The Age of Outrage

It’s all over social media, on TV and in movies, and in other media outlets, too. It’s on our streets and in our homes, and let’s not even talk about the political arena. It even infest our communications with each other on a regular basis.

Outrage…. It’s seems to be everywhere today. Has it become the “new” normal?

I remember back in 1990-91 when I was a graduate student at a state university that the hot topic of the day was incivility as it seemed to be taking over our society. Fast forward almost thirty years now and what we called “incivility” back then is nothing compared to the outrage of today.

In the opening to a blog post published on January 15, 2019, titled, Addicted to Outrage: A Theory On How We Got Here,” by Brian Dainsberg, Lead Pastor of Alliance Bible Church, he states:

We are addicted to outrage! There are days when I feel like I’m living in a foreign land. I scan the comments’ section or social media feed of a news outlet (yes, even this blog) and I’m jerked awake stunned over the intensity of rage that can result from the slightest provocation. How did we become such an angry culture? (Quote source here.)

Indeed, how did we become such an angry culture? Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., author, speaker, researcher, pastor, church planter, Christian missiologist, and Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, has written a book on the subject titled, Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World is at It’s Worst (2018). He opens his book in the Introduction titled, “Welcome to the Age of Outrage,” with the following story (pp. xi-xiv):

“You’re a liar.”

“No, you are.”

Billy is a jerk. Billy and I grew up on the same street in Levittown, New York, and I remember this thought flying through my head just before he and I got into another one of our countless fights. I’ve edited out the expletives–it was New York, after all–but every fight always ended the same: with each of us yelling at the other and storming off. We were friends because we were neighbors, but mostly we fought. As kids, that’s how most arguments go. Yelling. Fighting. Insults. Running away.

Eventually I lost touch with Billy. If I saw him today, we might still fight, but I imagine there would be fewer expletives and tears. After all, we’ve both grown up. But when I look around at the way our world deals with conflict today, I realize culture has not.

Suddenly the go-to move of politicians and journalists has become “You’re a liar,” following by the rejoinder “No, you are.” We’re bombarded with this level of discourse every day.

And it’s filtered down (or maybe filtered up) throughout the culture. Facebook is a cesspool of conspiracy theories, straw-man arguments, and schoolyard bullying. We have reached the point where the comment sections of major newspapers are a greater testament to the depravity of man than all the theology of the Reformers put together. Many publishers have removed comments from below their online articles so the vitriol will end.

These arguments have a cumulative effect, with each successive interaction ratcheting up the outrage. Even those rare instances of well-intentioned and reasonable discussion eventually fall victim to misunderstanding and offense. In these cases, I often remember Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches one.” In other words, people eventually start comparing others to Hitler. And just like that, we are off to the races of anger, insults, and division. 

Lest we get on our high horses about all those bad, angry people out there, we need to recognize that outrage often comes from Christians [at this point Stetzer mentions the 2015 Starbucks Red Cup controversy as an example]…. Stetzer goes on to state the following.

These kinds of controversies are so frustrating! This is a foolish fight on a nonsensical issue. When outraged Christians feed media outlets with stories that make Christians look foolish, that hurts the gospel. It adds to the perception that Christians are rage-addicted snowflakes and, more important, distracts Christians from their mission. That’s what fake controversies and unwarranted anger do…. [so] don’t get outraged at things that don’t matter.

Yet outrage can just as easily be directed towards Christians by a hostile world intent on shaming and attacking rather then engaging . [At this point, Stetzer gives an example involving a publication that occurred in early 2018 which shows that this publication clearly had a bias against five Christian organizations, and the publication] made no attempts at dialogue, gave no empathy or consideration as to why these [Christian] views are important or nuanced–just blanket insults aimed at provoking division.

Outrage has no time for dialogue, and it won’t be distracted by nuance or even truth….

This is a book about outrage. It’s an acknowledgement that our world, or at least our part of it, seems awash in anger, division, and hostility. Outrage is all around, so we have to decide how to walk through this. (Quote source: “Christians in the Age of Outrage,” Introduction, pp. xi-xiv.) 

In an article titled, How Can We Stay Civil in the Age of Outrage? Here are Three Ideas,”  by Sheridan Voysey, writer, speaker and broadcaster on faith and spirituality, and the author of seven books, he writes:

In 2016 I found myself in the United States at the time of the Presidential election. Heading to Nashville airport one morning, my taxi driver told me he was thinking of voting for Donald Trump and asked me what I thought. An hour of lively but friendly debate followed. As we pulled into the airport he said sadly, “I wish we could keep driving, because I can’t have conversations like this with my fellow Americans anymore. We’re so busy shouting at each other we’ve stopped listening to one another.”

His words ring true far beyond the United States. In this moment of political polarization and escalating aggression, how can we maintain a civility that keeps us talking despite our differences? I shared three ideas on this with Chris Evans on BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought segment recently, and have expanded them below.

Cultivating a Culture of Civility

When my taxi driver friend uttered his lament, I empathized. In previous months we’d seen the Brexit referendum bring its own measure of division to the UK, creating rifts even within families. A few months later I watched friends become enemies during Australia’s intense debate about marriage. Political antagonism is growing in Europe and other regions. Some have called this culturally polarized time the ‘age of outrage’. In taking a stand for our chosen cause, we’re losing civility in the process.

How can we stay neighborly in times of disagreement? After pondering that Nashville conversation, here are some commitments I want to make to pursue civility:

Treat Others With Respect, Not Contempt

First, I want to treat others with respect, not contempt. That means no name calling or insulting those I disagree with, no trying to silence them with derogatory labels or demonizing them in any way. It means:

    • Refusing to share ridiculing memes about them on social media (like Trump Baby or Sadiq Khan Baby). While there’s a place for satire, it’s best done from ‘within’ a group rather than directed at those ‘without’.
    • Checking our ideologies. Left unchecked, our political leanings can assign heroes and villains to news stories before time (notice how some on the Right ridiculed Christine Blasey Ford during the US Supreme Court saga before she’d told her story, while some on the Left judged Brett Kavanaugh guilty before he’d had a chance to defend himself). When we find ourselves quickly declaring someone a villain, it could be our conservatism, liberalism, feminism or other ideology speaking rather than facts. That doesn’t respect anyone.
    • Refusing to label others as ‘fascist’, ‘racist’, ‘Marxist’, ‘liberal’ or whatever other label works to silence their message before it’s heard.
    • Keeping any critiques of public leaders to verified behavior, not rumor.

Treat Other Viewpoints Fairly, Not Maliciously

I also want to treat other viewpoints fairly, not maliciously. That means taking time to understand them, refusing to spread half-truths about them, and acknowledging their merits, even if they don’t in total convince me. It means:

Disagree Thoughtfully, Not Defensively

And I want to disagree thoughtfully, not defensively. Some words, actions and policies should be opposed – and opposed firmly. But when passion runs hot, rashness can follow. I want to speak from a clear head. That means:

    • Staying out of the Twitter wars. As I’ve mentioned before, social media works ‘best’ when it is emotionally charged. Angry posts get more reaction, retweets and shares, but don’t necessarily foster greater clarity or civility. I don’t want to get dragged into the dysfunctional aspects of that system.
    • Stating our positions with confidence and humility, keeping open the possibility we could be wrong.

My model for all this is Jesus, who could be found having dinner with his opponents and whose nickname ‘a friend of sinners’ suggests he hung around people who broke his own moral rules. Jesus remained neighborly to those he disagreed with.

We’re in a time of important change. Stands need to be taken. But when history looks back may it also be said that we took a stand for civility too. (Quote source here.)

In a final article published on July 10, 2018, titled, Outrage is America’s Deepest Core Value. It Shouldn’t Be,” by Dylan Gallimore, writer, raconteur, creative director and content strategist | τετέλεσται, he states:

A debate is raging in America today over what role, if any, incivility should have in American culture, politics, and public life.

Many offer the argument that incivility and outrage should reign; that those on the wrong side of certain issues should be subjected to public shaming, harassment, and humiliation.

This debate is trivial, however, as the larger issue has already been decided: Americans have spent the last few years, both consciously and subconsciously, fixing moral outrage at the very center of society.

Incivility is merely an outgrowth of outrage culture, and today, outrage culture dominates everything.

As human beings go about defining and expressing our values, our values have a funny way of, in turn, defining us. C. S. Lewis put it this way: “we are what we believe we are.” If observing how a culture behaves enables us to discern and interpret its values, it is inescapable that, in recent years, moral outrage has stealthily but authoritatively emerged as America’s newest and most central core value.

As this phenomenon has become more and more apparent, commentators have taken their fair share of stabs at defining it. They labeled 2017the year that launched our addiction to outrage,” and asked,When did outrage become the national pastime?” Psychologists have increasingly warned ofthe dangerous pleasures of outrage,” and asked,Is our political outrage addictive?” While these are all significant and meaningful questions, they ignore a key detail: Outrage hasn’t just become an American hobby or addiction — it has become a value, as the dictionary defines the word: a principle, a standard of behavior, a judgment of what is important in life.

The point here isn’t a political one; this is an essay about American culture. If outrage, as a value, is now entrenched at the center of the American heart — and there’s a good case to be made that it is — it’s because we have put it there.

Given the pride of place we have given moral outrage, it only makes sense to explore the concept with more depth.

On its face, moral outrage appears to reflectan underlying concern with justice,” and it often does. Sending a harshly worded tweet, calling out perceived racism — these are behaviors suggestive of a strong sense of morality and an unwillingness to put up with injustice.

Yet psychologists have observed that threats to one’s moral self-image, unpleasant feelings of guilt, and a desire to restore a positive view of oneself also play roles in motivating outrage. Additionally, outrage is a social emotion; it compels individuals to express their outrage publicly in search of validation and solidarity. Which means that while outrage remains a response to perceived injustice, it can also be a self-serving emotional defense mechanism deployed to alleviate guilt, “buffer threats to one’s moral identity” and portray oneself as avery good personin the eyes of one’s peers.

Art Markman, a cognitive scientist at the University of Texas-Austin, explained it this way:

Outrage is an emotion that has three components. First, it has negative affect. That is, it is a bad feeling. Second, it has high arousal. That is, it is a strong and powerful emotion. Third, it occurs when people experience a violation of a moral boundary.

Posting politically charged content to Facebook, chastising family members who harbor differing political opinions, participating in large-scale protests— on some occasions, these expressions of moral outrage do far more to signal tribal solidarity than to actually accomplish meaningful change. And although participants can be well-intentioned and deeply motivated, the channeling of their commitment toward these ends is having an adverse effect on our national psyche.

Because of the social, reactionary, and defensive qualities of outrage as an emotion, our fealty to it as a value drives tribalism and many of the other “isms” of our time. When faced with a person or idea one perceives as threatening or different, a way to recover a sense of safety, a way to alleviate the discomfort, is by expressing moral outrage alongside those in agreement. Outrage is addictive, and functions to propel individuals toward each other in search of solidarity and validation. Thus, any group of individuals who share a common outrage target are highly susceptible to constructing echo chambers and value system — what we have called “bubbles” — dedicated to protecting the very things that the objects of outrage would seek to defile.

Today, bubbles have taken over mass media in the form of Twitter, Facebook, and cable news; our latent desires to constantly feel aligned with those moral voices with whom we agree dictates how we consume information. Anyone who looks will find an outlet for outrage, the ever-present incentive to indulge in it; they’ll find that the real product of cable news isn’t coverage of the day’s issues that aims to accurately capture what really took place, but a narrative that exports outrage as a means of harnessing political action and, most importantly, high ratings.

Chamath Palihapitiya, one of Facebook’s earliest hires, now considers social media websitesshort-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that…are destroying how society works.” The dominant attraction of posting politically or culturally charged content to social media isn’t the opportunity to engage in a healthy and meaningful conversation with others; it’s the chance that someone will engage with it and validate or challenge the poster’s outrage. That’s what drives clicks and likes and stimulates our brains’ pleasure centers. More and more, the real point of social media debates isn’t to hash out the issues, but to provide a platform for the psychologically rewarding expression of outrage, to “trigger” one’s opponents, to “troll” one’s rivals in order to embarrass them before a watching public, and to signal one’s intensity and commitment to the cause. Our technologies are facilitating these things.

This is a serious problem, since those who embrace and revel in outrage culture eventually develop a dependence toward its emotional benefits.

A few months ago, a white high-school-age girl in Salt Lake City wore a Chinese-themed dress to her prom, and subsequently incurred the wrath of thousands of Twitter users who chided her for the sin of “cultural appropriation.”

Did she violate anyone’s rights? Did she denigrate the culture she was “appropriating”? This is how outrage culture disarms one’s critical faculties — there is only room for anger; there is no room for careful or nuanced reflection on our cultural practices. At no point in the rush to condemn or defend the allegedly harmful appropriation did any of the loud voices stop to differentiate between culture-positive appropriations and culture-negative ones. In other words, was this action inherently injurious to the culture being “appropriated”? And, if so, what does criticizing the young woman on Twitter actually do about it?

Outrage culture left no room for these questions — it only left room to designate her worthy of public humiliation and the unbridled scorn of thousands of strangers.

This is, of course, absurd. Even if you happen to feel ill at ease over instances in which a member of a dominant economic or racial class avails herself of the customs and traditions of less-privileged cultures, we can agree that the moral outrage hurled at Keziah Daum on social media was wildly out of proportion to what her “crime” merited.

The reason for this disproportionate response? Because this type of moral outrage is reactionary, defensive, and socially instrumental; it is not generated in order to right any meaningful wrong, but either to solidify the status of the disapprovers within their in-groups, or to satisfy their sense of moral injury.

Twitter user Jeremy Lam identified a moment to express his moral outrage, have it validated by others, and enjoy the dopamine spike that accompanied the entire spectacle, all while contributing to the upkeep of outrage culture. He famously tweeted at Daum,My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress,” and with that, the cultural outrage ritual was complete. His tweet went viral, as was likely his wish (if not his expectation), and thousands of others joined him in expressing their outrage and signaling their supposedly high and nuanced moral standards to one another. Obviously, 177,000 Twitter users can’t be wrong. The outrage has the backing of the social-media-dwelling masses.

That this example of outrage culture centers on two basically anonymous, random individuals is precisely why it’s instructive. Keziah Daum and Jeremy Lam are not celebrities or public figures. They don’t have audiences to entertain or votes to chase. The only incentive for random individuals to chime in and express their outrage, in this and in countless other cases, is to secure the benefits of the outrage itself.

The Daum-Lam exchange and countless others like it also reveal how outrage culture has warped the ways Americans speak to and think of one another: increasingly, we treat each other less as individual human beings and more as symbolic representations of political concepts, useful only as cultural objects worthy of praise or fury. For some, the inherent dignity, humanity, and individualism of their fellow citizens have been reduced to a trivial afterthought at best.

Not a word here is an attempt to downplay the importance of morality or the vitality of a deeply-felt emotion such as outrage. Moral outrage does have a crucial role to play in a healthy society, as some things are genuinely morally outrageous and demand that we approach them with a sense of ethical revulsion.

Without the value of moral outrage — for which Martin Luther King, Jr. had tremendous appreciation and respect — the civil rights movement likely would have failed, or at least languished. Without a strong and clear moral vision, the courage to express it, and the willingness to die for it, slavery may have persisted in America for far longer than it did. Without a healthy sense of what’s morally agreeable and what’s morally reprehensible, progress of any kind is likely impossible.

So the point here isn’t that we ought to embrace moral relativism, indifference, or lethargy, but to challenge the position that moral outrage should take its place as a core value in American society.

By elevating outrage to such a high position, we have all but guaranteed that, eventually, a purely performative — and permanent — reactionary outrage will pervade society. That is what Twitter has become. It’s what will be on tonight, and tomorrow, and the next day, on cable news networks during prime time hours.

The saying that we’re seeing a lot of recently, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,” equates being informed with an obligation to be outraged, turning an emotion into a moral imperative. The dangers that face a culture that lives by this rule cannot be understated; equating being engaged with an obligation to be outraged is an easy way to guarantee a permanent culture war and a miserable future, as — perhaps unsurprisingly — the emotional costs of living in a furious society are high. After all, anger has been shown to negatively impact health, and it would be unsurprising if outrage culture turns out to be similarly impacting America’s rising suicide rates, its opioid crisis, and its epidemic of depression.

To combat outrage culture, columnist David Von Drehle encourages readers to “switch away from the televised outrage orgies that masquerade as news. Resist the urge to get worked up about stupid stuff that knuckleheads say. Spend more time among reasonable people doing healthy things.” Writer Trent Eady argues for more humility, for treating people as individuals and not as political symbols or representatives of their perceived identity groups, for being diplomatic and strategic in pursuit of the change one wishes to make. Recently at the Munk Debates in Toronto, Stephen Fry evoked the spirit of Bertrand Russell, and urged Western civilization “not to be too earnest, too pompous, too serious [or]…too certain” and to “let doubt prevail.”

Any combination of these suggestions would do well to begin the process of dethroning the value of moral outrage. But, like with any epidemic, the first step must be widespread awareness. The more Americans grasp that their moral sensibilities are being manipulated by a set of mutually-intensifying and degrading processes, the more our culture will begin to shake itself from our numbness and our permanent state of anger.

Our national discussion is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, and right now, it’s poisoned with fury. We are telling each other a needlessly outrageous story in an effort to maintain a dysfunctional and harmful core value. If we are to live in harmony with one another and pursue a peaceful future, that has to change. After all, we are what we believe we are. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with these words found in James 1:19 (NLT)–Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be…

Quick to listen . . .

Slow to speak . . .

And slow to get angry . . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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The Ultimate Comeback

In the opening pages of Chapter 1 in his book, Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World is at It’s Worst (2018), Ed Stetzer, PhD, author, speaker, researcher, pastor, church planter, Christian missiologist, and the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, and Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, states the following:

Baseball great Yogi Berra used to say, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

America did. So did Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The majority of people in these nations were once vaguely Christian, but for years, those with loosely held religious beliefs have been dropping them, and as a result, the entire English-speaking Western world is becoming more secular.

Focusing on the United States for a moment may help, though similar trends are taking place across the English-speaking Western world. Most Americans, who identify loosely as Christians, are becoming less so–they are more frequently choosing “none of the above” rather then “Christian” when surveyed about their beliefs. In fact, each year about an additional one percent of Americans no longer identify as Christian.

Put another way, the nominals are becoming the nones. And as they become nones, their mind-set is more aligned with secular-minded people and they have less affinity with the avowedly religious. At the same time, the percentage of the devout has remained relatively stable.

The effect of this trend is that American culture is incrementally polarizing along religious lines. People are either becoming more secular or staying devout, though the biggest group is becoming more secular. This is where we meet the fork in the road: How do we engage with our faith in a culture now polarized along faith lines rather than being at least nominally Christian? (Quote source, “Christians in the Age of Outrage,” pp. 7-8.)

Stetzer identifies three types of Christians–“cultural, congregational, and convictional.” Cultural Christians are Christians in name only because they identify as being born in a historically Christian country but that is pretty much the extent of their beliefs; Congregational Christians, are those who may identify with a particular church and show up at Christmas or Easter, but rarely at other times (e.g., it has little impact on their daily lives); and Convictional Christians are those who attend church regularly and live values aligned with Christianity. The first two groups are growing (as in less and less identifying with Christianity), and he states that the third group is remaining relatively stable.

As Stetzer states:

The percentage of Convictional Christians in the U.S. population has remained generally stable. What has changed are the number and beliefs of Cultural and Congregational Christians. As a result, the collapse of mainline Protestantism and the growth of secularism, Convictional Christianity has incrementally moved outside the American cultural mainstream. In fact, as I explained in the Washington Post, as the numbers of Cultural and Congregational Christians decrease [ for example, read “Pew Study: More Americans Reject Religion, but Believers Firm in Faith”], the worldview and values of these Americans have shifted towards the secular stream and away from that of Convictional Christians. (Quote source, “Christians in the Age of Outrage,” pp. 9-10.)

As Stetzer wrote in his 2015 article titled, Nominal Christians are becoming more secular, and that’s a startling change for the U.S.,” in the Washington Post (mentioned above):

America is undergoing a religious polarization.

With more adults shedding their religious affiliations, as evidenced in the latest from the Pew Research Center, the country is becoming more secular. In the past seven years, using the new Pew data, Americans who identify with a religion declined six percentage points. Overall, belief in God, praying daily and religious service attendance have all dropped since 2007.

Today’s America is losing much of the general religious ethos that dominated the U.S. for hundreds of years. (Quote source and complete article available here.)

Both cultural and congregational Christians (and even some active church goers or members) fall under the category of nominal Christians. GotQuestions.org provides a definition of what nominal Christianity looks like:

Nominal Christians are church-goers or otherwise religious people whose “faith” does not go beyond being identified with a church, Christian group, or denomination. They are Christians in name only; Christ has no bearing in their lives. Nominal Christians may attend church and Christian functions, and they self-identify as “Christians,” but it is just a label. They view religion primarily as a social construct, and they do not allow it to require much of them in terms of morality or responsibility. Nominalists take a minimalist approach to their faith.

Nominalism is of concern to many pastors, preachers, and Christian theologians, as it appears to be on the rise today. Many identify themselves as Christians, but the overall impact of Christianity in the West is not what it once was. But what causes nominalism? Why do people prefer a nominal or in-name-only type of Christianity? One possible reason is that nominal religion is easy. It does not require a changed life. A nominal Christian can point to membership in a church as evidence of his salvation. Church attendance and participation in routines, activities, and programs become the measuring stick rather than a changed life, a new heart, a love for God, and obedience to the Word (see 2 Corinthians 5:17John 14:23).

Another cause of nominal Christianity is the habit of declaring oneself a Christian because of custom or culture. Whole countries, including Costa Rica, Norway, Denmark, and England, have a form of Christianity as the official state religion. This allows a Norwegian, for example, to culturally identify as a Christian—he is a member of the Church of Norway by default, having been registered in infancy when he was baptized. Even in countries with no state religion, such as the United States, cultural Christianity can lead to nominalism. Someone who was reared in a Christian family, attended church all his life, was baptized, lives in the Bible Belt, etc., often claims allegiance to the Christian faith, in spite of evidence in his life to the contrary.

Another cause of nominalism within the church is legalism, the attempt to transform oneself (or others) inwardly by working on the outward behavior. Some people, especially those raised in the church, conform to standards imposed upon them by parents, other Christians, or the church hierarchy without the inner transformation that can only be produced by the Spirit through the Word (Galatians 6:15). Legalists substitute good deeds for saving faith and compliance for conversion. This naturally leads to nominal Christianity, as church-goers and rule-keepers claim the label “Christian” but have no relationship with Christ.

Jesus dealt with nominal Christianity in one of His letters to the churches. The church in Sardis wore a Christian label, but Jesus saw the truth behind the label: “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1). Or, as the KJV says, “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” God is not interested in the labels we tag ourselves with. Having a “name” that we belong to Christ is not enough. Nominal faith is not faith. (Quote source here.)

Christianity, at it’s core, is not about the stuff we do, but who we believe in. In a book titled, The Comeback: It’s Not Too Late and You’re Never Too Far (2015), by Louie Giglio, Global Pastor, Visionary Architect and Director of the Passion Movement, comprised of Passion Conferences, Passion City Church, Passion Publishing, Passion Resources, and sixstepsrecords, and the founder of Passion Global Institute, he writes the following in a chapter (12) titled, “The Ultimate Comeback”:

People often wonder: Why do Christians think their way is the best way to believe? How come Jesus is the answer? What about every other faith leader? Aren’t their religions just as good?

It’s a valid question, one that indicates a person is doing some soul-searching and wants to discover the truth. Eventually, I hope to lean them to the crux of our faith, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

This single event defines our hope and sets our faith apart from every other religious point of view. Our teacher is not dead. Our leader is not in the grave. Jesus is alive and on this our future rests.

The resurrection of Jesus is the pillar of the Christian faith. If we don’t have this truth, then we are just another religion, with leaders who head a movement and maybe teach a few good things and attract a lot of followers. But when those leaders die, they stay dead.

To get up out of your coffin and smile at the folks gathered for your funeral, that’s the ultimate comeback. Or–switching to first-century cultural patterns–to walk out of a tomb, living and breathing, smiling and holding out your hands to friends so they can check your scars to make sure it’s really you, looking not at all pale and sickly but better than the best version of yourself that there’s ever been, that’s the ultimate comeback.

Think about it. A human body is lying there dead–grave clothes wrapped around the corpse, embalming done, stone rolled across the entry and sealed–on a stone bench. Suddenly blood begins to course through the veins again. The body takes a breath, stretches, stands up, comes out, walks around for everyone to see. And this body has lost any capacity to die again.

You see, all our comebacks are swallowed up by this ultimate comeback. Because Jesus is alive again, we can come back from anything the world throws at us:

    • The deepest kind of sin
    • The devastation of crumbling relationships
    • The rejection of job loss and failure
    • The general disappointment of life
    • The pain of bereavement
    • The hammer of betrayal
    • Whatever, you name it

Jesus’ ultimate comeback trumps all our comebacks, but it also makes it possible in a general sense for us to come back from anything, from anywhere, at any time. The secret is in how Jesus’ resurrection life infuses our ordinary lives with the same kind of power (see 1 Corinthians 15). (Quote source: “The Comeback,” pp. 203-205.)

In answer to one final question for this blog post, “Is Christianity a religion or a relationship?” GotQuestions.org answers:

Religion is “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” In that respect, Christianity can be classified as a religion. However, practically speaking, Christianity has a key difference that separates it from other belief systems that are considered religions. That difference is relationship.

Most religion, theistic or otherwise, is man-centered. Any relationship with God is based on man’s works. A theistic religion, such as Judaism or Islam, holds to the belief in a supreme God or gods; while non-theistic religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, focus on metaphysical thought patterns and spiritual “energies.” But most religions are similar in that they are built upon the concept that man can reach a higher power or state of being through his own efforts. In most religions, man is the aggressor and the deity is the beneficiary of man’s efforts, sacrifices, or good deeds. Paradise, nirvana, or some higher state of being is man’s reward for his strict adherence to whatever tenets that religion prescribes.

In that regard, Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship that God has established with His children. In Christianity, God is the aggressor and man is the beneficiary (Romans 8:3). The Bible states clearly that there is nothing man can do to make himself right with God (Isaiah 53:664:6Romans 3:236:23). According to Christianity, God did for us what we cannot do for ourselves (Colossians 2:132 Corinthians 5:21). Our sin separates us from His presence, and sin must be punished (Romans 6:23Matthew 10:2823:33). But, because God loves us, He took our punishment upon Himself. All we must do is accept God’s gift of salvation through faith (Ephesians 2:8–92 Corinthians 5:21). Grace is God’s blessing on the undeserving.

The grace-based relationship between God and man is the foundation of Christianity and the antithesis of religion. Established religion was one of the staunchest opponents of Jesus during His earthly ministry. When God gave His Law to the Israelites, His desire was that they “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5Matthew 22:37). “Love” speaks of relationship. Obedience to all the other commands had to stem from a love for God. We are able to love Him “because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). However, by Jesustime, the Jewish leaders had made a religion out of God’s desire to live in a love relationship with them (1 Timothy 1:8Romans 7:12). Over the years, they had perverted God’s Law into a works-based religion that alienated people from Him (Matthew 23:13–15Luke 11:42). Then they added many of their own rules to make it even more cumbersome (Isaiah 29:13Matthew 15:9). They prided themselves on their ability to keep the Law—at least outwardly—and lorded their authority over the common people who could never keep such strenuous rules. The Pharisees, as adept as they were at rule-keeping, failed to recognize God Himself when He was standing right in front of them (John 8:19). They had chosen religion over relationship.

Just as the Jewish leaders made a religion out of a relationship with God, many people do the same with Christianity. Entire denominations have followed the way of the Pharisees in creating rules not found in Scripture. Some who profess to follow Christ are actually following man-made religion in the name of Jesus. While claiming to believe Scripture, they are often plagued with fear and doubt that they may not be good enough to earn salvation or that God will not accept them if they don’t perform to a certain standard. This is religion masquerading as Christianity, and it is one of Satan’s favorite tricks. Jesus addressed this in Matthew 23:1–7 when He rebuked the Pharisees. Instead of pointing people to heaven, these religious leaders were keeping people out of the kingdom of God.

Holiness and obedience to Scripture are important, but they are evidences of a transformed heart, not a means to attain it. God desires that we be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). He wants us to grow in grace and knowledge of Him (2 Peter 3:18). But we do these things because we are His children and want to be like Him, not in order to earn His love.

Christianity is not about signing up for a religion. Christianity is about being born into the family of God (John 3:3). It is a relationship. Just as an adopted child has no power to create an adoption, we have no power to join the family of God by our own efforts. We can only accept His invitation to know Him as Father through adoption (Ephesians 1:5Romans 8:15). When we join His family through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside our hearts (1 Corinthians 6:19Luke 11:132 Corinthians 1:21–22). He then empowers us to live like children of the King. He does not ask us to try to attain holiness by our own strength, as religion does. He asks that our old self be crucified with Him so that His power can live through us (Galatians 2:20Romans 6:6). God wants us to know Him, to draw near to Him, to pray to Him, and love Him above everything. That is not religion; that is a relationship. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son [Jesus Christ]…

That whoever believes in him . . .

Should not perish . . .

But have eternal life . . . .

YouTube Video: “Greatness of Our God” by Newsboys:

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Seeing What’s Right

Yesterday when I was at a bookstore that is closing, I came across a book I had purchased when it first came out back in 1999, but I lost that book when I lost my job ten years ago and I had to move back to the state I came from previous to taking that job seven months earlier.

When I saw a copy of that book yesterday, I discovered that it has been revised in 2008 with a new cover but with the same title that attracted me to the book the first time I purchased it. The title of the book is, Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On,” by Stormie Omartian, a bestselling Christian author who has written many books since that time.

The title is a reminder to all of us that nobody knows what the future holds, and all that we are given at any point in time is the moment we are currently occupying. We can make plans and be totally convinced that something we want to happen might happen, and sometimes it does work out, and sometimes it doesn’t.

As I opened the book to take a look at the table of contents, I came across a chapter titled, “Seeing What’s Right with This Picture” (Chapter 8). It opens with the following paragraph on page 73:

Have you ever found yourself angry, upset, or devastated when things didn’t turn out as you’d hoped or planned? Next time that happens, look deeply into the situation and ask God to give you a new perspective. (Quote source: “Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On,” p. 73.)

In this chapter Stormie Omartian states that we don’t always see the whole truth of what has happened to us, but she suggests that we look at the situation and ask, “What’s right with this picture?” She gives an example in her daughter’s life when she was sixteen, and the daughter came up with several positive things that came from a very negative situation. Omartian states the following on pages 74-75 in response:

This is not just positive thinking or trying to make good things happen with your thoughts. This is seeing things from God’s perspective and letting Him show you the truth. That means finding the light in what seem to be a dark situation. It’s knowing that, because you have invited God into every step of your life, you can find His light there no matter how dark it seems.

“Embracing the moment” is embracing God and finding Him in the moment. “Seeing what’s right with this picture,” on the other hand, is searching for the truth and seeing reality from God’s perspective. It’s being willing to let go of our determination to see things through our own tunnel vision.

Have you ever known people who are so set on believing something bad about another person that they refuse to hear anything good? They make a case against that person and everything that person says or does is twisted to support the case. Nothing will change their minds. Not reason. Not God. This is the same kind of hard-nosed narrow-mindedness that feeds prejudice, gossip, jealousy, and hatred. Seeing what’s right with this picture counteracts that tendency. It may be a lighthearted way of approaching a very dark-spirited issue, but it’s a good place to start. (Quote source: “Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On,” pp. 74-75.)

We’ve all been guilty of judging other people because of something bad we might have heard about them, and then refusing to hear or consider anything good about them. And we can become hard-nosed, narrow-minded, and it does feed into prejudice, gossip, jealousy, and hatred. That is why she states that it is so important to look at “what’s right about the person/situation” to counteract that tendency in all of us.

She goes on to give a couple of examples of finding what’s right in a bad situation on page 76-78:

A friend of ours named Jonathan was laid off from work and was initially feeling very defeated about it. But instead of letting his frustration turn into bitterness, he looked to see what was right with this picture. Jonathan gradually recognized it as an opportunity to help his wife, Lisa, establish a new business she had been wanting to start now that their children were grown. Instead of falling into depression, he worked hard for her. The business soon took off and became one of the most successful companies of its kind in town. Lisa would never have been able to do what she did without Jonathan’s help. What seemed like a disaster at first actually was a blessing. What appeared to be a dark time because a time flooded with light. If Jonathan had complained and blamed God, refusing to see the situation from His perspective, things probably would have turned out quite differently.

This may be a big shock to you–I know it was to me–but often when we think something unfortunate is happening to us, it’s actually an answer to a prayer we have prayed. Only the answer didn’t manifest the way we thought it should, so we failed to recognize it. That’s why seeing what’s right is entirely a matter of having God’s perspective.

Jennifer had been praying faithfully for her troubled relationship with her husband, David. When the company David had been working for was downsized, he found himself without employment for what turned out to be ten months. This kind of a turn could have destroyed an already ailing marriage. But instead of sinking into despair, Jennifer asked God to show her the truth about the situation. God revealed it was not true that her husband’s career, as well as their marriage, was finished as they had both feared. The truth was that God had a great path ahead for them, but they couldn’t walk it if they were crippled by a broken marriage. God was giving them time together to repair it.

Instead of letting this situation become a disaster that ripped them apart, David and Jennifer wisely took advantage of the opportunity to seek Christian counsel, be with godly friends, and spend time together doing the things they never had time to do before. Their marriage was healed miraculously, and David eventually found more fulfilling work than he ever had before.

Often we pray for something and don’t even recognize the answer to our own prayers when we receive it because it does not happen the way we thought it would. 

When I read about God leading the Israelites out of Egypt after many unmistakable miracles, I was amazed at how they continually grumbled and complained and failed to see how God was taking care of them.

“What is the matter with these people that they can’t see the answers to their own prayers?” I thought.

Then I realized we are all just like them. God is in the middle of doing something great for us and, because we are not as comfortable as we’d like to be, we don’t recognize the good things He has put in our lap. “Eyes they have, but they do not see” (Psalm 115:5).

How many blessings must we have forfeited because we resisted God when we should have been thanking Him? 

Look at your life right now. Is there anything that worries or upsets you? If so, say, “Lord, show me what’s right with this picture. What is the truth in this moment? Help me to see it from Your perspective.” You’ll be amazed at what God reveals.

If your attitude is one of gratefully searching for God’s truth and goodness in any situation, it will change your life. You’ll never see things the same way again. No matter what happens, you’ll be able to say, “This  was the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23). What we’re really talking about here is an issue of trust. It’s basically believing that God is good and he desires the best for you. “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (Psalm 34:8). Give God the benefit of your trust and you’ll see that you are standing in more light then you ever dreamed possible. (Quote source: “Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On,” pp. 76-78.)

This book is filled with information that is helpful to anyone who finds themselves stuck in a bad or trying situation. The above is just a small piece of the whole picture in the book regarding dealing with tough situations. I found it particularly helpful in dealing with my own feelings that still surface occasionally regarding a few people who were involved in what happened to me ten years ago when I lost that job; and after a major job search of several years I never found another job in my field. Also, as a Christian, I know that God is sovereign over every situation and He has an ultimate purpose in everything that happens.

As I looked to find “what’s right about this situation” regarding what happened to me back then, several things came to mind. My perspective on life has broadened in both knowledge and understanding of what is going on in the world today. This most likely would not have happened if I had continued working as I never would have been able to travel and do that things I’ve done over the past ten years that has lead to this knowledge and understanding.

Another major plus includes the stretching of my faith beyond anything I had previously experienced. This may not be obvious in looking at my current set of circumstances as they do not fit in with the typical “success stories” we like to hear that usually contain elements of prosperity, materialism, and outward success that we place a high value on in our society and, yes, even in Christian circles. We do tend to look at the outward appearance and judge accordingly (see I Samuel 16:7). However, God does not show favoritism between rich or poor, educated or illiterate, heads of states or common folks, as we tend to do, and God is no respecter of persons (see Romans 2:11, Acts 10:34); God looks at our heart attitudes (again, see I Samuel 16:7) and our faith in him (see Hebrews 11:6).

The toughest part for me in “seeing what’s right” has been dealing with my feelings regarding the few people directly involved in what happened to me that caused me to lose that job back then. As I mentioned above, I have gained both knowledge and understanding regarding our world today that goes beyond anything I knew at the time I lost that job. Because of this awareness, even though I sometimes still get a bit angry about what happened to me when I think back on it, I am far more willing now to cut them some slack as I don’t know their side of the story or where they fit into the total picture. So it has softened my feelings towards them over time.

Also, I have never wished them any harm or ill will even though what happened to me left me unemployed and financially devastated, and it changed the course of my life. We should never judge a bad situation by what it looks like on the surface as there is much still going behind the scenes that we may never know about. And that is where trust in God is essential. We have to leave it with God to deal with in His way, and our responsibility is to give God each day as it unfolds in our own lives (for those of us who believe in him). And we have to leave even our enemies (and I don’t consider anyone involved in what happened to me ten years ago as an enemy) in God hands, too.

There is a lot of good stuff in this book, Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On.” Of course, the source of all wisdom is found in the Bible. As King David stated in Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Nothing can replace the Bible as the source for the guidance we need in this life. Proverbs 3:5-7 states, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil.”

And that . . .

Is very good . . .

Advice . . . .

YouTube Video: “Beyond Me” by TobyMac:

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A Psalm That Calms the Soul

Psalm 23 is one of the most recognized psalms in the world. It has an amazing calming effect in the midst of stress and uncertainty, and it places our focus back where it belongs. No doubt millions have committed it to memory down through the centuries since David first penned it and put it to music.

It has only been in the past several years that I recognized the value of praying Psalm 23 regarding any kind of circumstance, even when it didn’t seem to relate to a particular situation I was praying about. Here are the words to Psalm 23 (NKJV):

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;

He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

In an article titled, 3 New Ways to Think About Psalm 23,” by Sarah Garrett, educator and founder of Transformed4More.com (a ministry for teenage girls), she writes:

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want . . .”

Sound familiar?

Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable chapters in the entire Bible. We learn it in Sunday school, see it in funeral programs, and notice it on church décor. Even those who do not attend church have likely heard this psalm before.

When verses and chapters become familiar, we tend to not pay close attention to them. When we see it in our Bibles, it can be tempting to think, “Oh, I know what this says already. Why read it again?”

Here’s why—because the Bible is a living document. In 2 Timothy 3:16–17, Paul writes,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

The Bible never changes, but it always changes something in us when we read it. The Word of God always has something new to teach us, even if it’s from a familiar passage.

Recently, I was reading through Psalms and scanned over chapter 23. I almost skipped it, but decided to read it again. As I did, the familiarity faded, and I felt as though I was reading it with new eyes. Has that ever happened to you? As I read, three questions came to mind. They challenged me. I’m passing them along in the hopes they will challenge you, too.

Question 1: Am I allowing God to lead me?

God is always in control of what is happening, but we also have free will. That means we can choose to let God lead our lives. When we don’t, it’s the same as choosing to be led by our selfish desires. The opening of Psalm 23 beautifully shows what we can gain from surrendering and allowing God to lead our lives.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (vv. 1–3).

As I read this again, I realized that if God is our Shepherd, that means means we give Him control of our life. When we do, look at what there is to gain!

    • God will meet our needs.
    • He will give us peace.
    • He will restore us.
    • He will lead us down a path of righteousness and not destruction.

If your world seems chaotic or unfulfilling, ask yourself, “Am I allowing God to lead me?”

Question 2: Am I camping in the valley?

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (v. 4).

I heard a pastor say that this verse clearly states that the “valleys” of life are to be walked through, but some people tend to put up a tent and camp there. Convicting, huh?

Sometimes we get bogged down in our circumstances and just decide that’s the way it will always be. We figuratively pitch our tent in the valley. This tends to rob us of the joy that can come from our relationship with God.

During the valleys of life, you must remember the last two lines of this verse, that God is with you and will comfort you as you walk. Don’t choose to camp out and wallow in your misery. Put one foot in front of another while asking the Lord to provide a way out.

If you are going through a season of sin, discouragement, or despair in your life right now, ask yourself, “Am I walking or camping?”

Question 3: Have I lost sight of God’s faithfulness?

Let’s keep thinking about valleys for a moment. Sometimes in the valleys of life, we take on a “woe is me” attitude and completely ignore all of the blessings that God has given us.

Let’s circle back to Psalm 23.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever (vv. 5–6).

This means that if you could put your blessings in a cup, they would run over the top. Goodness and mercy will be following you everywhere, and you will spend eternity with God. That’s the ultimate blessing!

Ask yourself, “Have I lost sight of God’s faithfulness?” If you feel like you have, even if you are not going through a hard time, stop and make an actual list of all the ways that God has been faithful to you. You can start in the comment section below. Even on your worst day, you will see God’s blessings overflowing in your life if you look for them.

As an added bonus, you will feel your spirit lift as you write. You literally cannot dwell on bad thoughts and the blessings of God at the same time. Seriously. Try it! (Quote source here.)

Specifically, Psalm 23:4–“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me”–is one of the most well known verses in the Bible (as stated below). GotQuestions.org states the following regarding this verse:

Psalm 23:4, which reads, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (ESV), is one of the most well-known verses in the Bible. It is commonly used during funerals or by those approaching death. The message of Psalm 23:4 is one of comfort. We do not need to fear. God is with us, and His presence gives us strength and hope.

However, “valley of the shadow of death” is possibly not the most accurate translation of the original Hebrew text. The NIV, NLT, and HCBS translate the phrase as “darkest valley,” resulting in Psalm 23:4 reading as, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley . . . .” The Hebrew word for “shadow of death” is sal-ma-wet, which means “darkness” or “dark shadows.” It contains the same root as the Hebrew word for “death” (ma-wet), so it is easy to see why some Bible translators include the mention of death in Psalm 23:4.

In addition, the concept of darkness fits much better in the context of Psalm 23Psalm 23, especially verses 1–4, uses the language of a shepherd and his sheep to describe our relationship with God: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. . . . Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:1–4).

Sheep do not understand the concept of death. They do understand, though, that entering a dark valley can be dangerous. The point of Psalm 23:4 is that, even when we might have reason to be afraid, we do not need to fear, because God is with us, and He will take care of us. He, like a shepherd, knows what He is doing and has our best interests in mind.

So, it does not appear that “valley of the shadow of death” is the most accurate translation in Psalm 23:4. A “dark valley” connects much better with sheep lying down in green pastures and beside quiet waters. However, the main point of Psalm 23:4 still definitely applies to death. Many people fear death, and those facing death certainly feel as if they are in a “dark valley.” But even in death we do not need to fear, for God is with us, and He will protect and comfort us through it all. (Quote source here.)

Regarding the rod and the staff mentioned in Psalm 23:4, in an article titled, Your Rod and Your Staff, They Comfort Me,” by Aaron L. Garriott, production manager of Tabletalk Magazine, he opens his article by explaining how the rod and staff were used in the cultural context of David’s time:

There was much to fear in the dry, craggy wadis and ravines of Judah, presenting sheep flocks with the most perilous elements of their migration. Yet, the fears of the sheep are dispelled upon recognition of two implements carried by the shepherd, a rod and a staff, by which he would govern his flock. The rod and staff can be broadly categorized as tools of protection and guidance, respectively. The rod warded off predators; the staff was a guiding tool with a hook on one end to secure a sheep around its chest. Only the two tools together provided comfort to the sheep.

As the shepherd-made-king David places himself in the role of a sheep, his fears of every evil are quelled by a glimpse of Israel’s true Shepherd-King. David compares God’s governing care of His flock—His providence—to a rod and a staff, a sight that ought to quiet all fears and assure the flock of the care of their faithful and able Shepherd. (Quote source here.)

In the final article for this post titled, That’s All I Want,” by Ray Noah, lead pastor, Portland Christian Center, and founder/CEO of Petros Network, he writes the following on Psalm 23:

“The Lord is my shepherd.” ~Psalm 23:1

Psalm 22 foretells the cross of Christ and Psalm 24 speaks of a time when Messiah rules the earth in justice and righteousness. This strategic placement of Psalm 23, universally, the most beloved of all the psalms, is fitting since it’s between Christ’s cross and Christ’s second coming, between our salvation and heaven, that we find ourselves facing life in all its rawness: The ups and downs, the victories and defeats, the joys and sorrows, the life and death that make up the human condition.

Even though the pastoral setting and shepherd-sheep analogy are foreign to our modern culture, there is just something about this Shepherd’s Psalm that resonates in our core. That’s because we are pretty much like sheep—dense, directionless and defenseless—and we cannot do life without the Good Shepherd. You need a shepherd…so do I.

I am not sure where this came from [author unknown], but I suspect you will be blessed by it as I was.

The Lord is my Shepherd—That’s Relationship!

I shall not want—That’s Supply!

He makes me to lie down in green pastures—That’s Rest!

He leadeth me beside the still waters—That’s Refreshment!

He restoreth my soul—That’s Healing!

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness—That’s Guidance!

For His name sake—That’s Purpose!

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death—That’s Testing!

I will fear no evil—That’s Protection!

For Thou art with me—That’s Faithfulness!

Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me—That’s Discipline!

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies—That’s Hope!

Thou anointest my head with oil—That’s Consecration!

My cup runneth over—That’s Abundance!

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life—That’s Blessing!

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord—That’s Security!

Forever—That’s Eternity!

If you are experiencing major upheaval in your life—a home in turmoil, a relationship on the rocks, a job not working out, a personal humiliation, an inconsolable sorrow, the cumulative effect of heartache and disappointment has shaken your confidence and filled you with doubt, fear and despair—then trying reading and absorbing Psalm 23. David wrote it just for you. Just grasping his first line will transform your life:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

Robert Ketchum told of a Sunday School teacher who asked her class if any of them could quote the entire Twenty-Third Psalm. A little girl came forward, made a little bow, and said: “The Lord is my shepherd, that’s all I want.” She then curtsied and sat down. Now she may have overlooked a few verses, but I think she captured the key to enjoying the benefits of this psalm. Psalm 23 is a pattern of thinking, and if it saturates your mind, it will lead you to new way of living which will counterbalance the raw reality of life with hope, faith and trust, causing you to be utterly content in the Shepherd’s care.

Yeah, the Lord is my shepherd—and that’s all I want. I believe that about covers it! (Quote source here.)

I hope this has provided some new insights on a very familiar and beloved psalm. I’ll end this post with the words from Psalm 23:1

The Lord is my shepherd . . .

I shall not . . .

Want . . . .

YouTube Video: “Psalm 23” by Jeff Majors:

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On Being Confident

One of the definitions of “confidence” is “full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing” (quote source here). Who or what do we put our confidence in when the going gets tough, or in life in general when we need it? Do we put our trust in our own abilities to get us through, or perhaps in a spouse or family and/or friends to help in time of need? Perhaps we place our trust in our employers or our government. However, they may or may not come through for us.

In answer to the question What does the Bible say about confidence?” GotQuestions.org gives the following answer:

Confidence is a popular subject today. We are told to think confidently, to be self-assured, to live brashly, boldly, and brazenly. In a myriad of ways, the theme of modern society is to be self-confident. Popular religious leaders make confidence the centerpiece of their teaching. Does the Bible agree with this “positive thinking” mantra? If the Bible teaches us to be confident, what should we be confident about? If not, why not?

The word “confidence” (or its close derivatives) is used 54 times in the King James Version and 60 times in the New International Version. The majority of uses concern trust in people, circumstances, or God.

The Bible says there are some things we should not have confidence in. For example, “Have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). Paul wrote these words to counter the claims of those who thought they were acceptable to God based on their heredity, training, or religious devotion. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), and our résumés and geneaologies don’t matter much to Him.

Proverbs 14:16 says that a righteous man departs from evil, but a fool rages in his confidence. In other words, to arrogantly assume that sin has no consequences is a foolish confidence.

If we’re going to be confident in something, Psalm 118:89 tells us what it should be: “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” Those who trust in government, finances, other people, or themselves will be disappointed in the end. On the other hand, those who put their confidence in God will never be ashamed (Romans 10:11).

Psalm 16 is an excellent example of a positive confidence in God. David takes no credit for his own goodness (verse 2), nor does he extol his own abilities. Instead, every good thing is ascribed to God (verse 6), and every hope is based on God’s character (verse 1). Because God is unchanging, David can confidently rest in hope (verse 9), despite any hardships he faces in life (verse 10).

Our confidence comes from our relationship with Christ. He is our High Priest, and through His intercession, we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). The apostles before the Sanhedrin displayed an assurance that amazed their antagonists: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

We can follow God in full confidence in His wisdom, power, and plan. As we obey the Lord, we have assurance of our salvation (1 John 2:3). Also, having a good conscience aids our confidence, for we will have nothing to hide. “The righteous are as bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1).

Paul gives us something else we can have faith in: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Knowing that God promises to work in the lives of His children, Paul was confident that God would help the Galatians stand fast in the truth (Galatians 5:10).

When we put our trust in God and His revealed Word, our lives take on a new stability, focus, and poise. A biblical self-confidence is really a confidence in God’s Word and character. We put no confidence in our flesh, but we have every confidence in the God who made us, called us, saved us and keeps us. (Quote source here.)

Confidence is putting our trust in God. Proverbs 3:5-6 instructs us to 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.” I can honestly admit that it’s hard not to want to lean on my own understanding regarding things going on in my life, yet my understanding is limited to my own perception of what is going on. None of us has the full picture of what is really going on all around us at any given point in time. That is why placing our trust in God to direct our paths is crucial.

So what does it mean to “lean not on our own understanding”? GotQuestions.org has an answer to that question, too:

Proverbs 3:5-6 is a familiar passage to many: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.Verse 5 is a complementary pair of commands. We are told, positively, to trust the Lord and, negatively, not to trust our own understanding. Those two things are mutually exclusive. In other words, if we trust in the Lord, we cannot also depend upon our own ability to understand everything God is doing.

First Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” We only see part of the picture God is painting. If we are to truly trust Him, we have to let go of our pride, our programs, and our plans. Even the best-laid human plans cannot begin to approach the magnificent sagacity of God’s plan. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:25). 

Most of us have a desperate desire to understand, but in so many areas we must acknowledge that we cannot understand. We must approve of God’s ways, even when we can’t comprehend them. Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us why we often don’t understand what God is doing: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'” God sees the whole picture, while we only see our tiny corner of it. To trust in the Lord with all our heart means we can’t place our own right to understand above His right to direct our lives the way He sees fit. When we insist on God always making sense to our finite minds, we are setting ourselves up for spiritual trouble.

Our limited understanding can easily lead us astray. Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” When we choose to direct our lives according to what seems right to us, we often reap disaster (Judges 21:25). Every culture has tried to get God to approve of its definition of right and wrong, but God never changes and His standards never change (Numbers 23:19James 1:17Romans 11:29). Every person must make a decision whether to live his or her life according to personal preference or according to the unchanging Word of God. We often will not understand how God is causing “all things to work together for good” (Romans 8:28), but when we trust Him with all our hearts, we know that He is. He will never fail us (Psalm 119:142Philippians 2:13). (Quote source here.)

Another article titled, Do Not Lean On Your Own Understanding,” (author’s name not mentioned) on ShareFaith.com, states the following:

Proverbs 3:5-6 gives God’s guidance for life–“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” These words challenge believers to put more confidence in God’s ability than in their own, to not try to analyze and figure out every detail themselves, but to place their belief in God’s wisdom, love and strength, to lean on God instead of relying on themselves or anyone else.

C. S. Lewis wrote, “To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way.”

God makes the distinction between the heart and the mind. There is nothing wrong with using one’s mind, and this verse is not telling you to stop thinking. But some situations are complex and cannot be successfully understood and still make sense. Rather than making foolish and perhaps risky decisions and leaping off a precipice into a chasm of catastrophe, it’s much better to trust God. God is the One with foreknowledge. Proverbs 3:7 says, “Do not be wise in your own eyes.” Romans 12:16 rephrases this, “Never overestimate yourself or be wise in your own conceits.” (Amplified Bible). God is all-knowing, all-powerful and everywhere-present. He is tried, true and trustworthy. (Quote source here.)

There is an interesting story in this next article titled, Trusting With All Your Heart,” by Dr. Harold J. Sala, Founder and Chairman of the Board of Guidelines International Ministries. He writes:

One of the great promises of the Bible is found in the book of Proverbs, which came from the writing of Solomon, often called “the wisest man who ever lived.”

He wrote, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Solomon understood that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the promises of God and their fulfillment. He knew that with almost every promise there is a condition attached to it. He also knew something of the conflict between the known and the unknown, trusting God for what you cannot see.

Today it’s difficult to trust anyone. “Never trust anyone unless you have the agreement in writing,” we say, and then, quite often, the agreement is meaningless. But the dictionary says that trust means, “assured reliance; confidence, appropriation.”

But what does “trusting with all your heart,” as Solomon advised, really mean? In Solomon’s day there were two Hebrew words for trust. They were similar yet had slightly different meanings. The first word meant that when you trust someone, you have the confidence to flee to that person, knowing there will be safety. A bully picks on you as you come home from school, or someone stops you and you are fearful for your safety, so you run to someone who is stronger, whom you know will protect you. That’s trust.

The second word is the picture of a little child who is learning to walk. His father reaches out a hand and says, “Come to daddy. I won’t let you down. I’ll catch you before you fall.” This word is the one used in Proverbs 3:5-6. It means, “to rely upon, to have confidence in someone, to lean upon another.” I like that picture, and it is the advice of the wise old sage, Solomon, who urges, “Do it with all your heart,” no matter how foolish it may appear, because God will never let you fall.

When missionary John Patton was translating the New Testament in the New Hebrides, he sought for a word which was the equivalent of this one which Solomon used, and, in the language of the people he was striving to help, there was no equivalent, at least, none that he could find.

One day a native came into his little hut and, for the first time in his life, saw a chair that the missionary had built. Though it may seem strange to you that someone would never have seen a chair, strive to remember that in many cultures, chairs, as we know them, are just not used.

“What is that?” he asked Patton. Patton then replied, “A chair–you can put your weight on it; it won’t let you down,” and ever so cautiously the native followed Patton’s example and place his full weight on the chair.

“Ah,” thought Patton, “that concept is what Solomon was saying; and thus he translated the text of Proverbs, “You can put your full weight on God and not attempt to understand everything. Acknowledge God in everything you do, and God will direct your steps.”

Our problem is our hesitation to put our full weight on God when we can’t see the future. Today, as in Solomon’s day, our own understanding is often the hindrance to trusting Him, yet if you are convinced that God won’t lie to you, that He is also accessible, and that the promises of His word become the key that opens the door to His presence, then you can rely upon His goodness to meet you.

How God does something is His business, but your failure to rest in Him and to trust Him often keeps you in poverty of soul and spiritually depleted. How much better to rest in Him and realize His understanding goes far beyond ours. Resource reading: Proverbs 3. (Quote source here.)

Our confidence comes from knowing that God is in control, and He can be trusted with our lives and our circumstances. I’ll end this post with, appropriately, the words from Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV): Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…

In all your ways acknowledge Him . . .

And He shall . . .

Direct your paths . . . .

YouTube Video: “Confidence” by Sanctus Real:

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Our Endgame

The definition of endgame is “the final stages of an extended process of negotiation” (quote source here). For “Avengers” fans, the latest movie in The Avengers” series, titled Avengers: Endgame,” opens in theaters tomorrow (April 26, 2019). I’ve seen bits and pieces of the previous movies, and here’s a brief description of this latest movie:

Adrift in space with no food or water, Tony Stark sends a message to Pepper Potts as his oxygen supply starts to dwindle. Meanwhile, the remaining Avengers–Thor, Black Widow, Captain America and Bruce Banner–must figure out a way to bring back their vanquished allies for an epic showdown with Thanos — the evil demigod who decimated the planet and the universe. (Quote source here.)

Endgames are about showdowns, whether epic or not, and they are found everywhere–in games like chess, in business, in politics, in religion, in the military, in all types of relationships, and, in fact, life in general. It’s about strategies and the age old conflict between good and evil (the lines, of which, have significantly blurred of late).

I remember several years ago reading an article that mentioned Sun Tzu’s famous work, The Art of War,” was required reading in Russia’s military. Sun Tzu was an ancient Chinese general and military strategist in the 6th Century B.C. According to History.com:

Sun Tzu’s approach to warfare, unlike that of Western authors, does not put force at the center: indeed, the Chinese character “li” (force) occurs only nine times in the text’s thirteen chapters. This reflects the conditions of warfare in China at the time (force was then in fact of limited utility) as well as Sun Tzu’s conviction that victory and defeat are fundamentally psychological states. He sees war, therefore, not so much as a matter of destroying the enemy materially and physically (although that may play a role), but of unsettling the enemy psychologically; his goal is to force the enemy’s leadership and society from a condition of harmony, in which they can resist effectively, toward one of chaos (luan), which is tantamount to defeat. (Quote source here.)

This type of warfare is not fought with traditional weapons or even out in the open as on a battlefield (as in typical war scenarios). It is about using strategy and deception to conquer an enemy, and it’s base is psychological.

A chess player wrote the following about it’s value in playing the game of chess:

Although Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” was written more than 2,600 years ago and it’s not a chess book, this is one of the books that I would recommend to chess players. This work stands today as a prominent work on military strategy!

This manual is not only about war strategy, but, also about the lessons and knowledge that can be learned within a strategic framework, as is required in many aspects of life, including but not limited to war.

I recommend this book to chess players, as it is a masterpiece in strategy, which can be especially useful in preparation for a chess tournament. This book is an easy read – light and deep at the same time.

Even in this century, many high school and college faculty members use quotes from this book in their lectures. A paradox , given our dreadful advances in the technology of warfare.

That is the greatness of the “Art of War,” it is a book as old as the game of chess, and both, have stood the test of time. For it happens that the underlying science of combat remains little changed – the craft of deception, interpreting terrain, the movement of material and men, the discipline and motivation of troops. These elements are immutable, and those who must carry the sword have always turned to Sun Tzu for enlightenment and inspiration. (Quote source here.)

It requires no superheros to be effective. In an article titled, Sun Tzu’s 31 Best Pieces of Leadership Advice, by Eric Jackson, a tech and media investor, and contributor on Forbes.com, he states:

There was no greater war leader and strategist than Chinese military general Sun Tzu. His philosophy on how to be a great leader and ensure you win in work, management, and life is summed up in these 31 pieces of advice. They can all be applied by you in your job when you go back to work next week:

  1. A leader leads by example, not by force.
  2. You have to believe in yourself.
  3. Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.
  4. If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
  5. The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.
  6. Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
  7. If the mind is willing, the flesh could go on and on without many things.
  8. Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.
  9. To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.
  10. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.
  11. Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?
  12. Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust.
  13. Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.
  14. If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
  15. Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: (1) he will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight; (2) he will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces; (3) he will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks; (4) he will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared; (5) he will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.
  16. Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.
  17. Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
  18. There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. There are not more than five primary colors, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.There are not more than five cardinal tastes, yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.
  19. Opportunities multiply as they are seized.
  20. When the enemy is relaxed, make them toil. When full, starve them. When settled, make them move.
  21. Know yourself and you will win all battles.
  22. Move swift as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and be still as the Mountain.
  23. Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.
  24. When strong, avoid them. If of high morale, depress them. Seem humble to fill them with conceit. If at ease, exhaust them. If united, separate them. Attack their weaknesses. Emerge to their surprise.
  25. All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
  26. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.
  27. The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.
  28. Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.
  29. Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across.
  30. All warfare is based on deception.
  31. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard. (Quote source here.)

If you happen to be Christian, as you should know, deceit and deception are not a part of the Christian’s modus operandi,” although we run into it often even in Christian circles, and we are tempted to do it ourselves at times, too. Other bits of advice in “The Art of War” are just some good common sense in dealing with others; but the main premise behind “The Art of War” is how to subdue your enemy using deception and psychological warfare.

As Christians, it never hurts to understand and be aware of what others might be doing to us that is not on the “up and up” whether at work, in social circles, in relationships, and everywhere else. Reading even some of “The Art of War” (as in the 31 points listed above) will at least clue us in on how others might be operating in our lives.

We (e.g., Christians) are taught to be “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves” (those are Jesus’ own words in Matthew 10:16). However, too often, we massively fail at the “shrewd” part in that verse.

Why do we so often “miss the mark” on being shrewd? It is probably, in no small part, in an effort to keep harmony with others; to think good about others and not evil. But there is a significant difference between being naively trusting of others and being shrewd.

In answer to the question, “What does it mean to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16)?” GotQuestions.org answers that question as follows:

In sending out the Twelve, Jesus said to them, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16, KJV). The NIV says, “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Jesus was using similes (figures of speech that compare two unlike things) to instruct His disciples in how to behave in their ministry. Just before He tells them to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, He warns them that they were being sent out “like sheep among wolves.”

The world, then as now, was hostile to believers—not incidentally hostile, but purposefully hostile. Wolves are intentional about the harm they inflict upon sheep. In such an environment, the question becomes “how can we advance the kingdom of God effectively without becoming predatory ourselves?” Jesus taught His followers that, to be Christlike in a godless world, they must combine the wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove.

In using these similes, Jesus invokes the common proverbial view of serpents and doves. The serpent was “subtle” or “crafty” or “shrewd” in Genesis 3:1. The dove, on the other hand, was thought of as innocent and harmless—doves were listed among the “clean animals” and were used for sacrifices (Leviticus 14:22). To this very day, doves are used as symbols of peace, and snakes are thought of as “sneaky.”

Nineteenth-century pastor Charles Simeon provides a wonderful comment on the serpent and dove imagery: “Now the wisdom of the one and the harmlessness of the other are very desirable to be combined in the Christian character; because it is by such an union only that the Christian will be enabled to cope successfully with his more powerful enemies” (Horae Homileticae: Matthew, Vol. 11, London: Holdsworth and Ball, p. 318).

Most people don’t mind having their character compared to a dove’s purity and innocence. But some people recoil at the image of a serpent, no matter what the context. They can never see a snake in a good light, even when used by Jesus as a teaching tool. But we should not make too much of the simile. We cannot attach the evil actions of Satan (as the serpent) with the serpent itself. Animals are not moral entities. The creature itself cannot perform sin, and shrewdness is an asset, not a defect. This is the quality that Jesus told His disciples to model.

The serpent simile stands in Jesus’ dialogue without bringing forward any of the serpent’s pejoratives. It is a basic understanding in language that, when a speaker creates a simile, he is not necessarily invoking the entire potential of the words he has chosen—nor is he invoking the entire history and tenor of the linguistic vehicle. Rather, the speaker is defining a fresh relationship between the two things. A quick look at Matthew 10:16 shows that Jesus was invoking only the positive aspects of the serpent. There is no hint of His unloading Edenic baggage upon His disciples. He simply tells them to be wise (and innocent) as they represented Him.

When Jesus told the Twelve to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves, He laid down a general principle about the technique of kingdom work. As we take the gospel to a hostile world, we must be wise (avoiding the snares set for us), and we must be innocent (serving the Lord blamelessly). Jesus was not suggesting that we stoop to deception but that we should model some of the serpent’s famous shrewdness in a positive way. Wisdom does not equal dishonesty, and innocence does not equal gullibility.

Let us consider Jesus as exemplar: the Lord was known as a gentle person. Indeed, Scripture testifies that He would not even quench a smoking flax (Matthew 12:20). But was He always (and only) gentle? No. When the occasion demanded it, He took whip in hand and chased the money changers out of the temple (John 2:15). Jesus’ extraordinarily rare action, seen in light of His usual mien, demonstrates the power of using a combination of tools. This “dove-like” Man of Innocence spoke loudly and clearly with His assertiveness in the temple.

In His more typical moments, Jesus showed that He was as wise as a serpent in the way He taught. He knew enough to discern the differences in His audiences (a critical skill), He used the story-telling technique to both feed and weed (Matthew 13:10–13), and He refused to be caught in the many traps that His enemies laid for Him (Mark 8:1110:212:13).

Jesus showed that He was as harmless as a dove in every circumstance. He lived a pure and holy life (Hebrews 4:15), He acted in compassion (Matthew 9:36), and He challenged anyone to find fault in Him (John 8:4618:23). Three times, Pilate judged Jesus to be an innocent man (John 18:3819:46).

The apostle Paul also modeled the “wise as serpents, harmless as doves” technique. Paul lived in dove-like innocence in good conscience before God (Acts 23:1) and learned to deny his carnal desires so as not to jeopardize his ministry (1 Corinthians 9:27). But Paul also displayed serpent-like shrewdness when he needed it. He knew his legal rights and used the legal system to his advantage (Acts 16:3722:2525:11). He also carefully crafted his speeches to maximize the impact on his audience (Acts 17:22–2323:6–8).

In Matthew 10:16, Jesus taught us how to optimize our gospel-spreading opportunities. Successful Christian living requires that we strike the optimal balance between the dove and the serpent. We should strive to be gentle without being pushovers, and we must be sacrificial without being taken advantage of. We are aware of the unscrupulous tactics used by the enemy, but we take the high road. Peter admonishes us, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). (Quote source here.)

In Titus 3:2 we are reminded “to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone,” and that includes those who accuse us of doing wrong or who are acting deceptively behind our backs. Such is the world in which we live, but we are not to act or react as they do.

I’ll end this post with Jesus’ words in John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you . . .

So you must . . .

Love . . .

One another . . . .

You Tube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

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From Good Friday to Easter Sunday

This is a follow up blog post to my last post on this blog titled, Between Palm Sunday and Good Friday.” This post will take us from Good Friday through Easter Sunday.

In an article titled, What’s So Good about Good Friday?” by Justin Holcomb, Episcopal priest, author, and teacher of theology and apologetics at Gordon-Conwell-Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary, he opens by asking this question and follows with the answer:

What is Good Friday and why do we call Good Friday “good,” when it is such a dark and bleak event commemorating a day of suffering and death for Jesus?

For Christians, Good Friday is a crucial day of the year because it celebrates what we believe to be the most momentous weekend in the history of the world. Ever since Jesus died and was raised, Christians have proclaimed the cross and resurrection of Jesus to be the decisive turning point for all creation. Paul considered it to be “of first importance” that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised to life on the third day, all in accordance with what God had promised all along in the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3).

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.

Good Friday Bible Verses

Romans 5:6-10 – “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

1 Peter 2:24 – “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

Isaiah 53:3-5 – “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Matthew 27 – The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus Christ

Read more Good Friday Bible verses at BibleStudyTools.com. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, Where was Jesus between His death and resurrection?” by S. Michael Houdmann, Founder, President, and CEO of Got Questions Ministries, the parent ministry for GotQuestions.org, he writes:

The “where was Jesus?” question understandably becomes very common around Easter. The death and resurrection of Christ being celebrated on Good Friday and Easter Sunday raise the questions: What happened in between? Where was Jesus and what was He doing for those three days? Why three days? Did Jesus go to hell in between His death and resurrection? etc., etc. Answering the questions is difficult because the Bible does not say much about where Jesus was and what He was doing between His death and resurrection. The Bible gives a few details, but even the interpretation of those details is difficult.

The first thing that should be made clear is that when we ask “Where was Jesus?”, the question is referring to Jesus’ soul/spirit. Jesus’ body was in the tomb from the time it was placed there until the resurrection. Jesus’ soul/spirit, however, was not in the tomb. The question really is: “Where was Jesus, spiritually/immaterially, between His death and resurrection?”

There are three primary Bible passages that give us hints to the “Where was Jesus?” question. First, Acts 2:31(see also Psalm 16:10-11), says that Jesus was not abandoned to Hades. Hades is the realm of the dead. Jesus was in the realm of the dead, but He did not remain there. Why was Jesus sent to the realm of the dead? The second passage, 1 Peter 3:18-19, likely answers the question. Jesus went to Hades in order to preach to the spirits in prison. Who were the spirits in prison? According to 1 Peter 3:20, they were those “who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.” This is referring back to the Genesis 6 account. But, that does not answer the question either, as there is disagreement over that passage as well. Were the sons of God who married the daughters of men fallen angels or human beings? If the answer is fallen angels, were the spirits in prison those fallen angels that God judged for their sin in Genesis 6, or were they the spirits of the people who had been destroyed by the flood? The most interesting and frustrating part of the “where was Jesus?” discussion is that every disagreement leads to other disagreements.

The third passage is Ephesians 4:8-10, which refers to Jesus leading “captivity captive” (KJV) or leading “a host of captives.” What in the world does this refer to? Most Bible scholars believe it refers to Jesus taking all of the righteous dead, who were held “captive” in the paradise compartment of Sheol/Hades, and taking them to heaven. Prior to the death of Christ, the righteous dead were saved, but since their sins had not been atoned for, they were not allowed in heaven. Once Jesus’ sacrifice had been applied to them, they were allowed entrance into heaven, and Jesus took them there. That is sure a lot to read into “taking captivity captive,” but that is how most Bible scholars interpret the text.

So, where was Jesus for the three days in between His death and resurrection? For a time, He was in Hades, preaching to the spirits in prison (whoever they were). Then, He released all of the righteous dead of Sheol/Hades and took them with Him to heaven. But, again, there is controversy on virtually every point.

Ultimately, it seems that the Bible does not go into great detail on the “Where was Jesus?” question because in comparison to His death and resurrection, it is not nearly as important what went on in between. And, maybe that should be our lesson. Let’s spend less time debating the side issues and instead celebrate the core issues. Jesus died for our sins and rose from the grave, demonstrating that His death was sufficient. Because of His perfect and complete sacrifice, demonstrated by His resurrection, we can be saved if we trust in Him (John 3:16Acts 16:31). (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, What is Easter Sunday?” published on GotQuestion.org, here is their response:

There is a lot of confusion regarding what Easter Sunday is all about. For some, Easter Sunday is about the Easter Bunny, colorfully decorated Easter eggs, and Easter egg hunts. Most people understand that Easter Sunday has something to do with the resurrection of Jesus, but are confused as to how the resurrection is related to the Easter eggs and the Easter bunny.

Biblically speaking, there is absolutely no connection between the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the common modern traditions related to Easter Sunday. As a background, please read our article on the origins of Easter. Essentially, what occurred is that in order to make Christianity more attractive to non-Christians, the ancient Roman Catholic Church mixed the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection with celebrations that involved spring fertility rituals. These spring fertility rituals are the source of the egg and bunny traditions.

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus was resurrected on the first day of the week, Sunday (Matthew 28:1Mark 16:2,9Luke 24:1John 20:1,19). Jesus’ resurrection is most worthy of being celebrated (see 1 Corinthians 15). While it is appropriate for Jesus’ resurrection to be celebrated on a Sunday, the day on which Jesus’ resurrection is celebrated should not be referred to as Easter. Easter has nothing to do with Jesus’ resurrection on a Sunday.

As a result, many Christians feel strongly that the day on which we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection should not be referred to as “Easter Sunday.” Rather, something like “Resurrection Sunday” would be far more appropriate and biblical. For the Christian, it is unthinkable that we would allow the silliness of Easter eggs and the Easter bunny to be the focus of the day instead of Jesus’ resurrection.

By all means, celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. Christ’s resurrection is something that should be celebrated every day, not just once a year. At the same time, if we choose to celebrate Easter Sunday, we should not allow the fun and games to distract our attention from what the day should truly be all about—the fact that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, and that His resurrection demonstrates that we can indeed be promised an eternal home in Heaven by receiving Jesus as our Savior.

To learn more about how Jesus’ death and resurrection provided for our salvation, please read the following article: What does it mean to accept Jesus as your personal Savior? (Quote source here.)

Jesus didn’t stay in the grave. He has risen just like he said he would (see Luke 24). So I’ll end this post as I did on my previous post with these three words . . .

 

 

 

YouTube Video: “Easter Song” (1974) by The Second Chapter of Acts:

Photo #1 credit here
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Between Palm Sunday and Good Friday

On Sunday, Passion Week (also known as Holy Week) will begin which is the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. This post will specifically relate to what occurred between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. GotQuestions.org gives the following information on Passion Week/Holy Week:

Passion Week (also known as Holy Week) is the time from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday (Resurrection Sunday). Also included within Passion Week are Holy MondayHoly TuesdaySpy WednesdayMaundy ThursdayGood Friday, and Holy Saturday. Passion Week is so named because of the passion with which Jesus willingly went to the cross in order to pay for the sins of His people. Passion Week is described in Matthew chapters 21-27; Mark chapters 11-15; Luke chapters 19-23; and John chapters 12-19. Passion Week begins with the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday on the back of a colt as prophesied in Zechariah 9:9.

Passion Week contained several memorable events. Jesus cleansed the Temple for the second time (Luke 19:45-46), then disputed with the Pharisees regarding His authority. Then He gave His Olivet Discourse on the end times and taught many things, including the signs of His second coming. Jesus ate His Last Supper with His disciples in the upper room (Luke 22:7-38), then went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray as He waited for His hour to come. It was here that Jesus, having been betrayed by Judas, was arrested and taken to several sham trials before the chief priests, Pontius Pilate, and Herod (Luke 22:54-23:25).

Following the trials, Jesus was scourged at the hands of the Roman soldiers, then was forced to carry His own instrument of execution (the Cross) through the streets of Jerusalem along what is known as the Via Dolorosa (way of sorrows). Jesus was then crucified at Golgotha on the day before the Sabbath, was buried and remained in the tomb until Sunday, the day after the Sabbath, and then gloriously resurrected.

It is referred to as Passion Week because in that time, Jesus Christ truly revealed His passion for us in the suffering He willingly went through on our behalf. What should our attitude be during Passion Week? We should be passionate in our worship of Jesus and in our proclamation of His Gospel! As He suffered for us, so should we be willing to suffer for the cause of following Him and proclaiming the message of His death and resurrection. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, What Happened Between Palm Sunday and Good Friday?” by Christian Today staff writer (no specific name is mentioned), the author writes:

One of the things anyone notices about the Gospels is that they each tell the story of Jesus’ Passion in their own way, and that it’s very difficult to square the chronologies (Ian Paul on his blog has a good discussion of this).

There are various things that do appear to have happened, though, in whatever order they might have been.

    1. The Sanhedrin (the Jewish Council) met and agreed to betray Jesus (Matthew 27:3-5).
    2. Jesus was anointed at Bethany (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9). What seems to be a version of this story appears in Luke’s Gospel in chapter 7, 36-50; in John, it happens before the Triumphal Entry (12:1-11) and Mary is named as the woman.
    3. Jesus curses the fig tree, which withers and dies. It’s a symbolic parable of judgment (Matthew 21:18-22, Mark 11:12-14, 21).
    4. Jesus cleanses the Temple (Matthew 21:12-16, Mark 11:15-19, Luke 19:45-47). In John 2:13-16 this happens at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry; some commentators think it may have happened twice, others that it’s the same story put in a different context.
    5. Jesus debates with the Pharisees and Sadducees and teaches the crowds. Matthew has the parable of the wedding banquet and the parable of the tenants, for instance, the teaching about paying taxes to Caesar (22-23) and a section on the ‘signs of the end of the age’. Mark and Luke have the story of the widow’s mite (Luke 21:1-4). John has a long section of teaching directed at the disciples (14-17).
    6. Judas agrees to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16, Luke 22:1-6); the Wednesday of Holy Week is sometimes called Spy Wednesday for this reason.
    7. Jesus predicts his death (John 12: 20-36).
    8. He shares a Last Supper with his disciples (Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22, John 13).
    9. He and his disciples go to the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-52, Luke 22:39-46, John 18:1-11). In Luke’s and John’s Gospels the garden is not named. It’s there that Jesus is arrested.

All of these things appear in the different Gospels between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. We should be aware, though, that they didn’t have the same ideas about chronology as us: they were writing history, but of a particular type. So they would have thought it perfectly reasonable to shift things around a bit to make it fit the meaning of the story. What seems likely, though, is that Jesus was in the public eye and that there were confrontations with authority. On a purely human level, he must have known that the end was coming. For anyone else, that would paralyze them with fear. But Jesus continued his ministry, preaching, teaching and challenging, when he could have left the city and been safe at any time.

During this week we look forward to Good Friday, quite rightly. But the shadow of the cross was already darkening over Jesus – and he did not falter for a moment. (Quote source here.)

Aerial View of the Temple Mount (Andrew Shiva/Wikipedia)

The last of five discourses given by Jesus during his ministry occurred in the middle of Passion Week and is known as the Olivet Discourse (Discourse of the End Times) as it was given on the Mount of Olives. The following information below describing all five discourses is taken from Wikipedia:

  1. “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7) is one of the best known and most quoted parts of the New Testament. It includes the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer. To most believers in Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount contains the central tenets of Christian discipleship, The Beatitudes are a key element of this sermon, and are expressed as a set of “blessings.” The Beatitudes present a new set of Christian ideals that focus on love and humility rather than force and exaction; they echo the highest ideals of the teachings of Jesus on mercy, spirituality and compassion. They also teach on issues such as divorce, lust, and worldliness; issues pertaining to persecution; further instruction on how to pray; and words on false prophets.
  2. The second discourse in Matthew 10 provides instructions to the Twelve Apostles and is sometimes called the “Mission Discourse” or the “Missionary Discourse” or the “Little Commission” in contrast to the Great Commission. This discourse is directed to the twelve apostles who are named in Matthew 10:2-3.
  3. The third discourse in Matthew 13 :1-53 provides several parables for the Kingdom of Heaven and is often called the “Parabolic Discourse.” The first part of this discourse in Matthew 13:1-35 takes place outside when Jesus leaves a house and sits near the Lake to address the disciples as well as the multitudes of people who have gathered to hear him. This part includes the parables of the Sowerthe Taresthe Mustard Seed and the Leaven. In the second part Jesus goes back inside the house and addresses the disciples. This part includes the parables of the Hidden Treasurethe Pearl and Drawing in the Net.
  4. The fourth discourse in Matthew 18 is often called the “Discourse on the Church.” It includes the parables of The Lost Sheep and The Unforgiving Servant which also refer to the Kingdom of Heaven. The general theme of the discourse is the anticipation of a future community of followers, and the role of his apostles in leading it. Addressing his apostles in Matthew 18:18, Jesus states: “what things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and what things soever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”, see also Binding and loosing…. The discourse emphasizes the importance of humility and self-sacrifice as the high virtues within the anticipated community. It teaches that in the Kingdom of God, it is childlike humility that matters, not social prominence and clout.
  5. The final discourse is usually taken to include Matthew 23, 24, and 25. Matthew 24 is usually called the Olivet Discourse because it was given on the Mount of Olives, and is also referred to as the “Discourse on the End Times.” The discourse corresponds to Mark 13 and Luke 21 and is mostly about judgment and the expected conduct of the followers of Jesus, and the need for vigilance by the followers in view of the coming judgment. The discourse is prompted by a question the disciples ask about the “end of the age” (End times or end of this world and beginning of the world to come) and receives the longest response provided by Jesus in the New Testament. The discourse is generally viewed as referring both to the coming destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, as well as the End Times and Second Coming of Christ, but the many scholarly opinions about the overlap of these two issues, and exactly which verses refer to which event remain divided and complex. (Quote source here.)

It is this last discourse, the Olivet Discourse,” that takes place right before Jesus is arrested. In an article published on July 14, 2017, titled, Making Sense of the Olivet Discourse,” by Paul Carter, Lead Pastor at the First Baptist Church Orilla (Ontario), he writes:

Matthew 24 begins what is sometimes called “The Olivet Discourse.” In it, Jesus talks about the near and far future for the church. Bible scholars often point out the importance of recalling the precise question the disciples asked that precipitated this entire discourse: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV)

There are clearly two parts to that question. Jesus had just prophesied the destruction of the temple, and the disciples asked when that would happen AND what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age.

The trick is that Jesus understood those two events were not concurrent. The temple was destroyed in AD 70, yet Jesus still hasn’t returned as of today—but the disciples didn’t and couldn’t have known that. They assumed that the destruction of the temple would be the climactic event of the end times. They didn’t realize that it would only be the beginning. Therefore, as we listen to what Jesus said by way of response, we have to remember that he is talking about a near future and a far future and we have to understand which is which. There are a couple of key indicators in the text. Look for examples at verse 6 and verse 8. After talking about some things that would happen he says: “but the end is not yet” (v. 6) and “All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (v. 8).

The end is not yet. This is just the beginning. Jesus seems to be saying that a bunch of things are going to happen that are NOT the end times events the disciples were thinking they were. Things like wars, things like the rise and fall of empires, things like massive natural disasters. Those things are not signals of the end–rather they are more like table setters. They are like birth pangs. They open the door, but they are not the baby.

After these things, you want to watch for a couple of indicators. Watch for the Great Commission to be completed in an environment of increasing persecution, tribulation, false religion and apostasy; then the end will come. Look at verse 14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14 ESV).

Following that, there will be a short season of intense persecution and tribulation after which: “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matthew 24:29–31 ESV)

That is the end. After that, according to Matthew 13:43, the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father, forever. (Quote source here.)

Aerial View of the Mount of Olives (Andrew Shiva/Wikipedia)

Jesus visited the Mount of Olives three times during his Passion Week, and again after His resurrection. GotQuestions.org describes these visits:

The Bible records Jesus’ visiting the Mount of Olives three times in the last week of His earthly life, and each time something of significance happened. The first visit is what we call the triumphal entry. The donkey Jesus rode that day was found in the area of Bethany and Bethphage, on the east side of the Mount of Olives (Luke 19:29–30). Then, “when he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen” (verse 37). While still on the Mount of Olives, Jesus looked at the vista in front of Him, wept over the city, and pronounced a judgment against it (verses 41–44).

Jesus’ second visit was to deliver what has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse, recorded in Matthew 24:1 —25:46. Parallel passages are found in Mark 13:1–37 and Luke 21:5–36. The content of the Olivet Discourse is Jesus’ response to His disciples’ question “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24—25 primarily concerns the coming destruction of Jerusalem, the future tribulation period, and the second coming of Christ at the end of the tribulation. The Discourse includes parables about those who wait for the Master’s coming—the wise and faithful servant (Matthew 24:45–51), the five wise virgins (Matthew 25:1–13), and the good servant who uses his resources wisely (Matthew 25:14–30).

Jesus’ third visit during the week of His passion was on the night He was betrayed. That evening began with the Last Supper in Jerusalem and ended in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. During that last Passover meal, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet and then revealed Judas as the betrayer (John 13:1–30). At the conclusion of the meal, Jesus established the New Covenant and instituted the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26–291 Corinthians 11:23–26). Then He took His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane (literally, “Garden of the Oil-press”) located on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. There Jesus prayed in agony as He contemplated the day to come. So overcome by the horror of what He was to experience in the crucifixion the following day that His sweat was “like drops of blood” (Luke 22:44) and God sent an angel from heaven to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43).

After Jesus prayed, Judas Iscariot arrived with a multitude of soldiers, high priests, Pharisees, and servants to arrest Jesus. Judas identified Jesus by the prearranged signal of a kiss, which he gave to Jesus. Trying to protect Jesus, Peter drew a sword and attacked a man named Malchus, the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Jesus rebuked Peter and healed the man’s ear, displaying the miraculous power of God (Luke 22:51). Nevertheless, the mob arrested Jesus and took Him to face trial, while the disciples scattered in fear for their lives.

After the trials, crucifixion, and resurrection, Jesus once again stood on the Mount of Olives. During His final post-resurrection appearance, Jesus led His disciples “out to the vicinity of Bethany, [and] he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:50–52). Acts 1:12 specifies that “the vicinity of Bethany” was indeed the Mount of Olives. 

Immediately following Jesus’ ascension, two angels told the disciples on the Mount of Olives that “this same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). According to the prophet Zechariah, Jesus will return not only in the same way, but to the same place. In a prophecy related to the end times, Zechariah declares, “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south” (Zechariah 14:4). The very location where David wept in defeat and where Jesus was betrayed and rejected will be the place where Jesus returns in triumph over all His enemies. (Quote source here.)

Regarding Good Friday of Passion Week, GotQuestions.org provides the following information:

Good Friday, also known as “Holy Friday,” is the Friday immediately preceding Easter Sunday. It is celebrated traditionally as the day on which Jesus was crucified. If you are interested in a study of the issue, please see our article that discusses the various views on which day Jesus was crucified….

Why is Good Friday referred to as “good”? What the Jewish authorities and Romans did to Jesus was definitely not good (see Matthew chapters 26-27). However, the results of Christ’s death are very goodRomans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” First Peter 3:18 tells us, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.”

Many Christian churches celebrate Good Friday with a subdued service, usually in the evening, in which Christ’s death is remembered with solemn hymns, prayers of thanksgiving, a message centered on Christ’s suffering for our sake, and observance of the Lord’s Supper. Whether or not Christians choose to “celebrate” Good Friday, the events of that day should be ever on our minds because the death of Christ on the cross—along with His bodily resurrection—is the paramount event of the Christian faith. (Quote source here.)

While this post ends with Good Friday, Easter Sunday is coming. And Jesus didn’t stay in the grave. He has risen just like he said he would (see Luke 24). So I’ll end this post with these three words . . .

 

 

 

YouTube Video: “Easter Song” (1974) by The Second Chapter of Acts:

Photo #1 credit here (full view of graphic and PDF available here)
Photo #2 credit here (Andrew Shiva/Wikipedia)
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Still Being Still

Three days ago I published a blog post titled, Be Still and Know,” on my blog, Reflections. The subject of that blog post comes from Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The full text of Psalm 46 is stated below the following definition.

“Be still” has a broader meaning then just to “be still”. Here is a definition as stated on GotQuestions.org:

Be still. This is a call for those involved in the war to stop fighting, to be still. The word “still” is a translation of the Hebrew word “rapa,” meaning “to slacken, let down, or cease.” In some instances, the word carries the idea of “to drop, be weak, or faint.” It connotes two people fighting until someone separates them and makes them drop their weapons. It is only after the fighting has stopped that the warriors can acknowledge their trust in God. Christians often interpret the command to “be still” as “to be quiet in God’s presence.” While quietness is certainly helpful, the phrase means to stop frantic activity, to let down, and to be still. For God’s people being “still” would involve looking to the Lord for their help (cf. Exodus 14:13); for God’s enemies, being “still” would mean ceasing to fight a battle they cannot win. (Quote source here. A longer quote is available on the blog post mentioned above.)

Psalm 46

“God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the LORD has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.

He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.’

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Yesterday I read Psalm 19 and the first five verses of Psalm 20 (I quoted those five verses in Psalm 20 at the end of my last blog post titled, The Right Response), and both are a great companion to go along with Psalm 46. Here are those two psalms:

Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.

They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold,
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

May these words of my mouth
and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 20:1-5

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

May these psalms be a source of inspiration and encouragement especially if you, like me, are still in the process of “being still.” I’ll end this post with the words from Psalm 113:3From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name…

Of the Lord . . .

Is to be . . .

Praised . . . .

YouTube Video: “Be Still” by Hillsong Worship:

Photo #1 credit here
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The Right Response

Five days ago I published a blog post on my Reflections blog titled, The Upside of Anger.” If you haven’t read it, you might wonder about the title, but you might be surprised at the content. You can take a look at it by clicking on this link.

This morning I read a verse I received in a “Verse of the Day” email that quoted 2 Corinthians 4:7-9. Paul states the following in these three verses:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

I’ll be the first to admit that when I’m hard pressed for whatever reason my first response is not often love, and depending on what is or who is causing it and if it continues unabated for what seems like a never-ending period of time, love tends to fade. But be aware that it is the intent of whoever or whatever is causing us to be hard pressed to make us want to push back in anger and other destructive and/or self-destructive ways. You might want to listen to the 12-minute YouTube video I published on my The Upside of Anger blog post titled, The Christian’s Guide to Anger Management,” at this link.

My blog post, The Upside of Anger,” came about because I was starting to develop a crusty edge regarding my current set of circumstances which I won’t go into because the details aren’t important. However, when one is hard-pressed day after day after day, the urge be angry at some point rears it’s head; but, again, this is exactly the type of response these types of situations try to bring out in us. And while I have not displayed any anger on the outside, I knew what I was feeling on the inside, and I was letting it build up.

What I discovered while writing that blog post helped me to see that there is an upside to anger, but we humans have a tendency to use the destructive side of anger far too often. Think of road rage as just one example. Turn on the TV, go to a movie, or go on social media for any length of time and you’ll see plenty of examples of anger that is destructive. It’s about revenge, retribution, hate, destruction, and it’s absolutely not about forgiveness, understanding or love. That kind of anger just wants to get even in some way.

In a blog post I published on September 9, 2017, titled, That Thing Called Love,” I published the following quote by Joyce Meyer:

I read a quote that Joyce Meyerone of the world’s best known practical Bible teachers and a New York Times bestselling author, shared in her book titled, “Let God Fight Your Battles” (2015) regarding our real enemy on pages 108-109:

A good friend who is a Greek scholar once shared with me a paraphrase of John 10:10It gives us a clear idea of just how determined the enemy is to kill, steal, and destroy, but it also shows us that Jesus has something else altogether in mind.

“The thief wants to get his hands into every good thing in your life. In fact, this pickpocket is looking for any opportunity to wiggle his way so deeply into your personal affairs that he can walk off with everything you hold precious and dear. And that’s not all–when he’s finished stealing all your goods and possessions, he’ll take his plan to rob you blind to the next level. He’ll create conditions and situations so horrible that you’ll see no way to solve the problem except to sacrifice everything that remains from his previous attacks. The goal of this thief is to totally waste and devastate your life. If nothing stops him, he’ll leave you insolvent, flat broke, and cleaned out in every area of your life. You’ll end up feeling as if you are finished and out of business! Make no mistake–the enemy’s ultimate aim is to obliterate you!

“But I [Jesus] came that they might have, keep, and constantly retain a vitality, gusto, vigor, and zest for living that springs up from deep down inside. I [Jesus] came that they might embrace this unrivaled, unequaled, matchless, incomparable, richly-loaded and overflowing life to the ultimate maximum!” (Quote from Rick Renner, “Sparkling Gems,” 2003, as quoted on pp. 108-109 in “Let God Fight Your Battles,” 2015.)

When we are hard pressed, the root cause of it goes back to the words of Jesus in John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” And Paul makes it clear in Ephesians 6:10-18 what is the true source of all of our battles in life (see verse 12).

The following also comes from that same blog post which are the words of Jesus taken from Matthew 5:43-48 (MSG):

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

Even Jesus got angry on several occasions. GotQuestions.org states the following regarding Jesus’ anger:

When Jesus cleared the temple of the money changers and animal-sellers, He showed great emotion and anger (Matthew 21:12-13Mark 11:15-18John 2:13-22). Jesus’ emotion was described as “zeal” for God’s house (John 2:17). His anger was pure and completely justified because at its root was concern for God’s holiness and worship. Because these were at stake, Jesus took quick and decisive action. Another time Jesus showed anger was in the synagogue of Capernaum. When the Pharisees refused to answer Jesus’ questions, “He looked around at them in anger, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts” (Mark 3:5).

Many times, we think of anger as a selfish, destructive emotion that we should eradicate from our lives altogether. However, the fact that Jesus did sometimes become angry indicates that anger itself, as an emotion, is amoral. This is borne out elsewhere in the New Testament. Ephesians 4:26 instructs us “in your anger do not sin” and not to let the sun go down on our anger. The command is not to “avoid anger” (or suppress it or ignore it) but to deal with it properly, in a timely manner. We note the following facts about Jesus’ displays of anger:

1) His anger had the proper motivation. In other words, He was angry for the right reasons. Jesus’ anger did not arise from petty arguments or personal slights against Him. There was no selfishness involved. 

2) His anger had the proper focus. He was not angry at God or at the “weaknesses” of others. His anger targeted sinful behavior and true injustice.

3) His anger had the proper supplement. Mark 3:5 says that His anger was attended by grief over the Pharisees’ lack of faith. Jesus’ anger stemmed from love for the Pharisees and concern for their spiritual condition. It had nothing to do with hatred or ill will.

4) His anger had the proper control. Jesus was never out of control, even in His wrath. The temple leaders did not like His cleansing of the temple (Luke 19:47), but He had done nothing sinful. He controlled His emotions; His emotions did not control Him. 

5) His anger had the proper duration. He did not allow His anger to turn into bitterness; He did not hold grudges. He dealt with each situation properly, and He handled anger in good time.

6) His anger had the proper result. Jesus’ anger had the inevitable consequence of godly action. Jesus’ anger, as with all His emotions, was held in check by the Word of God; thus, Jesus’ response was always to accomplish God’s will.

When we get angry, too often we have improper control or an improper focus. We fail in one or more of the above points. This is the wrath of man, of which we are told “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20). Jesus did not exhibit man’s anger, but the righteous indignation of God. (Quote source here.)

Those six points above and how Jesus responded are so important for us to consider when we find ourselves getting angry over any type of situation.

Also, in Matthew 5:21-26 (MSG) Jesus addresses the subject of anger as follows:

You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, “Do not murder.” I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother “idiot!” and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell “stupid!” at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.

This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.

Or say you’re out on the street and an old enemy accosts you. Don’t lose a minute. Make the first move; make things right with him. After all, if you leave the first move to him, knowing his track record, you’re likely to end up in court, maybe even jail. If that happens, you won’t get out without a stiff fine.

Those words should give us pause to consider our own anger tendencies and learn to curtail them before they get the better of us; and when they do, make the first move and seek forgiveness whenever it is possible to do so.

Sometimes our anger might come from the fact that we just want someone to stand up for us in the midst of our current battle instead of trying to fight it or figure it out all alone. I know in my own situation I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked God to send me just one real life, flesh and blood human being who will come to my aid to help me resolve this situation that has gone on for years now without any resolution. Just one. It reminds me of a devotion I read in a small book titled, Experience the Power of God’s Names (2017), by Dr. Tony Evanspastor, speaker, author, widely syndicated radio and television broadcaster, and founder ofThe Urban Alternative.” He writes the following on page 61:

When you were a kid, did anyone stand up for you whenever another person was mean to you? Maybe a big brother or sister or a trustworthy friend went to bat for you. Or a parent or teacher helped protect you from harm. You may have fought some battles on your own, but at other times the problem was too big for you to handle alone. That’s when you relied on that trusted sibling or friend or adult to step in for backup.

Life is filled with battles. Sometimes we’ve brought on the problem ourselves, and we need to take action to improve the situation, At other times, we’re not at all to blame. Heartbreak, pain, and difficulty seek us out, and we feel unequipped to fight on our own. No matter who or what is to blame, we can always call on Elohim Tsebaoth, the God of hosts, to join us in the battle.

In a culture that commands us to take action on our own, we tend to go about our daily business with no regard for others–including God. When we’re struggling to overcome our emotions or lamenting that we’re being treated unfairly, we keep the focus on ourselves. Instead, we need to allow God to lead the charge and follow His instructions. With God on our side, we will always win the battle. (Quote source: “Experience the Power of God’s Names,” page 61.)

While I’m not quite sure how to end this blog post, I think I’ll end it with the following blessing from Psalm 20 for everyone who is waiting for an answer but they haven’t received it yet. Here is that blessing from Psalm 20: 1-5:

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
    may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
    and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices

    and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart

    and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory

    and lift up our banners in the name of our God, [and]…

May the Lord . . .

Grant all . . .

Your requests . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Message is Love” by Arthur Baker & the Backbeat Disciples (ft. Rev. Al Green):

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