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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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Our Brother’s Keeper

Orlando Union Rescue Mission Sign against the background of Downtown Orlando, FL

Orlando Union Rescue Mission with signThe contrast is striking. The sign stands atop of a rescue mission only blocks away from the opulent buildings of a major metropolitan city in America. It could be any city. The contrast is still the same. The disenfranchised blanket America in ever increasing numbers. And mostly, the rest of us turn a blind eye to them. We act as though they are not our problem. We go about our days as if they don’t exist. We trade in our iPhones for the latest model to arrive on the scene. We buy a new vehicle every three or four years just because we can. We move into bigger houses. We worship money but we claim that we worship God. And the truth is so apparent that it blinds us to them and to it (the truth), so we look the other way and continue on in our own lifestyles. After all, we aren’t them, are we?

That is not to say that there aren’t outreach organizations and various churches and other groups that exist to help the disenfranchised and destitute in America; but far, far more is needed. And it’s not just the government’s problem, either. It is our problem. It is America’s problem. And it has been our problem for a very long time now. But we still insist on looking the other way and dreaming of having a lifestyle of “the rich and famous.” Nobody seems to be satisfied with what they have in life anymore. We always want more. And we can’t even imagine (and don’t want to, either) ever being in the shoes of the poor or the homeless. So we look the other way and grab all the “gusto” we can get while we can get it. And we blame them for their lot in life.

Really?

In Luke 6:17-49, Jesus had some words to say to his disciples that we need to heed in our day:

Blessings and Woes

He [Jesus] went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Love for Enemies

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Judging Others

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

A Tree and Its Fruit

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

The Wise and Foolish Builders

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Now before you think I am just pointing fingers at those of us who have more then we even realize, I lived much the same way most of my life–going to a job, paying my bills, and buying what I needed if I could afford it. While I’ve never been particularly greedy nor have I ever had the pressing need to have the latest product to hit the market or a new car every three or four years (I’ve owned two cars in the past 19 years), I have always been able to keep a roof over my head, food in the refrigerator, my bills paid, and have a bunch of nice extras along life’s way. Like most people, I primarily lived paycheck to paycheck and managed to save some money over time, too. But I didn’t pay attention to the poor all that much. To be honest, when I did think of them I didn’t exactly know what I could do to help anyway.

Orlando_Union_Rescue_Mission_(Orlando,_Florida)_001I think that this situation is probably the same for most of us who have enough to get by on to keep us from becoming one of the disenfranchised in our society. However, many of those folks were born into it, and they didn’t get even the slightest chance that many of us take for granted to overcome their circumstances. Mind you, I didn’t come from a privileged background, and after my parent’s divorce when I was a child my mother struggled working in minimum wage jobs with very poor health just to keep a roof over our (e.g., me and my younger brother) heads, and we lived in some pretty dumpy apartments at times, too, because it was all my mom could afford. But as I reflected on that area of downtown that I drove through yesterday afternoon, and the stark contrast between how they live and the how the rest of society lives, most of us have never lived in that level of poverty.

And, I have to admit that while I drove through that area looking at the stark poverty in front of me against the backdrop of an opulent downtown skyline just a few blocks away with fancy apartment complexes I couldn’t even afford to live in when I was working, the contrast stunned me. And I felt anger and frustration. . . . I was angry because I can’t do anything about it, and most of society lives just like I did–not paying any attention to what is really going on in those places we don’t ever want to go to ourselves.

Six and a half years ago I lost a job that has sent me on a journey that I never expected to go down. Over these past six plus years I’ve been stripped of much of what I had before when I was working. And I’m still being stripped little by little, day by day. I’ve come face-to-face with a society that tends to keep it’s disinfranchised “disinfranchised.” No wonder they can’t get out of it. Neither can I now that I’ve found myself living on the fringes of it. And it’s because nobody seems to care as long as they aren’t in this situation. They turn a blind eye and mock what they haven’t a clue about nor do they seem to care or even want to try to understand.

For over a year now I’ve been forced to live in hotels I can’t afford (but I thank God I have had the money to pay their exorbitant prices or else I would be homeless) because in our “Land of Opportunity” here in America I can’t even find affordable senior housing on my Social Security income that doesn’t come with waiting lists years long in some cases (at a minimum, as I’ve been told repeatedly, it is a one-to-three year wait). So what are low income seniors supposed to do who need housing NOW?

Yesterday, I left my hotel room to, once again, go searching for affordable senior housing, and ended up at three places where, basically, I was told (once again) that “there is no room at the inn” for someone in my situation. I was given a HUD Section 8 application at one place (the intrusiveness of the information required for HUD housing is appalling to say the very least) and told that it would be at least a year before anything “might” be available. So what’s the point of filling out an application where most of the information required isn’t anyone’s business, especially an employee sitting on that application for a year or longer.

the homeless are hereThe irony that Pope Francis happens to be visiting America at this same time (see article titled, Pope Francis, in New York, Takes On Extremism and Inequality,” published September 25, 2015, in the New York Times) hasn’t missed the mark of the very huge problem we have in America. His message is one that America really needs to hear and pay attention to. He is called the “People’s Pope” because he is a friend to the disenfranchised in this world, and he speaks in a very clear voice of just how much we, in this world of ours, ARE our brother’s keeper. But apparently America is reluctant to receive that message. At two of the three senior housing communities I stopped at yesterday, I did have delightful conversations with the two women who happened to be at the front desk at each place (both women were in my age bracket) who totally understood where I was coming from, but the system they worked in prevented them from doing anything to be able to help me in my plight at this present time. I joked with one of the women by saying that I should mail Pope Francis a copy of the HUD housing application required by poor Americans in order to try to get adequate housing so that he could see how America treats it’s poor, it’s disenfranchised, and it’s low income seniors (not to mention making them wait a year or longer to actually get a roof over their heads).

Folks, we have a lot of work to do here in America and it’s not going to be solved by voting in a different set of politicians. I think we’ve seen how that has worked over the past few decades to know just how much it doesn’t work. And if we don’t do it, who will? And if we don’t care, who can we blame if it eventually happens to us? Too many folks don’t think it could ever happen to them but what happened to me six and a half years ago proves that it can happen to anybody. And only the foolish will ignore that fact to their own peril.

Either we care or we don’t. And if we only care about ourselves, God help us.

Enough said . . . 

And yes, God help us . . . .

YouTube Video: “Gotta Serve Somebody” sung by Shirley Caesar:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
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Photo #4 credit here

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This Is Not A Test

I grew up during the hippie movement of the 1960’s. I was seven when that decade started on Jauary 1, 1960, and seventeen a decade later when 1970 arrived on the scene. The Summer of Love started it off in a big way during the summer of 1967, when as many as 100,000 people converged in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco (the center of the hippie movement); and two years later it held it’s biggest and most historic event, the Woodstock Music Festivalin August 1969 at Max Yasgur‘s 600-acre dairy farm in White Lake, New York, when almost 500,000 young people showed up for three days of music, peace and love along with lots of sex and drugs. I was too young (still underage) at the time to attend, and in hindsight I’m glad I couldn’t attend. Sex and drugs do not exactly equate with what God meant when he said we should love our neighbors (as in the billboard sign posted above). However, I did keep up with all the latest rock groups with their very famous songs from that era. I loved rock ‘n roll music.

Nowadays, I’m not as inclined to keep up with today’s top Billboard hits on the music scene as I was back then. However, I still like my rock ‘n roll, and, as you know from a previous blog post I wrote last fall when I was in Houston, I’ve also taken quite a shining to country rock, too. In fact, when I’m driving around town in my car, I’ll have the radio stations set to classic rock and country music stations, as well as a contemporary Christian music station that is phenomenally popular here in Orlando–Z88.3 (also know as “The Z”). And it has been The Z that has brought me up to speed on many of the current groups and songs popular in Christian music today. In fact, many of those songs have shown up on my blog posts over the past year or so.

Usually I’ll write a blog post and then go looking for a song to include on it on YouTube. However, on rare occasion, I’ll hear a song on the radio that will lead to a blog post. Such is the case with my blog post today. It is taken from the title of TobyMac‘s latest CD, This Is Not A Test,” and also includes a song from the CD with the same title (see YouTube Video below). Two other songs from this CD are also on my two latest blog posts (e.g., the song, Feel It,” which is at the bottom of the post, Spy Game,” published on September 5, 2015; and the song, Beyond Me,” which is at the bottom of the post, Faith Beyond Reason,” published on September 12, 2015).

There a line in the song, This Is Not A Test,” that states “. . . there ain’t no practice runs in life.” The chorus immediately follows that line:

This is not a, this is not a test 
This is the real thing 
This is not a, this is not a test 
This is the real thing 
We gonna go till we got nothin’ left 
This is the real thing 
This is not a, this is not a, this is not a test 
This is not a test 

(Lyrics compliments of AZLyrics.com)

Too often, while living in the “here and now,” (which, by the way, is all we ever really get) we are dreaming of some better future “out there” waiting for us (whether we are dreaming of it passively or actively trying to accomplish it). Or we are totally immersed in whatever happens to be going on on our smartphones at the moment, which is the biggest bane of technology as it has the amazing ability to take our focus completely off of the things in this life that really matter, like paying attention while driving behind the wheel of a car. This essentially means that we aren’t all that happy with where we are at in our lives at the present moment so we either escape into a “future dream” we would like to see happen or escape into our smartphones which can keep us so preoccupied that we proceed to drive right off a cliff we didn’t notice.

Personally, I have refused to let the smartphone control me in that way, even though there aren’t very many cliffs in Florida that I have to worry about not noticing. Most of the time I keep my smartphone turned off until I have to use it to check on something; however, regarding the “future dream” I have been very guilty of that one as I have been forced through circumstances I cannot control to live in hotels longer then I ever thought I’d be living in them, and if I could just move on from that one situation I would have done it yesterday, or last year when it all started in the first place.

Life really is lived on a “moment by moment” basis. Whether the dream shows up or not isn’t even the issue. And being consumed by technology is our own fault. All of it has an “off” button. Just turn it off! Ah, but there’s the problem. We don’t want to turn it off as our lives appear to be too boring without it now. We could be sitting next to a really nice person we don’t know but instead of engaging them in conversation, we bury our heads in our smartphones that essentially sends the rest of the world a “Don’t bother me” message while we are waiting for something great to happen that will change our lives. Who knows but that the person we ignored might have held an open door for us if we hadn’t been so self-consumed.

Hello? Life is not a test…. It is the real thing. And we only go around once in life, too. Nobody gets a second chance once this life is over.

James 4 includes a reality check we all need to read on a regular basis. I haven’t quoted from The Message Bible in a long time, and like how it states this particular chapter in James:

Get Serious

1-2 Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.

2-3 You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way.

4-6 You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that “he’s a fiercely jealous lover.” And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find. It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.”

7-10 So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master [God]; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.

11-12 Don’t bad-mouth each other, friends. It’s God’s Word, his Message, his Royal Rule, that takes a beating in that kind of talk. You’re supposed to be honoring the Message, not writing graffiti all over it. God is in charge of deciding human destiny. Who do you think you are to meddle in the destiny of others?

Nothing but a Wisp of Fog

13-15 And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.” You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master [God] wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”

16-17 As it is, you are full of your grandiose selves. All such vaunting self-importance is evil. In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for you, is evil.

That should wake us up out of our fog, right? Maybe; maybe not . . . . We can be a stubborn lot when we want our own way. However, THIS IS NOT A TEST. This is real life, and it’s the only one we get.

vaporSometimes I am astonished at how rude some people can be when I’m out shopping. I’ve been alive a long time and know that while rude behavior has been around since Adam and Eve (hey, they didn’t even have anyone to be rude with except each other until their children came along), it has exponentially increased in our society over the past several decades–probably since the hippie heydays of yore. And “loving our neighbor” does not include the free-for-all swinging sex and drug culture, either. In fact, respect for others (when not “forced” on us to show someone respect in order to get ahead) has gone down the toilet in a big way since those “enlightened” hippie heydays. We now have acquired the right in our culture to hate each other and let them know it, too. No wonder our “moment by moment” lives seems so boring to us and we find ourselves escaping into our smartphones (or “fill in the blank” on that one, too). We only care about what we want, and let the neighbors fend for themselves. Read James 4 again. This is nothing new, folks. 

Regarding my own situation, I’ve been forced to live in hotels for a year now because nobody, including apartment complexes and senior housing organizations, will cut me any slack. And the excuses from them are always the same–either I don’t earn enough monthly income on Social Security to rent a “regular apartment” or I have to wait for two millennium (well, I’ve been told over and over again that the waiting period is at least one-to-three years) before a spot will open up on anybody’s waiting list regarding affordable senior housing. Yet in the interim (which has lasted a year now regarding my housing situation), I’ve been forced to pay between $285/week to $350/week to live in hotels that I can’t afford just to have a place to live. And monthly rent on a regular apartment that nobody will rent to me because of my low income is far less than what I pay the hotels (and I’ve told them what I pay for hotel rooms, too). I can’t do anything about the fact that my only income on Social Security is a little over $1000/mo or the fact that I’ve applied for more jobs since April 2009 then I’ve even kept track of that haven’t produced a job–most of which I am very well qualified for after working in my professional career for over twenty years at colleges and universities until I lost my job in Houston in April 2009. That’s a pretty good reason for me to keep on “dreaming” for a better future, and it’s not because I haven’t tried to do it on my own in every way I know how for over six and a half years now.

However, I’ve also been living in the “here and now” and not just waiting for that better future to open up. I’ve learned to live and respond in the moment-by-moment stuff that is sometimes filled with rude shoppers and people who are so consumed with their own lives or their own agendas or they have their heads buried in smartphones to care about anything beyond their own small worlds. And those numbers are increasing, too. It’s sad how much we really don’t seem to care about those we don’t know. And it’s way too easy to be rude. However, I don’t respond to folks who are rude to me by being rude back to them in return.

I don’t know how many of these folks might actually consider themselves to be Christian, but I’m hoping the really rude ones I’ve run across don’t consider themselves to be Christian at all. For one thing, it’s very bad advertising. Loving our neighbor includes everyone on the planet, which means as Christians we shouldn’t be playing games with others or each other. Ever. And it doesn’t matter who those “others” are, either. And there is no reason good enough to use as an excuse.

Of course, I’ve run into some great folks, too, like the guy working at the computer counter at Target the other night when we got into a really great conversation about some technology I was interested in and he was very knowledgeable about it, and we were rudely interrupted by others, twice, while we were talking (and I was, after all, a customer, too). And also the young woman who was working at a Dollar Tree at the time I was shopping there not long ago and one of the lenses in my glasses popped out. I was holding the lens in my hand at the checkout counter when I was purchasing some other items and mentioned to her that the lens has just popped out of my glasses, and she said she knew exactly where to find a kit in the store to fix my glasses right then and there. And we had a nice conversation while fixing my glasses, too. I am always grateful to the folks I end up having conversations with when I am out and about as that is really what life is all about. It’s about people and not just about things or other stuff we want from people.

Jesus gave the two greatest commandments for us to live by and they are so very simple to remember, but incredibly hard to live out especially by folks who can’t see beyond themselves and what they want. Those two commandments are found in Matthew 22:34-40:

The Greatest Commandment

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

How we treat others matters a great deal to God. And if it doesn’t matter to us how we treat others (especially those we don’t like and/or don’t know), that says a whole lot about what we really think about God . . . .

There are no practice runs in life . . . 

And this is not a test . . .

It is the real thing . . . .

YouTube Video: “This Is Not A Test,” by TobyMac (feat. Capital Kings):

Photo #1 credit here (from GodSpeaks.com billboard campaign since 1998)
Photo #2 credit here

Faith Beyond Reason

There is a belief that has been around for a long time that states that once we have come to know Jesus Christ as Savior, that nothing more is really required of us. And if we keep on living our lives any way we want and/or pretty much how we did before we came to know Jesus, that he will understand and it will be okay and we will still end up in Heaven at the end of our lives here on earth. I guess that is the postmodern version of salvation, but then it has always been around in one form or another down through the ages. We know it as easy believism with no requirements attached.

Jesus was both compassionate and clear in his dealings with sinners (hence, all of us, too). For example, while he showed great compassion to the woman who was caught in the act of adultery by a group of Pharisees who brought her to him to be stoned (see John 8:1-11), he did not condemn her (and he told the Pharisees that those who had no sin should cast the first stone, and they all walked away). He did say to her after the Pharisees left that she should “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11, NIV). He didn’t tell her it was okay to continue on in her current lifestyle. However, the choice was still hers to make.

The New Testament is replete with instructions and examples of how Christians should live in any cultural environment we might find ourselves in. Christianity transcends any culture; it does not become a part of it while existing in the midst of it, and genuine Christianity has always been this way. Three of the chief attributes that are clearly apparent when it is in operation in our lives are compassion, kindness, and forgiveness towards everyone, even our enemies. If we choose to keep on living the way we did before we knew Jesus after we claim to have come to know him, a genuine change of heart has most likely never taken place. True faith brings with it a genuine commitment to the One we believe in.

A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) wrote the following chapter (4) titled, We Must Have True Faith,” in his book, This World: Playground or Battleground (compiled by Harry VerPlouegh and published in 1989), regarding true faith and genuine commitment to Jesus Christ:

We Must Have True Faith

To many Christians Christ is little more than an idea, or at best an ideal; He is not a fact. Millions of professed believers talk as if He were real and act as if He were not. And always our actual position is to be discovered by the way we act, not by the way we talk. We can prove our faith by our committal to it, and in no other way. Any belief that does not command the one who holds it is not a real belief; it is a pseudo belief only. And it might shock some of us profoundly if we were brought suddenly face to face with our beliefs and forced to test them in the fires of practical living.

Many of us Christians have become extremely skillful in arranging our lives so as to admit the truth of Christianity without being embarrassed by its implications. We arrange things so that we can get on well enough without divine aid, while at the same time ostensibly seeking it. We boast in the Lord, but watch carefully that we never get caught depending on Him. The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Pseudo faith always arranges a way out to serve in case God fails. Real faith knows only one way and gladly allows itself to be stripped of any second way or makeshift substitutes. For true faith, it is either God or total collapse. And not since Adam first stood up on earth has God failed a single man or woman who trusted Him. The man of pseudo faith will fight for his verbal creed but refuse flatly to allow himself to get into a predicament where his future must depend upon that creed being true. He always provides himself with secondary ways of escape so he will have a way out if the roof caves in.

The faith of Paul or Luther was a revolutionizing thing. It upset the whole life of the individual and made him into another person altogether. It laid hold on the life and brought it under obedience to Christ. It took up its cross and followed along after Jesus with no intention of going back. It said goodbye to its old friends as certainly as Elijah when he stepped into the fiery chariot and went away in the whirlwind. It had a finality about it… It realigned all life’s actions and brought them into accord with the will of God.

What we need very badly these days is a company of Christians who are prepared to trust God as completely now, as they must do at the last day. For each of us the time is surely coming when we shall have nothing but God! Health and wealth and friends and hiding places will all be swept away and we shall have only God. To the man of pseudo faith that is a terrifying thought, but to real faith it is one of the most comforting thoughts the heart can entertain.

It would be a tragedy indeed to come to the place where we have no other but God and find that we had not really been trusting God during the days of our earthly sojourn. It would be better to invite God now to remove every false trust, to disengage our hearts from all secret hiding places and to bring us out into the open where we can discover for ourselves whether we actually trust Him. This is a harsh cure for our troubles, but it is a sure one! Gentler cures may be too weak to do the work. And time is running out on us. (Quote source here.)

It’s easy to learn the outward signs of Christianity and to be accepted as a Christian with absolutely no genuine change of heart that changes our very lives from the inside out. And there are some unwritten rules in cultural Christianity and if we learn and follow them, we will be accepted, but that doesn’t make us a Christian. We can act nice and say all the right words and dress just right and still hate our neighbor without telling anyone (although our nonverbal communication might give it away). And we can feel comfortable sitting in church on Sunday morning without it affecting how we live and interact with others (especially those we don’t particularly like) during the week. And we can cover up our true feelings just by being nice on the surface but it is never hidden from God.

Yancey quoteIt’s easy to live a “fake” Christianity and not realize it here in America as so much of our culture has invaded the church and often not much is required of us. However, it’s a whole lot harder to live out a genuine Christianity as it can upset one’s whole world in ways one never imagined. Most of the conversions in the New Testament revolutionized the lives of those affected. The twelve disciples and the apostle Paul are prime examples of that dramatic and literally life changing experience that turned their lives completely around for their remaining years on earth. Instead, today we tend to attach Jesus to the lives we already have, and we often live in a “Jesus and…” world much of the time. It’s Jesus and money, or Jesus and power, or Jesus and prestige, or Jesus and materialism, or Jesus and popularity, or Jesus and career, or Jesus and (fill in the blank). And we too often give the “and” stuff primary importance in our lives instead of Jesus. And, it’s easy to do, too. So easy, in fact, that we don’t often recognize what we have done.

The real issue is that no matter how much we may claim to believe in Jesus Christ or follow him, we usually still keep “self” at the forefront. And we end up asking Jesus for what we want instead of coming to him and laying our lives at his feet and letting him do what he wants with our lives. God does, indeed, have a plan for each and every one of us. Unfortunately, we can easily usurp his plan for one of our own, and we end up asking him to bless what we plan instead of asking him what he has planned for our lives or what he would have us to do–even in the smallest of ways–like being kind to the person at work who wants our job and has made that fact known, and by not retaliating against that person in any way in return, even if we end up losing that job. That kind of response is getting at the very heart of the gospel message. The same thing goes for being passed over for a promotion we deserved by someone with less experience and qualifications, or any number of circumstances and situations that come our way in all types of settings that give us a choice in how we will response.

It is not only in the “big” decisions in life, like a career decision, or marriage partner, that we should seek God’s will and not just our own, but it is in all of the little decisions that come our way on a daily basis that require a choice even when nobody else may ever know about that choice. It is a matter of the heart, and not just the head. It is a faith that goes beyond reason and totally depends on God for guidance.

Genuine faith does not depend on sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). In answer to the question, What does it mean to walk by faith and not by sight?”, GotQuestions?org gives the following answer:

Second Corinthians 5:6–7 says, “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight” (ESV). Other versions use the word “live,” rather than “walk.” The “walk” here is a metaphorical reference to the way a person conducts his or her life. We still use the phrase “all walks of life” to mean a variety of lifestyles or cultures.

The apostle Paul reminds his readers that followers of Christ must not build their lives around things that have no eternal significance. Rather than pursuing the same things the world pursues, a Christian should focus on the unseen realities such as Jesus and heaven. Paul goes on to say, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:9–10). Jesus instructed us to store up treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19–20; Luke 12:33). He promised rewards to everyone who does His will (Matthew 16:27; 1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 22:12) and punishment for those who reject Him (Matthew 25:24–46; John 3:16–18).

Walking by faith means living life in light of eternal consequences. To walk by faith is to fear God more than man; to obey the Bible even when it conflicts with man’s commands; to choose righteousness over sin, no matter what the cost; to trust God in every circumstance; and to believe God rewards those who seek Him, regardless of who says otherwise (Hebrews 11:6).

Rather than loving the things of this world (1 John 2:15–16), Christians should spend their lives glorifying God in everything they do (1 Corinthians 10:31). It requires faith to live this way because we cannot see, hear, or touch anything spiritual. When we base our lives on the truth of God’s Word, rather than on the popular philosophy of our day, we are going against our natural inclinations. Our natural instincts may be to horde money, but walking by faith says we should “give to those in need” (Luke 11:41; Ephesians 4:28). Society may say that sexual immorality is acceptable, but those who walk by faith base their standards on the unchangeable nature of God’s Word, which says any sex outside of marriage is sin (1 Corinthians 6:18Ephesians 5:3; Galatians 5:19). To walk by faith requires that we tune our hearts to the voice of the Holy Spirit and the truth of His Word (John 10:27; 16:13). We choose to live according to what God reveals to us, rather than trust our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5–6). (Quote source here.)

by-faith-hebrews-11Hebrews 11 is the classic Faith in Action chapter in the Bible and lists an innumerable number of people in the Old Testament who lived by faith and not by sight or reason. Here is Hebrews 11:

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 city for 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 [Jesus Christ] so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Peter_walking_on_waterOne of the more well known examples of faith in action in the New Testament is when Peter walked on water (see Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:45-52, John 6:16-21). Here’s a cute and very, very relevant version of the story from ChildrenSermons.com:

The disciples had a long tiring day and Jesus sent them out in the boat to go over to another town. It was a dark stormy night (couldn’t resist that line) and the wind was tossing the waves around. In the middle of the night, they thought they were seeing a ghost when Jesus came to them walking on the sea! Jesus saw they were scared and told them not to be afraid. When they were the most afraid, he told them to cheer up, he was with them! God has to take the storm out of us before He can take us out of the storms of life.

Peter must have wondered if it really was Jesus or just their imagination. He asked Jesus to tell him to come out on the water with him if this was really happening. Jesus didn’t say, “I’m sorry, Peter, but water-walking is for Messiahs only.” No, he said one simple word: Come. God calls us to do impossible things by faith. It must have taken a lot of faith by Peter to take that first step out of the boat in the middle of the wind and waves. When he did, Peter walked on water! The Bible says,

And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.Matthew 14:29, 30

Peter was doing fine until he took his eyes off Jesus. As long as he had faith, he did impossible things. He kept his eyes on Jesus and walked on water. When he looked around at the world, he started believing that the storm was going to defeat him. He lost faith. He took his eyes off Jesus, and he began to sink. If we forget that Jesus is right there to help us, we can let the storms of life cause us to sink. If we keep our eyes on Jesus, we can do mighty things for God by faith.

Then Peter uttered what is probably the shortest prayer in the Bible: Lord, save me. Everyone needs to say that prayer. We ALL need Jesus to save us. He is our only hope. Jesus told Peter he should not have doubted. When they got back in the ship, everyone on board came and worshiped Jesus, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God. Whenever we do something with God’s help we need to remember to give Him the glory for it. ~Adapted from “Keep Your Eyes On Jesus” as told by Rev. Lewis Shaffer, Son Shine Ministries International, Inc. (Quote source here.)

So let’s not be doubters but instead be people who live by faith . . . .

Fixing our eyes on Jesus . . .

The Author and Finisher of our faith . . . . ~Hebrews 12:1-2

YouTube Video: “Beyond Me” by TobyMac:

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Spy Game

Last night I watched a movie–it is one I have watched several times–that I found for $1.99 at Movie Stop two months ago. The movie is titled, Spy Game” (2001), starring Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, and Catherine McCormack. I wrote about it briefly in a blog post titled, Before The Rain,” (the title of which also happens to be a line from the movie), on August 3, 2015. The opening plot to the movie (from Wikipedia) follows:

In 1991, the governments of the U.S. and China are on the verge of a major trade agreement, with the President of the United States due to visit China to seal the deal. The CIA learns that its agent Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) has been captured trying to free a Briton, Elizabeth Hadley (Catherine McCormack), from a People’s Liberation Army prison in Su Chou near Shanghai, China. Bishop is being questioned under torture and will be executed in 24 hours unless the U.S. government claims him. If the CIA claims Bishop as an agent, they risk jeopardizing the trade agreement. Exacerbating Bishop’s situation is the fact that he was operating without permission from the Agency.

Attempting to deal quickly with the situation, CIA executives call in Nathan Muir (Robert Redford), an aging mid-level case officer on his last day before retirement and the man who recruited Bishop. Although they tell Muir they simply need him to act as a “stop gap” to fill in some holes in their background files, the officials are hoping he will give them the pretext they need to justify letting Bishop die. The CIA executives are unaware that Muir had been tipped off about Bishop’s capture prior to arriving at the CIA’s headquarters, by fellow CIA veteran Harry Duncan (David Hemmings), for whom Bishop had been working an operation in Hong Kong before going rogue. (Quote source–and the rest of the plot–is available here.)

As Muir (Redford) states to his secretary, Gladys (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), the reason “the Agency [CIA] is looking for a reason to let the Chinese kill Bishop” (a direct quote from the movie) has to do with money–toaster ovens, microwaves, etc., in the trade agreement between the U.S. and China, and they, obviously, don’t want anyone or anything getting in the way of making money. As the movie progresses, near the end of the movie, Muir states to his boss, Folger (Larry Bryggman), “Do you remember when we used to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys?”

Good questionGood question . . . .

The ending of the movie is outstanding. In fact, it is one of the best endings I’ve ever seen. In the case of Muir, conscience triumphs over money (as in his own money and not regarding the CIA’s agenda stated above which he abhorred), and though it’s not often a popular choice when it comes to money, it is always a good thing. . . .

So much in our world today seems to indicate that evil often triumphs over good, and the lines between the two get very, very blurred. We justify evil to make it look good and to justify our reasons for doing it, and we do it not only in big ways, but mostly in little daily decisions that we make regarding seemingly innocuous stuff (at least innocuous to us but not so to the people at the other end of that spectrum) on a regular basis–like lying, for example. And also, for the most part, it seems as if we get away with it most of the time.

However, we never really get away with it in the end, whether it is done on a small scale or a very large scale, and even though it might take a very long time to catch up with us. So long, in fact (years or decades sometimes), that we think it is okay to keep on doing it because we seem to be getting away with it without any ill will coming back on us until, of course, that fateful day arrives.

I’m reminded of a passage written by King David that is found in two places in the Old Testament–2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18, which are almost identical. In a series of verses in those two chapters, one of my mother’s favorite verses is found–2 Samuel 22:31 and Psalm 18:30 (highlighted in red below). The series of verses is found in 2 Samuel 22:26-37 and Psalm 18:25-36:

To the faithful you [God] show yourself faithful,
    to the blameless you show yourself blameless,
To the pure you show yourself pure,
    but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.
You save the humble,
    but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them low.
You, Lord, are my lamp;
    the Lord turns my darkness into light.
With your help I can advance against a troop;
    with my God I can scale a wall.

As for God, his way is perfect:
    The Lord’s word is flawless;
    he shields all who take refuge in him.
For who is God besides the Lord?
    And who is the Rock except our God?
It is God who arms me with strength
    and keeps my way secure.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
    he causes me to stand on the heights.
He trains my hands for battle;
    my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You make your saving help my shield;
    your help has made me great.
You provide a broad path for my feet,
    so that my ankles do not give way.

As stated in 2 Samuel 22:27 and Psalm 18:26, God is far above anything we can comprehend regarding the way He works (see also Isaiah 55:8-9):

To the pure you show yourself pure,
    but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.

Shrewd is defined as “astute or sharp in practical matters; keen; piercing” (quote source here). We humans often like to think of ourselves as shrewd, but nothing we think or do even remotely comes close to what God accomplishes in that way. For example, in I Corinthians 1:27, the Apostle Paul states that “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (see I Corinthians 1:18-31 to put that verse in context). In fact, in I Corinthians 1:19, Paul makes the following statement taken from a passage in Isaiah 29:14:

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

good and evilWhat we think is wise in our own eyes is often foolishness to God, and that brings me back to the topic of evil. Evil has been a part of our world since the days of Adam and Eve, and with the world population currently over 7.35 billion (see current data at this link), and the recent explosion of terrorist groups in our world today (that list is staggeringly long–view list here), it can be a bit overwhelming to comprehend. But it also helps us to understand the question the Old Testament prophet Habakkukwho took our side, asked God concerning the whole issue of evil and justice. Habakkuk was desperate for an answer, and so are we.

God is in charge, even when we think He has turned a blind eye to the suffering and evil that goes on in our world. Habakkuk was alarmed by the evil going on in his world at the time as justice was nowhere to be found in the midst of a very great evil about to take place–re: the destruction of Judah in Habakkuk’s day (and to put it into perspective for us, think of the Holocaust in our day). And it is often true even when injustice is done on an individual basis and not just in widespread destruction (which is still, if you think about it, done on an individual basis). I wrote about it in a previous blog post titled, The Problem of Evil–Habakkuk Revisited,” two years ago in June 2013. In fact, Habakkuk starts out in the first few verses in Habakkuk 1:2-5 asking this very question of God, and God’s initial response starts in verse 5 (the entire chapter is available at this link and all three chapters of Habakkuk are available at this link):

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. . . .”
(See the rest of the answer at this link.)

While we know that evil abounds throughout our world today (just turn on the news at any point during the 24-hour never-ending news cycle for the latest evil being done), it is not just found in the terrorist organizations or the latest drive-by shootings and all of the other atrocities we do to each other that gets reported in the news media. In America, we often equate evil with mental illness as that separates the offending person from the rest of us. But the propensity for evil is in each and every one of us, and it has existed way before we came up with explanations like mental illness to separate “us” from “them.” (That is not to say that it doesn’t exist, but that we use it as an excuse too often when it doesn’t necessarily apply.) For example, terrorism often has its base in an ideology or is built on propaganda and does not equate with mental illness, yet the evil that comes from it is massive. Think again of Nazi-Germany and the Holocaust, for example.

Let’s go back to the statement made towards the end of the movie mentioned above when CIA agent Muir asks his boss, “Do you remember when we used to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys?” The truth is, in today’s world, especially since “truth” is often “up for grabs” and defined according to whatever we want or choose it to be, evil can certainly abound in such an environment often masquerading as good on the surface. And, just as truth is often up for grabs, so is evil in today’s world. And the truth is, we can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys very often anymore. We only think that we can much of the time. The most basic definition for evil (that can’t be explained away by our own feelings or our own definition) is found in James 4:17:

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

And the most basic definition as a remedy for evil (sin) is found in Micah 6:8:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God . . .

And anytime we try to justify the evil we do to others, especially if it will benefit us in some way, it is evil and there is no getting around it. No excuse is good enough even if the masses decide to go along with it (again, think of Nazi Germany as an example), and God is not blind to it either. And it’s not just the terrorists or the drive-by shooters or the folks we hear about on the news who do evil to others. We all do evil to others at some level–every last one of us.

Overcome evil with goodWhich brings me to the final point in this entire discussion–redemption. There is no other religion or system in the world that offers a way of redemption (and a cure for the evil that resides in all of us) that is found in and through Jesus Christ. And there is no other religion or system in the world that can fundamentally change a person at the core of their being like what is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. And there is no other way to explain it then to experience this relationship for ourselves. The world will never understand it. It can’t, and it mocks what it can’t understand. However, John 3:16-18 states:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

That’s truth in it’s most basic form. And what Jesus told his disciples in John 16:33 still echoes down through time to us today:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Tribulation is a given; however, doing evil in response is not. And, of course, the classic example regarding our response to evil comes from Paul in Romans 12:17-21:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

So do not be overcome by evil, no matter how good it looks . . .

But overcome evil with good . . . 

Just do it . . . .

YouTube Video: “Feel It” by TobyMac on his new CD, This Is Not A Test”:

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