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Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

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The Triumph of Grace

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Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

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How Should We Then Live?

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Not a Timid Christianity

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Finishing the Race

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Because the Time is Near

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Revelation Song (YouTube)

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Where The Wind Blows

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Doing Great Things

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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Power of Forgiveness

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Created for Relationships

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The Only Way I Know

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Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

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Our True Home Address

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‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Cherry Picking 101

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Love Sweet Love

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So Goes The Culture

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Idols of the Heart

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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Understanding Grace

The bedrock of our salvation as Christians is found in God’s grace given to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. One of the classic passages of Scripture on the subject of grace is given by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:1-10 in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

The two verses in this passage that many Christians are familiar with are highlighted in red (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace “is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” Unfortunately, being human, we have a big tendency to fall back on our “works” (as in what we do) as “proof” of our salvation. However, when it comes to grace, it is not about anything that we do. It is about what God has done for us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. What we do we do by faith (James 2:14-26). [For more information on faith, see Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine,” “Faith, The Evidence of Things Not Seen,” Taking Action,” and also an article on GotQuestions?org titled,Why is faith without works dead?”]

On the subject of God’s grace, the following information is provided by GotQuestions?org at this link:

Grace is a constant theme in the Bible, and it culminates in the New Testament with the coming of Jesus (John 1:17). The word translated “grace” in the New Testament comes from the Greek word “charis,” which means “favor, blessing, or kindness.” We can all extend grace to others; but when the word “grace” is used in connection with God, it takes on a more powerful meaning. Grace is God choosing to bless us rather than curse us as our sin deserves. It is His benevolence to the undeserving.

Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves.” The only way any of us can enter into a relationship with God is because of His grace toward us. Grace began in the Garden of Eden when God killed an animal to cover the sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21). He could have killed the first humans right there for their disobedience. But rather than destroy them, He chose to make a way for them to be right with Him. That pattern of grace continued throughout the Old Testament when God instituted blood sacrifices as a means to atone for sinful men. It was not the blood of those sacrifices that cleansed sinners; it was the grace of God that forgave those who trusted in Him (Hebrews 10:4Genesis 15:6).

The apostle Paul began many of his letters with the phrase, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7Ephesians 1:11 Corinthians 1:3). God is the instigator of grace, and it is from Him that all other grace flows. Grace can be easily remembered by this simple acrostic: God’s Riches AChrist’s Expense.

God shows both mercy and grace, but they are not the same. Mercy withholds a punishment we deserve; grace gives a blessing we don’t deserve. Consider this illustration: you were stopped in your old clunker for going 60 mph in a school zone. The ticket is high, and you can’t pay it. You appear before the judge with nothing to say for yourself. He hears your case and then, to your surprise, he cancels your fine. That is mercy. But the judge doesn’t stop there. He walks you outside and hands you the keys to a new car. That is grace.

In mercy, God chose to cancel our sin debt by sacrificing His perfect Son in our place (Titus 3:52 Corinthians 5:21). But He goes even further than mercy and extends grace to His enemies (Romans 5:10). He offers us forgiveness (Hebrews 8:12Ephesians 1:7), reconciliation (Colossians 1:19-20), abundant life (John 10:10), eternal treasure (Luke 12:33), His Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), and a place in heaven with Him some day (John 3:16-18) when we accept His offer and place our faith in His sacrifice.

Grace is God giving the greatest treasure to the least deserving—which is every one of us. (Quote source here.)

There is much out there in our culture today that tries to convince us that because of God’s grace which is freely given to us, that sin isn’t really an issue anymore. There is no effort in that line of thinking to move forward in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. There is little or no talk of “transformation” (as in being “transformed by the renewing of our minds” –see Romans 12), or of “persevering” in our faith (see James 1-2). It is as if we have been given approval by those teachers (see 2 Peter 2, and Jude 1) who are endorsing this philosophy (for lack of a better word) that we can remain just as we were before we believed in Jesus Christ without any type of transformation that is promised to us through the power of the Holy Spirit (as we can’t do it on our own)–and that is anything but the truth. In fact, Paul gives us a lot of information on how the grace of God is not given to us as a license to continue in sin in Romans 6-8. Let’s look at Romans 6:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The wages of sin is still death, and that hasn’t changed just because we live in a culture with a zillion excesses available to us on a 24/7 basis. We’ve been inundated with teachers who say that we can use God’s grace as a license to continue living however we want or live under the illusion that if we just can’t stop doing it (whatever the “it” happens to be) that it’s okay since God’s grace covers it all. Sin hasn’t changed to be a convenient excuse for us who claim to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord to keep on doing what we know isn’t right. And if sin rules, Jesus is not Lord of our lives.

The teachers who teach that grace as a license to keep on doing whatever we want to do and that “grace covers it all” are counting on the fact that we don’t do our own homework, and that means keeping in closing communication through prayer with our Savior, and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit to guide us and lead us every moment of every day. And they count on us not taking the time to read the Bible and pray on a daily basis and to depend on listening to them for our guidance (and monetary support that usually goes along with it).

Back to BasicsThe outflow of this has been that the grace given to us by God through Jesus Christ is not often extended to others that we come into contact with, especially those others we either don’t know or don’t particularly like for whatever reason (often from a source of gossip). Whenever we follow anyone who keeps us focused on ourselves and what’s okay for us to do or what we want or “fill in the blank” without looking to Jesus as the source for everything in our lives, we extend that lack of grace to others around us and treat them accordingly. And the Pharisees were very good at that, too–having a righteousness of their own and looking down on others. And we are often good at pointing out the sin in others while totally ignoring our own.

Another outcome of this “sin doesn’t matter anymore” mentality among Christians especially as it has proliferated over the past several decades is that we are losing a generation of young people who just don’t get what genuine Christianity is all about because it hasn’t often been modeled to them by their own parents or religious leaders in their own lives. And there in much in this world of ours that will fill that vacuum. In an article titled, The Church’s Lost Generation,” on Beliefnet.com, the author, Ron Dreher, made the following comments:

In March, I traveled around the country to give speeches at three Christian colleges. At each stop, I spent some time talking to professors, asking them what they’re seeing in their classrooms. And at each stop, the anguished answer was the same:

These kids know almost nothing about their faith.

It’s not that they are bad kids; it’s that the basics of Christianity are unknown to them. Mind you, these are college students who were raised in Christian homes, and who chose to attend Christian colleges. And yet, their teachers are discovering that when it comes to the Christian faith, most of them are blank slates.

Let me repeat: these are Christian students, in Christian colleges. In California, a Baptist theologian who teaches at an Evangelical college told me the ignorance of his students astonishes him. “It’s all Moralistic Therapeutic Deism with them,” he said. “Maybe you’ve heard of that?”

Indeed I have. MTD is the name that the top sociologist Christian Smith gave nearly a decade ago to what he calls the “de facto dominant religion among contemporary teenagers in the United States.” Simply put, it’s a pseudo-religion that says faith is about nothing more than “feeling good, happy, secure, and at peace” . . . .

I came home from these college visits discouraged, but also challenged to put my own complacency behind. My children are still young. We attend church regularly, and have a pastor who teaches clearly and strongly. But he can’t carry the weight alone. Mom and Dad are the primary religious educators in the family. Now, each night, I sit down with my kids and teach them from a catechism.

God willing, my children will grow up as committed Christians, but if they walk away from Christianity, unlike most of their generation, at least they will know what it is they’re leaving behind.

The following statement is taken from an article titled, American Christianity: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism?” (2014), on Patheos.com, by Fr. Dwight Longenecker, describing Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and how it has embedded itself into American Christianity:

Some time ago I read a blog post identifying the degradation of American Christianity into what was termed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. It’s given me much pause for thought and the analysis seems to me to be spot on. . . .

Moralistic in replacing vital sacramental, evangelizing Christianity with a set of rules and regulations. Different sets of rules and regulations exist for different sub sets. For a smart suburban congregation the rules might be those of respectability and good manners. For a liberal, socially aware or hipster group the rules might be all about ecology, the right attitude on human rights issues and the right political stance. For a conservative Christian group the rules would be focussed on sexual morality, modesty and the right religious devotions. While none of the rules and regulations are necessarily wrong, the error is in mistaking the rules and regulations for real religion.

The “therapeutic” part of the definition refers to replacing religion with therapy. As in the “moralistic” part of the definition the “therapy” takes many different forms, but at the heart of the problem is the need for the religion to help me in some way. For a smart up-to-date community church it might be all about recovery from addiction, advice on money matters or help with parenting skills. For a classic, suburban church it might be the therapy of feeling good about oneself, one’s “blessings” i.e. wealth, and using church to get the kids into good private education, the right college and a “good” job.

Another dimension to the therapeutic aspect is how we want our religion to make us feel good. Whether it is warm, fuzzy charismatic worship or high church aestheticism with ornate ritualism or whether it is a feel good sermon and sentimental music, we want our religion to be like our morning drink: warm, comfortable and sweet. Now, there is nothing wrong at all in receiving a good feeling from religion, but just as the rules and regulations are not the religion, so we must remember that the good feelings should not replace the religion. The religion is our worship and service to God.  The regulations are the rule book for the game. The good feelings are the enjoyment we get from religion, but it is not the religion itself.

Deism is the belief that God is “out there” and not really involved in our lives on a day to day basis. We believe in this distant God, but we do not have a regular transaction with Him. Because he is disconnected our religion reverts to being a system of rules, regulations, therapy and feeling good. (Quote source here.)

Sound familiar? Unfortunately . . . way too familiar. That should give us some idea of what has been invading our church cultures over the past several decades. And it has often replaced biblical literacy. I have often been shocked at the biblical illiteracy of my own generation (the Baby Boomers), so I can only imagine how much worse it is with their children and now their children’s children. It doesn’t take very long at all anymore to see how shallow the younger generation can be towards Christianity in general and specifically regarding faith issues. Faith in what or who? The material world and lifestyles of their parents have blinded them to the reality of a real, living faith, and has overshadowed what genuine Christianity and faith in Jesus Christ is all about. It would be interesting to take a survey of young people today to see just exactly who they think Jesus Christ is as I find that mostly it appears that He doesn’t mean much if anything to those I have talked with lately. They have found other things in this world that hold their fascination and given them a measure of perceived power, and have been left believing in a weak, insipid version of Jesus Christ that is about as far removed from the truth as one can get, if they believe in Him at all.

Whenever the focus is on us and what we want in this life and not on God and Jesus Christ, we become myopic. We want what we want and we usually want it as soon as possible, too. And we don’t stop to count the cost of much of anything anymore as we are too busy trying to accumulate more of whatever it is we think we want or need. And don’t think our children haven’t noticed. This mentality has been passed down to the younger generations in our midst today which is why they so often don’t really have a clue who Jesus Christ really is, as I’m not sure their parents really know. I worked at a Christian college for over four years and I saw this focus on self not only in the attitudes of some of the students but in the lifestyles of some of the staff (generally speaking as individuals and their own personal commitments to Jesus Christ vary). We have so “Americanized” our version of Christianity that it is losing its meaning to us and has now been passed down to the younger generations. And we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Until we learn to get the focus off of ourselves, nothing is going to change. We can’t very well extend grace to others if we really don’t understand what it means in our own lives. And it is not a license to do anything we want, nor is it a set of rules we have to live up to or forced on others who don’t seem to measure up to what we think they should measure up to, either (as in the description of MTD above–unwritten but embedded rules in many of our church cultures today). And what have we taught the younger generation? We’ve taught them how to say all the right words and how to look and act oh so very Christian when they need to, but there is absolutely no depth because they have no proof of it’s reality other then what they get from others, and they have no actual living faith in Jesus Christ. Again, I’m speaking in general terms as, fortunately, we haven’t lost the entire younger generation, but there are a lot out there who have learned how to play the game and play it well (and that’s exactly how they see it–as a game), and that’s a travesty of major proportions.

We need to get back to the basics of genuine Christianity if we even recognize the basics anymore, and the only place to do that is in the Bible, and praying for an understanding that only God can give us to get back on the right track. Repentance is a good place to start, too . . . .

In fact, it’s the only place to start . . .

How about starting today? . . . .

YouTube Video: “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” sung by Chris Tomlin:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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There’s No Such Thing As Impossible

Luke 1:37

I was driving down a major road in a suburb of Orlando this afternoon when the following song came on the major Christian radio station here in Orlando–Z88.3, also known as the “Z.” It’s a fairly new song titled, Impossible,” (as in There’s No Such Thing As Impossible,”) by Building 429 (see YouTube Video below). As I listened to it, I suddenly had this realization that I had left a big part out of my “saga” over the past six plus years that I wrote about in two very recent blog posts.

On June 13, 2015, I wrote a blog post titled, Hanging In There,” and on June 19, 2015, I wrote a post that was somewhat of a sequel to it titled, The Times They Are A-Changin.'” In the first post I wrote about some evidence I found after I was fired from my job in Houston that clearly showed there was some, shall we say, “shenanigans” going on–to say the very least–which I sent to my lawyer back then but I never got a response from her (see post for more details).

In the second post, The Times They Are A-Changin,'” I gave some background information on my aspirations when I first landed in Houston on September 25, 2008, to start that ill fated job four days later and how they went down the tube along with the job when I lost it seven months later. In that post, I also mentioned that as I progressed through these past six plus years of unemployment I became aware that some of the things I discovered actually had a starting point fifteen years ago (actually, it was almost fourteen years ago now that I stopped and did the math–you’ll understand in a moment), and also I mentioned that I came to realize that these past six plus years were, indeed, God’s will for my life even though it didn’t look like the model of “success” we often adhere to in our Christian circles today as looking like “God’s will.” Unfortunately, this is mostly due to our inability to separate our culture and its standards for success from our practice of Christianity and how “success” from a Biblical perspective is often “upside down” when viewed from its Biblical definition (see Hebrews 11, for example).

One of the difficult things about writing blog posts that nobody else “edits” is that some of the things stated in them can be misconstrued by my reading audience without me even having a clue. However, sometimes clues can come in interesting ways. Like today, for example. After I heard the song mentioned above this afternoon on my car radio, I definitely had an “Ah ha” moment. Hence, I saw the need to further explain my comments, especially in the second blog post, The Times They Are A-Changin.'”

The “fifteen years” I mentioned in that second post (which turned out to actually be almost fourteen years), is in reference to the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001. For most of us 20+ or older, we know exactly where we were on that day when terrorists hijacked our planes and hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, sending them crashing to the ground, as well as the hijacked plane that was flown into the Pentagon building in Washington D.C., and another hijacked plane that went down in a field in Pennsylvania. I was working at the University of Central Florida in Orlando at the time, and the campus was closed down around noon on that day, if I remember right. It was a huge shock to the nation and a wake up call to us that we were not nearly as invincible as we thought we were. Many things changed after that day over the past decade and a half (well, almost) since then, but as I listen to the news on a daily basis almost fourteen years later, with ISIS and terrorism on the march in many areas of our world including some home grown terrorist activities on our own shores, things appear to have only sped up since that fateful day in 2001.

Regarding my comment in that second post that these past six plus years since I lost my job in Houston and all that I have experienced since then, to include starting and continuing to write on this blog, is God’s will for my life is exactly as I meant it, but I should have explained a bit further and since I didn’t, I will do that now.

I’ve been a Christian since I was a very young girl. One of the major topics “back then” and going into adulthood (and it still is a popular topic) is finding God’s will for your life.” I smiled as I typed that as there is just so much confusion on this particular topic and many famous Christians have written on the subject (both living and now dead). It was almost as if once we found “God’s will,” we could relax a bit knowing we were doing what we were meant to do. It was as if “God’s will” was an occupation, in and of itself. And we often hear folks say they felt the “call of God” to go into a certain profession. Now, I’m not writing to discount any of that, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it is easier to find then we think it is, and tougher to actually do, too, if that makes sense.

yieldHere’s the answer: Yield. We must lay aside everything we want and leave it with God and let Him decide. We can’t run our own show and expect to find God’s will in the middle of it. In fact, if we run our own show, we won’t find God’s will at all. We may think we will or do, after all, Christianity’s definition of success is often the same as our American culture’s definition of success, but that doesn’t mean it’s correct. God’s will is never about the “externals” in our lives; it’s about the “internal.” Who do we belong to? Ourselves? Or God? Do we want what we want at any cost to ourselves or others while sitting in church on Sunday morning thinking it is perfectly okay to think and act like that? Many do.

The Prosperity Gospel (also referred to as the health and wealth gospel, or the gospel of success–source here) focuses on what we can get in the “here and now.” Wikipedia defines it as follows:

The Prosperity Gospel is a Christian religious doctrine that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will increase one’s material wealth. Based on non-traditional interpretations of the Bible, often with emphasis on the Book of Malachi, the doctrine views the Bible as a contract between God and humans: if humans have faith in God, he will deliver his promises of security and prosperity. Confessing these promises to be true is perceived as an act of faith, which God will honor.

The doctrine emphasizes the importance of personal empowerment, proposing that it is God’s will for his people to be happy. The atonement (reconciliation with God) is interpreted to include the alleviation of sickness and poverty, which are viewed as curses to be broken by faith. This is believed to be achieved through visualization and positive confession, and is often taught in mechanical and contractual terms. (Quote source here.)

Whether one attends a church that teaches this false gospel or not, greed has always been around and easily enters the hearts of all of us. Jesus had a lot to say about money, and the greatest thing he said is found in Matthew 6:24:

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

In Matthew 19:16-26 (repeated again in Mark 10:17-27), Jesus has the following conversation with a rich young man:

The Rich and the Kingdom of God

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

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

“Which ones?” he inquired.

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

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

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

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

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Far too often we are way too concerned with this material world we live in and what we can get from it. And it doesn’t matter where we reside on the socio-economic scale in society. We are born greedy, and if Jesus makes no real difference in our lives, we will die greedy, too. And it’s amazing what we will do if something or someone crosses our path (regardless of how right or wrong it is) enabling us to acquire some of that wealth and all it can buy. Nobody is immune. And it is the one of the true tests of character, which seems to be waning on a large scale today.

So what did Jesus mean when he said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God and that, in answer to the disciples’ question, “Who then can be saved?” He answered, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Did you get that?

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” We can’t do it, but God can do it. God can change us. And He changes us from the inside out. But do we want to change? If we aren’t willing, then what does God or Jesus Christ really mean to us?

Let’s take money out of the equation for a moment. There is another classic example in Luke 1 regarding the ability of God to do the impossible. And it contains the answer we all must reach in order to accomplish God’s will in our own lives. It is found in Luke 1:26-38:

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JesusHe will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

No plan of Yours can be thwartedThe “impossible” in this story is two-fold: Elizabeth, a relative of Mary’s, conceived a son (John the Baptist) when she was way past child bearing age, and he was the forerunner announcing the Messiah (Jesus), and Mary’s miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit was that of the very Messiah (Jesus). And what was Mary’s response? “Let it be to me according to your word.” She yielded even though at that time she was betrothed to Joseph. Imagine the slander that came her way once it was known that she was pregnant. And if it has not been for an angel announcing to Joseph that it was okay for him to marry her as the child in her was conceived by the Holy Spirit, he might have divorced  her quietly (see Matthew 1:18-24). And as we know from the little that is told to us about her in the Gospel accounts, her life was not an easy one and she lived to see her son crucified and resurrected.

Another example is Job. Throughout the 42 chapters in the Book of Job, at the end Job learned a vital lesson. After the Lord spoke to Job in Chapters 38-41, Job responded with the following statement in Job 42:1-6:

Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things;
    no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
    but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

We live in a society that admires accomplishment, wealth, self-sufficiency, power. “Repent” is not a word that comes easy to most Americans. Yet it is by repentance and yielding that we find our way in truly knowing and obeying and yielding to God’s will. And it is done on a daily basis. It is a matter of the heart.

When I said in my previous post that these past six plus years of unemployment and all that has transpired during this time has been God’s will for my life, I meant it. He has changed me from the inside out, and for the better, too. I see life differently now, with a much broader stroke of the brush. It’s not just my own small world anymore, but it encompasses the globe. While my circumstances have at times been less then desirable for most people living in our culture (e.g., being unemployed for over six years and now living in hotels for the past nine months), they have opened me up to a side of society we often neglect, a side that isn’t very pretty, a side in need of redemption.

God’s will defies boundaries and human understanding, and it is not wrapped up in our preconceived images of success as we see it here in America. And as Job stated above, I know that you [God] can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

I have no idea how much longer I will have to be living in a hotel, and I stopped looking for work a while ago (nobody has responded to my applications in over a year now anyway), yet I know that I am in the palm of God hand, and in His time He will change my circumstances. Like David said in Psalm 27:13-14:

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

After all . . .

Nothing is impossible with God . . . .

YouTube Video: “There’s No Such Thing As Impossible,” (also known as “Impossible”), by Building 429:

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

For God So Loved The World

Jesus name above every nameJohn 3:16 is probably the most familiar and most quoted verse in the Bible. Whenever I quote it, I always like to add the two verses that follow it (John 3:16-18):

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

Too often, we tend to have a one-dimensional image in our mind of who Jesus Christ is to us. He is, indeed, first and foremost, Lord and Savior to those who believe in and trust in him as their Lord and Savior. But beyond that, what do we really know about the character and nature of Jesus Christ?

In answer to the question–What was Jesus like as a person?”–GotQuestions?org states the following:

Although He had “no beauty that we should desire Him…” (Isaiah 53:2), it was His “personality” that drew men to Him. He was a man of great character.

He had a COMPASSIONATE nature. He had compassion on the crowds “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Because of His compassion for them, He healed their diseases (Matthew 14:1420:34), and because of their hunger, He compassionately created enough food to feed more than 5000 (Matthew 15:32).

Jesus was SERIOUS and FOCUSED. He had a mission in life and never got sidetracked from it, knowing the weightiness of it and the shortness of time. His attitude was that of a SERVANT. “He did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). KINDNESS and SELFLESSNESS characterized His personality.

Jesus was SUBMISSIVE to His Father’s will when He came to earth and subsequently went to the cross. He knew that dying on the cross was the only payment His Father could accept for our salvation. He prayed the night of His betrayal by Judas, “O My Father, if it be possible, take this cup of suffering from Me: but let what you want be done, not what I want” (Matthew 26:39). He was a submissive son to Mary and Joseph, as well. He grew up in a normal (sinful) household, yet, “He continued in subjection to them…” (Luke 2:51). He was OBEDIENT to the Father’s will. “He learned obedience through the things that He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus had a heart of MERCY and FORGIVENESS – “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). “…If we admit that we have sinned, He will forgive us our sins…” (1 John 1:9). He was also LOVING in His relationships – “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus” (John 11:5). John was known as the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23).

He had a reputation for being GOOD and CARING. He healed often and in most places where He went in order that they might know who He was! Truly He proved to be the Son of the living God by all the miracles He did, all the while showing concern for the afflictions of those around Him.

HONEST/TRUTHFUL – He never violated His own Word. He spoke truth wherever He went. He lived a life we could follow explicitly. “I am the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE…” (John 14:6). At the same time, He was PEACEABLE. He did not argue His case, nor try to bully His way into people’s hearts.

Jesus was INTIMATE with His followers. He spent quality and quantity time with them. He coveted their fellowship, taught them, and helped them focus on what was eternal. He was also intimate with His Heavenly Father. He prayed to Him regularly, listened, obeyed, and cared about God’s reputation. (Angered at the money changers who were buying and selling in the temple, He said firmly and AUTHORITATIVELY, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you have made it a robbers den!”) He was obviously a STRONG, but quiet LEADER. Everywhere He went (until the inevitable decline), the people followed Him, eager to listen to His teaching.

He was PATIENT, knowing and understanding our frailties. He was and is “patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

These are traits that all believers should desire to become a part of their “personality” and character. The things that drew people to Jesus should be the very things that draw people to us. Jesus has given those who believe in Him His Holy Spirit, who enables us to be constantly changing into His image (Romans 8:29). This will only come about as we YIELD to Him for who He truly is…LORD of the universe! We must believe that He is conforming us into His image, and not resist His will for us. Even as Jesus never drew attention to Himself, (but rather to His Father), even so, we ought to say as John the Baptist did, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). (Quote source here.)

jesus-names-word-cloudThere are over 70 questions related to Jesus Christ with links to the answers on GotQuestions?org at this link. There are also approximately 200 names and titles attributed to Jesus Christ found in the Bible. Here are a few listed on GotQuestions?org:

The Nature of Christ
Chief Cornerstone: 
(Ephesians 2:20) – Jesus is the cornerstone of the building which is His church. He cements together Jew and Gentile, male and female—all saints from all ages and places into one structure built on faith in Him which is shared by all.

Firstborn over all creation: (Colossians 1:15) – Not the first thing God created, as some incorrectly claim, because verse 16 says all things were created through and for Christ. Rather, the meaning is that Christ occupies the rank and pre-eminence of the first-born over all things, that He sustains the most exalted rank in the universe; He is pre-eminent above all others; He is at the head of all things.

Head of the Church: (Ephesians 1:224:155:23) – Jesus Christ, not a king or a pope, is the only supreme, sovereign ruler of the Church—those for whom He died and who have placed their faith in Him alone for salvation.

Holy One: (Acts 3:14Psalm 16:10) – Christ is holy, both in his divine and human nature, and the fountain of holiness to His people. By His death, we are made holy and pure before God.

Judge: (Acts 10:422 Timothy 4:8) – The Lord Jesus was appointed by God to judge the world and to dispense the rewards of eternity.

King of kings and Lord of lords: (1 Timothy 6:15Revelation 19:16) – Jesus has dominion over all authority on the earth, over all kings and rulers, and none can prevent Him from accomplishing His purposes. He directs them as He pleases.

Light of the World: (John 8:12) – Jesus came into a world darkened by sin and shed the light of life and truth through His work and His words. Those who trust in Him have their eyes opened by Him and walk in the light.

Prince of peace: (Isaiah 9:6) – Jesus came not to bring peace to the world as in the absence of war, but peace between God and man who were separated by sin. He died to reconcile sinners to a holy God.

Son of God: (Luke 1:35John 1:49) – Jesus is the “only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14). Used 42 times in the New Testament, “Son of God” affirms the deity of Christ.

Son of man: (John 5:27) – Used as a contrast to “Son of God” this phrase affirms the humanity of Christ which exists alongside His divinity.

Word: (John 1:11 John 5:7-8) – The Word is the second Person of the triune God, who said it and it was done, who spoke all things out of nothing in the first creation, who was in the beginning with God the Father, and was God, and by whom all things were created.

Word of God: (Revelation 19:12-13) – This is the name given to Christ that is unknown to all but Himself. It denotes the mystery of His divine person.

Word of Life: (1 John 1:1) – Jesus not only spoke words that lead to eternal life, but according to this verse He is the very words of life, referring to the eternal life of joy and fulfillment which He provides.

His Position in the Trinity
Alpha and Omega: 
(Revelation 1:822:13) – Jesus declared Himself to be the beginning and end of all things, a reference to no one but the true God. This statement of eternality could apply only to God.

Emmanuel: (Isaiah 9:6Matthew 1:23) – Literally “God with us.” Both Isaiah and Matthew affirm that the Christ who would be born in Bethlehem would be God Himself who came to earth in the form of a man to live among His people.

I Am: (John 8:58, with Exodus 3:14) – When Jesus ascribed to Himself this title, the Jews tried to stone Him for blasphemy. They understood that He was declaring Himself to be the eternal God, the unchanging Jehovah of the Old Testament.

Lord of All: (Acts 10:36) – Jesus is the sovereign ruler over the whole world and all things in it, of all the nations of the world, and particularly of the people of God’s choosing, Gentiles as well as Jews.

True God: (1 John 5:20) – This is a direct assertion that Jesus, being the true God, is not only divine, but is the Divine. Since the Bible teaches there is only one God, this can only be describing His nature as part of the triune God.

His Work on Earth
Author and Perfecter of our Faith: (Hebrews 12:2) – Salvation is accomplished through the faith that is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9) and Jesus is the founder of our faith and the finisher of it as well. From first to last, He is the source and sustainer of the faith that saves us.

Bread of Life: (John 6:356:48) – Just as bread sustains life in the physical sense, Jesus is the Bread that gives and sustains eternal life. God provided manna in the wilderness to feed His people and He provided Jesus to give us eternal life through His body, broken for us.

Bridegroom: (Matthew 9:15) – The picture of Christ as the Bridegroom and the Church as His Bride reveals the special relationship we have with Him. We are bound to each other in a covenant of grace that cannot be broken.

Deliverer: (Romans 11:26) – Just as the Israelites needed God to deliver them from bondage to Egypt, so Christ is our Deliverer from the bondage of sin.

Good Shepherd: (John 10:1114) – In Bible times, a good shepherd was willing to risk his own life to protect his sheep from predators. Jesus laid down His life for His sheep, and He cares for and nurtures and feeds us.

High Priest: (Hebrews 2:17) – The Jewish high priest entered the Temple once a year to make atonement for the sins of the people. The Lord Jesus performed that function for His people once for all at the cross.

Lamb of God: (John 1:29) – God’s Law called for the sacrifice of a spotless, unblemished Lamb as an atonement for sin. Jesus became that Lamb led meekly to the slaughter, showing His patience in His sufferings and His readiness to die for His own.

Mediator: (1 Timothy 2:5) – A mediator is one who goes between two parties to reconcile them. Christ is the one and only Mediator who reconciles men and God. Praying to Mary or the saints is idolatry because it bypasses this most important role of Christ and ascribes the role of Mediator to another.

Rock: (1 Corinthians 10:4) – As life-giving water flowed from the rock Moses struck in the wilderness, Jesus is the Rock from which flow the living waters of eternal life. He is the Rock upon whom we build our spiritual houses, so that no storm can shake them.

Resurrection and Life: (John 11:25) – Embodied within Jesus is the means to resurrect sinners to eternal life, just as He was resurrected from the grave. Our sin is buried with Him and we are resurrected to walk in newness of life.

Savior: (Matthew 1:21Luke 2:11) – He saves His people by dying to redeem them, by giving the Holy Spirit to renew them by His power, by enabling them to overcome their spiritual enemies, by sustaining them in trials and in death, and by raising them up at the last day.

True Vine: (John 15:1) – The True Vine supplies all that the branches (believers) need to produce the fruit of the Spirit— the living water of salvation and nourishment from the Word.

Way, Truth, Life: (John 14:6) – Jesus is the only path to God, the only Truth in a world of lies, and the only true source of eternal life. He embodies all three in both a temporal and an eternal sense. (Quote source here.)

BibleGateway.com also lists a number of the titles and names of Jesus Christ (see list below) at this link (Quote source here):

Title and Names of Jesus Christ

These, in their rich variety, throw light on either the person of Jesus Christ or on some aspect of his ministry.

Titles relating to Jesus Christ’s identity

The Exact Image of God Heb 1:3; See also John 14:9; 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15

The First and Last, the Alpha and Omega Rev 22:13 Alpha” and “Omega” are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. See also Rev 1:17; Rev 2:8; Rev 21:6

The Word of God John 1:1; See also Mal 3:1; John 1:14; 1 John 1:1; Rev 19:13

The Last Adam 1 Cor 15:45; See also Rom 5:14

The Bright Morning Star Rev 22:16; See also 2 Peter 1:19

The Rising Sun Mal 4:2; Luke 1:78

The Living One Rev 1:18; See also John 5:26; John 11:25

The Amen Rev 3:14; See also 2 Cor 1:20

The True light John 1:3-9; See also Isaiah 9:2; Luke 2:32; John 3:19-21; John 8:12; John 12:46

The Righteous One Acts 3:14; See also Jer 23:6; Jer 33:15-16; Acts 7:52; Acts 22:14

The Lion of Judah Rev 5:5

The King of the Jews Matt 2:1-2; Matt 27:37

The “I am” sayings of John’s Gospel:

John 8:58 See also: John 6:35the Bread of Life;
John 8:12; John 9:5the Light of the World;
John 10:7-10the Gate;
John 10:11-14the Good Shepherd;
John 11:25the Resurrection and the Life;
John 14:6the Way, the Truth and the Life;
John 15:1-5the True Vine

Titles relating to Jesus Christ’s ministry

The Seed of Abraham Gal 3:16; See also Gen 12:7; Gen 13:15; Gen 24:7

The Root and Offspring of David Rev 22:16

The Faithful Witness Rev 1:5; See also Isaiah 55:4; John 18:37; Rev 3:14

Immanuel Matt 1:23; See also Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 8:8

The Capstone Matt 21:42Mark 12:10Luke 20:17; See also Psalm 118:22; Acts 4:11; Eph 2:20-21; 1 Peter 2:6-7

The Rock 1 Cor 10:4; See also Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 28:16; Rom 9:32-33; 1 Peter 2:8

The Bridegroom John 3:29–John the Baptist describing himself as the bridegroom’s friend, and Jesus Christ as the bridegroom. See also Matt 9:15Mark 2:19-20Luke 5:34-35; Matt 25:1-10; Rev 19:7; Rev 21:2

The Firstborn among many brothers Rom 8:29

The Firstfruits 1 Cor 15:23

The Firstborn from the dead Rev 1:5

The Heir of all things Heb 1:2

Titles relating to Jesus Christ’s authority

Lord Acts 2:25 See also Matt 7:21; Luke 6:46; John 6:68; Rom 10:13; 1 Cor 3:5; Col 3:23; 1 Thes 4:16-17; 2 Peter 1:11

The Head of the Church Eph 1:22-23; Eph 4:15; Eph 5:23; Col 2:19

The Chief Shepherd 1 Peter 5:4 See also Matt 2:6; Micah 5:2; John 10:11; 1 Peter 2:25; Heb 13:20

Prince Acts 5:31

Rabbi John 1:3849; John 20:16

Titles emphasizing Jesus Christ’s saving work

Jesus: the Lord saves Matt 1:21

Man of Sorrows Isaiah 53:3

The Passover Lamb 1 Cor 5:7

A Horn of Salvation Luke 1:69

The Consolation of Israel Luke 1:68; Luke 2:2538

The Deliverer and Redeemer Rom 11:26; Isaiah 59:20

The Author and Perfecter of Salvation Heb 2:10; See also Heb 5:9; Heb 12:2

Titles stressing Jesus Christ’s mediatory status

The Mediator 1 Tim 2:5

The High Priest Heb 3:1; See also Heb 2:17; Heb 6:20

The Son of Man Luke 19:10; See also Matt 11:19; Luke 5:24; John 3:13; John 6:53; Acts 7:56; Rev 1:13

See also (click on links):

Jesus, the Christ
  Christ, Son of David
  Christ, Son of God
  Christ, Son of Man
  Christ, the Lord
  Immanuel
  Messiah, coming of
  Christ, high priest
  Christ as Lamb
  Christ as Saviour
  Christ as shepherd
  Servants of the Lord

Jesus Christ is so much more than we can ever imagine . . .

How can anyone resist a Savior like this?

YouTube Video: “At The Cross (Love Ran Red)” by Chris Tomlin:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

God Always Has A Purpose

TransformedBack on June 22, 2013, I wrote a blog post titled, The Problem of Evil–Habakkuk Revisited.” It opened with the following paragraph:

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

We don’t have to look very far to see that evil is exploding all over our world today, especially in the Middle East right now. However, God did not create nor does He sanction evil. In fact, He cannot look on evil nor can He be a part of it. However, it is clear that evil exists. So let’s start off by defining evil. GotQuestions?org defines evil in contrast to good as follows:

Goodness has existed as an attribute of God from all eternity. While God is perfectly holy and just, He is also perfectly good. Just as God has always existed, so too has goodness as it is a facet of God’s holy character. The same cannot be said for evil. Evil came into being with the rebellion of Satan and subsequently entered the physical universe with the fall of Adam. As Christian apologist Greg Koukl has said, “Human freedom was used in such a way as to diminish goodness in the world, and that diminution, that lack of goodness, that is what we call evil.” When God created Adam, He created him good, and He also created him free.

However, in creating Adam free, God indirectly created the possibility of evil, while not creating evil itself. When Adam chose to disobey God, he made this possibility a reality. The same scenario had previously played out when Satan fell by failing to serve and obey God. So it turns out that evil is not a direct creation of God; rather, evil is the result of persons (both angelic and human) exercising their freedom wrongly.

While evil is certainly real, it is important to recognize that evil does not have existence in and of itself. Rather, it only exists as a privation (or a parasite) on the good. It exists in the same way that a wound exists on an arm or as rust exists on a car. The rust cannot exist on its own any more than cold can exist without the existence of heat or darkness can exist without the existence of light.

Despite the horrible effects of evil on our world, the Christian believer can take comfort in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ recorded for us in the Gospel of John, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). More importantly, we look forward with great anticipation to our home in heaven where the ultimate evil, death, will finally be destroyed along with the “mourning, crying and pain” which it inevitably produces (Revelation 21:4). (Quote source and complete explanation available here.)

Dictionary.com defines evil as:

1. morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked: evil deeds; an evil life.

2. harmful; injurious: evil laws.

3. characterized or accompanied by misfortune or suffering; unfortunate; disastrous: to be fallen on evil days.

4. due to actual or imputed bad conduct or character: an evil reputation.

5. marked by anger, irritability, irascibility, etc.: He is known for his evil disposition.

GoodVsEvilSince God created us with a free will, because of our human nature, we are all capable of doing or being evil to others. While we were created to obey, enjoy and worship God, in our free will we chose not to do so, and it has been handed down to every single generation since Adam and Eve (see Genesis 1-3). Our adversary before us (whom Eve met and succumbed to–as well as Adam did through Eve–in the Garden of Eden) had the same option to obey or disobey God (see How, why, and when did Satan fall from Heaven?” at GotQuestions?org, and for the skeptics among us who laugh as the mention of the mere existence of such a being as Satan, see Does Satan Exist?” also at GotQuestions?org). However, it is not a topic I’ll be addressing on my blog since much has already been written about our adversary and his existence in our world by many others including scholars. The same goes for the topic of “free will” (see answer to the question, Is God sovereign or do we have free will?” at GotQuestions?org).

Suffice to ask this question: “Do we have the option between doing right (e.g., good) and doing wrong (e.g., evil) in thought, word or deed at any give moment in time?”

Answer: Of course we do, and we choose to do one or the other all the time. Evil lurks in all of us.

Before I go further with this topic, let’s read what Hebrews 6:1-12 has to say regarding our ability to understand spiritual matters (which reflects on the choices that we make on a daily basis):

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

There are too many skeptics among us in the Christian world, let alone the rest of society, regarding deeper spiritual matters that clearly exist and are operating in our world. Too many people in the past several decades have said a quick and easy “Jesus prayer” in the hope of obtaining salvation without thinking anything further will be required of them beyond that point (and too many pastors and teachers nowadays don’t emphasize the need for spiritual maturity). That is not to say that salvation is gained through works (or by anything that we can do on own own). It is a free gift from God through Jesus Christ (see John 3:16-18), and we can do nothing on our own or in our own power to receive it. We must believe by faith in Jesus Christ. However, spiritual maturity and growing as a Christian is a vital part of the Christian life. Unfortunately, maturity in general has taken a hit over the past several decades in our society, not to mention in our relationship with God (for those of us who believe in Him), and it comes from our selfish desires that battle for supremacy within us, as stated in James 4:1-12:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

We have gained a rather flawed concept of what the Christian life is supposed to look like over the past several decades, and do not understand the ultimate purpose of God which has never changed since the beginning of time. He did not create us so that we can ask for and/or acquire all of the material possessions or money we can possibly get our hands on (although you wouldn’t know it by looking at our culture today). Read that passage in James 4:1-12 again (see above) if you think so or even tend to go in that direction. No . . . our selfish desires, greed, and accumulation of stuff is not God’s plan for us. That God gives us good things is one thing, but our cravings for more of them is quite another. And our greed for more of anything is truly evil at it’s very core.

God’s purpose from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22 is this:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:8-9).

That’s it. It’s not about what we selfishly seek after or want more of that matters. It is about God and the salvation He has provided through Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection from the dead and His free gift of eternal life (see John 3:16-18) that matters. God didn’t send His Son to this earth so that we could have “bigger, better, more, more, more” of anything that we happen to crave. He is not a genie in a lamp to do our will at our whim or bidding because of our own selfish desires. We are here to do His will. And without spiritual maturity, we will never know what His will is for us, and we will keep on seeking after our own selfish desires and what we want while asking God to put His stamp of approval on it.

We often have this inane idea in America that success as a Christian is in the outward accumulation of all that looks good and acts like “success” in our society. And we erroneously think that anyone who doesn’t fit that particular model of success can’t possibly be on the right track. My guess is that John the Baptist (see John 1) wouldn’t have been welcome in many of our churches today neither by his appearance nor in his message. And what about the example of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 who were wealthy and ended up dead? They were a part of the early church, but their motives were selfish. Our image of “Christianity” today often fits the model of the Pharisees far more then it fits what real, genuine Christianity is all about.

At this juncture, I want to make clear that I am not talking about money or material possessions in and of themselves as there is nothing wrong with either. Rather, it is the greed so many of us in America have allowed to take hold of our lives in striving for the accumulation of more money and material possessions at the expense of our relationship with God and others, and never being satisfied with what we have (see Hebrews 13:5). And that attitude has become pervasive in our culture over the past several decades, and it is diametrically opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This life is not about us and what we can get from it at the expense of others and our relationship with God. There is an eternity out there at the end of this life and nobody seems to be paying attention to that very clear fact. We in the Christian community are often striving for the same accolades, accomplishments, money and material possessions as the rest of our society, and we are entirely missing the point.

A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) wrote the following in a devotion found in the book, Tozer on The Almighty God,” compiled by Ron Eggert and published in 2004:

God Always Has A Purpose

God never acts without purpose—never. People act without purpose. I feel that a great deal of what we do in the church today is purposeless. But God never acts without a purpose. Intellect is an attribute of the deity. God has intellect and this means that God thinks; and so God never does anything without an intelligent purpose. Nothing in this world is without meaning.

God put the universe together with a purpose and there isn’t a single useless thing anywhere; not any spare parts; everything fits into everything else. God made it like that. . . .

. . .He created the flowers, for instance, to be beautiful; He created birds to sing; He created the trees to bear fruit and the beasts to feed and clothe mankind. And in so saying, these people affirm what the Holy Scriptures and Moses and the prophets and the apostles and saints since the world began have all said. God made man for a purpose and that purpose is given by the catechism; the answer is, “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” God made us to be worshipers. That was the purpose of God in bringing us in to the world. (Devotion for November 30).

God is loveGod did not create us so that we could chase after everything that we want in this life. He created us with the same purpose He had in mind when he created our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, and that purpose is “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Read that last part again . . . “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Unfortunately, just like our first ancestors, we want what we want when we want it, and we really don’t trust God to give us what we need, and that separates us from God.

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

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.”

We need to start believing it, and not be filled with selfish motives like Ananias and Sapphira who ended up dead because of it. . . .

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.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.
~Proverbs 3:5-8

YouTube Video: “God of Wonders” sung by Third Day:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here
Photo #4 credit here

By God’s Spirit

Zechariah 4v6

‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. ~Zechariah 4:6

“. . . you will receive power
when the Holy Spirit comes on you;
and you will be my witnesses . . .
to the ends of the earth.”
~Acts 1:8

Jesus Christ made this statement to his followers after his resurrection (on the third day after he was crucified), and right before he ascended to Heaven (see Acts 1:1-11), which ended his physical earthly ministry at that time.

Right before Jesus was crucified, he told his disciples the following in John 14:1-27 (NIV):

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Jesus the Way to the Father

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid . . . .”

“. . . the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you . . . .” Unfortunately, there is much misunderstanding about the Holy Spirit and how he works in the lives of those who truly trust and believe in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is the very Spirit of God, and he is one of three distinct persons (God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit) that make up the Godhead–the Trinity. The Holy Spirit also has a personality with a mind, will, and emotions (see this article, Who is the Holy Spirit? by Mary Fairchild at this link). And his attributes include the following (see page 2 of Who is the Holy Spirit? at this link):

And the Holy Spirit has gifts for each of us who believe in Jesus Christ, which are stated in I Corinthians 12:

 Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Brothers and sisters, I want you to know about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. You know that at one time you were unbelievers. You were somehow drawn away to worship statues of gods that couldn’t even speak. So I want you to know that no one who is speaking with the help of God’s Spirit says, “May Jesus be cursed.” And without the help of the Holy Spirit no one can say, “Jesus is Lord.”

There are different kinds of gifts. But they are all given to believers by the same Spirit. There are different ways to serve. But they all come from the same Lord. There are different ways the Spirit works. But the same God is working in all these ways and in all people.

The Holy Spirit is given to each of us in a special way. That is for the good of all. To some people the Spirit gives a message of wisdom. To others the same Spirit gives a message of knowledge. To others the same Spirit gives faith. To others that one Spirit gives gifts of healing. To others he gives the power to do miracles. To others he gives the ability to prophesy. To others he gives the ability to tell the spirits apart. To others he gives the ability to speak in different kinds of languages they had not known before. And to still others he gives the ability to explain what was said in those languages. All the gifts are produced by one and the same Spirit. He gives gifts to each person, just as he decides.

One Body but Many Parts

There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ. We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit. And so we are formed into one body. It didn’t matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free people. We were all given the same Spirit to drink. So the body is not made up of just one part. It has many parts.

Suppose the foot says, “I am not a hand. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body. And suppose the ear says, “I am not an eye. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If the whole body were an ear, how could it smell? God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be. If all the parts were the same, how could there be a body? As it is, there are many parts. But there is only one body.

The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” In fact, it is just the opposite. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the ones we can’t do without. The parts that we think are less important we treat with special honor. The private parts aren’t shown. But they are treated with special care. The parts that can be shown don’t need special care. But God has put together all the parts of the body. And he has given more honor to the parts that didn’t have any. In that way, the parts of the body will not take sides. All of them will take care of one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy.

You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it. First, God has placed apostles in the church. Second, he has placed prophets in the church. Third, he has placed teachers in the church. Then he has given to the church miracles and gifts of healing. He also has given the gift of helping others and the gift of guiding the church. God also has given the gift of speaking in different kinds of languages. Is everyone an apostle? Is everyone a prophet? Is everyone a teacher? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in languages they had not known before? Do all explain what is said in those languages? But above all, you should want the more important gifts.

Love Is Necessary

But now I will show you the best way of all [which is love–the greatest gift of all–see I Corinthians 13].

theholyspiritOften, in our fast paced society, we (who are Christian) are often too busy making a living and trying to squeeze in everything that we can to stop and consider what the Holy Spirit would have us to do. If we acknowledge him at all, it might be in his giving us the abilities that we have to make a living and provide for our families, but if we read the list of “gifts” above, those gifts are not about us what we want to get from him in this life. No . . . those gifts are given to us to expand the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of self on earth. Those gifts include wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophesy, spiritual discernment, the gift of tongues (the ability to speak in unknown languages) and the interpretation of the same. When was the last time we gave any thought to these gifts of the Spirit as we rush through our days in an effort to secure our own place in this world, make a name and a place for ourselves, making more money, and acquiring more “stuff”? Our focus is often on us instead of God, and we need to shift our focus back to the One we claim to follow.

For those of us who truly believe in Jesus Christ, Ephesians 1:11-14 states:

In him [Jesus Christ] we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Genuine believers are “marked” with the Holy Spirit living in them; however, as 1 Thessalonians 5:19 states, we can “quench” the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives by running our own lives in our own power and going our own way if we choose to do so. As stated in the answer to the following question on GotQuestions?org, What does it mean to grieve/quench the Holy Spirit?”:

Both quenching and grieving the Spirit are similar in their effects. Both hinder a godly lifestyle. Both happen when a believer sins against God and follows his or her own worldly desires. The only correct road to follow is the road that leads the believer closer to God and purity, and farther away from the world and sin. Just as we do not like to be grieved, and just as we do not seek to quench what is good—so we should not grieve or quench the Holy Spirit by refusing to follow His leading.(Quote source and full article at this link.)

That is not to say that we can attain “sinless perfection” in this life. “The Bible teaches that, while we are in the flesh, we will always struggle with a sin nature (see Romans 7:14-25). No one will be “perfect” (sinless) until we reach heaven.” (Quote source here.) At it’s core it is about a heart attitude, and who it is we love and want to serve–self or God.

Ephesians 4:30-31 also makes the following statement regarding our ability to grieve the Holy Spirit:

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

So how do we know whether or not we allowing the Holy Spirit’s leading or grieving him by the way we are living our lives? I read a couple of short devotions yesterday regarding the Holy Spirit that I will share in partial answer to this question. They are taken from the book, Tozer on the Holy Spirit,” compiled from the writings and/or sermons of Dr. A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) by Marilynne E. Foster:

Am I really Converted?

As the body without the spirit is dead,
so faith without works is dead also.
~James 2:26

I believe in the deeper Christian life and experience–oh yes! But I believe we are mistaken when we try to add the deeper life to an imperfect salvation, obtained imperfectly by an imperfect concept of the whole thing.

Under the working of the Spirit of God through such men as Finney and Wesley, no one would dare to rise in a meeting and say, “I am a Christian,” if he had not surrendered his whole being to God and had taken Jesus Christ as his Lord. . . .

Today, we let them say they are saved no matter how imperfect and incomplete the transaction, with the provisio that the deeper Christian life can be tacked on at sometime in the future.

Can it be that we really think that we do not owe Jesus Christ our obedience?

We have owed Him obedience ever since the second we cried out to Him for salvation, and if we do not give Him . . . obedience, I have reason to wonder if we are really converted. (Source: Tozer on the Holy Spirit,” April 13.)

The second reading speaks to how the Holy Spirit becomes one with us:

Who is the Holy Spirit?

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
he shall teach you all things. . . .
~John 14:26

How shall we think of the Holy Spirit? The Bible and Christian theology agree to teach that He is a Person, endowed with every quality of personality, such as emotion, intellect and will. He knows, He wills, He loves; He feels affection, antipathy and compassion. He thinks, sees, hears and speaks and performs any act of which personality is capable.

One quality belonging to the Holy Spirit, of great interest and importance to every seeking heart, is penetrability. He can penetrate mind; He can penetrate another spirit, such as the human spirit. He can achieve complete penetration of and actual intermingling with the human spirit. He can invade the human heart and make room for Himself without expelling anything essentially human. The integrity of the human personality remains unimpaired. Only moral evil is forced to withdraw. (Source: Tozer on the Holy Spirit,” January 7.)

I’ll end this post with the words from Galatians 5:13-26, which tell us how to live by the Spirit:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness . . .

Faithfulness, gentleness and self-control . . .

Against such things there is no law . . . .

YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Not Limiting God

Don't Limit GodI left Orlando, Florida, on September 26, 2014, after spending six months there and headed for Houston, Texas. I had no idea what might be waiting for me in Houston, but I was determined to find out. I’ve never been able to get Houston out of my mind ever since I lived here six years ago for exactly one year (September 25, 2008 to September 25, 2009), even though the job I relocated to Houston for turned out to be the biggest bust career-wise in my entire life. And, it has also left me unemployed for the past 5 1/2+ years now. But I didn’t blame the city. No, it’s not Houston’s fault. I just landed in a really bad place to work. But I fell in love with the city.

So I came back . . . .

Orlando to HoustonI don’t know what I expected to find as I made the 18-hour drive back to Houston, but I love taking road trips so I was full of anticipation. I’ve been looking for a wide open door for the past 5 1/2 years and so far I haven’t found it no matter how hard I’ve looked and tried. I’ve even tried to wedge it open on my own a few times only to discover I couldn’t do it. Everybody needs a little help at times, but I just wasn’t finding it. But I’m not a quitter, and I don’t give up. So I decided to take my search back to where the bad stuff (long term unemployment) all began when I lost that job in Houston in April 2009.

And Texas is certainly a big enough state to find a wide open door . . . 

Right???

The first thing I went looking for when I arrived over six weeks ago was inexpensive housing. I checked out all the “room for rent” ads as well as apartments and temporary sublets on Craigslist and in other sources and answered a bunch of them. The response, unfortunately, was practically zilch; and of the few who did respond, the price was too high on the first one and I was also expected to share a bathroom with three other tenants (are you kidding me???) in a house in The Woodlands, and the second person who responded with a cryptic email stating, “Can show on Wednesday,” never wrote back when I responded asking for a time and location so I could look at the room for rent. Another couple of responses directed me go to Roomster.com to find them and once I got there, I discovered that after I created an account it is not a free service as one has to pay a fee to contact those folks advertising rooms for rent. And it’s not cheap, either.

I also checked out apartment complexes, especially those that catered to seniors and low income (I qualify for both) and found waiting lists a mile long (well, of up to a year or longer). And all the time I’ve been doing this I’ve been staying at weekly-rate hotels. Weekly-rate hotels are much cheaper than staying at a regular hotel but still very pricey overall when compared to rent on an apartment, but I’m unemployed and living on a very limited income (social security) that isn’t enough income to qualify to rent a regular apartment.

Talk about being between a rock and a hard place . . . .

Also, being a “new” senior on social security now that I turned the magic age of 62 of few months ago, I could officially apply for low-income senior housing. Someone I had talked with in the past couple of weeks suggested an “Interfaith” organization as a place where I might find some help, so this past Wednesday I visited that organization and got a two-page list of apartments in the area (including several senior, low-income and “Section 8 subsidized–HUD–housing”) so I started down the list calling a bunch of them. Most had waiting lists or the rent was too high, but I decided to visit three of them in The Woodlands as I really like that particular suburb in the Houston area. The first place I visited was absolutely huge, and the woman I talked with was very friendly. I told her I was new to all this “senior” stuff and she gave me a lot of information including the 30-page HUD application. 30 pages!!! I thanked her for the information and then visited the other two complexes that were nearby and much smaller (I really liked the third complex the best–a small complex with 66 units and a very cozy feeling–but with a waiting list of up to a year). And, I got a copy of the HUD application from them, too. I have to tell you that one look at that application is a bit discouraging. And I don’t like anyone nosing into my business to that extent–talk about an invasion of privacy!

"Rock, Hard Place" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.Now before I go any further I want to mention that I am an able bodied U.S. citizen who has been actively seeking work (in and outside of my career field) for the past 5 1/2 years since the day after I was fired in April 2009. Also, I didn’t want to have to take Social Security at 62. I want to WORK!!! And I can earn a whole lot more money working then living off of my small social security check, and that is exactly what I want to do, too!!! There should be no need for me to have to apply for and live in public housing if someone will just give me a break, a break I’ve been actively seeking for over 5 1/2 years now!!!

With that being said, I took the three applications back to the weekly-rate hotel where I had been staying for the past three weeks and decided to give it some serious thought as to what I wanted to do over the weekend. My last week’s stay at this particular weekly-rate hotel ended on Friday (two days ago) at noon, and I made the decision to leave there on Friday instead of staying for a fourth week. I planned to get an inexpensive hotel room for a couple of days in order to not be tied into an entire week at a weekly-rate hotel. There is no refund if one leaves before the end of the week (which starts on the day the room is rented). I needed to decide whether or not to stay another week in Houston since most of the housing options that I could afford required the 30-page HUD application and up to a one-year wait to get into an apartment. And, where am I supposed to live while I’m waiting on somebody’s list to be called? Answering “room for rent” ads has gone absolutely nowhere for six weeks now, and I can’t afford the weekly-rate hotels long-term on my social security checks. I never expected for it to take this long to find some type of affordable housing (especially a “room for rent” in a home).

Well, Friday and most of Saturday I spent time trying to decide whether to stay in Houston after six weeks of going nowhere fast or leave, and on Saturday I did some extensive driving around Houston in other areas as up to this point I had primarily been looking in the North Houston, Spring, The Woodlands, and Conroe areas. I had responded to ads in other parts of the city, too, over the weeks I’ve been here and that’s when I got the “Go to Roomster.com” response. I drove over to the west side of Houston including the Cypress and Katy areas and then decided to take at look at the east side of Houston in the Baytown area. So I hopped on I-10 which is the main interstate that cuts right through the heart of Houston as it’s the quickest way to get from the west side to the east side of the city, and just as I was approaching the downtown area in massive traffic (and it wasn’t even rush hour as it was Saturday) every vehicle traveling on I-10 came to a screeching halt and at that point it was an incredibly slow crawl for what seemed like miles on end. Finally, I noticed a big sign off to the left that said, “I-10 closed on Nov 7th and Saturday (8th).” I couldn’t believe it. They closed a main artery through Houston that close to a million vehicles travel on on a daily basis? Whoa . . . The mass of traffic at a standstill or slow crawl stretched as far as the eye could see.

Well, I happened to be in the left lane of traffic and noticed a sign for the exit to I-59 North that was just up ahead on the left. I-59 North goes back to the northeast section of Houston so I decided to take it and get out of the mess on I-10. As I approached FM 1960 (a main road in the North Houston area) I exited on FM 1960 and ended up in Humble which is only a few miles from where I had been staying in that weekly-rate hotel.

By this time I was tired and hungry and sick of all the traffic jams, and I knew I just wanted to find a room for the night and get off the road for a while. I noticed a sign for a hotel sort of hidden off the main road and decided to turn in and check it out. The nightly rate was way out of my price range and I almost left but instead asked if they had a weekly rate. Well, the weekly rate was a much better deal and not all that much more than I was paying at the previous weekly-rate hotel I’d been staying in for the past three weeks. And this particular hotel is brand new and just opened a week ago for business (it’s part of a chain), and the manager asked me if I wanted to look at a room. I said, “Sure!”

Well, when the manager opened the door to the room my jaw almost dropped open. It is huge and beautiful and everything in it is new. It has a sofa and coffee table, king-size bed, a small refrigerator and microwave and 42″ HD TV with a bunch of cable stations on an entertainment center, a desk and chair, and the quality of the furnishings is excellent. And, it has a 12′ high ceiling. And it’s also beautifully designed and very colorful. I asked him again what the weekly rate was as I could hardly believe I was getting all of this for what he quoted me considering I paid only a little less for far less (and a much smaller room) at the weekly-rate hotel I stayed at just a few miles down the same road to the west. Without even blinking an eye I said, “I’ll take it!”

So here I am for this next week . . .

Maybe things are starting to look up after six weeks. At least they look pretty darn good right now in this hotel room. While I don’t know what this next week (my seventh week) in Houston holds for me, I’m glad I didn’t leave when I felt so discouraged on Friday or Saturday. There’s a saying that’s been around for a long time now and I’m not sure where it originated, but it goes like this:

It's always too soon to quit

Yes, it is . . . “it’s always too soon to quit.” As I mentioned earlier in this post, I’m not a quitter, even when I get discouraged. And despite the obstacles I’ve found in my first six weeks here, there was something deep inside of me that said I wasn’t ready to give up on Houston just yet. But at this point in time I needed a sign to show me what to do as I honestly didn’t know what to do yesterday. I knew as I headed toward the east side of Houston on I-10 that it wouldn’t take much to just keep on going on I-10 back to Florida and throw in the towel. It’s really hard to know how to make the right decision when one is feeling discouraged. And, if it had not been for that huge mess on I-10 yesterday I would have most likely ended up on the east side of Houston and quite possibly just kept on going at that point. Fortunately, I couldn’t leave that way as the interstate was closed, so I hopped on I-59 North to get out of that mess which took me back to the area of Houston I really like, and I found this hotel in the midst of it. And it was the sign I needed to remind me that “it’s always too soon to quit.”

This morning I read a devotion I received via email from Leading the Way,” titled, Not Limiting God,” and it was a great reminder to me to never limit God even in the midst of feeling major discouragement while being in the middle of a huge traffic jam. Here is that devotion:

Not Limiting God

By Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

It’s natural to look out for number one. But this focus on self takes us off course in our walk of faith. We may profess devotion and obedience to God, yet we seldom are willing to give up anything for Him. In Genesis 22, we see that Abraham was told to give up not just a little something—he was told to give up his long-awaited and treasured son, Isaac.

“Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you’” (Genesis 22:1-2).

Can you imagine the pain of hearing those words? After years of waiting for his promised son, Abraham had now been called to sacrifice him. Most of us would claim that we had misheard God. We would try to bargain with Him or to run and hide our beloved treasure from Him. Yet the Bible gives no indication that Abraham put up a fight.

How could he go along with such a plan? Abraham’s faith was bigger than his fear of losing his son forever. After a lifetime of lessons in his walk of faith, Abraham had finally learned to not limit God with human thinking.

Prayer: God, help me to be totally surrendered to You and Your plan for my life. Help me not to put my human limits on who You are and what You can do, for You are far greater than I can even imagine. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

“Who has prescribed his ways for him, or said to him, ‘You have done wrong’?” (Job 36:23).

I don’t know what this next week holds, but I know Who holds it in His hands. I just have to keep my hands off of it and let each day unfold as I leave it with Him to guide me. One thing I keep learning over and over again especially during these past 5 1/2 years of wandering around in the land of the unemployed is that God is always up to something, even when we can’t see it or know what it is He is doing. His ways are, indeed, not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).

If someone in my reading audience is going through a season of discouragement, I hope this post has given you a bit of encouragement. I’ve had my share of discouragement and disappointments during these past six weeks in Houston (as I’ve had during these past 5 1/2 years of unemployment), but I’ve learned over and over again to let go of what I want (my wants are so very few anymore) or think should be happening by now and hold nothing back from God (including those things and/or people that have become my “Isaac”), and let Him guide me. And it’s at that point that He brings the most unexpected surprises (even in really small things and not just in the big things). I had reached that point yesterday when I was just not sure what to do as I drove across I-10 in the middle of Houston and right into that massive traffic jam that took me on a detour I never expected but greatly appreciated. I never would have guessed that another week’s stay in a really cool and beautiful hotel room (much, much cooler than any of the others I’ve stayed at while I’ve been here) was even on the radar screen. And even the name of this hotel has His fingerprints all over it–Palace Inn in Humble, Texas.

God’s leading really is a “moment-by-moment” thing. At just the point I was tempted to quit, He provided the answer in a way I never expected, and He gave me hope when I felt like hope was slipping through my fingers. Proverbs 3:5-6 states: 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.” That’s “moment-by-moment” guidance, and it’s not just in the big decisions in life but in the everyday decisions we make, too; even in the tiniest of decisions. So if you happen to be carrying a load of discouragement right now and are at the point of quitting, remember these three things . . .

Trust in the Lord with all your heart . . .

And do not lean on your own understanding . . .

And let God lead the way “moment-by-moment” . . . .

YouTube Video: “Something in the Water” (2014) by Carrie Underwood:

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Faith That Conquers

The New New ThingOkay, okay, this isn’t “A Silicon Valley Story” but it is “the new, new thing.” And, I’m pretty sure my niche is definitely here on this blog site. I know I mentioned in my last post that I had started a new blog site and I called it “a new thing”; however, after writing two blog posts on it, it really isn’t turning out to be much different from this one. And while I won’t trash that site yet, I can hear the wrecking ball in the distance . . . 😉 Some things just need to be trashed. (UPDATE: I completely trashed it on June 8th and I just replaced that blog post mentioned above with one of the posts I wrote on my new blog site that no longer exists.)

May 2013 has been an interesting month for me. I think I’m glad it’s over, too (along with another birthday on May 31st). Besides the never-ending frustration of being unemployed for a zillion years now (okay, maybe not that long, but it sure feels like it), I was hoping that by starting the new website that I could sort of “showcase” my writing skills to potential employers with the hope of possibly landing a writing gig. (You do know that I want to be a writer when I grow up, right?) And, most employers (except for Christian employers and that’s still a “maybe”) probably aren’t interested in reading what I write on this blog.

Well, after encountering a bunch of hacker issues on that particular blog site (no point in going into the details) and writing two blog posts that were not significantly different in topic then what I write on this blog (well, they may have been a bit more “edgy” then what I write on this one–after all, I’m pretty sick of being unemployed and going nowhere fast or slow or at any speed, really), I decided that it was best to leave the month of May in the past, and start fresh again in June.

I am in definite need of inspiration and I’m not getting it by what I’ve been doing lately. So, I’ve been thinking about taking a road trip to the most inspiring place I can think of right now–Washington DC. It’s about the same distance as my trip to Houston, but Houston wasn’t too inspiring (after all, I lost my job there over four years ago now). It’s been years and years since I’ve been in Washington DC. In fact, if I remember right, the last time was when I attended a national conference (NASPA) held there when I was a grad student at Iowa State University.

lincolnmemorialMy first stop would be at the Lincoln Memorial. I can’t think of a more inspiring place to start my tour. If it was possible (and it’s not, I know . . .) I’d like to crawl up on Lincoln’s lap and ask him for some advice. He had a pretty tough life and, of course, he was assassinated at the end, but slavery was abolished under his tutelage. And that is a very big deal. A VERY big deal. Slavery was one of the worst blights ever to appear on the American landscape.

And my next stop would be at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where so many, many soldiers of my generation died at way too young of an age in a war that divided our nation and brought scorn to those who did returned. Another blight for which the creation of “The vietnam-memorialWall” has provided much healing especially for those who served in Vietnam. And, of course, there’s the Washington Monument, dedicated to our first president, George Washington. And, a tour of the White House would be nice, but due to staffing reductions resulting from sequestration tours have been cancelled.

There is much to see and I’m sure I’d plan to pack in as many sites as I can during the few days I’m there; but mostly, I want to go there because it is the greatest place of inspiration and dedication to America and what America stands for in our nation. And I’m in need of inspiration . . . (a job would be nice, too).

I’ve been alive long enough now (61 years) to have seen a deterioration of America over the past few decades. It started when we threw God out of the public schools and the public arena; drugs became highly fashionable with the invasion of the hippie revolution, as did a major decline in morality on a large scale; and there was the whole women’s lib movement as well as the civil rights movement that brought two significant issues to a head that certainly needed to be addressed, and there was also the “God is dead” movement followed by the “Jesus freaks.”

The disco era bought in shallowness as a mainstream lifestyle and the 80’s brought in the “Me generation” with all of it’s excesses in greed and materialism (on a mass scale), and somewhere along the line making money became our god and God was put on a shelf. Even our churches started catering to the culture to draw and keep crowds, and the birth of mega-churches produced “the 20-minute sermon” to go along with our fast food and fast paced society. Our lives became a long, never-ending “to do” list of things and events and how to make more money. Spiritual maturity ended right after the “get saved” prayer and the Bible was relegate to a shelf on the bookcase except when it was dusted off to take to church on Sunday morning (if we even took it or if we even attended).

Wall StreetThen there was the Wall Street crash right after the worst terrorist attack on American soil to date–9/11. And we started a “war on terror” overseas and here at home. Over the next few years there was a housing boom that was really built on nothing more than a “house of cards” waiting to fall. What looked like a real boom for several years wasn’t . . .  and it fell with the second Wall Street crash of September 29, 2008, the greatest crash of all that sent shock waves around the world and the world economy reeling.

Of course, the unemployment rate started to skyrocket in 2008 when the “house of cards” started falling and the recovery ever since has been very slow and in many cases, nonexistent (for those like myself who are still unemployed). We live in troubling times.

Times, of course, have always been troubled . . . ebbing and flowing with whatever is going on in the world and our own culture at the time (the two are intrinsically intertwined). And we threw God out of the public arena in the 60’s–fifty years ago now. The very principles this nation was founded on no longer seemed to matter to anyone (at best, we’re admonished to “keep it quiet”). Now when the tough times hit, there is nothing to fall back on. We have a whole generation (primarily people under 40) who have been raised with little or no “religious” values of any kind or if they have been raised with them, they are shallow at best and never meant to be an “anchor” for their lives. Faith in self is their motto (or maybe faith in technology).

the Cross of 9-11Let’s look at how Americans responded after 9/11. For a few months after it happened people flooded into churches all over the nation and God was mentioned everywhere, but in very short order life went back to “normal” and God was put back on the shelf and faith in ourselves was back full force. But what will happen if something worse happens in the future (after all, terrorism hasn’t disappeared)? If people haven’t put their faith in anything other than themselves and/or their own financial resources, what will happen when it all collapses? Where will they turn?

I feel fortunate to have been raised in an era when Christianity was still very much a part of the fabric of America. It’s not that everyone in my generation (the Baby Boomers) adhered to it–in fact, many didn’t–but it was still there and widely available. Discipleship was taken seriously after conversion and we knew there was a “growing” process to a new life in Jesus Christ. The focus was on Him and learning how He expected His followers to live, and not on all of the focus on “us” that started happening in the 80’s (or possibly earlier) in mainstream Christianity. We can’t ever get to know Jesus Christ if what we are looking for most of the time is what He can or will give to or do for us and/or if we were brought up to believe that our sin doesn’t matter or that sin is irrelevant (just look at how the whole topic of sin has died out in the past few decades).

These past four plus years of unemployment have been some of the hardest years of my life, and I know that if I didn’t have my faith in Jesus Christ along with the Biblical knowledge of how to live my life (not perfectly, mind you, but knowing the direction it should be taking), and without having a relationship with Him that is “two-way” and not just “my-way,” I don’t think I would have survived for this long. My faith in Jesus Christ (and not faith in myself) is the anchor that holds my life together, and while many folks in our society today ridicule such beliefs I find it amazing that they ridicule something they don’t even understand, nor do they even try to understand. They just mock. But what will happen if/when the bottom falls out of their lives? The Wall Street crashes have proved that any monetary support that people have built up over the years to support themselves could be wiped out in an instant and that happened to millions during the Great Depression. Faith in self and/or money is no faith at all.

Do you want to know the type of faith that conquers the world? It’s stated in I John 5:1-15:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

This life is not just about the “here and now” of how to keep ourselves going and trying to stay away from trouble as much as possible and/or trying to accumulate as much money as possible (circumstances have a way in interfering with that as we all know). It’s also about eternity, which lasts forever . . . forever . . . . I am amazed at how trite people take the concept of eternity, if they even allow themselves to think of it much at all. This life on earth isn’t even a drop in the bucket compared to eternity.

Many of our early leaders in America like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were strong believers in Jesus Christ and they were not ashamed to lead with the clear knowledge and conviction that they were not in charge, and that God was (and is) ultimately in charge. And, this nation was founded on Biblical principles and with the eroding of those principles over the decades there has been an eroding in our culture. But just because our culture has eroded, that doesn’t mean we as individuals should allow our faith in Jesus Christ (if we are truly His followers) to erode into a shallow type of Christianity that looks and acts no different from the rest of the culture and will not stand when the tough times comes, and they will come as they always do.

So you may be asking if I really need to make a trip to Washington DC to be inspired? Maybe not. But I want to go and celebrate a nation that is still the greatest nation on the planet, and celebrate the lives of all of those leaders and soldiers and other folks, too, who have made it great. And where is our nation headed? I don’t know. I can’t even find a job let alone answer a question as big as that, but I am grateful for our past and where it has brought us and I look forward to being inspired by all of those folks from our past while I’m there.

So, let me ask this question . . . what or who are you putting your faith in? If it’s anything (self, money, etc.) or anyone other then Jesus Christ, your faith will not hold, and you’ll cave in at the first sign of trouble. Don’t cave in. And if you don’t know Him, get to know Him now.

You’ll never regret it, no matter what circumstances come your way . . . .

YouTube Video: Here is Salvador singing that great Steve Winwood song, “Higher Love” (1986):

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Amazing Grace

Amazing GraceGrace is at the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I remember as a child being told that “grace” stands for God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” Indeed, Jesus Christ paid our sin penalty on the cross, but it is not a blanket pardon for all of humankind that requires nothing from us personally. While  John 3:16-18 states that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son [Jesus Christ]” . . . it is also makes it clear that we must personally believe in Him. Read it with me:

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

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already . . . .” Believing in Jesus Christ starts with salvation, but it doesn’t end there. Jesus Christ’s parting words to His disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 after His resurrection at the time of His ascension ring out just as clearly today as they did back then:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

“Make disciples of all nations . . .” Disciples, not just converts. We hear a lot about “getting saved” in our churches today but not so much about how to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave us some pretty clear instructions in His Sermon on the Mount,” (Matthew 5-7), and the New Testament is full of instructions on how to live our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ, not just converts who go on living just like we did before we came to know Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.

On the matter of grace, Ephesians 2:8-10 states, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” It is only by grace that we have been saved, through faith . . . not by our own power or our own works but as a gift from God so that we cannot boast that it was accomplished by anything we did or do. But why are we saved? Ephesians 2:10 gives us the answer. We are saved to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. And in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus called it “making disciples.”

Okay, here’s a question for you (well, at least for folks who are true believers in Jesus Christ). If we are saved to do good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do which includes making disciples of all nations, can a true follower of Jesus Christ do anything they want without any repercussions claiming it all falls under “grace”? That notion has been floating around Christian circles throughout America for sometime now. Sometimes known as “hyper-grace” (although I’m not fond of labels as they can confuse the issue), it is a message that basically states that we can continue to sin (as an ongoing lifestyle without repentance) as a believer in Jesus Christ because it’s all covered by the grace of God. If that is true, then there is really no difference between someone who does not believe in Jesus Christ and someone who states that they do but continues to live like the rest of the world. Dr. Michael Eaton at Greenleaf Ministries has provided a much better explanation of hyper-grace and you can read it at this link.

The Apostle Paul gives us the clearest definition regarding grace and sin in Romans 6:

Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Slaves to Righteousness

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Set FreeFor those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ, we “have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God” (and not of ourselves or what we want) and “the benefit we reap leads us to holiness resulting in eternal life” (v. 22). That is not to say that there is not still a very real struggle with sin as Paul discusses in Romans 7. As he states in Romans 7:21-25:

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

However, Paul does not leave us there but goes on to write about the wonderful answer found through Jesus Christ in Romans 8. Let’s look at some of the 39 verses in that chapter by starting with Romans 8:1-17:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Paul clearly states that “. . . we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (vv. 12-14). When we as believers look to anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ to set us free from the sin that entangles us, we are losing the battle. Our lives and actions should reflect to the rest of the world that we belong to Him. And if there is sin that has taken hold of our lives, we need to heed the words found in I John 1:5-9 which state:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

If we are true believers in Jesus Christ, we want to please God and not live according to our own fleshly desires that war against the Spirit of God living in us. If our desires are focused on this world and all that we can get while we are here or making excuses for the sins we hold dear, who do we really belong to?

I’ll end this post with the words of Paul from Romans 6:11-14:

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace . . .

Yes, God’s amazing grace . . .

YouTube Video: “Amazing Grace” by II Divo:

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Rescued

Rescued1Remember all those “damsel in distress” fairy tales from childhood (especially if you’re a Baby Boomer or older)? You know, like Cinderella or Rapunzel or Snow White or Sleeping Beauty.” Seems there was always some harrowing experience that the damsel needed to be rescued from, and after much turmoil and some terrifying experiences with various villain types (you know, the “bad guys”), there was always a Prince Charming” type who showed up at exactly the right time and rescued them, and they lived “happily ever after.” Many a young girl in my generation grew up on such fairy tales and dreamed of finding their own “Prince Charming” when they became adults, only to find out that most men are, well, just regular guys, and not magical fairy tale characters who came into their lives to “rescue” them.

Unfortunately, this type of thinking was so pervasive among young women then (and now) that Lee Ezell wrote a book titled, The Cinderella Syndrome: Discovering God’s Plan When Your Dreams Don’t Come True,” (1994, republished in 2001) that combined “personal anecdotes and vivid case histories with advice from scripture . . . designed to help women burst the bubble of ‘fairy tale thinking’–waiting endlessly for the right someone or something to change their lives–and learn how to live happy, truly fulfilling lives–even in this less than perfect world” (quote source here).

If you are familiar with my posts or perhaps read my page titled, A Little About Me,” you’ll know that I’ve never been married. I didn’t set out to be single all of my life, and I came close twice to getting married (in my early 20’s and again in my early 30’s), but I have never been “in love,” not even with those two fellows, and because I have grown up in a generation where divorce has exploded all over the place (and my own parents divorced when I was a young girl even before divorce went “mainstream” in the culture), I never wanted to marry until I knew I was in love with a man. That’s the simplest and most basic answer I give to people who are curious as to why I’ve never been married. And you should see some of the looks I get (like they don’t believe me or something). Sigh . . . .

But back to the “Prince Charming” syndrome . . . I have known enough single women over the years to know that there are definitely stress points (like turning 30, or 35, or, egad . . . even 40) where women will sometimes make very foolish decisions that include marrying someone just to be “married” because of the stigma–and the feminist movement never really put much of a dent in this stigma in our society–of being–insert loud shrieking noise here“an older, unmarried woman.” It’s like it’s a plague or something.

As I’ve gotten older, I do get tired of having to explain myself (it’s like I have to apologize for being this age and never married) so I’ve stopped. If people can’t accept that I’ve never been married and want to think the worst (why is that anyway???), then so be it. Many times, I find more acceptance outside of Christian circles then inside them. And it shouldn’t be that way, either. Being divorced carries less stigma than being a never-married woman. Yet when I remind folks that the apostle Paul was never married, that doesn’t seem to matter to them. For some inexplicable reason, the stigma doesn’t stick to never-married men. Go figure . . . .

Well, as we all know, there is no “Prince Charming” nor is there any “Cinderella” for “Prince Charming.” There are just men and women doing the best (or maybe not the best) they can with the life they’ve been given. And the divorce rate is pretty high among Christians as well as the rest of the folks in our society (50%). So it’s pretty clear that nobody is being “rescued” by anybody out there. And we are all swimming in the same ocean.

I ran across a devotion that really started me thinking about all of this in Our Daily Bread titled Rescued.” It puts the perspective of “being rescued” back where it belongs. Let’s read it:

Rescued

Read: I Corinthians 15:1-4, 20-25

Manuel Gonzalez was the first rescue worker to reach the 33 miners trapped for 69 days in a Chilean mine explosion in 2010. At great risk to his own life, he went underground more than 2,000 feet to bring the trapped men back to the surface. The world watched in amazement as one by one each miner was rescued and transported to freedom.

The Bible tells us of an even more amazing rescue. Because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, all of mankind is trapped in sin (Gen. 2:17; 3:6,19; Rom. 5:12). Unable to break free, everyone faces certain death—physically and eternally. But God has provided a Rescuer—Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Everyone who accepts the free gift of salvation offered through His death and resurrection is freed from sin’s grip and its resulting death penalty (Rom. 5:8-11; 10:9-11; Eph. 2:1-10).

Jesus Christ is the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). He was the first to be raised from the dead, never to die again. Likewise, all will be given life who put their faith in Christ (Rom. 8:11).

Are you still trapped in your sins? Accept Jesus’ gift of salvation and enjoy the freedom of life in Christ and eternity with Him (Acts 16:31; Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13). ~C. P. Hia

~Thinking It Over~
What keeps you from calling out to God for spiritual rescue?
Do you fear that you are too bad for God’s grace?
Read and think about Romans 3:23-26.

Through His cross, Jesus rescues and redeems.

If we are looking for any human being to rescue us from a life going nowhere fast, it isn’t going to happen. The kind of “rescue” we need is only found in one Person, God’s only Son who became a man and walked among us–Jesus Christ. Not only can He rescue us from a life going nowhere fast, but He changes our destiny and gives us eternal life once this life of ours is over. It seems especially nowadays that nobody thinks about what’s going to happen when we die. No, we’re just concerned about today and getting everything we can get anyway we can get it. We are easily deceived when we only look at life from a human perspective and the “here and now” instead of from an eternal perspective. And folks, we are going to be in eternity a whole lot longer–forever–then we ever spent time here on this earth.

121014_tacoma_fireboat_660Four years and four months ago I started on a journey out of spiritual lethargy that I didn’t even realize had happened until I landed in Houston to start that ill-fated job. There is so much is our culture that has invaded our view of Christianity that if we are not studying the Bible regularly and praying and really developing our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ and not just what we get from a “Sunday morning” sermon with everyone else in church, we will just coast along and get sucked into anything that comes along. We can’t have an effective Christian life if we are not actively pursuing our relationship with Jesus Christ, and that doesn’t mean praying just when we need something. It means developing a relationship with Him, just like we would with a spouse or a friend, or anyone else we really care about. If we ignore any relationship we have, it will die, and it’s the same with our relationship with Jesus Christ. He doesn’t leave us. No, we leave Him by seeking out everything our society has to offer us to make us “happy” and then think going to church on Sunday morning is going to solve the problem when we haven’t given Him any quality time at all the rest of the week and maybe not even on Sunday morning, either.

In short, it’s not about us and what we want. It’s about Him and what He wants for us–the kind of life He wants to give us–a life that isn’t selfish and self-consumed and grasping for “more, more, more” of whatever or whoever it is we think will make us happy. It’s a lie and from the pit of hell. So why don’t we believe it?

Since I started off this post reminiscing about my childhood, I’ll end it with a saying that was popular years ago. I ran across it written on a plaque I found not long ago in some things from my childhood that used to hang on my bedroom wall when I was a little girl. If you’re around my age or older, you’ll recognize it immediately. It goes like this:

“Only one life it will soon be past.
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Don’t let the things of this world blind you to the reality of eternity. Life is, indeed, short, and we never know when it will end. Don’t spend your time so focused on what you can get in the “here and now” that you totally miss out on what Jesus Christ wants to give you . . . life, real life, and not the world’s substitute.

“In the time of My favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”
I tell you,
Now is the time of God’s favor,
Now is the time of salvation.”
~2 Corinthians 6:2

YouTube Video: “He’ll Do It Again,” sung by Shirley Caesar:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Change Ahead

change-ahead-crossword-iconI’m back . . . . Three days ago I wrote a very brief post wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2013 and said I was going to take a breather from blog writing. Well, it lasted three whole days!!! Actually, it lasted eight days as my last blog post with a topic, Lighting Our Path,” was published on December 11, 2012. I guess eight days was long enough! My fingers were typing in my sleep so I got the hint.

Christmas is only a few days away now, and yet another new year is about to enter the picture. I don’t know about you, but the years are going by way too fast. They always did, but lately they give “zoom” new meaning. And every new year brings another opportunity for change.

You've_Got_MailThere is a scene in one of my favorite movies, “You’ve Got Mail (1998) with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in the starring roles as Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly, where Kathleen’s “Shop Around the Corner,” a children’s bookstore on the upper west side of Manhattan, is closing after 42 years (it was originally opened by her mother and Kathleen inherited it when her mother died) because the mega-bookstore, “Fox Books,” opened up around the corner from her shop. Shortly after the Christmas holiday Kathleen made the decision to close the store due to dwindling business caused by the opening of Fox Books, and in an email to a man she met online in an “over-thirty” chat room earlier in the fall (who turns out to be Joe but at this point in time she don’t know his real identity) she wrote the following: “People are always telling me that change is a good thing, but what they are really saying is that something that they didn’t want to happen at all has happened.”

When I look back at all the changes I’ve gone through in my life (sometimes I feel like that proverbial cat with nine lives), my favorite changes were those I was able to choose (e.g., joining the U.S. Army, going to college, going to grad school, moving to Florida, etc.), and the worst were those that were forced on me (e.g., like being fired from my job in April 2009 that has lead to this rather lengthy time of unemployment). For the most part, I’ve always been a fan of change as I get restless if I do the same thing for too long (except, of course, writing, but then there are a million things out there to write about so it never gets boring). But even “bad” change can be “good” in the end as was the case in Joseph’s life in Genesis when his brothers, years earlier, did some truly horrible stuff to him, and then, years later, they had to come to him for help and were terrified (you can read the entire story here). Joseph stated to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). What was originally a horrible change for Joseph turned out for good later on not only for him but for his entire family.

It’s encouraging to know that even “bad” change can work for our good, because God never changes (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17), and as the Apostle Paul stated in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And if we truly love Him and have been called according to His purpose, that includes all the ugly stuff that has happened to us as well as the good.

When I look back over these past four years (actually, five years as the beginning of this “adventure” in my life started on December 7, 2007, when I learned that my division at my former place of employment in Florida was being dismantled which lead me to apply for the position in Houston in May 2008), I see some dramatic changes that have taken place in my life–for the good–despite the fact that I am still unemployed at this point in time. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, I’ve mentioned many of those changes.

Romans 12:2 states, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Now that’s a change that is good for us, but it’s hard to follow especially in our American culture with every imaginable excess available 24/7. We get bogged down in the mire and hardly even notice it. Little compromises eventually turn into detrimental changes especially if we let the Bible and it’s wisdom take a back seat in our lives as well as our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

By the time I landed in Houston to start that ill-fated job in September 2008 I was about as bogged down in my spiritual life as I had ever been (and I’m not talking about “church attendance,” either). Regular Bible study was sporadic at best and I never even thought that much about the whole issue of spiritual warfare in the believer’s life. The cares of this world had taken over, but I also noticed that the cares of this world had also taken over most of the other folks I knew, too. And we were all Christians. We had left our first love (Rev. 2:4) and allowed the cares of this world (worry, materialism, greed, gossip, envy, jealousy, judging others, anger, bitterness, etc.–that list is long) to take over, and we wanted the things in this world along with the attitudes of this world more then we wanted Him. Oh, we’d never admit that or perhaps really believe it but our actions and attitudes and lifestyles spoke volumes. And so when I landed in Houston, I did an about-face and started taking Bible study and my relationship with Jesus Christ very seriously on a daily basis. And I could feel the fresh wind of the Spirit begin to permeate my life again during one of the hardest work experiences in my life. When I lost that job seven months later, I knew He was right there to guide me not only during those difficult seven months but when the bottom dropped out when I was fired. And He’s been guiding me and changing me ever since. My world has opened up in ways I never could have imagined had I not decided to get out of the spiritual lethargy I found myself in by taking that first step to give Him quality time every morning before I did anything else (and yes, that meant I had to get up an hour or so earlier then normal and give Him that totally undivided time from the rest of my day).

In short, I’ve been cleaning up my act from all the mire that bogged me down in the first place. Didn’t say I am perfect at it and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight, but I’ve been changed from the inside out over these past four plus years. The words of the Apostle Paul in Phil. 3:12-14 (MSG) state, “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”

And neither am I . . . .

How about you?

YouTube Video: “Back in the High Life Again” (1986) by Steve Winwood:

Photo credit here

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