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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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An Ever Present Help

Why is it that we so often look to ourselves or to friends first to find a solution to a problem or situation before we turn to God and seek His help? Over the past several decades we’ve been fed so much self-help advice in our culture (and even through our churches) that we practically spew it out in our sleep. Here’s a sample of what it entails: “Concepts and terms originating in self-help culture and Twelve-Step culture, such as recoverydysfunctional families, and codependency have become firmly integrated in mainstream language” (quote source here). However, self-help concepts and Biblical principles are often at odds with each another, but they have become enmeshed in today’s church culture, and too often “self-help” concepts trump biblical principles.

On several occasions, I have discussed my current housing situation that I honestly don’t know how to resolve at this point in time (re: living in a hotel while trying to find low income housing for almost four years now on a very low income) with a Christian friend of mine who always answers with the same advice. The advice I get from my friend is that I am “not a victim” (and I’ve never said I was a victim nor have I ever used the term in reference to myself; however, it is frequently used in the “self-help” culture language), and my friend also said that I could make any changes I wanted to make regarding my housing situation if I really wanted to change my situation bad enough (which is another “self-help” concept implying that I don’t want to change my situation). I humorously told my friend to send me lots of money and I could resolve my housing situation immediately. Not once has this friend ever mentioned seeking God’s help in my housing search (however, I do seek God’s help all the time).

The details of my housing search for the past almost four years can pretty much be summed up in my most recent experience at a senior apartment complex I inquired about regarding an ad I found stating low income apartments were available at their complex. When I arrived to inquire about their low income apartments, I was told that there were no low income apartments available nor would there be for at least a year, and they already had a waiting list started if I wanted to place my name on it. When I asked to be placed on the waiting list I was told that a $250 deposit had to be paid upfront in order to be placed on their waiting list. Also, there was no guarantee that I’d secure an apartment in the foreseeable future, so I declined. My housing search has been a never-ending cycle of going nowhere fast.

For a Christian (or anyone seeking the God found in the Bible), it is paramount that we seek God’s help first in every area of our lives and not just in the tough situations. And fortunately, the Bible doesn’t take a “self-help” approach to situations we find ourselves in that we can’t help ourselves get out of on our own. In fact, Proverbs 3:5-6 states the following:

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

And that’s the antithesis of “self-help.” So let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say about God’s help and provision because we sure aren’t going to find it from the culture-at-large.

In an article titled, Four Truths About God’s Provision,” by Matt Brown, evangelist, author of Awakening, and founder of Think Eternity, he states the following:

When you put your faith in Christ, God commissions himself to protect, provide, and care for you (Philippians 4:19). God always provides for his children, though often it is not in the way we expect or hope.

The challenge is for us to see his provision and care, even when it is different than we expect. Because God is God, his ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9). But he graciously gives us insight into what he is doing in the Scriptures.

John Piper says, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, but you may be aware of three of them.” Over and over again, Jesus’s disciples missed what he was doing right in front of them. They missed the point of the miracles. They missed the lessons. Which should give us hope for our own lack of clarity today. Here are four important encouragements about how God provides and cares for you.

1. God May Provide Differently Than We Expect

The Israelites escaped captivity in Egypt only to face the challenges of the desert. One of the biggest challenges for such a large group of nomads was enough food to eat. Over and over again God provided supernaturally for his people. If God could provide for many thousands of Israelites in the middle of a desert, he can surely provide for you and your family’s needs. One of the precious testimonies of Scripture is, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread” (Psalm 37:25).

But even with God’s supernatural provision, the Israelites still complained and grumbled in the desert. They longed for the food they left behind in Egypt. God was literally providing bread from heaven — enough for each day — but they wanted his provision a different way. They wanted it their own way.

This lesson has spoken to me over the years. Ask God to provide for you in whatever way he deems fit. Don’t grumble against God’s supernatural, unexpected ways.

Maybe you are at a job and doing work different than what you had expected or hoped for. Don’t always wish for something different. Don’t constantly dream about being somewhere else, doing something else. Be present. Give your all to your current job, and always be thankful (1 Thessalonians 5:18). This doesn’t mean you can’t move towards the job of your dreams, but it might inspire the faith to stop complaining about the way God has provided for you in the current moment, and instead invest yourself fully wherever you are.

2. God Provides More of Himself

Our greatest need is for more of God, and this is something he gladly gives us. [Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount]:

“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9–11)

Scripture tells us to make the pursuit of God the primary function of our lives. Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

John Piper has asked, “What is the deepest root of your joy? What God gives to you? Or what God is to you?” God graciously guides us into a greater realization that our ultimate need is for more of his word, more of his ways—more of him.

3. God’s Ultimate Provision Has Already Been Given in the Gospel

We ask God for many things, but the greatest thing we could ever receive from him has already been given. What God has given us in the gospel is light-years ahead of every other provision and care we could ever seek from him. When we trust in Christ, we have decisively secured for us every ultimately good thing from him. It’s just a matter of time.

James 1:17 reminds us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Every truly good thing in our lives comes straight from the Father. The ultimate good he provided us, through whom much of the other good things come to us, is Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate treasure.

4. God Provides Finally in Eternity

Hebrews 11 gives us two different perspectives on God’s provision and care for us. Some, by faith, came through this life victorious, while others lost their lives. Both are commended for their mighty faith.

God does not always provide and care for us in ways we might expect in this life. The Bible does not promise this. Peter, James, John, and Paul gave their very lives for the gospel. They viewed the gospel as a treasure not to be lost at any cost. They suffered gladly because they had something in the gospel that had far more worth.

This life is fleeting. This life is fragile. This life is but a vapor’s breath. The next life, the age to come, is where all God’s provision and care for us will ultimately make sense and come together as a whole.

We may not receive healing in this life, but we will receive perfect healing in eternity. We may not see answers to our greatest prayers in this life, but we will receive fully in eternity. Some days God’s provision and care may seem distant, but it will be ever-present in eternity. We long for our world to stop raging and be at peace, but ultimate peace will only come in eternity.

Our hearts ache under the pressures of this life, but it is only because we were made for another world. We are sojourners and aliens on this earth. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). (Quote source here.)

The following article is a personal account of God’s provision titled, Divine Provision–God’s Way or Mine? by Dr. Jolene Erlacher, wife and mother, author of Millennials in Ministry,” speaker, college instructor, and founder of Leading Tomorrow:

My husband and I had been married two-and-a-half years. During that time, we had been separated for 18 months due to military training and a deployment. We had also experienced two interstate moves, finished a doctoral dissertation and a Master’s thesis, bought a house, and had a job transition. Our hearts felt taxed by the separations, change, and stress. Now, eight-months pregnant with twins, we learned that my husband was most likely losing his job. He had confronted an unethical situation in his unit and was being punished. The stress of the past several years began to engulf me and in my tired state, I did not have the energy to fight back.

We prayed. No, actually, we begged God with tears and anguish to save my husband’s job. After all, he had done the right thing. He had sought to honor God and others and now he was experiencing injustice. We were about to welcome two little people into our family. It was not the ideal time to be without an income. Worry plagued my waking and sleeping hours. I felt it like a dark cloud, sapping the joy out of life. Despite the many times I had seen God’s hand at work in my life, I felt doubt. Would God prove faithful? Would He provide? Friends and family tried to encourage me that God was in control and His ways are best, but there was no solution acceptable to me other than God rescuing my husband’s career.

The weeks passed; our babies were born. We had two beautiful, healthy girls. My life became a haze of sleeping for 60-90 minutes between feedings and diaper changes. As my husband came home from work each day, I barely had the energy to hear the latest update. Hope for his career faded daily. Finally, when the girls were two-months-old, he came home from work with the boxes containing his belongings. He hung up the uniform he had worn for almost 18 years. At first, it seemed surreal. My definition of God’s faithfulness and provision could not bear the weight of our reality. I had a choice. Would I cling to my view that God should have rescued my husband’s job, or would I just let go and trust? I had to let go.

My husband began applying for other jobs. As we waited, we spent our days holding babies, talking, reading, praying, watching movies, and sleeping. Peace, even joy, began to seep back into our hearts and minds. Even as every potential job opportunity seemed to slipped away, we recognized and appreciated the gift of time together, something we had longed for in the first months of our marriage. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. Our spending habits changed, our savings grew thin. Still we waited. I watched as my husband fell in love with our daughters. I grew to appreciate the help with two little ones. We worked on writing and home improvement projects. Then, after five months of unemployment, we received the call. Funding had been approved for a civilian job at my husband’s old headquarters. The department head, knowing his skills, was requesting him for the position. They were going to bypass the interview process. If he wanted the job, it was his.

God had provided. It was not my way or in my timing. No, indeed, my way would have deprived us of quality family time. It would have robbed my husband of an invaluable opportunity to bond with his infant daughters. My definition of God’s provision would have left my husband in a stressful job, rather than giving him time to recover from a discouraging season and placing him in a role where he is fulfilled and appreciated. My definition of God’s provision needed redefining. The girls just turned one. As I reflect on this past year, I am grateful for the gift of learning once again that God’s ways ARE higher than mine. The truth of Psalm 37 is alive; our God does provide for His children… in His own and perfect ways. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with a verse I quoted above from Proverbs 3:5-6Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding . . .

In all your ways submit to him . . .

And he will make . . .

Your paths straight . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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This Thing Called Love

I must be slipping as I didn’t write a Valentine’s Day blog post for this year. I wrote one last year (sort of) titled, High Hopes,” and I’ve written several previous to last year’s post so I guess I didn’t feel the need to write a new one this year. In 2016 for Valentine’s Day I published a blog post titled, Love Is In the Air,” and it was a repeat from the previous year (2015) which was titled What Love Does,” along with Love Sweet Love” published that same year. And then in 2014 I published The Power of Love,” which included that great Huey Lewis and the News song by the same title. I also wrote a couple of Valentine’s Day posts in 2013 and one in 2012.

Actually, it was intentional this year that I decided not to write a blog post for Valentine’s Day. Waiting for a “Knight in Shining Armor” (or even rusted armor at this point in time) to show up is just getting to be old beyond words (and he probably rode off with a woman more than half my age years ago), so who wants to write about that? And as I wrote in The Power of Love back in 2014, the expression of love almost defies definition anyway, but we know what it feels like when it happens to us, right? Right? And it can be disguised as something as shallow as lust, or as the ultimate sacrifice as in laying down one’s life for their friends or their country. It can also be tossed around tritely, as in “I just love my new car,” or, in my case, “I just love dark chocolate,” or it can be deeply felt, as in love for a parent, spouse, children or close friends and even pets.

Ah yes . . . this thing called love . . . .

In an article published in 2014 on Huffington Post titled, What is Love? A Philosophy of Love,” by Adrian Catron, natural philosopher, alchemist, visual artist, photographer, industrial design engineer, and writer, he states the following about love:

Don’t let the word love define your LOVE

Love is the most powerful emotion a human being can experience. The strange thing is, that almost nobody knows what love is. Why is it so difficult to find love? That is easy to understand, if you know that the word “love” is not the same as one’s feeling of love.

The word “love” is used and abused for the expression of different sets of feelings.

The word love is used as an expression of affection towards someone else (I love you) but it also expresses pleasure (I love chocolate). To make it a little more complicated, the word “love” also expresses a human virtue that is based on compassion, affection and kindness. This is a state of being that has nothing to do with something or someone outside yourself. This is the purest form of Love.

The ancient Greek used seven words to define the different states of love:

Storge: natural affection, the love you share with your family.

Philia: the love that you have for friends.

Eros: sexual and erotic desire kind of love (positive or negative)

Agape: this is unconditional love, or divine love

Ludus: this is playful love, like childish love or flirting.

Pragma: long standing love; the love in a married couple.

Philautia: the love of the self (negative or positive)

These are seven different kind of feelings. The love you feel for your partner is not the same as the love you feel for your mother. Even the love for your partner changes in time. You feel different emotions for different situations and people.

But still, we use the same word. It is easy to understand that a confusion is easily made while communicating. I can say “I love you” to two different people (and mean it), but I am actually feeling [love] in a different way [with each]. . . . (Quote source and entire article available at this link.)

In another article published in November 2017 in Psychology Today titled, What is Love? by Armin Zadeh, MD, Ph.D. MPH, Director of Cardiac Computed Tomography and Associate Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, and author of the book, The Forgotten Art of Love (2017),  Dr. Zadeh answer that question as follows:

Looking at human affairs, many of us are saddened by the fact that there is a lot of misery in the world: suffering, deception, and destruction. Some feel that things are getting worse, the world is more divided than ever. On the other hand, we are encouraged by the many acts of kindness, thoughtfulness, and love that also goes around.

Indeed, almost everybody wants to live happily and peacefully, and almost everybody wants loving relationships—even those folks we perceive as hostile. The natural question then is, why do we so often fail?

It’s not news to anybody that the answer to happy living is love. Love is the key to any life and the key to happiness. During the holiday season, we suffer with George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” until he realizes that it is love that matters more than anything in the world. The movie is among the most popular because it rings true—love indeed is the universal answer to any misery or divisiveness. The very next moment, however, we turn our attention again to pursuits of short-term gratification and/or other self-directed matters.

The curious thing about love is that despite its indisputable importance to our lives, we spend comparatively little time trying to understand it. We all have a certain concept of love—but do we question or probe it? Instead, we spend most of our lives acquiring skills and knowledge which we believe facilitates us navigating to a “successful” life but have nothing to do with love.

If we come to understand why love is so essential to us—and conversely, why neglecting to focus our attention on love is detrimental—maybe we will be more motivated to re-center our priorities. We may ask ourselves: What is love anyway? Do we have any influence on love? Is it part of our biology? Is it part of spirituality? Is it both? What is it that makes us love somebody? What makes us not love somebody?

In his 1956 book “The Art of Loving”, psychologist Erich Fromm challenged the notion that love is this phenomenon which serendipitously occurs without our control. Fromm believed it is a common mistake to confuse the intense feelings we experience when we fall in love at the beginning of romantic relationships with actual love. The passionate, obsessive period which we so crave because of all its excitement may be part of a romantic relationship but not of love itself –it is just a phase and it won’t last.

Recent studies in neuroscience allow us to clearly differentiate between the early “falling-in-love” phase compared to the long-term “in love” period by detecting distinct activities in our blood and brain. Researchers studied people who just fell in love compared to those in long term relationships. They could show the pattern of blood levels changing over time. MRI studies of the brain corroborate these findings; revealing activities in distinct brain areas during each phase.

The “falling-in-love” phase invariably ends after 2-4 years, it is just natures way to jump start a relationship. If we think this is love we will inevitably be disappointed. Indeed, there is a peak in the incidence of relationship break ups after 2-4 years.

In contrast, love is a lasting, committed state, which requires our active involvement. InThe Forgotten Art of Love,” I define love as the “urge and the continuous effort for the happiness and well being of somebody” which expresses that, while love involves powerful feelings, a critical component of it is commitment.

This “active” commitment aspect in the process of loving is actually the key to success. Unfortunately, however, it is the facet most often neglected, probably because it takes ongoing effort. It would be much easier if reality was such that love is this beautiful emotion that we just to have to be lucky to get to be passive recipients of. The inconvenient truth, however, is that love is no exception to any other great achievement in life, we have to work for it. At the same time, there is a silver—even golden—lining: We actually have a lot of control on how much love we have in our lives—an empowering concept.

If we recognize the nature of “falling in love” as being a distinct passing phase, we won’t be disappointed once the obsessive feelings fade a after a while. Instead, we will be prepared to move to the next phase in the relationship, which can be equally or even more powerful but, in contrast to the falling in love phase, requires our effort to sustain it. This is why I agree with characterizing love as an art—requiring skills and devotion. (Quote source here.)

So let’s take a look at love from a Biblical perspective. In answer to the question What does the Bible say about love? at GotQuestions.org, here is their answer:

The Bible has a great deal to say about love. In fact, the Bible says that “love is of God” and “God is love” (1 John 4:7–8); in other words, love is a fundamental characteristic of who God is. Everything God does is impelled and influenced by His love.

The Bible uses several different words for “love” in the Hebrew and Greek, interchanging them depending on context. Some of these words mean “affectionate love”; others indicate “friendship”; and still others, “erotic, sexual love.” There is also a distinct word for the type of love that God displays. In the Greek, this word is agape, and it refers to a benevolent and charitable love that seeks the best for the loved one.

The Bible gives many examples of love: the caring provision of Boaz for Ruth; the deep friendship of David and Jonathan; the poetic, passionate love of Solomon and the Shulamite; the enduring commitment of Hosea to Gomer; the fatherly love of Paul for Timothy and John for the church; and, of course, the sacrificial, saving love of Christ for the elect.

Agape–the benevolent, selfless love that God shows–is mentioned often in the New Testament, including in the “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13. There, love’s characteristics are listed: love is patient and kind; love doesn’t envy, boast, or dishonor others; love is not proud or self-seeking; love is not easily angered, doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, and doesn’t delight in evil; rather, love rejoices with the truth; love always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres; love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4–8). Of the greatest of God’s gifts, faith, hope, and love, “the greatest . . . is love” (verse 13).

The Bible says that God was motivated by love to save the world (John 3:16). God’s love is best seen in the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf (1 John 4:9). And God’s love does not require us to be “worthy” to receive it; His love is truly benevolent and gracious: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

The Bible says that, since true love is part of God’s nature, God is the source of love. He is the initiator of a loving relationship with us. Any love we have for God is simply a response to His sacrificial love for us: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Our human understanding of love is flawed, weak, and incomplete, but the more we look at Jesus, the better we understand true love.

The Bible says that God’s love for us in Christ has resulted in our being brought into His family: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). Just as the father in the parable showed love to his prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32), so our Heavenly Father receives us with joy when we come to Him in faith. He makes us “accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6, NKJV).

The Bible says that we are to love others the way that God loves us. We are to love the family of God (1 Peter 2:17). We are to love our enemies—that is, we are to actively seek what is best for them (Matthew 5:44). Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25). As we show benevolent, selfless love, we reflect God’s love to a lost and dying world. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

The Bible says that our love for God is related to our obedience of Him: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3; cf. John 14:15). We serve God out of love for Him. And God’s love for us enables us to obey Him freely, without the burden of guilt or the fear of punishment.

First John 4:18 says that “perfect love drives out fear” (this is again the word “agape”). The dismissal of the fear of condemnation is one of the main functions of God’s love. The person without Christ is under judgment and has plenty to fear (John 3:18), but once a person is in Christ, the fear of judgment is gone. Part of understanding the love of God is knowing that God’s judgment fell on Jesus at the cross so we can be spared. Jesus described Himself as the Savior: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). The very next verse reminds us that the only person who must fear judgment is the one who rejects Jesus Christ.

The Bible says that nothing can separate the believer from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:38–39). God’s love does not wax and wane; it is not a fickle, emotional sensation. God’s love for sinners is why Christ died on the cross. God’s love for those who trust in Christ is why He holds them in His hand and promises never to let them go (John 10:29). (Quote source here.)

Well, I guess ended up writing a Valentine’s Day blog post for this year after all . . . on the day after Valentine’s Day. Of course, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 has the last word on love: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth . . .

It always protects, always trusts . . .

Always hopes, always perseveres . . .

Love never fails . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here
Photo #4 credit here

Blessings

There are many blessings given throughout the Bible in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. One of my favorite blessings is found in Psalm 20:1-5:

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
    may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
    and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
    and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
    and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
    and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the Lord grant all your requests.

A blessing, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, is “the act or words of one that blesses,” or “a thing conducive to happiness or welfare.” In an article titled, What Does It Really Mean to Be #Blessed? by Vaneetha Rendall Risner, freelance writer and a regular contributor to Desiring God (she blogs at danceintherain.com), she writes the following:

Feeling blessed is in vogue.

A quick look at Facebook and Twitter shows how many people today feel #blessed. In our social-media world, saying you’re blessed can be a way of boasting while trying to sound humble.

College scholarship? #Blessed. Unexpected raise? #Blessed. Wonderful family? #Blessed.

As Christians we use that term too, of course. We pray God will bless our family. We attribute our undeserved gifts to “God’s blessings.” We talk about ministries being blessed. But what does it really mean? How should we understand the blessing of God?

The Good Life

For believers, is the blessed life synonymous with the successful life? Is it the Christian version of the good life? A loving marriage, obedient children, a vibrant ministry, a healthy body, a successful career, trusted friends, financial abundance — if these are the characteristics of a blessed life, then having all of them should translate into an extraordinarily blessed life.

But does it? If someone had all those things, would they be extraordinarily blessed?

Rather than turning to God, they might feel self-sufficient and proud. Perhaps a bit smug and self-righteous. After all, their hard work would be yielding good fruit.

Moreover, they wouldn’t need to cry out to God for deliverance; everything would already be perfect. They wouldn’t need to trust God; they could trust in themselves. They wouldn’t need God to fill them; they would already be satisfied.

God’s Richest Blessings

My desire for God is greatly fueled by my need. And it is in the areas of loss where I feel my need most intensely. Unmet desires keep me on my knees. Deepen my prayer life. Make me ransack the Bible for God’s promises.

Earthly blessings are temporary; they can all be taken away. Job’s blessings all disappeared in one fateful day. I, too, had a comfortable life that was stripped away within a span of weeks. My marriage dissolved. My children rebelled. My health spiraled downward. My family fell apart. My dreams were shattered.

And yet, in the midst of those painful events, I experienced God’s richest blessings. A stronger faith than I had experienced before. A deeper love than I had ever known. A more intimate walk than I could explain. My trials grounded my faith in ways that prosperity and abundance never could.

While my trials were not blessings in themselves, they were channels for them. As Laura Story asks in her song,Blessings,” “What if your blessings come through rain drops? What if trials of this life—the rain, the storms, the hardest nights—are your mercies in disguise?”

This revolutionary idea of blessing is also firmly established in Scripture.

The Common Thread
One translation of the New Testament (ESV) has 112 references with the words bless, blessing, or blessed, none of which connect blessing to material prosperity. Consider these passages:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit. . . . Blessed are those who mourn. . . . Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake . . . Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:3–4,10–11)

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28)

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven.” (Romans 4:7; quoting Psalm 32:1)

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial.” (James 1:12)

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. . . . Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Revelation 14:1319:9)

There is no hint of material prosperity or perfect circumstances in any New Testament reference. On the contrary, blessing is typically connected with either poverty and trial or the spiritual benefits of being joined by faith to Jesus.

According to the Key Word Study Bible, “The Greek word translated blessed in these passages is makarioi which means to be fully satisfied. It refers to those receiving God’s favor, regardless of the circumstances” (emphasis added).

What is blessing, then? Scripture shows that blessing is anything God gives that makes us fully satisfied in him. Anything that draws us closer to Jesus. Anything that helps us relinquish the temporal and hold on more tightly to the eternal. And often it is the struggles and trials, the aching disappointments and the unfulfilled longings that best enable us to do that.

Truly Blessed

Pain and loss transform us. While they sometimes unravel us, they can also push us to a deeper life with God than we ever thought possible. They make us rest in God alone. Not what we can do or achieve for him. And not what he can do or achieve for us.

In pain and loss, we long for Presence. We long to know that God is for us and with us and in us. Great families, financial wealth, and good health are all wonderful gifts we can thank God for, but they are not his greatest blessings. They may make us delight, not in God, but in his gifts.

God’s greatest blessing always rests in God himself. When we have that, we are truly #blessed. (Quote source here.)

This next article on the subject of blessings is titled, The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying,” by Scott Dannemiller, writer, blogger, worship leader and former missionary with the Presbyterian Church. He writes the blog The Accidental Missionary, where this post first appeared. Here is that post:

I was on the phone with a good friend the other day. After covering important topics, like disparaging each other’s mothers and retelling semi-factual tales from our college days, our conversation turned to the mundane.

“So, how’s work going?” he asked.

For those of you who don’t know, I make money by teaching leadership skills and helping people learn to get along in corporate America. My wife says it’s all a clever disguise so I can get up in front of large groups and tell stories.

I plead the fifth.

I answered my buddy’s question with,

“Definitely feeling blessed. Last year was the best year yet for my business. And it looks like this year will be just as busy.”

The words rolled off my tongue without a second thought. Like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or placing my usual lunch order at McDonald’s.

But it was a lie.

Now, before you start taking up a collection for the “Feed the Dannemillers” fund, allow me to explain. Based on last year’s quest to go twelve months without buying anything, you may have the impression that our family is subsisting on Ramen noodles and free chips and salsa at the local Mexican restaurant. Not to worry, we are not in dire straits.

Last year was the best year yet for my business.

Things are looking busy in 2014 [the year this post was originally published].

But that is not a blessing.

I’ve noticed a trend among Christians, myself included, and it troubles me. Our rote response to material windfalls is to call ourselves blessed. Like the “amen” at the end of a prayer.

“This new car is such a blessing.”

“Finally closed on the house. Feeling blessed.”

“Just got back from a mission trip. Realizing how blessed we are here in this country.”

On the surface, the phrase seems harmless. Faithful even. Why wouldn’t I want to give God the glory for everything I have? Isn’t that the right thing to do?

No.

As I reflected on my “feeling blessed” comment, two thoughts came to mind. I realize I’m splitting hairs here, creating an argument over semantics. But bear with me, because I believe it is critically important. It’s one of those things we can’t see because it’s so culturally engrained that it has become normal.

But it has to stop. And here’s why.

First, when I say that my material fortune is the result of God’s blessing, it reduces The Almighty to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers. I can’t help but draw parallels to how I handed out M&M’s to my own kids when they followed my directions and chose to poop in the toilet rather than in their pants. Sure, God wants us to continually seek His will, and it’s for our own good. But positive reinforcement?

God is not a behavioral psychologist.

Second, and more importantly, calling myself blessed because of material good fortune is just plain wrong. For starters, it can be offensive to the hundreds of millions of Christians in the world who live on less than $10 per day. You read that right. Hundreds of millions who receive a single-digit dollar “blessing” per day.

During our year in Guatemala, Gabby and I witnessed first-hand the damage done by the theology of prosperity, where faithful people scraping by to feed their families were simply told they must not be faithful enough. If they were, God would pull them out of their nightmare. Just try harder, and God will show favor.

The problem? Nowhere in scripture are we promised worldly ease in return for our pledge of faith. In fact, the most devout saints from the Bible usually died penniless, receiving a one-way ticket to prison or death by torture.

I’ll take door number three, please.

If we’re looking for the definition of blessing, Jesus spells it out clearly (Matthew 5: 1-12).

1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him,

2 And He began to teach them, saying:

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

I have a sneaking suspicion verses 12a, 12b, and 12c were omitted from the text. That’s where the disciples responded by saying:

12a Waitest thou for one second, Lord. What about “blessed art thou comfortable,” or 12b “blessed art thou which havest good jobs, a modest house in the suburbs, and a yearly vacation to the Florida Gulf Coast?”

12c And Jesus said unto them, “Apologies, my brothers, but those did not maketh the cut.”

So there it is. Written in red. Plain as day. Even still, we ignore it all when we hijack the word “blessed” to make it fit neatly into our modern American ideals, creating a cosmic lottery where every sincere prayer buys us another scratch-off ticket. In the process, we stand the risk of alienating those we are hoping to bring to the faith.

And we have to stop playing that game.

The truth is, I have no idea why I was born where I was or why I have the opportunity I have. It’s beyond comprehension. But I certainly don’t believe God has chosen me above others because of the veracity of my prayers or the depth of my faith. Still, if I take advantage of the opportunities set before me, a comfortable life may come my way. It’s not guaranteed. But if it does happen, I don’t believe Jesus will call me blessed.

He will call me “burdened.”

He will ask,

“What will you do with it?”

“Will you use it for yourself?”

“Will you use it to help?”

“Will you hold it close for comfort?”

“Will you share it?”

So many hard choices. So few easy answers.

So my prayer today is that I understand my true blessing. It’s not my house. Or my job. Or my standard of living.

No.

My blessing is this. I know a God who gives hope to the hopeless. I know a God who loves the unlovable. I know a God who comforts the sorrowful. And I know a God who has planted this same power within me. Within all of us.

And for this blessing, may our response always be,

“Use me.” (Quote source here.)

The first article above mentioned a song titled Blessings (YouTube video below) by Laura Story, singer/songwriter and senior worship leader at Perimeter Church in Atlanta, that became a massive #1 hit and a Grammy Award-winning song after it came out in 2011 (source here). Information on the background of this song is available at this link. On her biography page (at laurastorymusic.com) she states:

“We have this picture all the way through the Scriptures of all these great leaders in this process of surrendering everything. What the Lord is asking them is not, ‘You need to hold on tighter. You need to manage this better.’ What the Lord asks us is to surrender,” she offers, “It’s about learning to live with open hands, learning to live life in this constant state of saying, ‘Lord, my life is Yours. My time is Yours. My resources are Yours. All of this is Yours. Do what You will’”….

“We never get to a point where we can do life apart from complete and total daily dependence on Jesus,” Story admits. “The irony is the less control we have, the more peace we have and the more, I would even say, success and joy we find. It’s a contrary picture to what the world tells us, but it’s gaining through letting go”…. (Quote source and complete biography is available at this link.)

Gaining through letting go . . . . I’ll end this blog post on the subject of blessings with the blessing found in the picture at the beginning of this post from Numbers 6:24-26“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you . . .

[And may] the Lord . . .

Turn his face toward you . . .

And give you peace . . . .

YouTube Video: “Blessings” by Laura Story:

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

The Basics of Life

At some point this past January I picked up a copy of RELEVANT Magazine’s January/February 2018 issue [#91] while perusing the magazine rack at Barnes & Nobles. For those who might not be familiar with the magazine, RELEVANT isn’t your typical Christian magazine. Here is a description from their website:

Since 2002, RELEVANT has been the leading platform reaching Christian twenty- and thirtysomethings. Covering faith, culture and intentional living, the stories we tell are at the intersection of where a Christ-centered life is really lived. Our magazine is not about “being relevant” (whatever that means)—it’s that God is relevant to every aspect of our lives. (And yes, we cover the stuff that’s relevant to our readers.) We reach about 2,300,000 twenty- and thirtysomething Christians a month through all of our platforms, publishing every other month in print and iPad, as well as daily online, occasionally on RTV and weekly via our podcast.

We’re twenty- and thirtysomething Christians seeking God and striving to impact the world around us. We are people who want to live well—outwardly, creatively and intentionally. We are pro-Church and want to love our neighbors as ourselves. We serve the Creator, so we love great art—whether that be redemptive music, movies, books or design. We are daily seeking to show how God is at work in the world and in our generation.

We try to publish ideas that break stereotypes, challenge the status quo and spur a generation to know God more—and change the world while they’re at it. We want to engage our generation in a deeper conversation about faith, challenging worldviews and causing people to see God outside the box they’ve put Him in. Encountering God changes things.

We believe God is alive and speaking both inside and outside the four walls of the church. That’s why we cover life issues and culture next to social justice and spiritual growth—to look at the things relevant to our lives and world, and give voice to what God is doing in and through our generation. We believe a lot can be learned by looking more deeply at things that challenge you. But we also believe in the importance of the Church and want to be catalysts for change rather than part of the mass exodus of our generation leaving it.

Christians can’t be complacent living in a Christian bubble and never engaging the world they live in. We want to live the way Jesus did. Through relationship and love, the world was changed. We don’t think believers should be known primarily for legalism and bigotry. We believe in dialogue—about Truth, about faith, about freedom in Christ….

RELEVANT Media Group is a multimedia company whose purpose is to impact culture and give voice to what God is doing in and through our generation. We believe encountering God changes lives, so the magazine looks at how we can live that out in tangible and intentional ways. We talk about culture and real-life issues that other faith-based magazines might shy away from because we believe it’s important to address the gritty stuff of life—even when it makes us uncomfortable. If it’s relevant to our readers, you’ll find it on our pages.

RELEVANTmagazine.com is the daily updated, interactive counterpart of RELEVANT magazine. Together, they have become the leading platforms reaching a generation of culturally savvy world-changers hungry for God….

WHAT WE BELIEVE: Whether 20 years into it or just starting out, if you’re at this website you’re probably on a spiritual journey. Christianity is not a destination. No one has it all figured out. And because of that you’ll find the articles in RELEVANT ask questions a lot of others won’t, which is something we feel is vital to our spiritual growth. We need to never stop pursuing Truth and authenticity with passion.

But we do believe. We believe that eternal life and the only true freedom is found in Christ. We believe a relationship with Him changes things forever. You are not the person you used to be after you find Him. You may not be perfect—we’re all sinners, after all—but you don’t live the way you used to. Jesus told us to be in the world, yet not of it. We’re supposed to stand out and make a difference. We’re supposed to live for something bigger than ourselves.

That’s not something we can magically attain overnight. Following Christ and figuring out what it means to be like Him is a lifelong quest. It’s the hardest, longest and most rewarding thing we will ever undertake. It is what will define us—not only in this life, but in the life to come.

For more information about Christianity, we recommend checking out the Bible (it is the source, after all) and finding a good local church where you can meet other people like you. (More information on RELEVANT and quote source here.)

I found the January/February 2018 issue of RELEVANT to be quite informative as well as entertaining even though I haven’t fit into its typical audience’s age group for, well, let’s just say a very long time. However, there is a fair amount of confusion out there today about who Jesus Christ really is in our rapidly increasing secular society. And it is even more important to reach out to the younger generations today who have been secularized by our culture from the cradle up including in the classroom and in pop culture, social media, and everyday life. This magazine along with their various platforms are geared for the younger generations who are genuinely seeking after truth.

With that being said, I read a short article in the January/February 2018 issue the brought a smile to my face. It’s titled, “A Beginner’s Guide to Ethical Cooking,” on “The Cheat Sheet” on page 36. See if you don’t agree:

We’ve all been there: a moment of clarity while staring into your refrigerator, where you determine that from now on, it’s no more leftovers and frozen meals. You’re going to become a real cook, make healthy meals and start buying groceries from that cool little bodega over by the yoga studio.

You’re going to be one of those people who sprinkles exotic seasonings on your seared salmon and harvests fresh herbs from your little backyard garden. You can see it all in your head, and it looks great, but next week, you’re probably back to preheating the oven for another DiGiorno pizza.

Truth be told, what you’re trying to do is a good thing. Part of being mature with your resources is knowing how to buy and cook food responsibly.

It’s not as hard as you think. It just takes a few easy steps to get you started on the right path. You’ll be grilling salmon like America’s Next Top Chef in no time. (Quote source: RELEVANT, Jan/Feb. 2018, #91, p. 36)

Ah yes, those “moments of clarity”…. I had one back in October when I decided my eating habits were going to kill me (not literally) if I didn’t take some control over the kinds of foods I was eating on a regular basis (too much sugar, too much fat, too much salt, and all those chemicals and ingredients nobody can even pronounce let alone know what they do inside your body). While I’ve been eating the same fast foods and processes foods everyone else has been eating for most of my life (except during the several of times I started a new diet and successfully lost “X” number of pounds only to slowly, or not-so-slowly, gain many of them back), I had an “ah ha” moment while eating lunch off the value menu at Wendy’s (burger, fries, you know… that stuff). To make it even worse, I had just found a copy of a diet book at a Goodwill store for $1.00 in the same shopping mall where Wendy’s (a fast food restaurant) was located, and I was looking it over as I ate my fast food meal. (Oh, the irony, right?)

A relative of mine has had great success with this particular diet, The Virgin Diet,” by. J.J. Virgin, a Certified Nutrition Specialist, a Certified Health and Fitness Instructor with advanced certifications in Nutrition, Personal Training and Aging, and Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition. She has been following this diet for the past several years since it came out in 2012. I knew she loved lasagna and pasta as much as I loved Wendy’s or Burger King, so I figured if she liked the diet and was still following it after several years, I should at least give it a try. So, when I saw a copy of it at Goodwill store for $1.00 (“used” but in “brand new” condition), I had to buy it. I had previously told myself that I was never going to buy another diet book for the rest of my life, but for $1.00, how could I resist? So I bought it and took it over to Wendy’s to have my last “fast food meal” while thinking it was impossible I could ever be successful at it.

Right off the bat it took away gluten, eggs, soy, dairy, corn, peanuts, sugar and artificial sweeteners. So what was I left with to eat? Lettuce leaves? I know it sounds awful (it’s really not awful at all, just different), but the author said to give it one week–seven days–and a person would be able to feel an amazing difference. So I did, and I did… and I’ve been eating this way since October because I feel so great in a dozen different ways then I did when I was eating so much crap. It’s not really a diet, but a way of life, and I really like what I get to eat now, and it’s a very healthy way to eat, too. And after a lifetime of dieting, no diet has ever made me feel as good mentally, physically, and in every other way as this diet has made me feel due to getting rid of foods that make us feel bad (e.g., food intolerance) and we don’t even know it. I can definitely see why my relative has stuck with it for so long now.

However, this blog post is not about dieting. It’s about a “moment of clarity” that can start one going in a new direction or just getting back on track, whether it’s dieting or anything else that we struggle with in life. In the case of this particular blog post, I’m addressing Christians who have been Christians for a very long time, but who have pretty much settled into coasting in the Christian life as it has lost a lot of it’s “glow” in place of all the other “stuff” our society offers us.

I’ve read some pretty startling statistics on the younger generations in our culture via the Barna Group, a 30+ year research and resource company considered to be a leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture. Starting with the “Baby Boomers,” to “Gen X,” to “Millennials” (also sometimes referred to as “Gen Y”), and the latest generation, “Gen Z,” with each passing generation the postmodern mindset has taken a must stronger hold in it’s many and various forms. Often Jesus Christ has no real meaning or appeal to a growing number of people in the younger generations. Not only has postmodernism taken center stage–where truth is relative and there are no absolutes–it has often watered down the true meaning (when not totally discrediting it) of the Gospel. However, we can’t just blame the culture. Showing up for church every Sunday like clockwork isn’t going to convince anybody of the reality or genuineness of Christianity. It is in how we live our lives and the genuineness of our own actions towards others that makes the difference.

In an online article in RELEVANT titled, Does Fasting Even Matter Anymore,” by Levi Carter, he writes about his own relationship and desire to return to the passion he had when he first came to know Jesus Christ:

As I’ve delved deep into my relationship with God, I’m reminded over and over again of the words of God in Jeremiah 2:2.

“I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me, and followed me through a land not sown.”

It’s interesting that in the history of Israel, God doesn’t remember their arrival in the promised land or the golden age of David and Solomon as his favorite season. No, God remembered their first season—alone and completely dependent on him in the wilderness.

That is the season that God longs to return to with us from time to time.

Many of us feel similarly about our first season with Christ. It was painful, intimate and messy, but everything was new and real and beautiful.

When I think back to my early days with Christ, I think of the raw and honest prayers I prayed. I think of how I dug deep into the Scripture, not to pass some religious test, but because I desperately needed the sort of truth that could set me free. I can’t escape the feeling that the wilderness of first love was his favorite season with me, nor can I escape my own ache to return.

I’ve been praying to return to that place, to heed the admonition of Christ in Revelation 3, “Repent, and do the things you did at first.” This is something that I’ve prayed for 10 years, and last year I sensed that this was what God was telling me this fast was the path to that place.

The second day of my fast I heard one word: Consecration. The Hebrew word for consecration—qadash—means, “to be set apart, to make something holy.”

It spoke of all the things in the Old Testament, that God set aside for Himself or for His use. Like the consecration of the firstborn male, the tithe or the articles of gold and silver for the temple. Essentially God was saying, these things are set aside for me and I’m going to use them for a specific and holy purpose.

We talk about holiness in the Church, but we don’t talk about the fact that there’s a reason God wants us to be holy. He has a specific purpose for us in mind, and in order to make a difference, we must first be different.

God began to highlight areas of compromise in the shows I allow myself to watch, consume or get complacent in.

When we remove compromise from our lives, we are rewarded with closeness. Isaiah told us that “your iniquities have separated you from your God.” Jesus taught that it was the pure in heart who would see him. God is making me holy, not just for a purpose, but for proximity. God doesn’t hate sin because he’s vindictive, God hates sin because it’s the only thing that stands in the way of him and his kids….

As I’ve sensed these winds of change, the wilderness has produced in me a dependence on Him that was previously unknown. When we look to fulfill our dreams or accomplish a goal, it’s easy to forget that Jesus told us in John 15 that apart from Him we can do nothing. When we take away a basic need like food, a union with Christ is forged. We are saying, I need You more than my most basic human needs. This posture of humility creates a lean in our hearts. Where we no longer lean into our own understanding or ingenuity to produce, but rather lean unto His heart. (Quote source here.)

Whether we are older and contemplating retirement, or younger and anticipating a career or life change, or maybe just trying to get through a difficult time, Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” That is for everyone, at any point, and any circumstance, in our lives.

I mentioned the words to the chorus in the song, The Basics of Life,” (YouTube Video below) in a previous blog post, but they are worth repeating again. Here’s the chorus: We need to get back to the basics of life–a heart that is pure, and a love that is blind. A faith that is fervently grounded in Christ; the hope that endures for all times . . .

These are the basics . . .

We need to get back . . .

To the basics of life . . . .

YouTube video: “The Basics of Life” by 4Him:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Freedom of Religion

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” ~President Ronald Reagan

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America (and the Bill of Rights which contains the first Ten Amendments to the Constitution) states the following:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. (Quote source here.)

In the United States of America, religious freedom and the expression of such beliefs is a Constitutional right of all citizens, but what about beyond the law? What about everyday life in America for the everyday citizen who has religious beliefs that others around them might not agree with, believe in, or share? 

Here in America we often look in horror at the persecution experienced by others that is taking place around the world for their religious (and often Christian) beliefs. However, we tend to think of persecution as taking place “over there” in some distant country without the benefit of religious freedom. However, what if, especially in recent decades, a type of persecution has invaded our own shores that often goes unnoticed by the public-at-large because it doesn’t “look” the same as the persecution that is going on in other countries around the world, and it is often disguised in other types of more “normal” type events like chronic and prolonged unemployment or even homelessness? What about our skyrocketing health crises and opioid and drug addiction epidemic, and rapidly rising obesity rates? Other factors include economics as mentioned in articles like What’s Killing the American Middle Class? by Richard Eskow, writer, former Wall Street executive, and radio journalist, on BillMoyers.com. Perhaps we just don’t see any connection at all because we don’t want to see it. Subterfuge is never obvious, and that’s the whole point.

And maybe Ronald Reagan was right after all. . . .

I came across a 2015 article on Patheos.com, titled, Yes, There is Christian Persecution in America, and Here’s What It Looks Like,” by Benjamin Corey, a cultural anthropologist and public theologian; a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and recipient of a Doctor of Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He admits to having been one of the “naysayers” regarding Christian persecution in America until he started to encounter it (see his article published in July 2017 on his personal experience with Christian Ghosting at this link). Here’s what he had to say in that 2015 article:

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

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

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

At first, Dr. Beckum starts off by saying,

“In my life, I have struggled with some things that Jesus said, (pretty plainly), that go against the grain of what is accepted as normal, or OK or even a sign of a being a good Christian in this part of the world.”

Seems like something I’ve heard a thousand times in my life–we’re repeatedly told that just because something is widely accepted as being okay or normal, such acceptance doesn’t mean it’s okay for a Christian. And, I totally agree.

Except, and here’s where Dr. Beckum got himself into some serious problems: he wasn’t speaking about listening to rock and roll or wearing skirts that weren’t knee high– he was talking about the golden calf of American Christianity. He went on to say,

“Anyone who has made a decision to follow Jesus realizes that the goal of a being a Christian is to become Christ-like.”

Sounds good so far, but starting to get edgy with this Jesus-likeness stuff. But here’s where he went completely off the rails:

“I am extremely troubled.  I have been for a long time and I have hesitated to address this subject publicly, but I cannot keep silent about it any longer… I don’t think it is an under-statement to say that our culture is addicted to violence, guns, war, revenge and retaliation. Unfortunately, so are a lot of Christians… So, what does Jesus have to say about it.  Again, if you are not a follower of Jesus you can relax.  This doesn’t concern you. But Christians have to do something with this.  I have to do something with the words of Jesus and his actions… We have to be very careful about equating patriotism with Christianity. We never say God and…anything.  God is above all, everything else is underneath… We have put “our way of life”/freedom on the top rung. If you mess with it I’ll blow your head off. For a Christian what is on the top rung? Love for all.”

Dr. Beckum ended his sermon by reminding the students that not only did Jesus teach radical enemy love, but that we should serve them, and forgive them as well.

In many Christian circles you can talk about the Bible all you want, and you can speak as much Christianese as possible, but as Dr. Beckum has now learned, you cannot talk about what Jesus taught regarding enemy love. That is off-limits and heresy.

The sermon on enemy love sparked an outcry at the University, with some furious that he’d have the audacity to call into question the issue of Christians using violence against enemies. The MNU president was quickly forced to issue a statement distancing himself from the teachings of Jesus, saying:

“At MidAmerica Nazarene University we encourage the exchange of ideas and individuals are free to express their individual perspective and opinions, even when those opinions may not reflect the official policy or practices of our university, our core values or our affiliations.”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough– speaking out against bloodshed in American Christianity often requires bloodshed of some sort, and such was the case with Dr. Beckum. On February 3rd the President relieved him of his duties as Vice President of Community Formation, citing that Beckum had previously requested to be removed from that position, something his own daughter has publicly called a falsehood.

In my opinion it’s easy to see what happened here: a Christian leader saw our lust for violence and military conquests, and decided to speak out on it. Since quoting what Jesus said on enemy love is so offensive within American Christian culture, he had to pay a price–and lost his position.

And so here is where my critics have been right all along: there is anti-Christian persecution in America. The chief difference however, is that it’s not the secularists or atheists who are persecuting us–it’s “Christians” who are doing the persecuting.

The best way to understand the cultural scenario is to realize (as someone astutely mentioned on twitter recently) that there are “two different types of Christianity.” One is a movement of people who want to live and be like Jesus. The other (and far more common, far more powerful) is a civil and political religion that is simply named Christianity. The civil political religion named Christianity is addicted to both political power and violence, and thus finds the message of Jesus offensive. When they encounter the other kind of Christian–the kind that actually believes in following Jesus–they have an immediate need to persecute them in some form or another, as we see in the case of Dr. Beckum, who actually did lose his job because of speaking the name of Jesus.

So, yes, there is Christian persecution in America- and for saying there is not, I do apologize to my critics for such an error. People do get bullied for speaking about Jesus. People do lose their jobs for it. Dr. Beckum is one of them.

But as it turns out, it’s actually the critics attempting to defend the violence-loving political religion named Christianity who are persecuting the people of Jesus

Don’t believe me? Just try teaching “love your enemies,” and see which group of people will be the first to mock and bully you. (Quote source here.)

Corey’s article mentions a type of persecution coming from within the ranks of Christianity itself (Jesus referred to it as tares and wheat,and he often experienced it at the hands of the Pharisees and other religious folks), but the persecution we’ve heard about on a worldwide scale does not often come from within genuinely Christian circles, but from others who stand against it. However, here in America it’s also coming from a growing secular intolerance (e.g., atheists, agnostics, “Nones,” etc.). They can also be disguised in the church since many of them have grown up in a Christian culture and they have learned how to pass “under the radar” as Christian. A blog post I wrote in July 2017 on the subject of Christian ghosting titled, These Are The Times,” contains one technique they use. This type of behavior gets blamed on supposedly “Christian” folks who are doing it (as with the mobbing and bullying mentioned in Corey’s 2015 article above). However, genuine Christians don’t “ghost,” mob or bully anybody. It’s not in their DNA.

In a 2016 article published on Christianity Today titled, Are American Christians Being Persecuted (subtitled “If our overseas brothers and sisters say we are, then we probably are”), by K. A. Ellis, doctoral candidate at Oxford Center for Mission Studies, and a speaker and writer on the theology of human rights, African-American culture, understanding Islam, and the persecuted church, Ellis states the following:

Anti-Christian hostility is on the minds of many American Christians these days. Each new legal challenge to religious liberty at the state and federal levels raises the issue afresh. It seems that today, Christians must think through their cultural position more carefully than at any other point in US history.

Still, given the terrible persecution of Christians overseas, I wonder whether it’s accurate to say that American Christians are “under persecution.” When I discuss the rise in anti-Christian hostility in the States, I avoid the “p word,” and I don’t make comparisons to other parts of the world.

But listen to a Middle Eastern underground house church leader: “Persecution is easier to understand when it’s physical: torture, death, imprisonment…. American persecution is like an advanced stage of cancer; it eats away at you, yet you cannot feel it. This is the worst kind of persecution.”

A Syrian remaining in the region to assist Christians and Muslims cautions, “It wasn’t only ISIS who laid waste to the church; our cultural compromises with the government and our divisions against each other brewed for a long time. We are Damascus, the seat of Christianity; what happened to us can happen to you. Be careful.”

When persecuted Christian leaders overseas warn about how seriously US Christians are marginalized, it’s time to listen.

Of course, persecution in countries like India and China looks different than it does in Vietnam or Nigeria; the methods of oppressors and survivors vary dramatically. Often, other religious minorities suffer as well. In some regions, the disdain is cultural; elsewhere, hostility manifests itself in legislation. In places like Pakistan and North Korea, believers experience both.

In America, we see two groups: hostility deniers and hostility seekers. “Hostility deniers” believe the church has been the greatest agent of oppression in history, making no distinction between faithful Christians and those who exploit the Bible for selfish gain. To them, Christians are not being persecuted but rather getting what they deserve. “Hostility seekers” see persecution as a mark of “true Christianity,” as if it holds salvific value—usually expressed as, “If you’re not persecuted, you’re not being a faithful Christian.” They exaggerate threats in order to keep the “persecution industry” alive. They forget that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, not by suffering. Christ rebukes these believers by modelling how to resist suffering, from his prayer in Gethsemane to submitting to his Father’s will at Golgotha. In “Tortured for Christ,” Richard Wurmbrand reminds us that “the true martyr seeks nothing for himself—not even the glory of martyrdom.”

Today, a third group is emerging. Hostility realists understand that anything is possible. Rarely does a nation move from freedom to oppression overnight. Realists understand that while the US Constitution promises inalienable rights to all citizens, those rights are not always guaranteed for the church. As an African American, I understand this well. In the early 1600s, Africans arrived in the New World on equal footing with other settlers. By the century’s end, though, freedoms had been steadily chipped away, race-based slavery established, and the worship, speech, and activities of black churches and gatherings were repressed. Still, the persecuted black church remained active underground, meeting in secret “hush harbours” of slaves and among free, believing abolitionists. Today, cultural disdain toward Christianity is increasingly palpable. Whether we are talking about a group of nuns providing services for the marginalized, an educational institution that wishes to maintain faith-based standards for faculty and students, or a medical provider exercising conscience in right-to-life decisions, I believe we will continue to see more constrictions for people of faith. This is not a cause for despair. We may never experience what the global church faces, but it teaches us that the culture cannot despise us more than we can love its people. While religious liberty is worth protecting, it is not our ultimate goal. Our true goal is perseverance and faithfulness in showing forth the kingdom of God. (Quote source here.)

The comment above by a Syrian who remained in the region to assist Christians and Muslims sends us in America a warning: “It wasn’t only ISIS who laid waste to the church; our cultural compromises with the government and our divisions against each other brewed for a long time. We are Damascus, the seat of Christianity; what happened to us can happen to you. Be careful.”

In ending this post on a topic nobody really wants to read or talk about, there is a strong reminder for those of us who are Christians (and not in name only). It is found in her last two sentences: While religious liberty is worth protecting, it is not our ultimate goal. . .

Our true goal is perseverance . . .

And faithfulness in showing forth . . .

The kingdom of God . . . .

YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:

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Who is God?

Years ago, J.B. Phillips (1906-1982), an English Bible scholar, translator, author and clergyman who is most noted for his version of The New Testament in Modern English, wrote a small book titled, Your God Is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike (first published in 1952). A PDF of the book is available at this link.

Amazon.com gives the following brief description of the book:

“Your God is Too Small” is a groundbreaking work of faith, which challenges the constraints of traditional religion. In his discussion of God, author J.B. Phillips encourages Christians to redefine their understanding of a creator without labels or earthly constraints and instead search for a meaningful concept of God. Phillips explains that the trouble facing many of us today is that we have not found a God big enough for our modern needs. In a world where our experience of life has grown in myriad directions and our mental horizons have been expanded to the point of bewilderment by world events and scientific discoveries, our ideas of God have remained largely static. This inspirational work tackles tough topics and inspires readers to reevaluate and connect more deeply with a God that is relevant to current experience and big enough to command respect and admiration. (Quote source here.)

This goes along with the topic of my last blog post titled Worldviews.” In that post I quoted from an article titled 8 Questions Every Worldview Must Answer,” by James W. Sire, PhD, “who has been an officer in the Army, a college professor of English literature, philosophy and theology, the chief editor of InterVarsity Press, a lecturer at over two hundred universities in the U.S., Canada, Eastern and Western Europe and Asia, and the author of twenty books on literature, philosophy and the Christian faith. (Quote source here.)

I was intrigued enough by that article that I went looking for a copy of Sire’s book that was mentioned, The Universe Next Door (5th ed., 2009), and I found it at a used bookstore. This 5th edition of the book “has been translated into over a dozen languages and has been used as a text in over one hundred colleges and universities in courses ranging from apologetics and world religions to history and English literature.” It also gives “easily understood introductions to theism, deism, naturalism, Marxism, nihilism, existentialism, Eastern monism, New Age philosophy and postmodernism, and includes a new chapter on Islam.” (Quote source: back cover of the 5th edition.) The book has sold over 400,000 copies.

In a section titled “Modern Deism” in a chapter titled, “The Clockwork Universe,” of particular interest was the following statement regarding “Popular Deism.” See if this doesn’t ring a bell with much of the general beliefs about God in our culture today:

Popular deism is popular in two senses. It is both a simple, easy-going belief in the existence of an omnipotent, impersonal, transcendent being, a force or an intelligence, and it is a vague belief held by millions of Americans, and I suspect, millions more in the Western world.

In its “cold” versions, God is simply the abstract force that brought the world into existence and has largely left it to operate on its own. My guess, and it is only a guess, is that many well-educated people, especially academics and professionals, would acknowledge the probably existence of such a being but would largely ignore his existence in their daily lives. Their moral sensitivity would be grounded in the public memory of common Christian virtues, the mores of society, the occasional use of their own mind when dealing with specific issues, such as honesty in business, attitudes to sexual orientation and practices. They live secular lives without much thought of what God might think. Surely a good life will prepare one for the life after death, if, indeed, there is such a thing.

In its “warmest” versions, God clearly is personal and even friendly. University of North Carolina sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton recently conducted a massive study of the religious beliefs of teenagers [“Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers,” New York: Oxford Press, 2005, pp. 162-163]. Their conclusion was that most of these teenagers adhered to what they calledmoralistic therapeutic deism.” They summed up this worldview as follows:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularity involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

God, ultimate reality, in this view makes no demand on his creation to be holy, righteous, or even very good. “As one 17-year-old conservative Protestant girl from Florida told us [the researchers], ‘God’s all around you, all the time. He believes in forgiving people and whatnot and he’s there to guide us, for somebody to talk to and help us through our problems. Of course, he doesn’t talk back.'” When asked what God is like, a Bryn Mawr College student drew a big smiley face and wrote, “He’s one big smiley face. Big hands . . . big hands.” This form of deism is certainly not limited to youth; it is, I suspect, very much like that of their parents and adult neighbors. (Quote source: “The Universe Next Door,” 5th ed., 2009, pp. 63-64.)

In answer to this rather dicey “feel good” way of viewing God known as “moralistic therapeutic deism” found in popular culture, GotQuestions.org give us a very clear answer from a biblical perspective of who God is. Their answer starts off with the definition of moralistic therapeutic deism (which is stated in the 5 points listed in the above article so I’m not repeating them again here) and continues with the following:

The beliefs of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are “moralistic” in that they place a high value on “being good” as found in #2 and #5, above. “Good” is really defined by popular culture rather than the moral imperatives of the Bible. So tolerating behaviors the Bible calls sin might be seen as “good” while calling those behaviors “sin” might be seen as intolerant or hateful, which is bad.

The beliefs of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are “therapeutic” in that the primary value is feeling good about oneself as articulated in beliefs #3 and #4, above. God’s “job” is to take care of us.

The authors used the word “deism” because, in Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, God exists as the Creator, but He is relatively uninvolved (beliefs #1 and #4, above). Deists have objected to this use of the term because, in true deism, God never intervenes in human affairs. He created us, but He leaves us alone. For this reason, some have suggested that theism would be a better term. Theists believe that God exists and that He can and does intervene from time to time when needed, in answer to prayer, etc.

The most important point concerning Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, however, is not the difference between theism and deism, but how far removed from biblical truth some young people are. The beliefs of MTD are not isolated to Millennials, either. It seems that many people simply view God as a “cosmic genie,” a “divine bellhop,” or a roadside assistance mechanic—you don’t know Him or need to, but you can call Him when you are broken down and He will come and get you going again. The most important thing, according to MTD, is to be good, nice, and tolerant, and God will ultimately receive you into heaven. This view is probably held by a lot of Americans and seems to be becoming the dominant “civic religion,” which emphasizes the horizontal relationships with other people but minimizes a relationship with God. In short, MTD puts humanity at the center and, ultimately, each individual at the center of his or her own belief system.

Biblical Christians will have problems with all 5 key points of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:

1. Not just “a god” exists, but the God of the Bible, who has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Whoever does not honor Jesus Christ as God does not honor God (see John 5:23).
2. God does not just want people to be “nice” but commands that they obey Him. He is the One who defines “good” and “nice.” He calls sin “sin” and promises to judge it (see Romans 1:18–32).
3. The central goal of life is to give glory to God. A by-product may be that we feel good about ourselves, but that is not the goal (see Romans 11:36).
4. Our primary goal as believers is to be constantly in tune with God, following His leading and in daily fellowship with Him. We are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
5. No one is good enough to go to heaven. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23); no one is good enough, and that is why we need Jesus. He lived the perfect life that we could not, and He died to pay for our sin so that we might be made acceptable to God. “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed’” (1 Peter 2:24).

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not an official religion. Probably no one would ever identify himself as a “Moralistic Therapeutic Deist.” The real problem is that moralism is not Christianity, and most people who hold these beliefs are likely to identify themselves as Christians when in fact they are living to glorify themselves! (Quote source here.)

So who is God? The following answer comes from GotQuestions.org:

Who is God? – The Fact
The fact of God’s existence is so conspicuous, both through creation and through man’s conscience, that the Bible calls the atheist a “fool” (Psalm 14:1). Accordingly, the Bible never attempts to prove the existence of God; rather, it assumes His existence from the very beginning (Genesis 1:1). What the Bible does is reveal the nature, character, and work of God.

Who is God? – The Definition
Thinking correctly about God is of utmost importance because a false idea about God is idolatry. In Psalm 50:21, God reproves the wicked man with this accusation: “You thought I was altogether like you.” To start with, a good summary definition of God is “the Supreme Being; the Creator and Ruler of all that is; the Self-existent One who is perfect in power, goodness, and wisdom.”

Who is God? – His Nature
We know certain things to be true of God for one reason: in His mercy He has condescended to reveal some of His qualities to us. God is spirit, by nature intangible (John 4:24). God is One, but He exists as three Persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16-17). God is infinite (1 Timothy 1:17), incomparable (2 Samuel 7:22), and unchanging (Malachi 3:6). God exists everywhere (Psalm 139:7-12), knows everything (Psalm 147:5Isaiah 40:28), and has all power and authority (Ephesians 1Revelation 19:6).

Who is God? – His Character
Here are some of God’s characteristics as revealed in the Bible: God is just (Acts 17:31), loving (Ephesians 2:4-5), truthful (John 14:6), and holy (1 John 1:5). God shows compassion (2 Corinthians 1:3), mercy (Romans 9:15), and grace (Romans 5:17). God judges sin (Psalm 5:5) but also offers forgiveness (Psalm 130:4).

Who is God? – His Work
We cannot understand God apart from His works, because what God does flows from who He is. Here is an abbreviated list of God’s works, past, present, and future: God created the world (Genesis 1:1Isaiah 42:5); He actively sustains the world (Colossians 1:17); He is executing His eternal plan (Ephesians 1:11) which involves the redemption of man from the curse of sin and death (Galatians 3:13-14); He draws people to Christ (John 6:44); He disciplines His children (Hebrews 12:6); and He will judge the world (Revelation 20:11-15).

Who is God? – A Relationship with Him
In the Person of the Son, God became incarnate (John 1:14). The Son of God became the Son of Man and is therefore the “bridge” between God and man (John 14:61 Timothy 2:5). It is only through the Son that we can have forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7), reconciliation with God (John 15:15Romans 5:10), and eternal salvation (2 Timothy 2:10). In Jesus Christ “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). So, to really know who God is, all we have to do is look at Jesus. (Quote source here.)

So who is Jesus Christ? Again, GotQuestion.org answers:

Unlike the questionDoes God exist?” [click on that link if you want to know the answer] very few people question whether Jesus Christ existed. It is generally accepted that Jesus was truly a man who walked on the earth in Israel 2000 years ago. The debate begins when the subject of Jesus’ full identity is discussed. Almost every major religion teaches that Jesus was a prophet or a good teacher or a godly man. The problem is that the Bible tells us that Jesus was infinitely more than a prophet, a good teacher, or a godly man.

C.S. Lewis in his bookMere Christianity” writes the following: “I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus Christ]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to.”

So, who did Jesus claim to be? Who does the Bible say He is? First, let’s look at Jesus’ words in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” At first glance, this might not seem to be a claim to be God. However, look at the Jews’ reaction to His statement, “‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God’” (John 10:33). The Jews understood Jesus’ statement as a claim to be God. In the following verses, Jesus never corrects the Jews by saying, “I did not claim to be God.” That indicates Jesus was truly saying He was God by declaring, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). John 8:58 is another example: “‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’” Again, in response, the Jews took up stones in an attempt to stone Jesus (John 8:59). Jesus’ announcing His identity as “I am” is a direct application of the Old Testament name for God (Exodus 3:14). Why would the Jews again want to stone Jesus if He had not said something they believed to be blasphemous, namely, a claim to be God?

John 1:1 says “the Word was God.” John 1:14 says “the Word became flesh.” This clearly indicates that Jesus is God in the flesh. Thomas the disciple declared to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Jesus does not correct him. The apostle Paul describes Him as, “…our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). The apostle Peter says the same, “…our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). God the Father is witness of Jesus’ full identity as well, “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom.’” Old Testament prophecies of Christ announce His deity, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

So, as C.S. Lewis argued, believing Jesus to be only a good teacher is not an option. Jesus clearly and undeniably claimed to be God. If He is not God, then He is a liar, and therefore not a prophet, good teacher, or godly man. In attempts to explain away the words of Jesus, modern “scholars” claim the “true historical Jesus” did not say many of the things the Bible attributes to Him. Who are we to argue with God’s Word concerning what Jesus did or did not say? How can a “scholar” two thousand years removed from Jesus have better insight into what Jesus did or did not say than those who lived with, served with, and were taught by Jesus Himself (John 14:26)?

Why is the question over Jesus’ true identity so important? Why does it matter whether or not Jesus is God? The most important reason that Jesus has to be God is that if He is not God, His death would not have been sufficient to pay the penalty for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Only God could pay such an infinite penalty (Romans 5:82 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus had to be God so that He could pay our debt. Jesus had to be man so He could die. Salvation is available only through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ deity is why He is the only way of salvation. Jesus’ deity is why He proclaimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). (Quote source here.)

And there you have it–who God is, who Jesus Christ is, and whether or not we choose to believe it to be true. As Revelation 1:8 states: I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God . . .

Who is, and who was . . .

And who is to come . . .

The Almighty . . . .

YouTube Video: “He Reigns” by Newsboys:

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Worldviews

“We live by what we believe, not by what we can see.” ~2 Corinthians 5:7 NCV. In Max Lucado‘s latest book, Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World(2017), he makes the following statement regarding our belief system:

Your belief system is your answer to the fundamental questions about life: Is anyone in control of the universe? Does life have a purpose? Do I have value? Is this life all there is?

Your belief system has nothing to do with your skin color, appearance, talents, or age. Your belief system is not concerned with the exterior of the tent but the interior. It is the set of convictions–all of them unseen–upon which your faith depends. If your belief system is strong, you will stand. If it is weak, the storm will prevail.

Belief always precedes behavior. For this reason the apostle Paul in each of his epistles addressed convictions before he addressed actions. To change the way a person responds to life, change what a person believes about life. The most important thing about you is your belief system. (Quote source: “Anxious for Nothing,” page 22).

Our beliefs come from our worldview, so let’s define what is meant by “worldview.” The following is taken from an article titled What’s Your View of the World? (Part 2) in a three-part series published in 2006 titled, What’s a Christian Worldview? by Dr. Del Tackett, former president of the Focus on the Family Institute and a former Senior Vice President of Focus on the Family, creator of Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project, and professor:

What is a Worldview?

Charles Colson said a worldview is “the sum total of our beliefs about the world,”1 while James Sire says it is our “set of presuppositions . . . about the basic makeup of our world.”2 Webster defines it as “a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world.”3 A worldview is something much deeper than your personality or how you hold a golf club. It defines your beliefs about reality and your outlook on life.

In order to better understand the concept, it’s important to know that there are two different kinds—or two “levels”—of worldview. Allow me to explain.

Formal Worldviews

A formal worldview is a major system of ideas that orders human hearts and minds. To visualize this, picture a bookshelf with twenty or thirty books on it. Some are old, some are new. Some are thick, others thin. Each book has a title: Christianity, Islam, Marxism, Pagan Mysticism, etc.

If you were to study them, you would find that each builds a case that the things it claims are true (its “truth claims”) accurately reflect reality. Some are better defined than others, but each one asserts that it has discovered or crafted the real truth about everything important in life. Marxism, for example, basically claims that the secret of life lies in economics and, as a result, reality consists in the clash between those who control the means of production and those who don’t.

A formal worldview is usually comprehensive in scope, offering its proponents a lens they can look through to formulate universal beliefs about life, from philosophy to science, from anthropology to politics, from economics to social order.

Personal Worldviews

If we camp out on this definition, we might begin to think that our personal worldviews are in one-to-one relationship with the established formal worldviews. We would be wrong. There is a huge difference between a systematic set of truth claims and the complex, fragmented, and elusive beliefs of most human beings.

If someone claims to be a Marxist, what does that mean? Can we assume that his personal beliefs exactly match the Marxism book on the shelf? Or what if someone claims to be a witch? It’s hard to say what that means in terms of her assumptions about life. Likewise, when someone says, “I am a Christian; therefore, I have a Christian worldview,” it’s not necessarily true.

Late in 2003, pollster George Barna attempted to determine how many Americans held a “biblical worldview.”4 He asked people questions taken straight from Scripture, to find out if they really believe what is written there.5 The results were dismal: Only four percent do. When he looked at the born-again6 believers in America, the results inched up to an anemic nine percent. How can this be? Instead of adopting the formal framework of a biblical worldview, it seems that “Christians” have accepted a hodgepodge of individual truth claims that come from everywhere.

Life on a Smorgasbord

Look back at the bookshelf for a moment. On the end, you will find another, very large book titled “Miscellaneous.” In here we find all of the unconnected truth claims that simply float around our culture. They may be distant cousins or distortions of a formal worldview or unexamined claims that don’t at all reflect reality.

For example, if you listen carefully to what people are saying and read between the lines, you will hear this belief: “I am stupid and worthless.” Where did that come from? I can think of several “formal” worldviews that give rise to this truth claim, but not directly. People in our culture are perhaps more influenced by these miscellaneous truth claims than by any formal worldview.

So what’s wrong with that? To begin with, living with a hodgepodge of unexamined beliefs makes our lives purposeless and fragmented. On top of that, when our beliefs don’t accurately represent reality, we end up acting in ways that hurt ourselves and our relationships.

I challenge you to examine your worldview. Do your personal beliefs really come from a biblical framework, or are they collected from various belief systems and your own (perhaps inaccurate) interpretation of reality? If we say that our God, in Jesus, is truth, we would do well to live lives that are based on the truth He has revealed to us in his Word. (Quote source here.)

The following is taken from Part 1 in the series titled, “What’s a Christian Worldview,” by Dr. Del Tackett:

What’s a biblical worldview?

A biblical worldview is based on the infallible Word of God. When you believe the Bible is entirely true, then you allow it to be the foundation of everything you say and do. That means, for instance, you take seriously the mandate in Romans 13 to honor the governing authorities by researching the candidates and issues, making voting a priority.

Do you have a biblical worldview? Answer the following questions, based on claims found in the Bible and which George Barna used in his survey:

  • Do absolute moral truths exist?
  • Is absolute truth defined by the Bible?
  • Did Jesus Christ live a sinless life?
  • Is God the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe, and does He still rule it today?
  • Is salvation a gift from God that cannot be earned?
  • Is Satan real?
  • Does a Christian have a responsibility to share his or her faith in Christ with other people?
  • Is the Bible accurate in all of its teachings?

Did you answer yes to these? Only 9 percent of “born- again” believers did. But what’s more important than your yes to these questions is whether your life shows it. Granted, we are all sinners and fall short, but most of our gut reactions will reflect what we deep-down, honest-to-goodness believe to be real and true.

How does a biblical worldview get diluted?

Here is the big problem. Non-biblical worldview ideas don’t just sit in a book somewhere waiting for people to examine them. They bombard us constantly from television, film, music, newspapers, magazines, books and academia.

Because we live in a selfish, fallen world, these ideas seductively appeal to the desires of our flesh, and we often end up incorporating them into our personal worldview. Sadly, we often do this without even knowing it.

For example, most Christians would agree with 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and other Scriptures that command us to avoid sexual immorality, but how often do Christians fall into lust or premarital and extramarital sexual sin? Is it simply because they are weak when tempted, or did it begin much earlier, with the seductive lies from our sexualized society?

Why does a biblical worldview matter?

If we don’t really believe the truth of God and live it, then our witness will be confusing and misleading. Most of us go through life not recognizing that our personal worldviews have been deeply affected by the world. Through the media and other influences, the secularized American view of history, law, politics, science, God and man affects our thinking more than we realize. We then are taken “captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

However, by diligently learning, applying and trusting God’s truths in every area of our lives — whether it’s watching a movie, communicating with our spouses, raising our children or working at the office — we can begin to develop a deep comprehensive faith that will stand against the unrelenting tide of our culture’s non-biblical ideas. If we capture and embrace more of God’s worldview and trust it with unwavering faith, then we begin to make the right decisions and form the appropriate responses to questions on abortion, same- sex marriage, cloning, stem-cell research and even media choices. Because, in the end, it is our decisions and actions that reveal what we really believe.

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). (Quote source here.)

One last item regarding worldviews comes from an article titled 8 Questions Every Worldview Must Answer,” by James W. Sire, PhD, a Christian author, speaker, and former editor for InterVarsity Press:

If a worldview can be expressed in propositions, what might they be? Essentially, they are our basic, rock-bottom answers to the following questions: 

  1. What is prime reality—the really real? To this we might answer: God, or the gods, or the material cosmos. Our answer here is the most fundamental. It sets the boundaries for the answers that can consistently be given to the other six questions. This will become clear as we move from worldview to worldview in the chapters that follow [see “The Universe Next Door,” 5th Edition, by James Sire]
  2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us? Here our answers point to whether we see the world as created or autonomous, as chaotic or orderly, as matter or spirit; or whether we emphasize our subjective, personal relationship to the world or its objectivity apart from us.
  3. What is a human being? To this we might answer: a highly complex machine, a sleeping god, a person made in the image of God, a naked ape.
  4. What happens to a person at death? Here we might reply: personal extinction, or transformation to a higher state, or reincarnation, or departure to a shadowy existence on “the other side.”
  5. Why is it possible to know anything at all? Sample answers include the idea that we are made in the image of an all-knowing God or that consciousness and rationality developed under the contingencies of survival in a long process of evolution.
  6. How do we know what is right and wrong? Again, perhaps we are made in the image of a God whose character is good, or right and wrong are determined by human choice alone or what feels good, or the notions simply developed under an impetus toward cultural or physical survival.
  7. What is the meaning of human history? To this we might answer: to realize the purposes of God or the gods, to make a paradise on earth, to prepare a people for a life in community with a loving and holy God, and so forth. 
  8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview?

Within any given worldview, core commitments may vary widely. For example, a Christian might say, to fulfill the will of God, or to seek first the kingdom of God, or to obey God and enjoy him forever, or to be devoted to knowing God or loving God. Each will lead to a somewhat different specific grasp of the Christian worldview.

A naturalist might say to realize their personal potential for experiencing life, or to do as much good as they can for others, or to live in a world of inner peace in a world of social diversity and conflict.

The question and its answers reveal the variety of ways the intellectual commitments are worked out in individual lives. They recognize the importance of seeing one’s own worldview not only within the context of vastly different worldviews but within the community of one’s own worldview. Each person, in other words, ends up having his or her own take on reality. And though it is extremely useful to identify the nature of a few (say, five to ten) generic worldviews, it is necessary in identifying and assessing one’s own worldview to pay attention to its unique features, the most important of which is one’s own answer to this eighth question.

Within various basic worldviews other issues often arise. For example: Who is in charge of this world—God or humans or no one at all? Are we as human beings determined or free? Are we alone the maker of values? Is God really good? Is God personal or impersonal? Or does he, she or it exist at all? When stated in such a sequence, these questions boggle the mind. Either the answers are obvious to us and we wonder why anyone would bother to ask such questions, or else we wonder how any of them can be answered with any certainty. If we feel the answers are too obvious to consider, then we have a worldview, but we have no idea that many others do not share it. We should realize that we live in a pluralistic world. What is obvious to us may be “a lie from hell” to our neighbor next door. If we do not recognize that, we are certainly naive and provincial, and we have much to learn about living in today’s world. Alternatively, if we feel that none of the questions can be answered without cheating or committing intellectual suicide, we have already adopted a sort of worldview. The latter is a form of skepticism which in its extreme form leads to nihilism.

The fact is that we cannot avoid assuming some answers to such questions. We will adopt either one stance or another. Refusing to adopt an explicit worldview will turn out to be itself a worldview, or at least a philosophic position. In short, we are caught. So long as we live, we will live either the examined or the unexamined life. (Quote source here.)

A song sung by Michael Jackson (1958-2009) titled, Man in the Mirror,” came to mind as I finished writing the above information on worldviews. “Man in the Mirror” peaked at number 1 in the United States when released in January 1988 as the fourth single from Michael Jackson’s seventh solo album, Bad (1987) (source here). I’ll let the song and the words speak for themselves (YouTube video is below, and lyrics are available at this link). I’ll end this post with a few words from the song . . . .

If you want to make the world a better place . . .

Take a look at yourself . . .

And make a change . . . .

YouTube Video: “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

From the Inside Out

I ran across a statement recently that gave me pause for thought: “Christians are often known for their squabbles and divisions.” However, that statement needs to be taken in the context of the article for a clear understanding since “squabbles and divisions” can happen in any group of people and not just among Christians. The article is titled, Why Are There So Many Christian Denominations? published on StartingPoint.com, which is a part of North Point Ministries founded in 1995 by Andy Stanley, communicator, author and pastor. The article is quite informative:

During Jesus’ ministry, he prayed that his future followers would exhibit a special kind of unity that would be a testimony to the world. So what happened? Rather than unity, harmony, and cooperation, Christians are often known for their squabbles and divisions. Even when they appear to get along, they divide up into hundreds of different groups, churches, and denominations. For those who are not Christians, it seems confusing. Why can’t they agree on anything? Why are there sometimes four different churches on the same street? Even for believers, the question often arises: Why are there so many Christian denominations? Before we explore this issue, let’s survey the landscape. Within Christianity, there are three main branches: Eastern Orthodoxy (which is chiefly practiced in Russia and Eastern European countries), Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. In the United States, we’re most familiar with Roman Catholic churches and Protestant denominations. While virtually all Roman Catholic churches have the same beliefs, form, and structure, Protestant denominations can vary. These include Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals, and numerous other groups. In addition, some churches consider themselves within the Protestant stream, but do not affiliate with any specific denomination (such as Bible churches or community churches).

So, why are there so many different denominations and types of churches? There are several reasons. For starters, let’s not forget that denominations are made up of churches and churches are made of people; and sometimes people just don’t get along. After all, just because people are Christians doesn’t mean they always agree. Moreover, Christians still struggle with pride, selfishness, and stubbornness, and this means they sometimes respond to relational conflict poorly. This has often led to debates and divisions within churches and denominations, which in turn leads to the creation of new churches and denominations. It’s an unfortunate situation, but a reality given human nature. Maybe this is why Jesus focused so much on unconditional love and forgiveness as an expression of the kind of people he wants us to be.

Another reason Christians are sometimes divided is legitimate disagreements about secondary areas of belief or practice. What does baptism mean and who should get baptized? How should local churches be structured? Who should fill leadership roles? How often should communion be practiced? How should certain passages in the Bible be interpreted? These are good questions and the answers aren’t always clear in the Bible. Perhaps this is the reason the Bible exhorts us to exercise wisdom and humility when it comes to secondary issues where genuine differences exist (Romans 14-15).

A third reason that so many different groups of Christians exist is differences in personality, passions, and talents. Some people are more inclined to worship God through the exercise of their minds. They therefore focus on analytical thinking and biblical knowledge. Others are more artistically or creatively wired and the way they express their faith is quite different. Still others are more engaged in their relationship with God when they serve others. They find the greatest fulfillment when they can work with their hands or actively serve people with special needs in their communities. While all of these things are important, it’s no surprise that different churches and even whole denominations would emerge in light of the unique personalities of their adherents.

Another example relates to the role of tradition. Certain types of people appreciate the structure and heritage of worshiping God according to traditions passed down over generations or even centuries. Thus, a more traditional church in the Episcopal or Lutheran denomination might feel more comfortable to them. Other people, however, prefer to explore fresh, innovative ways of growing in their relationship with God and often feel boxed in by long-standing rituals or traditions. Therefore, a nondenominational church might suit them best. Of course, these are not the only reasons that different churches and denominations exist, but such practical matters like the role of tradition in a worship service can often play a large role. A lesson we can learn from such diversity is that various churches and denominations can learn from each other and that together, they make up the larger community of faith known as the people of God.

Finally, people from different cultures will express their faith and worship God in their own distinctive ways. It shouldn’t surprise us if churches in a middle-class Midwest American city are extremely different from those in a war-torn, poverty-stricken village in Africa. Consequently, various churches and whole denominations will vary greatly depending upon the geographical location and cultural values of the people themselves.

Despite these differences, there are a few central tenets that bind all Christians together, regardless of their particular church, denomination, culture, or geographical location. Christians believe in God (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), that all humans are sinful and in need of grace, and that only Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to have a relationship with God through his death and resurrection. Christians also believe that the Bible most clearly reveals who God is, how we can have a relationship with him, and how we can extend God’s love to other people. While other beliefs and practices are important, and often the cause of disagreements, they are secondary. God’s story is bigger than our differences, and if we continue to seek him according to the longing and desires that he has given us, we can all begin to find our places in his grand story. (Quote source here.)

“God’s story is bigger than our differences, and if we continue to seek him according to the longing and desires that he has given us, we can all begin to find our places in his grand story.” And that is the key to our relationships within the Church and with each other. The causes of our disagreements are secondary and should never take “front and center stage.”

One area of confusion among Christians today centers around the difference between legalism and grace. Matt Slick, President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM), gives us the definition of both in the following statements on CARM:

What is legalism?

In Christianity, legalism is the excessive and improper use of the law (the ten commandments, holiness laws, etc). This legalism can take different forms. The first is where a person attempts to keep the Law in order to attain salvation. The second is where a person keeps the law in order to maintain his salvation. The third is when a Christian judges other Christians for not keeping certain codes of conduct that he thinks need to be observed. Let’s examine each one more closely.

The first kind of legalism is where the law of God is kept in order to attain salvation. This is a heresy, a completely false doctrine. We are not able to attain salvation by our keeping the law. Rom. 3:28, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Rom. 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.” Gal. 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” It is simply not possible to keep the Law enough to be saved. Therefore, to try and gain salvation through one’s efforts is a false teaching. It is so bad that those who hold to it cannot be Christians since it would deny salvation by grace through faith.

The second kind of legalism is where a person tries to keep or maintain his salvation by keeping the law. This is also a false doctrine. We receive our salvation by faith (Eph. 2:8-9), not by our ability to be good because no one does good (Rom. 3:10-12). As Rom. 3:284:5, and Gal. 2:21 clearly show, we are justified by faith, not by faith and works. Furthermore, there are strict warnings about attempting to keep the law in order to maintain salvation: Gal. 3:10, “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” And James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” So, if a person is seeking to be either saved by his works (Law) or maintain his salvation by his works (Law), then he is under obligation to keep all of it, and if he does not then, he is guilty before God. Furthermore, consider Jesus’ words in Matt. 7:22-23, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” Jesus condemns them because they were appealing to their salvation based on their faith and doing good. So it should be obvious that we do not keep our salvation by our efforts.

The last kind of legalism, where a Christian keeps certain laws and regards other Christians who do not keep his level of holiness with contempt, is a frequent problem in the church. Now, we want to make it clear that all Christians are to abstain from fornication, adultery, pornography, lying, stealing, etc. Christians do have a right to judge the spirituality of other Christians in these areas where the Bible clearly speaks. But, in the debatable areas, we need to be more careful, and this is where legalism is more difficult to define. Rom. 14:1-12 says that we are not to judge our brothers on debatable issues. One person may eat certain kinds of foods where another would not. One person might worship on a particular day where another might not. We are told to let each person be convinced in his own mind (Rom. 14:5). As long as our freedom does not violate the Scriptures, then everything should be okay. (Quote source here.)

What is grace?

Grace is the unmerited favor of God. It is where God shows us mercy, kindness, and patience instead of the judgment that we deserve for sinning against him. God’s grace cannot be earned by our actions or sincerity. It cannot be lost by our rebellion or sin. Grace is based on the character of God and not on our sincerity, performance, or ability to keep the law of God. Otherwise, grace would not be grace.

  • Rom. 11:6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”
  • Gal. 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
  • 2 Timothy 1:9, “who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.”

If it were not for God’s grace, we would never be saved from his righteous judgment. It was the grace of God that worked in Christ who bore our sins in his body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24), so that we might be forgiven and justified by faith (Rom. 3:285:1). Because of God’s gracious kindness, all who put their trust in his work on the cross will receive forgiveness, salvation, regeneration, and the eternal love of God. Again, God’s kindness to us is based on his character not on ours. His grace to us is completely and totally an act of his free will and not based on any ability, merit, or performance of our own.

God’s grace is manifested to unbelievers also. Ultimately, all people deserve the judgment of God because all people have sinned (Romans 3:23). However, God does not execute his judgment upon all people right away. Instead, he is exceedingly patient and kind towards them. Please consider what Jesus said regarding loving our enemies even as God loves the unrighteous in Matt. 5:43-48:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Quote source here.)

One last item I want to mention comes from a book titled, How Now Shall We Live? (1999), by Charles Colson (1931-2012), founder of Prison Fellowship, and Nancy Pearcey, Professor of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University. It has to do with the difference between Christians who actually practice their faith as compared to Christians who primarily use it for their own purposes. The following is taken from Chapter 32 titled, “Don’t Worry, Be Religious,” on page 314:

Gordon Allport (1897-1967) [Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, 1930-1967], the great psychologist of religion, drew a distinction between “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” religion. Extrinsically religious people use religion for external purposes, like the politician who attends church to gain respectability or the person who prays for purely materialistic benefits. But intrinsically religious people serve God without ulterior motive: They pray in order to communicate with him and understand his truth; they give without utilitarian calculation. In Allport’s professional experience, improved mental health [one of the topics in this chapter] correlates only with intrinsic religion. The benefits go to those who genuinely believe, not to those who use religion for ulterior purposes. (Quote source, “How Now Shall We Live?” p. 314.)

So the question we should ask ourselves is this one: “Are we intrinsically or extrinsically motivated?” I’ll end this post with the refrain from the song, From the Inside Out,” sung by Phillips, Craig and Dean: And my heart and my soul, well, I give You control . . . 

Consume me from the inside out, Lord . . .

Let justice and praise become my embrace . . .

To love You from the inside out . . . .

YouTube Video: “From the Inside Out” by Phillips, Craig and Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Playing Favorites

Nobody likes to be the one who is left out. Yet showing favoritism to some people while ignoring others is commonplace in this world of ours including in church settings, in the workplace, schools and colleges/universities, in the military, in politics, and in any other type of social setting including families, relatives, among friends and even strangers. And it is often done with such frequency that we don’t even give it much thought or even realize on a conscious level that we are doing it. At other times we are quite aware of what we are doing. “Favoritism is partiality or bias. To show favoritism is to give preference to one person over others with equal claims. It is similar to discrimination and may be based on conditions such as social class, wealth, clothing, actions, etc.” (Quote source here).

This evening I ran across an editorial written by A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) on this very topic of favoritism. Tozer was a pastor, author, magazine editor, and spiritual mentor from my grandparents’ generation. This particular editorial is titled, “Beware Respect of Persons,” and is Chapter 26 in the book titled, We Travel an Appointed Way (originally published in 1988 and republished in 2010), compiled and edited by Harry Verploegh (d. 1999) which contains a collection of 39 editorials written by Tozer during his fourteen-year tenure as the editor of Alliance Life,” the official magazine of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. Tozer wrote in the early-to-mid 20th Century so keep that in mind as you are reading this editorial:

Beware Respect of Persons

There is an evil which I have seen under the sun–one that grows and does not diminish. and it is all the more dangerous because it is done without evil aforethought but, as it were, carelessly and without wrong intent.

It is the evil of giving to them that have and withholding from them that have not. It is the evil of blessing with a loud voice them that are already blessed and letting the unblessed and the outcast lie forgotten.

Let a man appear in a local Christian fellowship and let him be one whose fame is bruited abroad, whose presence will add something to the one who entertains him, and immediately a score of homes will be thrown open and every eager hospitality will be extended to him. But the obscure and the unknown must be content to sit on the fringes of the Christian circle and not once be invited into any home.

This is a great evil and an iniquity that awaits the judgment of the great day. And it is so widespread that scarcely any of us can claim to be free from it. So we condemn it only with utter humility and with acknowledgment that we too have been in some measure guilty.

No observant man will attempt to deny that a vast amount of Christian money is being spent on those who do not need it, while the poor and the needy and such as have no helper must often go unnoticed and unhelped, even though they too are Christians and servants of our common Lord. (The modern church would appear to be as blind and partial as the world in this matter.)

Our Lord warned us against the snare of showing kindness only to such as could return such kindness and so cancel out any positive good we may have thought we were doing. By this test, a world of religious activity is being wasted in our churches. to invite in well-fed and well-groomed friends to share our hospitality with the full knowledge that we will be invited to receive the same kindness again on the first convenient evening is in no sense an act of Christian hospitality. It is of the earth, earthy; its motive is fleshly; no sacrifice is entailed; its moral content is nil and it will be accounted wood, hay, stubble (see 1 Corinthians 3:12-15) before the judgment seat of Christ.

The evil here discussed was common among the Pharisees of New Testament times. In chapter 23 of Matthew, Christ mercilessly exposed the whole thing, and in so doing earned the undying enmity of those who practiced it. The Pharisees were bad not because they entertained their friends but because they would not entertain the poor and the common among the people. One bitter accusation which they hurled against Christ was that He received sinners and ate with them. This they would not stoop to do, and in their high pride, they became seven times worse than the worst among the sinners whom they so coldly rejected.

In spite of our lip service to democracy, Americans are a decidedly class-conscious people. The very politicians and educators and church leaders among us who sound abroad the praises of the common man and plead for equal rights for all are in private practice as aloof from the plain people as the proudest monarch could ever be. There exists among us an aristocracy composed of famous people, rich men, social lions, public figures and headliners of one kind or another, and these are the class apart. Beneath them, standing off in wide-eyed admiration, are the millions of anonymous men and women who make up the mass of the population. And they have nothing in their favor–except that they were in the heart of Jesus when He died on the cross.

Within the church also there exists a class consciousness, a reflection of that found in society. This has been brought over into the church from the world. Its spirit is completely foreign to the spirit of Christ, utterly opposed to it, indeed; and yet it determines to a large degree the conduct of Christians. This is the source of the evil we mention here.

Gospel churches which mostly begin with the lowly are usually not content till they attain some degree of wealth and social acceptance. Then they gradually fall into classes, determined largely by the wealth and education of the members. The individuals that comprise the top layer of these various classes go on to become pillars of the religious society and are soon entrenched in places of leadership and influence. It is then that their great temptation comes upon them, the temptation to cater to their own class and to neglect the poor and the ignorant that make up the swarming population around them. They soon become hardened to every appeal of the Holy Spirit toward meekness and humility. Their homes are spotless, their clothes the most expensive, their friends the most exclusive. Apart from some tremendous moral upheaval, they are beyond help. And yet they may be among the most vocal exponents of Bible Christianity and heavy givers to the cause of the church.

Let us not become indignant at this blunt portrayal of facts. Let us rather humble ourselves to serve God’s poor. Let us seek to be like Jesus in our devotion to the forgotten of the earth who have nothing to recommend them but their poverty and their heart-hunger and their tears. (Quote source: “We Travel An Appointed Way,” pp. 73-76).

Tozer was not a man who was afraid to tackle the tough topics in the church of his day. And often his words from 70-80 years ago hit right at the heart of the matter in today’s churches, too. In another book titled, Culture(published in 2016) which contains another twenty-four selections by Tozer, the publisher’s note at the beginning of the book states, “A.W. Tozer was a man who understood his times and who knew what to do. The twenty-four selections that follow are a small sampling of Tozer’s writing on what it means to be a Christian in a world that is largely uninterested in Christ” (quote source, Culture,” p. 7). The following is taken from Chapter 15 titled, “Are We Evangelicals Social Climbing?”:

Are We Evangelicals Social Climbing?

Traditionally, Christianity has been the religion of the common people. Whenever the upper classes have adopted it in numbers, it has died. Respectability has almost always proved fatal to it.

The reasons back of this are two, one human and other other divine.

Schleiermacher [Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768 – 1834) was a German theologian, philosopher, and biblical scholar] has pointed out that at the bottom of all religion there lies a feeling of dependence, as sense of creature helplessness. The simple man who lives close to the earth lives also close to death and knows that he must look for help beyond himself; he knows that there is but a step between him and catastrophe. As he rises in the social and economic scale, he surrounds himself with more and more protective devices and pushed danger (so he thinks) farther and farther from him. Self-confidence displaces the feeling of dependence he once knew, and God becomes less necessary to him. Should he stop to think this through he would know better than to place his confidence in things and people; but so badly are we injured by our moral fall that we are capable of deceiving ourselves completely and, if conditions favor it, to keep up the deception for a lifetime.

Along with the feeling of security that wealth and position bring comes an arrogant pride that shuts rightly the door of the heart to the waiting Savior. Our Very Important Man may indeed honor a church by joining it, but there is no life in his act. His religion is external and his faith nominal. Conscious respectability has destroyed him.

The second reason Christian tends to decline as its devotees move up the social scale is that God will not respect persons nor share His glory with another. Paul sets this forth plainly enough in his First Corinthians epistle:

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Corinthians 1:25-29, NKJV)

When God sent His Son to redeem mankind, He sent Him to the home of a workingman and He grew up to be what we now call a peasant. When He presented Himself to Israel and launched into His earthly ministry, He was rejected by the respectable religionists and had to look for followers almost exclusively from among the poor, plain people. When the Spirit came and the church was founded, its first members were the socially unacceptable. For generations the church drew her numbers from among the lower classes, individual exceptions occurring now and again, of which Saul of Tarsus was the most noteworthy.

During the centuries since Pentecost the path of true Christianity has paralleled pretty closely the path Jesus walked when He was here on earth: it was to be rejected by the great and accepted by the lowly. The institutionalized church has certainly not been poor, not has she lacked for great and might men to swell her membership. But this great church has had no power. Almost always the approval of God has rested upon small and marginal groups whose member were scorned while they lived and managed to gain acceptance only after they had been safely dead several score years.

Today we evangelicals are showing signs that we are becoming too rich and too prominent for our own good. With a curious disregard for the lessons of history we are busy fighting for recognition by the world and acceptance by society. And we are winning both. The great and the might are now looking our way. The world seems about to come over and join us. Of course we must make some concessions, but these have almost all been made already except for a big of compromising here and there on such matters as verbal inspiration, special creation, separation, and religious tolerance.

Evangelical Christianity is fast becoming the religion of the bourgeoisie. The well-to-do, the upper middle classes, the politically prominent, the celebrities are accepting our religion by the thousands and parking their expensive cars outside our church doors, to the uncontrollable glee of our religious leaders who seem completely blind to the fact that the vast majority of these new patrons of the Lord of glory have not altered their moral habits in the slightest nor given any evidence of true conversion that would have been accepted by the saintly fathers who built the churches.

Yes, history is a great teacher, but she cannot teach those who do not want to learn. And apparently we do not. (Quote source: “Culture,” pp. 119-122.)

Do remember that these words by Tozer were written in the mid 20th Century. When I read them this evening I was struck by how true they still are, and maybe even more so, today.

Back in 1992, the musical group 4Him came out with a song titled, “The Basics of Life” (YouTube video is below). I’d like to end this blog post with the words from that song as they are even more relevant today:

“The Basics Of Life”

We’ve turned the page,
For a new day has dawned
We’ve rearranged what is right
And what’s wrong

Somehow we’ve drifted
So far from the truth

That we can’t get back home

Where are the virtues
That once gave us light

Where are the morals
That governed our lives

Someday we all will
Awake and look back

Just to find what we’ve lost

[Chorus:]
We need to get back
To the basics of life
A heart that is pure
And a love that is blind
A faith that is fervently
grounded in Christ
The hope that endures
For all times

These are the basics,
we need to get back
To the basics of life

The newest rage is to reason it out
Just meditate and you can
Overcome every doubt

After all man is a God, they say
God is no longer alive

But I still believe
In the old rugged cross

And I still believe
There is hope for the lost

And I know the
Rock of all ages will stand

Through changes of time

[Chorus]

[Bridge:]
We’ve let the darkness
Invade us too long

We’ve got to turn the tide
Oh and we need the passion
That burned long ago

To come and open our eyes
There’s no room
For compromise

Lyrics compliments of AZLyrics.com

Those words speak truth to us today. May we be willing to listen . . . .

These are the basics . . .

We need to get back . . .

To the basics of life . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Basics of Life” by 4Him:

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The Bigger Picture

The new year is just over a week old now, and already I’ve started it out on a very positive note. Most of us are familiar with the expression, “Out with the old and in with the new,” especially at the start of a new year. In the past three days I’ve read one new book published on December 5, 2017, and I’m currently in the middle of a second new book published on January 3, 2018. Both have been informative and they have definitely captured my attention. For anyone looking for a challenge on expanding their current mindset, reading one or both of these two new books is a great way to get started.

The two books are (in the order I’m reading them as neither book outshadows the other): Unimaginable: What Our World Would Be Like Without Christianity,” by Jeremiah J. Johnston, Ph.D., President, Christian Thinkers Society, and Associate Professor of Early Christianity, Houston Baptist University; and Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality,” by Nancy R. Pearcey, M.A., Director, Center for Christian Worldview; Scholar-in Residence; and Professor of Apologetics, Houston Baptist University. She is also editor-at-large of The Pearcey Report.

Starting with the first book, from the many endorsement for the book, Unimaginable: What Our World Would Be Like Without Christianity,” here are just a few of them (source here):

“Western culture is under assault, and it may not survive. That’s why ‘Unimaginable’ is so critical to this moment in history. I encourage you to share it with someone who thinks the Christian faith is outdated and irrelevant, because what comes after Christianity may be the end of us all.”

Phil Cooke, PhD, filmmaker and author of “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media”

“As we live in a world desirous of scourging religion from life, Dr. Johnston shows that without difference-making believers in Jesus, many of the greatest elements of our world would be missing. Atheist, agnostic, or lifelong churchgoer–read this book and realize the importance and power of Christianity.”

Gregg Matte, Pastor, Houston’s First Baptist Church

“‘Unimaginable’ is one of those rare books that successfully combines cutting-edge scholarship on the origins of Christianity with meaningful and thought-provoking reflections on the place of religion in the contemporary world. In a bold way, Johnston presents the strong and unflinching case that in terms of ethics, social values, and human equality the world is a better place because of the contributions of Christianity.”

Paul Foster, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh

“Always the scholar who keeps his finger on the pulse of real-world society and culture, Jeremiah Johnston has produced a volume that addresses the myriad of blessings Christianity provides. It immediately reminded me of the ‘New Atheist’ complaints in recent years that religion never produces good results. Read this book and you’ll have more answers than you’ll ever need!”

Gary R. Habermas, Distinguished Research Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy, Liberty University

“For the past few decades, Western society has been on a path to purge itself of Christian influence. If the trend continues, will progressives want what they get? Engaging and informative, this timely volume considers what our world and even modern Western society might look like without the tremendously positive impact of Christianity. I love the concept! Christian and non-Christian readers alike will walk away with a conviction similar to that of militant atheist Richard Dawkins: ‘Christianity may very well be the barrier preventing the world from becoming a place where freedom and justice are things of the past.'”

Michael R. Licona, PhD, Associate Professor of Theology, Houston Baptist University

“More than one hundred of the foremost atheists, agnostics, secularists, and philosophers have filmed interviews with me. Collectively, their accusation is that Christians do not know how to think critically. Jeremiah Johnston not only refutes the error, but presents the positive, seismic, irrefutable changes Christianity has brought to our world. Every Christian needs to know the crucial truths in this book.”

Dr. Jerry Johnston, jerryjohnston.com

“Many say Christianity is outdated and bigoted, based on a book of ancient myths. Jeremiah Johnston beautifully and biblically outlines that from politics to education to the hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ, Christianity is actually the world’s greatest force for good.”

Janet Mefferd, radio host, “Janet Mefferd Today” and “Janet Mefferd Live”

The following is taken from the inside front cover of the book:

Is God Dying?

That’s what some people think and want. They say Christian beliefs and our way of life aren’t relevant anymore. But what critics and even many churchgoers don’t realize is the life-changing importance of Christianity.

Showing how the world would be a dark place without Christianity, “Unimaginable” guides you through the halls of history to see how Jesus’ teachings dramatically changed our world and continue to be the most powerful force for good today. Learn . . .

· How Christianity has stood against the evils of slavery (more than once), racism, eugenics, and injustices toward women and children

· Why democracy, freedom as a universal value, and modern education and legal systems owe much to Christianity

· How Christians throughout the ages have demonstrated the value of human life by sacrificially caring for the sick, handicapped, marginalized, and dying

· How people of faith are extending God’s kingdom through charities, social justice efforts, mental health initiatives, and other profound ways

This provocative and enlightening book is for anyone concerned about where our world is heading. (Quote source here.)

Regarding the second book, Love Thy Body,” I found a couple of reviews online. The following review is by Tim Challies, co-founder of Cruciform Books, a book reviewer, and author:

It is always a big deal when Nancy Pearcey releases a new book. It’s a special pleasure when that release is timed for the beginning of a new year. Such is the case with “Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality.” In this new work she brings her unique voice to some of the most pressing moral issues of our day. “’In Love Thy Body,’” she promises, “we will move beyond click-bait headlines and trendy slogans to uncover the worldview that drives the secular ethic. By learning the core principles of this worldview, you will be able to engage intelligently and compassionately on all of today’s most controversial moral challenges.”

And, indeed, that is exactly what she does and exactly what she delivers. As in all her works, she shows that the prevailing worldview around us is one that involves a two-tiered reality that places theology and morality in the realm of what is private, subjective, and relativistic while placing science in the realm of what is public, objective, and valid for all people. Thus secular science reigns supreme over all other matters, including faith. This then leads to a fact/value split where values are placed in the first realm and facts in the second. Your values are for you to live by, perhaps, but they have no bearing on the rest of humanity.

In “Love Thy Body” she shows how this very divide is at the heart of so many of today’s moral issues. The world around us neglects the core unity of human beings and instead divides us into two-tiered beings. “Christianity holds that body and soul together form an integrated unity—that the human being is an embodied soul. By contrast, personhood theory entails a two-level dualism that sets the body against the person, as though they were two separate things merely stuck together. As a result, it demeans the body as extrinsic to the person—something inferior that can be used for purely pragmatic purposes.”

After a thorough introduction that will get you caught up if you have not read Pearcey’s previous works, she turns her attention to six key issues, each of which can be explained and combated through a right understanding of the secular worldview that underpins them. In “The Joy of Death” she shows how body/person dualism is behind arguments for abortion and infanticide while in “Dear Valued Constituent” she looks at euthanasia, stem cell research, and even the growing movement toward transhumanism. “Schizoid Sex” shows how the hookup culture so prevalent on campuses today claims to set the body free, but actually diminishes its important. “The Body Impolitic” and “Transgender, Transreality,” turn to homosexuality and transgenderism. The final chapter, “The Goddess of Choice Is Dead,” turn from the individual to wider society.

Put together, this is a powerful book that brings Pearcey’s unique and uniquely-helpful voice to crucial issues. “We live in a moral wasteland,” she says, “where human beings are desperately seeking answers to hard questions about life and sexuality. But there is hope. In the wasteland we can cultivate a garden. We can discover a reality-based morality that expresses a positive, life-affirming view of the human person—one that is more inspiring, more appealing, and more liberating than the secular worldview.” Read this book to grow in your ability to do that very thing. (Quote source here.)

The second review of the book is much longer and it is by Bill Muehlenberg at CultureWatch. I’ve included excerpts from that review below:

Life and death. Sex. Just a few of the massively contentious issues of our time. Whether speaking of abortion, eugenics, assisted suicide, pornography, homosexuality or transgenderism, these are the hard-core topics occupying the attention of so many today – both in theory as well as in reality.

How we are to understand and assess all these hot potato ethical issues can be very difficult indeed. The problem is, most folks simply look at an individual issue and try to wade their way through it, instead of seeing the bigger picture. As noted Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer said decades ago, “The basic problem of the Christians in this country in the last eighty years or so is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.”

Thus when dealing with individual moral topics, one needs an ethical model (be it utilitarianism or whatever) with which to assess them, and this in turn should come out of one’s overall worldview. So the proper way to assess an issue such as euthanasia is to see it in terms of one’s worldview.

Worldview thinking was of course one of the chief emphases of Schaeffer, and it has been as well for one of his better-known students: Nancy Pearcey. She has already demonstrated her more than capable grasp of such matters in her earlier important volumes, including Total Truth (2004) and Finding Truth (2015).

In her brand new volume she looks in detail at these contentious ethical issues, and takes us back to see the bigger picture: “The problem is that many people treat morality as a list of rules. But in reality, every moral system rests on a worldview. In every decision we make, we are not just deciding what we want to do. We are expressing our view of the purpose of human life.” . . .

And this is no mere book of philosophy or lofty ideas. It is a very practical book that reminds us of the importance of ideas, and how bad ideas can harm us so very much. But the book is one of hope as well. It not only demolishes faulty worldview thinking, but it points the way forward.

Says Pearcey, “Christians have to become familiar with secular worldviews and learn to uncover their dehumanizing and destructive implications. Only then will the other person be open to considering Christianity as a credible alternative.”

The concluding paragraph nicely sums up the heart and spirit of this book, and of where Pearcey wants us to take all this:

Christians must be prepared to minister to the wounded, the refugees of the secular moral revolution whose lives have been wrecked by its false promises of freedom and autonomy. When people are persuaded that they are ultimately disconnected, atomistic selves, their relationships will grow fragile and fragmented. Those around us will increasingly suffer insecurity and loneliness. The new polarization can be an opportunity for Christian communities to become safe havens where people witness the beauty of relationships reflecting God’s own commitment and faithfulness. (Quote source here.)

As Christians in our society today, we often don’t recognize how much the secular worldview has become a part of our own lives. These two books give us a very clear picture of the differences between a Christian worldview and lifestyle and a secular worldview and lifestyle.

I’ll end this post with the words Jesus said to those who believed in him. He said in John 8:31-32If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. . .

Then you will know the truth . . .

And the truth . . .

Will set you free . . . .

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

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