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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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It Is Finished

The predawn of Easter Sunday is about 36 hours away at the time I am writing this post. In fact, at this precise moment, it is the afternoon of Good Friday, which is the day we commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. If you’ve ever wondered why it is called “Good Friday,” Justin Holcomb, an Episcopal priest (serving as the Canon for Vocations in the Diocese of Central Florida), who also teaches theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary, has written an article titled, What’s So Good About Good Friday?” In this article, Dr. Holcomb states:

On Good Friday we remember the day Jesus willingly suffered and died by crucifixion as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins (1 John 1:10). It is followed by Easter, the glorious celebration of the day Jesus was raised from the dead, heralding his victory over sin and death and pointing ahead to a future resurrection for all who are united to him by faith (Romans 6:5).

Still, why call the day of Jesus’ death “Good Friday” instead of “Bad Friday” or something similar? Some Christian traditions do take this approach: in German, for example, the day is called Karfreitag, or “Sorrowful Friday.” In English, in fact, the origin of the term “Good” is debated: some believe it developed from an older name, “God’s Friday.” Regardless of the origin, the name Good Friday is entirely appropriate because the suffering and death of Jesus, as terrible as it was, marked the dramatic culmination of God’s plan to save his people from their sins.

In order for the good news of the gospel to have meaning for us, we first have to understand the bad news of our condition as sinful people under condemnation. The good news of deliverance only makes sense once we see how we are enslaved. Another way of saying this is that it is important to understand and distinguish between law and gospel in Scripture. We need the law first to show us how hopeless our condition is; then the gospel of Jesus’ grace comes and brings us relief and salvation.

In the same way, Good Friday is “good” because as terrible as that day was, it had to happen for us to receive the joy of Easter. The wrath of God against sin had to be poured out on Jesus, the perfect sacrificial substitute, in order for forgiveness and salvation to be poured out to the nations. Without that awful day of suffering, sorrow, and shed blood at the cross, God could not be both “just and the justifier” of those who trust in Jesus (Romans 3:26). Paradoxically, the day that seemed to be the greatest triumph of evil was actually the deathblow in God’s gloriously good plan to redeem the world from bondage.

The cross is where we see the convergence of great suffering and God’s forgiveness. Psalms 85:10 sings of a day when “righteousness and peace” will “kiss each other.” The cross of Jesus is where that occurred, where God’s demands, his righteousness, coincided with his mercy. We receive divine forgiveness, mercy, and peace because Jesus willingly took our divine punishment, the result of God’s righteousness against sin. “For the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2) Jesus endured the cross on Good Friday, knowing it led to his resurrection, our salvation, and the beginning of God’s reign of righteousness and peace.

Good Friday marks the day when wrath and mercy met at the cross. That’s why Good Friday is so dark and so Good. (Quote source here.)

The hallmark of the Christian faith rests on the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his death by crucifixion. Unique among all of the world’s various religions is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. No other religion can claim it’s founder ever rose from the dead. And without the resurrection of Jesus ChristChristianity would not exist. It is that clear cut.

He is not here He is risenBill Bright (1921-2003), founder and President of Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as CRU since 2011) along with his wife, Vonette (1926-2015), wrote an article titled, Why the Resurrection Matters to You: Explaining evidence and meaning of the resurrection.” In the article Dr. Bright states the following (quote source here):

The validity of Jesus’ claims about Himself rests on the Resurrection — whether He rose from the dead or stayed in the grave.

Many skeptics say that to believe in a risen Christ is nothing more than a blind leap of faith with little or no basis in truth.

When confronted with the facts, however, those who are intellectually honest have been forced to admit that the Resurrection is an historical event based on irrefutable proofs.

On my spiritual journey from agnosticism to faith in Christ, I, like many people, had a problem with the Resurrection.

But my personal study brought me to a firm conviction that a bodily resurrection is the only explanation for Christ’s empty tomb.

Several evidences helped me reach this conclusion.

Evidence for the Resurrection

  • 1st, Christ predicted His resurrection. The Bible records, “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things … and be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Matthew 16:21, New American Standard Bible). Even though His followers did not understand what He was telling them at the time, they remembered His words and recorded them.
  • 2nd, Jesus made numerous appearances to His followers. He comforted the mourners outside His tomb on Sunday morning. On the road to Emmaus, He explained things about Himself from the Old Testament. Later, He ate in their presence and invited them to touch Him. Scripture records that Jesus was seen by more than 500 at one time. Some may argue that a few people could have agreed to a deception, but how can one explain the collaboration of 500 people?
  • 3rd, the unrelenting faith of the disciples convinces me of the Resurrection. Those disciples who were once so afraid that they deserted their Lord now courageously proclaimed this news, risking their lives to preach. Their bold and courageous behavior does not make sense unless they knew with absolute certainty that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
  • 4th, the growth of the Christian church confirms the Resurrection. Peter’s first sermon, which dealt with Christ’s resurrection, stirred people to receive Him as their living Savior. Luke records the thrilling results: “That day there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). And that group of believers has multiplied until now it reaches around the world. Today, there are hundreds of millions of believers.
  • Finally, the testimony of hundreds of millions of transformed lives through the centuries shows the power of the Resurrection. Many have been delivered from addictions. The destitute and despairing have found hope. Broken marriages have been restored. The most conclusive proof for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that He is living within believers today in all of His resurrected life and transforming power.

The Resurrection sets Christianity apart. No other religious leader has broken the power of death and conquered sin.

Significance of the Resurrection

The Resurrection confirms that Jesus is who He claimed to be. Let us consider the magnitude of this event:

  • The Resurrection proved that Christ was divine. The fact that Jesus Christ died on the cross does not prove in itself He is God. Jesus proved His deity by fulfilling the prophecies of His death and by His return from the grave. The Bible declares that “by being raised from the dead [Christ] was proved to be the mighty Son of God, with the holy nature of God Himself” (Romans 1:4, The Living Bible).
  • The Resurrection proved Christ’s power to forgive sin. The Bible asserts, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). By rising from the dead, Jesus proved His authority and power to break the bonds of sin and to assure forgiveness and eternal life to all who accept His gift of salvation.
  • The Resurrection revealed Christ’s power over death. The Bible records, “Christ rose from the dead and will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him” (Romans 6:9, TLB). The Resurrection secured our victory over death as well and “lifted us up from the grave into glory along with Christ, where we sit with him in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 2:6).
  • The Resurrection defeated God’s enemy. From the moment of his original rebellion until the day of the Cross, the devil fought viciously and cunningly to overthrow the kingdom of God. Satan must have thought he had dealt the final and decisive blow in this age-old war. But this was the devil’s most serious miscalculation. The Cross was heaven’s triumph. And when Jesus Christ arose, the power of sin and death was forever shattered. Because of the Resurrection, Christians need never fear Satan or death again.

Completion of Redemption

For 40 days after His death and resurrection, Christ appeared many times to His followers.

On one occasion, He gathered His remaining 11 disciples on a mountain in Galilee and gave them His Great Commission.

He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always” (Matthew 28:19,20).

Later, the Book of Acts records that, on the Mount of Olives, He admonished His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were filled with the Holy Spirit and then to take His message to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the world (Acts 1:4,5,8).

Immediately after, He rose skyward and disappeared into the clouds, leaving the disciples staring after Him in amazed wonder.

The ascension of Christ was the final act in the drama of redemption. His mission completed, Jesus Christ was exalted to His former glory.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ ranks as history’s most revolutionary event.

One cannot deny that He shook the world in His day.

But His life just as dramatically has shaped the course of history in our time.

The Resurrection is the final proof that Jesus Christ is who He claimed to be (see article titled, Jesus: God or Just a Good Man).

(Quote source and entire article is available at this link.)

On Easter Sunday 2012 I published a short post that included Matthew 28 (click here for the original post) which contains the Biblical account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I’ll end this post by reposting it again below:

*************************************************************************

He Is Risen

he-is-risen2

It’s the greatest story ever told.
Do you believe it?

Matthew 28

The Resurrection

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

The Guards’ Report

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

The Great Commission

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

“Therefore go. . .”

So what are we waiting for?

Go. . . Make. . . Teach. . .

YouTube Video: “Mighty to Save” by Hillsong:

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

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Free At Last

CelebrateDuring the next several days ending on Sunday, March 27, 2016, we will be celebrating several events here in America that encompass one of the greatest themes known to humankind–deliverance. Also known as Passion Week (the last week in the life of Jesus Christ), it starts this Sunday, March 20, 2016, which is Palm Sunday, and is followed by Good Friday on March 25th, and Easter on Sunday, March 27th. Thrown into the middle of this week is the Jewish holiday of Purim (based on the Old Testament book of Esther), which starts at sundown on Wednesday, March 23rd, and ends at sundown on Thursday, March 24th.

For the past couple of years I have reposted a blog post I first wrote at Easter 2013. That post is titled, On the Road to Emmaus (click here for link to last year’s reblogged post). I’ve also posted two other blog posts on Easter titled, He Is Risen (click here), and The Resurrection of Jesus Christ (click here). Also, I have posted a blog post originally written on Purim 2014 with the latest version, Celebrate Purim 5775 (2015),” published last year (click here for post).

The holidays of Purim and Easter are two holidays celebrating this theme of deliverance. Back in 2005 when Purim and Easter fell on the same day, Day of Discovery published a video titled, Two Holidays of Deliverance: Purim and Easter (click here to watch the video). Here is a brief description of Purim from Wikipedia.com:

Purim (Hebrew: פּוּרִים) is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire where a plot had been formed to destroy them. The story is recorded in the Book of Esther (Megillat Ester מגילת אסתר in Hebrew).

According to the Book of Esther, Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus (presumed to be Xerxes I of Persia) planned to kill all the Jews in the empire, but his plans were foiled by Mordecai and his adopted daughter Esther who had risen to become Queen of Persia. The day of deliverance became a day of feasting and rejoicing (quote source here). [The entire story can be read in the Old Testament book of Esther].

Easter, of course, is the Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead–giving new life to all who believe in Jesus as the One and Only Son of God (see John 3:16-18):

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. ~John 3:16-18

While I was tempted to repost my previously written blog posts on Purim and Easter from past years again for this year, the subject of deliverance is one that is too important to overlook. So let’s start by finding out what the Bible says on the subject of deliverance. GotQuestions.org states:

Deliverance is defined as “a rescue from bondage or danger.” Deliverance in the Bible is the acts of God whereby He rescues His people from peril. In the Old Testament, deliverance is focused primarily on God’s removal of those who are in the midst of trouble or danger. He rescues His people from their enemies (1 Samuel 17:37; 2 Kings 20:6), and from the hand of the wicked (Psalm 7:2; 17:13; 18:16-19; 59:2). He preserves them from famine (Psalm 33:19), death (Psalm 22:19-21), and the grave (Psalm 56:13; 86:13Hosea 13:14). The most striking example of deliverance is the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 3:8; 6:6; 8:10). Here is God defined as the Deliverer of Israel who rescues His people, not because they deserve to be rescued, but as an expression of His mercy and love (Psalm 51:1; 71:2; 86:13).

In the New Testament, God is always the subject—and His people are always the object—of deliverance. The descriptions of temporal deliverance in the Old Testament serve as symbolic representations of the spiritual deliverance from sin which is available only through Christ. He offers deliverance from mankind’s greatest peril—sin, evil, death and judgment. By God’s power, believers are delivered from this present evil age (Galatians 1:4) and from the power of Satan’s reign (Colossians 1:13). All aspects of deliverance are available only through the person and work of Jesus Christ, who was Himself delivered up for us (Romans 4:25) so that we would be delivered from eternal punishment for sin. Only Jesus rescues us from the “wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

Another aspect of deliverance concerns the temporal. While believers are delivered once for all time from eternal punishment, we are also delivered from the trials of this life (2 Peter 2:9). Sometimes that deliverance is God simply walking through the trials by our side, comforting and encouraging us through them as He uses them to mature us in the faith. Paul assured the Corinthian believers that “no temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). In these cases, rescue is not immediate, but in due time, after patience has had its perfect work (James 1:2-412). God makes the way of escape simultaneously with the temptation which, in His perfect will and timing, He permissively arranges or allows for His people.

Deliverance is often sought from evil spirits or the spirit of lust, jealousy, etc. It’s important to understand that, as believers, we already have eternal victory over Satan and demons. But we can be delivered from their influence in our lives by using two weapons God has given us as part of our spiritual armor with which we battle “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12-17). The believer defends himself with the shield of faith and uses the offensive weapon of the Word of God. Against these two, no spirit can prevail. By holding up the shield of faith, we extinguish the flaming spiritual arrows they send against us, arrows of lust, doubt, guilt, jealousy, evil speech, and all manner of temptations. With the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, we overcome the evil one by proving his temptations to be lies because he is the father of lies (John 8:44). John’s second letter commends the young Christians whose spiritual strength came from the Word of God living in them. By the offensive weapon of the Truth, we overcome the evil one (1 John 2:14).

Deliverance from sin, rescue from trials, and escape from the influence of a world in the control of the evil one come only through Christ, the Son of God who has come and “has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:19-20). (Quote source here.)

It is God who delivers. When we find ourselves going through very trying times that never seem to end, no matter how hard we may try to coerce or plead with God, or try to work it out on our own or manipulate our circumstances, it is only God who delivers in His way and in His timing. He sees the whole picture, and it’s always much broader then we can possibly know, conceive, understand, or imagine it to be. And it is always far greater and wider reaching than what we as individuals are personally going through at any point in time, although what we are personally going through is also of great importance to Him, too. Everything in this life is connected in one way or another, and in ways we cannot possibly understand. God didn’t create this world and then decide to leave it up to us to run. After all, we know what happened in the Garden of Eden when left on our own, and we haven’t done much better on our own down through the ages to today.

freedomDietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church during the reign of Adolf Hitler in Germany (1933-1945), wrote a statement in his diary in 1939 at a time when he was contemplating returning to Germany after spending only 26 days in New York City. While he was “safe” in New York City from the reach of Hitler, he was compelled to return to Germany in spite of Hitler’s growing reign of terror. While making the decision to return to Berlin, Bonhoeffer wrote the following in his diary:

It is remarkable how I am never quite clear about the motives for any of my decisions. Is that a sign of confusion, of inner dishonesty, or is it a sign that we are guided without our knowing, or is it both? . . . Today the reading [a passage of Scripture not noted in this diary entry] speaks dreadfully harshly of God’s incorruptible judgement. He certainly sees how much personal feeling, how much anxiety there is in today’s decision, however brave it may seem. The reasons one gives for an action to others and to one’s self are certainly inadequate. One can give a reason for everything. In the last resort one acts from a level which remains hidden from us. So one can only ask God to judge us and to forgive us. . . . At the end of the day I can only ask God to give a merciful judgement on today and all it’s decisions. It is now in his hand. (Quote source: Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (2014), by Eric Metaxas, p. 130).

Now I assume some people reading this blog post may not believe in God or at least think it is crazy that a God “out there somewhere” (if he even exists) would care about the decisions we make, or even on some level unknown to us, that this God could be directing our steps. However, God is not surprised by any of our actions whether good or evil, but only God can use everything to fulfill His purposes in this world which really does belong to Him. That is not to say we are robots as we certainly do make our own choices, even those choices that turn out to be extremely detrimental to us. When sin showed up in the Garden of Eden, it was passed down to all of us, and we all succumb to it on a very regular basis. The Bible is filled with the history of people who accomplished His will unknown to them on a personal level (even people who never claimed to believe in Him). However, it is also filled with many stories of people who loved God and sought His will on a regular basis.

Here are a couple of verses to get us thinking in this direction:

The Lord works out everything to its proper end—even the wicked for a day of disaster.” ~Proverbs 16:4

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” ~Philippians 2:13

While scoffers are everywhere, for those of us who believe in Jesus Christ, we know that Romans 8:28-30 are key in understanding the very thing Bonhoeffer wrote in his diary on that day he made his decision to return to Germany:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. ~Romans 8:28-30

For the Christian, the more we love and follow after Jesus Christ (and I’m not talking about putting on a religious show), the more He shapes us into what he wants us to be and do in this life. Psalms 37:3-4 states the following:

Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

“Safe pasture” isn’t always what we think it might be, but if we trust in the Lord with all of our heart (see Proverbs 3:5-6), the safe pasture can be found even in a hotel room. It is not in the externals of life (e.g., a hotel room) where we find safe pasture, but in Who we trust to take care of us during this journey through life. And, in looking at the second verse, as we learn to delight in the Lord even when fear is stalking our paths, we find that the desires of our heart change to His desires for us, and our faith and trust in Him grows exponentially.

Let’s look at the two verses in Proverbs I mentioned above–Proverbs 3:5-6:

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

Being human, our tendency to lean on our own understanding is as automatic as breathing air. I can’t tell you how many times over these past almost seven years now since I lost that job in Houston that I have thought something would work out one way and what actually happened could not have been further from what I thought would happen. It is so hard to “let go” of our own understanding when our world gets pulled out from under our feet. It requires total trust in God that the inner compass he provides will lead us on even when we don’t understand, just as Bonhoeffer stated in his diary entry on that very important decision-making day in his life. And, as we learn to trust that inner compass and submit ourselves totally to God on a daily basis, He makes our path straight, even if that path includes living in hotel rooms temporarily in two different cities as has been my circumstances for the past 17 plus months. And there have been times when I have experienced exactly what Bonhoeffer wrote about when he was making his decision to return to Germany. As we experience God bringing us through each day according to His will and not our own, the world around us opens up in amazing ways we would never have seen and experienced in any other way. And all of the people mentioned in Hebrews 11 (the “Hall of Faith” chapter in the Bible) knew the power of following God without knowing where it was leading in this life, but with an eternal perspective in mind.

Returning to the Easter story, Jesus Christ was both fully human and fully God (see John 1:1-18). Imagine being in his shoes from a human perspective during that last week of his life (click here for the chronology of the last week). Imagine what he must have been going through during the last 24 hours before he was crucified. Imagine what he must have been praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. We know part of what he said as it is recorded in Matthew 26:39 when he prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Yet he knew the balance of the whole human race was about to change forever through his death by crucifixion, his burial, and his resurrection again on the third day. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And for the past two millennium people from all the nations around the world have been coming to him and trusting in him as Savior and Lord.

As Hebrews 12:1-2 states:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [the people mentioned in Hebrews 11], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

As we start into the Passion Week, the last week of Jesus’ life before his resurrection on Easter Sunday, may we commit to . . .

Running with perseverance . . .

The race marked out for us . . .

Fixing our eyes on Jesus . . . .

YouTube Video: “Ready” by Third Day:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Realization of Reality

When I worked those seven months at that ill-fated job in Houston back in 2008-2009, I had two large framed posters on my office walls (along with my academic credentials since I was working at a college-level educational institute). One poster was a large print of a Picasso titled, The Dance of Youth,” and the other poster on the wall behind my desk was a very large poster that included a quote made famous by John Lennon: Reality leaves a lot to the imagination (quote source here–I wasn’t able to find a link to that specific poster). The meaning behind that quote (one of 11 quotes by John Lennon in an article titled, 11 Must Read Life Lessons from John Lennon,” is stated in that article as follows (it is quote #5):

Reality plus a sprinkle of imagination turns that which seems impossible into something that is possible. If you can imagine it, and you can believe it, you can achieve it. Dare to be as a child once again and imagine by asking yourself the question, ‘What if?’ Then go do. (Quote source here.)

In Matthew 18:1-4, Jesus’ disciples came to him asking, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

In Christian circles we often refer to this as “childlike faith.” While the words “childlike faith” are not actually in the Bible, the implication is there. In answer to the question, Does the Bible instruct us to have childlike faith?” GotQuestion.org states:

Unquestionably, faith is the essence of the Christian life. Faith is exhorted throughout the Bible and is presented as an absolute necessity. In fact, “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). The entire chapter of Hebrews 11 is about faith and those who possessed it. Faith is a gift from God, as we see in Ephesians 2:8–9 and not something we come up with on our own. All Christians have received the gift of faith from God, and faith is part of the armor of God—the shield with which we protect ourselves from the “flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).

The Bible never exhorts us to have “childlike” faith, at least not in so many words. In Matthew 18:2 Jesus says that we must “become as little children” in order to enter the kingdom of God. The context of Jesus’ statement is the disciples’ question, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (verse 1). In response, Jesus “called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’” (verses 2–5).

So, as the disciples focus on what constitutes “greatness” in heaven, Jesus provides a new perspective: the way “up” is “down.” Meekness is required (cf. Matthew 5:5). Jesus exhorts the disciples (and us) to seek to possess a childlike modesty in addition to their faith. Those who willingly take the lowest position are the greatest in heaven’s eyes. A young child is destitute of ambition, pride, and haughtiness and is therefore a good example for us. Children are characteristically humble and teachable. They aren’t prone to pride or hypocrisy. Humility is a virtue rewarded by God; as James says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10).

Although faith is not mentioned in Matthew 18:1–5, we know that it isn’t just humility that ushers a person into heaven; it is faith in the Son of God. A humble, unpretentious faith could rightly be called a “childlike faith.” When Jesus wanted to bless the children, He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:14–15). How does a child receive a gift? With openness, honesty, and unbridled joy. That type of happy authenticity should be a hallmark of our faith as we receive God’s gift in Christ.

Of course, children are easily fooled and led astray. In their artlessness they tend to miss the truth and be drawn to myths and fantasies. But that is not what is meant by having a childlike faith. Jesus promoted a humble, honest faith in God, and He used the innocence of a child as an example. Emulating the faith of children, we should simply take God at His Word. As children trust their earthly fathers, we should trust that our “Father in heaven [will] give good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:11).

For the Christian, it is a matter of faith (as noted above and in Hebrews 11), as in having a “humble, unpretentious faith like a child,” mixed with the promises of God that makes that which seems impossible something that is very possible. And this type of faith (believing for the impossible) is expressed throughout the Bible. Here’s a list of 15 verses that clearly states that all things are possible with God (source here):

1.)  But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” ~ Matthew 19:26 ESV

2.)  For nothing will be impossible with God. ~ Luke 1:37 ESV

3.)  I can do all things through him who strengthens me. ~ Philippians 4:13 ESV

4.)  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” ~ Mark 10:27 ESV

5.)  He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, move from here to there, and it will move and nothing will be impossible for you.” ~ Matthew 17:20 ESV

6.)  And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” ~ Genesis 11:6 ESV

7.)  I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. ~ Job 42:2 ESV

8.)  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16 ESV

9.)  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. ~ Mark 11:24 ESV

10.) Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. ~ Isaiah 41:10 ESV

11.) Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.  ~ Jeremiah 32:17 ESV

12.) What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? ~ Romans 8:31 ESV

13.) Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. ~ Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV

14.) No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. ~ 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV

15.) Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for me? ~ Jeremiah 32:27 ESV

One of the 20th Century’s most enduring examples of this kind of faith is found in Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945). I’ve been reading a book titled, “Bonhoeffer Speaks Today (2005) by Dr. Mark DeVine, Associate Professor of Divinity, History and Doctrine, at Beeson Divinity School, Stamford Universityabout the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), who died one month past his 39th birthday at the hands of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. A brief background on Bonhoeffer from Wikipedia states:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, antiNazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity’s role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship became a modern classic.

Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to the Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler’s euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. Later he was transferred to a Nazi concentration camp. After being associated with the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and then executed by hanging on 9 April 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing. (Quote source here.)

450-dietrich-bonhoeffer-quote-on-discipleshipIn Chapter 2 of the book, titled “Knowing and Doing the Will of God,” the author states that “Bonhoeffer cannot be understood apart from the vital refuge he persistently pursued and found in prayer and meditation on the Word of God.” Here is the section from which that statement is gleaned on pp. 46-48:

Discipleship means following, obeying, acting. Reduction of the Christian life to matters of sentiment or matters of the heart becomes incomprehensible in the fact of biblical teaching. “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (quote in “The Cost of Discipleship,” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p. 99). Such words from Bonhoeffer’s pen cut us to the quick because eight years after the ink hit the paper Bonhoeffer was hanged at Flossenburg. Bonhoeffer was not only a theologian of action but also a man of action , a man of course. Any pursuit of Bible study and prayer as an escape from responsible, risky obedience in this world must be rejected as not only sub-Christian but anti-Christian. Yet Bonhoeffer cannot be understood apart from the vital refuge he persistently pursued and found in prayer and meditation on the Word of God (e.g., the Bible).

Bonhoeffer’s quest for the will of God drove him to the Bible and to prayer. Because Bonhoeffer expected the Bible to answer all crucial questions for the Christian and the church, he embraced a daily discipline of Bible study and meditation on the Word of God. This discipline, while in no way opposed to academic study of the Scriptures, was distinct from such scholarly analysis. Bonhoeffer never completely repudiated the higher critical study of the Bible then flourishing in German academic circles, but he did insist upon the limits of such approaches to the Word of God. Bonhoeffer conceded that the Christian believer may and perhaps should approach the Bible as any other book alongside secular academicians and unbelievers. Yet, as a believer, he must go further. With the saints across the centuries, he expects to hear the voice of the living God in the Bible. At some point the results of academic study must be, not cast aside, but made to serve their purpose for the Christian and for the church. The voice and will of God must be sought with all one’s heart. In the words of the prophet (Jeremiah), “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

Bonhoeffer’s yieldedness to the Bible resulted in an expansion of the notion of the will of God beyond a cut-and-dried search for answers to ethical questions. God in his Word provides not only or first of all the answers to the believer’s questions, but the questions themselves. Prayer and meditation serve primarily the pursuit of the living God himself. Now God’s concerns, God’s values, God’s purposes, God’s demands, and God’s promises take center stage. Reality and relevance become identical with God’s own word to humanity and God’s own judgment of the world. In a striking sense, for Bonhoeffer, as for Karl Barth before him, reality is defined by, even equated with, God’s view of all things as revealed in the Holy Scripture and supremely in the crucified and risen Christ. There is no reality apart from Jesus Christ. “The place where the answer is given, both to the question concerning the reality of God and to the question concerning the reality of the world, is designated solely and alone by the name Jesus Christ (quote in “Ethics,” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p. 192). In him all things consist (Colossians 1:17). Through the witness of Holy Scripture, Bonhoeffer found himself drawn into a whole world, the real world, or in the words of Karl Barth, “The strange new world of the Bible.”

Believers who meditate on Scripture in pursuit of the living God are caught up in the great sweep of God’s creative and redemptive acts in history. As the objects and beneficiaries of that redemption, Christians recognize their own stake in the great divine acts of deliverance on behalf of his people in the past. They fall under God’s insistence that these great acts be remembered and recognized as windows into the character and purposes of the living God. (Source, “Bonhoeffer Speaks Today” pp. 46-48.)

As DeVine states on page 49, “It is crucial to our understanding of Bonhoeffer’s ethic and… his conception of the will of God” that we understand “the realization of reality.” He states (pp. 49-50):

It points first to all of Bonhoeffer’s profound sense of God’s providential ruling presence in the world here and now. When Bonhoeffer lays responsibility for shaping the future upon Christians and the church, it is not because he doubts God’s power and intention to fulfill his own purposes in the future but because of his certainty that God will do so. Certainty and hope must and may characterize the believer’s anticipation of the future precisely because God has bound himself to his promises. Our confidence in his promise frees us to participate in God’s own work, first as witnesses to Jesus Christ and then as his disciples in the world. For Bonhoeffer, following Jesus involves the realization of reality.

What is reality? Reality is what God says it is. Reality is what God makes it to be. In Scripture we are confronted with what God has said, done, and promised to do. God’s activity, speech, and promises trump and displace rival interpretations of reality. God determines that meaning of everything, period.

What is the realization of reality? It means yielding to the truth. It means reflecting in one’s own life the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Walking by faith means trusting God’s revelation of reality against all supposed evidence to the contrary. (Source, “Bonhoeffer Speaks Today” pp. 49-50.)

While there is much in this book I could add (the book is available at Amazon.com at this link), I’ll stop at this point by adding one more thought by the author stated on pp. 50-51:

Bonhoeffer believed that Christians could move into the future with boldness and even optimism born of hope and participate responsibly in shaping of the future in accordance with God’s will. In what follows, these three significant terms–boldness, optimism, and hope–indicate crucial dimensions of Bonhoeffer’s ethical thinking.

Bonhoeffer was obsessed with the desire to know and to do the will of God. He embraced both the burden and the exhilaration of the Christian’s happy duty to obey God’s will today, in this time, in ways demanded by one’s concrete, real-life situation. And yet, amazingly, Bonhoeffer also believed obedience must typically proceed without claims to direct access to the mind of God. Bonhoeffer rejected the notion that believers must or even should expect and thus wait until the claim of special revelation could be advanced to defend the final shape of one’s action. There was a freedom before God to do one’s best, in humility, without making extraordinary claims of certainty or special knowledge. Bonhoeffer did expect obedience to proceed with a particular certainty but not that of the illuminists from who one hears, “God is leading me to . . .” or worse, “God has told me . . . .” The certainty Bonhoeffer sought for himself and expected within the church was one of intention and biblical faithfulness to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and him crucified. The Christian must intend to follow the path of the cross set out in Holy Scripture.

Christian action could be scrutinized with reference to the Bible and especially in its compatibility with the revelation of God’s will in Jesus Christ. Moral absolutes held little attraction for Bonhoeffer, but “following Christ” was absolutely necessary. God in Christ came to serve, came to seek and save that which was lost, and did so by allowing  himself to be pushed out of the world onto the cross where he was crucified and on the third day rose from the dead. These things are not cloudy but clear and provide abundant guidance for Christian decision making.(Source, Bonhoeffer Speaks Today pp. 50-51.)

I found the reading of this information on Dietrich Bonhoeffer to be very inspiring today. If we will but yield to God and his leading (without any claims of “special revelation” or “direct access to the mind of God” as stated above which occurs in some Christian circles today), we might be very surprised by what unfolds. I never dreamed, almost seven years ago when I lost that job in Houston, that seven years later and all that has transpired in my life during this time would have been what it has been. I assumed, way back then, that God was going to provide another job for me in the very near future . . .

. . . and the reality of these past seven years hasn’t been anything like I thought it would be. We do not know the mind of God, and God doesn’t require that we do before we move in the direction he wants to take us, which might run contrary to everything we think should be happening in our lives. And while I am still living in a hotel after a year and a half of living in hotels with nothing opening up in the way of more affordable housing (or in other ways, too), and I still don’t know where all of this is leading, I do know that God knows, and He has a purpose for it, which is usually far greater than just one person’s situation (in this case, mine). It has to do with God’s “mission statement” in this world, which is found in 2 Peter 3:8-9:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

I hope you have found these words to be as inspiring as I have today, and that they encourage if you are in need of some encouragement (and after this wild political year leading up to the Presidential election in November here in America, it is good to remember that God is in control no matter the outcome).

And remember that with God . . .

There is no such thing . . .

As impossible . . . 

YouTube Video: (No Such Thing As) “Impossible” by Building 429

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Truth About Friendships

FriendshipSocial media has changed the definition of friendship in our culture. Actually, the definition of genuine friendship hasn’t change but social media has made it much more shallow, transitory, and sometimes, meaningless. A person can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook and not even know most of them, other then what they post or as a casual acquaintance. And who can keep up with the posts of a thousand friends?

A quote often expressed about friendship that we hear a lot is stated in it’s longer form by Sarah Ockler:

“In your entire life, you can probably count your true friends on one hand. Maybe even on one finger. Those are the friends you need to cherish, and I wouldn’t trade one of them for a hundred of the other kind. I’d rather be completely alone than with a bunch of people who aren’t real; people who are just passing time.” (Quote source here.)

At the end of an article titled, Why You Can Count Your True Friends on One Hand,” published on HuffPost Blog (2011) by Elizabeth Kesses (BritChick Paris) she makes this statement at the end of her article:

“Friendship has to be an exchange. It cannot be a one way street, that’s self sacrifice. As someone recently told me “if someone wants to be a part of your life they will make the effort to be in it, so don’t reserve a place in your heart for someone who doesn’t make the effort to stay.” (Quote source here.)

A Biblical definition of true friendship is found at CompellingTruth.org:

Friendships can be among the most rewarding and the most frustrating relationships in our lives. From Old to New Testament, the Bible is full of friendship stories and advice. We are told that friends love at all times (Proverbs 17:17), only wound us in ways that are trustworthy (i.e., tough love; Proverbs 27:6), are more loyal than family at times (Proverbs 18:24), provide mutual edification (Proverbs 27:17), can impart wisdom (Proverbs 13:20), and they may even sacrifice themselves for us (John 15:13).

David and Jonathan are well-known for their close friendship. First Samuel 18:1-5 talks about the knitting of the two men’s souls. Jonathan gave his robe and armor to David, essentially honoring David above himself and stripping himself of his kingly position (Jonathan’s father was King Saul). Later Jonathan stood up for David to his father (1 Samuel 19:1-7). Jonathan risked his life for his friend (1 Samuel 20). God used the friendship to preserve David for the throne. David, too, had deep loyalty to Jonathan. Second Samuel 1:17-27 is David’s lament over the death of Saul and Jonathan. Even though Saul had been an enemy to David, the new king sought out someone from Saul’s family that he might show him kindness for the sake of Jonathan (2 Samuel 9:1-13; 21:7). David’s sense of loyalty to Jonathan and his gratefulness for their friendship outweighed the enmity between Saul and David.

Embedded in instructions regarding the Church is some advice about friendship. Paul told believers to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient, forgiving, at peace with one another, loving, and thankful (Colossians 3:13-15). Friends also teach one another and worship God together (Colossians 3:16).

The truest friend is Jesus. John 15:12-15 says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Friends are like-minded. They love one another with sacrificial love. They share with one another from the heart. Friends know each other well and promote one another’s welfare. We are blessed to have been adopted into the family of God and to have been made friends of Jesus. In return, we are called to be good friends to one another.

According to the Bible, true friendship is characterized by love. The Proverbs, the example of David and Jonathan, instructions to the Church, and, ultimately, Jesus’ example depict true friendship. A true friend loves, gives wise counsel, remains loyal, forgives, and promotes the other’s welfare. (Quote source here.)

“Friendships can be among the most rewarding and the most frustrating relationships in our lives.” And who among us hasn’t experienced that truth in our own relationships with others to include family members and relatives. True friends watch out for each other, care about each other, and are willing to sacrifice their own time and comfort and resources to help each other. And that kind of friendship is hard to find. In fact, it’s actually quite rare, just as the quotes at the beginning of this post state.

One of the verses cited in the statement above is Proverbs 18:24 which states: One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” The NLT states that verse as follows: “There are ‘friends’ who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.” It is interesting to note what that verse is saying when it states that “a real friend sticks closer than a brother.” GotQuestions.org gives the meaning behind that statement:

Proverbs 18:24 teaches, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, / but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Given the fact that we normally think of blood being thicker than water, this proverb is rather jarring: there are ways that a friend can be more faithful than a brother.

The ESV translates the first line of the proverb this way: “A man of many companions may come to ruin.” In any translation the emphasis is on the plurality of friends. A person with many friends may still run into problems. A large number of friends does not equal help in the time of need. Many popular celebrities have faced this dilemma—they can have thousands of fans, yet fame is fickle, and the fans quickly disappear during difficult times. Our era of social media promotes many superficial connections who are called “friends,” but there are few true friends. Even the most connected can be lonely.

In contrast, the second line of this antithetical proverb tells us, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” The concept of friendship is a strong one in Proverbs, and the word friend is used nine other times in the book. Wisdom is called a friend (7:4), a friend loves at all times (17:17), a poor man is deserted by his friend (19:4), everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts (19:6), a person with gracious speech has the king as his friend (22:11), faithful are the wounds of a friend (27:6), the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel (27:9), and do not forsake your friend and father’s friend (27:10).

From these verses, we see there are two kinds of “friends.” There is the friend who exists because you have something to offer (such as a material gift or popularity-by-association), and there is a friend who exists due to genuine love and friendship. Proverbs 18:4 offers a contrast between these two types of friends. You can amass as many friends of the first type as you want but still come to ruin; however, even one friend of the second type is a great advantage.

The genuine or authentic friend is someone who sticks closer than a brother. In other words, he or she can be counted on. This friend is steadfast; he or she will be there for you even more so than a family member. Brotherhood is one of the strongest relationships we know. A friend who sticks closer than a brother is a trustworthy friend, indeed.

A wonderful biblical example of this type of closer-than-a-brother friendship is what existed between David and Jonathan. They became fast friends following the battle in which David killed Goliath. Despite the many hardships both men faced, they remained faithful to one another as friends and protected one another from harm. Jonathan even risked his life interceding for David before King Saul, who sought to kill David. After Jonathan’s death, David wrote a lament for his friend: “Jonathan lies slain on your heights. / I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; / you were very dear to me” (2 Samuel 1:25–26). Their friendship was stronger than David’s relationship with any of his own brothers.

Jesus was known as a “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34), and He has promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Jesus is truly the Friend who sticks closer than a brother, and blessed are those who have Him as their Friend (see John 15:14). (Quote source here.)

There is another type of friendship that, too often, Christians tend to get tripped up over, and it is the topic of a book I recently read titled, Forbidden Friendships: Retaking the Biblical Gift of Male-Female Friendships (2015, 2nd ed) by Joshua D. Jones. A statement regarding the book on Amazon.com states the following:

“Forbidden Friendships” presents the case for why Christian men and women need to engage one another in deep friendship and how to do so. Contrary to what some have taught, having close friends of the opposite gender is healthy, Biblical and important for spiritual growth. But divisions are in the Church. In the name of integrity, walls now exist that keep us from meaningful brother-sister friendship in Christ. While personal boundaries can be healthy, these generalized divisions are not Biblical nor these rules in line with Church History at its best. Contrary to their promises, we are not safer from sexual immorality by adhering to them – we are more at risk. In this 2nd edition – 1st edition entitled ‘Can Christian Men and Women be Friends?’ – Jones has refined and added more material for greater clarity and impact. Chapter subjects include: mixed friendships in Church history, practical and pastoral issues, ’emotional adultery’, Freud, Scripture survey and one on friendships in heaven. (Quote source here.)

Jones states his main reason for writing the book in his introduction titled, “Why This?” on pp. 4-5:

. . . there has been a growing relational chasm within the church that seeks to keep men and women from engaging in genuine friendship. This separation has been parading under the banner of integrity and it has become unhealthy. Not all agree with the new boundaries which keep men and women apart. But those who disagree often fear to raise their own objections.

This is important. We are supposed to be “the family of God,” yet the familial brother-sister, father-daughter, mother-son relationships which should be an outworking of the gospel are weak or missing. The experience of my Scandinavian wife and I is that this problem is greater in the USA (my place of origin) than in Britain or Europe; but it is an issue throughout the whole of the West.

My story? Well, in spite of having had a wonderful spiritual mother in my teen years, I later received strict discipleship when I was a bit older on the necessity to have lots of boundaries between men and women in order to maintain purity. A few events happened which caused me to revisit this part of my discipleship in the light of Scripture. These included helping celibate Christians who struggled with SSA (same-sex attraction) and having a board review during which time my pastoral work with young men was commended but I was also described as being “too distant and inaccessible” to women. It was a critique I do not believe Jesus would have ever received.

In addition to my cherished wife, I now have women near me whom I consider to be friends in the truest sense. If you are one, please know that my appreciation for you is much richer than my pen is able to describe. You are uneclipsable sisters who support me, my marriage, my ministry and you help me in ways that no male friend ever could. Thank you. (Taken from the Introduction titled, “Why This?” on pp. 4-5.)

Luke 10v27From my own experiences as a single professional woman who is now in my 60’s, I found that once I entered adulthood back in my late teens that the emphasis from the church was that I find a suitable Christian man to marry, but to have genuine friendships with men other then seeking a mate was frowned upon, and indeed, suspect. And this dichotomy has always been there in church settings. Of course, there have been times (more than I care to remember) that because I was older and still not married, that some church folks thought (or assumed) I had other leanings (as in being a lesbian, which I am not). This assumption started soon after I reached the ripe old age of 30 and was still single. This tendency by the church to judge others who, for whatever reason, have never married and are well past the usual age of marriage (at least first marriages) of 18-30, has been a major frustration for me, and, I suspect, others who are Christian and have never been married, too.

But back to Jones’ book . . . . There are eight chapters in the book starting with an introduction titled, “Why This?” The eight chapters are titled, “Deceived by Integrity,” “Why Be Friends?”, “When Sex isn’t Enough,” “Lessons from the Past,” “Does the Bible Promote Sin?”, “Examining Emotional Adultery,” “Questions and Objections,” and “Now . . . And Not Yet.” It also includes two appendixes at the end titled, “Facebook Reactions” and “On Being Gay and SSA.”

My focus for the purpose of this blog post is on Chapter 2, “Why Be Friends?” In this chapter Jones discusses six primary reasons for establishing friendships between men and women. He starts off by stating that friendship in general (even same gender friendships) are suffering, and states the following after a brief discussion on what he states is “the dismal state of same gender friendships” (p. 23):

If we are so impoverished in the area of homosociality (same gender friendship), why bother advocating for heterosociality (mixed gender friendship)? After all, in many evangelical circles these relationships are now frowned upon and those who engage in them often have their integrity questioned. And–to be honest–we admit that at times unanticipated romantic feelings can come into play and have to be dealt with. With all of the potential challenges mixed friendships may invite from without and within, are they really worth it?

Here are six reasons why they are:

These six reasons are listed below:

(1) For healing, joy and growth (pp. 23-26)

Jones cites a survey where women were asked to what it was they most enjoyed about their friendships with men as opposed to their friendships with women, and the top three answers were: (1) Levity and a sense of joking and humor not as easily found among women, (2) a sense of “big brother” or familial protection, and (3) insight as to how men really think (p. 25)

Men were asked a similar question regarding their friendships with woman as opposed to their friendships with other men, and they stated that their friendships with women enabled them to talk more deeply then they tend to do in their friendships with other men (p. 25).

Jones also states on p. 26:

The fact that we enjoy a different dynamic in our friendships with men then we do in our friendships with women is not–contrary to pseudo-Freudian thought–a fruit of our repressed sex drive. God created us to enjoy one another, gender differences and all. This helps us grow. We receive things from spiritual mothers and sisters which we do not receive from spiritual fathers and brothers.

(2) To help us resist temptation (pp. 26-31)

It goes without saying that this is probably one of the biggest reasons given to avoid mixed gender friendships. However, as Jones states on pp. 26-27:

Today’s “integrity” rules create distance between men and women. They promise us that if we adhere to them, we will walk in sexual purity and affair proof our marriages. But these rules lie.

The reality that mixed friendships can help us resist sexual temptation may sound counter-intuitive at first, but it is true. We have physical needs as human beings: water, air, food, shelter, love, encouragement, etc. We also have social and physiological needs. Many needs are same-gender in nature. As men we need fathers and brothers to initiate us and affirm us into the world of men. Women also have similar needs, especially in connecting with maternal figures.

But in addition to same-gender needs, we also have legitimate opposite gender needs. It may be a woman hungry for a father figure she never had. It may be a young man in need of nurture which an older, spiritual mother may be able to give. It may be a sense of sibling-like validation or affirmation which may strengthen and encourage you in a different way that if it came from a person of the same gender. When these needs are not met in healthy ways we are more prone to seek fulfillment in unhealthy ones.

Well, it goes without saying that this blog is quite long already so let me list the last four reasons with a very brief sentence on each one:

(3) To strengthen our marriages (pp. 31-33) (Without fear of threat or jealousy becoming involved)

(4) Because we are commanded to be friends (pp. 33-35) (Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”)

(5) To show the power of the Cross (pp. 35-38) (“The Cross of Jesus breaks down the curse of sin and makes reconciliation between genders possible”–p. 36).

(6) Release of Ministry (p. 39) (Receiving encouraging words from the opposite gender)

What I have provided above is merely a fraction of the information contained in this chapter and, of course, the rest of the book, but I hope it has whet your appetite to learn more. The book is available for purchase at Amazon.com at this link (click here).

When considering friendships of any kind, perhaps the most vital passage in the Bible, which is most often quoted at wedding ceremonies but is true of all friendships and relationships, is found in 1 Corinthian 13:4-8:

Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast,
it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil
but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts,
always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. . . .

So whatever you wish that others . . .

Would do to you . . .

Do also to them . . . . (Matthew 7:12, ESV)

YouTube Video: “Friends” (Friends Are Friends Forever) by Michael W. Smith:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit
here

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