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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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The Future is Now

The Future is NowWhat has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
~Ecclesiastes 1:9

While we live in an age of ever increasing marvel and technological wonders, some things never change–like human nature. Due to the ever increasing rise in terrorism that is spreading around the globe like a cancer claiming it’s next victim, we do ourselves a great disservice if we bury our heads in the sand and pretend it can’t happen here in America. And all of the braggadocio talk we can muster won’t stop it, either. In fact, it won’t even put a dent in it. If anything, it encourages it all the more. . . .

This post is going to deal with the subject of persecution and, specifically, the rise of persecution and the basic steps involved in persecuting others. Persecution is defined as “hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs; and persistent annoyance or harassment” (quote source here). Whether it is individualized to a specific person or an entire group of people, there are several stages that take place in the systematic persecution of any individual or group. An article titled, The Five Stages of Persecution,” published on July 31, 2014 on Patheos.com written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker spells out those stages:

The Five Stages of Persecution

Seeing the rise of persecution against Christians in Iraq, the far East and Africa, Msgr Pope has a great archived article here on the five stages that precede outright persecution. Can it happen in the USA – land of religious freedom? Msgr Pope observes the five stages.

1. Stereotyping the targeted group  To stereotype means to repeat without variation, to take a quality or observation of a limited number, and generalize it to the whole group. It involves a simplified and standardized conception or view of a group based on observation of a limited sample.

Basically as the stereotype goes, Catholics and Bible believing Christians are a sad, angry, boring, backward and repressed lot. To many who accept the stereotyping we are a laughable, even tragic group, caught in a superstitious past, incapable of throwing off the shackles of faith.

2. Vilifying the targeted Group for alleged crimes or misconduct  As the stereotyping grows in intensity, Catholics and Christians who did not toe the line in the cultural revolution were described as close-minded, harmful to human dignity and freedom, intolerant, hateful, bigoted, unfair, homophobic, reactionary and just plain mean and basically bad people.

The History of the Church is also described myopically as little more than bad and repressive behavior as we conducted crusades, inquisitions, and hated Galileo and all of science. Never mind that there might be a little more to the story, or that the Church founded universities, and hospitals, was the patron of the arts, and preached a Gospel that brought order and civilization to divided and barbarous time in the aftermath of the Roman Empire. Stereotyping will hear little of that, or, if it does, it will give the credit to anything or anyone but the Church and the faith.

3. Marginalizing the targeted group’s role in society  Having established the (untrue) premise that the Church and the faith is very bad and even harmful to human dignity and freedom, the next stage seeks to relegate the role of the Church to the margins.

To many in secularized culture, religion must go. They will perhaps let us have our hymns, etc., in the four walls of our churches, but the faith must be banished from the public square.

In this stage it becomes increasingly unacceptable and intolerable that anyone should mention God, pray publicly or in any way bring their Christian faith to bear on matters of public policy. Nativity sets must go, out with Christmas trees, even the colors green and red at “holiday time” are banished from many public schools.

4. Criminalizing the targeted group or its works – Can someone say HHS mandate?

But prior to this egregious attempt to violate our religious liberty there have been many other times we have had to go to court to fight for our rights to openly practice our faith. Increasing litigation is being directed against the Church and other Christians for daring to live out our faith.

Some jurisdictions have sought to compel Catholic hospitals and pro-life clinics to provide information or referrals for abortion, to provide “emergency contraception” (i.e. the abortifacient known as the morning after pill), Several branches of Catholic Charities have been de-certified from doing adoption work because they will not adopt children to gay couples. The State of Connecticut sought to regulate the structure, organization and running of Catholic parishes in 2009. And recently a number of Christian valedictorians in various states have suffered legal injunctions when it was discovered that they would dare to mention God, and Jesus in their talk. (More HERE)

5. Persecuting the targeted group outright  If current trends continue, Christians, especially religious leaders, may not be far from enduring heavy fines and jail.

The trajectory points to suffering, lawsuits, fines, desertification, and ultimately jail. (Article and quote source here.)

As Msgr Pope stated in the original article published in 2012 and cited at the beginning of the above article, “Unlikely you say? Alarmist? Well, stages one through four are pretty well in place. One may wish to whistle past the graveyard but it looks like we’re pretty well set for Stage 5. You decide.” He added the following under Stage 5 in his original article:

In this country there are greater provisions for free speech but, as we have seen, there is a steady erosion in religious liberty and many Catholic dioceses are well familiar with having to spend long periods in courts defending basic religious liberty. The trajectory points to suffering, lawsuits, fines, desertification, and ultimately jail.

The subject of persecution (the systematic destroying of others) involves “the suffering of all types of persecution and harassment short of death brought against a person or group on account of adherence to a cause and especially to one’s religious faith. This type of persecution usually takes the form of political, psychological, legal and financial harassment” (quote source here). And it occurs much more frequently in societies like America who wish to hide the outright persecution of its citizens who they see as being “unfit” in whatever category they choose to put them in (whether religious, racial, etc.) since it is not yet legal to persecute them “out in the open” (although what they do is pretty overt at times).

Love Never FailsPersecution is alive and well right here in America. It isn’t as obvious as beheading anyone on beaches yet, or gassing them in ovens; or working people to death in death camps, but it is here. For example, how many millions in this country are in the “long-term unemployed” category and have given up ever hoping to find work again? Their lives have been decimated financially and in many other ways but does anybody care? The number of homeless has vastly increased while the number of laws against the homeless has increased, too. And you won’t find their numbers listed anywhere in the latest unemployment statistics. We hide persecution under the various cloaks of long-term unemployment, or calling into question the sanity or mental stability of those we can’t “control” (especially if they have strong religious beliefs that are not popular among the general population), not to mention the systematic targeting of specific individuals for all types of harassment. There is no shortage of examples from those being persecuted as stated above on the internet if one wants to go looking for them. Unfortunately, most people just don’t want to know, and it’s easier to call them crazy. In that way perhaps they don’t think it will ever affect them.

Let’s take a look at the early stages of persecution that took place in Nazi Germany between 1933-1939. An article titled, 1933-1939: Early Stages of Persecution,” on MyJewishLearning.com states the following:

On January 30, 1933, Adolph Hitler was named chancellor, the most powerful position in the German government, by the aged President Hindenburg, who hoped Hitler could lead the nation out of its grave political and economic crisis. Hitler was the leader of the right-wing National Socialist German Workers Party (called “the Nazi Party” for short). It was, by 1933, one of the strongest parties in Germany, even though–reflecting the country’s multiparty system–the Nazis had won only a plurality of 33 percent of the votes in the 1932 elections to the German parliament (Reichstag).

Once in power, Hitler moved quickly to end German democracy. He convinced his cabinet to invoke emergency clauses of the constitution that permitted the suspension of individual freedoms of press, speech, and assembly. Special security forces—the Gestapo, the Storm Troopers (SA), and the SS–murdered or arrested leaders of opposition political parties (Communists, socialists, and liberals). The Enabling Act of March 23, 1933–forced through the Reichstag already purged of many political opponents–gave dictatorial powers to Hitler.

Also in 1933, the Nazis began to put into practice their racial ideology. The Nazis believed that the Germans were “racially superior” and that there was a struggle for survival between them and inferior races. They saw Jews, Roma (Gypsies), and the handicapped as a serious biological threat to the purity of the “German (Aryan) Race,” what they called the master race.

Jews, who numbered about 525,000 in Germany (less than one percent of the total population in 1933) were the principal target of Nazi hatred. The Nazis identified Jews as a race and defined this race as “inferior.” They also spewed hate-mongering propaganda that unfairly blamed Jews for Germany’s economic depression and the country’s defeat in World War I (1914-1918).

In 1933, new German laws forced Jews out of their civil service jobs, university and law court positions, and other areas of public life. In April 1933, laws proclaimed at Nuremberg made Jews second-class citizens. These Nuremberg Laws defined Jews, not by their religion or by how they wanted to identify themselves, but by the religious affiliation of their grandparents. Between 1937 and 1939, new anti-Jewish regulations segregated Jews further and made daily life very difficult for them. Jews could not attend public schools; go to theaters, cinema, or vacation resorts; or reside or even walk in certain sections of German cities.

Also between 1937 and 1939, Jews increasingly were forced from Germany’s economic life. The Nazis either seized Jewish businesses and properties outright or forced Jews to sell them at bargain prices. In November 1938, the Nazis organized a riot (pogrom), known as Kristallnacht (the “Night of Broken Glass”). This attack against German and Austrian Jews included the physical destruction of synagogues and Jewish-owned stores, the arrest of Jewish men, the vandalizing of homes, and the murder of individuals.

Although Jews were the main target of Nazi hatred, the Nazis persecuted other groups they viewed as racially or genetically “inferior.” Nazi racial ideology was buttressed by scientists who advocated “selective breeding” (eugenics) to “improve” the human race. Laws passed between 1933 and 1935 aimed to reduce the future number of genetic “inferiors” through involuntary sterilization programs: 320,000 to 350,000 individuals judged physically or mentally handicapped were subjected to surgical or radiation procedures so they could not have children. Supporters of sterilization also argued that the handicapped burdened the community with the costs of their care. Many of Germany’s 30,000 Roma (Gypsies) were also eventually sterilized and prohibited, along with Blacks, from intermarrying with Germans. About 500 children of mixed African-German backgrounds were also sterilized. New laws combined traditional prejudices with the racism of the Nazis, which defined Roma by “race” and as “criminal and asocial.”

Another consequence of Hitler’s ruthless dictatorship in the 1930s was the arrest of political opponents and trade unionists and others whom the Nazis labeled “undesirables” and “enemies of the state.” Some 5,000 to 15,000 homosexuals were imprisoned in concentration camps; under the 1935 Nazi-revised criminal code, the mere denunciation of a man as “homosexual” could result in arrest, trial, and conviction. Jehovah’s Witnesses, who numbered at least 25,000 in Germany, were banned as an organization as early as April 1933, because the beliefs of this religious group prohibited them from swearing any oath to the state or serving in the German military. Their literature was confiscated, and they lost their jobs, unemployment benefits, pensions, and all social welfare benefits. Many Witnesses were sent to prisons and concentration camps in Nazi Germany, and their children were sent to juvenile detention homes and orphanages.

Between 1933 and 1936, thousand of people, mostly political prisoners, were imprisoned in concentrations camps, while several thousand German Roma were confined in special municipal camps. The first systematic round-up of German and Austrian Jews occurred after Kristallnacht, when approximately 30,000 Jewish men were deported to Dachau and other concentration camps, and several hundred Jewish women were sent to local jails. The wave of arrests in 1938 also included several thousand German and Austrian Roma.

Between 1933 and 1939, about half of the German-Jewish population and more than two-thirds of Austrian Jews (1938-1939) fled Nazi persecution. They emigrated mainly to the United States, Palestine, elsewhere in Europe (where many would be later trapped by Nazi conquests during the war), Latin America, and Japanese-occupied Shanghai (which required no visas for entry). Jews who remained under Nazi rule were either unwilling to uproot themselves or unable to obtain visas, sponsors in host countries, or funds for emigration. Most foreign countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain, and France, were unwilling to admit very large numbers of refugees. (Quote source here.)

Nazi Germany didn’t happen in a vacuum. The whole world watched and turned a blind eye to the horror and atrocities that took place until the world found itself engulfed in the Second World War.

Regarding persecution in America, I ran into an article published on March 6, 2015 by  on Patheos.com titled, Yes, There Is Christian Persecution in America And Here’s What it Looks Like.” His take is a bit different regarding where the source of the persecution is coming from. He opens by stating what most people believe about persecution in America:

I’ve often written about the American persecution complex that tends to see anti-Christian persecution under every rock, and have long been a proponent that such claims of persecution are often simply a loss of privilege or the ability to persecute others. Each time I say something along these lines, I usually get a flood of comments and messages/e-mails telling me how wrong I am and that Christianity in America is under attack. One commenter even said recently that “Jesus” is the only name you’re not allowed to speak at work without getting fired.

Secretly I’ve had some misgivings about my position and these doubts have now given way to a change in position. So, this post is a capitulation to my critics and a public admission about how wrong I’ve been. Yes, Christians are bullied for their faith in America– and it happens on a daily basis. Yes, Christians can lose their jobs simply because they believe in the teachings of Jesus. Yes, some Christians in America are hated on account of their association with Jesus. Real persecution just happens to look differently than what is often claimed as persecution. Case in point:

A few weeks ago, MidAmerica Nazarene University chaplain and Vice President of Community Formation Dr. Randy Beckum spoke at the student chapel services. Dr. Beckum gave a short sermon during the chapel service that is being billed as “controversial” and something that really upset the student and faculty population at MidAmerica Nazarene (see/read full text here). What was so controversial and offensive you ask? Well, let’s take a look…. (You can read the entire article at this link).

You might be surprised (or maybe not) at where Corey sees the persecution of Christians in America coming from (hint: other Christians). And if you read the article, you will find out that the President relieved Dr. Beckum of his duties as Vice President of Community Formation. The topic of Dr. Beckum’s sermon during a chapel service that started the whole controversy was on Jesus’ admonition to his followers that we are to “love our enemies.” (The article is available at this link). There is something so antithetical about Christians persecuting other Christians when Jesus clearly commanded his followers to “love our enemies.” Christians persecuting anyone should not exist.

With that being said, persecution can come from anyone or anywhere, and no one particular group has a niche on it. It is all about the motives of those who are doing the persecuting (whether persecuting an individual or an entire group of people). The persecution of others is done for a variety of reasons, often of a religious nature but not always (e.g., money and control are huge motivators for persecution, too), goes on everywhere. As I mentioned above, just because we aren’t beheading people on beaches here in America doesn’t mean we aren’t stealth in other ways of persecuting others we want to try to control (or destroy) for whatever reasons. Those involved in the persecution are adept at making others look stupid or crazy and ruining their lives if there is personal gain in it for them. Persecution in America is alive and well hidden, but it is very much “out there.”

America is changing and it is changing at a very rapid pace. What will it look like in ten years? Who knows? Just look at the upheaval in our political system during this election year. By the way, as a disclaimer, the articles I have mentioned are for information only on the subject of persecution and I do not personally endorse some of the statements in them. I have used them because they cite specific situations of how the persecution progressed in Nazi Germany, and how one high ranking administrator lost his job here in America by giving a sermon in chapel at a Christian university on Jesus’ topic of “loving our enemies.”

The irony of it all. . . .

While persecution is a sobering topic, I want to end this post on a more positive note. An article published on August 10, 2015 written by Thomas Christianson in Relevant Magazine gives us some food for thought, and it is aptly titled, What It Actually Means to Love Your Enemies.” You can read his article at this link.

Jesus said it best in Matthew 5:43-48:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

So let us go . . . 

And do likewise . . . .

YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Never Giving Up

ready-for-defenseBack on November 3, 2013, I wrote a blog post titled, The Woman, the Judge, Justice and God,” and I reblogged it again last year on April 23, 2015, adding a few words and titled it, Always Pray and Don’t Give Up.” It’s regarding a parable that Jesus taught on one of the most important topics we need to remember when we are in the midst of an ongoing trial (sometimes lasting for years) that just never seems to let up and, in fact, over time the pressure intensifies in order to try and make us finally give up. It tests our mettle to the max, and too often we give up when the going just keeps on going and getting harder instead of better, and the obstacles get tougher and more numerous and the pressure seems unbearable at times. And it’s at that very point that the message of the parable is so vitally important for us to remember. If we rely on ourselves and our own understanding, we will fall. 

As a preface to the parable, Jesus states, “Always pray and don’t give up.” And he is our example to follow. After all, he never gave up, either (see Hebrews 12:1-3). The power to move forward when all hell comes against us is found only in God, and not is us. This parable is about persistence and how important it is to have it, and to keep it, and keep going on and to not give up, no matter how long it takes and no matter hard it gets, and no matter who may mock us or how many are against us in the process. The parable is found in Luke 18.1-8:

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?”

JusticeThere are a lot of people in this world who don’t fear God or care what people think. The judge in this case was such a person. However, what eventually got to him was this widow’s persistence in coming to him to get justice from her adversary. We are not given the details of her particular problem with her adversary, but it was clear she needed justice from the harassment she was under and the judge was the only person who could give it to her. But he refused to help her “for some time.” It could have been several years, but she never stopped coming to him for help, and she never gave up seeking help from him as he was the only one who could get justice for her from her adversary who just never gave up harassing her. Finally, the judge was so tired of hearing from her that he decided to finally give her the justice she needed so that she would stop bothering him about it, but it took a very long time for it to happen. In fact, the judge’s response states that he would finally see that she got justice so that she wouldn’t eventually come and attack him. He was wearing out under her continual pressure of asking for justice, and it was her persistence that paid off for her in the end. While we don’t know what happened to her adversary, we do know the harassment finally stopped and she was finally free from her adversary.

Of course, the ending of the parable states, “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?”

It is interesting that Jesus asks that question at the end of this parable–“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” The faith he is speaking about is the kind of faith portrayed by the widow’s continual persistence and the fact that she never gave up seeking justice from her adversary (see James 1:2-4). And that included the widow having to live through years of whatever her adversary was doing to her (Trial #1), and also the reluctance of the judge to help her for a very long time (Trial #2). And it paid off with the judge finally giving her justice from her adversary.

It has been seven years and seven months now since I started that job in Houston that has left me unemployed for all of this time. That job lasted barely seven months, but the consequences from it have lasted seven years so far. The punishment hardly fits the crime, and my only crime was accepting that job in the first place as I did nothing wrong while I worked there that warranted me being fired from it, and certainly nothing that warranted me not being able to find another job in all of this time. And I was employed in my profession for twenty years before I showed up on their door step. I suppose in a way it could be compared to a David and Goliath” story. I hadn’t thought of that comparison before, but the corporation that owns the company I worked for is definitely a “Goliath” in size and power, owning and managing over one hundred for-profit institutions of higher education (colleges and graduate schools), of which my former employer was one of them.

What happened to me there wasn’t right . . .

It wasn’t fair, and it certainly wasn’t just . . .

And I’m still looking for some justice. . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Matter of Privacy

Tech-Sector-vs.-Government-Surveillance-privacyThree years ago I watched a movie titled The Pelican Brief (1993) starring Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, and Sam Shepard, that was made from the third novel by John Grisham with the same title, The Pelican Brief,” published in 1992 (an excerpt from the book is available at this link). There was a line in the movie that ended up being the inspiration for a blog post that I wrote on May 4, 2013, titled, Threats to Liberty (available at this link and reblogged in part below). The other day I ran into a hardback copy of the book at the local library for sale in their bookstore for $1.00, and since I don’t have a permanent address since I am still living in a hotel for reasons I have previously explained (and I can’t check out books from the library as I can’t get a library card with a temporary address), I decided to purchase the book to see how closely the movie follows the book. The main plot and story line are the same, but the movie is, obviously, a “quick version” of the book, with a little license thrown in. However, in reading the book it brought back the passion I felt after watching the movie three years ago. In fact, I think I’ll watch it again. . . .

There is a line stated very early on in the movie that inspired my blog post three years ago that was stated by Thomas Callahan (played by Sam Shepard), a Tulane law professor who teaches Constitutional Law to his students. The line is as follows:

“Passion and self-interest are threats to liberty.”

And they still are threats to liberty today, so I thought I’d repost the main part of that blog post titled, Threats to Liberty,” published three years ago as a reminder of what is at stake:

Threats to Liberty

life_liberty_the_pursuit_of_happinessOn July 4, 1776, these words were written by representatives of the original thirteen United States of America in Congress as part of the Declaration of Independence“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness . . . .” (quote source here).

America was founded as a “republic” and not as a “democracy” (as it is commonly referred to), and there is a major difference between the two. “The difference between a democracy and a republic is not merely a question of semantics but is fundamental. The word ‘republic’ comes from the Latin ‘res publica’ — which means simply ‘the public thing(s),’ or more simply ‘the law(s).’ ‘Democracy, on the other hand, is derived from the Greek words ‘demos’ and ‘kratein,’ which translates to ‘the people to rule.’ Democracy, therefore, has always been synonymous with majority rule” (quote source here).

“The Founding Fathers supported the view that (in the words of the Declaration of Independence) ‘Men … are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.’ They recognized that such rights should not be violated by an unrestrained majority any more than they should be violated by an unrestrained king or monarch. In fact, they recognized that majority rule would quickly degenerate into ‘mob’-ocracy and then into tyranny. They had studied the history of both the Greek democracies and the Roman republic. They had a clear understanding of the relative freedom and stability that had characterized the latter, and of the strife and turmoil – quickly followed by despotism – that had characterized the former. In drafting the Constitution, they created a government of law and not of men, a republic and not a democracy (quote source here).

America is governed by laws and not by majority rule. Does that come as a surprise to you? It’s true. American citizens have the right to vote for their representatives in government, but it is the laws created and passed by that government that rule over America and its citizens, starting with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The Founding Fathers recognized that such rights should not be violated by an unrestrained majority any more than they should be violated by an unrestrained king or monarch” (quote source here).

The Founding Fathers recognized that such rights should not be violated by an unrestrained majority any more than they should be violated by an unrestrained king or monarch.” In other words, “an unrestrained majority” or an “unrestrained king” (in our case that would be the president), or both, have no right to trample the rights of any citizen in America as long as that citizen is a law-abiding citizen and has done no harm to anyone nor violated any laws. And as citizens of America, the Declaration of Independence clearly states that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That means we are all equal. No exceptions. None.

No_LibertyIn America, we all have the right to“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” and that means every single one of us. When that right in trample on and/or gets taken away from even one of us, all of us lose out. There’s a line in the movie, The Pelican Brief,” (1993) by Thomas Callahan, a Tulane law professor (played by Sam Shepard), where he states to his class, “Passion and self-interest are threats to liberty.” Let’s look at the definitions of these three words from Dictionary.com:

Passion“any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate.”

Self-interest“regard for one’s own interest or advantage, especially with disregard for others.”

Liberty: “freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc., power or fight of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice; freedom from captivity, confinement, or physical restraint: The prisoner soon regained his liberty.”

If we allow the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (not to mention the right to privacy) to be taken away from even one American citizen who has done no harm nor violated any laws because of hatred, greed, and/or self-interest by any person or persons, majority, or government official, liberty no longer exists for any American citizen, and that is a slippery slope we will never recover from. And if it is allowed to happen to even one citizen, it can happen to all of us.

And let’s take a look at the “right to privacy.” Did you know there is a Universal Declaration of Human Rights? It states that a right to privacy is explicitly stated under Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

The following quote comes from Wikipedia.com (link here):

The U.S. Supreme Court has found that the Constitution implicitly grants a right to privacy against governmental intrusion . . . . An article in the December 15, 1890 issue of the Harvard Law Review, written by attorney Samuel Warren and future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and entitled “The Right To Privacy,” is often cited as the first implicit declaration of a U.S. right to privacy . . . . Most states of the United States also grant a right to privacy and recognize four torts based on that right:

  1. Intrusion upon seclusion or solitude, or into private affairs;
  2. Public disclosure of embarrassing private facts;
  3. Publicity which places a person in a false light in the public eye; and
  4. Appropriation of name or likeness.

Do we as citizens of America take seriously the threat against allowing any person or persons, majority, or government official(s) to take away our basic human rights and rights as U.S. citizens? Do we just sit back and ignore it because it’s not happening to us at the moment? Well, it WILL happen to us eventually if we allow it to happen to even one U.S. citizen who had done no harm or no wrong to anyone nor broken any laws.

And if we don’t think it can ever happen in America, think Nazi Germany, and read that history. Under Hitler’s rule, Germany was transformed from a republic into a dictatorship using the process of Gelichschaltung (coordination)” (quote source here). Systematic coordination . . . . Germany was transformed from a republic (which is what we are) to a dictatorship, and it was done systematically over a very short period of time (1933-1945).

So, if we don’t care what happens to our own citizens as long as it isn’t happening to us at the moment (and if we are so ignorant as to believe that it won’t happen to us), don’t be surprised when we wake up one day to a transformed America where we have no rights at all anymore.

It’s a wake up call, folks. So do we just hit the snooze button and roll over one more time? Well, one more time might be too late. The following YouTube video is the same song I posted three years ago on that blog post mentioned above, and since I love the Doobie Brothers. . . .

Here it is again. . . .

Enjoy. . . .

YouTube Video: “Takin’ It To The Streets,” by The Doobie Brothers:

Photo #1 credit here
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Photo #3 credit here

Strangers Among Us

love-hateWe have met the enemy and he is us.”

This quote was made famous by Pogo,” a comic strip character created by Walt Kelly (1913-1973) back at a time when environmental issues took front and center stage in America (1970-71), and they are still very much with us today. Here’s a little background information on the quote (source here):

We have met the enemy and he is us--PogoThe animal characters Walt Kelly created for his classic newspaper comic strip Pogo were known for their seemingly simplistic, but slyly perceptive comments about the state of the world and politics.

None is more remembered than Pogo the ‘possum’s quote in the poster Kelly designed to help promote environmental awareness and publicize the first annual observance of Earth Day, held on April 22, 1970 (see poster at right):

“WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US.”

In the poster, under the quote, Pogo is seen holding a litter pick-up stick and a burlap bag. He appears to be getting ready to start cleaning up the garbage humans have strewn over Okefenokee Swamp, the part of the planet where he lives.

Kelly used the line again in the Pogo strip published on the second Earth Day in 1971.

The words poignantly highlight a key concept of environmental stewardship: we all share part of the responsibility for the trashing of planet Earth, so we should all do our share to help clean it up.

Pogo’s quip was a pun based on the famous quotation “We have met the enemy and they are ours”—one of two famous quotes made by American Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry on September 10, 1813, after defeating a British naval squadron on Lake Erie during the War of 1812. (Perry’s other famous quote that day was “Don’t give up the ship.”) 

Kelly had used a version of the quote in the foreword to his 1953 book, “The Pogo Papers,” but it was not as pithy or memorable as the line he coined for Earth Day 1970.

Today, the environmental issues we face today are clearly daunting…. (Quote and article here.)

While the environmental issues here in America as well as the rest of the planet are certainly daunting, there is an enemy lurking is all of us that is far more daunting and far more damaging than any environmental issue including the latest one to hit the news known as global warming.”

While the “trashing of planet Earth” has been the main focus of the global warming controversy, there is another type of “global warming” that threatens all of us, and it is far worse than any particular environmental issue (not that they aren’t important). It is the “trashing of the human race” which is far more serious.

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) in Nazi Germany (1933-1945) tried to exterminate an entire race of people (the Jews living among them at the time, and he succeeded in murdering six million of them–known as The Holocaust–and a total of eleven million people between 1933-1945) before he committed suicide at the end of World War II. Many centuries earlier, Haman, the main antagonist in the Book of Esther, who was a vizier in the Persian empire under King Ahasuerus, traditionally identified as Xerxes I, also tried to exterminate the Jews but the attempt was foiled and he was hanged on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai, a Jew who Haman considered to be his arch enemy along with the Jewish people living in Persia. As a consequence, his ten sons were also hanged.

In an ironic twist, an article published inUnited with Israel: The Global Movement for Israel titled, Incredible Parallels between the Purim Story and the Nazi Trials,” published March 10, 2014, shows the uncanny parallels between the hanging of Haman’s ten sons centuries ago and the hanging of ten Nazi war criminals after the Nuremberg trials for the crimes committed against humanity under Hitler. The article is available at this link.

Obviously, the topic of this blog post is one we are all very familiar with, whether it’s bullying in the classroom or road rage on the freeways, or being the recipient of disdaining looks from people we don’t even know. When left unattended, especially over time, it can turn into time bombs like Nazi Germany or the many other “revolutions” that have plummeted this planet of ours over the centuries (including two World Wars in the 20th Century). And it makes our environmental issues pale in comparison. While most of us (except our veterans and other military and medical personnel) have not experience the ravages of war up close and personal, we still run into people who seem to have a pennant for disdaining others whether they know them or not. And there seems to be a lot of pent up rage out there today. Just look at the political climate during this very tumultuous election year. And sometimes it seems like it’s coming from a feeling of superiority in thinking we are somehow better than others who are around us or who are not exactly like us. Whatever form it takes, it is ugly, and we’ve all experienced it and/or been a part of it.

Goth HippieIt brings to mind an experience I had three years ago when I was doing a lot of traveling in search of a job (which still has never materialized but the traveling has subsided considerably). I was driving through one of my favorite areas on the Gulf Coast between Houston, TX, and the town I lived in at the time that was located just north of Tampa, FL. I decided to take a short detour and got off the main interstate to drive along a coastal highway next to the Gulf of Mexico lapping on the sand beside the pavement. It was serene and beautiful and I came upon a pretty fancy multi-storied hotel right on the beach that looked too expensive for me to stay in (I found out later that it was formerly condos that had been turned into a hotel). However, I decided to check out the rate for one night anyway so I drove into their parking lot. I was wearing “road clothes” with means I was very “dressed down” in sweats as I had just driven a very long ways from Houston by the time I stopped there. I’m sure my makeup was no longer fresh, either. As I entered the hotel (I had to walk through a parking garage to get to the elevator), I noticed that the people I ran into were definitely of the “upper crust” crowd as their clothing and luggage stated as did the vehicles parked all around the hotel, and while I didn’t mind it at all, the looks I got from the folks I ran into was, well, let’s just say it was less than inviting. It was as if they wondered what the heck someone dressed like me was doing there. Glad they didn’t see my car with the faded paint job on the roof and trunk although it was only just starting then and not nearly as bad as it is now. Anyway, their reaction was disconcerting to say the least.

Nevertheless, I remained undaunted and took the elevator with a few of the well dressed folks with expensive luggage to the front desk located two floors up. As the elevator door opened and we exited the elevator, others were waiting to get on and I received the same look from them (that look of “Honey, what ARE you doing here?” if that look could be verbalized). Granted, I was not dressed like they were dressed but that didn’t matter to me. For all they didn’t know I could have been a billionaire incognito. I was there to inquire about a room to see if I could afford it for one night. Well, I was told nothing was available by a young female clerk who gave me a similar disdaining look, and I got the message loud and clear that I should perhaps look elsewhere. So I did. And I found a really wonderful room right down the street right across from the Gulf from that fancy hotel that catered to the well-to-do.

And that is when I discovered that there really is a caste system right here in America, whether by birth or even if wealth has been acquired recently by those newly rich from the internet/technology boom or Wall Street or mass tort litigation or some other means available in the Land of Opportunity (and maybe through illegal drugs or other unsavory means, although the prescription drug industry is legal and a billion-dollar enterprise). Everybody wants to be rich in America, right? Well, the compulsion is certainly there. Just look at our multi-billion dollar advertising business selling us anything we can ever possibly need or want (and often things we never thought about needing before). And the lottery system has done a real job on us, too, promising instant millionaire status in exchange for a few measly bucks every week. Well, over the years those “few measly bucks” turn into real money for the lottery folks, while the rest of us doing the spending dream on and spend more and get little or nothing in return. I don’t happen to play the lottery.

loveisnotarrogantWell, I’ve gotten a bit sidetracked. The issue at hand is how we treat others, and that includes ALL others. Quite frankly, unless those “others” are our friends or relatives or folks who can do something for us, we don’t much think about the homeless on the streets, or the less fortunate living right under our noses, and you’d be surprised at those who are forced to live in hotels. I never gave it any thought until I was forced to start living in hotels almost 18 months ago.

Probably the most interesting thing I’ve noticed during these past seven years since I lost my job in Houston and my lifestyle was considerably downsized is how there really isn’t much difference between the church folks among us from the rest of the folks in society when it comes to helping others who are truly needy or judging people we don’t even know. But that’s a subject for a blog post I probably won’t write any time soon if ever. That is not to say that there aren’t Christian and secular organizations that stand ready to help people when an emergency strikes (although the initial mess from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 stands as a real sore spot in our recent history). But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the day-to-day folks we all run into when we are out shopping or going to jobs (if one is lucky enough to have a job if they want one) or walking a mall, or going to the park, etc. We all can be nice and lovely to those we know and have a lot in common with, but those we don’t know? Well, let’s just say you’d have to walk a few miles in the shoes of all those folks we like to prejudge in order to understand what I’m trying to say here. We are not the friendliest bunch of folks around total strangers in our midst, or else there would be a lot less homeless in our nation if we were. This “brother’s keeper” stuff isn’t much to our liking.

And it hasn’t gone unnoticed, and I’m not even referring to anything I have personally experienced in the past seven years. It is about how we as a nation are perceived by others, and yes, even those living among us who experience our disdain first hand.

I think back to that hotel experience I mentioned above and wonder if anyone in that hotel that catered to the “well-to-do” would have helped me if I had asked for help from any of them. Or were they too busy judging me by my appearance to want to have anything to do with me? The impression I was left with was that they couldn’t have cared less about me personally because my appearance said I wasn’t “well to do” (without them knowing anything about me), and I imagine they would have treated anyone dressed like I was dressed in a similar fashion. While I didn’t take their attitudes personally, I wondered how they treated others that didn’t measure up to their standards that they ran into on a daily basis and not just at that fancy hotel. And we don’t have to be numbered among the rich to treat others so callously, either. Plenty of regular folks are in that category, too. And multiply that number of folks we’ve disdained over a number of years or a few decades. It should matter to us how we treat others we don’t know, but I don’t think it does anymore. We primarily look out for ourselves and maybe family and friends (if we are lucky and it’s not an inconvenience to us).

And don’t think the strangers living among us haven’t noticed. . .

The environment can wait. . .

Humanity can’t afford to wait. . . .

Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, 
it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts,
always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
~I Corinthians 13:4-8

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

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

Free At Last

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Hebrews 12:1-2 states:

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

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

Running with perseverance . . .

The race marked out for us . . .

Fixing our eyes on Jesus . . . .

YouTube Video: “Ready” by Third Day:

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Photo #2 credit here

The Voice of Faith

Hebrews 11v6

I’ve written on the subject of faith in several previous blog posts, and faith cannot be underestimated in the life of a believer in Jesus Christ. The most well known chapter in the Bible on the subject of faith (in fact, it is actually about faith in action) is Hebrews 11, which starts out with these three verses:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Starting right out of the gate, if a person does not believe “that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible,” his faith is Jesus Christ is suspect, for God has clearly stated that it is so.

The remaining verses in Hebrews 11 (which contains a total of 40 verses), describe “faith in action” in the lives of many famous and obscure folks in the Old Testament, starting with Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham through to Rahab, the prostitute, and ending with innumerable unnamed folks in the final verses 32-40:

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

That promise came true in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus was and is the something better” that was planned “for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” And the fact that Jesus Christ has always existed with God even before he came to earth in human form is clearly stated in John 1:1-14:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

One must believe all of the above if one is a true believer in Jesus Christ. It is the foundation on which a Christian places their faith. They must also believe what Jesus stated to a Pharisee named Nicodemus during their conversation in John 3:1-21:

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “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.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness,so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

It is paramount that we understand and believe this if we claim to be a believer in Jesus Christ. Without this, any faith that we claim we have is faith in something or someone else.

While the people in the Old Testament did not experience Jesus Christ in the flesh, Jesus has always existed throughout the Old Testament (see article titled, Jesus in the Old Testament at this link), and that is why we find this statement at the end of Hebrews 11 in verses 39 and 40:

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

The “us,” of course, is us (and always has been down through the ages since the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ), and includes all true believers in Jesus Christ. And immediately following those two verses that end Hebrews 11 are the three verses that begin Hebrews 12:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [the Old Testament folks we just read about in Hebrews 11], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

hebrews 12v1Notice in those verses what we are to do. We are to . . . .

  • Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us
  • Run with perseverance the race marked out for us
  • Fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith
  • Consider him [Jesus] who endured such opposition from sinners so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.

And what does it states about Jesus? It states:

  • Jesus is the pioneer and perfector of faith
  • For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning it’s shame
  • And he sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

The Christian life is not a cake walk, but a battleground, and the joy that was set before Jesus was not found on this earth but in Heaven. And he had to endure the cross and it’s shame to get there and pave the way for us to go there, too, through his sacrifice on the cross for us. For those of us who believe, he, indeed, “bore our sins” as stated in 1 Peter 2:24:

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

However, he did not take away the opposition we will experience as his followers. In fact, Jesus clearly stated that we are to “Take up your cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23).” Got Questions.org gives a clear answer as to what that statement means to us as followers of Jesus (quote source here):

Let’s begin with what Jesus didn’t mean. Many people interpret “cross” as some burden they must carry in their lives: a strained relationship, a thankless job, a physical illness. With self-pitying pride, they say, “That’s my cross I have to carry.” Such an interpretation is not what Jesus meant when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.”

When Jesus carried His cross up Golgotha to be crucified, no one was thinking of the cross as symbolic of a burden to carry. To a person in the first-century, the cross meant one thing and one thing only: death by the most painful and humiliating means human beings could develop.

Two thousand years later, Christians view the cross as a cherished symbol of atonement, forgiveness, grace, and love. But in Jesus’ day, the cross represented nothing but torturous death. Because the Romans forced convicted criminals to carry their own crosses to the place of crucifixion, bearing a cross meant carrying their own execution device while facing ridicule along the way to death.

Therefore, Take up your cross and follow Me means being willing to die in order to follow Jesus. This is called “dying to self.” It’s a call to absolute surrender. After each time Jesus commanded cross bearing, He said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:24-25). Although the call is tough, the reward is matchless.

Wherever Jesus went, He drew crowds. Although these multitudes often followed Him as Messiah, their view of who the Messiah really was—and what He would do—was distorted. They thought the Christ would usher in the restored kingdom. They believed He would free them from the oppressive rule of their Roman occupiers. Even Christ’s own inner circle of disciples thought the kingdom was coming soon (Luke 19:11). When Jesus began teaching that He was going to die at the hands of the Jewish leaders and their Gentile overlords (Luke 9:22), His popularity sank. Many of the shocked followers rejected Him. Truly, they were not able to put to death their own ideas, plans, and desires, and exchange them for His.

Following Jesus is easy when life runs smoothly; our true commitment to Him is revealed during trials. Jesus assured us that trials will come to His followers (John 16:33). Discipleship demands sacrifice, and Jesus never hid that cost.

In Luke 9:57-62, three people seemed willing to follow Jesus. When Jesus questioned them further, their commitment was half-hearted at best. They failed to count the cost of following Him. None was willing to take up his cross and crucify upon it his own interests.

Therefore, Jesus appeared to dissuade them. How different from the typical Gospel presentation! How many people would respond to an altar call that went, “Come follow Jesus, and you may face the loss of friends, family, reputation, career, and possibly even your life”? The number of false converts would likely decrease! Such a call is what Jesus meant when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.”

If you wonder if you are ready to take up your cross, consider these questions:
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing some of your closest friends?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means alienation from your family?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means the loss of your reputation?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your job?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your life?

In some places of the world, these consequences are reality. But notice the questions are phrased, “Are you willing?” Following Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean all these things will happen to you, but are you willing to take up your cross? If there comes a point in your life where you are faced with a choice—Jesus or the comforts of this life—which will you choose?

Commitment to Christ means taking up your cross daily, giving up your hopes, dreams, possessions, even your very life if need be for the cause of Christ. Only if you willingly take up your cross may you be called His disciple (Luke 14:27). The reward is worth the price. Jesus followed His call of death to self (“Take up your cross and follow Me”) with the gift of life in Christ: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25-26). (Quote source here.)

Therefore, we should expect opposition in this life, and expect it right up until we take our last breath. The joy that Jesus stated that was set before him in Hebrews 12:1-3 was found in Heaven, not here on earth. This life we are living is preparation for the next life. And that’s not often a message we hear today, but it is the reality of what Jesus had to say to those of us who truly follow him.

Faith isn’t found in the things of this world–money, materialism, success, careers, people, appearances, reputations, etc. Those things are all a part of life, but our faith should not be placed in any of  them. It can all too easily vanish and if we have placed our faith in anything but Jesus, we will be crushed under the weight of the loss when it happens. We are to “fix our eyes on Jesus (not money, materialism, success, careers, people, appearances, reputations, etc.) who is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (the NKJV states “author and finisher of our faith”).

Tucked away in Hebrews 11 is a verse often quoted by Christians (stated in the picture at the beginning of this post) that states (Hebrews 11:6):
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
It’s probably a sign of the times we live in here in America that often we think of God’s rewards as being given in the “here and now”–a better job, higher salary, financial prosperity, and any number of “things” we want, but that is not the reward that is spoken of in Hebrews 11:6. That God often and does bless us in this life with good things (and not just materially) is clearly stated throughout the Bible (click here for examples). However, rewards in the context of verse 6 can be understood by looking at the previous verse connected to it (verse 5). Here are those two verses (Hebrews 11:5-6):

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

The rewards come when our race is done here on this earth. . . .

Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

 “. . . looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith,
who for the joy that was set before Him
endured the cross, despising the shame,
and has sat down at the right hand
of the throne of God.”
~Hebrews 12:2 NKJV

So where do we place our faith?

In who we are, what we do, what we have, or who we know?

Or in Jesus . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Taking Up Our Cross

Take_up_Your_Cross

In my last blog post, The Power of Propaganda,” I mentioned a very important book published in 2010 titled, When A Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learn From Nazi Germany,” by Dr. Erwin Lutzer, senior pastor of Moody Church in Chicago. I focused primarily on Chapter 4 which is titled, “Propaganda Can Change a Nation.” However, there is so much crucial information in this book that I simply could not touch on most of it in a blog post. I highly recommend this book for those who are concerned about the direction our nation has taken over the past several decades.

I’ve been a Christian most of my life since the day I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior when I was ten years old at my home church back in Iowa. Now that I am 63, I’ve witness major changes in the church over the past several decades. Today we have a church that very much celebrates success, money, and materialism, and it is thought of as being “normal” if things (like careers) just keep getting better and better with bigger salaries and more prestige. Our lifestyles mirror our culture more then they mirror our Christianity. And social media has added to this intense focus on self and success. Sometimes I think that if I have to view one more “selfie” taken by anyone on Facebook I’m going to cry. This intense focus on self would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragically common among us. And in the process, those of us who consider ourselves to be Christian miss the reality of what genuine Christianity is all about. Even much of what passes as modern Christian music today focuses on self and feeling good, and often is full of words that are just plain bad theology. It’s often filled with “feel good” pop psychology. And we have replaced feelings for facts and made feelings what we go by in judging so much that we think, do, and say.

There is a surface type of Christianity that blankets our culture that is about an inch deep, and most folks don’t have any issues with it as it basically has little meaning or substance to it. And it certainly isn’t the type to cause waves. And for people who claim to believe in Jesus Christ, what exactly do they believe? I’m not sure anymore that we (e.g., those of us who call ourselves Christian) even believe what is actually required of us when we read (and if we read) verses where Jesus clearly stated the following to those who claim to follow him:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” ~Matthew 16:24

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” ~Mark 8:34

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” ~Luke 9:23

“And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” ~Luke 14:27

Denying ourselves is something we don’t do well here in America. In fact, if anyone comes along stating otherwise or challenging our materialistic lifestyles, we have no problem mocking them openly with disdaining looks or callous words. After all, it doesn’t fit into our image of Positive Christianity (Hitler actually coined the term–see link here) that is so prolific “from sea to shining sea.” And if we don’t look and act the part of “success” (we want fancy titles to impress others along with bigger salaries to go along with it) that is so prevalent in the eyes of our culture, we think there must be something wrong. Even housewives aren’t housewives anymore. They are “domestic engineers.” So who are we trying to impress? Mostly ourselves, I think. And we crave everything the culture craves, and we have turned Christianity in America into a multi-billion dollar business. And, apparently, we’d all like to be on that bandwagon.

In answer to the question, What did Jesus mean when he said, ‘Take up your cross and following me‘”?, GotQuestions.org gives a straightforward answer:

Let’s begin with what Jesus didn’t mean. Many people interpret “cross” as some burden they must carry in their lives: a strained relationship, a thankless job, a physical illness. With self-pitying pride, they say, “That’s my cross I have to carry.” Such an interpretation is not what Jesus meant when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.”

When Jesus carried His cross up Golgotha to be crucified, no one was thinking of the cross as symbolic of a burden to carry. To a person in the first-century, the cross meant one thing and one thing only: death by the most painful and humiliating means human beings could develop.

Two thousand years later, Christians view the cross as a cherished symbol of atonement, forgiveness, grace, and love. But in Jesus’ day, the cross represented nothing but torturous death. Because the Romans forced convicted criminals to carry their own crosses to the place of crucifixion, bearing a cross meant carrying their own execution device while facing ridicule along the way to death.

Therefore, “Take up your cross and follow Me” means being willing to die in order to follow Jesus. This is called “dying to self.” It’s a call to absolute surrender. After each time Jesus commanded cross bearing, He said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:24-25). Although the call is tough, the reward is matchless.

Wherever Jesus went, He drew crowds. Although these multitudes often followed Him as Messiah, their view of who the Messiah really was—and what He would do—was distorted. They thought the Christ would usher in the restored kingdom. They believed He would free them from the oppressive rule of their Roman occupiers. Even Christ’s own inner circle of disciples thought the kingdom was coming soon (Luke 19:11). When Jesus began teaching that He was going to die at the hands of the Jewish leaders and their Gentile overlords (Luke 9:22), His popularity sank. Many of the shocked followers rejected Him. Truly, they were not able to put to death their own ideas, plans, and desires, and exchange them for His.

Following Jesus is easy when life runs smoothly; our true commitment to Him is revealed during trials. Jesus assured us that trials will come to His followers (John 16:33). Discipleship demands sacrifice, and Jesus never hid that cost.

In Luke 9:57-62, three people seemed willing to follow Jesus. When Jesus questioned them further, their commitment was half-hearted at best. They failed to count the cost of following Him. None was willing to take up his cross and crucify upon it his own interests.

Therefore, Jesus appeared to dissuade them. How different from the typical Gospel presentation! How many people would respond to an altar call that went, “Come follow Jesus, and you may face the loss of friends, family, reputation, career, and possibly even your life”? The number of false converts would likely decrease! Such a call is what Jesus meant when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.”

If you wonder if you are ready to take up your cross, consider these questions:
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing some of your closest friends?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means alienation from your family?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means the loss of your reputation?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your job?
• Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your life?

In some places of the world, these consequences are reality. But notice the questions are phrased, “Are you willing?” Following Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean all these things will happen to you, but are you willing to take up your cross? If there comes a point in your life where you are faced with a choice—Jesus or the comforts of this life—which will you choose?

Commitment to Christ means taking up your cross daily, giving up your hopes, dreams, possessions, even your very life if need be for the cause of Christ. Only if you willingly take up your cross may you be called His disciple (Luke 14:27). The reward is worth the price. Jesus followed His call of death to self (“Take up your cross and follow Me”) with the gift of life in Christ: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25-26). (Quote source here.)

Whoever-Has-Ears-Let-Them-HearWe have too often replaced the cross with a dollar sign and the image of success. We don’t admit it but our lifestyles and how we treat others proves it out. Actions do speak louder than words, or singing worship songs in church on Sunday morning. The proof is in how we live every moment of everyday. And if we don’t really understand just what the cross means in our lives, we will put on a good show with all of the substitutes we have replaced it with. And that is exactly what the Pharisees did back in Jesus’ day–they put on a good show for others and craved the attention they received, too.

In the last chapter of Dr. Lutzer’s book (Chapter 7 titled, “We Must Exalt the Cross in the Gathering Darkness,”) I want to share his closing words to us. It is critical that we understand what he is saying to us:

Here in America we have what many believe is a new phenomenon in the history of the church. In previous eras we have seen the Gospel neglected or even mocked by religious liberals and nominal Christians–that is to be expected. What is different today is that the message of the cross is being ignored even by those who claim to be saved by its message. At the very time when the Gospel must be proclaimed most clearly, we are hearing muffled voices even from some of the great evangelical pulpits of our land. Christian books flood our markets that have little to do with the heart of the Christian message.

Here are a few substitutes for the message of the Gospel that I have observed:

  • God wants you to experience physical healing.
  • God wants you to be healthy and wealthy too.
  • Jesus will help you be a better businessman, parent, entrepreneur, etc.
  • God wants you to cheerily face life by knowing “God is for you”–whether you’ve repented of sin or not.
  • God’s will for you is good nutrition, physical exercise, and in general, living the good life.
  • The message of Christianity is community–not the cross.

In the evangelical community, psychology is substituted for theology and cheap grace has replaced what Bonhoeffer described as “costly grace.” In short, we have lost our intellectual and spiritual center and replaced it with consumerism, self-help, and the quest for personal advantage. We are self-absorbed rather than God-absorbed. And we can see the results.

A Final Glimpse of Germany

The most discerning analysis that I’ve read about the failure of the church in Nazi Germany was given by an evangelical pastor who preached a moving sermon to his weary congregation. His words should cause us to stop and ponder their relevance to us in America.

In April 1945, amid the ruins of a defeated Germany, Helmut Thielicke, a German theologian and pastor, spoke movingly to his congregation in Stuttgart about the meaning of all that had happened. In a message that surely must have left his congregation spellbound, he, in effect, said that the nation got what it deserved because it had “repudiated forgiveness and kicked down the cross of the Lord.”

In his powerful critique of what had gone wrong in a nation that was “Christian,” Thielicke said that the cross of Christ has been neglected and thus the church was blinded to Germany’s militarism. The church had overlooked its greatest danger, namely, that in gaining the whole world it might “lose its own soul.” The heart of the matter, he said, was this: “Denying God and casting down the cross is never a merely private decision that concerns only my own inner life and my personal salvation, but this denial immediately brings the most brutal consequences for the whole of historical life and especially for our own people. ‘God is not mocked.’ The history of the world can tell us terrible tales based on that text.”

In history, he says, the invisible is mightier than the visible. Anybody who still had not grasped that Germany with its program “was wrecked precisely on this dangerous rock called ‘God’ and nothing else has no eyes to see. Because he sees only individual catastrophes he no longer sees the basic, cardinal catastrophe behind them all.”

Finally, he reminded his listeners that “the worship of success is generally the form of idol worship the devil cultivates most assiduously . . . We could observe in the first years after 1933 the almost suggestive compulsion that emanates from great successes and how under the influence of these successes even Christians stopped asking in whose name and at what price they were achieved. Success is the greatest narcotic of all.

Casting down the cross of Christ! Intoxicated with success! Substituting the temporary for the permanent! Thus was the church and the entire country crushed, crushed on the rock called God, “who is not mocked.” Destroyed for being blinded by the pride of nationalism instead of being humbled by its great need for repentance. The church stood with pride, but it would not bow in humility. The church neglected the cross and had to live with the consequences.

It’s Our Turn

The Christian church has suffered throughout the centuries, and now it appears as if it is our turn. Like the early apostles, we will find that our commitment to share the Gospel will run counter to the laws of the land. We must ask ourselves: At what point do we have to because lawbreakers rather than betray our faith? At what price are we willing to take the cross into the world and identify with our Savior? How do we both love the people of the world and yet oppose the agenda of those who would crush the Gospel?

These are questions well beyond the scope of this chapter. But I believe it is time that we all began to live for eternity–not time, and for Christ–not ourselves. We must realize that our public effectiveness is largely based on our private relationship with God. The American church participates in many of the same sins as the world. Our passion for God is smothered, and our vision is marred. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” said Christ (Matthew 5:8).

When we come to the foot of the cross, it is there that we area finally broken; it is there that we learn to reach out to our confused and hurting world. The cross breaks down the barrier between us and the whole human race. Then we will no longer see ourselves as fighting the ACLU, the media, or the politicians. We must rid ourselves of the mentality that says, in effect, “If we just cleared all of them out, all would be well.” Not so. As Os Guinness said, the problem with this view is “that there is no problem in the wider culture that you cannot see in spades in the Christian Church. The rot is in us, and not simply out there. And Christians are making a great mistake by turning everything into culture wars. It’s a much deeper crisis.”

At last we come to the heart of the matter: the cross reminds us that the battle is not so much between church and state as it is within our own hearts. If Christ has all of us, if the cross stands above politics and the world as Bonhoeffer has reminded us, we shall overcome regardless of the cost.

As Christians we can welcome an assault on our freedoms as long as we see this conflict as an opportunity to bear an authentic witness for Christ. Without trivializing the great horror of what took place in Germany, it is nevertheless a fact that without suffering we would never have heard of a Neimoller or a Bonhoeffer or a Corrie ten Boom. Nor would we have read about thousands of courageous pastors, mothers, and fathers who kept living for God at great personal cost without any visible compensation in this life. Without suffering, God would not have seen their faith, which to Him is “more precious than gold” (1 Peter 1:7).

We must be confident that Christ will set the record straight. Those who are faithful to Him and His cross will be rewarded with “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:7-9). All rival crosses will be exposed and judged, and every knee shall bow and “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

Until then, God is glorified by our steadfastness. If we suffer faithfully, the cross will be exalted in the world. Bonhoeffer was right when he said “that it is before that cross and not before us that the world trembles.”

Sola Deo Gloria!

(The above is taken from “When A Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learn From Nazi Germany” (2010) by Dr. Erwin Lutzer, pp. 136-141.)

As Jesus said in the Parable of the Sower found in Luke 8:4-15 . . .

He who has ears to hear . . .

Let him hear . . . .

YouTube Video: “Gotta Serve Somebody” (Bob Dylan’s song) sung by Natalie Cole:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

There’s No Such Thing As Impossible

Luke 1:37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rich and the Kingdom of God

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

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

“Which ones?” he inquired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Job replied to the Lord:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all . . .

Nothing is impossible with God . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
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God Always Has A Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dictionary.com defines evil as:

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

2. harmful; injurious: evil laws.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Always Has A Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo #1 credit here
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Culture at the Crossroads

crossroadsDr. David Jeremiah, founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California, wrote a book titled, I Never Thought I’d See the Day! Culture at the Crossroads,” published in Oct. 2011, and a #1 New York Times bestseller. It is the fourth book in a series of books (all New York Times bestsellers) he wrote titled Living with Confidence in a Chaotic World,” (2009); What in the World is Going On?: 10 Prophetic Clues You Cannot Afford to Ignore,” (2010); and The Coming Economic Armageddon: What Bible Prophecy Warns about the New Global Economy,” (August 2011). A prolific author, his latest book, Agents of the Apocalypse: A Riveting Look at the Key Players of the End Times,” published in October 2014, is also a #1 New York Times bestseller.

The synopsis of I Never Thought I’d See the Day! Culture at the Crossroads,” written on the back cover (paperback edition), states the following:

Many people are blind to the destructive trends of the day. At the same time, others see the dangers but are too quick to minimize the negative impact these trends are having on society. Then there are those who see the chaos all around them but believe that resistance to the prevailing culture is useless. In the middle of all this confusion, Dr. David Jeremiah issues a prophetic warning: “We must understand that we are in a war for the very heart and soul of civilization or the consequences will be catastrophic.”

In “I Never Thought I’d See the Day!,” Dr. Jeremiah identifies the nine major indicators of this looming disaster and then issues a strategy for turning the tide and equips us with the weapons we need for the battle ahead. Above all, he brings a message of hope that our “culture at the crossroads” can be put back on the right path.

In this book, Dr. Jeremiah focuses on the dramatic changes he has witnessed in recent years and how they are shaping the world and our culture today. He addresses nine developments that he never thought he’d see in his lifetime that have taken place in America, and he states in the introduction to the book:

These are large subjects, the kind of trends that develop over years. They move at a glacial pace compared to the frenetic lifestyle most Americans live, which makes them easy to miss . . . . But no one misses the effects of these changes. They contribute to the deteriorating moral and spiritual culture in which we live (p. XV).

The chapter titles give insight into those nine developments:

Introduction: A Slow Drift in the Wrong Direction
Chapter 1: When Atheists Would Be Angry
Chapter 2: When Christians Wouldn’t Know They Were in a War
Chapter 3: When Jesus Would be So Profaned
Chapter 4: When Marriage Would Be Obsolete
Chapter 5: When Morality Would Be in Free Fall
Chapter 6: When the Bible Would Be Marginalized
Chapter 7: When the Church Would Be Irrelevant
Chapter 8: When a Muslim State Could Intimidate the World
Chapter 9: When America Would Turn Her Back on Israel
Chapter 10: When Changing Your Mind Could Save Your Life

Those chapter titles read like front page news. And who could disagree that each of these topics have played a major role in the changing of America today, and the erosion that has taken place over the past several decades. The book is very comprehensive and my purpose in writing this particular blog post is to give my readers a review of the very informative contents in case they would like to read more in the book, which is available in paperback at most online and regular bookstores and on Dr. Jeremiah’s website. (See also Amazon.com and Christianbook.com.) I found a paperback copy at one of the Dollar Tree stores where I shop. It is available in English and Spanish, and is also available in large print and as an ebook.

Since there is so much information in this book and the chapter titles clearly indicate the subject matter of each chapter, the rest of this review will focus on Chapter 10 (which–in itself–is worth the price of the book). As Dr. Jeremiah notes in several statements in Chapter 10: When Changing Your Mind Could Save Your Life:

When someone my age refers to the good old days, it’s usually a reference to the 1950s. That’s the decade of my childhood, and if I can trust my memory, it was indeed different from the decade we have just completed. World War II was over, the economy was on a roll, military personnel were back home starting new families (the baby boomers were conceived in the fifties), a conservative political and cultural wind was blowing, and life was good. At least, it was a lot better than life in wartime.

Then came the 1960s, when young people rebelled against the status quo and the Vietnam War, then the seventies when the nation tried to figure out what the sixties meant, and then the eighties–the so-called “Decade of Greed.” By the time the 1990s arrived–the Digital Decade–the good old days appeared as a faint image in the rearview mirror of life. Then came the first decade of the twenty-first century, when society started pulling down long-standing pillars upon which our nation was built. . . . The changes of the last two or three decades came so fast and furious that we began to long for a simpler, quieter, more predictable time in which to live [e.g., “the good old days”] (p. 272). . . . 

My point is this: There is no such thing as the good old days! Because life seems to get more and more complicated with every passing year, we all think it would be nice to reverse the passage of time and revert to the goodness we had yesterday. And never has that been truer than now (p. 273). [Dr. Jeremiah notes in the preceding paragraph before he makes this statement that the 1940s had been a decade of a “hot war,” the 1950’s were a decade of the Cold War, and also during the 1950’s the United States and the former Soviet Union “aimed enough nuclear missiles at each other to completely destroy both nations” and included nuclear-attack drills in American schools and fallout shelters in American backyards. As a young child I personally remember those days in elementary school of hiding under our school desks during the drills as if that would save us from a nuclear bomb.]

The economic upheaval beginning in 2008, was, in my view, symptomatic of greater and even more dangerous changes that had occurred in the previous several decades. Financial and economic activities that led to the collapse of 2008 were in many cases deceitful and immoral–indicative of a society that had lost its moral and spiritual compass. Any nation that is drowning in debt, at war around the world, and in danger of losing her status as an example to other nations [Note: which has been happening at an alarming rate since 2011 when this book was published] clearly has serious problems at home (pp. 273-274).

While that last paragraph might sound bleak, Dr. Jeremiah goes on to state:

I am, however, an optimist about God. And it is toward Him that we must turn our attention. But first I must sharpen the definition of optimism on the whetstone of Biblical realism. By optimism in God, I do not mean that I expect God to swoop down and erase our massive debts; put an end to threats of terrorism; cause a spiritual revival to sweep the nation that impacts school, government, and commerce; and return America to the good old days. I don’t think that’s biblically realistic, and it’s not a lack of faith that causes me to say so.

Rather, as I read my Bible I find compelling reasons to believe that the human race is on a collision course with calamity–that things are going to get worse before they get better, which will not happen until the return of Jesus Christ to earth. I believe the Bible teaches that in the last days of this age, only the return of Christ will keep  humanity from destroying itself.

So what is there to be optimistic about? I am optimistic about God’s ability to keep you and me from being conformed to the chaos around us. I am optimistic about God’s ability to transform us–to raise us higher as the world sinks lower.

Regardless of what happens in the future, I need that protection from conformity and that power to be transformed, And I need it today! Even if the intensity of the storms around us doesn’t increase in my lifetime or yours, they are bead enough today to make me know that I need the protection and power to endure . . . . 

This protection from conformity and power to be transformed is the only way to find peace and joy in this life. If we allow our well-being to depend on external circumstances–our financial security, our comfort, the satisfaction of material or sensual desire, or our health, we consign ourselves to lives of anxiety over events we cannot control. We are dependent on a world that cannot offer the ultimate security and meaning we desire. The only solution is to follow a different path from that of the disintegrating world around us (p. 274-275).

And as Dr. Jeremiah notes on p. 276, “In order not to be conformed, and in order to be transformed, you must sacrifice yourselves” as the apostle Paul wrote about nineteen hundreds years ago in his letter to the Christians in Rome (see Romans 1-16) who were living under severe persecution “under the hateful eye of emperors such as the demoniacal Nero, who made sport of persecuting them. And to those beleaguered believers were no doubt already sacrificing much.”

For the remainder of Chapter 10, Dr. Jeremiah uses Romans 9-12 as his text when describing “a new kind of sacrifice” that Christians must consider in order to not be conformed to our society and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. In Romans 12:1-2, the apostle Paul stated:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

As Dr. Jeremiah notes, “The idea of sacrifice is not readily embraced in our modern society” here in America (p. 277). He illustrates by using the economic downturn that began in 2008 with the collapse of the housing market–“the subprime housing debacle.” He states (pp. 277-278):

Unscrupulous lenders provided mortgages to unqualified borrowers who could not afford the payments. Loans were so easy to get that greedy investors bought property sight unseen for the sole purpose of “flipping” it at a profit in the soaring real estate market. Investment banks bundles these worthless mortgages and sold them to investors. Other banks issued insurance policies guaranteeing the worth of the bundles mortgages. It was a greed-based house of cards build on bad credit, and it came crashing down on the country. People lost their homes and their jobs, companies laid off workers, and–like throwing gasoline on a fire–our government began printing money to stimulate the economy. The U.S. Treasure began selling bonds, to the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, which paid for them with newly printed dollars–the classic example of “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

It all started because no one was willing to sacrifice–to say no to the allure of a bigger, newer home they couldn’t afford, to say no the the fees generated by writing mortgages for unqualified borrowers; to say no to the fees from selling bundled mortgages; to say no to the fees from insuring those bundled mortgages. Because no one was willing to sacrifice immediate desires for the sake of long-term integrity, we ended up where we are today.

We have been trained by our culture not to believe in sacrifice–to believe instead that we can have it all. And this carries over to our spiritual lives. As Christians, we have a healthy regard for the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for us two thousand years ago by willingly laying down His life. But we think of the sacrifice as “won and done” — since He won that victory by sacrificing Himself, it’s not something we are called to do.

So when the twenty-first-century Church reads Paul admonishing her to “present your bodies a living sacrifice” to God, it doesn’t sit too well–if for not other reason then because we’re Americans. It doesn’t fit the kind of life we all enjoy. We have everything we need either at our fingertips or at the nearby shopping mall, where we can get it instantly just by sliding a plastic card. We’re not used to having to sacrifice for much of anything.

If sacrifice is such a foreign word in this land of instant abundance, maybe we’d better talk a little about just what that word really means. Sacrifice always means one of two things:

~Somebody has to pay.
~Somebody has to die.

In the two examples of sacrifice Dr. Jeremiah gives on the following page (see p. 279), they illustrate the two definitions of sacrifice as being that we pay with either (1) our time, talent, or treasure; or we pay with (2) our very lives.

However, as Dr. Jeremiah states, “To be a living sacrifice actually combines the two common meanings of sacrifice” (p. 279-280):

The term includes the world “living,” yet we are called on to die. That’s what it means to become a Christian. We die to the people we were when we lived by the power of the sinful nature we inherited from Adam. The old self is laid upon the altar and “killed.” In it’s place, we receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, by which we live a new kind of life.

Living that new life involves the other definition of “sacrifice.” Since we “died” to our old selves, we are now new creatures, no longer living under the selfish power of the sinful nature. As new creatures we live a new kind of life, one directed by the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word [the Bible]. The new life will be one of giving–of sacrificing our resources, our self-centered wants, our times, for the sake of the kingdom of God.

This radical concept of self-sacrifice, which is the first idea introduced in Romans 12:1-2, is a prerequisite to the second idea; the renewing of our minds. And it is the renewal of our minds that will keep us from being conformed to the world in which we live. We cannot separate the idea of sacrifice from the concept of renewal: No one’s mind will be renewed whose body has not first been given as a living sacrifice to God.

As we can see, these two verses in Romans 12 give us a three-step process: (1) We sacrifice ourselves to God. This empties us of self so that God’s Holy Spirit can step in and (2) transform us by renewing our minds. (3) This transformation will enable us to keep from being conformed to the deadly values of the world (p. 280).

Chapter 10 continues with the details of the effect in making this sacrifice and how it can and will impact our lives. As Dr. Jeremiah states on p. 281:

We are called to give up something–to turn our backs on our former lives and put ourselves in the hands of God, who does not guarantee that we will have comfort, lifestyle, or ease we’ve been used to having. It’s a call for a radical decision.

The following pages (pp. 281-286) focus on the components of this “radical decision” which includes:

(1) Becoming vessels of mercy (pp. 281-282);

(2) It is a comprehensive decision (e.g., that our faith is not “compartmentalized” but consumes everything that we are and do–in fact, every facet of our lives (pp. 282-283);

(3) It is a costly decision–a serious commitment to Christ requires total sacrifice of one’s life. “And as Jesus told His disciples, He does not want quitters: “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62) (pp. 283-285);

(4) It is a creative decision–that we become willing to be His representatives on earth and to be open to His will and to do it (pp. 285-286);

(5) And it is credible decision–considering the sacrifice Christ made for us, what He asks in return is quite reasonable (p. 286).

The rest of the chapter focuses on “A Radical Determination” (pp. 286-291); “A Rigorous Discipline” (pp.292-297); and “A Real Demonstration” (pp. 297-299).

While this post has ended up being longer then I intended, I hope it has whetted your appetite to look beyond the surface of merely existing for the things of this world and to seek deeper meaning in what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Far too often in our society today, as Dr. Jeremiah stated above, We have been trained by our culture not to believe in sacrifice–to believe instead that we can have it all. And this carries over to our spiritual lives.” And it is a deadly error to make if we are genuine followers of Jesus Christ. There is a cost to following Jesus Christ.

In answer to the the question, “What does it mean to ‘count the cost’ (Luke 14:28)?” of following Jesus Christ, GotQuestions?org makes the following statement:

In Jesus’ parable of the sower, it was only the soil that allowed the seed to put down roots and bear fruit that was called “good.” If we are going to be disciples of Christ, we must first count the cost of following Him. (Quote source and read entire answer here.)

So let’s step off of the cultural treadmill . . .

And count the cost . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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