them, a level of conduct accepted which is practically identical with that of the world-and yet scarcely one voice has been raised in opposition. And this in spite of the fact that the Bible-honoring followers of Christ lament among themselves the dangerous, wobbly course things are taking.

So radically is the essential spirit and content of orthodox Christianity changing these days under the vigorous leadership of undiscerning religionists that, if the trend is not stopped, what is called Christianity will soon be something altogether other than the faith of our fathers. We’ll have only Bible words left. Bible religion will have perished from wounds received in the house of her friends.

The times call for a Spirit-baptized and articulate orthodoxy. They whose souls have been illuminated by the Holy Ghost must arise and under God assume leadership. There are those among us whose hearts can discern between the true and the false, whose spiritual sense of smell enables them to detect the spurious afar off, who have the blessed gift of knowing. Let such as these arise and be heard. Who knows but the Lord may return and leave a blessing behind Him? (Quote source here.)

Tozer penned those words decades ago, yet the reality of what he stated back then has taken hold of the Church exactly as he stated. It was a clarion call to get back to the basics of authentic Christianity that was fast disappearing in his day and as he stated, “if the trend is not stopped, what is called Christianity will soon be something altogether other than the faith of our fathers. We’ll have only Bible words left. Bible religion will have perished from wounds received in the house of her friends.”

Because we live in a fast-paced society, we often leave any spiritual emphasis for our lives up to our pastors to give us in a quick and easy 30-minute sermon on Sunday morning (and if we can catch it online, all the better). But don’t ask us on Wednesday what the message was about because we will have long since forgotten it in our rushing around to get everything else done. We now live in a cultural climate where many, many folks who call themselves “Christian” haven’t got a clue what it really means (see this link for an excellent definition). It reminds me of an article I read two or three years ago about the parents who brought their teenage son to their pastor so that the pastor could answer the son’s question. And the son’s question, after seeing a painting of Christ hanging on the cross, asked his parents, “Who’s the guy hanging on the plus sign?” That the parents could not answer the question and, instead, brought their son to the pastor for an answer speaks volumes about the biblical illiteracy that has spread like a cancer across our landscape in America. It is far too easy to say we are Christian without having a clue what it really means and how, if truly practiced, it can radically change our lives.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt goes without saying that much of what Tozer stated regarding how “radically is the essential spirit and content of orthodox Christianity changing these days under the vigorous leadership of undiscerning religionists” that it has infiltrated many of today’s pulpits across the land, and add to that mix the harried and hurried masses that do attend Sunday services but have made little to no time available for cultivating their own personal relationship with Jesus Christ through prayer and studying the Bible, and we end up with the blind leading the blind in many cases. We end up with parents who bring their children to the pastor to answer elementary questions about Christianity; answers that the parents should have already known from personal experience.

Somewhere in the past couple of decades we’ve acquired this “rah rah” mentality regarding Christianity–a sort of Pollyanna syrupy sweetness to all things Christian hyped up with cheering squad antics. “Rah, rah, rah . . . Yea, Jesus!” And it goes right along with the inch-deep spirituality that is so prevalent across our land. Our Christianity becomes just one more thing we “do” in life instead of becoming “the very essence of life itself.” And what we end up with is just what Tozer stated when he wrote, “What is called Christianity will soon be something altogether other than the faith of our fathers.” And it is, too.

And that kind of Christianity will evaporate quickly when the really tough times comes because there is no solid foundation at it’s core. If we believe in this mild-mannered Jesus we’ve been sold on who is here to grant us our heart’s desire and give us our every wish without any cost on our part (and who preaches on counting the cost anymore? See Luke 14) then when the bottom falls out of our lives there is no foundation to support us. None. And that’s because we’ve been led to believe in a “genie” type of God who does not exist. Read and study the Bible and you’ll find out that is very, very true.

God never winks at sin, although the concept makes for a great best selling book that makes a lot of money for the author, and for pastors who preach that we now have a “free pass” when it comes to sin and can keep on doing whatever we want. Again, read the Bible and don’t just take someone else’s word for it. We wouldn’t think about getting a college degree by riding on someone else’s coattails and not doing any serious studying on our own, so why do we not take seriously our own need to develop a personal and growing relationship with Jesus Christ instead of depending on a 30-minute sermon from last Sunday that may or may not even be Biblical?

This is one area of every Christian’s life that cannot be ignored, no matter how full one’s schedule is in life. If you don’t know how to make time, pray and ask God to show you how to do it, and believe that He will show you, too, if you are honest with Him and sincerely want to get to know Him better. Take Him at His word and not just what someone has passed along to you. Trust Him, and He will show you.

We need to stop making excuses for our complacency (and I’m writing to myself as much as I’m stressing this point to you). Life will ALWAYS get in the way of our relationship with Jesus Christ if we let it. And there are a million distractions to grab our attention and we have to stop giving in to most of them. We are talking about eternity here, folks, and not just what we can get in this life to make it better. And it’s not about what we can get in this life anyway. The ideal of the American Dream didn’t come from God. And those Christians suffering under horrible conditions in other parts of our world are just like us, and their faith is being sorely tested, but it is in the testing that we (Christians) gain perseverence (see James 1). If all we have is a “Rah, rah, yea, Jesus!” mentality behind our Christianity it won’t get us through even the slightest of rough spots when they come our way.

The price of neglect is a price we can’t afford to pay. If you don’t know where to start then pray, right now, for God to show you what to do and how to do it. When I started down this very long road of unemployment almost six years ago, I had no clue what was going to happen in the beginning other then I knew I needed a job as soon as possible. And it got me on my knees faster than anything else could have done. And all that “rah, rah” stuff fell away pretty fast, too. It’s amazing how the “rose colored glasses” that Christians here in America have a big tendency to wear fall off pretty fast when the bottom falls out of their lives. It’s at that point they either run the other way or depend totally upon the only Savior there is instead of everything else they have been depending on in His place.

So far, in these past six years, He has not given me one thing I have asked for (well, the big things, I mean) that I thought was definitely an immediate need (and who doesn’t need a job in our society, and now I’m looking for a more permanent and affordable home, too), and yet He has shown me some of the most incredible and amazing things through this hardship that I never would have known had I not experienced them first hand–things people don’t get to see or understand when everything is going along well in their lives and they tend to depend upon the paycheck and everything else instead of God.

If you’ve been reading my blog posts you know much of what I have experienced and what I have been learning from it. And after all of this time I’m still unemployment, too. However, despite what my circumstances and my life might look like on the outside to others, what God has put on the inside of me and how He has provided for my every need all along the way is something I wouldn’t trade for a million dollars or a palace on the French Riviera.

So, don’t depend on others when it comes to your relationship with Jesus Christ. Do it yourself–there is no other way. Make time for Him. He is not some painting hanging on a wall or sculpture in a church. He is the living, breathing Lord and Savior of everyone who personally knows and believes in Him (see John 3:16-18).

Make time and get to really know Him . . .

And do it now . . . .

YouTube Video: “Don’t Get Comfortable” by Brandon Heath:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2credit here

“Ain’t No Sunshine” So I Came Back

They say (you know, that infamous and anonymous “they”) that “home is where the heart is.” Well, I’ve been traveling so much over the past almost three years just looking for a job that it’s a good thing in my case that my “home” is wherever I physically happen to be. And for me, once my mother died back in Iowa in 1983, it’s not a particular place but rather it’s any place I happen to be. If she hadn’t died back then, my life would have taken a very different turn as I never would have left her alone in Iowa. She was divorced and in poor health, and I loved her very much. But with her death I gained a freedom I didn’t even know was waiting for me and at that time I ended up going back to college to finish my bachelor’s degree (at 31); then I completed a master’s degree (at 39); and then I was awarded a doctoral fellowship at 40 and move to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in June 1992, and the rest, as that infamous and anonymous “they” say, is history . . . .

As you know if you’ve been a regular reader of my blog, I left for Houston, Texas, at the end of September 2014 and was planning to stay there long term. Well, I did stay for 14 weeks (just a little over three months) but I have returned to Florida this past week as it was clearly obvious after that amount of time that no door was going to open up for me any time soon, and by the time the New Year rolled around, the sunshine was starting to disappear, too. Reminds me of a song sung by Joe Cocker (originally sung by Bill Withers) titled, “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone . . .” (see YouTube video below of the song sung by Joe Cocker). Well, as that sunshine was starting to disappear in Houston for the winter (it comes and goes at this time of year, as do the warmer temps), I decided it was time to come back to the Land of Sunshine (Florida) after spending 14 weeks in the Houston area with no door of opportunity opening to me during those three months (and I spent a considerable amount of time looking and asking and seeking and knocking, to no avail). When I left Orlando on September 26, 2014, I told myself I would stay at least until the New Year or longer depending on what did or did not develop while I was there. Well, long story short and after much searching, nothing opened up for me in those three plus months, so I headed back to the warmer climate of Florida on January 2, 2015. And I think I have finally gotten Houston out of my system.

Famous Biloxi Lighthouse

Famous Biloxi Lighthouse

You’d have thought I would have learned that lesson the first time around when I lost that ill-fated job there; but I didn’t blame it on the city and I did like Houston despite the job, but I just guess Houston doesn’t like me, so I’m done for now. On the way back I spent a couple of day in Biloxi, MS, in a hotel right on the Gulf. It is such a beautiful area and I just love stopping there when I’m traveling through Mississippi. And, I arrived back in Orlando late Sunday night, January 4, 2015.

After spending my entire time in Houston living in weekly-rate hotels, I am again living in a weekly-rate hotel here in Orlando as my friend who lent me her spare bedroom this past spring/summer had given it away to someone else while I was gone, and that came as no surprise to me. I appreciated the time I stayed there but I’ve been looking for my own place for a while now ever since I lost my apartment in New Port Richey at the end of March due to new owners buying the house where it was located and hiking my rent higher then I could really afford long term. Now if I can just find someone to give me that extraordinarily elusive job I’ve been looking for for almost six years now, I can find a decent place of my own again. I had no idea how hard it was going to be to find another place to rent after leaving my apartment in New Port Richey, and it’s been impossible to find an apartment to rent on my social security income as it’s too low to be considered at a regular apartment complex and the low-income senior apartment complexes all have long waiting lists of up to a year or longer. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. Well, I’ve been there on the unemployment front for almost six years now, so I now get to add housing to that list.

My three plus months in Houston were interesting to say the least but I’ll save that for a later blog post. Suffice it to say I’m writing now just to let you know I’m back in Florida again. And the weather has been outstanding here this past week, too. Bring it on (the sunshine and warm temps, I mean). No wonder folks come here to live in the wintertime.

joe-cockerAs you know from an recent post titled, With A Little Help From My Friends,” published on December 23, 2014, I’m a big Joe Cocker fan, and I was very sad when I read that he had died on December 22, 2o14 at the age of 70 from lung cancer. However, in memory of him and also in celebration of my return to Florida after three plus months in Houston (I was honestly expecting to stay in Houston long term when I left Orlando back in September), here he is to sing, Ain’t No Sunshine.” So, without further ado . . . . Sing it, Joe . . .

YouTube Video: “Ain’t No Sunshine” sung by Joe Cocker (1944-2014):

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

The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

With the beginning of 2015 only a few days old, the worst terrorist attack in France since 1961 took place on January 7th in Paris at Charlie Hebdo,” a French satirical newspaper, resulting in 12 deaths and at least 14 others wounded in the initial attack (source here). As of this writing (three days later) the two main suspects who were hiding in a print shop and a third suspect as well as an additional four hostages from a kosher grocery store have also died (source here). The story is still ongoing as of this writing. One of the suspects claimed allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) and another to Al-Qaeda (source here).

An article published on November 18, 2014 in titled, Global terrorism on rise: Fivefold increase in terror-related deaths since 2000,” opens with this statement:

Almost 18,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks in 2013, a 61 percent increase from the 2012. Four terrorist groups, the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Boko Haram were responsible for two thirds of all such deaths around the globe.

Global terrorism is on the rise and there is no denying its impact mixed with both fear and resentment especially in Europe after this latest attack in Paris (see article titled, “‘Dangerous Moment’ for Europe, as Fear and Resentment Grow,” published January 7, 2015, in The New York Times). In the wake of this latest attack, “The U.S. government issued multiple new terror bulletins… in the aftermath of the Paris massacres, urging local police to watch for increased terrorism activity while cautioning American travelers abroad they are at risk of attack or kidnapping” (quote source here). While the problem of terrorism is growing around the world, the problem of evil which is at the core of terrorism has always been around.

An Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk, wrote three short chapters addressing the question most of us ask in times like these: “Where are you, God, in the midst of injustice and suffering?” I wrote a blog post back on June 22, 2013, that addressed this question and I decided to reblog it after this latest terrorist attack in Paris. The original post is at this link and is published again below.

The Problem of Evil–Habakkuk Revisited

the-problem-of-evilWhere is God in the midst of injustice, suffering, and evil? That question has echoed down through the ages and is still being asked today by both skeptics and believers alike. The skeptics point to it as some sort of proof that God doesn’t really exist, and the believers ask it because they don’t understand where God is in the midst of great tragedy, injustice, and evil.

Of the sixteen writing prophets in the Old Testament, there is one who took our side and asked that question of God from our perspective–“Where are you, God, in the midst of injustice and suffering?” His name was Habakkuk and he wrote three chapters that appear in the book with his name on it in the Old Testament. Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zephaniah and prophesied during the final days of the Assyrian Empire and the beginning of Babylonia’s world rulership (source here). Little else is known about him other than what is written in his book.

Most of us (well, the believers among us) can certainly relate to the opening lines in Habakkuk (see below). Habakkuk levels two complaints and the Lord gives His answer each time, and then Habakkuk ends with a prayer. As stated in a study of Habakkuk in, he was wrestling with the very issues we wrestle with (in fact, his name means“embrace” or “wrestle”)–“If God is good, then why is there evil in the world? And if there has to be evil, then why do the evil prosper? What is God doing in the world?” (quote source here). The study notes a similar thought in Zephaniah 1:12 coming from the Israelites who thought that “God did not do good or evil. They thought God was not involved and so continued in their sin.” However, “Habakkuk is one of the good guys. He fears God and does what is right, but it is getting him nowhere” (quote source here).

I think most of us (e.g., the believers among us) can definitely relate to that last sentence. I know I sure can. The study in continues with a quote from a book on Habakkuk published in 1983 titled, From Worry to Worship, by Warren Wiersbe: “While Habakkuk begins by wondering or worrying about the world around him and God’s seeming indifference, he ends by worshiping God” (p. 8). Habakkuk has a fair amount of fear after God tells him what is going to happen in answer to his first complaint which brings about his second complaint and God’s second answer. The progression of Habakkuk through three chapters takes him from a place of fear, trembling, and complaints to trusting and worshiping God (source here).

With that in mind, let’s read the three chapters in Habakkuk (NIV):

The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.

Habakkuk’s Complaint

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.

The Lord’s Answer

“Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.
I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwellings not their own.
They are a feared and dreaded people;
they are a law to themselves
and promote their own honor.
Their horses are swifter than leopards,
fiercer than wolves at dusk.
Their cavalry gallops headlong;
their horsemen come from afar.
They fly like an eagle swooping to devour;
they all come intent on violence.
Their hordes advance like a desert wind
and gather prisoners like sand.
10 They mock kings and scoff at rulers.
They laugh at all fortified cities;
by building earthen ramps they capture them.
11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—
guilty people, whose own strength is their god.”

Habakkuk’s Second Complaint

12 Lord, are you not from everlasting?
My God, my Holy One, you will never die.
You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment;
you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.
13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
Why are you silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves?
14 You have made people like the fish in the sea,
like the sea creatures that have no ruler.
15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks,
he catches them in his net,
he gathers them up in his dragnet;
and so he rejoices and is glad.
16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net
and burns incense to his dragnet,
for by his net he lives in luxury
and enjoys the choicest food.
17 Is he to keep on emptying his net,
destroying nations without mercy?

2 I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

The Lord’s Answer

Then the Lord replied:

“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come
and will not delay.

“See, the enemy is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness—
indeed, wine betrays him;
he is arrogant and never at rest.
Because he is as greedy as the grave
and like death is never satisfied,
he gathers to himself all the nations
and takes captive all the peoples.

“Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn, saying,

“‘Woe to him who piles up stolen goods
and makes himself wealthy by extortion!
How long must this go on?’
Will not your creditors suddenly arise?
Will they not wake up and make you tremble?
Then you will become their prey.
Because you have plundered many nations,
the peoples who are left will plunder you.
For you have shed human blood;
you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

“Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain,
setting his nest on high
to escape the clutches of ruin!
10 You have plotted the ruin of many peoples,
shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.
11 The stones of the wall will cry out,
and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.

12 “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed
and establishes a town by injustice!
13 Has not the Lord Almighty determined
that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire,
that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?
14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory
of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

15 “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors,
pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk,
so that he can gaze on their naked bodies!
16 You will be filled with shame instead of glory.
Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed!
The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you,
and disgrace will cover your glory.
17 The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
and your destruction of animals will terrify you.
For you have shed human blood;
you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

18 “Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman?
Or an image that teaches lies?
For the one who makes it trusts in his own creation;
he makes idols that cannot speak.
19 Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’
Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’
Can it give guidance?
It is covered with gold and silver;
there is no breath in it.”

20 The Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.

Habakkuk’s Prayer

3 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet.

Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

God came from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens
and his praise filled the earth.
His splendor was like the sunrise;
rays flashed from his hand,
where his power was hidden.
Plague went before him;
pestilence followed his steps.
He stood, and shook the earth;
he looked, and made the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumbled
and the age-old hills collapsed—
but he marches on forever.
I saw the tents of Cushan in distress,
the dwellings of Midian in anguish.

Were you angry with the rivers, Lord?
Was your wrath against the streams?
Did you rage against the sea
when you rode your horses
and your chariots to victory?
You uncovered your bow,
you called for many arrows.
You split the earth with rivers;
10 the mountains saw you and writhed.
Torrents of water swept by;
the deep roared
and lifted its waves on high.

11 Sun and moon stood still in the heavens
at the glint of your flying arrows,
at the lightning of your flashing spear.
12 In wrath you strode through the earth
and in anger you threshed the nations.
13 You came out to deliver your people,
to save your anointed one.
You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness,
you stripped him from head to foot.
14 With his own spear you pierced his head
when his warriors stormed out to scatter us,
gloating as though about to devour
the wretched who were in hiding.
15 You trampled the sea with your horses,
churning the great waters.

16 I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

(Source: Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®)

From-Fear-to-FaithIn so many of our church settings today, this is a vision of God that we don’t often hear about. As I read through the words in Habakkuk, I can understand his fear and trembling as it is my same reaction. In fact, with all the talk of “God’s favor” that is so pervasive in many segments of Christianity in our culture, it smacks of a certain “unreality” to what we are used to hearing. In fact, it’s almost like we want to do a double take to make sure we read it right. God is raising up a foreign nation (the Babylonians) to come and destroy Judah? And the Babylonians are really wicked and powerful and no one can stop them? (See Hab. 1:6-11.) While verse 11 indicates that the Babylonians will be held responsible for their wickedness, God is using them to bring about His purposes.

At this point the study on Habakkuk in states the following:

Most of us have been praying for the evil in our society hoping for revival. What if God sent the Soviet Union [e.g., Russia] or Saddam Hussein [this study was written before his death] to conquer America, to instill communism or a dictatorship, imprison all Christians, etc. What would you think about that answer? Would you say God didn’t answer your prayer?

This points us to another principle we can learn from Habakkuk. God doesn’t always give us the answers we want or expect. We usually have it in our mind how we want God to answer our prayers. When He does it differently, how do you respond?

[Note: The Soviet Union was dissolved into 16 independent nations on December, 25, 1991 and is now referred to as Russia. Saddam Hussein, who was the President of Iraq from 1979 to 2003, was executed on December 30, 2006.]

This leads to Habakkuk’s second complaint found in Hab. 1:12-2:1. First, he acknowledges that God is everlasting. The study in brings up God’s immutability–that God does not change. It states “the fact that God does not change is important because it means God keeps His promises and He has made promises to Israel. Habakkuk knows that God will not totally destroy Israel because of His covenant promises. That is why he says, ‘We will not die’” (quote source here).

Habakkuk also acknowledges that God is too pure to look at evil and that He cannot tolerate wrongdoing, and he asks, “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (v. 13). Yet even though he still doesn’t understand God’s answer, he believes in and places his trust in God.

If you’re like me, at this point we are looking for something positive–anything positive. This is not good news, yet God has His reasons. So after Habakkuk levels his second complaint, the Lord answers (see Hab. 2:2-20). After reading those verses, we discover that the enemy–in this case, the Babylonians–are puffed up, arrogant, greedy, never satisfied, and “gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples;” and they are also dishonest, violent, sensual, and full of idolatry. In other words, as the study in states, “God’s answer is this: Don’t worry about the Babylonians. They will get theirs, too.” But let’s not overlook a very important portion of verse 4 that is for us (e.g., for those of us who believe) in the midst of all the tragedy, . . . but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness” (e.g., by faith). That is what we (e.g., believers) are called to do in the midst of any circumstances that we find ourselves in whether good, bad, or downright awful.

At the end of the Lord’s answer is this verse (Hab. 2:20): The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” God is in control. Way too often and most of the time we relegate God to our level of understanding. And in our own effort to understand God, we make Him like us, and that is a very grave error on our part. As Isaiah 55:8-9 states:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
    declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

At the start of Chapter 1 Habakkuk was low and despairing because of the evil all around him, and by the beginning of Chapter 2 he is standing watch, waiting for the Lord’s reply, which is found in Hab. 2:3:

“For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
    it speaks of the end
    and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
    it will certainly come
    and will not delay.”

In the rest of Chapter 2 God describes the enemy and the end that will come to that enemy. However, what the Lord had revealed to Habakkuk about the enemy was still to take place in the future, and even though he knew what was coming was going to be awful, he also knew the ultimate end of that enemy. And Chapter 3 opens up with Habakkuk praising and worshiping the Lord with these words (Hab. 3:2):

“Lord, I have heard of your fame;
    I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
    in our time make them known;
    in wrath remember mercy.”

As the study in concludes, “Habakkuk now understands and offers a prayer of praise because God is in control. He pleads for mercy in the midst of the judgment (Hab. 3:1-2); he praises God’s majesty and power (Hab. 3:3-15); and he promises to wait on the Lord (Hab. 3:16-19)(quote source here).

While none of us knows what the future holds, like Habakkuk, we know Who holds the future. While injustice and evil abound all around us, that is not the end of the story. Not by a long shot, folks. And that’s the message of Habakkuk, going from fear to faith and worshiping God for who He is (through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord). And if we truly know and believe in Him, we know the ultimate end of the enemy . . .

And we know . . .

That in the end . . .

God wins . . . .

YouTube Video: “God’s Not Dead” by the Newsboys:

Photo #1 credit here (Peter Dejong @Associated Press)
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here