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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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Strangers Among Us

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

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

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

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

“WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The environment can wait. . .

Humanity can’t afford to wait. . . .

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

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

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Free At Last

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Hebrews 12:1-2 states:

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

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

Running with perseverance . . .

The race marked out for us . . .

Fixing our eyes on Jesus . . . .

YouTube Video: “Ready” by Third Day:

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Photo #2 credit here

The Voice of Faith

Hebrews 11v6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what does it states about Jesus? It states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where do we place our faith?

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

Or in Jesus . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Taking Up Our Cross

Take_up_Your_Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Final Glimpse of Germany

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Our Turn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sola Deo Gloria!

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

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

He who has ears to hear . . .

Let him hear . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

There’s No Such Thing As Impossible

Luke 1:37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rich and the Kingdom of God

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

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

“Which ones?” he inquired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Job replied to the Lord:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all . . .

Nothing is impossible with God . . . .

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

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

Culture at the Crossroads

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

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

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

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

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

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

The chapter titles give insight into those nine developments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And count the cost . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Nothing Is Hidden

Nothing is hidden from God

“According to the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) of 2008, 76% of the American adult population identified themselves as Christians, with 51% professing attendance at a variety of churches that could be considered Protestant or unaffiliated, and 25% professing Catholic beliefs” (quote source here). With such a large percentage of the American adult population identifying themselves as Christians, given a cursory look at the state of our nation today gives one pause for thought as to why our society is in such turmoil with an apparent “anything goes” mentality running the show much of the time. Most of the time it has to do with the way we live our lives on a daily basis.

In an article titled, A Critical Look at Situation Ethics,” the author, Wayne Jackson, opens with the following statement:

Basically, there are three schools of thought regarding human moral responsibility. First, there is nihilism. Nihilism argues that there is no God, hence anything one wishes to do is permitted. There are no rules—absolutely none—for human conduct; according to this ideology, every person is a law unto himself.

Second, there is relativism. Relativism contends that all conduct is relative to the circumstance. Thus, each individual must decide what is moral or immoral in a given situation. Ultimately, every man is his own judge of the matter. [Relativism is more commonly known as situation ethics.]

Third, there is absolutism. This concept affirms that there is an absolute, objective standard of right and wrong (grounded in the holy nature of God himself), and this code of moral conduct is set forth in the Bible—reaching its zenith in the New Testament. (Quote source here).

It is the second item listed–relativism–also known as situation ethics–that has played a major role in our society for the past several decades. Dictionary.com defines situation ethics as follows:

view of ethics that deprecates general moral principles while emphasizing the source of moral judgments in the distinctive characters of specific situations. (Quote source here.)

Situation ethics is squishy, dicey, and allows a way out of any moral dilemma we face that we don’t want to adhere to given the set of circumstances we find ourselves in, and, over time, it often replaces the moral dilemma altogether. For example, it’s like saying that we are adamantly against abortion until our unmarried teenage daughter becomes pregnant and our reputation within the community is now at stake, so in this particular situation we allow for it (without letting the neighbors know, of course). Affairs often fall under the same category . . . we say we believe in marital fidelity until someone catches our eye and we head on down that road towards adultery. Or, let’s bring it even closer to home with something that has become so pervasive in our society today that we do it without even blinking an eye–lying–as in being deliberately untruthful and deceitful, often for some type of personal gain at another’s expense or to ruin someone’s reputation (see blog post titled, The Truth About Lying). Gossip is a big one that falls under that category.

In the middle of this past century (20th), A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) made the following statement in The Knowledge of the Holy (see preface) which sums up our apparent apathy towards any moral dilemma we happen to face:

The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us. A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking.

With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the Spirit. The words, “Be still, and know that I am God,” mean next to nothing to the self-confident, bustling worshipper in this middle period of the twentieth century.

This loss of the concept of majesty has come just when the forces of religion are making dramatic gains and the churches are more prosperous than at any time within the past several hundred years. But the alarming thing is that our gains are mostly external and our losses wholly internal; and since it is the quality of our religion that is affected by internal conditions, it may be that our supposed gains are but losses spread over a wider field.

The only way to recoup our spiritual losses is to go back to the cause of them and make such corrections as the truth warrants. The decline of the knowledge of the holy has brought on our troubles. A rediscovery of the majesty of God will go a long way toward curing them. It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate. If we would bring back spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly as He is. (Quote source here.)

“It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate.” And how did our idea of God get this way?

Sometimes while I’m driving down the road I’ll be listening to a Christian radio station playing modern Christian music. While I appreciate many of the words the song writers have written, I’ve come to realize that much of the Christian music of our day focuses on us, and what God can give or do for us. Our concept of God is often wrapped around us except perhaps during Sunday morning worship at church. Rarely do we seek God at any real depth for who He is apart from what we want or need, and we have succumbed to a “light and easy” Christianity that pales in comparison to actual New Testament living. And a hundred lesser evils (e.g., “idols”) in our culture have taken up the space in our lives that should be reserved for God only–things like money and material possessions, and, of course, all the “situation ethics” we allow for in our own lives, like lying because it’s easier then living out the truth we know we should be living. And excuse-making has become all too common among us.

And it’s called idolatry . . . .

Throne-of-GraceMany of us who call ourselves Christian rarely take the time on a daily basis to “be still” (see Psalm 46) before God and seek His face and His will for our lives for the day. We rarely meditate for longer than a five-minute devotion (if we even do that) but still expect God to carry us through the day. I wasn’t raised to believe that way many years ago but it has become so common in our day today and for the past several decades, too. We just expect God to be there for us whenever we need him without really giving him the time of day. And the power and wisdom that come from God is lost to us because we don’t seek him first.

Hebrews 4:12-16 states the following:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

It is the word of God, the Bible, that is alive and active. We must take the time to read and meditate on it so that it has a place in our lives and guides us in how we should respond to everything that comes our way in life. We cannot receive God’s wisdom and truth without it, and it penetrates our actions and attitudes. Without it we are like ships without an anchor. James 1:19-27 states:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

“A tight rein on their tongues” is not just a matter of not swearing, but it also includes gossip and slander, deceit and lying, and using prayer as a way to communicate gossip about others or make ourselves sound or look good (like the prayer of the Pharisee–see Luke 18:10-13). God sees and knows our heart attitude, no matter how nicely we may try to cover it up to others. And in the end, it is only God’s view that matters.

I have always maintained that my blog posts are written in the spirit of “considering our ways.” We have let go of so many of the essentials that make up the core of Christianity (and many of the young people among us today don’t even know what they are) in our daily walk with God in our society, and a myriad of “things” have taken his place, from smartphones to material possessions to lying just to get ahead. I write them as much to remind myself as to remind anyone else. None of us are outsiders to the human race.

I’ll end this post with the words of King Solomon (the son of King David and Bathsheba) who was the wisest man who ever lived. Those words are found in Ecclesiastes 12:11-14:

The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by One Shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
    including every hidden thing,
    whether it is good or evil.

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Truth Divorced From Life

Jude v25For those of us who profess to be Christian, why do we worship God? What is it about Jesus Christ that we claim we cling to while singing our worship songs on Sunday morning? Unfortunately, it often does not follow us throughout the rest of our week in our interactions with others and in the midst of our own self-seeking ways. And “being nice” is no proof of genuine Christianity as anyone is capable of “being nice” if they choose to be. Our actions (and the motives behind them) lived out on a daily basis can give us some clues as to the depth, or lack of it, regarding our true feelings for and about God. Merely looking and acting “religious” on the outside (for the benefits of others and ourselves) has nothing to do with the truth.

In a devotion by A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) titled, “Truth Divorced From Life,” in the devotional book titled, Tozer on The Almighty God,” compiled by Ron Eggert and published in 2004, Tozer states the following:

There is scarcely anything so dull and meaningless as Bible doctrine taught for its own sake. Truth divorced from life is not truth in its biblical sense, but something else and something less. Theology is a set of facts concerning God, man and the world. These facts may be and often are set forth as values in themselves; and there lies the snare both for the teacher and for the hearer . . . .

The Bible, however, is more than a volume of hitherto unknown facts about God, man and the universe. It is a book of exhortation based upon those facts. By far the greater portion of the book is devoted to an urgent effort to persuade people to alter their ways and bring their lives into harmony with the will of God . . . .

No man is better for knowing that God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth. The devil knows that, and so did Ahab and Judas Iscariot. No man is better for knowing that God so loved the world of men that He gave His only begotten Son to die for their redemption. In hell there are millions who know that. Theological truth is useless until it is obeyed. The purpose behind all doctrine is to secure moral action. (Devotion for September 6)

Action . . . the kind that goes to the heart of everything that we do. Why do we do it? And what is behind that “action”? Self? Or God? Too often, it is self. Tozer goes on to state the following in another devotion titled, “Universally Misunderstood,” in the same book mentioned above:

We can only conclude that Jesus is universally popular today because He is universally misunderstood.

Everyone admires Jesus, but almost no one takes Him seriously. He is considered a kindly idealist who loved babies and underprivileged persons. He is pictured as a gentle dreamer who was naive enough to believe in human goodness and brave enough to die for His belief. The world thinks of Him as meek, selfless and loving, and values Him because He was what we all are at heart, or would be if things were not so tough and we had more time to cultivate our virtues. Or He is a sweet, holy symbol of something too fine, too beautiful, to be real, but something which we would not lose nevertheless from our treasure house of precious things.

Because the human mind has two compartments, the practical and the ideal, people are able to live comfortably with their dreamy, romantic conception of Jesus while paying no attention whatsoever to His words. It is this neat division between the fanciful and the real that enables countless thousands of persons to say, “Lord, Lord” in all sincerity while living every moment in flat defiance of His authority. (Devotion for July 14)

“Living every moment in flat defiance of His authority” . . . . How often do our wants and our desires usurp Jesus Christ’s authority over our lives? Too often, in many cases. All we need to do is ask ourselves why we are doing what we do at any given moment and it becomes pretty clear who is in charge most of the time.

Here is another devotion by Tozer from the same book mentioned above titled, “Both Easy and Difficult”:

But the God we must see is not the utilitarian God who is having such a run of popularity today, whose chief claim to men’s attention is His ability to bring them success in their various undertakings and who for that reason is being cajoled and flattered by everyone who wants a favor. The God we must learn to know is the Majesty in the heavens, God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, the only wise God our Saviour . . . .

Knowledge of such a Being cannot be gained by study alone. It comes by a wisdom that natural man knows nothing of, neither can know, because it is spiritually discerned. To know God is at once the easiest and the most difficult thing in the world. It is easy because the knowledge is not won by hard mental toil, but is something freely given. As sunlight falls free on the open field, so the knowledge of the holy God is a free gift to men who are open to receive it. But this knowledge is difficult because there are conditions to be met and the obstinate nature of fallen man does not take kindly to them. (Devotion for January 24)

Read that last sentence again . . . “But this knowledge is difficult because there are conditions to be met and the obstinate nature of fallen man does not take kindly to them.” And on the following page Tozer goes on to state in a devotion titled, “A Vast Difference,” the following:

It is possible to grow up in a church, learn the catechism and have everything done to us that they do to us, within reason. But after we have done all that, we many not know God at all, because God isn’t known by those external things. We are blind and can’t see, because the things of God no man knows but by the Spirit of God . . . .

We imagine that we can handle it by the flesh, and we do handle it by the flesh–the Lord lets us do it. We can hold the creed and not know God in His person at all. We can know the doctrine and not know spiritual things at all. The fearful consequence is that many people know about God but don’t know God Himself. There is a vast difference between knowing about God and knowing God–a vast difference! . . . .

So it is that the human being can know about God, can know about Christ’s dying for him, can even write songs and books, can be the head of religious organizations and hold important church offices–and still never have come to the vital, personal knowledge of God at all. Only by the Holy Spirit can we know God. (Devotion for January 25)

proverbs-23-7Too often we only have a head knowledge–and not a genuine heart knowledge–of God and Jesus Christ. And without genuine repentance that head knowledge can fool both us and those around us. And it is a deadly place to be, for there is no genuine repentance that brings about change in us–a giving over of our own desires to the will of God.

It is quite possible to get all emotional on Sunday morning while singing worships songs, but where the rubber meets the road is how we treat others (all others and not just those we choose to like for whatever our reasons) and who we are really living for during the rest of the week.

Jesus stated the following after his resurrection in Matthew 28:18-20:

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

And what are the commands of Jesus Christ? The following is taken from the opening paragraph on Institute of Basic Life Principles:

Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Keeping the commands of Jesus begins with recognizing what they are. Following (see link) is a collection of 49 of Jesus’ commands. As you read through them, ask God to help you observe these words, apply them, and faithfully follow them throughout your lifetime. (Click here for the compiled list).

I’m not including the link to that list to overwhelm anyone as it overwhelms me if I think I have to try to do any of them in my own power. Nobody can do them in their own power. However, the first one on the list brings about the ability to accomplish the rest, and that first one is repentance. Without genuine repentance the rest won’t matter. And we can’t do the rest without the power of the Holy Spirit inside of us enabling us to accomplish them. And it might surprise us to see just what some of the items are on that list, such as: following after Jesus; rejoicing; going the second mile; letting your light shine before others; keeping your word; loving your enemies; laying up treasures in heaven and not here on earth; and seeking God’s kingdom instead of one of our own making. And the reality is that it is not just about a “list,” but about a heart attitude. Who is it that we really want to serve? Jesus or ourselves?

Jesus stated the following in Matthew 11:28-30:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Too often we perceive Jesus to be described as in the devotion above titled, “Universally Misunderstood,” and he is anything but weak and/or timid or someone we can just push aside as a nice guy or sweet, holy symbol of our religion (see blog posts titled Not a Tame Lion and Not A Timid Christianity). He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lord and all authority has been given to him by God the Father (see Matthew 28:18-20).

It’s easy (and deadly) to only have a head knowledge about God and Jesus Christ without any genuine change in heart attitude that comes from repentance. As Tozer stated above, “No man is better for knowing that God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth. The devil knows that, and so did Ahab and Judas Iscariot. No man is better for knowing that God so loved the world of men that He gave His only begotten Son to die for their redemption. In hell there are millions who know that. Theological truth is useless until it is obeyed . . . .”

Our faith, if it is genuine, requires obedience . . . .

Holy, Holy, Holy
Is The Lord God Almighty
Who Was And Is
And Is To Come!
~Revelation 4:8

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Put Away Compromise

Compromise-WDGSACompromise . . . how many times in a day do we find ourselves compromising on things we say we believe in? Three of the definitions for “compromise” stated in TheFreeDictionary.com are (1) a weakening or reduction of one’s principles or standards; (2) to reduce the quality, value, or degree of something, such as one’s ideals; and (3) an exposure of one’s good name, reputation, etc, to injury. (Quote source here.)

In answer to the question, “What does the Bible have to say about compromise?” GotQuestions?org states the following in their answer (full article available at this link):

To compromise is to make concessions or accommodations for someone who does not agree with a prevalent set of standards or rules. The Bible makes it clear that God does not condone compromising His standards . . . . Not compromising requires our unswerving submission to Him and to Him only, regardless of the world’s concession to godlessness (Joshua 24:15Psalm 119:10Psalm 119:15). . . .

As believers, we must “see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8; see also Hebrews 3:12). We are also commanded to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you . . .” (1 Peter 3:15). In other words, we are commanded not only to remain faithful to the Word but to defend it and correct those who are in opposition to it (2 Timothy 2:24-25). God is serious about our not compromising His Word with the values of the world—the reason being that those outside of Christ may then “come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil . . .” (2 Timothy 2:26).

Then there are those who profess to being Christians, yet live lives not in keeping with the precepts of the Scripture, i.e., compromising their biblical beliefs by living like world. For them, the things of the world and its sensual allurements take precedence over the Word of God (Acts 20:301 John 2:16-19). Jesus referred to these people as “those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19). These are the ones who, though professing to follow Christ, compromise their faith by craving worldly success and accolades from their fellow man. Jesus chastised such people who rationalized their questionable behavior: “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:41-44). In other words, to compromise in one’s total allegiance and devotion to God is to allow the allurements of this world, with its accompanying worries, to take precedence over Christ (Matthew 6:24). (Quote source and full article here).

“Compromising their biblical beliefs by living like the world” . . . and we do that all the time here in America. We love the excesses afforded to us by our society so we indulge and before we know it our conscience is seared by our lack of restraint. And if enough of us do it we don’t even recognize the major error we have made in our relationship with God. After all, we rationalize that everybody else is doing it, too.

In a devotion titled, “Put Away Compromise,” by A.W. Tozer (1897-1963), in the book titled, Tozer on the Holy Spirit (2000), compiled by Marylynne E. Foster, Tozer states:

The way to spiritual power and favor with God is to be willing to put away the weak compromises and the tempting evils to which we are prone to cling. There is no Christian victory or blessing if we refuse to turn away from the things that God hates.

Even if your wife loves it, turn away from it. Even if your husband loves it, turn away from it. Even if it is accepted in the whole social class and system of which you are a part, turn away from it. Even if it is something that has come to be accepted by our whole generation, turn away from it if it is evil and wrong and an offense to our Lord and righteous Savior . . . .

Every Christian holds the key to his or her own spiritual attainment. If he or she will not pay the price of being joyfully led by the Holy Spirit of God, if he or she refuses to hate sin and evil and wrong, our churches might as well be turned into lodges or clubs. (Devotion for July 6.)

Read that last sentence again . . . “If he or she will not pay the price of being joyfully led by the Holy Spirit of God, if he or she refuses to hate sin and evil and wrong, our churches might as well be turned into lodges or clubs.” And many have been turned into Christian “social clubs” not only in Tozer’s day but has quantified substantially in the 52 years since Tozer’s death. Sin is just “no big deal” to many of us anymore. And why is that? It’s because we don’t take what God says seriously anymore. And that is an error of staggering proportions, the ramifications of which we cannot even begin to imagine. And nobody seems to care.

end of self beginning of GodWe major on what we want and forget that we serve a Holy God. We wink at sin as if it just doesn’t matter all that much in our fast-paced and easy access society today. Besides, Jesus is always there to forgive us, right? Our heart attitude is really into serving self and not God, but we can sure make it look like we are serving him to others and maybe even fool ourselves along the way. Yeah, we can put on a really good show with a smiling face. Unfortunately, God is not so easily fooled, even if we think we can fool the rest of our world. And the world isn’t fooled that easily, either, but it can often be bought with gossip and money, and that includes many in the Christian world who profess to be Christian. “Bigger, better, more, more, more” is the motto of our day in America, and it doesn’t matter who we are or what we say we believe in, either. And who really cares if we possibly end up destroying someone else (whether it’s their livelihood or reputation or both) through our gossip or lying to get what we want? We rationalize that our gain (whatever it happens to be) from their loss is God’s blessing, right? Not by a long shot. Anathema . . . And there’s always a payback to that kind of deception.

In two devotions titled, “Love Good, Hate Evil,” and “Love God, Hate Sin,” previous to the one mentioned above in the same book, Tozer wrote the following:

Love Good, Hate Evil

If we are committed, consecrated Christians, truly disciples of the crucified and risen Christ, there are some things we must face.

We cannot love honesty without hating dishonesty. We cannot love purity without hating impurity. We cannot love truth without hating lying and deceitfulness.

If we belong to Jesus Christ, we must hate evil even as He hated evil in every form. The ability of Jesus Christ to hate that which was against God and to love that which was full of God was the force that made Him able to receive the anointing–the oil of gladness–in complete measure.

On our human side, it is our imperfection in loving the good and hating the evil that prevents us from receiving the Holy Spirit in complete measure. God withholds from us because we are unwilling to follow Jesus in His great poured-out love for what is right and His pure and holy hatred of what is evil. “Hate the evil and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate” (Amos 5:15). (Devotion from July 4).

Love God, Hate Sin

People remark how favored the church is in this country. It does not have to face persecution and rejection. If the truth were known, our freedom from persecution is because we have taken the easy, the popular way.

If we would love righteousness until it became an overpowering passion, if we would renounce everything that is evil, our day of popularity and pleasantness would quickly end. The world would soon turn on us.

We are too nice! We are too tolerant! We are too anxious to be popular! We are too quick to make excuses for sin in its many forms! If I would stir Christians around me to love God and hate sin, even to the point of being a bit of a nuisance, I would rejoice . . . . Vance Havner used to remark that too many are running for something when they ought to be standing for something. God’s people should be willing to stand! (Devotion from July 5).

Do you think this is a bit too hard-hitting? Good. There are too many people out there soft peddling as easy Christianity that just doesn’t exist and way too many folks have swallowed it because it sounds so good. We don’t need more pastors/teachers who coddle their congregations with teaching that twist the Bible to their own benefit (either for status or money or both)–and certainly that is not to say that all pastors/teachers do that, either. But there are many who do. Even the Apostle Paul stated in Colossians 2:8:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

And also Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4; 13-15 regarding the false teachers of his day:

I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. . .

For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

Unfortunately, we believe almost anyone who claims to be Christian and especially if they have any kind of following or they are popular on the Christian speaking circuit (with their plethora of books and other materials to peddle) and/or have the educational “credentials” we esteem despite what they teach. And often we are unaware of their deception because we do not study the Bible for ourselves, pray for discernment, and develop our own relationship with Jesus Christ to be able to recognize the deception.

And discernment? What’s that? Spiritual discernment has to do with wisdom and the ability to distinguish truth from error. The following statement is from GotQuestions?org regarding how to increase one’s spiritual discernment:

It is not wrong to possess knowledge or have an education, and it is not wrong to use reason and logic to solve problems. However, spiritual discernment cannot be attained that way. It must be given by the revelation of Jesus Christ to the believer, and then developed by way of training in righteousness (Hebrews 5:14) and prayer (Philippians 1:9). Hebrews 5:11-14 shows how spiritual discernment is developed. The writer speaks to those who had become “dull of hearing,” meaning they had fallen out of practice discerning spiritually. The writer of Hebrews tells them that everyone who lives on “milk” (rather than the “solid food” desired by the mature) is unskilled in the word of righteousness; however, the mature Christian has been “trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” The keys, according to this passage, are becoming skilled in the Word of God (by which we define righteousness) and “constant practice” (through which we gain experience).

So, how does one increase spiritual discernment? First, recognizing that God is the only one who can increase wisdom, pray for it (James 1:5Philippians 1:9). Then, knowing the wisdom to distinguish good from evil comes by training and practice, go to the Bible to learn the truth and, by meditation on the Word, reinforce the truth.

When a bank hires an employee, he is trained to recognize counterfeit bills. One would think that the best way to recognize a counterfeit would be to study various counterfeits. The problem is that new counterfeits are being created every day. The best way to recognize a counterfeit bill is to have an intimate knowledge of the real thing. Having studied authentic bills, bank cashiers are not fooled when a counterfeit comes along. A knowledge of the true helps them identify the false.

This is what Christians must do to develop spiritual discernment. We must know the authentic so well that, when the false appears, we can recognize it. By knowing and obeying the Word of God, we will be “trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” We will know God’s character and will. This is the heart of spiritual discernment – being able to distinguish the voice of the world from the voice of God, to have a sense that “this is right” or “this is wrong.” Spiritual discernment fends off temptation and allows us to “hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). (Quote source and full article here.)

Too often in today’s world and, yes, among Christians, we have so compromised the way we live that we fudge on what is “right” and “wrong” on a regular basis. Our conscience has been seared by our own desires and society’s excesses, and nobody out there is warning us of the impending danger. The following statement is from GotQuestions?org:

For human beings, having one’s conscience seared is a result of continual, unrepentant sinning. Eventually, sin dulls the sense of moral right or wrong, and the unrepentant sinner becomes numb to the warnings of the conscience that God has placed within each of us to guide us (Romans 2:15) (Quote source here.)

Much like the frog–who was placed in a pot of water that was slowly heated up to the boiling point–was totally unaware of his impending demise, we are in the exact same predicament, and we don’t even recognize it for what it is. James 4:17 states, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” But do we care? Our reaction to that verse speaks volumes about our spiritual state.

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

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Idols of the Heart

idolatryIdolatry . . . it’s everywhere and we all do it. “The definition of idolatry, according to Webster, is ‘the worship of idols or excessive devotion to, or reverence for some person or thing.’ An idol is anything that replaces the one, true God” (quote source here). And if we don’t think we do it, just take away the object of our desire and see what happens.

Money, materialism, status, ego, sex, celebrity worship, self . . . the list is endless. If we say we don’t have issues with idolatry, we are only fooling ourselves. 1 John 2:16 pretty much sums it up: “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” The J.B. Phillips translation of this verse, along with the two surrounding verses (1 John 2:15-17) states:

See “the world” for what it is

Never give your hearts to this world or to any of the things in it. A man cannot love the Father and love the world at the same time. For the whole world-system, based as it is on men’s primitive desires, their greedy ambitions and the glamour of all that they think splendid, is not derived from the Father at all, but from the world itself. The world and all its passionate desires will one day disappear. But the man who is following God’s will is part of the permanent and cannot die.

It’s hard to separate ourselves from the material world. In fact, it’s impossible. And living in a prosperous society like America presents us with an innumerable number of things to attach our hearts and desires to–including other people (such as celebrity worship). We idolize so many things and people, and God gets shoved to the background if we even believe in Him at all, and most of us do according to a 2013 Harris Poll which found that 74% of Americans say they believe in God (source here).

Idolatry, without a doubt, is one of the hardest areas for Christians to get a handle on since it is so incredibly easy to attach ourselves to things and/or people. In fact, it is so common that we don’t even recognize it for what it is–an affront to the very God we say we serve. The first and second commandments of the Ten Commandments listed in Exodus 20 state:

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:2-6).

Unfortunately, we fail to realize just how much our lives are filled with desires for everything we can see, touch, feel, possess, own, etc., above our desire for God, and these things/and or people are the real gods we worship.

I ran across an excellent description regarding these idols in a book I mentioned in my recent blog post titled, So Goes The Culture.” The book is titled, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity” (2004, 2005) by Nancy Pearcey, who is Professor of Apologetics, Scholar in Residence, and Director of the Francis Schaeffer Center for Worldview and Culture at Houston Baptist UniversityThe description is found in Chapter 13: True Spirituality and Christian Worldview, under the title “Idols of the Heart” (pp. 356-358):

Idols of the Heart

A pervasive theme throughout the New Testament is that Christ’s death and resurrection were not merely objective events that happened in history–though certainly they were that first of all. We should never give up our conviction that the objective truths of Christ’s death and resurrection are the basis for our justification. But the next step is to take Christ as the ongoing model for our lives. As the medieval spiritual writers put it, we are called to practice “the imitation of Christ.” Not in a moralistic sense of trying to mold our behavior by certain ethical precepts, but rather in a mystical sense that our own suffering becomes a participation in Christ’s suffering. That’s why Paul wrote, “Our old self was crucified with him” (Rom. 6:6); and, “That world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).

Only after sharing in Christ’s death is there a promise of sharing in His resurrection power. Again, the order is crucial. “Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death,” Paul writes, “that, as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so also we may walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). It is impossible for us to receive a new life until we have truly given up the old one. We do that at our conversion, of course, in a once-for-all transaction where God, as the Judge, declares us forgiven of our sins and adopts us into His family. But being declared righteous in a judicial sense in only the beginning. After that, we are called to begin a process in which we die spiritually, day by day, to deeply ingrained sinful patterns, so that we can be liberated from sin and grow spiritually into a new person.

Moment by moment, we must learn to say no to sin and worldly motivations. In a world of moral relativism, where everything is reduced to personal choice, simply saying no is in itself a very hard teaching. If it does not seem hard, then we are probably accommodating to the world without realizing it. If we are no saying no in ways that bring us to our knees to seek God’s enabling power, then it is likely that we are no standing against the sinful system of the world as we ought.

The principle of dying to worldly systems applies beyond obvious sins. In a culture that measures everything in terms of size, success, and influence, we have to say no to these worldly values as well. In a culture of material affluence, we have to say no to coveting a better house, a sleeker car, a more upscale neighborhood, a more impressive ministry. In a culture that judges people by reputation and achievements, we have to resist the lure of living for professional recognition and advancement. Not that those things are wrong in themselves. But when they fill our hearts and define our motivations, then they become barriers to our relationship with God–which means they become sin for us. As Paul says, anything not of faith is sin, because it blocks our singleminded devotion to God and hinders our growth in holiness.

God calls such barriers “idols of the heart” (see Ezek. 14:1-11)–and they can even include genuine needs that are completely right and proper in themselves. This is where the principle becomes really difficult. When our natural needs become a cause of anger and bitterness, or a reason to oppress or attack others, then we must say not to them as well. For example, it’s perfectly proper to want intimacy and respect in our marriage. But people are sinners, and at times even Christian spouses may find themselves lonely and unloved. The one of two things will happen: Either we will become angry and reject the other person–or we will learn how to die to even our valid personal needs, and trust God to work good even in an imperfect situation. Again, it is proper and right to want a job that fulfills our God-given talents, where we enjoy the respect of colleagues and supervisors. But in a fallen world, we may have to accept work that is less than fulfilling; we may not be successful; or we may work for bosses who are demeaning and exploitative. What then? Either we will find ourselves shaking our fist at God–or we will put our talents on the altar and die to them, trusting God to honor our sacrifice to  Him.

Putting our valid needs on the altar does not mean shutting our mouths and closing our eyes to a sinful situation. If someone is truly in the wrong, then the loving response is not to give in but to confront the person. It is not an act of love to allow someone to sin against you with impunity. Sin is a cancer within the other person’s soul, and genuine love must be strong and courageous in bringing that sin to the light, where it can be diagnosed and dealt with.

Yet it is all too easy to do the right thing in the wrong spirit. Only as we offer up to God our anger, fear, and drive for control do we develop the kind of spirit God can use in confronting others. “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps,” Peter writes–with the ultimate purpose “that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 2:21; 3:18). So, too, when we suffer, even unjustly, the ultimate purpose is to equip us to bring others to God. Moment by moment, as we suffer the effects of sin and brokenness in a fallen world, we need to ask Him to use those trials to unite us to Christ in His sacrifice and death–so that we can then be used to bring others to repentance and renewal. (Source: Total Truth pp. 356-358).

divided-heartWe do live in a culture that measures everything in terms of size, success, and influence, and it’s not often that we say no if/when it comes our way. In fact, it has invaded the church culture in America and oftentimes has become our own “model for success” by superimposing itself on what the New Testament has to say about what the true church should be and act like in any culture at any time in history. It’s a hard sin to break when it appears that everyone else is doing it even in most Christian circles.

Let’s take a closer look at what idolatry looks like in our culture today. In answer to a question on GotQuestions?org,” which asks, What are some modern forms of idolatry? four “altars” that we regularly worship at are mentioned:

All the various forms of modern idolatry have one thing at their core: self. We no longer bow down to idols and images. Instead we worship at the altar of the god of self. This brand of modern idolatry takes various forms.

First, we worship at the altar of materialism which feeds our need to build our egos through the acquisition of more “stuff.” Our homes are filled with all manner of possessions. We build bigger and bigger houses with more closets and storage space in order to house all the things we buy, much of which we haven’t even paid for yet. Most of our stuff has “planned obsolescence” built into it, making it useless in no time, and so we consign it to the garage or other storage space. Then we rush out to buy the newest item, garment or gadget and the whole process starts over. This insatiable desire for more, better, and newer stuff is nothing more than covetousness. The tenth commandment tells us not to fall victim to coveting: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17). God doesn’t just want to rain on our buying sprees. He knows we will never be happy indulging our materialistic desires because it is Satan’s trap to keep our focus on ourselves and not on Him.

Second, we worship at the altar of our own pride and ego. This often takes the form of obsession with careers and jobs. Millions of men—and increasingly more women—spend 60-80 hours a week working. Even on the weekends and during vacations, our laptops are humming and our minds are whirling with thoughts of how to make our businesses more successful, how to get that promotion, how to get the next raise, how to close the next deal. In the meantime, our children are starving for attention and love. We fool ourselves into thinking we are doing it for them, to give them a better life. But the truth is we are doing it for ourselves, to increase our self-esteem by appearing more successful in the eyes of the world. This is folly. All our labors and accomplishments will be of no use to us after we die, nor will the admiration of the world, because these things have no eternal value. As King Solomon put it, “For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 2:21-23).

Third, we idolize mankind—and by extension ourselves—through naturalism and the power of science. This gives us the illusion that we are lords of our world and builds our self-esteem to godlike proportions. We reject God’s Word and His description of how He created the heavens and the earth, and we accept the nonsense of evolution and naturalism. We embrace the goddess of environmentalism and fool ourselves into thinking we can preserve the earth indefinitely when God has declared the earth has a limited lifespan and will last only until the end of the age. At that time, He will destroy all that He has made and create a new heaven and new earth. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:10-13). As this passage so clearly states, our focus should not be on worshiping the environment, but on living holy lives as we wait eagerly for the return of our Lord and Savior, who alone deserves worship.

Finally, and perhaps most destructively, we worship at the altar of self-aggrandizement or the fulfillment of the self to the exclusion of all others and their needs and desires. This manifests itself in self-indulgence through alcohol, drugs, and food. Those in affluent countries have unlimited access to alcohol, drugs (prescription drug use is at an all-time high, even among children), and food. Obesity rates in the U.S. have skyrocketed, and childhood diabetes brought on by overeating is epidemic. The self-control we so desperately need is spurned in our insatiable desire to eat, drink, and medicate more and more. We resist any effort to get us to curb our appetites, and we are determined to make ourselves the god of our lives. This has its origin in the Garden of Eden where Satan tempted Eve to eat of the tree with the words “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). This has been man’s desire ever since—to be god and, as we have seen, the worship of self is the basis of all modern idolatry.

All idolatry of self has at its core the three lusts found in 1 John 2:16: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” If we are to escape modern idolatry, we have to admit that it is rampant and reject it in all its forms. It is not of God, but of Satan, and in it we will never find fulfillment. This is the great lie and the same one Satan has been telling since he first lied to Adam and Eve. Sadly, we are still falling for it. Even more sadly, many churches are propagating it in the preaching of the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel built on the idol of self-esteem. But we will never find happiness focusing on ourselves. Our hearts and minds must be centered on God and on others. This is why when asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). When we love the Lord and others with everything that is in us, there will be no room in our hearts for idolatry. (Quote source here.)

Idolatry is deadly to our spiritual life and relationship with God and Jesus Christ. As Jesus proclaimed in Matthew 16:26-27, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”

So what are we doing?

Living for ourselves?

Or living for God . . . .

YouTube Video: “Change Me” by Shannon Wexelberg:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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