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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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Persistent Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe you’ve met that person. Maybe not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pray like this,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your kingdom come . . .

Your will be done . . .

On earth as it is in heaven. . . .

YouTube Video: “Our Father” by Hillsong Worship:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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Rebel With A Cause

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Essential: Love

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

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

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

Second Essential: Holiness

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

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

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

Christianity Is Countercultural

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

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

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

To love mercy . . .

And to walk humbly . . .

With your God . . . .

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

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The Case For Miracles

Before I get too far into this blog post, let’s first define the word miracle.” Dictionary.com defines a miracle as follows:

1. An effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.
2. Such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of God.
3. A wonder; marvel. (Quote source here.)

We also need to define the difference between miracles and magic. GotQuestions.org states that difference as follows:

Magic and miracles might mean the same thing to some people, but there is actually a vast difference between the two terms. It is proper to say that Jesus worked miracles, but it would be wrong to attribute His works to magic. Basically, magic and miracles differ in their source: magic has either a human or demonic source, but miracles are a supernatural work of God.

There are two different kinds of “magic,” and it is good to distinguish between the two. Entertainers who use sleight-of-hand and illusions in their performance are often called “magicians,” but they are actually illusionists, which is what most of them prefer to be called. An illusionist’s audience does not consider what they see to be “real” magic; they understand it is a trick, and they delight in the fact they cannot figure out how the trick is done. The other kind of magic is what some might call “real” magic; it draws on occult, demonic power…. This type of magic, sometimes spelled “magick” to distinguish it from sleight-of-hand, is associated with divination, conjuring, and sorcery….

A major difference between magic and miracles is that magic draws upon power that is not directly from God, and miracles are the result of God’s power intervening in the world. Magic is an attempt to circumvent God in the acquisition of knowledge or power…. Another difference between magic and miracles is that magic involves manipulation and opposition to the truth but miracles reveal the truth. The magician attempts to manipulate people for personal gain. The worker of miracles simply showcases the power and glory of God….

Miracles and magic sometimes look the same, but their goals are different. Magic and illusion distract the eye from reality, while miracles draw the eye to reality. Miracles reveal; magic hides. Miracles are an expression of creative power; magic uses what already exists. Miracles are a gift; magic is a studied skill. Miracles do not glorify men; magic seeks to be noticed and bring glory to the magician.

Jesus was not a magician. He was the Son of God, known for His many miracles (John 7:31). Jesus told His enemies, “Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (John 10:37–38). Jesus’ miracles (or “signs,” as John called them) are proof of who He is. (See quote source and full article at this link.)

The other day I picked up a copy of Lee Strobel‘s new book, The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural (2018).  Lee Strobel is an atheist-turned-Christian who for the past twenty-five years has been sharing the evidence that supports the truth and claims of Christianity, and he is the author of more than twenty books including his classic, The Case for Christ,” a perennial favorite (which was made into a movie in 2017) which details his conversion to Christianity. His recent release, The Case for Grace in 2015, won the 2016 Nonfiction Book of the Year from the EPCA. He is currently Professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University, and a teaching pastor at Woodlands Church.

In his latest book on miracles, Amazon.com states:

New York Times bestselling author Lee Strobel trains his investigative sights on the hot-button issue of whether it’s credible to believe God intervenes supernaturally in people’s lives today.

This provocative book starts with an unlikely interview in which America’s foremost skeptic builds a seemingly persuasive case against the miraculous. But then Strobel travels the country to quiz scholars to see whether they can offer solid answers to atheist objections. Along the way, he encounters astounding accounts of healings and other phenomena that simply cannot be explained away by naturalistic causes. The book features the results of exclusive new scientific polling that shows miracle accounts are much more common than people think.

What’s more, Strobel delves into the most controversial question of all: what about miracles that don’t happen? If God can intervene in the world, why doesn’t he do it more often to relieve suffering? Many American Christians are embarrassed by the supernatural, not wanting to look odd or extreme to their neighbors. Yet, “The Case for Miracles” shows not only that the miraculous is possible, but that God still does intervene in our world in awe-inspiring ways. Here’s a unique book that examines all sides of this issue and comes away with a passionate defense for God’s divine action in lives today. (Quote course here.)

In a book review on The Case for Miracles” published in Influence Magazine on March 27, 2018, by George P. Woods, executive editor of Assemblies of God Publications, including Influence Magazine, and coordinator of Religious Freedom Initiatives for the national office of the Assemblies of God, he writes:

On Pentecost Sunday evening, 1981, a young woman walked down the aisle of Wheaton Wesleyan Church in Wheaton, Illinois. Church attendance wasn’t uncommon in that city, which housed the headquarters of many evangelical institutions, including Wheaton College. And yet, this young woman’s steps elicited gasps from those in attendance.

Why? Because Barbara — that was the young woman’s name — had been diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis 16 years earlier. She hadn’t been able to walk for seven years. Indeed, at that point, the progression of her illness was so severe that she was in hospice care at her home, with a life expectancy of six months.

What accounted for the change? A prayer request for Barbara had been communicated to Moody Bible Institute’s radio program. Over 450 people wrote letters to her church, indicating they were praying for her.

As Barbara’s aunt read some of those letters to her at her bedside, Barbara heard a man’s voice say, “My child, get up and walk.” And she did. Barbara’s been free of MS ever since and now lives with her husband, a pastor, in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Lee Strobel recounts Barbara’s story in his new book, “The Case for Miracles.” Strobel was the award-winning legal editor of “The Chicago Tribune” and an atheist before coming to Christ in the early 1980s. Since then, he has written “The Case for Christ” and other books investigating evidence for the truth claims of Christianity.

Christianity is an inherently supernatural religion. Among its supernatural truth claims are the existence of God, the creation of the world, the inspiration of the Bible, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and Christ’s resurrection from the dead, among many other miracles. In the modern world, under the influence of science, many have come to doubt the reality of the supernatural.

To understand their doubts, Strobel interviews Michael Shermer, a well-known atheist and editor of Skeptic magazine. Shermer agrees with the critique of miracles outlined by the Scottish philosopher David Hume in his essay, “On Miracles.”

Hume defined a miracle as a violation of the law of nature. He believed that claims of miracles come from uneducated persons in less advanced societies, people and places unaware of how the world works. And he argued that, in any case, it was more likely that there was a natural explanation for an event than a supernatural one. Shermer considers this the best argument against the miraculous.

Barbara’s case provides evidence that Hume was wrong. Here was a modern person, treated by doctors at the Mayo Clinic no less, whose instantaneous healing was documented by her doctors in two separately published books. And that healing took place in the context of a spiritual experience.

Those facts indicate that naturalistic explanations — remission, psychosomatic cure, placebo effect, etc. — are insufficient empirically.

And Barbara’s case is not the only one Strobel cites. Strobel interviews Craig Keener for further evidence in favor of miracles. Keener was an atheist who became a Christian. He is a well-known New Testament scholar and author of the two-volume book, “Miracles.”

While writing a commentary on the Book of Acts, Keener realized that too many scholars believe Acts is unreliable historically because it contains accounts of miracles. Keener decided that if he could provide evidence that miracles happen today, it would buttress the historicity of Acts. He provides documentations for hundreds of modern miracles, including Barbara’s.

Strobel goes on to interview other scholars about Christianity’s supernatural truth claims: Candy Guenther Brown on the efficacy of prayer and Michael Strauss on the Big Bang and the fine-tuning of the universe, for example. And Strobel summarizes the case for the resurrection of Jesus through an interview with atheist-turned-Christian J. Warner Wallace, a cold-case homicide detective.

Of course, miracles don’t always happen. They’re exceptions to the laws of nature, not the way that nature ordinarily works, after all. Strobel interviews Christian philosopher Douglas Groothuis to understand how Christians can remain faithful in the absence of miracles.

Groothuis’ wife, Rebecca, a scholar in her own right, was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, which has slowly robbed her of her ability to speak and to think. It’s been agonizing to watch, but Groothuis’ faith has helped him. “I’m hanging by a thread,” he says. “But, fortunately, the thread is knit by God.”

Whether through their presence (Barbara’s case) or through their absence (Rebecca’s case), miracles are signposts pointing to God. On the one hand, if readers approach miracle claims with an open mind — i.e., one that doesn’t rule out miracles because of a dogmatic naturalistic worldview — they might come to believe that there’s more to nature than meets even the scientifically trained eye.

On the other hand, if they realize that this-worldly suffering poses unavoidable questions of meaning and significance, they might come to believe that they need more out of this life than this life can offer.

Either way, that “more” is God. If you’ve never thought about the case for miracles or the importance of finding meaning in life, I encourage you to read “The Case for Miracles” and reach your own verdict. (Quote source here.)

Another short article published on October 14, 2016 in Influence Magazine titled, “The Majority of U.S. Adults Believe in Supernatural Healing,” states:

Regardless of how many Americans are leaving traditional Christianity, many are still taking elements of faith with them. According to new research from Barna, the majority (66 percent) of U.S. adults believe people can be supernaturally healed by God.

An even greater number (68 percent) has personally prayed for someone to be supernaturally healed. According to Roxanne Stone, Barna’s editor in chief, these beliefs in an increasingly postmodern society should come as no surprise.

In Stone’s words, “Being sick personally, or having someone you love face a serious illness, is one of the most vulnerable and devastating experiences of a person’s life. It’s a moment that drives many—even those who do not believe in God—to their knees in desperation. Many people seek God in that space when they may not otherwise….” (Quote source here.)

In one last article titled, Do You Believe in Miracles? Turning to Divine Intervention When Facing Serious Medical Illness,” published on December 15, 2017, in Psychology Today, the two authors, Shoba Sreenivasan, Ph.D., and Linda E. Weinberger, Ph.D., both clinical psychologists, state:

Believing in miracles is somewhat common. Holding these beliefs is not limited to certain age groups nor is it restricted to certain religious denominations or a religious affiliation. In 2007, a study surveyed almost 36,000 Americans, aged 18 to 70-plus-years-old, and found that 78 percent of people under the age of 30 believed in miracles versus 79 percent among those older than 30 (Pew Research Center, 2010). With respect to religious affiliation, 83 percent of those who were affiliated believed in miracles in contrast to 55 percent of respondents who were unaffiliated. Although people from all religions believe in miracles, over 80 percent of those with Protestant and Catholic affiliations endorsed this belief.

Even physicians believe in miracles. In a national poll of 1,100 physicians from different religious faiths, the physicians were asked whether they believed in miracles. Seventy-four percent believed miracles occurred in the past and 73 percent held the belief that miracles occur today (Poll: Doctors Believe in Miracles, 2004). Moreover, 72 percent of the physicians believed that religion is a “reliable and necessary guide to life.”

Some people rely on religious or spiritual beliefs as a way to live their lives; however, many others turn to such beliefs in time of need. Relying on a powerful, beneficent, supernatural being (e.g., God, angels, guardians) to be present, and hopefully intervene, can help the afflicted cope with extremely difficult situations….

There are many people whose spiritual and religious beliefs include the existence of miracles. To some, these beliefs may seem peculiar or even reflective of mental illness. We should not be so inclined as to mistake this faith in the supernatural as a sign of a mental disorder. Doing so takes away the power of giving meaning to life; particularly, in the direst of circumstances when life is threatened. This vehicle of hope should not be underestimated or debased. (Quote source here.)

There are many miracles mentioned in the Bible. Jesus performed many miracles that are recorded in the Gospels (see list at this link), and his disciples performed many in Jesus’ name in the Book of Acts in the New Testament. So, does God still do miracles today like He did back then? The following answer comes from BillyGraham.org:

God is not limited, and He is certainly able to work in miraculous ways today just as He did in biblical times, if He so chooses. If He didn’t, why would we bother to pray when a loved one falls ill or God’s work is opposed by evil forces?

At the same time, much of what God does in the world is hidden from us. Think, for example, of the work He has given His angels to do on our behalf. Occasionally they may make their presence known, but for the most part, they’re hidden from us, and only in heaven will we understand how they protected us or delivered us from danger. Much of what they do could be labeled as miracles. The Bible says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14).

Would more people believe in God or in Christ if they saw a miracle? Not necessarily. Countless people saw Jesus perform miracles, yet they refused to believe in Him or give their lives to Him. Don’t let this be true of you!

The greatest miracle of all, however, is the miracle of a changed life—and this can happen, as we open our hearts and lives to Christ. Do others see Christ in youHis love, His compassion, His purity, His joy? Make sure of your commitment to Christ, then ask Him to change you from within by His Holy Spirit, and make you a living witness to the miracle of His transforming power. (Quote source here.)

Jesus told his disciples (and that includes those of us who believe in him today) in Luke 18:1 that we should always pray and not give up. So pray, and don’t give up, because . . .

God still . . .

Does . . .

Miracles . . . .

YouTube Video: “He Still Does (Miracles)” by Hawk Nelson:

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On Celebrating Birthdays

We all do it . . . celebrate our birthdays. When we were kids we wanted to be older, and as we get older we can’t believe how fast the years fly by. In between is our life as we’ve lived it one decade, one year, one month, one day, one hour, and one minute at a time. For me (hint–my birthday happens to be today), the days leading up to my birthday are filled with more anticipation then the actual day can live up to when it finally arrives. That’s probably because I’ve been around for a long time now and the “glow” of celebrating a birthday isn’t quite the same as it was when I was younger.

I stumbled across an article online today titled, This Is Why You Get To Celebrate Your Birthday Every Year,” by Todd Van Luling, senior culture reporter at HuffPost, Chicago, and here is what he had to say:

Have you ever thought about why we even bother to celebrate birthdays? When you think about it, they’re really just an opportunity for your friends and family to come together and congratulate you for surviving another year. But for some reason it’s become far more than that.

Although research on the exact origin of birthdays and birthday cakes remains inconclusive, there is enough of a consensus to piece together an approximate history. Perhaps someday a Birthdayologist will come along to set the record completely straight, but until then, we’ve compiled this short list of historians’ best hypotheses on the evolution of birthday celebrations and the delicious cakes that so often accompany them.

Here are seven of the major developments throughout history that have led to you being able to do this once a year:

1. Egyptians started the party. When pharaohs were crowned in ancient Egypt they were considered to have transformed into gods. This divine promotion made their coronation date much more important than their birth into the world. Scholars have pointed to the Bible’s reference of a Pharaoh’s birthday as the earliest known mention of a birthday celebration (around 3,000 B.C.E.), but Egyptologist Dr. James Hoffmeier believes this is referencing the subject’s coronation date, since that would have been the Pharaoh’s “birth” as a god.

2. Greeks added candles to cakes. The Greeks offered moon-shaped cakes to Artemis as a form of tribute to the lunar goddess. To recreate the radiance of the moon and her perceived beauty, Greeks lit candles and put them on cakes for a glowing effect. The Greeks most likely took the idea of birthday celebration from the Egyptians, since just like the celebration of the pharaohs as “gods,” the Greeks were celebrating their gods and goddesses.

3. Ancient Romans were the first to celebrate birthdays for the common man (but just the men). The prevailing opinion seems to be that the Romans were the first civilization to celebrate birthdays for non-religious figures. Romans would celebrate birthdays for friends and families, while the government created public holidays to observe the birthdays of more famous citizens. Those celebrating a 50th birthday party would receive a special cake made of wheat flour, olive oil, honey and grated cheese. All of this said, female birthdays still weren’t celebrated until around the 12th century.

4. Christians initially considered birthdays to be a pagan ritual. Due to its belief that humans are born with “original sin” and the fact that early birthdays were tied to “pagan” gods, the Christian Church considered birthday celebrations evil for the first few hundred years of its existence. Around the 4th century, Christians changed their minds and began to celebrate the birthday of Jesus as the holiday of Christmas. This new celebration was accepted into the church partly in hopes of recruiting those already celebrating the Roman holiday of Saturnalia.

5. Contemporary birthday cakes were invented by German bakers. Although the general idea of celebrating birthdays had already started taking off around the world — like in China, where a child’s first birthday was specifically honored — ‘Kinderfeste,’ which came out of late 18th century Germany, is the closest prerequisite to the contemporary birthday party. This celebration was held for German children, or “kinder,” and involved both birthday cake and candles. Kids got one candle for each year they’d been alive, plus another to symbolize the hope of living for at least one more year. Blowing out the candles and making a wish was also a part of these celebrations.

6. The Industrial Revolution brought delicious cakes to the masses. For quite some time, birthday celebrations involving sugary cakes were only available to the very wealthy, as the necessary ingredients were considered a luxury. But the industrial revolution allowed celebrations like ‘kinderfeste’ and the subsequent equivalents in other cultures to proliferate. Not only did the required ingredients become more abundant, but bakeries also started offering pre-made cakes at lower prices due to advances in mass production… [circa bakeries of the late 19th century].

7. “The Birthday Song” was a remix, kind of. In 1893, Patty Hill and Mildred J. Hill wrote a song they called, “Good Morning To All,” which was intended to be sung by students before classes began. The song eventually caught on across America, giving rise to a number of variations. Robert Coleman eventually published a songbook in 1924, adding a few extra lyrics that would quickly come to overshadow the original lines. The new rendition became the version we now all know, “Happy Birthday To You.”

BONUS: Marie Antoinette didn’t say “Let them eat cake.” First off, nobody attributed this quote to Marie Antoinette until about 50 years after her death, when French critic and journalist Alphonse Karr claimed Antoinette had said the phrase, but essentially only sourced rumors. Despite Karr’s theory, the phrase “let them eat cake” actually first appeared in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s autobiography, “The Confessions.” In the book, Rousseau is afraid to go into a bakery because he feels under-dressed. He then muses, “Finally I recalled the stopgap solution of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: ‘Let them eat brioche.’”

Antoinette was actually just a little girl when Rousseau’s work was written. While it’s possible that she had read Rousseau’s line and was quoting it in the infamous moment (and therefore not making a tone deaf remark about poverty), Antoinette biographer Lady Antonia Fraser, disapproves of this theory.

“[Let them eat cake] was said 100 years before her by Marie-Thérèse, the wife of Louis XIV. It was a callous and ignorant statement and she, Marie Antoinette, was neither,” Fraser said in defense of the young princess. Marie Antoinette’s name should be cleared!

Let us all eat more cake! (Quote source here. Links in article provided by Todd Van Luling.)

In another article titled Good Question: How Did Birthday Traditions Start?” by Jason DeRusha of WCCO-TV in Minnesota, he writes:

To children of all ages, a birthday is a reason to celebrate. But why? What are the reasons for many of our birthday celebrations?

Why do we celebrate birthdays?

The idea of celebrating the date of your birth is a pagan tradition. In fact, many Christians didn’t celebrate birthdays historically, because of that link to paganism.

Pagans thought that evil spirits lurked on days of major changes, like the day you turn a year older.

The ancient Greeks believed that each person had a spirit that attended his or her birth, and kept watch. That spirit “had a mystic relation with the God on whose birthday the individual was born,” says the book The Lore of Birthdays.

Why do we blow out candles on our birthdays?

The candles were a response to the evil spirits. They showed up to communicate with the gods. A light, in the darkness.

The Germans are credited with starting the kids birthday tradition in the 1700s. They put candles on tortes for “kinderfeste,” one for each year of life, along with some extras to signify upcoming years.

Why do we sing “Happy Birthday To You?”

It’s the most recognizable song in the English language, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, and it started as a song for schoolkids.

In 1893, two Kentucky schoolteachers, Patty and Mildred Hill wrote “Good Morning To All.” The tune was published in a book for schoolteachers.

It’s unclear who changed the words to “Happy Birthday To You,” but in 1933, that song was in an Irving Berlin musical. One of the Hill’s sisters sued, arguing that they held the copyright to the song. They won the case, and the courts have ruled that copyright still holds today.

In fact, some believe the song is under copyright until 2030. The owner of the copyright splits proceeds with the Hill’s estate, reportedly $2 million a year.

What’s the most common birth date?

Oct. 5 is considered to be the most common birthday in the United States. The reason is pretty obvious: go back 9 months, and you’ll find a conception date of New Year’s Eve. May 22 is considered to be the least common birthday in the United States. (Quote source here.)

And from a Christian perspective on birthdays, here is what Lesli White, digital media manager and editor at Beliefnet.com, has to say on the subject of birthdays in her article titled, Can Christians Celebrate Birthdays?”:

In almost every culture around the world, celebrations of life take place and, arguably, nothing is as universally celebrated as the birthday. But whether Christians can or should celebrate birthdays has been a topic of debate in the religious space. While some take the stance that you’re simply glorifying another’s life, others believe it is a form of Idolatry and celebrating it takes away from the admiration and glory of God.

But what does the Bible say about it?

Nowhere in Scripture is the observance of birthdays condemned as sinful or prohibited, and birthday observance as a doctrine is not mentioned in the Bible. However, there are people who claim there is indirect evidence that birthday celebration is a sin and shouldn’t be celebrated by Christians. They generally make the following claims:

First, when the Bible mentions birthdays which it has on three separate occasions, terrible things occurred. The first mention is in the Book of Genesis. Pharaoh, who was the Egyptian kind, celebrated his birthday by executing his butler and chief baker (Gen. 40:1-23). Joseph was given a special interpretation of the incident by God through a dream, and was told through this dream that Pharaoh would use his own birthday occasion to take his baker’s life and it would come three days after he interpreted the dream. The baker was hung at the party just as the dream foretold.

The next time a birthday is mentioned in the Bible is in the New Testament in the book of Matthew 14:3-11 when Herod the Tetrarch grudgingly ordered the beheading of John the Baptist. Verses 6-8 mentions when Herod’s birthday party, in which he got carried away and made a promise that he later regretted but couldn’t back down from. Because of this, John the Baptist’s, a great figure of the Bible, life was taken.

The last mention is in the Book of Job, with an account of a celebration that took place by Job’s children. The Bible says in Job 1:4 that Job’s seven sons “went and feasted in their houses, every one his day; and sent and called for their sisters to eat and drink with them.” This celebration brought Job a spirit of concern and when this period of feasting had run its course, Job planned to make arrangement for them to be purified by sacrificing a burnt offering in the morning, thinking that his children had sinned and cursed against God in their hearts. We later learn in this story that during the birthday party celebration of Job’s older son, all of Job’s ten children lost their lives by a mighty wind that struck and collapsed their home. As you progress to Job 3, you see a very pained Job, in which he spends much of his time cursing his birth. The loss of all his children left him in a state of shock, while also sobering him, bringing him to a place where he cursed the day he was born, acknowledging there was nothing good about his own birth.

While these three incidences resulted in murderous executions, they don’t show or prove that the proper observance of a birthday is displeasing to God. Remember, Pharaoh and Herod both executed as they pleased. Job’s children lost their lives due to a natural disaster, and while this event troubled Job greatly, he grew a great deal through this experience. While these events took place on their birthdays, this doesn’t mean that it is wrong to celebrate your birthday.

Some point to the origin of birthdays as a reason that Christians shouldn’t celebrate them. Birthday celebrations are originally of pagan origin, and came about through the practice of astrology. Thousands of years ago, these pagan astrologers invented calendars and calculated birth dates for kings, rulers and their successors through the monitoring of the stars; they examined horoscopes and birthday omens because they thought the fate of those in positions of power would affect all society. Because of this, many people put their trust in horoscopes over God. But just because something is of pagan origin doesn’t mean we agree with their belief system or it shouldn’t be observed for this reason. Some pagans traditionally participated in sinful activities at weddings and funerals, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t practice them. These factors shouldn’t stop us from having birthday parties as long as we reflect those celebrations with the right values and keep God in mind.

Everyone has a birthday with millions of Christians celebrating this momentous occasions each year. While this doesn’t mean that because so many people observe it, it makes it okay, but when we turn to Scripture, it doesn’t tell us that the celebration of life is a sin. Birthdays are similar to anniversaries, and we celebrate so many of them in our culture: weddings, dates of employment, even when our congregations are founded. Birthdays are just as acceptable. Remember, God calls us to celebrate life abundantly (John 10:10), that includes our own lives which God chose for us before we were even born. Why wouldn’t God want us to acknowledge that we are thankful for the blessing of life? As long as what we are celebrating is not idolatrous, out of line with Godly values and does not take away from the glory of God, it is okay for us to celebrate them. (Quote source here.)

I have to admit that after celebrating many birthdays (mine and others) that I had no idea about the history of birthdays until I went searching for articles on it today. And now you know, too. There is one thing I did already know which is found in Job 14:5, You [God] have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer.” And that includes everyone who has ever been born from the beginning of time until now and going forward.

I’ll end this post with Psalm 90:12 which states:

Teach us to number our days . . .

That we may gain . . .

A heart of wisdom . . . .

YouTube Video: “Teach Us O Lord to Number Our Days” by Bob Fitts:

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An Act of Mercy

Far too often human nature is such that we want to get even if we feel we have been wronged in some way. It doesn’t take much to see this response at play in the world all around us whether in the political arena, work settings, academia, at schools and on playgrounds, in the military, at church, and in families, between friends, and all other types of social settings. In fact, most of the violence and scheming we see in movies, on social media and television, and in life comes from our tendency to seek revenge for wrongs done to us or to those we know and love. It can even extend beyond our own personal feelings of wrongs done to us to entire groups of people we don’t even know for whatever reason we hate them–as in religious wars, racial wars, and that list goes on and on.

And on . . . .

In our churches today we hear a lot about grace, but not so much about mercy. We want God’s grace and mercy for ourselves, but we don’t often extend grace and mercy to others, especially those we don’t like for whatever reason we don’t like them. And half the time we don’t even know them personally, or we’ve heard gossip about them, or we just don’t like the way they look or act, and we cringe at the thought of actually extending either grace or mercy to them. And social media and television have conditioned us into thinking that it’s okay to hate others and try to get back at them in some tangible or back-biting way. You’d think we’ve adopted a new motto in life–“It’s cool to be cruel.” And we judge others constantly as we go about our day.

To start off, here is a brief definition of both grace and mercy from GotQuestions.org:

Mercy and grace are often confused. While the terms have similar meanings, grace and mercy are not the same. To summarize the difference: mercy is God not punishing us as our sins deserve, and grace is God blessing us despite the fact that we do not deserve it. Mercy is deliverance from judgment. Grace is extending kindness to the unworthy.” (Quote source here.)

“Mercy is deliverance from judgment. Grace is extending kindness to the unworthy.” When it comes to the subject of mercy, one of the best biblical illustrations of mercy is described in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21-35. In that parable Jesus gives us a classic example of someone who had received great mercy but failed to extend it to others:

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

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is a daunting example of what can happen if we refuse to show mercy to others, and it came directly from Jesus. It should give us pause for thought concerning our own interactions with others on any given day. And as Psalm 139:1-4 states, God even knows our thoughts and what we are going to say before we say anything (or interact with others):

Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.

So how can we begin to start showing mercy to others in our everyday interactions? First, it starts with a heart attitude of kindness towards others who cross our path. In an article published in 2014 titled, What Does Everyday Mercy Look Like? by Vinita Hampton Wright, senior editor at Loyola Press, a novelist, and a facilitator of workshops on creativity, writing, and Ignatian prayer, she writes:

The publishing company I work for recently released the U.S. edition of “The Church of Mercy” by Pope Francis. This book conveys the pope’s vision for a church that could become a healing force in the world simply by communicating and demonstrating the mercy of God.

Little wonder that the word “mercy” beat in my heart for weeks and along with it the question: What does mercy look like? How might I become a person of mercy? In the Christian vocabulary, mercy is a forgiving response to wrongdoing; it is God’s countermove to our sin.

Having lived intentionally as a Christian for more than 40 years, I have avoided the easily labeled sins, acts that would require my arrest or resignation. Yet, I am a persistent sinner. When a reporter asked Francis, “Who are you?” and he answered, “I am a sinner,” I knew that at least I’m in good company. Our pope has named, however, the grand antidote to sin, which is mercy.

As I move through this day, how will I live mercifully? What works and actions will express to others around me the mercy Francis is talking about? In a given day, I do ordinary things, and I traverse a fairly unexciting landscape. My mercy will not show up in grand gestures, and most of the time mercy reveals itself in fleeting moments.

For example, mercy gives you his seat on the bus, acting as if he was about to get up anyway rather than making you feel that he is doing you a favor. Mercy does not let out that sigh–you know the one–the wordless disapproval toward the person in the check-out line ahead of you whose card didn’t swipe, or who can’t find her coupons, or whose toddler is having a meltdown. Mercy offers quiet sympathy and does not convey with her body language that this holdup is ruining her day. Sometimes mercy chooses not to send back the food that isn’t just right, simply because the waitress looks overwhelmed.

When mercy has been wronged, the offended one does not make it difficult for the offender to apologize or ask forgiveness. In fact, mercy does not wait for the other’s action but forgives so quickly that the person needing forgiveness is freer to ask for it. Likewise, at work, at home or in the classroom, mercy creates an atmosphere in which a person feels safe enough to admit his mistake or ask a question. And if mercy must correct someone, it pains her to do it, and she does so gently, without vindictive relish.

Mercy makes a habit of giving others the benefit of the doubt. Mercy is not in the habit of sending deadly glares at people who are annoying. Mercy gives charitably, knowing that eventually someone will take advantage of his generosity. Mercy welcomes you, fully aware that this act may disrupt her own plans.

Mercy relinquishes control when doing so allows another person to grow and learn. Mercy makes it his business to help others succeed. Mercy clears the way for others, so that they can walk on an even path, no matter how halting their steps or injured their souls.

In all these situations, mercy treats power as a sacred trust. I can be merciful because I have some sort of power, the means to affect another’s life, if only for a moment. I act mercifully when I use my power to do kindness in this world.

I was at a conference recently, and it was interesting to observe how the well-known, powerful people wore their power, how they responded to others’ admiration, how they spoke to those who were not so well-known or admired. Some used their power to make room for others and invite their voices; others used their power to dominate the space and the conversation.

In my own work, I have achieved a certain level of expertise and others’ respect. When I sit in a room with colleagues, they feel the weight of my opinions. With a sentence or a glance, I can crush or I can encourage. I can open up the conversation or shut it down.

Most of my sins involve failure at mercy. Whether through my unhopeful opinion of someone, my silent sentences that criticize him, my words grinding away in the privacy of a moving car, my neglect to help, or my refusal to notice when help is needed–each failure of mercy denies the community a bit of healing that might have happened.

Thus, mercy has become my new sin detector, a personal barometer. “Am I showing mercy?” makes for self-assessment that is simple, direct, and difficult to misinterpret. (Quote source here.)

Talk about an article hitting it’s mark! We all can give a knowing “nod” as we fail in so many ways to show mercy to others throughout our day, even if only in our thoughts about them.

In another article published in 2017 titled, 3 Super Practical Ways to Show Mercy,” by Hannah Quense, gift operations supervisor at St. Paul’s Outreach (a campus outreach), she writes:

All the grandiose acts of mercy I planned on doing to celebrate the year seem farfetched to me now. Just like New Year’s resolutions, the beginning of the year momentum has dwindled and the guilt of not checking things off my list has begun to sink in.

I mean, didn’t Jesus tell us to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36)? So I should be out doing great and marvelous works of mercy that save the world just like God did for us when He sent Jesus, right?

Maybe. But I can’t expect to do marvelous works of mercy if I can’t even do the little ones. So here are 3 super practical ways we can show mercy in our day to day lives just like our Father.

1. Oftentimes We Can Assume The Worst In People, But Mercy Calls Us To Assume And Think The Best.

Has your roommate been annoying you lately? Instead of assuming they’re the worst person in the world, assume they’re having an exceptionally bad day and offer them a warm beverage instead of a cold shoulder.

Did your friend blow off your hangout date? Don’t assume they ditched you for their significant other, rather assume they remembered a paper was due at midnight they never started and forgot to text you to reschedule.

2. Sometimes Our Judgments Of Others Seem Justified, But Mercy Calls Us To Turn Our Judgmental Thoughts Into Complimentary Ones.

Are you thinking about how that girl over there surrounded by boys is a huge flirt? Or how that guy in your class who always has an opinion is a pompous know-it-all?

Counter those negative and judgmental thoughts with ones of mercy by immediately thinking up 3 things to compliment them on (even if the compliments are only in your head).

3. Nothing Is More Merciful Than Forgiving Someone Who Has Wronged You, Even If It’s Something Seemingly Insignificant.

Did your roommate/friend/sibling “borrow” your clothes without asking? Instead of getting angry and upset with them, forgive, forget, and calmly ask them to check with you next time before they borrow your clothes.

Remember that friend from before who blew off your hangout date? Forgive them for not being there, even if it was the twelfth time in a row that they blew you off.

Every day presents opportunities to show mercy. Let’s pray for the grace to see them and rise to those opportunities. After all, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), so can’t we die to ourselves once in awhile and be merciful in forgiveness to others no matter how they’ve wronged us? (Quote source here.)

Again, we have that knowing “nod” as we’ve read through those three ways of showing mercy. In one final article on ways to show mercy to others published in 2015 titled, Seven Ways to Be Merciful,” by Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, he writes:

“God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7 NLT, second edition)

In yesterday’s devotional (click here to see that devotional), we talked about seven facets of mercy. Today, I want you to consider some personal application questions for each of the aspects. I want to challenge you to commit an act of premeditated mercy in each of these categories this week.

Wait. Isn’t there a tension between mercy and personal responsibility? Yes, there is. But I have personally decided that if I’m going to err, I’m going to err on the side of being too gracious, too merciful, and too forgiving. You can go overboard on mercy — just look at what Jesus did on the cross.

So, how will you be merciful?

Be patient with people’s quirks. Who is that person in your life who has irritating quirks? How can you practice patience with that person this week?

Help anyone around you who is hurting. Who around you is obviously hurting that you can help this week? If you can’t think of anybody, then you’re not paying attention. Look closer!

Give people a second chance. Who do you need to give a second chance to? How can you show that person mercy and compassion this week?

Do good to those who hurt you. Maybe you’re suffering from an old wound that you have not been able to let go of. You need to forgive and then turn it around for good. Who is that person in your life? Will you make a phone call or a visit this week?

Be kind to those who offend you. Who offends you? Maybe it’s a politician or a comedian that you can pray for. Maybe it’s a Facebook friend who has different views and says some pretty offensive things. How can you be intentional about showing kindness to that person this week?

Build bridges of love to the unpopular. Who is the first person who comes to mind when you think of an outcast? Who spends their lunch breaks eating alone or doesn’t seem to have any friends at soccer games? What specific thing will you do this week to bridge the gap between you and that person with love?

Value relationships over rules. Who is an unbeliever you could invite over for dinner in the next few weeks? Will you then step up and invite that person to church? This is your ministry of mercy.

Pray this prayer today: “Heavenly Father, your Word convicts me. I want your blessing in my life, and I want to be a merciful person. As I look at these seven things, I think of shortcomings and weaknesses in my own life. I pray that rather than just hearing the Word, I would do something about it. Give me the courage to be merciful. Give me the strength this week to step out in faith and do radical, premeditated acts of mercy that point others to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.” (Quote source here.)

We now have several ways to show mercy to others, and no more excuses not to show mercy. So start today. And remember what Micah 6:8 states: “O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly…

To love mercy . . .

And to walk humbly . . .

With your God . . . .

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

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

The Road to Pentecost

Two days ago I posted a blog post on my new blog site, Reflections,” titled The Road to Pentecost.” I decided to go ahead and post it here on my regular blog, too, since the readership is wider here, and Pentecost is two days away. Here is that blog post:

The Road to Pentecost

“One of the great metaphors of the Bible is “the journey.” The Bible is filled with journey upon journey. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture is full of people on the move”. . . .

The quote above is taken from a Holy Week sermon in 2009 titled, Three Journeys,” given by The Reverend Michael Seiler, Managing Associate Rector, at The Parish of Saint Matthew in Pacific Palisades, California. Here is more from that sermon:

In the beginning of the Old Testament, Abraham journeys from Ur of the Chaldees to the Promised Land. Many generations later, Abraham’s descendants journey from slavery and oppression in Egypt into the land of Israel. Many generations after that, they journey back to their Promised Land after the tragic downfall of their civilization and their forced exile in Babylon. In the New Testament, Jesus himself journeys through Palestine, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God. As he journeys, he shows people what that Kingdom looks like by his deeds of love and power. After the Resurrection, Paul and the apostles journey all over the Roman Empire, and their message reaches to the ends of the earth – and here we are, millennia later, with our journeys touching theirs.

It makes sense that the concept of “the journey” would be so central to Scripture, because we human beings are journeying people. We make sense of our lives by understanding them as journeys, as the unfolding story of who we are and what we do in the world. We think and talk and worry about our career arcs, or our family histories, or our financial forecasts, or our estate plans. In our better moments we think and talk and pray about our spiritual journeys – all ways of thinking about our lives, our stories, about the journey that has been, and the journey that will be. In some deep way, journeying is an elemental part of who we are as human beings.

This image, this metaphor of the journey has been very helpful to me over the past week or so, as I’ve tried to understand the deeper meaning of this morning’s reading from the twelfth chapter of John’s Gospel. John tells us in this passage about the moment when several different journeys intersect, and he tells us something about what it means that those journeys come together.

The first journeyer in John’s Gospel is, of course, Jesus himself. From its very first words, John’s Gospel makes it clear that Jesus is on a journey – a journey that is far more than just a walking tour of Palestine. The pre-eternal Word of God, who is with God and who is God, has journeyed into this world, has chosen to be with us, to become flesh, to reveal his divine being and nature and love to us by becoming a human person in the man Jesus of Nazareth. For John’s Gospel, this is the first and greatest journey – the cosmic journey of Christ from the Father into this world, through suffering and death and then back to the glory of the Father. Every other journey in John’s Gospel, all of the lives and experiences of all the other people in John’s Gospel, only make sense in the light of that great journey of Christ. John’s Gospel wants to tell us that apart from the great journey of Christ, our lives don’t really get anywhere.

Apart from the grace and power and love of Christ, our lives are just a kind of going in circles. But, John wants to tell us, in the light of the great journey of Christ, our lives can be a journey into God.

There are other journeyers in this morning’s Gospel. John doesn’t tell us their names – all we know about them is that they aresome Greeks.” They are the only Greeks – the only non-Jews, that is – in John’s Gospel [see John 12:20-33] who encounter Jesus during his ministry. They have somehow heard of Jesus, they have learned something about him, and what they’ve learned has given them a desire to be with him. They have journeyed to be with Jesus, perhaps over a very long distance. That distance may be geographical, or spiritual, or both. They seek out the follower of Jesus who has the most Greek-sounding name – Philip – and they ask Philip to arrange a meeting with Jesus. And in this moment, their lives, their journeys, and the cosmic journey of Christ from God and to God, suddenly and dramatically intersect.

And that, Jesus says, is precisely the point. The journey of Jesus, the journey of destiny and salvation and healing that he is traveling, now starts to touch not just Jews but non-Jews. The Greeks have arrived. “The hour,” Jesus’ decisive moment of glory and revelation that will climax in the Cross, has come. This is the moment, in John’s Gospel, when the full meaning and power of Jesus’ journey begins to be revealed. This is the moment when the saving journey of Christ begins to be revealed as the work of God that will heal and save and transform not just the covenant people of Israel, but the whole human race. “The hour has come,” Jesus says, “and when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

These mysterious, unnamed Greeks become the sign that all human journeys, all human lives, find their meaning in Christ. These mysterious, unnamed Greeks are the people through whom Jesus demonstrates that he is drawing every person, bending every journey, toward himself. Christ, now that he is lifted up from the earth by his crucifixion and his resurrection, has become the pole star, the magnetic north, for every journey, for every person, for the meaning and destiny of every individual and of the whole human race. All our journeys are destined to find their meaning by intersecting his great journey. Until our journeys are caught up in the journey of Christ from God and to God, we really are just going around in circles of our own making. Once we make Christ’s journey our own – or rather, once Christ makes our journey his own – then and only then are we are safely on the road to God. . . .

But there is one last detail about this Gospel passage that has puzzled me for years. What happened to the Greeks? Do they get to see Jesus? Doesn’t Jesus ever talk to them? Do they ever get what they came for? John’s Gospel doesn’t say. It just leaves them – and us – hanging. And for years, that loose end in the story drove me crazy.

But now I think I am starting to understand. I think the Greeks did see Jesus. I think John’s Gospel is suggesting to us that the Greeks did see everything they needed to see of Jesus – because they had come to Jerusalem, and they were going to see his suffering and his death and perhaps even be eyewitnesses of his Resurrection. It’s as if they came seeking an interview, but what they got was to SEE the cataclysmic, earthshaking events that were going to unfold in Jerusalem over the next few days. If they showed up, they would see. If they saw, and let the cosmic journey of Christ fully intersect theirs – if they saw, and understood what they were seeing, and if they believed – they would find what they were seeking. They just needed to show up for the next few days. They needed to show up – for Holy Week. They had to be brave enough to take it all in, and to believe what they heard and saw. (Quote source here.)

This coming Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, and it marks the end of the seven week Easter Season also known as Eastertide which is the time between the resurrection of Jesus Christ celebrated on Easter Sunday and the filling of the Holy Spirit in his disciples and followers in the Upper Room fifty days later (known as Pentecost–see Acts 2). In an article titled, What is Pentecost? Why Does It Matter?” by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts, pastor, author, leader, speaker, blogger, and Executive Director of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Seminary, he states:

On the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon those followers of Jesus who had gathered together in Jerusalem. What happened on the first Pentecost continues to happen to Christians throughout the world today, though usually not in such a dramatic fashion. We rarely get a heavenly wind and tongues of fire anymore. Nevertheless, God pours out the Spirit upon all who put their faith in Jesus Christ and become his disciples (see Romans 8:1-11).

Christians are meant to live in the presence and power of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit helps us to confess Jesus as Lord (1 Cor 12:3), empowers us to serve God with supernatural power (1 Cor 12:4-11), binds us together as the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-13), helps us to pray (Rom 8:26), and even intercedes for us with God the Father (Rom 8:27). The Spirit guides us (Gal 5:25), helping us to live like Jesus (Gal 5:22-23).

Personal Implications: Pentecost presents us with an opportunity to consider how we are living each day. Are we relying on the power of God’s Spirit? Are we an open channel for the Spirit’s gifts? Are we attentive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Is the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.) growing in our lives? Most Christians I know, including me, live in the presence and power of the Spirit, but only to an extent. We are limited by our fear, our sin, our low expectations, not to mention our tendency to be distracted from God’s work in us. Pentecost offers a chance to confess our failure to live by the Spirit and to ask the Lord to fill us afresh with his power.

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on individual followers of Jesus as they were gathered together in Jerusalem. This gathering became the first Christian church. New believers in Jesus were baptized as they joined this church. They, along with the first followers of Jesus, shared life together, focusing on teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. They shared their belongings so that no one was hungry or needy. As these first Christians lived out their new faith together, “the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Thus we speak of Pentecost as the birthday of the church.

In theory, the Spirit could have been poured out on the followers of Jesus when they were not gathered together. There are surely times when the Holy Spirit touches an individual who is alone in prayer, worship, or ministry to others. But the fact that the Spirit was given to a gathering of believers is not incidental. It underscores the centrality of the church in God’s work in the world. The actions of the earliest Christians put all of this in boldface. The Holy Spirit is not only given to individuals, but also, in a sense to the gathered people of God. Thus, in 1 Corinthians 3the Apostle Paul observes that the church is God’s temple and that the Spirit dwells in the midst of the church (3:16-17in 1 Cor 6:19-20 we find a complementary emphasis on the dwelling of the Spirit in individual Christians). (Quote source here.)

GotQuestion.org adds the following information on Pentecost Sunday:

Today, in many Christian churches, Pentecost Sunday is celebrated to recognize the gift of the Holy Spirit, realizing that God’s very life, breath and energy live in believers. During this serviceJohn 20:19-23 may be the core of the message about our risen Savior supernaturally appearing to the fear-laden disciples. Their fear gave way to joy when the Lord showed them His hands and side. He assured them peace and repeated the command given in Matthew 28:19-20, saying, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Then He breathed on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-23).

The celebration of Pentecost Sunday reminds us of the reality that we all have the unifying Spirit that was poured out upon the first-century church in Acts 2:1-4It is a reminder that we are co-heirs with Christ, to suffer with Him that we may also be glorified with Him; that the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7); that we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13); and that the Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead lives inside believers (Romans 8:9-11). This gift of the Holy Spirit that was promised and given to all believers on the first Pentecost is promised for you and your children and for all who are far off whom the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:39). (Quote source here.)

The road from Easter to Pentecost is one of the many roads we as Christians take in our journey of faith. It is crucial that we remember what Jesus said in John 15:5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit . . .

For apart from me . . .

You can do . . .

Nothing . . . .

YouTube Video: “Which Way the Winds Blows” by the 2nd Chapter of Acts (1974):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Heavens Declare

Lately I have let myself get weighed down by the challenges I’ve been facing while trying to find low income housing on a Social Security income. While looking for housing I’ve been staying at a hotel, which is, to say the least, a very transient way to live. Probably too often when life is particularly challenging we might tend to go to the Psalms where David cried out for help from the Lord, and there are many psalms that aptly fit whatever we are going through. However, this morning I ran across Psalm 19 and Psalm 20 which puts our focus back where it belongs while seeking God’s help in any situation. While I read the Psalms in various translations, I have chosen the New King James Version to quote these two psalms for this blog post.

Psalm 19 New King James Version (NKJV)

The Perfect Revelation of the Lord
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their linehas gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.

In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is like a bridegroom
coming out of his chamber,

And rejoices like a strong man to run its race.
Its rising is from one end of heaven,
And its circuit to the other end;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
converting the soul;

The testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;

The statutes of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;

The commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;

The fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;

The judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
Keep back Your servant also
from presumptuous sins;

Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent
of great transgression.

Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart

Be acceptable in Your sight,
Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.

Bible teaching notes on Psalms 19 are available at this link and provided by Omar C. Garcia, Missions Pastor at Kingsland Baptist Church in Katy, Texas, and Bible lesson writer for LifeWay Christian Resources, on BibleTeachingNotes.com. I’ve included a few of his notes on Psalm 19 below:

Practical Considerations [Psalm 19:1-6]: God has not left Himself without a witness.

The evidence for the existence of God is abundant. It is everywhere to be seen in the universe around us. Biblical scholar John Phillips comments, “It is significant that the Bible makes no attempt to prove that there is a God … The fact of God’s existence is self evident and taken for granted. The person who says differently is bluntly called a fool (Psalm 14:1 and 53:1). The root cause of atheism is traced in both these psalms to moral rather than to intellectual sources. It is not that a man cannot believe so much as that he will not.”

Practical Considerations [Psalm 19:7-14]: God’s Word can change people’s lives.

God’s Word can lead men to salvation, can make men wise, can fill the heart with joy, can give men discernment, can warn men of danger, and can help them live meaningful and rewarding lives. We should commit ourselves to a consistent study of the Word of God. We should purpose to live our lives according to the truths of God’s Word. Those who fail to study and obey God’s Word miss out on the many benefits of so doing.

David concluded the Psalm, which began with the universal glory and revelation of God, on a very personal note (v. 14). His desire was to remain in a right relationship with God and live a life pleasing to God. (Quote source here.)

Following on the heels of Psalm 19 is Psalm 20The background of Psalm 20 is that this psalm is “a prayer for the king’s protection and victory over enemies in battle [David is King at this time]. The king was fighting for the welfare of the nation. Verses 1-5 record the nation’s Godspeed to the king. Verses 6-8 record either the king’s or the worship leader’s reply. Verse 9 is a final prayer for the king” (quote source here.) Here is Psalm 20:

Psalm 20 New King James Version (NKJV)

The Assurance of God’s Saving Work
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.

May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble;
May the name of the God of Jacob defend you;
May He send you help from the sanctuary,
And strengthen you out of Zion;
May He remember all your offerings,
And accept your burnt sacrifice. Selah

May He grant you according
to your heart’s desire,

And fulfill all your purpose.
We will rejoice in your salvation,
And in the name of our God
we will set up our banners!

May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.

Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed;
He will answer him from His holy heaven
With the saving strength of His right hand.

Some trust in chariots,
and some in horses;

But we will remember
the name of the Lord our God.

They have bowed down and fallen;
But we have risen and stand upright.

Save, Lord!
May the King answer us when we call.

As stated for Psalm 19 above, Bible teaching notes on Psalms 20 are available at this link and provided by Omar C. Garcia, Missions Pastor at Kingsland Baptist Church in Katy, Texas, and Bible lesson writer for LifeWay Christian Resources, on BibleTeachingNotes.com. I’ve included a few of his notes on Psalm 20 below:

Practical Consideration [Psalm 20:1-4]: No person is exempt from troubles.

We are not exempt from troubles. We often experience dark days and sorrowful nights. We often grow weary from the constant and unrelenting pressures of life. It seems that there is always something to threaten our welfare and security. It seems that there is always something bent on defeating and destroying us. Like the psalmist, we too should seek the Lord’s help in the day of trouble. We should look expectantly to God for help and assistance. We should put our trust in Him.

Practical Consideration [Psalm 20:5]: We should remember God in our hour of victory and triumph as well as in our hour of need.

It is easy to remember God when we are in great and desperate need. It is easy to look to heaven when we are threatened on every side. It is easy to earnestly voice our petitions when problems close in. We should be careful, however, to remember God in our hour of victory and deliverance. We should not be so elated by triumph as to forget to give thanks. We should not allow success to cause us to forget the source of our help.

Practical Consideration [Psalm 20:6-8]: Confidence in God gives us courage for the battle.

The king’s confidence in God gave him courage for the battle. He marched into battle with the conviction that God would grant him victory. He put his trust in the Lord rather than in armaments or coalitions. He remained standing while his enemies fell around him because he trusted in God.

Practical Consideration [Psalm 20:9]: We should pray for our leaders.

Someone has commented, “The well-being of a people is suspended on the character and doings of the monarch. Prayer should be offered for him continually that he might be guarded from evil, that he may be wise, equitable, and prosperous.” (Quote source here.)

“May the King answer us when we call.” I hope these two Psalms have been an encouragement to you if you are going through some trying circumstances. God is still on the throne. May it remind us to pray for our leaders, and also remind us that our true “King” is the Lord our God, who made Heaven and Earth. . . .

May the Lord . . .

Answer us . . .

When we call . . . .

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

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Who Do We Really Serve?

To say that Jesus of Nazareth was the most influential man who ever lived is almost trite. Nearly two thousand years after he was brutally executed by Roman soldiers, more than 2.2 billion human beings attempt to follow his teachings and believe he is God. That includes 77 percent of the U.S. population, according to a Gallup poll. The teachings of Jesus have shaped the entire world and continue to do so.  ~Bill O’Reilly in “Killing Jesus

The quote above is the opening paragraph of Bill O’Reilly‘s 2013 book, Killing Jesus,” on page 1. According to Gallup and Pew Research Center, “Christianity is the most adhered to religion in the United States, with 75% of polled American adults identifying themselves as Christian in 2015. This is down from 85% in 1990, lower than 81.6% in 2001, and slightly lower than 78% in 2012″ (quote source here–see footnotes 1 & 2).

Jesus Christ is not only the most influential man who ever lived, he is also the most controversial. And some of the things he had to say are quite controversial. Read, for example, what Jesus said in Matthew 10:34-36:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”

Those words are not normally what one hears in a Sunday morning sermon. So what did Jesus mean by those words? GotQuestions.org answers that question with the following:

Matthew 10:34–36 describes Jesus telling the disciples that He came not to bring peace to the world, but a sword. Jesus’ sword was never a literal one. In fact, when Peter took up a sword to defend Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus rebuked him and told him to put away his sword, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). Why then, did Jesus say, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” What kind of sword did Jesus come to bring?

Among the names of Jesus Christ is that of Prince of Peace. Such verses as Isaiah 9:6Luke 2:14, and John 14:27 make it clear that Jesus came to bring peace, but that peace is between the man and God. Those who reject God and the only way of salvation through Jesus (John 14:6) will find themselves perpetually at war with God. But those who come to Him in repentance will find themselves at peace with God. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are restored to a relationship of peace with God (Romans 5:1).

Still, it is inevitable that there will be conflict between good and evil, the Christ and the Antichrist, the light and the darkness, the children of God (believers) and the children of the devil (those who refuse Christ). Conflict must arise between the two groups, and this can and does happen within a family in which some are believers and others are not. We should seek to be at peace with all men but should never forget that Jesus warned we will be hated for His sake. Because those who reject Him hate Him, they will hate His followers as well (John 15:18).

In Matthew 10:34–36, Jesus said He had come at this time not to bring peace to the earth, but a sword, a weapon which divides and severs. As a result of His visit to the earth, some children would be set against parents and a man’s enemies might be those within his own household. This is because many who choose to follow Christ are hated by their family members. This may be part of the cost of discipleship, for love of family should not be greater than love for the Lord. A true disciple must take up his cross and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24). He must be willing to face not only family hatred, but also death, like a criminal carrying his cross to his own execution. True followers of Christ must be willing to give up, even to the point of “hating” all that is in our lives, even our own families, if we are to be worthy of Him (Matthew 10:37–39). In so doing, we find our lives in return for having given them up to Jesus Christ. (Quote source here.)

What is written above is rarely a topic of conversation or sermons in most church environments today. In an 2014 article published in Charisma News titled, 13 Contrasts Between American and Biblical Christianity,” by Bishop Joseph Mattera, author, interpreter of culture, and activist/theologian who leads several organizations including The United Coalition of Apostolic Leaders, Dr. Mattera states the following:

It has been evident to numerous biblical scholars that often (if not most of the time) believers (including preachers) interpret the Bible through the lens of their culture. This has resulted in many beliefs, doctrines and practices prevalent in the church that are not in accord with the clear teaching of Scripture. Sadly this is the often the case with the evangelical church in the United States.

Since the United States is so influential, American evangelicals have exported a gospel replete with an American cultural paradigm that is not in line with the Hebraic paradigm of Scripture. Consequently, sometimes in the U.S. pulpit, preaching can come across more like the “American Dream” than sound, biblical teaching.

The following are some of the contrasts between American Christianity and biblical Christianity:

1. American Christianity focuses on individual destiny. The Bible focuses on corporate vision and destiny.

Most of the preaching in today’s pulpits in America focuses on individual destiny, purpose and vision. However, a quick look at the Bible shows us that in the Old Testament the emphasis was always on the nation of Israel, and in the New Testament the emphasis was always on the church. Every promise of God in Scripture was given to the community of faith as a whole. Hence if a person was not flowing in the context of the church, or the nation of Israel, they would have never even known Scripture since the average person did not own a Bible and only heard the Word when they assembled with the saints on the Sabbath. Of course, believers had to apply the Word of God as individuals, but they could not conceive of doing this if they were not part of the corporate body of faith. In the Old and New Testaments, there was no such thing as “individual prophecy” since every prophetic word given to an individual had to be walked out in the context of their faith community and/or had to do with the life of their community.

2. American Christianity focuses on individual prosperity. The Bible focuses on stewardship.

Much American preaching today focuses on “our rights in Christ” to be blessed. However, in Scripture the emphasis regarding finances has to do with being blessed by God in order to be a blessing by bringing God’s covenant to the Earth (read Deut. 8:18; 2 Cor. 9:10-11). Jesus promised material blessing only in the context of seeking first His Kingdom (Matt. 6:33).

3. American Christianity focuses on self-fulfillment and happiness. The Bible focuses on glorifying God and serving humanity.

The Great Commandments are to love God and love our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40). It seems to me that much of the focus from the American pulpit has to do with individual fulfillment and satisfaction.

4. American Christianity appeals to using faith to attain stability and comfort. The Bible encourages believers to risk life and limb to advance the Kingdom.

Much of the preaching in American churches regarding faith has to do with using faith so we can have a nice car, home, job, financial security and comfort. The biblical focus on faith is on risking our physical health and material goods to promote God’s Kingdom (read Phil. 2:25-30). Most of the original apostles of the church died as martyrs as did the Apostle Paul, and the hall of faith shown in Hebrews 11 equates faith with a life of risk and material loss for the sake of Christ. Much of the preaching on faith in contemporary churches would seem foreign to biblical prophets and apostles.

5. American Christianity usually focuses on individual salvation. The Bible deals with individual and systemic redemption.

Jesus’ first sermon text in Nazareth was a quote from Isaiah 61 (read Luke 4:17-19). American preachers usually interpret these passages in an individual manner only. However, when you read Isaiah 61:1-4 you will clearly see that the gospel not only saved and healed individuals but also transformed whole cities! The biblical gospel deals with systemic sin not just individual sinners.

6. The American apologetic focuses on human reason. The Bible’s apologetic focuses on the power of God and experience.

Americans have been trained to defend the faith utilizing scientific, archaeological and linguistic historical proofs to validate the resurrection of Christ and the historic accuracy of the Scriptures. This is because the Enlightenment trap that promotes human reason as the highest arbiter of truth has captivated the American church. However, when we read both testaments, we see the prophets, the apostles and Jesus never based the propagation of their faith on the latest scientific research or human reason but on the anointing, authority and reliability of God (1 Cor. 2:1-4; Heb. 2:1-3).

Of course, biblical faith is the most rationalistic, reasonable faith in the world since it comports with reality more than any other philosophy or religion. However, if the foundation of your faith is human reason, then the first person that has more knowledge than you in science could talk you out of being a Christ-follower. Truly, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, not human reason (Prov. 9:10; 1 Cor. 1:17-23).

7. American believers have a consumerist mentality regarding a home church. The biblical emphasis is being equipped for the ministry.

Americans shop for a church today based on what meets their personal and family needs the best. It is almost like a supermarket mentality of one-stop shopping. While it is good if churches attempt to meet the practical needs of families and communities, the focus should be upon equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). God may lead a family to a new church plant instead of a megachurch even if the megachurch has more programs to offer. Biblically, it is all about assignment and equipping. If a person is doing the will of God, they will be fed by God anyway (John 4:34).

8. American Christianity promotes a culture of entertainment. The Bible promotes the pursuit of God.

In the typical growing American church, there will be an incredible worship team, visual effects and great oratory. Consequently, we are often catering to the American obsession with entertainment and visceral experiences, which can promote a culture of entertainment instead of cultural engagement. Biblically speaking, some of the greatest examples we have of intimacy with God come from the Psalms in which the writers were in dire straits, with no worship team, and alone somewhere in the desert (Psalm 42 and Psalm 63).

Biblically speaking, we should not depend on a great worship experience to experience Yahweh, but we should have intimate fellowship with Him moment by moment, way before we even get through the church doors!

9. American Christianity depends upon services within a building. The biblical model promotes a lifestyle of worship, community and Christ following.

Most of the miracles in the book of Acts and the gospels took place outside a building in the context of people’s homes and in the marketplace. In Acts 2 and 4, the churches met house-to-house, not just in the temple. The man at the gate was healed before he went into the temple (Acts 3), which caused an even greater revival to take place.

10. American Christianity is about efficiency. The biblical model is about effectiveness.

Often, the American church is modeled more after the secular corporate model rather than the biblical model. The church is not an organization but an organism that should be organized! In many churches, every aspect of the service is timed to the minute, and there is no allowance for the Holy Spirit to move. What good is an efficient service if people leave congregational assemblies with the same brokenness they had before they came in?

11. In American Christianity the pastor is elected. In the biblical model God calls the pastor.

Many American churches are run more like a democracy than a theocracy that is under God and Scripture. Hence, many denominations vote on their pastors and elders. However, there is not one instance in the Bible where God allowed the people to choose the leader of His people.

The example some use to justify congregational votes for pastors is in Acts 6. However, this passage has to do with the people electing deacons, not apostles or church overseers. However, in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1, years later, after the church was more developed, Paul instructs his apostolic sons (Timothy and Titus) to choose the deacons and elders themselves (no congregational vote here).

12. In American Christianity the individual interprets the Bible. In the New Testament the hermeneutical community interprets the Bible.

In the New Testament, when they were grappling with Scripture, they called a council and had dialogue to discern what the Spirit was saying (Acts 15). Paul went to the Jerusalem elders (Peter, James and John) to make sure what he was preaching was of God (Galatians 1 and 2).

Often, American preachers get unique interpretations of a passage and come up with a different angle on Scripture based on their own subjective paradigm and/or spiritual experience. Most of the time this turns out OK, but sometimes (as in the case of some like Bishop Carlton Pearson, who preaches a form of universalism and ultimate reconciliation of all) this can have heretical effects.

13. American Christianity trains its leaders in Bible colleges. Biblical Christianity nurtures leaders through personal mentoring.

Biblically, leaders were not sent outside of the context of a local church to be trained for the ministry. They were nurtured personally in the context of congregational life by church leaders acting as mentors (as the Apostle Paul did with Timothy; as Aquila and Priscilla did with Apollos in Acts 19; and as Barnabas did with John Mark in Acts 15).

Unfortunately, the American church attempts to nurture its top leaders by sending them outside of the local church to a theological seminary, which can only equip/grade them on an intellectual level. (Quote source here.)

In the context of our very “me” oriented society and culture, who are we really serving? The answer has eternal consequences . . . .

For what will it profit a man . . .

If he gains the whole world . . .

And loses his own soul . . . .

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

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Prayer Changes Things

I have a secret to share (well, it’s not really a secret). Some of you already know it because you do it, too. Somehow so many of us have gotten this idea that prayer has to be really formal or that there is a “proper position” one should be in when praying or “proper words” to say while praying. While there is certainly nothing wrong with that, when one is in the middle of something that is happening RIGHT NOW (like getting fired from a job), and you need help RIGHT NOW, you don’t have to be formal or wait until later to get into a formal position to pray. You can pray anytime, anywhere, no matter the circumstances, and nobody else even has to know you are praying, either.

In fact, when I’m sitting in my car at red light with a bunch of other folks in cars around me and we are all waiting for the light to turn green, I could be praying and nobody around me would even know if they were looking in my direction. I look just like anybody else sitting behind the wheel of my car while we are all waiting for that light to turn green. Your eyes don’t have to be closed and your head doesn’t have to be bowed to pray to God in any situation you might find yourself in. Of course, there is nothing wrong with praying with your head bowed and eyes closed and a lot of prayers are said that way, but when you need help or strength at any given moment, you can pray anyplace, anytime, to God who will listen and hear and help–right then. Whether it’s needed to help keep you calm in a trying situation, or in very difficult circumstances that goes on for a long time, the help you need is accessible 24/7 if you call out to God for his help.

Here’s an example of what the apostle Paul gave us regarding prayer from Romans 8:26-27:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

As clearly stated in these two verses, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Wordless groans . . . Think about that. That means prayer can happen anywhere, anytime, in any situation. Jesus also gave us instructions on prayer and regarding God’s care for us in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. Jesus words on prayer are found in Matthew 6:5-15:

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation.

    but deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power
    and the glory forever. Amen.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Keep this always in mind: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (v. 8). And if you can’t get to your room (or you don’t even have a room of your own to go to), pray anywhere, at any time, from your heart. It doesn’t not need to be vocal (as in being said “out loud”) for God to hear what’s on your heart. You don’t have to be in a church building or any other type of formal setting to pray. Just pray and ask for God’s help in every and any situation.

Jesus continued in Matthew 6:25-34 with the following:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

In other words, don’t go chasing after everything that everybody else around us is chasing after (money, material possessions, success, fame, power, etc., even revenge). And don’t pay attention to the mockers among us as they have always been around, and Jesus faced them constantly during his time on earth. We must keep our focus on God. After all, He knows what is going on and we don’t have a clue what is really going on most if not all of the time.

In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus taught his disciples (and that includes us today) a parable that is referred to as The Parable of the Persistent Widow.” Here is that parable:

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

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

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

As Dr. John MacArthur, pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church, author, conference speaker, president of The Master’s University and Seminary, and teacher with the Grace to You media ministry, describes this parable in his book, Parables (2015), in Chapter 10, “A Lesson About Persistence in Prayer”:

Widows and corrupt judges were familiar characters throughout the culture of that time. Justice was often hard to come by…. (p. 178).

Rome had appointed local magistrates and village judges–municipal authorities who judged criminal cases and looked after the interest of Caesar. They were the worst of all–notoriously lacking in both morals and scruples. They were paid large salaries out of the temple treasure, even though they typically were Gentiles and unbelievers. The Jews generally regarded them with the same utter disdain typically shown to tax collectors. Their official title was “Prohibition Judges,” but–changing just one letter in the Aramaic term–the Jews referred to them as “Robber-judges.”

From Jesus description of this judge, it seems clear that he was one of these Roman appointees. He “did not fear God nor regard man” (Luke 18:2). That is a well-chosen characterization. Similar expressions are fairly common in literature from ancient times, even outside the Bible. Such a word portrait was used to depict a notoriously unscrupulous person. This was someone who showed no true reverence for God, His will, or His law. Furthermore, he was completely indifferent to the needs of people and their just causes. This man had become a judge because he loved the status and the money, not because he loved justice. He was unmoved by compassion or understanding. And to compound the gravity of his wicked character, we discover that he was not naive or self-deceived; he was fully aware of how thoroughly debauched his character has become. He freely acknowledged to himself, “I do not fear God nor regard man” (v. 4). By his own confession he lived in open defiance of both the First and Second Great Commandments (cf. Matt. 22:37-40). He was an utterly amoral human being, and his wickedness had all kinds of tragic implications because he was making daily decisions that affected people’s lives….

In short, this judge was bereft of basic decency, lacking in nobility, devoid of natural affection, and without regard for either God or humanity. His own character was so barren of virtue that most would consider him inhuman. He seemed impervious to any appeal.

And yet this parable is told to teach a positive lesson about God and how He answers our prayers–using the wicked behavior of this unrighteous judge as an illustration. This is very similar to the parable of the unjust steward in the Jesus was using a wicked person’s actions to depict something pure and righteous.

The only other character in this parable is a poor widow, the victim of some injustice or oppression, whose only recourse was to seek redress in the courts. Someone had defrauded her. She was apparently destitute and alone. In that culture the courts belonged exclusively to men. No woman would have appealed to a judge in the first place if there were a man in her life. Not only was her husband dead; she evidently had no brother, brother-in-law, father, son, cousin, nephew, distant male relative, or close neighbor who could plead her case. She represents those who are dirt poor, powerless, helpless, deprived, lowly, unknown, unloved, uncared for, or otherwise desperate.

Jesus built this illustration around a widow because as far as the Old Testament goes, her case ought to have been clear-cut. Regardless of the legal merits of her claim, the judge should have done something to care for her purely on the grounds of mercy. Moses’ law was explicit on this point. God Himself said, “You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless” (Ex. 22:22-24). The principle is echoes in Isaiah 1:17:

Learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.

The law was full of similar special provisions for widows. “You shall not pervert justice due the stranger or the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment as a pledge” (Deut. 24:17). Widows were to be cared for, and legal authorities had a particular duty to see that their needs were met.

Apparently this woman also had a solid case on legal grounds alone, because she was pleading for justice, not special treatment. And she was relentless…. She came back again and again and again, saying, “Get justice for me from my adversary”–literally, “Vindicate me!” It seems she was seeking redress for some injustice that had already been done to her. And her desperation suggests that everything had been taken from her. She had nothing left to lose.

But the judge’s initial response to the woman was unbelievably cold. He simply refused her–dismissed her case with extreme prejudice and without any real consideration (v. 4). Perhaps whatever fraud or theft had been committed against her seemed paltry to him, but it was a threat to her very existence. The utter lack of any concern or compassion in his reaction to her is shocking….

This went on “for a while” (Luke 18:4). But then the judge suddenly had a change of heart–not because he repented of his wickedness or admitted the righteousness of the widow’s cause, but because he grew weary of hearing her pleas…. The unjust judge spoke to himself, “Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me” (v. 4-5)….

This woman’s repeated pleas were like a verbal cudgel. She was not merely troublesome; she was painful to him. So this powerful and impervious judge was defeated by a helpless woman, merely through her persistence. He still had no regard for God or man; he was looking out for his own self-interests. He needed to get rid of her. So he finally ruled in her favor.

The point of this parable is clearly stated at the very start: “to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (v. 1). But the point Jesus makes is especially about a particular kind of praying.

Bear in mind the context. This parable is a postscript to the prophetic discourse at the end of Luke 17. The theme of that passage is horrific judgment, “just as it happened in the days of Noah… the same as happened in the days of Lot” (Luke 17:26, 28). “It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed (v. 30). Christ will come again with a vengeance. His appearing will create death and devastation. “Out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Rev. 19:15). Verse 19 says the kings of the earth and their armies will be gathered together to make war against Christ at His return. This will be the final war for all humanity–the battle sometimes called Armageddon…. (pp. 178-183).

Today, at a rapidly accelerating pace worldwide, the Word of God is mocked, vilified, and censured. Christians are routinely maligned, persecuted, and oppressed, even in supposedly advanced Western cultures. In the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia Christians live in constant danger of martyrdom. Even by the most conservative measure, thousands are killed every year for their faith….

The expression “lose heart” in the Greek text… speaks of giving up from exhaustion, or worse, turning coward. Luke 18:1 is the only place the word appears outside the Pauline epistles, but Paul uses it five times: “We do not lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:1, 16). “Let us not grow weary while doing good” (Gal. 6:9). “Do not lose heart at my tribulations for you” (Eph. 3:13). “Do now grow weary in doing good” (2 Thess. 3:13). The underlying meaning is always the same: don’t give up hope that Jesus is coming.

God, of course, is nothing like the unjust judge. The argument Jesus is making is, again, an argument from the lesser to the greater. If such a depraved and wicked magistrate can be coaxed by sheer perseverance to grant justice to a widow for who he has no regard and no compassion whatsoever, “shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily” (Luke 18:7-8). When Christ does return, God’s vengeance against the wicked will be swift and complete (p. 185). (Quote source, Parables,” pp. 178-183, 185.)

Prayer and persistence . . . that is what we need today in any and every situation we face. As Jesus told his disciples to do at the start of his parable of the persistent widow, we also need to do, which is to . . .

Always pray . . .

And never, never, never . . .

Give up . . . .

YouTube Video: “Prayer Changes Things” by Deitrick Haddon on “Crossroads”:

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Seventy Times Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forbearance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forgiveness

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

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

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

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seventy . . .

Times . . .

Seven . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by Matthew West:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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