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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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On Celebrating Birthdays

We all do it . . . celebrate our birthdays. When we were kids we wanted to be older, and as we get older we can’t believe how fast the years fly by. In between is our life as we’ve lived it one decade, one year, one month, one day, one hour, and one minute at a time. For me (hint–my birthday happens to be today), the days leading up to my birthday are filled with more anticipation then the actual day can live up to when it finally arrives. That’s probably because I’ve been around for a long time now and the “glow” of celebrating a birthday isn’t quite the same as it was when I was younger.

I stumbled across an article online today titled, This Is Why You Get To Celebrate Your Birthday Every Year,” by Todd Van Luling, senior culture reporter at HuffPost, Chicago, and here is what he had to say:

Have you ever thought about why we even bother to celebrate birthdays? When you think about it, they’re really just an opportunity for your friends and family to come together and congratulate you for surviving another year. But for some reason it’s become far more than that.

Although research on the exact origin of birthdays and birthday cakes remains inconclusive, there is enough of a consensus to piece together an approximate history. Perhaps someday a Birthdayologist will come along to set the record completely straight, but until then, we’ve compiled this short list of historians’ best hypotheses on the evolution of birthday celebrations and the delicious cakes that so often accompany them.

Here are seven of the major developments throughout history that have led to you being able to do this once a year:

1. Egyptians started the party. When pharaohs were crowned in ancient Egypt they were considered to have transformed into gods. This divine promotion made their coronation date much more important than their birth into the world. Scholars have pointed to the Bible’s reference of a Pharaoh’s birthday as the earliest known mention of a birthday celebration (around 3,000 B.C.E.), but Egyptologist Dr. James Hoffmeier believes this is referencing the subject’s coronation date, since that would have been the Pharaoh’s “birth” as a god.

2. Greeks added candles to cakes. The Greeks offered moon-shaped cakes to Artemis as a form of tribute to the lunar goddess. To recreate the radiance of the moon and her perceived beauty, Greeks lit candles and put them on cakes for a glowing effect. The Greeks most likely took the idea of birthday celebration from the Egyptians, since just like the celebration of the pharaohs as “gods,” the Greeks were celebrating their gods and goddesses.

3. Ancient Romans were the first to celebrate birthdays for the common man (but just the men). The prevailing opinion seems to be that the Romans were the first civilization to celebrate birthdays for non-religious figures. Romans would celebrate birthdays for friends and families, while the government created public holidays to observe the birthdays of more famous citizens. Those celebrating a 50th birthday party would receive a special cake made of wheat flour, olive oil, honey and grated cheese. All of this said, female birthdays still weren’t celebrated until around the 12th century.

4. Christians initially considered birthdays to be a pagan ritual. Due to its belief that humans are born with “original sin” and the fact that early birthdays were tied to “pagan” gods, the Christian Church considered birthday celebrations evil for the first few hundred years of its existence. Around the 4th century, Christians changed their minds and began to celebrate the birthday of Jesus as the holiday of Christmas. This new celebration was accepted into the church partly in hopes of recruiting those already celebrating the Roman holiday of Saturnalia.

5. Contemporary birthday cakes were invented by German bakers. Although the general idea of celebrating birthdays had already started taking off around the world — like in China, where a child’s first birthday was specifically honored — ‘Kinderfeste,’ which came out of late 18th century Germany, is the closest prerequisite to the contemporary birthday party. This celebration was held for German children, or “kinder,” and involved both birthday cake and candles. Kids got one candle for each year they’d been alive, plus another to symbolize the hope of living for at least one more year. Blowing out the candles and making a wish was also a part of these celebrations.

6. The Industrial Revolution brought delicious cakes to the masses. For quite some time, birthday celebrations involving sugary cakes were only available to the very wealthy, as the necessary ingredients were considered a luxury. But the industrial revolution allowed celebrations like ‘kinderfeste’ and the subsequent equivalents in other cultures to proliferate. Not only did the required ingredients become more abundant, but bakeries also started offering pre-made cakes at lower prices due to advances in mass production… [circa bakeries of the late 19th century].

7. “The Birthday Song” was a remix, kind of. In 1893, Patty Hill and Mildred J. Hill wrote a song they called, “Good Morning To All,” which was intended to be sung by students before classes began. The song eventually caught on across America, giving rise to a number of variations. Robert Coleman eventually published a songbook in 1924, adding a few extra lyrics that would quickly come to overshadow the original lines. The new rendition became the version we now all know, “Happy Birthday To You.”

BONUS: Marie Antoinette didn’t say “Let them eat cake.” First off, nobody attributed this quote to Marie Antoinette until about 50 years after her death, when French critic and journalist Alphonse Karr claimed Antoinette had said the phrase, but essentially only sourced rumors. Despite Karr’s theory, the phrase “let them eat cake” actually first appeared in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s autobiography, “The Confessions.” In the book, Rousseau is afraid to go into a bakery because he feels under-dressed. He then muses, “Finally I recalled the stopgap solution of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: ‘Let them eat brioche.’”

Antoinette was actually just a little girl when Rousseau’s work was written. While it’s possible that she had read Rousseau’s line and was quoting it in the infamous moment (and therefore not making a tone deaf remark about poverty), Antoinette biographer Lady Antonia Fraser, disapproves of this theory.

“[Let them eat cake] was said 100 years before her by Marie-Thérèse, the wife of Louis XIV. It was a callous and ignorant statement and she, Marie Antoinette, was neither,” Fraser said in defense of the young princess. Marie Antoinette’s name should be cleared!

Let us all eat more cake! (Quote source here. Links in article provided by Todd Van Luling.)

In another article titled Good Question: How Did Birthday Traditions Start?” by Jason DeRusha of WCCO-TV in Minnesota, he writes:

To children of all ages, a birthday is a reason to celebrate. But why? What are the reasons for many of our birthday celebrations?

Why do we celebrate birthdays?

The idea of celebrating the date of your birth is a pagan tradition. In fact, many Christians didn’t celebrate birthdays historically, because of that link to paganism.

Pagans thought that evil spirits lurked on days of major changes, like the day you turn a year older.

The ancient Greeks believed that each person had a spirit that attended his or her birth, and kept watch. That spirit “had a mystic relation with the God on whose birthday the individual was born,” says the book The Lore of Birthdays.

Why do we blow out candles on our birthdays?

The candles were a response to the evil spirits. They showed up to communicate with the gods. A light, in the darkness.

The Germans are credited with starting the kids birthday tradition in the 1700s. They put candles on tortes for “kinderfeste,” one for each year of life, along with some extras to signify upcoming years.

Why do we sing “Happy Birthday To You?”

It’s the most recognizable song in the English language, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, and it started as a song for schoolkids.

In 1893, two Kentucky schoolteachers, Patty and Mildred Hill wrote “Good Morning To All.” The tune was published in a book for schoolteachers.

It’s unclear who changed the words to “Happy Birthday To You,” but in 1933, that song was in an Irving Berlin musical. One of the Hill’s sisters sued, arguing that they held the copyright to the song. They won the case, and the courts have ruled that copyright still holds today.

In fact, some believe the song is under copyright until 2030. The owner of the copyright splits proceeds with the Hill’s estate, reportedly $2 million a year.

What’s the most common birth date?

Oct. 5 is considered to be the most common birthday in the United States. The reason is pretty obvious: go back 9 months, and you’ll find a conception date of New Year’s Eve. May 22 is considered to be the least common birthday in the United States. (Quote source here.)

And from a Christian perspective on birthdays, here is what Lesli White, digital media manager and editor at Beliefnet.com, has to say on the subject of birthdays in her article titled, Can Christians Celebrate Birthdays?”:

In almost every culture around the world, celebrations of life take place and, arguably, nothing is as universally celebrated as the birthday. But whether Christians can or should celebrate birthdays has been a topic of debate in the religious space. While some take the stance that you’re simply glorifying another’s life, others believe it is a form of Idolatry and celebrating it takes away from the admiration and glory of God.

But what does the Bible say about it?

Nowhere in Scripture is the observance of birthdays condemned as sinful or prohibited, and birthday observance as a doctrine is not mentioned in the Bible. However, there are people who claim there is indirect evidence that birthday celebration is a sin and shouldn’t be celebrated by Christians. They generally make the following claims:

First, when the Bible mentions birthdays which it has on three separate occasions, terrible things occurred. The first mention is in the Book of Genesis. Pharaoh, who was the Egyptian kind, celebrated his birthday by executing his butler and chief baker (Gen. 40:1-23). Joseph was given a special interpretation of the incident by God through a dream, and was told through this dream that Pharaoh would use his own birthday occasion to take his baker’s life and it would come three days after he interpreted the dream. The baker was hung at the party just as the dream foretold.

The next time a birthday is mentioned in the Bible is in the New Testament in the book of Matthew 14:3-11 when Herod the Tetrarch grudgingly ordered the beheading of John the Baptist. Verses 6-8 mentions when Herod’s birthday party, in which he got carried away and made a promise that he later regretted but couldn’t back down from. Because of this, John the Baptist’s, a great figure of the Bible, life was taken.

The last mention is in the Book of Job, with an account of a celebration that took place by Job’s children. The Bible says in Job 1:4 that Job’s seven sons “went and feasted in their houses, every one his day; and sent and called for their sisters to eat and drink with them.” This celebration brought Job a spirit of concern and when this period of feasting had run its course, Job planned to make arrangement for them to be purified by sacrificing a burnt offering in the morning, thinking that his children had sinned and cursed against God in their hearts. We later learn in this story that during the birthday party celebration of Job’s older son, all of Job’s ten children lost their lives by a mighty wind that struck and collapsed their home. As you progress to Job 3, you see a very pained Job, in which he spends much of his time cursing his birth. The loss of all his children left him in a state of shock, while also sobering him, bringing him to a place where he cursed the day he was born, acknowledging there was nothing good about his own birth.

While these three incidences resulted in murderous executions, they don’t show or prove that the proper observance of a birthday is displeasing to God. Remember, Pharaoh and Herod both executed as they pleased. Job’s children lost their lives due to a natural disaster, and while this event troubled Job greatly, he grew a great deal through this experience. While these events took place on their birthdays, this doesn’t mean that it is wrong to celebrate your birthday.

Some point to the origin of birthdays as a reason that Christians shouldn’t celebrate them. Birthday celebrations are originally of pagan origin, and came about through the practice of astrology. Thousands of years ago, these pagan astrologers invented calendars and calculated birth dates for kings, rulers and their successors through the monitoring of the stars; they examined horoscopes and birthday omens because they thought the fate of those in positions of power would affect all society. Because of this, many people put their trust in horoscopes over God. But just because something is of pagan origin doesn’t mean we agree with their belief system or it shouldn’t be observed for this reason. Some pagans traditionally participated in sinful activities at weddings and funerals, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t practice them. These factors shouldn’t stop us from having birthday parties as long as we reflect those celebrations with the right values and keep God in mind.

Everyone has a birthday with millions of Christians celebrating this momentous occasions each year. While this doesn’t mean that because so many people observe it, it makes it okay, but when we turn to Scripture, it doesn’t tell us that the celebration of life is a sin. Birthdays are similar to anniversaries, and we celebrate so many of them in our culture: weddings, dates of employment, even when our congregations are founded. Birthdays are just as acceptable. Remember, God calls us to celebrate life abundantly (John 10:10), that includes our own lives which God chose for us before we were even born. Why wouldn’t God want us to acknowledge that we are thankful for the blessing of life? As long as what we are celebrating is not idolatrous, out of line with Godly values and does not take away from the glory of God, it is okay for us to celebrate them. (Quote source here.)

I have to admit that after celebrating many birthdays (mine and others) that I had no idea about the history of birthdays until I went searching for articles on it today. And now you know, too. There is one thing I did already know which is found in Job 14:5, You [God] have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer.” And that includes everyone who has ever been born from the beginning of time until now and going forward.

I’ll end this post with Psalm 90:12 which states:

Teach us to number our days . . .

That we may gain . . .

A heart of wisdom . . . .

YouTube Video: “Teach Us O Lord to Number Our Days” by Bob Fitts:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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An Act of Mercy

Far too often human nature is such that we want to get even if we feel we have been wronged in some way. It doesn’t take much to see this response at play in the world all around us whether in the political arena, work settings, academia, at schools and on playgrounds, in the military, at church, and in families, between friends, and all other types of social settings. In fact, most of the violence and scheming we see in movies, on social media and television, and in life comes from our tendency to seek revenge for wrongs done to us or to those we know and love. It can even extend beyond our own personal feelings of wrongs done to us to entire groups of people we don’t even know for whatever reason we hate them–as in religious wars, racial wars, and that list goes on and on.

And on . . . .

In our churches today we hear a lot about grace, but not so much about mercy. We want God’s grace and mercy for ourselves, but we don’t often extend grace and mercy to others, especially those we don’t like for whatever reason we don’t like them. And half the time we don’t even know them personally, or we’ve heard gossip about them, or we just don’t like the way they look or act, and we cringe at the thought of actually extending either grace or mercy to them. And social media and television have conditioned us into thinking that it’s okay to hate others and try to get back at them in some tangible or back-biting way. You’d think we’ve adopted a new motto in life–“It’s cool to be cruel.” And we judge others constantly as we go about our day.

To start off, here is a brief definition of both grace and mercy from GotQuestions.org:

Mercy and grace are often confused. While the terms have similar meanings, grace and mercy are not the same. To summarize the difference: mercy is God not punishing us as our sins deserve, and grace is God blessing us despite the fact that we do not deserve it. Mercy is deliverance from judgment. Grace is extending kindness to the unworthy.” (Quote source here.)

“Mercy is deliverance from judgment. Grace is extending kindness to the unworthy.” When it comes to the subject of mercy, one of the best biblical illustrations of mercy is described in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21-35. In that parable Jesus gives us a classic example of someone who had received great mercy but failed to extend it to others:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

That is a daunting example of what can happen if we refuse to show mercy to others, and it came directly from Jesus. It should give us pause for thought concerning our own interactions with others on any given day. And as Psalm 139:1-4 states, God even knows our thoughts and what we are going to say before we say anything (or interact with others):

Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.

So how can we begin to start showing mercy to others in our everyday interactions? First, it starts with a heart attitude of kindness towards others who cross our path. In an article published in 2014 titled, What Does Everyday Mercy Look Like? by Vinita Hampton Wright, senior editor at Loyola Press, a novelist, and a facilitator of workshops on creativity, writing, and Ignatian prayer, she writes:

The publishing company I work for recently released the U.S. edition of “The Church of Mercy” by Pope Francis. This book conveys the pope’s vision for a church that could become a healing force in the world simply by communicating and demonstrating the mercy of God.

Little wonder that the word “mercy” beat in my heart for weeks and along with it the question: What does mercy look like? How might I become a person of mercy? In the Christian vocabulary, mercy is a forgiving response to wrongdoing; it is God’s countermove to our sin.

Having lived intentionally as a Christian for more than 40 years, I have avoided the easily labeled sins, acts that would require my arrest or resignation. Yet, I am a persistent sinner. When a reporter asked Francis, “Who are you?” and he answered, “I am a sinner,” I knew that at least I’m in good company. Our pope has named, however, the grand antidote to sin, which is mercy.

As I move through this day, how will I live mercifully? What works and actions will express to others around me the mercy Francis is talking about? In a given day, I do ordinary things, and I traverse a fairly unexciting landscape. My mercy will not show up in grand gestures, and most of the time mercy reveals itself in fleeting moments.

For example, mercy gives you his seat on the bus, acting as if he was about to get up anyway rather than making you feel that he is doing you a favor. Mercy does not let out that sigh–you know the one–the wordless disapproval toward the person in the check-out line ahead of you whose card didn’t swipe, or who can’t find her coupons, or whose toddler is having a meltdown. Mercy offers quiet sympathy and does not convey with her body language that this holdup is ruining her day. Sometimes mercy chooses not to send back the food that isn’t just right, simply because the waitress looks overwhelmed.

When mercy has been wronged, the offended one does not make it difficult for the offender to apologize or ask forgiveness. In fact, mercy does not wait for the other’s action but forgives so quickly that the person needing forgiveness is freer to ask for it. Likewise, at work, at home or in the classroom, mercy creates an atmosphere in which a person feels safe enough to admit his mistake or ask a question. And if mercy must correct someone, it pains her to do it, and she does so gently, without vindictive relish.

Mercy makes a habit of giving others the benefit of the doubt. Mercy is not in the habit of sending deadly glares at people who are annoying. Mercy gives charitably, knowing that eventually someone will take advantage of his generosity. Mercy welcomes you, fully aware that this act may disrupt her own plans.

Mercy relinquishes control when doing so allows another person to grow and learn. Mercy makes it his business to help others succeed. Mercy clears the way for others, so that they can walk on an even path, no matter how halting their steps or injured their souls.

In all these situations, mercy treats power as a sacred trust. I can be merciful because I have some sort of power, the means to affect another’s life, if only for a moment. I act mercifully when I use my power to do kindness in this world.

I was at a conference recently, and it was interesting to observe how the well-known, powerful people wore their power, how they responded to others’ admiration, how they spoke to those who were not so well-known or admired. Some used their power to make room for others and invite their voices; others used their power to dominate the space and the conversation.

In my own work, I have achieved a certain level of expertise and others’ respect. When I sit in a room with colleagues, they feel the weight of my opinions. With a sentence or a glance, I can crush or I can encourage. I can open up the conversation or shut it down.

Most of my sins involve failure at mercy. Whether through my unhopeful opinion of someone, my silent sentences that criticize him, my words grinding away in the privacy of a moving car, my neglect to help, or my refusal to notice when help is needed–each failure of mercy denies the community a bit of healing that might have happened.

Thus, mercy has become my new sin detector, a personal barometer. “Am I showing mercy?” makes for self-assessment that is simple, direct, and difficult to misinterpret. (Quote source here.)

Talk about an article hitting it’s mark! We all can give a knowing “nod” as we fail in so many ways to show mercy to others throughout our day, even if only in our thoughts about them.

In another article published in 2017 titled, 3 Super Practical Ways to Show Mercy,” by Hannah Quense, gift operations supervisor at St. Paul’s Outreach (a campus outreach), she writes:

All the grandiose acts of mercy I planned on doing to celebrate the year seem farfetched to me now. Just like New Year’s resolutions, the beginning of the year momentum has dwindled and the guilt of not checking things off my list has begun to sink in.

I mean, didn’t Jesus tell us to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36)? So I should be out doing great and marvelous works of mercy that save the world just like God did for us when He sent Jesus, right?

Maybe. But I can’t expect to do marvelous works of mercy if I can’t even do the little ones. So here are 3 super practical ways we can show mercy in our day to day lives just like our Father.

1. Oftentimes We Can Assume The Worst In People, But Mercy Calls Us To Assume And Think The Best.

Has your roommate been annoying you lately? Instead of assuming they’re the worst person in the world, assume they’re having an exceptionally bad day and offer them a warm beverage instead of a cold shoulder.

Did your friend blow off your hangout date? Don’t assume they ditched you for their significant other, rather assume they remembered a paper was due at midnight they never started and forgot to text you to reschedule.

2. Sometimes Our Judgments Of Others Seem Justified, But Mercy Calls Us To Turn Our Judgmental Thoughts Into Complimentary Ones.

Are you thinking about how that girl over there surrounded by boys is a huge flirt? Or how that guy in your class who always has an opinion is a pompous know-it-all?

Counter those negative and judgmental thoughts with ones of mercy by immediately thinking up 3 things to compliment them on (even if the compliments are only in your head).

3. Nothing Is More Merciful Than Forgiving Someone Who Has Wronged You, Even If It’s Something Seemingly Insignificant.

Did your roommate/friend/sibling “borrow” your clothes without asking? Instead of getting angry and upset with them, forgive, forget, and calmly ask them to check with you next time before they borrow your clothes.

Remember that friend from before who blew off your hangout date? Forgive them for not being there, even if it was the twelfth time in a row that they blew you off.

Every day presents opportunities to show mercy. Let’s pray for the grace to see them and rise to those opportunities. After all, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), so can’t we die to ourselves once in awhile and be merciful in forgiveness to others no matter how they’ve wronged us? (Quote source here.)

Again, we have that knowing “nod” as we’ve read through those three ways of showing mercy. In one final article on ways to show mercy to others published in 2015 titled, Seven Ways to Be Merciful,” by Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, he writes:

“God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7 NLT, second edition)

In yesterday’s devotional (click here to see that devotional), we talked about seven facets of mercy. Today, I want you to consider some personal application questions for each of the aspects. I want to challenge you to commit an act of premeditated mercy in each of these categories this week.

Wait. Isn’t there a tension between mercy and personal responsibility? Yes, there is. But I have personally decided that if I’m going to err, I’m going to err on the side of being too gracious, too merciful, and too forgiving. You can go overboard on mercy — just look at what Jesus did on the cross.

So, how will you be merciful?

Be patient with people’s quirks. Who is that person in your life who has irritating quirks? How can you practice patience with that person this week?

Help anyone around you who is hurting. Who around you is obviously hurting that you can help this week? If you can’t think of anybody, then you’re not paying attention. Look closer!

Give people a second chance. Who do you need to give a second chance to? How can you show that person mercy and compassion this week?

Do good to those who hurt you. Maybe you’re suffering from an old wound that you have not been able to let go of. You need to forgive and then turn it around for good. Who is that person in your life? Will you make a phone call or a visit this week?

Be kind to those who offend you. Who offends you? Maybe it’s a politician or a comedian that you can pray for. Maybe it’s a Facebook friend who has different views and says some pretty offensive things. How can you be intentional about showing kindness to that person this week?

Build bridges of love to the unpopular. Who is the first person who comes to mind when you think of an outcast? Who spends their lunch breaks eating alone or doesn’t seem to have any friends at soccer games? What specific thing will you do this week to bridge the gap between you and that person with love?

Value relationships over rules. Who is an unbeliever you could invite over for dinner in the next few weeks? Will you then step up and invite that person to church? This is your ministry of mercy.

Pray this prayer today: “Heavenly Father, your Word convicts me. I want your blessing in my life, and I want to be a merciful person. As I look at these seven things, I think of shortcomings and weaknesses in my own life. I pray that rather than just hearing the Word, I would do something about it. Give me the courage to be merciful. Give me the strength this week to step out in faith and do radical, premeditated acts of mercy that point others to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.” (Quote source here.)

We now have several ways to show mercy to others, and no more excuses not to show mercy. So start today. And remember what Micah 6:8 states: “O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly…

To love mercy . . .

And to walk humbly . . .

With your God . . . .

YouTube Video: “Mercy Came Running” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

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

The Road to Pentecost

Two days ago I posted a blog post on my new blog site, Reflections,” titled The Road to Pentecost.” I decided to go ahead and post it here on my regular blog, too, since the readership is wider here, and Pentecost is two days away. Here is that blog post:

The Road to Pentecost

“One of the great metaphors of the Bible is “the journey.” The Bible is filled with journey upon journey. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture is full of people on the move”. . . .

The quote above is taken from a Holy Week sermon in 2009 titled, Three Journeys,” given by The Reverend Michael Seiler, Managing Associate Rector, at The Parish of Saint Matthew in Pacific Palisades, California. Here is more from that sermon:

In the beginning of the Old Testament, Abraham journeys from Ur of the Chaldees to the Promised Land. Many generations later, Abraham’s descendants journey from slavery and oppression in Egypt into the land of Israel. Many generations after that, they journey back to their Promised Land after the tragic downfall of their civilization and their forced exile in Babylon. In the New Testament, Jesus himself journeys through Palestine, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God. As he journeys, he shows people what that Kingdom looks like by his deeds of love and power. After the Resurrection, Paul and the apostles journey all over the Roman Empire, and their message reaches to the ends of the earth – and here we are, millennia later, with our journeys touching theirs.

It makes sense that the concept of “the journey” would be so central to Scripture, because we human beings are journeying people. We make sense of our lives by understanding them as journeys, as the unfolding story of who we are and what we do in the world. We think and talk and worry about our career arcs, or our family histories, or our financial forecasts, or our estate plans. In our better moments we think and talk and pray about our spiritual journeys – all ways of thinking about our lives, our stories, about the journey that has been, and the journey that will be. In some deep way, journeying is an elemental part of who we are as human beings.

This image, this metaphor of the journey has been very helpful to me over the past week or so, as I’ve tried to understand the deeper meaning of this morning’s reading from the twelfth chapter of John’s Gospel. John tells us in this passage about the moment when several different journeys intersect, and he tells us something about what it means that those journeys come together.

The first journeyer in John’s Gospel is, of course, Jesus himself. From its very first words, John’s Gospel makes it clear that Jesus is on a journey – a journey that is far more than just a walking tour of Palestine. The pre-eternal Word of God, who is with God and who is God, has journeyed into this world, has chosen to be with us, to become flesh, to reveal his divine being and nature and love to us by becoming a human person in the man Jesus of Nazareth. For John’s Gospel, this is the first and greatest journey – the cosmic journey of Christ from the Father into this world, through suffering and death and then back to the glory of the Father. Every other journey in John’s Gospel, all of the lives and experiences of all the other people in John’s Gospel, only make sense in the light of that great journey of Christ. John’s Gospel wants to tell us that apart from the great journey of Christ, our lives don’t really get anywhere.

Apart from the grace and power and love of Christ, our lives are just a kind of going in circles. But, John wants to tell us, in the light of the great journey of Christ, our lives can be a journey into God.

There are other journeyers in this morning’s Gospel. John doesn’t tell us their names – all we know about them is that they aresome Greeks.” They are the only Greeks – the only non-Jews, that is – in John’s Gospel [see John 12:20-33] who encounter Jesus during his ministry. They have somehow heard of Jesus, they have learned something about him, and what they’ve learned has given them a desire to be with him. They have journeyed to be with Jesus, perhaps over a very long distance. That distance may be geographical, or spiritual, or both. They seek out the follower of Jesus who has the most Greek-sounding name – Philip – and they ask Philip to arrange a meeting with Jesus. And in this moment, their lives, their journeys, and the cosmic journey of Christ from God and to God, suddenly and dramatically intersect.

And that, Jesus says, is precisely the point. The journey of Jesus, the journey of destiny and salvation and healing that he is traveling, now starts to touch not just Jews but non-Jews. The Greeks have arrived. “The hour,” Jesus’ decisive moment of glory and revelation that will climax in the Cross, has come. This is the moment, in John’s Gospel, when the full meaning and power of Jesus’ journey begins to be revealed. This is the moment when the saving journey of Christ begins to be revealed as the work of God that will heal and save and transform not just the covenant people of Israel, but the whole human race. “The hour has come,” Jesus says, “and when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

These mysterious, unnamed Greeks become the sign that all human journeys, all human lives, find their meaning in Christ. These mysterious, unnamed Greeks are the people through whom Jesus demonstrates that he is drawing every person, bending every journey, toward himself. Christ, now that he is lifted up from the earth by his crucifixion and his resurrection, has become the pole star, the magnetic north, for every journey, for every person, for the meaning and destiny of every individual and of the whole human race. All our journeys are destined to find their meaning by intersecting his great journey. Until our journeys are caught up in the journey of Christ from God and to God, we really are just going around in circles of our own making. Once we make Christ’s journey our own – or rather, once Christ makes our journey his own – then and only then are we are safely on the road to God. . . .

But there is one last detail about this Gospel passage that has puzzled me for years. What happened to the Greeks? Do they get to see Jesus? Doesn’t Jesus ever talk to them? Do they ever get what they came for? John’s Gospel doesn’t say. It just leaves them – and us – hanging. And for years, that loose end in the story drove me crazy.

But now I think I am starting to understand. I think the Greeks did see Jesus. I think John’s Gospel is suggesting to us that the Greeks did see everything they needed to see of Jesus – because they had come to Jerusalem, and they were going to see his suffering and his death and perhaps even be eyewitnesses of his Resurrection. It’s as if they came seeking an interview, but what they got was to SEE the cataclysmic, earthshaking events that were going to unfold in Jerusalem over the next few days. If they showed up, they would see. If they saw, and let the cosmic journey of Christ fully intersect theirs – if they saw, and understood what they were seeing, and if they believed – they would find what they were seeking. They just needed to show up for the next few days. They needed to show up – for Holy Week. They had to be brave enough to take it all in, and to believe what they heard and saw. (Quote source here.)

This coming Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, and it marks the end of the seven week Easter Season also known as Eastertide which is the time between the resurrection of Jesus Christ celebrated on Easter Sunday and the filling of the Holy Spirit in his disciples and followers in the Upper Room fifty days later (known as Pentecost–see Acts 2). In an article titled, What is Pentecost? Why Does It Matter?” by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts, pastor, author, leader, speaker, blogger, and Executive Director of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Seminary, he states:

On the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon those followers of Jesus who had gathered together in Jerusalem. What happened on the first Pentecost continues to happen to Christians throughout the world today, though usually not in such a dramatic fashion. We rarely get a heavenly wind and tongues of fire anymore. Nevertheless, God pours out the Spirit upon all who put their faith in Jesus Christ and become his disciples (see Romans 8:1-11).

Christians are meant to live in the presence and power of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit helps us to confess Jesus as Lord (1 Cor 12:3), empowers us to serve God with supernatural power (1 Cor 12:4-11), binds us together as the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-13), helps us to pray (Rom 8:26), and even intercedes for us with God the Father (Rom 8:27). The Spirit guides us (Gal 5:25), helping us to live like Jesus (Gal 5:22-23).

Personal Implications: Pentecost presents us with an opportunity to consider how we are living each day. Are we relying on the power of God’s Spirit? Are we an open channel for the Spirit’s gifts? Are we attentive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Is the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.) growing in our lives? Most Christians I know, including me, live in the presence and power of the Spirit, but only to an extent. We are limited by our fear, our sin, our low expectations, not to mention our tendency to be distracted from God’s work in us. Pentecost offers a chance to confess our failure to live by the Spirit and to ask the Lord to fill us afresh with his power.

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on individual followers of Jesus as they were gathered together in Jerusalem. This gathering became the first Christian church. New believers in Jesus were baptized as they joined this church. They, along with the first followers of Jesus, shared life together, focusing on teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. They shared their belongings so that no one was hungry or needy. As these first Christians lived out their new faith together, “the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Thus we speak of Pentecost as the birthday of the church.

In theory, the Spirit could have been poured out on the followers of Jesus when they were not gathered together. There are surely times when the Holy Spirit touches an individual who is alone in prayer, worship, or ministry to others. But the fact that the Spirit was given to a gathering of believers is not incidental. It underscores the centrality of the church in God’s work in the world. The actions of the earliest Christians put all of this in boldface. The Holy Spirit is not only given to individuals, but also, in a sense to the gathered people of God. Thus, in 1 Corinthians 3the Apostle Paul observes that the church is God’s temple and that the Spirit dwells in the midst of the church (3:16-17in 1 Cor 6:19-20 we find a complementary emphasis on the dwelling of the Spirit in individual Christians). (Quote source here.)

GotQuestion.org adds the following information on Pentecost Sunday:

Today, in many Christian churches, Pentecost Sunday is celebrated to recognize the gift of the Holy Spirit, realizing that God’s very life, breath and energy live in believers. During this serviceJohn 20:19-23 may be the core of the message about our risen Savior supernaturally appearing to the fear-laden disciples. Their fear gave way to joy when the Lord showed them His hands and side. He assured them peace and repeated the command given in Matthew 28:19-20, saying, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Then He breathed on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-23).

The celebration of Pentecost Sunday reminds us of the reality that we all have the unifying Spirit that was poured out upon the first-century church in Acts 2:1-4It is a reminder that we are co-heirs with Christ, to suffer with Him that we may also be glorified with Him; that the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7); that we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13); and that the Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead lives inside believers (Romans 8:9-11). This gift of the Holy Spirit that was promised and given to all believers on the first Pentecost is promised for you and your children and for all who are far off whom the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:39). (Quote source here.)

The road from Easter to Pentecost is one of the many roads we as Christians take in our journey of faith. It is crucial that we remember what Jesus said in John 15:5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit . . .

For apart from me . . .

You can do . . .

Nothing . . . .

YouTube Video: “Which Way the Winds Blows” by the 2nd Chapter of Acts (1974):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Heavens Declare

Lately I have let myself get weighed down by the challenges I’ve been facing while trying to find low income housing on a Social Security income. While looking for housing I’ve been staying at a hotel, which is, to say the least, a very transient way to live. Probably too often when life is particularly challenging we might tend to go to the Psalms where David cried out for help from the Lord, and there are many psalms that aptly fit whatever we are going through. However, this morning I ran across Psalm 19 and Psalm 20 which puts our focus back where it belongs while seeking God’s help in any situation. While I read the Psalms in various translations, I have chosen the New King James Version to quote these two psalms for this blog post.

Psalm 19 New King James Version (NKJV)

The Perfect Revelation of the Lord
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their linehas gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.

In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is like a bridegroom
coming out of his chamber,

And rejoices like a strong man to run its race.
Its rising is from one end of heaven,
And its circuit to the other end;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
converting the soul;

The testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;

The statutes of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;

The commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;

The fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;

The judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
Keep back Your servant also
from presumptuous sins;

Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent
of great transgression.

Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart

Be acceptable in Your sight,
Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.

Bible teaching notes on Psalms 19 are available at this link and provided by Omar C. Garcia, Missions Pastor at Kingsland Baptist Church in Katy, Texas, and Bible lesson writer for LifeWay Christian Resources, on BibleTeachingNotes.com. I’ve included a few of his notes on Psalm 19 below:

Practical Considerations [Psalm 19:1-6]: God has not left Himself without a witness.

The evidence for the existence of God is abundant. It is everywhere to be seen in the universe around us. Biblical scholar John Phillips comments, “It is significant that the Bible makes no attempt to prove that there is a God … The fact of God’s existence is self evident and taken for granted. The person who says differently is bluntly called a fool (Psalm 14:1 and 53:1). The root cause of atheism is traced in both these psalms to moral rather than to intellectual sources. It is not that a man cannot believe so much as that he will not.”

Practical Considerations [Psalm 19:7-14]: God’s Word can change people’s lives.

God’s Word can lead men to salvation, can make men wise, can fill the heart with joy, can give men discernment, can warn men of danger, and can help them live meaningful and rewarding lives. We should commit ourselves to a consistent study of the Word of God. We should purpose to live our lives according to the truths of God’s Word. Those who fail to study and obey God’s Word miss out on the many benefits of so doing.

David concluded the Psalm, which began with the universal glory and revelation of God, on a very personal note (v. 14). His desire was to remain in a right relationship with God and live a life pleasing to God. (Quote source here.)

Following on the heels of Psalm 19 is Psalm 20The background of Psalm 20 is that this psalm is “a prayer for the king’s protection and victory over enemies in battle [David is King at this time]. The king was fighting for the welfare of the nation. Verses 1-5 record the nation’s Godspeed to the king. Verses 6-8 record either the king’s or the worship leader’s reply. Verse 9 is a final prayer for the king” (quote source here.) Here is Psalm 20:

Psalm 20 New King James Version (NKJV)

The Assurance of God’s Saving Work
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.

May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble;
May the name of the God of Jacob defend you;
May He send you help from the sanctuary,
And strengthen you out of Zion;
May He remember all your offerings,
And accept your burnt sacrifice. Selah

May He grant you according
to your heart’s desire,

And fulfill all your purpose.
We will rejoice in your salvation,
And in the name of our God
we will set up our banners!

May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.

Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed;
He will answer him from His holy heaven
With the saving strength of His right hand.

Some trust in chariots,
and some in horses;

But we will remember
the name of the Lord our God.

They have bowed down and fallen;
But we have risen and stand upright.

Save, Lord!
May the King answer us when we call.

As stated for Psalm 19 above, Bible teaching notes on Psalms 20 are available at this link and provided by Omar C. Garcia, Missions Pastor at Kingsland Baptist Church in Katy, Texas, and Bible lesson writer for LifeWay Christian Resources, on BibleTeachingNotes.com. I’ve included a few of his notes on Psalm 20 below:

Practical Consideration [Psalm 20:1-4]: No person is exempt from troubles.

We are not exempt from troubles. We often experience dark days and sorrowful nights. We often grow weary from the constant and unrelenting pressures of life. It seems that there is always something to threaten our welfare and security. It seems that there is always something bent on defeating and destroying us. Like the psalmist, we too should seek the Lord’s help in the day of trouble. We should look expectantly to God for help and assistance. We should put our trust in Him.

Practical Consideration [Psalm 20:5]: We should remember God in our hour of victory and triumph as well as in our hour of need.

It is easy to remember God when we are in great and desperate need. It is easy to look to heaven when we are threatened on every side. It is easy to earnestly voice our petitions when problems close in. We should be careful, however, to remember God in our hour of victory and deliverance. We should not be so elated by triumph as to forget to give thanks. We should not allow success to cause us to forget the source of our help.

Practical Consideration [Psalm 20:6-8]: Confidence in God gives us courage for the battle.

The king’s confidence in God gave him courage for the battle. He marched into battle with the conviction that God would grant him victory. He put his trust in the Lord rather than in armaments or coalitions. He remained standing while his enemies fell around him because he trusted in God.

Practical Consideration [Psalm 20:9]: We should pray for our leaders.

Someone has commented, “The well-being of a people is suspended on the character and doings of the monarch. Prayer should be offered for him continually that he might be guarded from evil, that he may be wise, equitable, and prosperous.” (Quote source here.)

“May the King answer us when we call.” I hope these two Psalms have been an encouragement to you if you are going through some trying circumstances. God is still on the throne. May it remind us to pray for our leaders, and also remind us that our true “King” is the Lord our God, who made Heaven and Earth. . . .

May the Lord . . .

Answer us . . .

When we call . . . .

YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Who Do We Really Serve?

To say that Jesus of Nazareth was the most influential man who ever lived is almost trite. Nearly two thousand years after he was brutally executed by Roman soldiers, more than 2.2 billion human beings attempt to follow his teachings and believe he is God. That includes 77 percent of the U.S. population, according to a Gallup poll. The teachings of Jesus have shaped the entire world and continue to do so.  ~Bill O’Reilly in “Killing Jesus

The quote above is the opening paragraph of Bill O’Reilly‘s 2013 book, Killing Jesus,” on page 1. According to Gallup and Pew Research Center, “Christianity is the most adhered to religion in the United States, with 75% of polled American adults identifying themselves as Christian in 2015. This is down from 85% in 1990, lower than 81.6% in 2001, and slightly lower than 78% in 2012″ (quote source here–see footnotes 1 & 2).

Jesus Christ is not only the most influential man who ever lived, he is also the most controversial. And some of the things he had to say are quite controversial. Read, for example, what Jesus said in Matthew 10:34-36:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”

Those words are not normally what one hears in a Sunday morning sermon. So what did Jesus mean by those words? GotQuestions.org answers that question with the following:

Matthew 10:34–36 describes Jesus telling the disciples that He came not to bring peace to the world, but a sword. Jesus’ sword was never a literal one. In fact, when Peter took up a sword to defend Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus rebuked him and told him to put away his sword, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). Why then, did Jesus say, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” What kind of sword did Jesus come to bring?

Among the names of Jesus Christ is that of Prince of Peace. Such verses as Isaiah 9:6Luke 2:14, and John 14:27 make it clear that Jesus came to bring peace, but that peace is between the man and God. Those who reject God and the only way of salvation through Jesus (John 14:6) will find themselves perpetually at war with God. But those who come to Him in repentance will find themselves at peace with God. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are restored to a relationship of peace with God (Romans 5:1).

Still, it is inevitable that there will be conflict between good and evil, the Christ and the Antichrist, the light and the darkness, the children of God (believers) and the children of the devil (those who refuse Christ). Conflict must arise between the two groups, and this can and does happen within a family in which some are believers and others are not. We should seek to be at peace with all men but should never forget that Jesus warned we will be hated for His sake. Because those who reject Him hate Him, they will hate His followers as well (John 15:18).

In Matthew 10:34–36, Jesus said He had come at this time not to bring peace to the earth, but a sword, a weapon which divides and severs. As a result of His visit to the earth, some children would be set against parents and a man’s enemies might be those within his own household. This is because many who choose to follow Christ are hated by their family members. This may be part of the cost of discipleship, for love of family should not be greater than love for the Lord. A true disciple must take up his cross and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24). He must be willing to face not only family hatred, but also death, like a criminal carrying his cross to his own execution. True followers of Christ must be willing to give up, even to the point of “hating” all that is in our lives, even our own families, if we are to be worthy of Him (Matthew 10:37–39). In so doing, we find our lives in return for having given them up to Jesus Christ. (Quote source here.)

What is written above is rarely a topic of conversation or sermons in most church environments today. In an 2014 article published in Charisma News titled, 13 Contrasts Between American and Biblical Christianity,” by Bishop Joseph Mattera, author, interpreter of culture, and activist/theologian who leads several organizations including The United Coalition of Apostolic Leaders, Dr. Mattera states the following:

It has been evident to numerous biblical scholars that often (if not most of the time) believers (including preachers) interpret the Bible through the lens of their culture. This has resulted in many beliefs, doctrines and practices prevalent in the church that are not in accord with the clear teaching of Scripture. Sadly this is the often the case with the evangelical church in the United States.

Since the United States is so influential, American evangelicals have exported a gospel replete with an American cultural paradigm that is not in line with the Hebraic paradigm of Scripture. Consequently, sometimes in the U.S. pulpit, preaching can come across more like the “American Dream” than sound, biblical teaching.

The following are some of the contrasts between American Christianity and biblical Christianity:

1. American Christianity focuses on individual destiny. The Bible focuses on corporate vision and destiny.

Most of the preaching in today’s pulpits in America focuses on individual destiny, purpose and vision. However, a quick look at the Bible shows us that in the Old Testament the emphasis was always on the nation of Israel, and in the New Testament the emphasis was always on the church. Every promise of God in Scripture was given to the community of faith as a whole. Hence if a person was not flowing in the context of the church, or the nation of Israel, they would have never even known Scripture since the average person did not own a Bible and only heard the Word when they assembled with the saints on the Sabbath. Of course, believers had to apply the Word of God as individuals, but they could not conceive of doing this if they were not part of the corporate body of faith. In the Old and New Testaments, there was no such thing as “individual prophecy” since every prophetic word given to an individual had to be walked out in the context of their faith community and/or had to do with the life of their community.

2. American Christianity focuses on individual prosperity. The Bible focuses on stewardship.

Much American preaching today focuses on “our rights in Christ” to be blessed. However, in Scripture the emphasis regarding finances has to do with being blessed by God in order to be a blessing by bringing God’s covenant to the Earth (read Deut. 8:18; 2 Cor. 9:10-11). Jesus promised material blessing only in the context of seeking first His Kingdom (Matt. 6:33).

3. American Christianity focuses on self-fulfillment and happiness. The Bible focuses on glorifying God and serving humanity.

The Great Commandments are to love God and love our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40). It seems to me that much of the focus from the American pulpit has to do with individual fulfillment and satisfaction.

4. American Christianity appeals to using faith to attain stability and comfort. The Bible encourages believers to risk life and limb to advance the Kingdom.

Much of the preaching in American churches regarding faith has to do with using faith so we can have a nice car, home, job, financial security and comfort. The biblical focus on faith is on risking our physical health and material goods to promote God’s Kingdom (read Phil. 2:25-30). Most of the original apostles of the church died as martyrs as did the Apostle Paul, and the hall of faith shown in Hebrews 11 equates faith with a life of risk and material loss for the sake of Christ. Much of the preaching on faith in contemporary churches would seem foreign to biblical prophets and apostles.

5. American Christianity usually focuses on individual salvation. The Bible deals with individual and systemic redemption.

Jesus’ first sermon text in Nazareth was a quote from Isaiah 61 (read Luke 4:17-19). American preachers usually interpret these passages in an individual manner only. However, when you read Isaiah 61:1-4 you will clearly see that the gospel not only saved and healed individuals but also transformed whole cities! The biblical gospel deals with systemic sin not just individual sinners.

6. The American apologetic focuses on human reason. The Bible’s apologetic focuses on the power of God and experience.

Americans have been trained to defend the faith utilizing scientific, archaeological and linguistic historical proofs to validate the resurrection of Christ and the historic accuracy of the Scriptures. This is because the Enlightenment trap that promotes human reason as the highest arbiter of truth has captivated the American church. However, when we read both testaments, we see the prophets, the apostles and Jesus never based the propagation of their faith on the latest scientific research or human reason but on the anointing, authority and reliability of God (1 Cor. 2:1-4; Heb. 2:1-3).

Of course, biblical faith is the most rationalistic, reasonable faith in the world since it comports with reality more than any other philosophy or religion. However, if the foundation of your faith is human reason, then the first person that has more knowledge than you in science could talk you out of being a Christ-follower. Truly, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, not human reason (Prov. 9:10; 1 Cor. 1:17-23).

7. American believers have a consumerist mentality regarding a home church. The biblical emphasis is being equipped for the ministry.

Americans shop for a church today based on what meets their personal and family needs the best. It is almost like a supermarket mentality of one-stop shopping. While it is good if churches attempt to meet the practical needs of families and communities, the focus should be upon equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). God may lead a family to a new church plant instead of a megachurch even if the megachurch has more programs to offer. Biblically, it is all about assignment and equipping. If a person is doing the will of God, they will be fed by God anyway (John 4:34).

8. American Christianity promotes a culture of entertainment. The Bible promotes the pursuit of God.

In the typical growing American church, there will be an incredible worship team, visual effects and great oratory. Consequently, we are often catering to the American obsession with entertainment and visceral experiences, which can promote a culture of entertainment instead of cultural engagement. Biblically speaking, some of the greatest examples we have of intimacy with God come from the Psalms in which the writers were in dire straits, with no worship team, and alone somewhere in the desert (Psalm 42 and Psalm 63).

Biblically speaking, we should not depend on a great worship experience to experience Yahweh, but we should have intimate fellowship with Him moment by moment, way before we even get through the church doors!

9. American Christianity depends upon services within a building. The biblical model promotes a lifestyle of worship, community and Christ following.

Most of the miracles in the book of Acts and the gospels took place outside a building in the context of people’s homes and in the marketplace. In Acts 2 and 4, the churches met house-to-house, not just in the temple. The man at the gate was healed before he went into the temple (Acts 3), which caused an even greater revival to take place.

10. American Christianity is about efficiency. The biblical model is about effectiveness.

Often, the American church is modeled more after the secular corporate model rather than the biblical model. The church is not an organization but an organism that should be organized! In many churches, every aspect of the service is timed to the minute, and there is no allowance for the Holy Spirit to move. What good is an efficient service if people leave congregational assemblies with the same brokenness they had before they came in?

11. In American Christianity the pastor is elected. In the biblical model God calls the pastor.

Many American churches are run more like a democracy than a theocracy that is under God and Scripture. Hence, many denominations vote on their pastors and elders. However, there is not one instance in the Bible where God allowed the people to choose the leader of His people.

The example some use to justify congregational votes for pastors is in Acts 6. However, this passage has to do with the people electing deacons, not apostles or church overseers. However, in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1, years later, after the church was more developed, Paul instructs his apostolic sons (Timothy and Titus) to choose the deacons and elders themselves (no congregational vote here).

12. In American Christianity the individual interprets the Bible. In the New Testament the hermeneutical community interprets the Bible.

In the New Testament, when they were grappling with Scripture, they called a council and had dialogue to discern what the Spirit was saying (Acts 15). Paul went to the Jerusalem elders (Peter, James and John) to make sure what he was preaching was of God (Galatians 1 and 2).

Often, American preachers get unique interpretations of a passage and come up with a different angle on Scripture based on their own subjective paradigm and/or spiritual experience. Most of the time this turns out OK, but sometimes (as in the case of some like Bishop Carlton Pearson, who preaches a form of universalism and ultimate reconciliation of all) this can have heretical effects.

13. American Christianity trains its leaders in Bible colleges. Biblical Christianity nurtures leaders through personal mentoring.

Biblically, leaders were not sent outside of the context of a local church to be trained for the ministry. They were nurtured personally in the context of congregational life by church leaders acting as mentors (as the Apostle Paul did with Timothy; as Aquila and Priscilla did with Apollos in Acts 19; and as Barnabas did with John Mark in Acts 15).

Unfortunately, the American church attempts to nurture its top leaders by sending them outside of the local church to a theological seminary, which can only equip/grade them on an intellectual level. (Quote source here.)

In the context of our very “me” oriented society and culture, who are we really serving? The answer has eternal consequences . . . .

For what will it profit a man . . .

If he gains the whole world . . .

And loses his own soul . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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