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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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Faith vs. Doubt

There’s a story in Mark 9 about a father who has a child who is possessed by an evil spirit that has robbed his child of his speech; and it seizes him and throws him to the ground, and causes him to foam at the mouth and become rigid. It’s a story that is not often referenced in many pulpits today because it doesn’t fit in with the genre of Christianity most often heard today. We don’t like to talk about evil spirits or the supernatural (better yet, we tend to think folks who believe in them might be a bit, well, crazy); yet the Bible is quite clear that they exist, and Jesus often dealt with evil spirits who inhabited people. Let’s look at the story mentioned above in Mark 9:14-29 (NIV):

Jesus Heals a Boy Possessed by an Impure Spirit

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.”

First off, this blog post is not about the subject of evil spirits. It is about the subject of faith versus doubt. But if a reading of the above passage makes anyone uncomfortable, it most likely speaks to the matter of just how uncomfortable we are in dealing with the supernatural. However, God operates in the world of the supernatural; and so does evil. Ephesians 6:10-18 is quite clear on this matter:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

In my last blog post, Unshakable Hope,” which is the title of Max Lucado’s newest book, he devotes a chapter (Chapter 12) to the subject of the Holy Spirit’s power in our (believers) lives. That chapter is titled, You Will Have Power” (an excerpt from that chapter is available at this link). Here are a few sentences from this excerpt:

Many believers settle for a two-thirds God. They rely on the Father and the Son but overlook the Holy Spirit. You wouldn’t make that mistake with a tripod, trike, or prism. You certainly don’t want to make that mistake with the Trinity. Your Bible refers more than a hundred times to the Holy Spirit. Jesus says more about the Holy Spirit than He does about the church or marriage. In fact, on the eve of His death, as He prepared His followers to face the future without Him, He made this great and precious promise:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. — Acts 1:8

Imagine all the promises Jesus could have made to the disciples but didn’t. He didn’t promise immediate success. He didn’t promise the absence of disease or struggles. He never guaranteed a level of income or popularity. But He did promise the perpetual, empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is central to the life of the Christian. Everything that happens from the book of Acts to the end of the book of Revelation is a result of the work of the Holy Spirit of Christ. The Spirit came alongside the disciples, indwelled them, and gave the early church the push they needed to face the challenges ahead. (Quote source here.)

So why is it that we (Christians) are often embarrassed to address, or comes to grips with, the supernatural world when the Bible makes quite clear that it exists and that, in fact, it is more real then the physical world we live in? We may acknowledge the Holy Spirit (some denominations do more than others), but we shy clear away from dealing with evil spirits or, as they like to refer to evil in movies, “the Dark Side.” Hollywood has made a killing off of movies that focus entirely on this “dark side,” yet many Christians find it hard to deal with the subject or perhaps even call anyone who might actually believe in evil spirits as being a bit on the crazy side. Well, was Jesus crazy? No, he was not, even though his family thought he was out of his mind (see Mark 3:20-21, and this article titled, Jesus and His Family,” at Ligonier Ministries).

In looking at the story in Mark 9 of–well, yes–the child possessed by an evil spirit that the disciples were unsuccessful at getting rid of from the boy, what was Jesus response? At first, it was a hard response:

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

Unbelief–doubt–was at the core of why the disciples were unsuccessful in their attempt to rid the boy of the evil spirit. And what did Jesus do?

[Jesus] rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.”But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.”

The issue at stake is this–are we an “unbelieving generation” who claims to believe, or do we really possess the faith to believe in all kinds of circumstances and situations–a faith that sometimes requires both prayer and fasting? And it’s not just about this story of the evil spirit who was ruining that young boy’s life and the inability of Jesus’ disciples to help the boy. Read on . . . 

In a book titled, Lord Change My Attitude Before It’s Too Late (2001, 2008, 2015) by James MacDonald, DMin, founding and senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel and Bible teacher for his broadcast ministry, Walk in the Word, he covers five negative attitudes (e.g., complaining, covetous, critical, doubting, and rebellious) and their attitudinal solutions (being thankful, contentment, love, faith, and submission). Specifically, Chapter 7, “Replacing a Doubting Attitude…” and Chapter 8, “…With an Attitude of Faith” deal with the topic of this blog post.

Dr. MacDonald uses Number 13:1-14:11 as the context for Chapter 7 (when the Israelites rebelled at God’s command and listened, instead, to the “majority report” of the spies); and Hebrews 11 (the “Hall of Faith” chapter in the Bible) as the context for Chapter 8. Regarding Chapter 7 (pp. 167-187) MacDonald states:

Doubt is the mindset that keeps saying, “Well, I just don’t know if God will keep His promises….” Doubt involves a settled and persistent choice to live with uncertainty. It’s not the stubborn “show me” of Thomas [a disciple of Jesus who doubted Jesus’ resurrection until he could actually touch Jesus after he was resurrected], that went looking for answers, but the steady unresolved attitude of Jonah that said, in effect, “I don’t know and I don’t care. I don’t believe and nobody can change that.”

Such doubt is dangerous. It’s destructive and completely detrimental to any kind of relationship with God. I mean, if you don’t have confidence that God will keep His promises, what do you have? (Quote source: “Lord, Change My Attitude,” p. 168).

In this chapter MacDonald gives us five principles that God uses to test our faith (as well as our doubt). I will briefly state each one here and then you can get a copy of the book for further reading.

Principle One: God places regular tests of faith before His children (pp. 169-172): “Faith is so important and doubt is so detrimental that God places regular tests of faith in front of his children, These are not intended for our failure but for our success” (p. 169).

Principle Two: The circumstances of life will either shrink or stretch your faith (pp. 172-176): MacDonald describes over the next few pages an harrowing experience that happened to his middle son, Landon, right after he was born. The result was that Landon was miraculously healed. As MacDonald states, “I know very well that the medical crisis could have gone a different way. I could tell you other stories about when I trusted God just as much, but things didn’t turn out the way I thought they should. All that to say this: God places regular tests of faith in front of us” (pp. 175-176).

Principle Three: Doubt sees the obstacles; faith sees the opportunities (pp. 176-180): “Two people can look at the same situation and see the exact opposite. One heart filled with doubt focuses only on the obstacles. Another person, looking at the same situation, not filled with doubt but filled with faith, can only see the opportunity” (p. 176).

Principle Four: When surrounded by doubters, doubting comes easy (pp. 180-183): “Doubting comes easy when all my best friends, my coworkers, and my neighbors… are not filled with faith, and I’m continually surrounded by doubters…. Here are four reasons doubts come so easily: (1) Doubting is contagious; (2) doubting is passive–faith requires action, doubting does not; (3) Doubting satisfies our tendency towards self-protection–nobody likes to be wrong; and (4) Doubters are easier to find than friends of faith” (pp. 181-183).

Principle Five: It’s a short journey from doubt to despair (pp. 183-184): Doubt never stands still. It’s always sliding somewhere worse. It’s a short journey from doubt to despair. It’s not weeks, nor months; it’s just a matter of a few days. A crisis can make the trip very short. In the case of the children of Israel, who were really good at doubting, reaching despair was a matter of only a few hours (see Number 14:2-4)” (p. 183).

Now it’s time for some positive reinforcement found in Chapter 8 with an attitude of faith (pp. 190-211):

The Christian life is a life of faith. Genuine believers trust God and exercise active confidence in God. They believe the Word of God [the Bible], and act upon it no matter how they feel, because God promises a good result. When I’m doing that, I’m going forward in a phenomenal way spiritually. When I’m not doing that, I’m backing up and losing ground and falling away from Him. (Quote source: “Lord, Change My Attitude,” p. 202).

MacDonald starts off by stating what faith is not on page 190:

  • Faith is not an ostrich, head-in-the-sand and denying the obvious or the inevitable. It’s not pretending that something is real when deep down you really don’t believe it. That’s fear, not faith.
  • Faith is not anti-intellectual, either. Faith is not a warm feeling that requires you to check your intellect at the door. That’s feeling, not faith.
  • Faith is not a stained-glass and dreamy sort of “Little-House-on-the-Prairie” escapism. I cannot stay in church again, hiding from reality, ignoring the world around me. That’s fluff, not faith.
  • Faith is not some motivational seminar, with some high-powered guru calling for breathing exercises or self-relaxation and self-confidence, telling you to picture a better future. That’s fad, not faith.
  • It’s not some stupid positive mental attitude, a you-have-to-keep-believing thing. It’s not ignoring the pain and embracing optimism regardless of the evidence in front of you. That’s foolishness, not faith (p. 190).

Genuine faith is as follows (on pp. 191-211):

Faith is rooted in a God who is real! Faith finds itself founded on a person–the creator God of the universe. The One who created the universe is with you this moment! He loves you. Faith is active confidence in the God who has revealed Himself, not some presumptuous uncertainty about someone, somewhere out is space. God has proven Himself real again and again, and if you’ve not experienced His reality, you can (p. 191).

Faith has substance (read Hebrews 11). “I take a need before God in prayer. My faith, my active confidence in God, in the thing that I hold on to while I wait to see how the Lord is going to answer what I’ve brought before Him. If I have a painful circumstance in my life and I’m asking God to change that or to change me, my faith is the substance that I hold while I wait upon God to do the things that I’ve asked Him to do. So faith is substance” (p. 192).

Faith is also evidence.Psalm 90:1 says, ‘Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.’ People have been trusting God for thousands of years. This is not a foolish thing to do. The faithfulness of God–not just in generations past, but in my own life–provides me with evidence” (p. 192).

Faith is believing the Word of God. “Faith is so integral to the Christian life that over the years we’ve boiled it down to a very practical definition: ‘Faith is believing the Word of God and acting upon it, no matter how I feel, because God promises a good result.'”Believing is “I have all my eggs is that basket. I’ve got all my dreams in that place. I’m 100 percent in, and I don’t have an escape route.” That’s faith (p. 193).

One final note on faith (there is so much more in the book). “Acting upon our faith (e.g., faith without works is dead, see James 2:14-26) will impact every area of life, including our families, our finances, and even our sense of fulfillment” (quote p. 195; see pp. 195-211). On page 201 is this statement:

Faith is not part of the Christian life. It’s not like patience or kindness or other character traits. It’s not one part among many other assorted components that may or may not be lacking in our lives at any one time. It’s not like teaching or showing compassion or ministering or other Christian activities. It’s not like worship or prayer or meditation or other actions that we take toward God. Those are all parts.

Faith… is not a part of the Christian life; it’s the whole thing (p. 201).

Yes, it IS the whole thing! I’ll end this post with Hebrews 11:6But without faith it is impossible to please Him [God] for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder…

Of those . . .

Who diligently . . .

Seek Him . . . .

YouTube Video: “Everything” by TobyMac:

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Unshakable Hope

The title of this blog post comes from the latest book hot off the press written by Max Lucado titled, appropriately, Unshakable Hope (2018). Max Lucado is a best-selling Christian author and senior pastor at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas. He “has spent the last 40 years telling the story of God’s grace in books, in pulpits, on broadcasts, on music tours…every chance he gets” (quote source here).

This book is Max Lucado’s fortieth book. As he states in his “Acknowledgments” page at the opening of the book:

Forty.

Noah floated for 40 days in the flood.

Moses spent 40 years in the desert.

The Hebrews wandered 40 years in the wilderness.

Jesus endured 40 days of temptation.

There’s something significant about the number 40.

So if you’ll allow me to mention the fact, this is my fortieth book. No one could be more grateful than I am. To think that God would let a converted drunk prone to self-promotion and self-centeredness, write one page, much less forty books’ worth, is yet another testimony to his goodness and grace.

Thank you, Father. (Quote source: “Unshakable Hope,” page XIII.) [He then goes on to thank an “invaluable team of colleagues and friends” for their help and assistance.]

Forty books . . . I can’t imagine writing one. And while I haven’t read all forty of Max Lucado’s books, they are always inspirational, and the same goes for his latest offering. On the inside front cover of his latest book, it states:

What is shaking in your world?

Possibly your future, your faith, your family, or finances? It’s a shaky world out there. Could you use some unshakable hope?

If so, you are not alone. Hope in hard to come by these days. Many people believe this world is as good as it gets, and let’s face it, it’s not that good.

Though we’ve never been more educated, entertained, and connected, the suicide rate in America has increased 24 percent since 1999–24 percent. How can this be?

One of the reasons must be this: people are dying from lack of hope.

But what if we filtered our lives and our challenges through the promises of God? God’s promises are pine trees in the Rocky Mountains of Scripture: abundant, unending, and perennial.

Because life is filled with problems. God’s Word is filled with promises. In “Unshakable Hope,” Max Lucado unpacks a dozen of the Bible’s most significant promises, equipping us to overcome difficult circumstances, experience lasting security, and make wise decisions.

These promises work. They can secure you in the midst of horrific storms. They can buoy you in the day-to-day difficulties. When the winds and waves of life rage, God’s promises are like lights on the shoreline, guiding us home.

And since his Word is unbreakable, our hope is unshakable. (Quote course: “Unshakable Hope,” inside front cover.)

A description on Amazon.com for the book includes the following:

After forty years of counseling and ministry, Max Lucado has learned that nothing lifts the desperate, weary heart like the promises of God. In a world full of despair, depression, anxiety, and instability, we do not need more opinions or hunches; we need the definitive declarations of our mighty and loving God. 

“Unshakable Hope” examines twelve of God’s promises that Max has turned to over the years to encourage himself and others. Each chapter explores one significant promise and reveals how it will equip you to:

  • Overcome challenging circumstances
  • Live through sadness and renew hope
  • Experience lasting security
  • Make wise decisions 

What is your life built on—the circumstances of life or the promises of God? The answer to that question changes everything. For every problem in life, God has given you a promise. Join Max as he takes a closer look at Scripture’s unbreakable promises and shows you how to live with an unshakable hope. (Quote source here.)

An excerpt from Chapter 11 in the book titled, Joy is Soon Coming,” is available online at this link. Here are a few sentences from that excerpt:

Joy comes. Watch for it. Expect it as you would the morning sunrise or the evening twilight. It came to Mary Magdalene. And it will come to you, my friend.

Keep coming to Jesus. Even though the trail is dark. Even though the sun seems to sleep. Even though everyone else is silent, walk to Jesus. Mary Magdalene did this. No, she didn’t comprehend the promise of Jesus. She came looking for a dead Jesus, not a living one. But at least she came. And because she came to Him, He came to her.

And you? You’ll be tempted to give up and walk away. But don’t. Even when you don’t feel like it, keep walking the trail to the empty tomb. Open your Bible. Meditate on Scripture. Sing hymns. Talk to other believers. Place yourself in a position to be found by Jesus, and listen carefully. That gardener very well might be your Redeemer.

Weeping comes. It comes to all of us. Heartaches leave us with tear-streaked faces and heavy hearts. Weeping comes. But so does joy. Darkness comes, but so does the morning. Sadness comes, but so does hope. Sorrow may have the night, but it cannot have our lives. (Quote source here.)

Another excerpt from Chapter 12 titled, You Will Have Power,” is also available online at this link. This chapter is on the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us. Here are a few sentences from this excerpt:

Many believers settle for a two-thirds God. They rely on the Father and the Son but overlook the Holy Spirit. You wouldn’t make that mistake with a tripod, trike, or prism. You certainly don’t want to make that mistake with the Trinity. Your Bible refers more than a hundred times to the Holy Spirit. Jesus says more about the Holy Spirit than He does about the church or marriage. In fact, on the eve of His death, as He prepared His followers to face the future without Him, He made this great and precious promise:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. — Acts 1:8

Imagine all the promises Jesus could have made to the disciples but didn’t. He didn’t promise immediate success. He didn’t promise the absence of disease or struggles. He never guaranteed a level of income or popularity. But He did promise the perpetual, empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is central to the life of the Christian. Everything that happens from the book of Acts to the end of the book of Revelation is a result of the work of the Holy Spirit of Christ. The Spirit came alongside the disciples, indwelled them, and gave the early church the push they needed to face the challenges ahead.

Perhaps you could use a push.

Several years ago when my legs were stronger, my belly was flatter, and my ego was bigger, I let my friend Pat convince me to enter a bike race. Not just any bike race, mind you, but a race that included a one and a half mile climb up a steep hill with a gradient of 12 percent. In other words it was a tough, climb-out-of-the-saddle, set-your-thighs-on-fire, and prepare-to-suck-air-for-ten-minutes section of the race. Appropriately called the Killer Diller, it lived up to the hype.

I knew its reputation. Still, I signed up because Pat, my riding buddy, told me I could make it. Easy for Pat to say. He is fifteen years my junior and has competed since his elementary school days. He was riding in pelotons before most of us knew what they were. When I balked at the idea of completing the race, he assured me, “Believe me, Max. You will make it.”

I almost didn’t.

In quick fashion the riders who belonged there left those of us who didn’t far behind. We, the barrel-bellied laggards, made jokes about the upcoming ascent. But we didn’t joke for long. It takes wind to talk. We soon needed all the wind we could muster to climb. I pushed and huffed and puffed, and about that point the ascent began. By the time I was halfway to the top, my thighs were on fire, and I was having less-than-pleasant thoughts about my friend Patrick.

That is when I felt the push. A hand was pressing against the small of my back. I turned and looked. It was Pat! He had already completed the race. Anticipating my utter exhaustion, he had hurried back up the hill, dismounted his bike, and scurried to give me a hand. Literally. He began pushing me up the hill! (The fact that he could keep up with me tells you how slowly I was pedaling.) “I told you that you would make it,” he shouted. “I came to make sure you did.”

The Holy Spirit promises to do the same. After Jesus ascended into Heaven, the Holy Spirit became the primary agent of the Trinity on earth. He will complete what was begun by the Father and the Son. Though all three expressions of the Godhead are active, the Spirit is taking the lead in this, the final age.

The Spirit promises to give us power, unity, supervision, and holiness: P-U-S-H. Need a push?

He promises power to the saint. He is the animating force behind creation.

All creatures look to Youto give them their food at the proper time. When You give it to them, they gather it up; when You open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When You hide Your face, they are terrified;when You take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When You send your Spirit, they are created,and you renew the face of the ground. — Psalm 104:27-30

Every unfolding flower is a fingerprint of God’s Spirit.

If God were to withdraw His Spirit, all life would disappear and mankind would turn again to dust.— Job 34:14-15 TLB

The Spirit of God is a life-giving force to creation and, more significantly, a midwife of new birth for the believer. Jesus told Nicodemus:

Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.— John 3:5-8

The Holy Spirit enters the believer upon confession of faith (Ephesians 1:13). From that point forward the Christian has access to the very power and personality of God. As the Spirit has His way in the lives of believers, a transformation occurs. They begin to think the way God thinks, love the way God loves, and see the way God sees. They minister in power and pray in power and walk in power.

This power includes the gifts of the Spirit.

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.— Galatians 5:22-23

These attributes appear in the life of the saint in the same way an apple appears on the branch of an apple tree. Fruit happens as a result of relationship. Sever the branch from the tree, and forget the fruit. Yet if the branch is secured to the trunk, nutrients flow, and fruit results.

So it is with the fruit of the Holy Spirit. As our relationship with God is secured and unmarred by rebellion, sin, or stubborn behavior, we can expect a harvest of fruit. We needn’t force it. But we can expect it. It simply falls to us to stay connected.

Want to see [the Holy Spirit’s] to-do list?

The list of his activities is varied, wonderful, and incomplete without this word: holy. The Spirit of God also makes us holy. After all, is He not the Holy Spirit? One of His primary activities is to cleanse us from sin and to sanctify us for holy work. Paul reminded the Corinthians:

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. — 1 Corinthians 6:11

Make it your aim to sense, see, and hear the Spirit of God. Would you use a two-legged tripod? Two-wheeled trike? Two-sided prism? Of course not. Avail yourself of all God has to offer. Fix your heart on this promise: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8). (Quote source here.)

I hope these two excerpts have whet your appetite for more. Max Lucado’s latest book is available at most bookstores and online as well. If you’re needing some encouragement today (and who isn’t), let this book full of God’s promises encourage you (as well, of course, as the Bible). And when you think you’re reaching a point of giving up and throwing in the towel, remember that it is not your power, but God’s power, that will sustain you. Just ask…. 

You will receive power . . .

When the Holy Spirit . . .

Comes on you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Don’t Give Up” by Calling Glory:

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The Journey to Joy

I just finished a blog post on my new blog, Reflections,” and I decided I would share it on this blog since the readership is much higher, and the topic is on “joy” in whatever circumstances we may happen to find ourselves in right now (or any other time, too). Here it is . . . .

This past Sunday I heard a sermon on TV by Joel Osteen, senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, titled Keep Your Joy (click here for YouTube Video of the sermon). It was a very good reminder of just how important it is for us to keep our joy in the midst of trying circumstances, whether it’s the daily hassle of dealing with rush hour traffic or something more long term such as losing a job and whole lot more that can come along with it, or coming to terms with the death of a significant other– a parent, sibling, friend, etc.

I tend to believe that joy is difference from happiness. Joy doesn’t depend on the immediate external circumstances but comes from within and has deep roots if we’ve learned how to cultivate joy in our lives. Happiness, on the other hand, is a more immediate feeling that comes from something good (usually external) that has happened in our lives, such as listening to a favorite song on the radio that we haven’t heard in years; or a sunny day after days of dreary weather, or a job promotion… it’s any number of things that bring a smile to our face.

Joy has more depth. Happiness is flighty–here today and gone tomorrow. Joy sticks around when happiness is long gone. Joy is in it for the long haul. Joy is still there when the job is lost, or the divorce is final, or the parent dies.

An article titled, What is the Difference between Joy and Happiness?” found on CompellingTruth.org states the difference between the two:

Happiness is based on an experience or other external stimulus. For instance, getting engaged to be married may result in happiness. Happiness also tends to disappear when the situation changes. If, shortly after becoming engaged, a person wrecks his/her car, the happiness generated by the pleasurable experience of becoming engaged will most likely disappear because of the terrible experience of wrecking the car. The Greek word translated “happy” in the New Testament appears approximately fifty times in the New Testament. Five times it is translated “happy” and forty-five times it is translated “blessed” (numbers vary in different translations).

On the other hand, joy is based on internal well-being or the anticipation of well-being. To follow the above example, an engaged couple is often not happy. Circumstances in their lives—disagreements, for example—are not pleasurable and generate unhappiness rather than happiness. But, at the same time, most engaged couples would say they have joy almost all the time because of their anticipated marriage. The joy they have is independent of the current circumstances. The New Testament has several words that are translated “joy” or “rejoice” in the New Testament, and they appear several hundred times. 

One of the most striking places is in James 1:2, where the Scripture says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” Having “trials of various kinds” will definitely not lead to happiness, but Christians are told that it is reason for joy. The reason for joy is found in the following two verses, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4). Joy here is based on the anticipated results of the trials, not the trials themselves. 

Another place in Scripture that emphasizes joy is the entire book of Philippians. Paul wrote this book from prison in Rome, which was not a happy place. He begins with a profession of joy in chapter 1, verses 3 through 6, when he says “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” He didn’t say that he was happy—indeed, circumstances fought against that—but he prayed with joy because of the confidence he had in the anticipated results of God’s work. He admits that some were preaching the gospel thinking it would cause trouble for Paul, but he goes on to say, “… what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18 NIV). Paul goes on to exhort the Philippians to seek a relationship with God that will bring them joy.

It is evident in the Scriptures that joy because of our relationship with God is to be desired more than happiness in our circumstances. Happiness may be good, but joy is much better. Happiness is often fleeting because circumstances change, but joy in Christ is eternal. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, Is there a Relationship Between Happiness and Joy?” by Dr. Cheryl A. MacDonald, clinical psychologist, RN, writer, and business owner, she states:

Happiness is subjective. What matters is someone’s perception of happiness. Scientists say this emotion can be studied and measured because people can reliably and honestly self-report their increases and decreases in happiness levels. Joy is a state of mind, a combination of emotions, and in the spiritual context is localized in our heart. Joy contains elements of contentment, confidence and hope….

Happiness is a blurred emotion. It can mean different things to many people, and part of a psychologist’s quest is to identify all of the distinctive applications of the word. Most of us will agree that happiness is an emotional state of well-being defined by positive feelings ranging from contentment to intense joy. Those who believe in positive psychology strive to apply research methods to answer questions about what happiness is and how it can be attained. It is well known that happy people are physically and emotionally healthier than unhappy ones. There is evidence suggesting that individuals can increase their level happiness with actions like exercising to release endorphins. It is also well known that various practices have been associated with happiness, such as eating well…. 

Being joyful requires feeling connected to other people in life, with nature, by appreciating the arts, and it requires an acceptance of life, as it is, in the present. Sometimes life does not treat us well, financial devastation, becoming ill, a divorce, developing a chronic illness, becoming disabled, death of a loved one, or adapting to growing older. These transitions or challenges are all aspects of life, and we all will experience them in varying degrees until the day we die. Some believe that joy is a conscious commitment to be happy, to have a sense of contentment for the moment, despite life’s challenges. Joy is an internal lasting emotional condition…. 

Joy is an attitude or a belief, which soothes even in the most sorrowful of situations. Joy comes from within; it is an internal view.  Joy in the Biblical context, is not an emotion. It is not based on something positive happening in life, but is an attitude of the heart or spirit….

Is there a relationship between happiness and joy? Yes and No. Joy is something that lasts. Happiness is something that is temporary. Joy is an inner, conscious belief. Happiness is external. Something people may feel for a short time, for example, when they buy something that they desire. Joy brings with it a feeling of contentment when someone is in the middle of a life storm. Happiness is not present in a life storm….

[So] strive to feel the consistency of joy, and, of course have a little happiness in your life today! (Quote source here.)

Need more joy in your life (regardless of your circumstances)? Ask for it. Jesus stated in John 16:24Until now you have asked nothing in My name…

Ask, and you will receive . . .

That your joy . . .

May be full . . . .

YouTube Video: “Joy” by for KING & COUNTRY:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Impossible, Difficult, Done

In a blog post I wrote on June 13, 2018, on my other blog, Reflections,” titled, Moving Forward,” I mentioned a small book titled, The Red Sea Rules,” by Robert J. Morgan, teaching pastor at The Donelson Fellowship. In his book, he gives us ten strategies or “rules” for dealing with difficult times in our journey through life that come from the story of the Red Sea crossing which is found in Exodus 14. The following it taken from that blog post:

As the story unfolds in this book, it was “an action of God at the time of the Exodus that rescued the Israelites from the pursuing forces of Egypt. According to the Book of Exodus [Chapter 14], God divided the waters so that they could walk across the dry seabed. Once they were safely across, God closed the passage and drowned the Egyptians” (quote source here). It looked like an impossible situation. Behind the Israelites was the Egyptian army of Pharaoh (with over 600 chariots) quickly approaching, and in front of them was the Red Sea. It looked like there was no way out, and that the army would end up slaughtering them. Exodus 14:10-31 (MSG) tells the story:

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up and saw them—Egyptians! Coming at them!

They were totally afraid. They cried out in terror to God. They told Moses, “Weren’t the cemeteries large enough in Egypt so that you had to take us out here in the wilderness to die? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Back in Egypt didn’t we tell you this would happen? Didn’t we tell you, ‘Leave us alone here in Egypt—we’re better off as slaves in Egypt than as corpses in the wilderness.’”

Moses spoke to the people: “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and watch God do his work of salvation for you today. Take a good look at the Egyptians today for you’re never going to see them again.

God will fight the battle for you.
And you? You keep your mouths shut!”

God said to Moses: “Why cry out to me? Speak to the Israelites. Order them to get moving. Hold your staff high and stretch your hand out over the sea: Split the sea! The Israelites will walk through the sea on dry ground.

“Meanwhile I’ll make sure the Egyptians keep up their stubborn chase—I’ll use Pharaoh and his entire army, his chariots and horsemen, to put my Glory on display so that the Egyptians will realize that I am God.”

The angel of God that had been leading the camp of Israel now shifted and got behind them. And the Pillar of Cloud that had been in front also shifted to the rear. The Cloud was now between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel. The Cloud enshrouded one camp in darkness and flooded the other with light. The two camps didn’t come near each other all night.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and God, with a terrific east wind all night long, made the sea go back. He made the sea dry ground. The sea waters split.

The Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground with the waters a wall to the right and to the left. The Egyptians came after them in full pursuit, every horse and chariot and driver of Pharaoh racing into the middle of the sea. It was now the morning watch. God looked down from the Pillar of Fire and Cloud on the Egyptian army and threw them into a panic. He clogged the wheels of their chariots; they were stuck in the mud.

The Egyptians said, “Run from Israel! God is fighting on their side and against Egypt!”

God said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea and the waters will come back over the Egyptians, over their chariots, over their horsemen.”

Moses stretched his hand out over the sea: As the day broke and the Egyptians were running, the sea returned to its place as before. God dumped the Egyptians in the middle of the sea. The waters returned, drowning the chariots and riders of Pharaoh’s army that had chased after Israel into the sea. Not one of them survived.

But the Israelites walked right through the middle of the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall to the right and to the left. God delivered Israel that day from the oppression of the Egyptians. And Israel looked at the Egyptian dead, washed up on the shore of the sea, and realized the tremendous power that God brought against the Egyptians. The people were in reverent awe before God and trusted in God and his servant Moses. (Quote source here.)

In that blog post, I specifically mentioned Rule #6, When unsure, just take the next logical step.” That rule is about not letting fear keep you from moving forward, even if you’re not sure what that next logical step might be.

Last night I picked up that book again and read Rule #5, “Stay calm and confident, and give God time to work.” It has to do with waiting, which is something none of us like to do, especially in America where everything moves at such a fast pace. For a couple of decades while working in my career field, I had a pretty typical life. I worked in my professional field at several college and universities starting as an academic advisor and ending as a director. It was a fairly routine life, and the paychecks always provided for my needs. And then one day came along and I lost my last job in that field nine years ago, and I was still ten years away from retirement age. Unfortunately, I was never able to find another job in my field again, and my life changed drastically from that point on.

For a long time after I lost that job I thought I’d eventually find another job in my field, and my life would get “back to normal” until I retired. I spent over almost six years looking for another job while living on the very little income I received from unemployment benefits at first until they ended; then I had to use up my savings, and then take out what I could access from my small retirement account because for over three years and two months after my unemployment benefits ended I had no income at all, and I still had to pay rent and all the other expenses that come with life. Finally I was forced to apply for Social Security benefits when I turned 62 just to have any income again, and it was one fourth of the amount I had been earning from that last job I lost nine years ago.

In other words, my life never went back to the “normal” it had been for so very, very long. It’s still not there nor do I ever expect it to happen again at this point in time after nine years of trying to get it back. I spent almost six of those nine years trying to get it back and the past almost four years living in a sort of “limbo land” after realizing I was never going to get it back. However, I’m still not sure what my future holds (see blog post, What the Future Holds,” published yesterday on my other blog). However, something tells me that I am hardly alone in this dilemma and that many people have gone through similar situations, and their lives have never returned back to what they once knew, either.

In The Red Sea Rules,” Rule #5 (pp.55-64) opens up with a quote by Hudson Taylor (1832-1905), founder of China Inland Mission (now OMF International). He spent 51 years as a missionary to China. Here is that quote:

“I am waiting on Thee, Lord, to open the way.”

As I mentioned above, as a whole Americans are not the most patient of people. We hate waiting for anything. Because we have 24/7 access to anything we want if we can afford it, we just don’t understand or care to understand the concept of how patience is a virtue. We often let our emotions run our lives, and if you think that’s not true just watch the news on TV or a lot of the movies coming out of Hollywood nowadays, or go on social media–Anger, frustration, rage, hate, violence, revenge, lust, etc.–it’s all there and in mass quantities, too. We don’t like waiting for anything, and we aren’t afraid to express our frustration, either. We want everything NOW….

The opening section of Rule #6–Stay calm and confident and give God time to work–is titled “Waiting,” and it starts with that quote above by Hudson Taylor. Here is the rest of that section:

One night when I was worried sick about something, I found four words sitting quietly on page 1291 of my Bible. I’d read them countless times before, but as I stared at them this time, they fairly flew at me like stones from a slingshot. The four words, now well underlined in my New International Version, are “leave room for God.”

The immediate context, Romans 12:19, involves retribution. When someone harms us, advised the writer, we shouldn’t try to get even, but should leave room for God’s wrath. There are times when we need to let Him settle the score. But if we can leave room for God’s wrath, I reasoned, can we not, when facing other challenges, leave room for His other attributes? For His power? For His grace? For His intervention? I underlined the words “leave room for God” and have leaned on them ever since.

I cannot solve every problem, cure every hurt, or avoid every fear, but I can leave room for God. I don’t have the answer to every dilemma, but I can leave room for God to work. I can’t do the impossible, but He is able to do “exceedingly abundantly above all” that I could ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20). The Lord delights in the impossible.

Moses told the Israelites: “Fear not; stand still (firm, confident, undismayed) and see the salvation of the Lord which He will work for you today. for the Egyptians you have seen today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace and remain at rest” (Ex. 14:13-14, AMP).

This is what the biblical phrase “wait on the Lord” is about: committing our Red Sea situations to Him in prayer, trusting Him, and waiting for Him to work. Doing that runs counter to our proactive and assertive selves, but many a modern migraine would be cured by a good dose of Psalm 37:7-8: “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him . . . Do not fret–it leads only to harm.”

If you’re in a difficult place right now, perhaps you need to entrust the problem to the Lord and leave it in His hands awhile. He alone can storm the impregnable, devise the improbable, and perform the impossible. He alone can part the waters. (Quote source: The Red Sea Rules,” pp. 56-57.)

In an article titled, What to Do When You’re Waiting on God,” by Joyce Meyer, Bible teacher, New York Times bestselling author, and president of Joyce Meyer Ministries, she writes:

In the Bible, Paul and Silas [who ministered together] knew about waiting, and they waited well. Acts 16 tells the story of how they were attacked by a crowd, beaten and thrown in jail. Verse 24 says the jailer put them into the inner prison (the dungeon) and fastened their feet in the stocks. He was making sure they couldn’t escape. But about midnight, God showed up. Now it would have been nice if He’d come a little earlier, but Paul and Silas didn’t seem to mind—they just decided to start singing and began to worship the Lord. They began to wait on God.

Verses 25 & 26 say, But about midnight, as Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the [other] prisoners were listening to them, suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the very foundations of the prison were shaken; and at once all the doors were opened and everyone’s shackles were unfastened. God answered them suddenly!

When people patiently and expectantly wait on God in the midst of horrible circumstances, suddenly God breaks through. So don’t give up! Don’t stop believing! Stay full of hope and expectation. God’s power is limitless, and He’ll break through for you. (Quote source here.)

In an article in Relevant Magazine titled, 5 Reasons God Makes Us Wait,” by Eric Speir, pastor, college professor, and practical theologian, the last two reasons he lists (click here to read all five reasons) are as follows:

WAITING TRANSFORMS OUR CHARACTER

Waiting has a way of rubbing off the rough edges of our lives. Most of us know the story of Moses delivering the Israelites from the Egyptians. It’s a grand story of God doing great miracles.

But few sermons talk about Moses having to wait in the desert 40 years before God came to him. God used this time of waiting to transform his character. We know this because when he was a young man he was brash and impatient. In his impetuousness he killed a man and hid the body. When his sin was made public, he ran for his life and was exiled to the desert. When he was given a second chance he opted to do it God’s way and in God’s time.

In the end, the Israelites were delivered from slavery and Moses became a great leader. Waiting transformed the life of Moses and it does the same for you and I.

WAITING BUILDS INTIMACY AND DEPENDENCY UPON GOD

The reason we are able to read about the great men and women of the Bible is because they all had one thing in common. They were all people who learned their success in life was directly proportionate to their intimacy and dependency upon God. For them, a relationship with God wasn’t a get rich quick scheme. For many of them it was a matter of life and death.

Waiting during the difficult times developed their relationship with God. 

Some of the most intimate relationships we have in our lives are because a friend stood in the trenches with us during the heat of the battle. Maybe this is what the scripture means when it says we have a friend that sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).

The reason we get to read the stories of these great men and women is because they went through the difficulties of life with God. In the end, they enjoyed the process with God and the promise of God.

I’ve always believed God is just as interested in the journey as he is the destination. If not, all the biblical accounts would only include the feel good parts and not the good, the bad and the ugly of the times of waiting. We may not always understand why we have to wait, but the good news is that God never asks us to wait without Him. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with these words from Proverbs 3:5-6Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding….

In all your ways . . .

Acknowledge Him . . .

And He shall direct your paths . . . .

YouTube Video: “Impossible” by Building 429:

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

Tisha B’Av 5778 (2018)

Today, July 21, 2018, is Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av) on the Jewish calendar. I first wrote about it in a blog post titled Tisha B’Av and 9/11 on July 29, 2012, and I subsequently reposted that blog post in 2013, 2014, 2015, and last year in 2017; Tisha B’Av is the major day of communal mourning and fasting on the Jewish calendar. First and foremost Tisha B’Av commemorates the destruction of both the first and second temples in Jerusalem (586 B.C.E, and 70 C.E respectively), but many other travesties have occurred on that same date (source here).

This year, that actual day of Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat (the Sabbath) so the fasting period normally held on the 9th of Av will not start until Shabbat is over at sundown today. The fasting period will begin this evening, July 21, 2018, and extend through nightfall tomorrow, July 22, 2018.

The following brief description of Tisha B’Av comes from HolidaysCalendar.com:

Tisha B’av is a Jewish fast day which typically occurs on the ninth day of the month of Av – or if that happens to be the Shabbat – on the tenth day of Av. It is used to commemorate the five calamities that befell the Jewish people. On the Western calendar, this fasting day occurs either in July or August.

The five calamities that inspired this fast day – as stated by the Mishnah – include: (1) Punishment of the Israelites by God because they didn’t have faith in the promised land, (2) Destruction of King Solomon’s Temple in 587 BCE by the Babylonians, (3) Destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, (4) Destruction of the city of Betar and the subsequent death of over a half million Jews and (5) Plowing of the site of the temple by Turnus Rufus in 135 AD.

There are five prohibitions that are generally followed on Tisha B’av. These include : (1) No food or drink, (2) no marital relations, (3) no bathing, (4) no wearing of leather shoes, and (5) no application of oils or creams. While these are the five main prohibitions of this day, there are other customs that are also usually followed on this day. This includes avoiding work as much as possible, turning off or dimming electric lights and/or using candles for the primary light, sleeping on the floor and avoiding giving gifts on this day.

This fast day is not only a personal rite of mourning but also a communal remembrance that not only connects a person with their heritage but also to self reflection and piety. (Quote source here.)

The three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av is actually “a period of mourning commemorating the destruction of the first and second Jewish Temples. The Three Weeks start on the seventeenth day of the Jewish month of Tammuz — the fast of Shiva Asar B’Tammuz — and end on the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av — the fast of Tisha B’Av, which occurs exactly three weeks later. Both of these fasts commemorate events surrounding the destruction of the Jewish Temples and the subsequent exile of the Jews from the land of Israel. According to conventional chronology, the destruction of the first Temple, by Nebuchadnezzar II, occurred in 586 BCE, and the second, by the Romans, in 70 CE.” (Quote source: Wikipedia.) Wikipedia also states:

The Three Weeks are considered historically a time of misfortune, since many tragedies and calamities which befell the Jewish people are attributed to this period. These tragedies include: the breaking of the Tablets of the Law by Moses, when he saw the people worshipping the golden calf; the burning of a Sefer Torah by Apostomus during the Second Temple era; the destruction of both Temples on Tisha B’Av; the expulsion of the Jews from Spain shortly before Tisha B’Av 1492; and the outbreak of World War I shortly before Tisha B’Av 1914, which overturned many Jewish communities.

As a result, some Jews are particularly careful to avoid all dangerous situations during the Three Weeks. These include: going to dangerous places, striking a child or student, undergoing a major operation that could be postponed until after Tisha B’Av, going on an airplane flight that could be postponed until after Tisha B’Av, and engaging in a court case with a non-Jew if it can be postponed until after Tisha B’Av….

The last nine days of the three weeks—which are also the first nine days of the month of Av, culminating in the Tisha B’Av fast—constitute a period of intensified mourning in the Ashkenazic custom. Many Jewish communities refrain from partaking of poultry, red meat, and wine; from wearing freshly laundered clothes; and from warm baths. Sephardim observe many of these restrictions only from the Sunday before Tisha B’Av, dispensing with them entirely in years when Tisha B’Av falls on a Sunday. Yemenite Jews do not maintain these customs. (Quote source here.)

The following additional information (some events have already been stated above) regarding Tisha B’Av is from GotQuestions.org:

Tisha B’Av is a Jewish fast day commemorating several tragedies the Jewish people have endured, including the destruction of the first and second temples. Av is the fifth month of the Jewish calendar, and Tisha B’Av means “the Ninth of Av.” The day falls in July or August of the Gregorian calendar. Since the first two temples were destroyed on the same calendar day (Av 9), tradition has assigned a gloom to this day—some see it as a day cursed by God because of Israel’s national sins.

Tisha B’Av is the final, climactic day of a 21-day period of increasing mourning called the Three Weeks. The Three Weeks is also called Bein HaMetzarim, or “between the straits,” because Lamentations 1:3 says, “Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction, and because of great servitude: she dwelleth among the heathen, she findeth no rest: all her persecutors overtook her between the straits” (KJV, emphasis added).

The mourning period leading up to Tisha B’Av begins in the previous month, Tammuz 17, a day that commemorates the first breach of Jerusalem’s walls by the Babylonians before they destroyed the first temple. During the Three Weeks, observant Jews refrain from holding public celebrations. No weddings are scheduled during the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av. The focus is on mourning and repentance. The final nine days, starting with Av 1, require increased austerity: no wearing of new clothes, no eating of pleasurable foods, and no bathing beyond what is essential.

On the day of Tisha B’Av itself, Jews keep a total fast, sit on the floor, recite prayers of mourning, and read the book of Lamentations. An exception is made when Av 9 falls on the Sabbath—in that case, the fasting and mourning are observed on Av 10.

Over the years the meaning of Tisha B’Av has broadened into a remembrance of Jewish tragedies throughout history, but it remains primarily focused on the destruction of the two temples.

Following Tisha B’Av, the fast is broken, but some of the other restrictions associated with mourning continue until Av 10. Then begin the “Seven Weeks of Comfort,” which continue through the rest of Av and the month of Elul. During this period the focus in the synagogues turns to the glorious future God has promised Israel.

The observance of Tisha B’Av is not commanded in the Bible. Like Purim, Tisha B’Av is a traditional observance based on non-canonical Jewish writings and oral tradition. It’s possible that a Tisha B’Av observance is alluded to in the book of Zechariah. The men of Bethel sent a delegation to the prophets in Jerusalem asking, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” (Zechariah 7:3). The fifth month is, of course, Av; the “fast” mentioned could have been observed on Av 9. God’s response to the people’s question is key: “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?” (verse 5). As with any religious observance, God is more concerned with one’s motivation and the condition of the heart than He is with the ritual itself. (Quote source here.)

Besides the obvious themes of destruction and mourning associated with Tisha B’Av, there is also another theme–renewal. Chabad.org states:

…There is more to the Three Weeks than fasting and lamentation. The prophet describes the fasts as “days of goodwill before G‑d”-days of opportunity to exploit the failings of the past as the impetus for a renewed and even deeper bond with G‑d. A sense of purification accompanies the fasting, a promise of redemption pervades the mourning, and a current of joy underlies the sadness. The Ninth of Av, say our sages, is not only the day of the Temple’s destruction—it is also the birthday of Moshiach (the Hebrew term for Messiah).

May we soon merit the fulfillment of the prophecy: “I will turn their mourning into joy and will comfort them and make them rejoice from their sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:12). (Quote source here.)

Of course, Christians as well as Messianic Jews believe that the Messiah has already come for the first time in the person of Jesus Christ (Yeshua in Hebrew), and that Jesus will return a second time (as noted in the New Testament Book of Revelation, Chapters 19-22). In the traditional Jewish faith, here is some background information on Moshiach from Chabad.org:

Two of the most fundamental tenets of the Jewish faith – as listed by Maimonides among the Thirteen Principles of the Jewish Faith – are the belief in the ultimate redemption, an awaited era of world peace, prosperity and wisdom, and the belief that the dead will be resurrected at that time.

The Messianic Era will be ushered in by a Jewish leader generally referred to as the Moshiach (messiah: Hebrew for “the anointed one”), a righteous scion of King David. He will rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and gather the Jewish people from all corners of the earth and return them to the Promised Land.

At that time, “delicacies will be commonplace like dirt.” All the nations will “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Micah 4:3). Humankind will be preoccupied with only one pursuit: the study of G‑dly wisdom. “The earth shall be filled with knowledge of G‑d as water covers the seabed” (Isaiah 11:9).

Okay, so it’s going to happen—that’s what we believe. But why is this important today? Why is the coming of Moshiach so central to the Jewish belief system?

Because the Torah teaches us that there is purpose to our world. And the Messianic Era is the actualization of that idea.

There are those who maintain that this crass physical world is merely a strategic challenge; one that the soul must battle and transcend en route to a heavenly paradise. According to this line of thinking, the physical and mundane has no intrinsic worth, it retains no value whatsoever once its function has been fully served—it is a means to a spiritual end.

While Jewish belief also speaks of the soul’s reward in the hereafter, earned through its toil in the course of life’s journey, it sees the refinement of the physical and the infusion of holiness and purpose into the mundane as the paramount objective. It is the sanctification of the human body and the world at large that constitutes the very purpose of its creation.

From the dawn of time, G‑d envisioned for Himself a “dwelling place” right here on Planet Earth. And He put us here to fashion this home. To transform darkness into light.

And soon the day will come when G‑d’s glory will be revealed in this nether-realm, and we will enjoy the fruits of our millennia-long work, the end-product of our labor of love.

The curtain will be ripped aside, and all flesh will perceive G‑d. It will be the culmination of the master plan.

The belief in Moshiach has sustained our nation throughout a 2,000 year exile fraught with pogroms, expulsions and persecution—our ancestors’ firm belief in a better time to come, and their trust that they would be resurrected to witness that day. And today, finally, we stand at the threshold of redemption. One more good deed by one more person may be all that’s needed to seal the deal. (Quote source here.)

For more information on Jesus as Messiah in the Gospels–the title of an article written by David Brickner, executive director at Jews for Jesus on JewsForJesus.org–click here. Also see What Do Jews Believe About Jesus? by the staff at MyJewishLearning.com.

Following Tisha B’Av is Seven Weeks of Consolation leading up to Rosh Hashanah–the Jewish New Year. Information on the seven weeks of consolation can be found at this link. For now, I’ll end this blog post with Psalm 30:5For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life . . .

Weeping may endure . . .

For a night, but joy . . .

Comes in the morning . . . .

YouTube Video: Music is not played during the observance of Tisha B’Av; therefore, I have not included a YouTube video on this post.

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

On Judging Others

Judging others is a favorite pastime we all indulge in on a very regular basis whether we acknowledge that we do it or not (and we do). And if we think we are not guilty of it, here’s something to think about from a 2013 article titled, Quick to Judge, Slow to Understand,” by Bryan Calabro, managing editor-in-chief (2012-2013) of The Beacon Wilkes campus paper (comprised of Wilkes University students who are advised by a full-time faculty member of the Communication Studies Department):

Have you ever heard the saying “treat others the way you want to be treated?” or “don’t judge a book by its cover?” They have probably been pounded in our heads for years along with a million other things, and still continue to be. The question is, how often do we follow them?

As a society, we judge others too often and too quickly, and we are well aware of it. The second we cross paths with someone else, we are analyzing them and making our own assumptions. You’re probably thinking, well, it’s a part of human nature, and you’re right. However, that doesn’t make it right.

Take these situations for example, which is something I saw on Facebook and really made me stop and think:

A 15 year-old girl holds hands with her one-year-old son. People call her a slut, but no one knows she was raped at 13.

People call another guy fat. No one knows he has a serious disease causing him to be overweight.

People call an old man ugly. No one knew he had a serious injury to his face while fighting for our country in the war.

People call a woman bald but they don’t know she has cancer.

I didn’t just stop and look at this in passing, I even reposted it because I felt others needed to see it. Many of us are at fault here, and sometimes we don’t even realize we are doing it. But there are no excuses. The bottom line is, we are too quick to judge.

As someone who works at a grocery store and deals with the public, I can tell you that making judgments about others, even just based on their appearance is something that happens constantly. I see it all of the time, and it doesn’t just happen in grocery stores. It happens literally everywhere you go, and we are being judged in return. I will admit I am just as guilty as the next person for doing it.

The reasons for which people judge others are so numerous, they could probably fill a small book. We tend to judge those who are different than us, including those who have disabilities, speech impediments, a different sexual orientation, look different or don’t seem intelligent … and the list goes on and on. Even criticizing the way people dress or how they do their hair or makeup can make them feel bad about themselves.

Yet we still do it.

Obviously we do this because we feel others are different, but maybe we also do it because we don’t think they measure up to our standards or think like us. Maybe we just have nothing better to do than place judgment on others, because it seems easier to follow the crowd than be the bigger person and be nice.

The worst part is that we evaluate others without actually knowing the circumstances or the fact that the person could be a very good person and have a lot to give. The truth is you don’t know what other people have been through or what they are going through. Therefore, you don’t have the right to make judgments. Not everyone is willing to talk openly about their personal life or things they cannot control. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on things we don’t know.

This is not just about judging others, but it is also about making them feel unwanted or unaccepted which is perhaps one of the worst feelings a person can have. I have always felt bad for those I see sitting alone at a lunch table in school or sitting alone anywhere, particularly kids and elderly people. It always makes my heart melt a little.

We often do not think about the ways in which our negative attitudes and actions make others feel. Not only should we consider this before we decide to think or act negatively, but we should also think about how we are going to feel about ourselves afterwards, and likely regret our hurtful words or actions.
We also don’t want to be the reason behind someone’s feelings getting hurt.

Obviously this isn’t right, and I’ve personally been putting much thought into this recently, which has made me realize how much room I have to improve and become a better person. There is always room to be better. I’ve certainly been looking at things differently.

Everything we go through in life is a learning experience, and so this is as well. We should always strive to change our ways, maybe some we are not so proud of, because it can and will backfire if we are not careful.

People will always be judgmental, but we can always strive to be better. If you take anything from this article, let it be a lesson to always be kind to others, and that means in both words and actions. The next time you are about to cast judgment on someone, remember the golden rule and how you would feel it you were in that position. You might think twice about making that judgment. (Quote source here.)

All of us can recognize ourselves in those words expressed above. And not only do we judge others, but we also judge others who we think are judging us, too. And we judge others from the gossip we’ve heard about them or that has been spread about them on social media and other sources.

As noted in an answer to a question regarding judging others on GotQuestions.org:

Jesus’ command not to judge others could be the most widely quoted of His sayings, even though it is almost invariably quoted in complete disregard of its context. Here is Jesus’ statement: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Many people use this verse in an attempt to silence their critics, interpreting Jesus’ meaning as “You don’t have the right to tell me I’m wrong.” Taken in isolation, Jesus’ command “Do not judge” does indeed seem to preclude all negative assessments. However, there is much more to the passage than those three words.

The Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean we cannot show discernment. Immediately after Jesus says, “Do not judge,” He says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs” (Matthew 7:6). A little later in the same sermon, He says, “Watch out for false prophets. . . . By their fruit you will recognize them” (verses 15–16). How are we to discern who are the “dogs” and “pigs” andfalse prophetsunless we have the ability to make a judgment call on doctrines and deeds? Jesus is giving us permission to tell right from wrong.

Also, the Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean all actions are equally moral or that truth is relative. The Bible clearly teaches that truth is objective, eternal, and inseparable from God’s character. Anything that contradicts the truth is a lie—but, of course, to call something a “lie” is to pass judgment. To call adultery or murder a sin is likewise to pass judgment—but it’s also to agree with God. When Jesus said not to judge others, He did not mean that no one can identify sin for what it is, based on God’s definition of sin.

And the Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean there should be no mechanism for dealing with sin. The Bible has a whole book entitled Judges. The judges in the Old Testament were raised up by God Himself (Judges 2:18). The modern judicial system, including its judges, is a necessary part of society. In saying, “Do not judge,” Jesus was not saying, “Anything goes.”

Elsewhere, Jesus gives a direct command to judge: “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24). Here we have a clue as to the right type of judgment versus the wrong type. Taking this verse and some others, we can put together a description of the sinful type of judgment:

Superficial judgment is wrong. Passing judgment on someone based solely on appearances is sinful (John 7:24). It is foolish to jump to conclusions before investigating the facts (Proverbs 18:13). Simon the Pharisee passed judgment on a woman based on her appearance and reputation, but he could not see that the woman had been forgiven; Simon thus drew Jesus’ rebuke for his unrighteous judgment (Luke 7:36–50).

Hypocritical judgment is wrong. Jesus’ command not to judge others in Matthew 7:1 is preceded by comparisons to hypocrites (Matthew 6:2516) and followed by a warning against hypocrisy (Matthew 7:3–5). When we point out the sin of others while we ourselves commit the same sin, we condemn ourselves (Romans 2:1).

Harsh, unforgiving judgment is wrong. We are “always to be gentle toward everyone” (Titus 3:2). It is the merciful who will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7), and, as Jesus warned, “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).

Self-righteous judgment is wrong. We are called to humility, and “God opposes the proud” (James 4:6). The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector was confident in his own righteousness and from that proud position judged the publican; however, God sees the heart and refused to forgive the Pharisee’s sin (Luke 18:9–14).

Untrue judgment is wrong. The Bible clearly forbids bearing false witness (Proverbs 19:5). “Slander no one” (Titus 3:2).

Christians are often accused of “judging” or intolerance when they speak out against sin. But opposing sin is not wrong. Holding aloft the standard of righteousness naturally defines unrighteousness and draws the slings and arrows of those who choose sin over godliness. John the Baptist incurred the ire of Herodias when he spoke out against her adultery with Herod (Mark 6:18–19). She eventually silenced John, but she could not silence the truth (Isaiah 40:8).

Believers are warned against judging others unfairly or unrighteously, but Jesus commends “right judgment” (John 7:24, ESV). We are to be discerning (Colossians 1:91 Thessalonians 5:21). We are to preach the whole counsel of God, including the Bible’s teaching on sin (Acts 20:272 Timothy 4:2). We are to gently confront erring brothers or sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:1). We are to practice church discipline (Matthew 18:15–17). We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). (Quote source here).

Along with the above information, there might also be motives behind why we judge others or pass along gossip and untruths about another person–for example, motives involving self interest at the expense of that other another person. We intentionally want to make them “look bad” to others as it will serve our purpose in some way (whether we want their job, or their significant other, or to destroy their reputation, and the list goes on). However, that gets into a whole different area on judging others that is very intentional on the part of those trying to destroy another person’s reputation, career, etc. This post is primarily about how we all judge others on a regular basis with erroneous information and judging by appearances, etc.

And, there’s no getting around the fact that we judge others constantly, presumptuously, and too often negatively. How to stop (if you want to stop)? Here’s some advice from 1 Peter 4:8-11 from The Message Bible:

Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!

So remember that love covers . . .

A multitude . . .

Of sins . . . . 

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Journeys Not Yet Taken

I just posted this blog post on my other blog, Reflections,” and then realized it would also be a good post to publish on this blog, too, so here it is! 🙂

One never really knows where life might lead them. We can make our plans, and things can look pretty predictable for a while, maybe even a very long time, but one never knows when circumstances might lead them in a totally different direction then they ever thought they might end up going in.

In 2013, Vic Johnson, former founder of a corporate and political communications firm, motivational speaker and author, published a book titled, It’s NEVER Too Late And You’re NEVER Too Old: 50 People Who Found Success After 50.” While I haven’t read the book, I love the title, and if I find a copy of it on sale somewhere, I’m going to buy it. Goodreads gives this brief description of the book:

“It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” ~George Eliot, 19th Century English novelist [whose real name was Mary Ann Evans]

One of the biggest hurdles people over 50 have to overcome is the mindset about their age. There’s an old cliché of “age ain’t nothin’ but a number.” But as we all know, getting older does have certain obstacles such as dwindling health, limited income, and the end of long-time careers followed by “now what in the heck do I do?”

Yes, age is the number of candles on a birthday cake, and a stark reality of things to come. But getting older isn’t…

…a deal breaker.

…a reason you can’t start a business or any other new venture.

…a limit on success.

…a valid excuse for inaction.

…a valid excuse to give up on your dreams.

Here are 50 people who overcame the very same things you are facing right now. Let them show you the way to outrageous success and happiness regardless of your age or circumstances). (Quote source here.) You’ll have to get the book to read the stories… 🙂

Truth is . . . nobody really knows what tomorrow holds whether you’re 8 or 80 or older. As the saying goes, life could turn on a dime tomorrow. And our journey could take us to the most unexpected places, no matter how old we may be.

In an article titled, 10 Reasons It’s Never Too Late to Be Who You Want to Be,” by Dr. Nikki Martinez, PsyD, LCPC, adjunct professor, consultant, and author, published in June 2017 in HuffPost, she states the following:

I can’t even explain how many people think that their dreams have passed then by. That it is too late for them to go back to school, start a business, or pursue that unique interest of theirs. The truth of the matter is that we are never too old, it is just the story and timeline we have given ourselves. We have told ourselves that certain things need to happen by a certain age, or they will never happen for us. Nothing can be further from the truth, we can choose and make our destiny at any time. Here are some inspirational stories who understand that age is merely a number, and it is never too late to accomplish them dream.

1. At 40, Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run. This was not mere luck of years of playing. This was talent, developed through many hours and many years of practice. He had a passion for something, and he kept at it until he became at the top of his field.

2. At 49, Julia Child FINALLY published her book, “Mastering the French Art of Cooking.” Anyone familiar with the life and story of Julia Child’s know that she spent MANY years writing and re-writing, being rejected, looking for her place, and then FINALLY someone saw in her what had been there all along. Although it did not come until the second half of her life, she became one of the most beloved and respected chefs of our lifetime.

3. At Age 60, George Bernard Shaw finished writing, “Heartbreak House.” This was considered by many to be the greatest work of his career, but it took almost his entire career to come up with the right combination that resonated with people. Imagine working your whole life to finally come into your own? It was clearly possible.

4. At age 72, Margaret Ringenberg made a flight around the globe. While this may not be a common name, it is a very uncommon accomplishment. To have wanted something for so long, to have waited so many year, and to say I will not give up on this dream due to a simple matter of age.

5. At age 77, yes you heard this right 77, John Glenn became the oldest astronaut to ever go into space. Something about this just leaves me in awe. When I think of the training, the physicality, the mental abilities, and the sheer drive to do something in your lifetime, I am continually impressed that he was able to accomplish this. Something that many would never be able to do.

6. At age 86, Katherine Pelton swam the 200 meter butterfly (a stroke I struggle with period), in 1 minute and 14 seconds. Do the words astounding come to mind? Something that many of us could not achieve, something that  many of us tell ourselves we cannot more importantly. She is living proof that we can accomplish great things with practice and perseverance.

7. At age 92, Paul Spangler finished his 14th marathon! One is an accomplishment, 14 a great feat for anyone, but for a 92-year-old man to be out there keeping up with the most elite, and those training, what is our excuse for not getting up and working out in the morning. It takes a little steam out of all the excuses, the snoozes, and the tomorrows.

8. Dorothy Davenhill Hirsch became the oldest person the North Pole aboard a Russian Nuclear ice breaker. Talk about refusing to leave something off the bucket list. That is amazing. Something many of us will never achieve in our lifetimes, she MADE happen. This is not to say we cannot make these things happen for ourselves, it is just that we choose not to. Look what choosing and perseverance get you!

9. Dr. Leila Denmark worked as a pediatrician until her chosen retirement at the age of 103. Talk about loving what you do. A perfect example of when you love what you do, it is not a chore, it is a joy. One that you want to do as long as you are able. I think we all hope to find a calling like that!

10. Talk about a lifelong goal realized! Bertha Wood, born in 1905, dreamed her whole life of writing and publishing a book. This dream was finally realized in 2005, and was based on her memoirs. I suppose there was a great deal to be said in the 90 years it took her to write it!

The common thread of all these individuals is persistence, belief in self, and not putting time limits, age limits, or any type of constraint upon themselves. They simply decided they had a goal they were going to accomplish, and they kept trying until they had. It shows that all of us that it is never too late to do what we want to do, and be who we want to be. (Quote source here.)

So how about that, folks! Persistence and perseverance, and lets not forget hope! James 1:2-8 gives us some very good instruction about perseverance:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

So ask . . . and believe. And don’t doubt . . . ever. Right before Jesus told the parable about the persistent widow and the unjust judge in Luke 18:1-8, his very first words to his disciples were that they should always pray and not give up (verse 1). That goes for us today, too.

So if you’re reading this, you’re not dead yet . . . 🙂 And if you’re not dead yet, you never know what the future holds regardless of your current circumstances, regardless of your age, and regardless of any other circumstances you want to use as an excuse. Trust God and pray. Now would be a good time! As the Apostle Paul wrote from a prison cell, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phillipians 4:13), so we, too, can do the same . . . .

So always pray . . .

And never give up, never give up . . .

Never give up . . . .

YouTube Video: “Miracle” by Unspoken:

Photo #1 credit here (incredible 11-minute YouTube video at this link):

Photo #2 credit here

God on the Move

I just finished a blog post titled, The Long and Winding Road,” on my new blog site when I realized I wasn’t done with that particular topic. I finished what I had on that blog as it fit in with the theme for that blog, but there is more to that story, and the rest of it will fit in nicely on this blog.

I found the following article published in 2014 titled, God on the Move: The Long and Winding Road–Acts 23,” by Randall D. Smith, Ph.D., Professor/Director of Great Commission Bible Institute, Director of Christian Travel Study Abroad, Ltd., and teaching pastor at Grace Church of Sebring, on his teaching blog titled, The Wandering Shepherd.” I didn’t run into his article until I was just about finished with my previous blog post (mentioned above), but as I looked it over, I knew I wanted to continue on with the theme of “the long and winding road” that I started on my earlier post , so this is a continuation of my blog post titled, The Long and Winding Road.”

Dr. Smith takes the theme of “The Long and Winding Road” as it relates to the Apostle Paul’s life, specifically in Acts 23, in his article,God on the Move: The Long and Winding Road–Acts 23.” For a brief outline on the background of Paul you can click on this link. After Paul’s conversation on the Damascus Road to Jesus Christ, for the remainder of his life (approximately three decades) he went on four missionary journeys (click on this link for info on those journeys). It was after Paul’s third missionary journey that he was imprisoned and bound for Rome. As Acts 23 opens up, he is standing before the Sanhedrin addressing them. Here is the text from Acts 23:

Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”

Those who were standing near Paul said, “How dare you insult God’s high priest!”

Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’”

Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)

There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.

The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

The Plot to Kill Paul

The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot. They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.”

But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.

Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, “Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.” So he took him to the commander.

The centurion said, “Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.”

The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, “What is it you want to tell me?”

He said: “Some Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.”

The commander dismissed the young man with this warning: “Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me.”

Paul Transferred to Caesarea

Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.”

He wrote a letter as follows:

Claudius Lysias,

To His Excellency, Governor Felix:

Greetings.

This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.

So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, he said, “I will hear your case when your accusers get here.” Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace.

As we can see, Paul is in a very dire situation. On the one hand, the Lord has made it clear to Paul that he would make it to Rome to testify about him (Jesus Christ), yet on the other hand, many were trying to kill him before he ever gets that far.

In this chapter, Dr. Smith gives us a key principle which is this–“God’s will for us is not only about us–it also fits into His larger plan.” He goes on to state:

Christians need humility when looking at the experiences of their life. We often don’t know where things are going, even though we know where all things will end. The Bible offers us the ultimate destination to world history, and to our own final state – but the path to get there is not always clear. We need to be careful not to oversell our understanding of events as they come across our path….

The Apostle Paul faced a mob but was assured by Jesus that he was Rome bound. The encounter with Jesus–like the one long before at Corinth that kept him ministering during the second mission journey–settled Paul. He would not die at the hands of the Sanhedrin. His time was not near; some of his work for the Kingdom was still incomplete. At the same time, the path Jesus took him on was neither straight nor easy. Why not? The answer lies in the truth that God was doing other things – He was also providing solutions to other problems and addressing other needs while dealing with Paul in his series of personal defenses of his faith, imprisonments and delays to be heard.

In Acts 23, Paul stood to defend himself before what had to be considered, from the Jewish perspective, the premiere educational and religious institution of his day. These were ostensibly the leaders of God’s people, yet nothing was as it seemed that day – and it often isn’t in our journey, either. God was at work staging the events – and Paul had to learn to lean on God’s provision – no matter how “long and winding” the road.

Look at how things were so different than they appeared to be. What looked like a setback in Paul’s arrest was actually God providing a paid bodyguard service for him to deliver a message to the Jewish leadership (Acts 23:1-10).

At this stage in the story, Paul had been “rescued” by Roman guards out of a mob scene at the Temple, taken to the garrison building, and held overnight as much for his own protection as to stop any rioting in the city. In the morning, the Apostle was walked under guard to the Sanhedrin chamber…. We “enter the scene” with Paul on a witness dais, while the assembly of leaders was gathering in a less formal array – for not everyone had their full regalia on, signifying their various positions (read their exchange in verses 1-5)….

There are two important thoughts I want to highlight about this brief exchange. First, we must be careful to be humble even when what we are saying is right, and what they are saying is wrong. Many believers spend time learning an apologetic of the faith, and become emboldened to speak truth in difficult circumstances – that is a good thing. At the same time, we who spend so much time around other believers need to be very careful about how we sound, and how we react in particular, to the world. The best evidences are lost in discourteous behavior.

…Let me raise a specific caution flag about how you and I answer when being “struck in the face”. The unanticipated response, and especially the cruel one can drive us to overreact, and we must understand that is ever a temptation. If we do step out of line, we should be humble and accept correction. Meekness is “power under control” – and Jesus said the meek are blessed. In fact, in all of the Gospel accounts, the only self-description of His character Jesus offered was that wor–”I am ‘meek’ and lowly of heart.”

A second truth can be gleaned from the short exchange. We need to learn that God isn’t always doing what we think He is! Think of it! There is certainly irony in the “Apostle to the Gentiles” getting a Roman escort to the Sanhedrin that was currently accusing him of taking a Gentile into the holy precinct of the Temple. This account drips with irony! They had Gentiles in their chambers, but Paul never did. Yet they accused him!

[Now read verses 6-10God sent Paul with a specific message to give to the Sanhedrin leadership – and it was successfully delivered. The message was that Jesus’ resurrection was their key offense, but not all Jews disagreed with it. That belief didn’t put Paul and other Messianic believers “outside” of Judaism – so they needed to be careful about tossing them all away as though they were not faithful Jews. Some who were not believers began to defend Paul, and the meeting escalated. The Roman commander stepped in and “pulled the plug” on the meeting.

Yet that is not the only thing that was not as it appeared… Paul was whisked away to a quiet place, his heart pumping fast from the whole highly-charged incident. Eventually, he settled down and the day passed by. Follow Paul down the hall to a place to rest, and Luke recorded what happened next… What looked like an arrest was actually a guarded and secure meeting place to meet with God (read verse 11).

The Roman tax sesterces provided a bed in seclusion for Paul to have a meeting with Jesus. That simple verse reminds me of how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego got a private meeting hall provided by Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3. Now it’s true, the meeting hall looked like a fiery furnace – but nevertheless God provided a place at government expense to meet the Savior and have a chat. Here God did it again!

What looked like a discouraging abandonment by family and friends was actually the stage for an encouraging opportunity to show hidden support (read verses 12-15). We know much about Paul and his companions, but little about his extended family. Interestingly enough, in this one instance we see one of his nephews saving Paul. The plot had to bother him a bit, but after all – this wasn’t exactly new to him. He had been dodging men who wanted his head for years! The encouragement was that God used his family – however distant to him in belief at the time – to send a message of rescue. Yet, there is more…

What looked like a threat to his life was actually a select invitation to an otherwise “closed” palace (read Acts 23:17-24). Paul eventually had to stand before Roman authorities – so this back story bode well for Paul. It was clear, at least in the report of the commander, that Paul was being “set up” and the Roman guards were preventing an injustice. Seeing this, the commander responded (read verse 23).

Paul is staying in style and traveling in the most secure fashion he has ever traveled – and all this was provided by God! It is true that he was not free to leave yet, but it was clear in the narrative that the commander helped Paul escape alive, and his continued intervention kept Paul well.

We have to remember that God doesn’t always provide the way we think He is going to – because there are issues beyond the scope of our own understanding that He is also carefully monitoring and caring for.

By all accounts, eagles are very responsive to their eaglets. The “mother eagle” dotes over the eggs, then over the hatchlings. That same “mother” knows that to help them, she must force them into discomfort to get them flying. She does so by taking them as high as possible and then drops them. They have never flown before, so they plummet downward. As they gain their senses, the ground is approaching quickly, so she swoops to save them and takes them high in the air again. After several drops, they begin to use their wings to fly. She is providing a way for them to live as they grow. She is giving them experience while keeping them from the ground.

Consider this: Sometimes God places us in situations that are terribly uncomfortable, so that we can learn, step by step, how to follow Him better for the next encounter. Paul was receiving help and assistance from the Romans to reach Rome with the Gospel – and we must remember that the Gospel DID reach and transform Rome – all in God’s time. God kept “giving” Paul help that didn’t look helpful, but it was.

What looked like an arrest warrant was actually a letter of introduction (read Acts 23:25-35). Paul was escorted to the palace at Caesarea with a safe escort, and a letter accompanied the entrance.

I am certain that Paul did not want to be kept under guard, but it was better than being dead on the road somewhere, which is what would have happened had God not stepped in to rescue him from his countrymen. God works, very often, in mysterious ways… but we need to be aware that it is STILL GOD at work. Let me illustrate…

A cheerful but elderly, Christian widow was financially struggling. Her house was in desperate need of repair, yet she praised the Lord continually for His provision for her. There was an old man who lived next door who had no time for God, and he kept deriding her in conversation, saying there was no God – and she was wasting her life in belief of a fantasy. One day, the old man happened by her window moving his hose around his yard and overheard the old woman in prayer. She called on the Lord and asked for provision, for her cupboards were bare, and no additional money was expected until the following week. She simply prayed: “Lord, somehow, if You would, can You send some groceries.” Her neighbor crept away and thought to himself: “That is perfect! Now I can show her there is no God, and she is wasting her time!” He went to the nearby grocery and bought milk, bread, and some other food essentials, and placed them at her door. He rang the doorbell, and hid from view. As she opened the door and observed the provisions, she cried: “Oh, thank you God! You have done it again!” Just then, the old man came around the corner and said to the woman: “You see! I heard your prayer. I bought these things! God has nothing to do with it!” He sneered at her, but she smiled back and said: “Oh my, how exciting!” The old woman stopped and looked at the frumpy old man. “Jesus not only got me these groceries, but he got an unbeliever to pay for them! Isn’t He grand!”

You can’t go by what things look like–God may be doing many other things at the same time! God’s will for us is not only about us–it fits into His larger plan.

Let me close this lesson by urging all of us to make the effort to seeing things differently. That’s hard to do – but it’s the best way for us to begin to humbly admit that most of our complaints about how things are happening are unjustly blaming God when He is busy doing what is best. (Quote source here.)

So you see, even our own “long and winding roads” are not just about us. We just don’t get to see what else is going on behind the scenes until God finally chooses to show us His larger plan. I’ll close this post with the words from Psalm 34:1 . . .

I will bless the Lord at all times . . .

His praise shall continually . . .

Be in my mouth . . . .

YouTube Video: “God is on the Move” by 7eventh Time Down:

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

Persistent Prayer

Very recently (April 28, 2018), I published a blog post on the topic of prayer titled, Prayer Changes Things.” In that post I started off by stating that there is really no formal setting or position that is required to pray, and that praying can be done at any time, any place, anywhere, and under any circumstances. It’s doesn’t have to be prayed out loud, or even with your eyes closed. It can be done in a crowd, while walking through a mall, while sitting at a desk in a workplace, and while driving your car (and you definitely don’t want your eyes closed while driving a car). It can be done anywhere and nobody around you even has to know you are doing it.

There is something else I want to add to this list for us to think about when it comes to prayer. I read it last night in a book titled, The Red Letter Life: 17 Words from Jesus to Inspire Simple, Practical, Purposeful Living (2014) by Bob Hostetler, an ordained minister, writer, editor, speaker, and literary agent who had written over 50 books (and eleven of them co-authored with Josh McDowell, who has been at the forefront of cultural trends and ministry for more than 50 years–see Josh McDowell Ministry). He also has a daily prayer blog titled, One Prayer a Day,” at this link.

Bob Hostetler addresses the subject of prayer in his book, The Red Letter Life,” in Chapter 7 titled, “The Word That Opens Heaven.” It’s easy to relate to the opening paragraphs in this chapter:

There are seven billion people in the world. Seven billion.

You might think that, out of all those people, there might be someone–just one–who thinks or feels the way you do, someone who understands, who “gets” you, whose heart beats in the tune with your heart, whose mind anticipates your thoughts, whose expressions mirror your emotions.

Maybe you’ve met that person. Maybe not.

Either way, you probably still feel sometimes as if no one really knows. . .or cares. . .or understands. It’s part of the human condition.

You may be surrounded by thousands of people every day. You may live in a city of millions. You may sometimes feel awash in a sea of people, and yet it’s as if no one really knows you, no one really understands you, not even your friends, not even your family.

It’s not about romance or finding the love of your life. It’s not about friendship or family. It’s about our common human longing to connect with someone on a level we seldom–if ever–seem to touch. It’s about a nagging sense of aloneness and alienation that all our gadgets and games won’t relieve.

I say that not only because there are many who harbor those kinds of feelings, but also because it is not God’s desire for you to feel that way. He has created you with a great and wonderful capacity for connection and communion–not only with other people, but with him as well. And the sense of emptiness and estrangement you often feel is a symptom, not a disease. It is an indication that your heart and soul are not getting what you long for–and what God longs to give you.

The means to meet that desire and fill that emptiness is prayer.

Don’t freak out. Don’t turn the page. Don’t give up just yet.

You’ve heard it all, of course, You’ve listened to sermons on prayer. You’ve read books about prayer. You’ve tried. You’ve failed. Just like the rest of us.

But there’s no escaping the fact that Jesus said, “Pray.” When he said “pray,” however, he was saying something new. He was revising. He was revolutionizing. Because he commanded and modeled a kind of prayer that was different. Unique. A kind of prayer that opens heaven and fills the human heart.

It was different from the type of prayer his contemporaries knew. If was different from what his closest friends and followers practiced. So much so, in fact, that it piqued their curiosity: “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples'” (Luke 11:1).

It was different, too, from the prayers a lot of us have heard in church–you know, the kind that are filled with a lot of “thees” and “thous,” a bunch of fancy words and impressive Bible phrases thrown in. When Jesus said, “Pray,” he wasn’t talking about repeating the right phrases, or reciting something so many times, or reaching a certain level of consciousness–or unconsciousness!

He had a different idea. he revolutionized prayer. he changed the rules. He did to prayer what Michael Jackson did to dancing, what Picasso did to painting, what Apple did to cell phones.

When Jesus’ disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray,” they weren’t saying, “We don’t know how to pray.” They had been praying all their lives–a minimum of three times a day, in fact. They were saying, “We’ve been watching you. We watch you go off by yourself. Sometimes we follow you and spy on you a little. And we listen to you pray. But you don’t pray like we do. You don’t pray like other rabbis. You don’t pray like anyone we’ve ever known. To us prayer is boring and tedious. It doesn’t seem to do much for us. But you–when you pray, it seems like heaven opens and touches you and everything around you. It’s like it fills you and fuels you. Like it refreshes and recharges you. So. . .teach us to do what you do! Teach us to pray. . .like you”

That’s what they were asking. And so Jesus answer their plea. But he didn’t respond with a seminar or a formula. He said, in effect, “Watch.”

“Pray like this,” he said.

“Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power
And the glory forever.
Amen.
(Matthew 6:9-13, NKJV)

You may know it as the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. You may have recited it or heard it recited in church. It is a masterpiece of beauty and concision–which is what we could expect from the Son of God himself. It is not primarily a prayer to be recited and repeated; it is a pattern to guide our praying. It contains the main things Jesus wanted to teach his closest friends and followers about prayer. It encapsulates the ways he wanted them to pray (“The Red Letter Life,”pp.91-93). . . .

Pray, Jesus says. But he does not insist that we memorize the pattern he provided (though many have). And he does not require us to pray it word for work (though there is nothing wrong with that) or every day (though some have found great blessing in doing so). Instead he has modeled for us prayer for us–what it can be like, how it can sound, what it can do, and how it can bless.

He says, “Pray communally. Pray relationally. Pray confidently. Pray respectfully. Cooperatively. Specifically and practically. Contritely and graciously. Submissively. Purposefully. And worshipfully.” That’s the way he prayed. That’s the way he teaches us to pray.

There are many versions of the Lord’s Prayer–formal and informal, poetic and prosaic, simple and profound. The final word in this chapter is simply to choose a version that works for you and pray it once each day for the next week. You may wish to used your favorite Bible version (you’ll find the prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4). You may want to GoogleThe Lord’s Prayerand find a favorite version online. You may want to write your own paraphrase (“The Red Letter Life,”p. 106).

So, why pray? GotQuestions.org states the following:

For the Christian, praying is supposed to be like breathing, easier to do than to not do. We pray for a variety of reasons. For one thing, prayer is a form of serving God (Luke 2:36-38) and obeying Him. We pray because God commands us to pray (Philippians 4:6-7). Prayer is exemplified for us by Christ and the early church (Mark 1:35Acts 1:142:423:14:23-316:413:1-3). If Jesus thought it was worthwhile to pray, we should also. If He needed to pray to remain in the Father’s will, how much more do we need to pray?

Another reason to pray is that God intends prayer to be the means of obtaining His solutions in a number of situations. We pray in preparation for major decisions (Luke 6:12-13); to overcome demonic barriers (Matthew 17:14-21); to gather workers for the spiritual harvest (Luke 10:2); to gain strength to overcome temptation (Matthew 26:41); and to obtain the means of strengthening others spiritually (Ephesians 6:18-19).

We come to God with our specific requests, and we have God’s promise that our prayers are not in vain, even if we do not receive specifically what we asked for (Matthew 6:6Romans 8:26-27). He has promised that when we ask for things that are in accordance with His will, He will give us what we ask for (1 John 5:14-15). Sometimes He delays His answers according to His wisdom and for our benefit. In these situations, we are to be diligent and persistent in prayer (Matthew 7:7Luke 18:1-8). Prayer should not be seen as our means of getting God to do our will on earth, but rather as a means of getting God’s will done on earth. God’s wisdom far exceeds our own.

For situations in which we do not know God’s will specifically, prayer is a means of discerning His will. If the Syrian woman with the demon-influenced daughter had not prayed to Christ, her daughter would not have been made whole (Mark 7:26-30). If the blind man outside Jericho had not called out to Christ, he would have remained blind (Luke 18:35-43). God has said that we often go without because we do not ask (James 4:2). In one sense, prayer is like sharing the gospel with people. We do not know who will respond to the message of the gospel until we share it. In the same way, we will never see the results of answered prayer unless we pray.

A lack of prayer demonstrates a lack of faith and a lack of trust in God’s Word. We pray to demonstrate our faith in God, that He will do as He has promised in His Word and bless our lives abundantly more than we could ask or hope for (Ephesians 3:20). Prayer is our primary means of seeing God work in others’ lives. Because it is our means of “plugging into” God’s power, it is our means of defeating Satan and his army that we are powerless to overcome by ourselves. Therefore, may God find us often before His throne, for we have a high priest in heaven who can identify with all that we go through (Hebrews 4:15-16). We have His promise that the fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much (James 5:16-18). May God glorify His name in our lives as we believe in Him enough to come to Him often in prayer. (Quote source here.)

One of the most well known parables that Jesus taught us on prayer is found in Luke 18:1-8, known as The Parable of the Persistent Widow”:

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

In a devotion on Ligioner.org regarding this parable, the devotion states:

Take the parable of the unjust judge, also known as the parable of the persistent widow, in Luke 18:1–8. Clearly, the unjust judge does not represent anything beyond himself. He is not a symbol for God, or the devil, or anyone else. Instead, he is a character that Jesus invents in order to develop a comparison that stresses the Lord’s willingness to hear and respond to the prayers of His people. This judge, who in defiance of Deuteronomy 27:19 was not at all concerned to execute justice for widows, finally gives in to the widow’s demands because she refuses to leave him alone until he does. He finally acts justly, not out of a concern to do what is right but simply so that he can have some peace.

If evil judges will act justly in such circumstances, how much more will God, who never tires of hearing the pleas of His people, do what is right? The Lord, who can do no injustice, will move quickly to help when His children cry out to Him (Luke 18:7).

We should not think that our infinite God gets tired of hearing our pleas for justice. The Lord does not forget when injustice has been done, and He will certainly rectify it, though sometimes He waits until we have persistently called upon His name before He acts. But whether God intervenes immediately or seems to delay His response, we can be sure that He will do what is right. (Quote source here.)

The key to prayer is persistence. Jesus taught us that we should always pray and not give up, so let us pray… Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name . . . 

Your kingdom come . . .

Your will be done . . .

On earth as it is in heaven. . . .

YouTube Video: “Our Father” by Hillsong Worship:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Rebel With A Cause

Twenty three years ago Franklin Graham, the first born son of Billy (1918-2018) and Ruth (1920-2007) Graham, wrote an autobiography titled, Rebel With A Cause.” In the book he talks about the challenges of growing up in the shadow of his father’s fame (the renowned evangelist Billy Graham), being a Christian in contemporary America, and his work with Samaritan’s Purse. The following excerpt is taken from Google Books:

Franklin recalls childhood memories that are both happy and tainted. There are the warm memories of hunting and exploring with his father in the mountains around their home. But there are also the memories of the death threats targeting his father and the endless tourists who would peek in the windows of his family’s house to get a glimpse of life in the Billy Graham household.” “By the time Franklin was a young man, he was running from God and from the public’s high expectations of him as the oldest son of the best-known preacher of our time. His teen and young-adult years were marred by smoking, drinking, fighting, confrontations with the police, and eventually, expulsion from college.” “But finally, one night in a Middle East hotel room, God caught up with Franklin, and Graham’s daredevil, destructive life was from that point forward transformed into a creative, God-glorifying adventure.” “God instilled in Franklin a passion for the suffering and oppressed peoples of the world. Just six years after that hotel-room encounter with God, he was named president of Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief and evangelism organization that meets emergency needs around the world.” “In thrilling narrative after narrative, “Rebel with a Cause” recounts Franklin Graham’s often dangerous adventures as a worldwide emissary of Christ’s compassion: opening a medical clinic and orphanage in war-torn Rwanda; setting up a shelter in Croatia for Bosnian girls raped by enemy soldiers and now pregnant; organizing and training a chaplain’s corps for the Nicaraguan Contra army; and reaching out to Muslim Saudi Arabians with “Operation Desert Save” during the Gulf War. (Quote source here.)

Too often in today’s America we hear some pretty loud voices from the opposing side of Christianity that too often drown out the good that Christianity has done in this world of ours down through the ages, and that still happens all over the world today. The arguments get bogged down in politics and other agenda areas, not to mention a very active agenda to silence Christian voices in the media. However, religious freedom is still very much a part of our Constitution, as is freedom of speech. Tolerance isn’t tolerance if even one voice is trying to be silenced.

We used to be more civil in our disagreements, but thanks to the relentless 24/7 access of social media and the fact that civility isn’t being taught anymore, we are becoming a nation of loud and often angry voices whenever a dispute arises. Here is a case-in-point, taken from an article titled, Too Few Pastors Spoke Up. It’s the Real Reason We’re in this Mess Today,” by Dr. Michael L. Brown, founder and president of FIRE School of Ministry, director of the Coalition of Conscience, and host of the nationally syndicated talk radio show, “Line of Fire,” as well as the host of the apologetics TV show, “Answering Your Toughest Questions.” He holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and has served as a visiting or adjunct professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Fuller Theological Seminary, Denver Theological Seminary, the King’s Seminary, and Regent University School of Divinity, and he has contributed numerous articles to scholarly publications, including the Oxford Dictionary of Jewish Religion and the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. He is also the author of 30+ books (source here).

The following is taken from Dr. Brown’s article noted above and published on Charisma News on June 11, 2018. I am including a small portion of that article below to show just how vitriol the responses can be when a dispute arises on a “hot topic” issue. It is the type of responses he received and not the topic of the article that I’m addressing. Here is that excerpt:

…Of course, I’ve written and spoken on these topics for years, but I’m stirred to do so afresh in light of the reaction to our recent video “Can You Be Gay and Christian?” (If you follow my articles at all, then you’re quite aware of what’s going on. We still need your help and solidarity.)

We’ve received a torrent of horrific comments. A flood of vile death wishes. The most vulgar, almost unimaginable attacks against God. Responses pouring in by the thousands. YouTube demonetizing the video. Google reminding us of their guidelines against “hateful” content. And commenter after commenter expressing their absolute shock that anyone in our day and age could be so bigoted as to think God made men for women and women for men.

To quote one comment from among thousands (and a milder one at that), “What a [expletive]. He’s stuck in the 40’s and I honestly feel sorry for him. He’s blinded by his lack of intellectual thought process.” Or, in broader terms, from another commenter, “The bible is not honest. It’s a [expletive] middle eastern jew book from crazyland. You monkeys have all been conned.”

That’s what people are thinking. Christian conservatives are living in the dark ages. We’re ancient fossils, soon to be forgotten. We’re out of touch and out of our minds.

This is the response we get for simply laying out what the church (and synagogue and mosque) have believed throughout history, virtually without debate, until recent years.

But what shocks me is not that so many people are angry. Or hateful. Or vile.

What shocks me is that so many people are shocked. It’s as if they had no idea we still believe what we have always believed. (Quote source here.)

Ten years ago this type of outlandish commenting wouldn’t have been found on what was then the early stages of social media. Again, I’m not addressing the particular topic of this article (either the “pastor” issue or the “gay and Christian” issue). I’m addressing a civility issue. And I find it hard to believe that while Google apparently reminded Dr. Brown of their guidelines against “hateful” content, I didn’t read anything about Google reminding the commenters about their “hateful” content in the comments they sent to Dr. Brown. So where, exactly, does Google draw the line? Hate is still hate no matter what side it is coming from, and it certainly came from some of the commenters to Dr. Brown’s video.

We have a couple of generations of folks now who know next to nothing about Christianity other then what they get from social media or other sources, and what often comes off as a bad caricature in movies and on TV, and quite frankly, all the “selling” of Christianity out in the marketplace (it is a billion-dollar business here in America). There is much that I see on TV and in social media and elsewhere that if I wasn’t already a Christian I might think it was bogus, too. But much of that isn’t genuine Christianity.

In a June 12, 2018, article published in The Week titled, The Maligning of Early Christianity,” by Pascal Emmanuel Gobry, a writer and fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (his writing has appeared in ForbesThe AtlanticFirst ThingsCommentary MagazineThe Daily BeastThe Federalist, Quartz), he states:

Christianity is, if nothing else, one of the most successful cultural phenomenons in all of human history, and still powerfully shapes the world. But in many ways, this is happening reactively in much of the secular West, where a major plank of the Enlightenment sought to use history to show that Christianity represented a steep decline in our history.

This anti-Christianity revisionism is basically political propaganda. As George Orwell pointed out so masterfully, you can change how people think if you can change their vocabulary. A term like “the Middle Ages” is meant to imply that a thousand years of European history was basically just an ellipses between antiquity and “the Renaissance,” a loaded term if there ever was one, when it was only the “rediscovery” of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy — which had been suppressed by fundamentalist Christians — that enabled the start of a “new age” of “rationality” and “free inquiry.” Even if we didn’t pay much attention in history class, we’re all familiar with this narrative, because it’s everywhere. The ancient world, we are told, was tolerant, open-minded, and believed in philosophy and free inquiry, and the advent of Christianity ruined all of that.

You can find this narrative in countless works of popular culture. The latest salvo is a book by the historian Catherine Nixon whose title, The Darkening Age, speaks volumes. As a review in The New York Times puts it, Nixon casts the early Christian church as “a master of anti-intellectualism, iconoclasm, and mortal prejudice.”

I hope I don’t have to spell out the political advantages that this narrative can have today. Too bad it’s wrong.

Take the ancients’ supposed open-mindedness and pursuit of rational inquiry, and Christians’ supposed anti-intellectualism. The fact of the matter is that in the ancient world educated Christians were just as enamored of scholarship and philosophy as anyone. The early Christian writers spoke of the “spoliatio aegyptorum,” which meant the use of concepts from pagan philosophy in Christian theology, which they did avidly and gratefully. Stories of early Christian mobs attacking pagan sites are used to portray fanatical Christianity crushing whatever opposed its “dogmas.” But pagan mobs attacked Christians too. And let’s remember that Christianity was illegal, and that these mobs were often incited and abetted by Roman officials as a convenient way to put down those unruly Christians.

What of scientific inquiry? The idea, again, that ancient society had any sort of commitment to open scientific inquiry and that the Christians did not is false. Most historians today admit that the Romans were pretty much stagnating technologically by the time Christianity came on the scene and that there was very little scientific progress in the intervening centuries. Scientific progress started accelerating in the Middle Ages. Building a cathedral would have been just as out of reach of the Roman Empire at it’s height as building a moon rocket.

And what of the supposed open-mindedness of pagans when it comes to sex, which contrasts with Christians’ much-mocked prudishness? I think this one takes the cake. Did the pagans have orgies? You bet they did. But people typically forget to point out that in those merry occasions depicted in Roman art, the women would typically be slaves. Indeed, buying, selling, and renting slaves for sex was absolutely legal, and not even frowned upon — including that of children — and was therefore done on an industrial scale, in a society with permanently skewed sex ratios due to gender-selective infanticide.

Did Christians “impose their beliefs” when they got into power? Yes. For example, one of their first acts was to ban the use of slaves for sex. As a Christian, somehow, I don’t feel shame about that. Did Christian mobs deface pagan statues and monuments? Absolutely, yes. In the ancient world, pagan religion represented an entire social order that sanctioned all kinds of terrible things. It’s not hard to imagine why someone might want to deface a statue or two. I wish they hadn’t, but it’s not exactly monstrous that they did.

Remember that early Christianity did an awful lot of good, too. It created the first organized welfare system in all of human history, enabling the poorest and most destitute in Roman society to lead lives with dignity. Christians paid widows pensions, in a society where unmarried women had no rights and widows (of which there were many) were forced to remarry or face destitution. Other notable innovations of the early Christian church included the first schools (for children whose families could not afford private tutors) and the first hospitals (for those who could not afford doctors). They had to build all these things because they believed in serving the poor and pagans did not.

Christianity was indeed a rebellion against a lot that the ancient world stood for, in particular paganism, which suffused through the social order. Society was dominated by the idea that the entire cosmos was essentially a celestial hierarchy, ruled by fate, with the hierarchy of gods, also bound by fate, up top, and free male citizens somewhere in the middle, and everyone else below. And that any violence, any cruelty, in the service of this order, or by those higher up against those lower down, was basically fine.

Did Christianity “destroy the ancient world”, as the Times review of Nixey’s book has it? My first thought is “not enough.” Sadly, Christianity in its early centuries did not destroy cruelty or evil, which would continue to haunt it throughout its history, as we all well know, but instead only the belief, which lay at the heart of pagan philosophy and religion, that cruelty and evil is right and proper. I, for one, don’t have a problem with that. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with an article titled, The Litmus Test of Genuine Christianity,” by Cap Stewart, a videographer, freelance writer, and media manager for a multi-state southeastern construction company:

In our pluralistic culture, churches have become so varied that they spread confusion about what it really means to be a follower of Christ. When it comes to hot-button issues like gun rights, abortion, and homosexuality, professing Christians line up on opposite ends. Can Christianity legitimately be so divided? Or, to put it another way, can anyone discern the “real deal”? Is it possible to know what functional, practical Christianity truly looks like? 

James, the brother of Jesus, says yes—and he gives us a simple litmus test:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James. 1:27).

James provides a short, two-item checklist: (1) love—helping those in need, and (2) holiness—separating from worldly influence. These two traits summarize the practical outworking of a life changed by the gospel.

Much of the current division within the church comes from overemphasizing one trait over the other. Some churches tend to emphasize love, whereas others tend to prioritize holiness. But neither is negotiable. Both are essential for living the Christian life.

First Essential: Love

One way Christians can be tempted to forsake the requirement of love is to pursue our rights. Especially in America, where individualism is one of our sacred cows, we can get caught up in fighting for our rights, particularly as they pertain to religious freedom. There are certainly times and places to use proper legal means to secure those rights (as Paul did in Acts 22:22-30), but we should be known for something better than demanding equal treatment.

We can become so consumed with our liberties that we end up treating those in the world as our enemies, to the detriment of the gospel. God has called us to proclaim a message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20), something that is hard to do if we constantly approach unbelievers armed for a fight.

The Christian is called to consider the needs and preferences of others (Gal. 5:14). Yes, we must sometimes draw attention to a person’s—or even a nation’s—sins, but are we going to do so with our fists in their faces or with tears on our cheeks? During New Testament times, the government was far more corrupt and hostile to Christianity than ours is today, yet we don’t see Scripture commanding us to fight for our rights. Instead, we are instructed to expect unfair treatment—even blatant persecution—and to return hostility with love (John 15:18-20Rom. 12:18-21).

Second Essential: Holiness

The sacred cow of individualism has affected not only our love but also our holiness. Too often, we have turned our personal happiness into the greatest good. As long as it makes me happy (whatever “it” may be), and as long as no one else gets hurt, I can and should pursue it. If I don’t pursue my own happiness, I am being untrue to myself. Or so the argument goes.

But the second fruit of genuine Christianity, James says, is “to keep oneself unstained from the world.” The world may tell us to follow our hearts, but we are called to be true ultimately to God and his Word—not to our autonomy. And being true to God often comes in the form of denying ourselves what we think we want, because it is actually bad for us (Rom. 13:41 Pet. 2:11).

At the same time, we don’t want to be so far removed from the world that we don’t understand it. We can’t affect the culture if we aren’t engaging with it. In many ways, though, we have sacrificed our holiness on the altar of relevance. With the apparent purpose of being more engaged with our culture, the church has tried so hard to fit in that the distinction between churched and unchurched peoples has often been obliterated. We must take James’ warning to heart: aligning ourselves with worldly values is aligning ourselves against God (James. 4:4).

Christianity Is Countercultural

Christ-like love is a beautiful thing. To love unconditionally, regardless of another person’s maturity or theological depth or moral purity, is to love like God loves. It reveals a heart transformed by the gospel. Likewise, true holiness is a beautiful thing. Avoiding conformity to this world is a sign of a heart satisfied with promises and pleasures found in the gospel that exceed anything the world can offer.

Pure and undefiled Christianity is counter-cultural. It stands out as radically different from anything we would naturally think or do. Wherever we stand politically or denominationally, the true path of Christianity challenges us to confront the animosity and worldliness found in our own hearts. True Christianity may look to the world like foolishness, but it reveals God’s saving power. (Quote source here.)

Enough said. I’ll end this post with Micah 6:8He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly . . .

To love mercy . . .

And to walk humbly . . .

With your God . . . .

YouTube Video: “If We Are The Body” by Casting Crowns:

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

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