Sara's Musings

Home » Posts tagged 'wisdom'

Tag Archives: wisdom

Calendar

May 2018
S M T W T F S
« Apr    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

Click pic for 2015 post on "The Presidents Club"

The Surest Defense Against Evil

Click pic for "The Surest Defense Against Evil"

The Triumph of Grace

Click pic for "The Triumph of Grace"

Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

Click pic for "Contemplating God's Sovereignty"

How Should We Then Live?

Click pic for "How Should We Then Live?

Not a Timid Christianity

Click pic for "Not a Timid Christianity"

Finishing the Race

Click pic for "Finishing the Race"

Because the Time is Near

Click pic for "Because the Time is Near"

Revelation Song (YouTube)

Click pic for "Revelation Song" sung by Phillips, Craig & Dean

Where The Wind Blows

Click pic for "Where The Wind Blows"

Doing Great Things

Click pic for "Doing Great Things"

Recognizing a False Prophet

Click pic for "Recognizing a False Prophet"

The Power of Forgiveness

Click pic for "The Power of Forgiveness"

Created for Relationships

Click pic for "Created for Relationships"

The Only Way I Know

Click pic for "The Only Way I Know"

Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

Click pic for "Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine"

Our True Home Address

Click pic for "Our True Home Address

‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

Click pic for "'Tis the Season . . . for LOVE"

The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

Click pic for "The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil"

Cherry Picking 101

Click pic for "Cherry Picking 101"

Love Sweet Love

Click pic for "Love Sweet Love"

So Goes The Culture

Click pic for "So Goes The Culture"

Idols of the Heart

Click pic for "Idols of the Heart"

Divisions Are Not Always Bad

Click pic for "Divisions Are Not Always Bad"

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Click pic for "The Resurrection of Jesus Christ"

Advertisements

The Road to Pentecost

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

The Road to Pentecost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GotQuestion.org adds the following information on Pentecost Sunday:

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

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

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

For apart from me . . .

You can do . . .

Nothing . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Advertisements

The Heavens Declare

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

Psalm 19 New King James Version (NKJV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;

The judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 20 New King James Version (NKJV)

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

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

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

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

May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.

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

Some trust in chariots,
and some in horses;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the Lord . . .

Answer us . . .

When we call . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Who Do We Really Serve?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For what will it profit a man . . .

If he gains the whole world . . .

And loses his own soul . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Prayer Changes Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This, then, is how you should pray:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always pray . . .

And never, never, never . . .

Give up . . . .

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

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

Seventy Times Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forbearance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forgiveness

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

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

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

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seventy . . .

Times . . .

Seven . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by Matthew West:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Ripple of Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And moral courage . . .

Is what we need . . .

Today . . . . 

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Something New

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always pray . . .

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

Give up!!!!!!

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Jesus–Then, Now, and Forever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then you will know the truth . . .

And the truth . . .

Will set you free . . . .

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

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

Come and See

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

On the Road to EmmausLuke 24:13-35:

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

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

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

“What things?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is risen . . .

He is risen indeed . . .

What will you do with him . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absolutely not.

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

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

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

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

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

Pray . . .

Without . . .

Ceasing . . . .

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

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Tolle Lege

Take up and read!

Minding the Workplace

The New Workplace Institute Blog, hosted by David Yamada

Run With It

So that a herald may run with it

Blessed with a Star on the Forehead

As I navigate through this life ...

bonhoefferblog

Can Dietrich Bonhoeffer make a difference in twenty-first century preachers and preaching?

The Nerdy Lion

Lions can wear glasses too

natsab

Here I stand.

The Daniel Fast

Consecrate yourself unto the Lord through extended prayer and fasting.

Unshakable Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

It's a God thing...

Unpacking the baggage of life, love, and spirituality

drcristy

Dystopian Fiction Writer | Doctor | Wife | Mom

Reformedish

incompletely reformed thoughts on God, ministry, and life

lovelyseasonscomeandgo

This WordPress.com site is the bee's knees

Messianic Sabbath

A daily break in your day to celebrate our salvation in Yeshua (Jesus) and our abundant life through the Torah

For Such A Time As This

"...who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" Esther 4:14

The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Disciples of hope

Living the hope that comes from Christ

daily meditation

daily thoughts on scriptures

The Minstrel's Wife

A worship leader's missus and her views from the pew

From the Wisdom of our Founders

Important Quotations to Instruct and Inspire

Growing Forward

a blog for those seeking personal change for God's glory

The Old Guys

Quotes & Resources From... The Old Guys

Prime Reality Ministries

God is the Real Reality!

Flotsam and Jetsam

Random thoughts and commentaries on God's Word

Sara's Musings

Living It Out. . . on WordPress.com

Don Sweeting

Reflections on theology, worship, culture, history and the church

What's The Good Word?

Reflections on daily readings from the Scriptures

A DEVOTED LIFE

Practical Daily Devotions for the Real World

The Daily Way

A Daily Devotional from Dr. Michael Youssef

Jean Huang Photography - Los Angeles Custom Portraiture and Fine Art Photographer

"Transformational Beauty" "Maternity" "Newborn" "Children" "FineArt" Photography

Life in the Boomer Lane

Musings of a former hula hoop champion

Laura's Lens

Taking a look at the beauty around us

Perception

Photography. Life.

ILLUSTRATION AGE

THE ULTIMATE RESOURCE FOR ILLUSTRATORS

The Elliptical Saloon

Weblog for WhiteHouseMuseum.org

Thought For the Day

Bringing whatever stirs my heart

A Breath of Fresh Air

"Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God." Philippians 2:15

Joel C. Rosenberg's Blog

Tracking events and trends in Israel, the U.S., Russia and throughout the Epicenter (the Middle East & North Africa)

ForeWords

Lectionary Musings within the Community of Christ

Of Dust & Kings

Empowering Faith. Transforming Culture.

A MINIATURE CLAY POT

"We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives" 2 Corinthians 4:7 The Message

gracefully50

On your birthday: count your candles, count your years, count your blessings.

lilies, sparrows and grass

"That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works." Psalm 26:7

%d bloggers like this: