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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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Seventy Times Seven

As Christians, if there is one area that we have to constantly revisit, it is on the subject of forgiveness. The following excerpt is taken from the book titled, Transforming Grace (1991, 2008), by Jerry Bridges (1929 to 2016), a well known Christian writer and speaker who served on the staff of The Navigators for more than 60 years before his death in 2016. This specific portion is taken from Chapter 13, “Garments of Grace”:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. ~Colossians 3:12-14

One day driving back to the office from an appointment, I was grappling with some difficult circumstances in my life and feeling a bit sorry for myself. But as I drove, I tried to focus my mind on some portions of Scripture and reflect on them rather than on my problems. As I did this, I thought of Colossians 3:12-14, the Scripture text at the beginning of this chapter.

I had memorized this passage years ago and had reviewed it and reflected on it many times, but that day I saw the passage in a new way. Always before, when reflecting on the passage, my mind had gone directly to the character traits we are to put on: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and love. I had never paid attention the the apostle Paul’s introductory phrase: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.” To me Paul was saying nothing more than, “Since you are Christians, act like Christians.” I saw his emphasis to be solely on Christian duty, the traits of Christ’s character I should seek after.

But that day the Holy Spirit cause my mind to focus on the two words, “dearly loved.” It was as if He said to me. “Jerry, you are feeling sorry for yourself; but the truth is, you are dearly loved by God.” Dearly loved by God. What an incredible thought! But it is true, and that afternoon the Holy Spirit drove home to my heart the wonderful truth with such a force that my self-pity was completely dispelled. I continued on to my office rejoicing in the fact that, despite my difficult circumstances, I was dearly loved by God.

Of course, the main thrust of Paul’s teaching in this passage is that we are to clothe ourselves with Christlike virtues, what I call “garments of grace.” But he grounds his exhortation on the grace of God–on the fact that we are chosen by Him, holy in His sight, and dearly loved by Him. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, for us to show compassion or patience to someone else if we are not sure God is patient with us–or worse, if we don’t’ sense the need for God to be patient with us. So these garments of gracious Christian character can only be put on by those who are consciously experiencing God’s grace in their own lives.

Having experienced God’s grace, we are then called on to extend that grace to others. The evidence of whether we are living by His grace is to be found in the way we treat other people. If we see ourselves as sinners and totally unworthy in ourselves of God’s compassion, patience, and forgiveness, then we will want to be gracious to others.

God’s grace is indeed meant to be a transforming grace. As Paul said in Titus 2:11-12, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” The grace of God brings salvation, not only from the quilt and condemnation of sin, but also from the reign of sin in our lives. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodly character traits, but also to say “Yes” to godly character traits. God’s grace teaches us to clothe ourselves with “garments of grace” (Quote source, “Transforming Grace,” pp. 225-227).

At this point in the chapter, Bridges focuses on five of the eight character traits mentioned in Colossians 3:12-14 that he feels are particularly related to grace: gratitude, contentment, humility, forbearance, and forgiveness (pp. 227-240). Of those five characteristics, here is what Bridges had to say on the last two–forbearance and forgiveness (pp. 234-240):

Forbearance

In his “garments of grace” list in Colossians 3:12-14, Paul puts “forbearance” (“bear with each other”) and “forgiveness” together. These two character traits should certainly be hallmarks of a person living by God’s transforming grace. Forbearance is no longer a common word in most vocabularies. We tend to use the word “patience” in its’ place, as in “please be patient with me.” Forbearance literally means “to put up with” and is translated that way several place in the New Testament.

For example, the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 17:17, “O unbelieving and perverse generation, . . . how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” Paul spoke similarly when he wrote to the Corinthians, “I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that” (2 Corinthians 11:1).

So when Paul said to “bear with each other,” he was saying, “put up with one another,” or as we would say, “be patient with one another.” When we use “be patient” in this manner, we are saying to put up with or overlook the faults and thoughtless acts of others. One person is always prompt for appointments, another is habitually late. When they set a lunch date, the prompt person will very likely have to put up with the twenty or so minutes of tardiness from the habitually late person.

But there are two ways we can put up with the faults and thoughtless acts of other people. One way is politely but grudgingly. A person says, “Excuse my lateness,” and we smile and say, “Of course,” while inwardly we are saying, “Why can’t you be on time like I always am?” Such an attitude is born out of pride and is obviously not the way God intends that we put up with or be patient with one another.

The other way is to recognize that God has to constantly put up with our faults and failures. Not only are we faulty and thoughtless in our relationships with one another, more importantly, we are faulty and thoughtless in our relationship with God. We do not honor and reverence Him as we should. We prefer the entertainment of television to intimate fellowship with Him. But God is patient with us because of His grace. And to the extent that we consciously live in His grace, we will be patient with others. In fact, the definition of patience in our common use implies the latter, gracious way of putting up with the faults of others.

We all recognize that grudgingly “putting up with” is not true patience according to our common meaning. True patience holds no grudge, not even a minor, momentary one.

In Ephesians 4:2, Paul urges us to “[bear] with one another in love.” As Peter said in 1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Love not only covers over a multitude of sins but also a multitude of faults in one another. But where do we get such love? John answers this in 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.”

The object of the verb “love” in 1 John 4:19 is indefinite. John could be saying, “We love God because He first loved us”; or he could be saying, “We love one another because God first loved us.” Perhaps John intended both meanings, although the context seems to indicate the latter. If so, he is saying the basis of our love for one another is God’s love for us. This being true, the extent of our love for each other will be based on our consciousness of and appreciation of God’s love for us. The more we have a heartfelt comprehension of God’s love for us, the more we will be inclined to love others. And since love covers over a multitude of faults, the more we will be inclined to be patient with one another. So patience ultimately grows out of a recognition of God’s grace in our lives. The more we are consciously living by grace, the more we will be patient with one another. Or to say it another way, if we are not patient with each other, we are not living by grace.

Forgiveness

Paul said we are to go beyond being patient with one another; we are also to forgive each other. Forgiveness differs from forbearance in that it has to do with real wrongs committed against us. Forbearance or patience should be our response to unintentional actions due to the faults or carelessness of another. Forgiveness should be our response to the intentional or provocative acts of another, the instances when they attempt to or actually do harm us in some way.

In Colossians 3:13, Paul said, “Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” Paul’s language seems to take for granted that such grievances will occur. As believers, all of us are still far from the Christlikeness we would like to have. So we not only offend our fellow believers unwittingly through our faults and failures, but we also sometimes offend deliberately. We need forgiveness not only from God but from one another. And we need to forgive one another as God forgave us.

Paul said, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” We are to forgive because we have been forgiven. As F. F. Bruce said, “The free grace of the Father’s forgiving love is the pattern for his children in their forgiveness of one another.” This thought takes us back to Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35:

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

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

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times (seventy times seven in NKJV). 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As we consider the parable, note first that Jesus gave it in response to a specific question from Peter: “How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” The parable serves to reinforce Jesus’ answer, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times (or seventy times seven–NKJV).”

The servant in the parable owed his master millions of dollars. When the master ordered that he and his family and all he had be sold to repay the debt, the servant stalled for time. He said, “Be patient with me, and I will pay back everything.” The servant should have declared bankruptcy and pleaded for mercy; instead, he pleaded for time. He thought he could wipe out his huge debt, given sufficient time. But he owed an impossible sum. According to David Seamands (1922-2006), the annual taxes at that time from all the Palestinian provinces put together amounted to only $800,000. Yet the servant owned millions of dollars. There was no way he could pay his debt.

This servant illustrates a person who is living by works. He foolishly thought he would work his way out of debt. But the master knew that only grace would suffice to meet the man’s needs, so he freely forgave him and canceled the debt.

Despite experiencing such overwhelming forgiveness, this man refused to forgive a fellow servant who owed him only a few dollars. Instead, he ruthlessly demanded payment. The obvious message of the parable is that, whatever offense anyone has committed against us, it is trifling compared to the vast debt of our sins against God.

It seems that the unmerciful servant’s unforgiving attitude arose out of his lack of understanding of grace. He wanted to repay his debt . . . to pay his own way. In his mind he never declared total bankruptcy. That is why, even after receiving such gracious forgiveness himself, he treated his fellow servant so unmercifully. Had he recognized his own total bankruptcy, and consequently, the necessity for absolute grace on the part of his master, he probably would have behaved differently.

Many Christians behave like the unmerciful servant and for the same reason. Because they have no admitted their own total and permanent spiritual bankruptcy, they do not recognize the infinite extent of God’s grace to them. They still see themselves as basically “good,” and because of that, they expect everyone else to be “good” also, especially in relationship to them. Because they do not recognize their own continued bankruptcy before God, they insist that everyone else pay his own debt.

But the Christian living by grace recognizes his own spiritual bankruptcy. He sees the vast contrast between his sins against God of “several million dollars” and his neighbor’s sins against him of only a “few dollars.” And because of this, he both understands and responds to Paul’s instruction, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

[We must recognize] our own spiritual bankruptcy. This is where we must begin and end if we are to experience the joy of living by God’s transforming grace. So I invite you and urge you to lay aside any remnant of self-goodness you may think your still have. Admit your total spiritual bankruptcy, and drink deeply from the infinite grace of God. And then in deep awareness of what you have received, extend that same spirit of grace to others. (Quote source, “Transforming Grace,” pp. 234-240.)

So then, it is clear how often we should forgive others (all others) . . . .

Seventy . . .

Times . . .

Seven . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by Matthew West:

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Photo #2 credit here

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Ripple of Hope

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal,
or acts to improve the lot of others,
or strikes out against injustice,
he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope,
and crossing each other from
a million different centers of energy
and daring those ripples build a current
which can sweep down the mightiest walls
of oppression and resistance.”
Robert F. Kennedy

Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy stated those words in a speech often referred to as his Ripple of Hope” speech given to National Union of South African Students members at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, on June 6, 1966, on the University’s “Day of Reaffirmation of Academic and Human Freedom” (quote source here). The entire text of the speech is available at this link.

“In the address Kennedy talks about individual libertyApartheid, and the need for justice in the United States at a time when the American civil rights movement was ongoing. He emphasizes inclusiveness and the importance of youth involvement in society. The speech shook up the political situation in South Africa and received praise in the media. It is often considered his greatest and most famous speech” (quote source here.)

Those students Robert Kennedy addressed that day in 1966 are now older than I am. I had just turned 14 a few days before he gave that speech, but the words still ring out to every younger generation that comes along. The speech is lengthy so I will only include some excerpts from it, and end with the “four dangers” he mentioned towards the end of the speech. As noted above, the entire text of the speech is available at this link. Here are some of the excerpts:

This is a Day of Affirmation, a celebration of liberty. We stand here in the name of freedom.At the heart of that Western freedom and democracy is the belief that the individual man, the child of God, is the touchstone of value, and all society, groups, the state, exist for his benefit. Therefore the enlargement of liberty for individual human beings must be the supreme goal and the abiding practice of any Western society.

The first element of this individual liberty is the freedom of speech: the right to express and communicate ideas, to set oneself apart from the dumb beasts of field and forest; to recall governments to their duties and obligations; above all, the right to affirm one’s membership and allegiance to the body politic-to society-to the men with whom we share our land, our heritage, and our children’s future.

Hand in hand with freedom of speech goes the power to be heard, to share in the decisions of government which shape men’s lives. Everything that makes man’s life worthwhile-family, work, education, a place to rear one’s children and a place to rest one’s head -all this depends on decisions of government; all can be swept away by a government which does not heed the demands of its people. Therefore, the essential humanity of men can be protected and preserved only where government must answer-not just to the wealthy, not just to those of a particular religion, or a particular race, but to all its people.

And even government by the consent of the governed, as in our own Constitution, must be limited in its power to act against its people; so that there may be no interference with the right to worship, or with the security of the home; no arbitrary imposition of pains or penalties by officials high or low; no restrictions on the freedom of men to seek education or work or opportunity of any kind, so that each man may become all he is capable of becoming.

These are the sacred rights of Western society. These were the essential differences between us and Nazi Germany, as they were between Athens and Persia.

They are the essence of our differences with communism today. I am unalterably opposed to communism because it exalts the state over the individual and the family, and because of the lack of freedom of speech, of protest, of religion, and of the press, which is the characteristic of totalitarian states. The way of opposition to communism is not to imitate its dictatorship, but to enlarge individual freedom, in our own countries and all over the globe. There are those in every land who would label as Communist every threat to their privilege. But as I have seen on my travels in all sections of the world, reform is not communism. And the denial of freedom, in whatever name, only strengthens the very communism it claims to oppose.

Many nations have set forth their own definitions and declarations of these principles. And there have often been wide and tragic gaps between promise and performance, ideal and reality. Yet the great ideals have constantly recalled us to our duties. And-with painful slowness-we have extended and enlarged the meaning and the practice of freedom for all our people. . . .

The “four dangers” Kennedy mentions at the end of his speech are these:

“There is,” said an Italian philosopher, “nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” Yet this is the measure of the task of your generation, and the road is strewn with many dangers.

First, is the danger of futility: the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills-against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence. Yet many of the world’s greatest movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant Reformation, a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth, and a young woman reclaimed the territory of France. It was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and the thirty-two-year-old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that all men are created equal.

“Give me a place to stand,” said Archimedes, “and I will move the world.” These men moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. Thousands of Peace Corps volunteers are making a difference in isolated villages and city slums in dozens of countries. Thousands of unknown men and women in Europe resisted the occupation of the Nazis and many died, but all added to the ultimate strength and freedom of their countries. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

“If Athens shall appear great to you,” said Pericles, “consider then that her glories were purchased by valiant men, and by men who learned their duty.” That is the source of all greatness in all societies, and it is the key to progress in our time.

The second danger is that of expediency; of those who say that hopes and beliefs must bend before immediate necessities. Of course, if we would act effectively we must deal with the world as it is. We must get things done. But if there was one thing President Kennedy stood for that touched the most profound feelings of young people around the world, it was the belief that idealism, high aspirations, and deep convictions are not incompatible with the most practical and efficient of programs-that there is no basic inconsistency between ideals and realistic possibilities, no separation between the deepest desires of heart and of mind and the rational application of human effort to human problems. It is not realistic or hardheaded to solve problems and take action unguided by ultimate moral aims and values, although we all know some who claim that it is so. In my judgment, it is thoughtless folly. For it ignores the realities of human faith and of passion and of belief-forces ultimately more powerful than all of the calculations of our economists or of our generals. Of course to adhere to standards, to idealism, to vision in the face of immediate dangers takes great courage and takes self-confidence. But we also know that only those who dare to fail greatly, can ever achieve greatly.

It is this new idealism which is also, I believe, the common heritage of a generation which has learned that while efficiency can lead to the camps at Auschwitz, or the streets of Budapest, only the ideals of humanity and love can climb the hills of the Acropolis.

A third danger is timidity. Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change. Aristotle tells us that “At the Olympic games it is not the finest and the strongest men who are crowned, but they who enter the lists…

So too in the life of the honorable and the good it is they who act rightly who win the prize.” I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the world.

For the fortunate among us, the fourth danger is comfort, the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who have the privilege of education. But that is not the road history has marked out for us. There is a Chinese curse which says “May he live in interesting times.” Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. And everyone here will ultimately be judged-will ultimately judge himself-on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort.

So we part, I to my country and you to remain. We are-if a man of forty can claim that privilege-fellow members of the world’s largest younger generation. Each of us have our own work to do. I know at times you must feel very alone with your problems and difficulties. But I want to say how impressed I am with what you stand for and the effort you are making; and I say this not just for myself, but for men and women everywhere. And I hope you will often take heart from the knowledge that you are joined with fellow young people in every land, they struggling with their problems and you with yours, but all joined in a common purpose; that, like the young people of my own country and of every country I have visited, you are all in many ways more closely united to the brothers of your time than to the older generations of any of these nations; and that you are determined to build a better future. President Kennedy was speaking to the young people of America, but beyond them to young people everywhere, when he said that “the energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it-and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.”

And he added, “With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own. (Quote source here.)

As it was at the time Robert Kennedy gave his speech to those students at the University of Cape Town in South Africa almost 52 years ago, so it is even more so today. As he stated in his speech, “Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.”

And moral courage . . .

Is what we need . . .

Today . . . . 

YouTube Video: Excerpt from Robert Kennedy’s “Ripple of Hope” speech:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Something New

This blog post is primarily to my readers and followers who read my blog on a regular or even a very occasional basis… 🙂 I’ve started a brand new blog titled Reflections on WordPress (it’s tied into this blog but has a completely separate URL) and you can find it at this link.

This new blog site has a totally revamped look to it’s design to bring it up to the look and feel of a lot of websites publishing today. Also, the theme will be primarily on our “journey” through life since we are all on one, and the posts will be a source of encouragement and hope.

I spent most of the day working with the template on the new website to get things in order, and then I even wrote a first short blog post titled, Let the Journey Begin.” I’m really looking forward to publishing on it and love the new look and feel of it, too. 🙂

If you want to subscribe to the new blog site you can subscribe to it by email or through your WordPress account if you are a blogger on WordPress. You’ll find the subscription info included in the right column and also at the bottom.

I do plan to continue publishing on this blog site, too . . . 🙂

And, just as a reminder, don’t forget what Jesus taught his followers to do at the beginning of his parable about the persistent widow (see Luke 18:1-8)–and that is to remember to . . .

Always pray . . .

And never (never, never, never) . . .

Give up!!!!!!

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Jesus–Then, Now, and Forever

Christians around the world celebrated Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead last Sunday which we celebrate every year on Easter Sunday. Right now we are in the seven-week period between Easter and Pentecost, a holiday in which we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2) on the early followers of Jesus (source here), which will be celebrated this year on Sunday, May 20th.

First, a little background on Easter Sunday even though it has already passed for this year. GotQuestions.org provides background information on how Jesus’ resurrection came to be celebrated on Easter Sunday (it may surprise you):

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus remained on the earth for forty days after his resurrection appearing to many people and teaching his disciples before his ascension into heaven (see Acts 1:1-11). Ten days after his ascension the promise that Jesus made to his followers in John 16:7-15 regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit (counselor/advocate) after his death occurred in the filling of the Holy Spirit in the upper room where his followers were assembled (see Acts 2). For a complete timetable of events that occurred between Jesus’ resurrection and the Day of Pentecost, view this list on Spotlight Ministries.

Got Questions.org gives an explanation of the identity of the Holy Spirit as follows:

There are many misconceptions about the identity of the Holy Spirit. Some view the Holy Spirit as a mystical force. Others understand the Holy Spirit as the impersonal power that God makes available to followers of Christ. What does the Bible say about the identity of the Holy Spirit? Simply put, the Bible declares that the Holy Spirit is God. The Bible also tells us that the Holy Spirit is a divine person, a being with a mind, emotions, and a will.

The fact that the Holy Spirit is God is clearly seen in many Scriptures, including Acts 5:3-4. In this verse Peter confronts Ananias as to why he lied to the Holy Spirit and tells him that he had “not lied to men but to God.” It is a clear declaration that lying to the Holy Spirit is lying to God. We can also know that the Holy Spirit is God because He possesses the characteristics of God. For example, His omnipresence is seen in Psalm 139:7-8, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” Then in 1 Corinthians 2:10-11, we see the characteristic of omniscience in the Holy Spirit. “But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”

We can know that the Holy Spirit is indeed a divine person because He possesses a mind, emotions, and a will. The Holy Spirit thinks and knows (1 Corinthians 2:10). The Holy Spirit can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30). The Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-27). He makes decisions according to His will (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). The Holy Spirit is God, the third Person of the Trinity. As God, the Holy Spirit can truly function as the Comforter and Counselor that Jesus promised He would be (John 14:162615:26). (Quote source here.)

The Day of Pentecost is a celebration each year of the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell believers as Jesus promised in John 16:7-15. “The main sign of Pentecost in the West is the color red. It symbolizes joy and the fire of the Holy Spirit. Priests or ministers, and choirs wear red vestments, and in modern times, the custom has extended to the lay people of the congregation wearing red clothing in celebration as well. Red banners are often hung from walls or ceilings to symbolize the blowing of the “mighty wind” and the free movement of the Spirit” (quote source here.) It is a very festive celebration.

The role of the Holy Spirit in our lives today is crucial. GotQuestions.org states the gifts that come through the Holy Spirit to us today:

Of all the gifts given to mankind by God, there is none greater than the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has many functions, roles, and activities. First, He does a work in the hearts of all people everywhere. Jesus told the disciples that He would send the Spirit into the world to “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:7-11). Everyone has a “God consciousness,” whether or not they admit it. The Spirit applies the truths of God to minds of men to convince them by fair and sufficient arguments that they are sinners. Responding to that conviction brings men to salvation.

Once we are saved and belong to God, the Spirit takes up residence in our hearts forever, sealing us with the confirming, certifying, and assuring pledge of our eternal state as His children. Jesus said He would send the Spirit to us to be our Helper, Comforter, and Guide. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (John 14:16). The Greek word translated here “Counselor” means “one who is called alongside” and has the idea of someone who encourages and exhorts. The Holy Spirit takes up permanent residence in the hearts of believers (Romans 8:91 Corinthians 6:19-2012:13). Jesus gave the Spirit as a “compensation” for His absence, to perform the functions toward us which He would have done if He had remained personally with us.

Among those functions is that of revealer of truth. The Spirit’s presence within us enables us to understand and interpret God’s Word. Jesus told His disciples that “when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). He reveals to our minds the whole counsel of God as it relates to worship, doctrine, and Christian living. He is the ultimate guide, going before, leading the way, removing obstructions, opening the understanding, and making all things plain and clear. He leads in the way we should go in all spiritual things. Without such a guide, we would be apt to fall into error. A crucial part of the truth He reveals is that Jesus is who He said He is (John 15:261 Corinthians 12:3). The Spirit convinces us of Christ’s deity and incarnation, His being the Messiah, His suffering and death, His resurrection and ascension, His exaltation at the right hand of God, and His role as the judge of all. He gives glory to Christ in all things (John 16:14).

Another one of the Holy Spirit’s roles is that of gift-giver. First Corinthians 12 describes the spiritual gifts given to believers in order that we may function as the body of Christ on earth. All these gifts, both great and small, are given by the Spirit so that we may be His ambassadors to the world, showing forth His grace and glorifying Him.

The Spirit also functions as fruit-producer in our lives. When He indwells us, He begins the work of harvesting His fruit in our lives—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). These are not works of our flesh, which is incapable of producing such fruit, but they are products of the Spirit’s presence in our lives.

The knowledge that the Holy Spirit of God has taken up residence in our lives, that He performs all these miraculous functions, that He dwells with us forever, and that He will never leave or forsake us is cause for great joy and comfort. Thank God for this precious gift—the Holy Spirit and His work in our lives! (Quote course here.)

However, the most crucial function of the Holy Spirit is to always point us back to Jesus. I’ve just started reading a fascinating book titled, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why It Matters (2011), by N.T. Wright, former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and one of the world’s leading Bible scholars. Here is a excerpt from Chapter 1 titled, “A Very Odd Sort of King” in a subsection titled, “The Challenge to the Churches,” pp. 4-6:

With Jesus, it’s easy to be complicated and hard to be simple. Part of the difficulty is that Jesus was and is much, much more than people imagine. Not just people in general, but practicing Christians, the churches themselves. Faced with the gospels–the four early books that give us most of our information about him–most modern Christians are in the same position I am in when I sit down in front of my computer. My computer will, I am reliably informed, do a large number of complex tasks. I only use it, however, for three things: writing, email, and occasional Internet searches. If my computer were a person, it would feel frustrated and grossly undervalued, its full potential nowhere near realized. We are, I believe, in that position today when we read the stories of Jesus in the gospels. We in the churches use these stories for various obvious things: little moralizing sermons on how to behave in the coming week, aids to prayer and meditation, extra padding for a theological picture largely constructed from elsewhere. The gospels, like my computer, have every right to feel frustrated. Their full potential remains unrealized.

Worse, Jesus himself has every right to feel frustrated. Many Christians, hearing of someone doing “historical research” on Jesus, begin to worry that what will emerge is a smaller, less significant Jesus than they had hoped for find. Plenty of books offer just that: a cut-down-to-size Jesus, Jesus as a great moral teacher or religious leader, a great man but nothing more. Christians now routinely recognize this reductionism and resist it. But I have increasingly come to believe that we should be worried for the quite opposite reason. Jesus–the Jesus we might discover if we really looked!–is larger, more disturbing, more urgent than we–than the church!–had ever imagined. We have successfully managed to hide behind other questions (admittedly important ones) and to avoid the huge, world-shaking challenge of Jesus’ central claim and achievement. It is we, the churches, who have been the real reductionists. We have reduced the kingdom of god to private piety, the victory of the cross to comfort for the conscience, and Easter itself to a happy, escapist ending after a sad, dark tale. Piety, conscience, and ultimate happiness are important, but not nearly as important as Jesus himself.

You see, the reason Jesus wasn’t the sort of king people had wanted in his own day is–to anticipate our conclusion,–that he was the true king, but they had become used to the ordinary, shabby, second-rate sort. They were looking for a builder to construct the home they thought they wanted, but he was the architect, coming with a new plan that would give them everything they needed; but within quite a new framework. They were looking for a singer to sing the song they had been humming for a long time, but he was the composer, bringing them a new song to which the old songs they knew would form, at best, the background music. He was the king, all right, but he had come to redefine kingship itself around his own work, his own mission, his own fate.

It is time, I believe, to recognize not only who Jesus was in his own day, despite his contemporaries’ failures to recognize him, but also who he is, and will be, for our own. “He came to what was his own,” wrote one of his greatest earlier followers, “and his own people did not accept him” (John 1:11). That puzzle continues.

Perhaps, indeed, it has been the same in our own day. Perhaps even “his own people”–this time not the Jewish people of the first century, but the would-be Christian people of the Western world–have not been ready to recognize Jesus himself. We want a “religious” leader, not a king! We want someone to save our souls, not rule our world! Or, if we want a king, someone to take charge of our world, what we want is someone to implement the policies we already embrace, just as Jesus’s contemporaries did. But if Christians don’t get Jesus right, what chance is there that other people will bother much with him?

This book is written in the belief that the question of Jesus–who he really was, what he really did, what it means, and why it matters–remains hugely important in every area, not only in personal life, but also in political life, not only in “religion” or “spirituality,” but also in such spheres of human endeavor as worldview, culture, justice, beauty, ecology, friendship, scholarship, and sex. You may be relieved, or perhaps disappointed, to know that we won’t have space to address all of these. What we will try to do is to look, simply and clearly, at Jesus himself, in the hope that a fresh glimpse of him will enable us to gain a new perspective on everything else as well. There will be time enough to explore other things in other places. (Quote source: “Simply Jesus,” pp. 4-6.)

Want to know more? Get the book! Here’s a link to the Amazon.com page. I’ll end this post with Jesus’ words found in John 8:32 . . .

Then you will know the truth . . .

And the truth . . .

Will set you free . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Truth Will Set You Free” (1977) by The Mighty Clouds of Joy:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here (it’s also a link to Barnes & Nobles for the book)

Come and See

He is not here
he has risen,
just as he said. 
Come and see
the place where he lay.
~Matthew 28:6

On the Road to EmmausLuke 24:13-35:

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Jesus is risen . . .

He is risen indeed . . .

What will you do with him . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire

Lately I’ve been noticing some differences between general “Christian living” type books publish today and those published two or three decades ago (not often but sometimes). Many of the authors of those past books are still writing today along with a plethora of Christian writers who have arrived on the scene since then. Over this time span postmodernism has had a major influence on the church, and it is sometimes apparent when comparing some of what is being written today from what was written twenty or thirty years ago. The following brief description of postmodernism as it relates to the church is found at GotQuestions.org:

Postmodern Christianity is just as difficult to lock down in a concise definition as postmodernism itself. What started in the 1950s in architecture as a reaction to modernist thought and style was soon adopted by the art and literary world in the 1970s and 1980s. The Church didn’t really feel this effect until the 1990s. This reaction was a dissolution of “cold, hard fact” in favor of “warm, fuzzy subjectivity.” Think of anything considered postmodern, then stick Christianity into that context and you have a glimpse of what post-modern Christianity is.

Postmodern Christianity falls into line with basic post-modernist thinking. It is about experience over reason, subjectivity over objectivity, spirituality over religion, images over words, outward over inward. Are these things good? Sure. Are these things bad? Sure. It all depends on how far from biblical truth each reaction against modernity takes one’s faith. This, of course, is up to each believer. However, when groups form under such thinking, theology and doctrine tend to lean more towards liberalism.

For example, because experience is valued more highly than reason, truth becomes relative. This opens up all kinds of problems, as this lessens the standard that the Bible contains absolute truth, and even disqualifies biblical truth as being absolute in many cases. If the Bible is not our source for absolute truth, and personal experience is allowed to define and interpret what truth actually is, a saving faith in Jesus Christ is rendered meaningless.

There will always be “paradigm shifts” in thinking as long as mankind inhabits this present earth, because mankind constantly seeks to better itself in knowledge and stature. Challenges to our way of thinking are good, as they cause us to grow, to learn, and to understand. This is the principle of Romans 12:2 at work, of our minds being transformed. Yet, we need to be ever mindful of Acts 17:11 and be like the Bereans, weighing every new teaching, every new thought, against Scripture. We don’t let our experiences interpret Scripture for us, but as we change and conform ourselves to Christ, we interpret our experiences according to Scripture. Unfortunately, this is not what is happening in circles espousing post-modern Christianity. (Quote source here.)

What initially got me thinking about this difference came from a book I found yesterday at Goodwill that was originally published back in 1997. The book is titled,Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” by Jim Cymbala, pastor at The Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City and author of numerous books. The full title of the book is Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire: What Happens When God’s Spirit Invades the Hearts of His People,” originally published 21 years ago, and coauthored with Dean Merrill, former magazine editor, editorial director, and a former vice president at International Bible Society (now Biblica). He is also an author of numerous books.

In a 1998 book review on Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” written by Michael J. Dies, reviews editor for Pneuma Review, he states the following:

Jim Cymbala is the pastor of  the Brooklyn Tabernacle, New York, NY. Pastored by Cymbala since 1972, the Tabernacle has, as of 1996, began holding four services a Sunday, each with at least 1,600 per meeting. This is despite the fact that they have been sending groups out to plant churches since 1985, seventeen as of the printing of his book. In the inner city, a church isn’t likely to grow due to transference of members from other churches, or slick programs. Churches grow in dark places when they meet the deep spiritual needs of the people. Clearly then, Jim Cymbala has something to say.

The first part of the book shows the struggle Jim and his wife Carol endured when they took on a small dying church in Brooklyn, that could not even pay it’s bills. A young man with no formal training in ministry, he heard all manner of church growth advice (p. 24). Finally the Lord spoke to him, saying that if he would lead the people to pray and call on his name, that they would never build a building large enough to accommodate the crowds God would send. On that word from the Lord, Cymbala instituted Tuesday night prayer in his church and, as they say, the rest is history.

Cymbala told his church that the Tuesday prayer meeting would become the barometer for the church, the gauge by which they would judge success or failure (p. 27). By this measure Cymbala sees the church in America sadly lacking. In Brooklyn, broken lives were healed, from prostitutes to drug addicts, not because of polished sermons, or better teaching, but because of love birthed in prayer.

“Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire” is a plea to the church in this country to return to prayer. “Pastors and churches have to get uncomfortable enough to say, ‘We are not New Testament churches if we don’t have a prayer life’” (p 50). Many pastors have come to him and told Cymbala that they would be embarrassed to have a prayer meeting in their church because nobody would come. “Does the Bible say anywhere from Genesis to Revelation that  ‘My house shall be called a house of preaching?’” (p. 71). He is bold enough to say that he is embarrassed that religious leaders in America talk about having prayer in public schools, when we do not even have prayer in our churches (p. 72).

Cymbala rounds out the book with an assessment of the church’s penchant for novelty (chapter 7), marketing (chapter 8), and doctrine without power (chapter 9). This includes a sober and refreshing look at fads, and “new” doctrines. . . . (Quote source here.)

From the Parable of the Persistent Widow (click on pic to go to Luke 18:1-8)

The Church was born shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, and the Book of Acts in the New Testament tells the story of its beginning and its complete dependence on God for everything–literally everything. When I stated above that I sometimes noticed a difference in the writings of Christian authors from two or three decades ago compared with today, that statement isn’t made as if I’m pining for some type of “good old days.” God and Jesus Christ don’t change from generation to generation or culture to culture (see Hebrews 13:8). However, our focus over time has shifted in ways we might not even notice or recognize.

In the 21st Century we are constantly inundated with new information that molds our thinking and our choices through social media, advertising, peer pressure, and the constant 24/7 flow of information. And there are forces at work that are detrimental to us that we don’t even recognize. Read the description again on postmodernism and the church stated above and see if you don’t agree. We are being molded in a myriad of ways that might seem normal when they aren’t. And they are leading us astray from the only Source of real life that there is. For example, money and materialism has a massive hold on many Christians, yet we fail to recognize the danger it presents to us.

Cymbala’s book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” is primarily a book about prayer and how powerful it has been in his church and among those attending Brooklyn Tabernacle over the years. In Chapter 3 titled, “A Song for the Desperate,” he states (on pp. 49-51):

Prayer cannot truly be taught by principles and seminars and symposiums. It has to be born out of a whole environment of felt need. If I say, “I ought to pray,” I will soon run out of motivation and quit; the flesh is too strong. I have to be driven to pray.

Yes, the roughness of inner-city life [where Brooklyn Tabernacle is located] has pressed us to pray. When you have alcoholics trying to sleep on the back steps of your building, when your teenagers are getting assaulted and knifed on the way to youth meetings, when you bump into transvestites in the lobby after church, you can’t escape your need for God. According to a recent Columbia University study, twenty-one cents of every dollar New Yorkers pay in city taxes is spent trying to cope with the effects of smoking, drinking, and drug abuse.

But is the rest of the country coasting along in fine shape? I think not. In the smallest village in the Farm Belt there are still urgent needs. Every congregation has wayward kids, family members who aren’t serving God. Do we really believe that God can bring them back to himself?

Too many Christians live in a state of denial: “Well, I hope my child will come around someday.” Some parents have actually given up. “I guess nothing can be done. Bobby didn’t turn out right–but we tried; we dedicated him to the Lord when he was a baby. Maybe someday . . .”

The more we pray, the more we sense our need to pray. And the more we sense a need to pray, the more we want to pray.

Prayer is the source of the Christian life, a Christian’s lifeline. Otherwise, it’s like having a baby in your arms and dressing her up so cute–but she’s not breathing! Never mind the frilly clothes; stabilize the child’s vital signs. It does no good to talk to someone in a comatose state. That’s why the great emphasis on teaching in today’s churches is producing such limited results. Teaching is good only where there’s life to be channeled. If the listeners are in a spiritual coma, what we’re telling them may be fine and orthodox, but, unfortunately, spiritual life cannot be taught.

Pastors and churches have to get uncomfortable enough to say, “We are not New Testament Christians if we don’t have a prayer life.” This conviction makes us squirm a little, but how else will there be a breakthrough with God?

If we truly think about what Acts 2:42 says–“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer”–we can see that prayer is almost a proof of a church’s normalcy. Calling on the name of the Lord is the fourth great hallmark in the list. If my church or your church isn’t praying, we shouldn’t be boasting in our orthodoxy or our Sunday morning attendance figures.

In fact, Carol [his wife] and I have told each other more than once that if the spirit of brokenness and calling on God ever slacks off in the Brooklyn Tabernacle, we’ll know we’re in trouble, even if we have 10,000 in attendance. (Quote source: “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” 1997, pp. 49-51.)

In Chapter 6 titled, “A Time for Shaking,” Cymbala writes (on pp. 97-98):

Whether we call ourselves classical evangelicals, traditionalists, fundamentalists, Pentecostals, or charismatics, we all have to face our lack of real power and call out for a fresh infilling of the Spirit. We need the fresh wind of God to awaken us from our lethargy. We must not hide any longer behind some theological argument. The days are too dark and too dangerous.

The work of God can only be carried on by the power of God. The church is a spiritual organism fighting spiritual battles. Only spiritual power can make it function as God ordained.

The key is not money, organization, cleverness, or education. Are you and I seeing the results Peter (in Acts) saw? Are we bringing thousands of men and women to Christ the way he did? If not, we need to get back to his power source. No matter the society or culture, the city or town, God has never lacked the power to work through available people to glorify his name. 

When we sincerely turn to God, we will find that his church always moves forward, not backward. We can never back up and accommodate ourselves to what the world wants or expects. Our stance must remain militant, aggressive, bold.

That is what characterized General William Booth and the early Salvation Army as they invaded the slums of London. It characterized the early mission movements, such as the Moravians. It characterized Hudson Taylor in China as well as revivalists on the American frontier. These Christians were not bulls in a china shop, but they did speak the truth in love–fearlessly.

In the familiar story of David and Goliath, there is a wonderful moment when the giant gets irked at the sight of his young opponent. “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” he roars (1 Samuel 17:43). Goliath is genuinely insulted. “Come here, . . . I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!” (v. 44).

Does David flinch? Does he opt for the strategic retreat behind some tree or boulder, thinking maybe to buy a little time?

Absolutely not.

“As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him” (v. 48).

That is the picture of what God wants for us today: running towards the fray!

David’s weaponry was ridiculous: a sling and five stones. It didn’t matter. God still uses foolish tools in the hand of weak people to build his kingdom. Backed by prayer and his power, we can accomplish the unthinkable. (Quote source, “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,” 1997, pp. 97-98.)

Easter is just two days away. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is about new life, and the power available to us to live this new life–fresh wind, and fresh fire. God never asks us to sit on the sidelines but to enter the battle, just like David did in the story above. But we should never enter that battle alone. Prayer is our vital link and the source of our power (through the Holy Spirit). In fact, Paul commands us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray without ceasing” (see article titled What Does It Mean to Pray Without Ceasing? at this link).

A statement in that article linked above states: “As we go through the day, prayer should be our first response to every fearful situation, every anxious thought, and every undesired task that God commands. A lack of prayer will cause us to depend on ourselves instead of depending on God’s grace. Unceasing prayer is, in essence, continual dependence upon and communion with the Father” (quote source here). So with that in mind, this Easter let’s not just dress up nice to go to church, but learn to lean on God as our source for everything all the time, and . . .

Pray . . .

Without . . .

Ceasing . . . .

YouTube Video: “Because He Lives (Amen)” by Matt Maher:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Be Still And Know

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried
into the midst of the sea;

Though its waters roar
and be troubled,

Though the mountains shake
with its swelling.

There is a river whose streams
shall make glad the city of God,

The holy place of the tabernacle
of the Most High.

God is in the midst of her,
she shall not be moved;

God shall help her,
just at the break of dawn.
The nations raged,
the kingdoms were moved;

He uttered His voice,
the earth melted.

The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
Who has made desolations in the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariot in the fire.

Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!

The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.

~Psalm 46 (NKJV)

What does it mean to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)? GotQuestions.org states:

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

Know that I am God. “Know” in this instance means “to properly ascertain by seeing” and “acknowledge, be aware.” How does acknowledging God impact our stillness? We know that He is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere), omnipotent (all-powerful), holy, sovereign, faithful, infinite, and good. Acknowledging God implies that we can trust Him and surrender to His plan because we understand who He is.

I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. It was tempting for the nation of Israel to align with foreign powers, and God reminds them that ultimately He is exalted! God wins, and He will bring peace. During Isaiah’s time, Judah looked for help from the Egyptians, even though God warned against it. Judah did not need Egyptian might; they needed reliance on the Lord: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

When we are still and surrendered to God, we find peace even when the earth gives way, the mountains fall (verse 2), or the nations go into an uproar and kingdoms fall (verse 6). When life gets overwhelming and busyness takes precedence, remember Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Run to Him, lay down your weapons and fall into His arms. Acknowledge that He is God and that He is exalted in the earth. Be still and know that He is God. (Quote source here.)

YouTube Video: “Let God Be God” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photos #2 & 3: Photos by Sara (me)

Transforming Grace

This picture says it all . . . 

YouTube Video: “Call It Grace” by Unspoken:

Photo credit: Photo by Sara (me)

The Nice Factor

Since its inception, my blog has been specifically related to Christian topics as I come from a Christian worldview (see my blog post on the topic of worldviews titled, Worldviews,” at this link). A worldview is not something one can just turn off or turn on like a faucet. It permeates everything a person does and everything they believe, and everyone operates on the basis of what they believe regardless of whether or not it has a religious component.

That is not to say, from time to time, that I haven’t written a blog post where Christianity is not mentioned or isn’t the focal point. Take, for example, a blog post I published back on February 18, 2012 titled, A Heartfelt Thanks to Andy Rooney.” Andy Rooney died on Nov. 4, 2011 at the age of 92 just three weeks after retiring after his 1097th appearance on the TV show, 60 Minutes.” He was an American radio and television writer who was best known for his weekly broadcast A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney,” a part of the CBS News program 60 Minutes from 1978 to 2011.

Andy Rooney‘s religious beliefs (well, the lack thereof–he was agnostic) are expressed in this short article on the Freedom From Religion Foundation website titled, Emperor Has No Clothes Award”:

In his 1999 book,Sincerely, Andy Rooney,” he [Rooney] included a final section called “Faith in Reason.” In it he reprints a thorough letter about his agnosticism and free-thought views. Sample quotes:

“I don’t differentiate much, except in degree, between people who believe in religion from those who believe in astrology, magic or the supernatural.”

“We all ought to understand we’re on our own. Believing in Santa Claus doesn’t do kids any harm for a few years but it isn’t smart for them to continue waiting all their lives for him to come down the chimney with something wonderful. Santa Claus and God are cousins.”

“I just wish this social institution [religion] wasn’t based on what appears to me to be a monumental hoax built on an accumulation of customs and myths directed toward proving something that isn’t true.”

“Christians talk as though goodness was their idea but good behavior doesn’t have any religious origin. Our prisons are filled with the devout.”

“I’d be more willing to accept religion, even if I didn’t believe it, if I thought it made people nicer to each other but I don’t think it does.” (Quote source here.)

I liked Andy Rooney for his upfront honesty even if I disagreed with his set of beliefs and some of the things he said or wrote. And the fact that he was agnostic doesn’t change my feelings about him (although, obviously, I never knew him personally). Sometimes I think that if I had not believed in Jesus Christ since I was a very young child (and I never “outgrew” it as is often the case with childhood conversions), being an agnostic might be appealing to me if I had no other particular belief system as the church isn’t always a friendly place. It’s sort of like his last quote above where he stated, “I’d be more willing to accept religion, even if I didn’t believe it, if I thought it made people nicer to each other but I don’t think it does.”

Fortunately, believing in Jesus Christ doesn’t have a “nice” factor attached to believing in him. Kind? Yes, but being “nice” doesn’t prove anything, especially when it comes to religious beliefs. Yes, it’s nice to be nice to everyone, but a lot is hidden behind the facade of “being nice.” There is a socially acceptable type of “being nice” (as in being pleasant) and we all recognize it when it happens, but our “niceness” doesn’t prove anything and often covers a lot that we won’t say but actually feel. Passive/aggressive behavior is often hidden behind a facade of “niceness” (see article titled, 10 Things Passive-Aggressive People Say,” at this link.) Hidden agendas are also hiding behind nice, compliant words, actions and facial expressions.

It might have helped if Andy Rooney had described what he thought “being nicer to each other” really meant. I think we all know, but that kind of genuine “nice” is becoming rather scarce, and it seems as if kids aren’t even being raised today to know what being genuinely “nice” is all about. I’m not even sure their parents know what it is all about, either. On the surface, there is a whole lot of “niceness” going on that isn’t sincere, so if religious belief depended on niceness, it doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

Here’s a definition of what being genuinely “nice” should looks and act like. It comes from Paul in Philippians 2:3-4 (NLT): “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” In today’s world we don’t experience that very often (at least that comes off as being genuine). We live in a “you scratch my back and I”ll scratch yours” world. We almost always expect something in return if we do someone a favor. Rare is the person who isn’t looking out for themselves first (even though most people won’t admit that openly), and this attitude permeates the religious world, too. Actions really do speak louder than words.

Religion as Andy Rooney describes it in his statement above, (e.g., “I’d be more willing to accept religion, even if I didn’t believe it, if I thought it made people nicer to each other but I don’t think it does”) reminds me of the religious folks Jesus was always running up against in his day (the Pharisees, et al). In an article titled, Jesus Challenges the Pharisees,” by Jerry Bridges (1929-2016), author, speaker, and former staff member at The Navigators, he stated:

The Pharisees were the ultimate religious people among the Jews during Christ’s life on earth. Determined not to break any of God’s laws, they had, over time, devised an intricate system of oral tradition to keep them from breaking the Mosaic law. One would think with such a desire to obey God that they would have recognized the perfect obedience of Jesus and affirmed and followed Him. And yet, as demonstrated by the events recorded in Matthew 12:1–37, they were His most bitter and implacable opponents. Why was this so?

The essential problem lay in their different understanding of the nature of God. For the Pharisees, God is primarily one who makes demands. For them, the Scriptures of the Old Testament were a set of rules that must be kept at all costs. For Jesus, as well as the Old Testament believers, God is primarily “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 145:8).

Also for the Pharisees, God looked only at their external compliance with the law of God. For Jesus, God looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). That is why, for example, Jesus would equate the lustful look, which actually expresses the desire of the heart, with the actual committing of adultery (Matt. 5:27–28).

The most proximate cause of the Pharisees’ antagonism toward Jesus, however, lay in His ignoring of their hundreds of elaborate but petty rules that they had devised for interpreting the law of God. Not only did they devise these hundreds of man-made rules, but they had also elevated them to the level of Scripture, so that to break one of their rules was to violate the law of God itself. And yet these rules not only obscured the true intent of God’s law, but also, in some cases, actually violated it (see Mark 7:9–13).

What really got the Pharisees upset with Jesus was the way He ignored their trivial and burdensome rules for keeping the Sabbath. In Matthew 12 verses 1–8, the Pharisees objected to the disciples of Jesus plucking and eating heads of grain as they walked through the grain fields on a Sabbath. According to their oral tradition, plucking the heads of grain and eating them was work — a violation of the Sabbath.

Almost immediately afterward, on that same Sabbath day, Jesus entered their synagogue where there was a man with a withered hand. Now, eager to again accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (vv. 9–14). Before healing the man, Jesus answers their question by asking which of them, if his sheep falls into a pit on the Sabbath, would not lift it out. If, then, it is lawful to relieve the misery of a sheep on the Sabbath, how much more is it lawful to relieve the misery of a fellow human being who is more valuable than a sheep?

In both instances — that of the disciples eating the grain and of Jesus healing the man’s withered hand — the scriptural principle that Jesus applies is God’s Word that “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (v. 7).

Apparently, not long after the Sabbath episodes, Jesus healed a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute (Matt. 12:22). Not having a Sabbath violation charge to bring against Jesus, the Pharisees now resorted to the slanderous charge that Jesus cast out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons (that is, Satan himself). Since Jesus cast out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 28), their slanderous charge was actually blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, a sin that Jesus said would never be forgiven. Commentators differ on exactly what this sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is. As a result, some people have become afraid that they have committed “the unpardonable sin.” However, it is safe to say that no one who is afraid that he or she has committed that sin has, in fact, committed it. The evidence from the text itself indicates that this blasphemy committed by the Pharisees can only come from a heart that is totally and implacably hardened against God. Obviously, a person with a sensitive heart could not commit that sin.

Since all Scripture is profitable for us, there is a present-day lesson for us to learn from Jesus’ clash with the Pharisees. We need to be careful that we do not add our own man-made rules to the Scriptures. Some convictions that we hold dearly may be derived more from our particular Christian culture than derived from Scripture, and we need to learn to discern the differences. It is okay to have cultural convictions, but we should be careful that we do not elevate them to the same authority as Scripture. So much judgmentalism among Christians today occurs because we do this. But that is basically what the Pharisees were doing. So, let’s be careful that we are not modern-day Pharisees. (Quote source here.)

Most people attending church on a regular basis probably don’t think of themselves as being in the same category as the Pharisees, but as Dr. Bridges stated above, we need to be careful that we do not add our own man-made rules to Scripture and expect others to follow them. Having spent years in church settings, it’s a fact that there are many “unwritten rules” that we expect others to follow to be considered “Christian” that aren’t biblical but are a part of Christian culture. Again, as Dr. Bridges stated above, it is okay to have cultural convictions, but we should be careful that we do not elevate them to the same authority as Scripture and judge others accordingly, as that is exactly what the Pharisees were doing. A genuine sign of being Christian is our love for others, not our judgment of others.

When I was in high school, the students who came from well-to-do families with intact homes and manicured lawns ran the show, and they determined who could or could not be a part of their clique. The rest of us who were not as fortunate as they were had no choice in the matter of being accepted by them or not. They looked down on the rest of us since we didn’t measure up to their set of standards. The church can too easily become just like those students who judged others according to their family background and economic and social status.

In another article titled, Why Did the Pharisees Hate Jesus So Much?” by R.C. Sproul, Jr., pastor, theologian, and son of R.C. Sproul, the founder of Ligonier’s Ministries, he states:

It may well be in the calculus of evil that the only character faring worse than a Nazi is the Pharisee. These were the original black hats. In each of the gospel accounts they are the no-accounts, the very foil of Jesus Himself. We, because we are sinners just like them, ascribe to the Pharisees every conceivable sin that we think ourselves not guilty of. We may have to confess to this sin or that, but at least, we tell ourselves, we aren’t like those guys. In our scapegoating narrative we think that when Jesus showed up the Pharisees hated Him for the simple reason that He was good and they evil. He walked down the street, and they hissed and sputtered. He healed a puppy and they kicked it.

The truth is that the Pharisees did hate Jesus, and He rightly isn’t known for showing them a great deal of grace. He called them out for their hypocrisy. He exposed their inner tombs. But the hatred they felt for Him wasn’t mere sour grapes at His approval rating, nor was it as principled as mere evil versus good. It was rather more craven. They hated Jesus not because He called them names, but because He threatened their security, prestige and income. He was going to ruin everything they had worked so hard for, and getting everybody killed. (Quote source and the rest of the article can be read at this link.)

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

And to love kindness . . .

And to walk humbly . . .

With your God . . . .

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

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Fan or Follower

Many people in America consider themselves to be Christians but what does that really mean? Do they consider themselves to be a Christian because they go to church every Sunday, or because their parents were/are Christians, or because they think they live a fairly good life or follow the rules, or because America had been known around the world as being a Christian nation? Perhaps some people join a church to elevate their standing in their local community, especially if they are seeking a political office or to get ahead in the business world. But what does it really mean to be a Christian?

Yesterday as I was browsing through the bookshelves at a Goodwill store, I found a paperback book titled, Not a Fan,” that was first published in 2011 (and recently revised and updated in 2016) by Kyle Idleman, Teaching Pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. The book is written in a style to relate to a younger audience but the message is relevant for anyone. On the back cover of the 2011 edition is the following statement:

“Jesus never asked us to sit on the sidelines and cheer for his cause.”Craig Groeschel, senior pastor of LifeChurch.tv

Are you a fan or a follower? The dictionary defines a fan as “an enthusiastic admirer.” Fans want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires sacrifice. Fans may be fine with repeating a prayer, attending church on the weekend, and slapping a Jesus fish on their bumpers. But is that really the extent of the relationship Jesus wants?

Jesus was never interested in having admirers. It’s not fans he is looking for.

“Not a Fan” challenges you to consider what it really means to call yourself a Christian. With a direct frankness that you’re not likely to hear in Sunday school class, Kyle invites you to take an honest look at your relationship with Jesus. His call to follow may seem radical to us, but Jesus desires it for every believer. (Quote source here.)

The following is taken from a section titled, “Selling Jesus,” in Chapter 2 titled, “A Decision or a Commitment,” pp. 35-36:

Have you ever been flipping through the channels late at night and come across an annoying infomercial telling you how to get rich quick? An obnoxious spokesperson is looking into the camera and asking questions like, “Would you like to make more money? How would you like to only fly first class? Any interest in retiring early? How would you like to never worry about finances again?” And then you’re asked, “Does that sound like something you might be interested in?” Then the Billy Mays wannabe goes on to explain that all this can be your for free. You don’t even have to pay shipping and handling.

How do you respond to that? How can you say no? It costs you nothing and offers you everything. And I wonder if some well-intentioned preachers may have missed their calling as late-night infomercial salesmen. Because many people heard a gospel presentation that went something like this: “How would  you like to live forever? Would you like to have your sins forgiven and have a fresh start? Do you want to spend eternity in paradise instead of burning in hell?” Some take it even further . . . “Would you like to live a prosperous life? Are you ready to claim the health and wealth God has in store for you? Does that sound like something you might be interested in?” And while some people rolled their eyes and changed the channel, a lot of fans signed up.

They ordered a gospel that cost them nothing and offered them everything.

So in case someone let it out or forgot to mention it when they explained what it meant to be a Christian, let me be clear: There is no forgiveness without repentance. There is no salvation without surrender. There is no life without death. There is no believing without committing.

At a church where I am a pastor, someone sent an email asking to be removed from the church membership. The stated reason for leaving read as follows: “I don’t like Kyle’s sermons.”

Note: at this point Kyle contacts the person who gave that reason for leaving in the next two paragraphs in the book (not included here), and the guy, after a lengthy explanation, ends up stating the following:

“Well. whenever I listen to one of the messages [by Kyle] I feel like you are trying to interfere with my life.”

Kyle continues with the following: But do you hear what he is saying? He’s saying–“I believe in Jesus, I’m a big fan, but don’t ask me to follow. I don’t mind coming to church on the weekends. I pray before meals. I’ll even slap a Jesus fish on my bumper. But I don’t want Jesus to interfere with my life.” When Jesus defines the relationship he wants with us he makes it clear that being a fan who believes without making a commitment to follow isn’t an option. (Quote source: “Not a Fan,” 2011 edition, pp. 35-36.)

In Chapter 3 titled, “Knowledge About Him or Intimacy with Him,” I had to smile (from my own experience) when I read about Kyle’s childhood growing up in a Christian home on pp. 45-46:

I was born into a Christian home and rarely missed a weekend of church. From before I can remember I could quote the Lord’s Prayer, John 3:16, and the 23rd Psalm. When I was around five years old I threw a fit because my mom was making me wear a tie to church. She was trying to understand why I was so upset, and through my tears I explained, “If I wear a tie they might make me preach!” By the age of thirteen I felt pressure to have the “Baptist blow-dry” hairstyle that my father was somewhat a legend for perfecting. I would regularly model the latest “witness wear.” My collection was impressive: God’s Gym; Jesus, The Real Thing; This blood’s for you . . . I had them all. When I was in junior high I even had a picture of Jesus hanging on my wall right next to the poster of Michael Jordan. In some ways that is a visual example of how I would define my relationship with Jesus at the time. I was a fan of Jesus, like I was a fan of Mike. I had memorized his records and knew his stats, but I did not know him.

If you would have confronted me on being just a fan of Jesus and not a completely committed follower I would have defended myself by trying challenge you to asword drill.” That’s where you see who can turn to a Scripture reference the fastest. I would point to my impressive record whenever I competed in a “quote off.” A “quote off” is similar to a “dance off” except you quote Bible verses. I think it would be safe to say that what Ben Stiller is to dance offs I am to quote offs. As I grew older I would have pointed to the religious traditions I followed and the moral code I observed as evidence that I was a follower of Jesus. I would have filled you in on the fact that I don’t drink, I would have let you know that I’ve never said a cuss word, at least not loud enough to be heard. In fact, my friends and I were such committed followers, we made up Christian cuss words.

If you really had pushed me I would have had to break out the Spiritual Leadership Award I won at a Christian basketball camp. I may have pulled out the ribbon I won for getting runner-up for camper of the week at church camp. I would have also explained that I got ripped off because the kid who got first place was the son of the dean of the camp, or, as I like to call him, a cheating S.O.D. Instead of describing a relationship where I truly knew Jesus, I would have told you what I knew about Jesus. But when there is knowledge without intimacy, you’re really no more than a fan. (Quote source: “Not a Fan,” 2011 ed., pp. 45-46).

Wow, reading how he grew up takes me back to my own childhood days in church and summer Bible camp. I’m still laughing as his picture is so accurate! And what he said is true–most folks growing up in church get lot of Bible knowledge and learning about Jesus (which is good, so I’m not saying it is bad) with a whole lot of rules to follow, too, but learning about having in intimate relationship with Jesus? Well, not so much. . . . But like Kyle, if you had asked me if I was a genuine follower of Jesus back then, I could have shown you badges and ribbons I earned (mostly for Scripture memory), etc. But Kyle is right; it does not replace an intimate relationship with Jesus, and without that, it means nothing at all.

Too often we also get into “rule following” as a measuring stick of how “committed” we (or others) are as Christians. In Chapter 5 titled, “Following Jesus or Following the Rules,” Kyle opens the chapter with the following story on pp. 69-72:

Do you remember the story of Matt Emmons? He was one shot away from claiming victory in the 2004 Olympics. He was competing in the 50-meter three-position rifle event. He didn’t even need a bull’s eye to win. His final shot merely needed to be on target. Normally, the shot he made would have received a score of 8.1, more than enough for the gold metal. But in what was described as “an extremely rare mistake in elite competition,” Emmons fired at the wrong target. Standing in lane two, he fired at the target in lane three. His score for a good shot at the wrong target: 0. Instead of a medal, Emmons ended up in eighth place.

That’s a picture of what happens to a lot of fans. If you asked them, “Are you a fan or a follower?” they would confidently respond “follower.” It’s not a question of their effort or desire. They are following hard. Here is the problem; it’s not Jesus they are following. Without realizing it, they are aiming at the wrong target. Instead of following Jesus they are following religious rules and rituals. They have confused the targets.

In Matthew 23, Jesus tries to get the attention of a group of fans known as the religious leaders. If you were trying to determine who were the fans and who were the followers in Jesus’ day, it would be likely that these religious leaders would quickly be identified as the followers. They had a mastery of the Scriptures and were considered expert theologians. They were especially known for their strict observance of the law. They would have received high scores for their religious rule keeping, but that’s not the target Jesus was most concerned about. Following the rules kept them focused on the outside, but who they were on the inside is what Jesus paid attention to. And the problem with these religious leaders is that, like many fans, who they were on the outside didn’t match up with what was on the inside. In this chapter Jesus preaches one of his last sermons here on earth and it’s directed right at these religious leaders. He doesn’t hold anything back. If you grew up thinking of Jesus as a Mr. Rogers of Nazareth who was always smiling, winking at people, and wearing a sweater vest, the tone Jesus takes with these religious leaders may surprise you. The name of the sermon we’re going to study is not “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” This sermon is traditionally called “The Seven Woes.”

The word “woe” is an onomatopoeia–a word where the definition comes from its sound. The word “woe” is both an expression of grief and a curse. Seven times in his sermon Jesus says, “Woe to you…” Each “Woe” is followed by a scathing rebuke. This isn’t a warning by Jesus. He’s isn’t cautioning the religious leaders. He isn’t offering them counsel or advice. Jesus is going to strongly opposed these religious leaders because he doesn’t want people to confuse following the rules with following him. His indictments against these religious leaders should serve as a warning to those fans who consider themselves followers because of their religious rule keeping and Christian credentials.

These spiritual leaders Jesus is addressing in Matthew 23 made up a religious ruling body of 72 men called the Sanhedrin. Within the Sanhedrin there were two different groups called the Sadducees and the Pharisees. These two groups did not get along. When interpreting Scripture the Sadducees were very liberal, and the Pharisees were quite conservative. The Sadducees served the roles of Chief Priests and Elders. If you were a Sadducee, it meant you were born into that position. There were, of course, other requirements, but it had to be part of your heritage. But to be a part of the Pharisees it didn’t depend on the family you were born into; it was your hard work. Becoming a Pharisee required an incredible amount of textual study and theological training. And what I’ve noticed is that many fans fit into one of these two camps.

Some fans are like the Sadducees. Their faith was something they were born with. It was never really something they chose. Maybe when you were born your parents handed you a mask, and you grew up acting like Christians act, talking how Christians talked, listening to the music Christians listened to; but you never fell in love with Jesus. Your faith has always been more about honoring your heritage than surrendering your heart.

On the other hand, some fans are like the Pharisees. They would measure their faith by their hard work at learning and following the law. Their intellectual knowledge and behavior compliance was the target they were aiming at. But even though they were saying the right things and doing the right things, it wasn’t a reflection of who they really were. You may say the right things and do the right things, but that’s not enough for Jesus. He wants all of you.

I was waiting in an aisle of the grocery store when the cover of “People” magazine caught my eye. It was a picture of the famous tennis player, Andre Agassi. For years he was one of the top players in the world. He turned pro when he was sixteen and won eight Grand Slams over the span of his twenty-year career. The headline said “My Secret Life.” I picked it up and began to read. The article was about his new autobiography “Open.” It turns out he doesn’t really like tennis. He never did. In fact, he hated it during his growing up years and through most of his career. He writes: “My dad decided before I was born that I would be the number one player in the world.” In the article he describes a practice session at age seven: “My arm feels like it’s about to fall off. I ask, ‘How much longer Pops?’ No answer. I get an idea. Accidentally, on purpose I hit a ball high over the fence. I catch it on the rim of the racket so it sounds like a misfire. My father sees the ball leave the court and curses. He stomps out of the yard. I now have four and a half minutes to catch my breath.” Maybe the most telling sentence in that article was this one. Agassi says, “I never chose this life.” On the outside you would never guess his heart wasn’t in it. He’s put in countless hours of practice. He’s battled for championships. He was really good at what he did. But he was wearing a mask. Because he never chose it. it was never his. As a result there was no love.

And this describes many fans that I know. You look really good. You have this part down. You know what to say, and what not to say. You can pray the prayers and you can sing the songs. But you never chose it. It was just handed down to you. Or you’re going through the motions, putting on an impressive performance but it isn’t real. Your heart is not in it. (Quote source, “Not a Fan,” 2011 ed., pp. 69-72.)

So . . . fan or follower? Is our heart really in it or are we just wearing a mask and doing it out of sense of obligation? Right before Matthew 23, Jesus made the following statement in Matthew 22:36-40, when a Pharisee asked him this question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The mark of a genuine follower of Jesus as stated in the words of Jesus is found in John 13:35 . . .

By this everyone will know . . .

That you are my disciples . . .

If you love one another . . . .

YouTube Video: “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love” by Jars of Clay:

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