Orthodoxy Drift: How Semantics, Euphemisms, & Coined Phrases Influence the Church–Part II

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. [Heb 11:1 NIV]

So then, those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. [Gal 3:9 NASB20]

As promised, I’d like to continue this post I started a few weeks ago and talk about the words “faith” and “believe.” There has been quite a bit of discussion already from several well-known Christian teachers who, like me, have a desire to address and correct what is called “easy believism” in the Church today. It carries with it the idea that one needs only to believe in Jesus to be saved without anything ever further required, that intellectual agreement with the truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He promises eternal life to everyone who believes on Him is all that is necessary for our salvation.

To me, the whole idea of “easy believism” reacts to Catholicism and takes the idea of grace into the opposite ditch in the road. I get the image from proponents of easy believism that we are “born again,” then left on a spiritual doorstep somewhere in China. I mean, even a gardener knows his seedlings need tending to grow into strong and fruitful plants! I think the crux of the matter has to do with the fact that there are scriptures in different places in the bible that seem to be incongruous with each other or seem to, when isolated, support this more extreme idea of grace, or misinterpretation of it. My understanding of easy believism is that it twists the grace of God into a justification for ongoing sin, which Paul warned against several times, saying that those who practice immorality will not inherit the Kingdom of God. I also think that to understand grace, we must consider that there is an order to things, God’s order, that helps us reconcile what seems to be two conflicting scriptures. A classic double-bind develops in our minds when we are presented with two truths that seem to disagree. For example, Martin Luther, our champion of salvation by grace through faith, struggled with the epistle of James because this leader in the Church at Jerusalem stated that “faith without works is dead.” Luther considered it an “epistle of straw,” or of lesser value than other books of the bible.

I once talked with a Lutheran pastor who said that all you need to do is believe in Jesus, and God expects nothing more. But don’t we expect more of our children as they grow? Wouldn’t we be REALLY concerned if we were still changing diapers on our eight-year-old? [Heb 5:12-13] Don’t we expect and desire obedience? True faith listens to God and obeys: “because Abraham obeyed Me and fulfilled [his] duty to Me, [and kept] My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” [Gen 26:5 NASB20]

Now, this pastor would most likely support his statement based on the following scriptures:

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. [Jhn 5:24 NIV]

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. [Rom 10:9–10 NIV] And a little further on, Paul says, “for “EVERYONE WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” [Rom 10:13 NASB20]

There are more verses, of course, but for the sake of space, let’s limit the discussion to these two. In the first given, in the gospel of John, Jesus is defending His healing work on the Sabbath and declares that, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.” His entire thought process seems to be that his own work, based on what he sees His Father doing, is offending the Jews who think that breaking their religious rule proves that Jesus is a false teacher. So He answers that those who hear His word and believe in God have eternal life, will not be judged, and have crossed over from spiritual death to spiritual life.

So, what is His “word?” The Greek used here is “logos,” which means spoken words, message, or teaching and instruction. Now, obviously, Jesus spoke more words than just those in this passage, so He must have in mind the first necessity in this instance: to believe in Him as the One promised and sent by God to save Israel and the whole world, the Messiah. The idea of “first things first” makes sense in scripture. Nowhere does Jesus say you have to do any work or task to receive eternal life. His only requirement is repentance, to turn from our way of doing things to God’s way, and to turn from our sins and embrace the Lord’s provision for our salvation. The thief on the cross could do nothing more, and Jesus assured him of his home in heaven in that instance. So please don’t say that proves that to be grace all I need to do is believe in Jesus. Because, when you stand before Him after a long life and He asks you what you have done with His gift, and you point to the thief on the cross to justify your lack, He will ask you if you were nailed to a cross and nigh about to die these past forty years!

Now, the Lord presents Himself as the Giver of a gift always. We receive the Kingdom like a child. [Luke 18:17] We don’t break down heaven’s doors. He states elsewhere to the Jews who ask Him what work they must do to do the works of God, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One he has sent.” [Jhn 6:28–29 NIV] Again, first things first. The Greek word “believe” here is pisteuō and can mean to have a mental persuasion or to commit to the charge and power of someone. Bill Mounce defines it: to believe, put one’s faith in, trust, with an implication that actions based on that trust may follow; to entrust.

Like a child who depends on their parents for the necessities of life, we, too, depend on our Heavenly Father to provide for our eternal life. Any child brought up in a loving family simply trusts the parents to feed, clothe, and shelter them, and to love them. In other words, a well-adjusted child does not need to hunt, sew, or be a carpenter and mason. He or she does not need a religious ritual, like climbing steps leading up to some religious historical site on one’s knees to hopefully gain their mom and dad’s favor (or redeem a bad little brother!). In a normal family, love is freely given and assumed. Children know that a pilgrimage to a “holy place” to somehow feel closer to their parents is not needed because the holy place is at home in dad’s lap.

This primacy of simple belief is important, because God always directs attention to Himself. He is the embodiment of love and justice. To point to any other person or thing would harm us. He demands His glory for our good! He is the catalyst and initiator of faith so that we don’t detract from the focus and honor due Him. Just as a baby cannot contribute to his formation in his mother’s womb or “help” her give birth, so we are spiritually. The work is God’s. We can’t take credit for any heroic efforts to make our labor and delivery into this world any easier on our dear moms. I’ve also often envisioned the ember of faith and grace (as opposed to works) along the lines of the potter and the clay analogy in scripture. The Word says that we are God’s workmanship, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Eph 2:10 ESV] An artist or sculptor will use the right tools and his skill to fashion his work according to the image he envisions. So, too, the Lord wants to fashion us into the image of His son [Rom 8:29]. The sculptor needs no “help” or “input” from his slab of marble. Imagine then, us, some layman in the field of humanity, trying to direct, correct, or help the Master Artist!

So, Jesus’ above words ARE true. He always speaks truth. We can think of it in reverse: that if our new birth needed anything else, any requirement or action outside of trust in God’s ability, then we could and would take credit for, take pride in, our part. It’s like the Lord is saying YOU NEED ME and He demands dependence on Him because in and of ourselves we work foolishness. We cannot help Him. He is always helping us. I envision salvation like a chain reaction, that the Lord initiates the momentum that begins with His word, then the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, the good news is preached, we hear and accept (faith), the Holy Spirit gives us new birth, we continue to be nourished on the milk of God’s Word, and we grow. I once heard it explained that Jesus has saved us, is saving us, and will save us. He is always teaching, correcting, and protecting us. This is His grace at work in us. Whatever we do (work), or however we act, after salvation, is good fruit because it is directed by God.

On the flip side, for an example of man-directed work for God, there is a well-known Christian ministry to the poor and dying in a country where Hinduism is the main religion. The people involved are so enamored with doing and providing physical relief and comfort to the people that they’ve lost their focus on these folk’s eternal welfare and God’s heart. They are taught to not attempt to convert people to Christ, but to make them the best Hindu or whatever faith tradition they happen to embrace. So the ministry workers meticulously clean festering wounds, give baths, provide medicine, and heroically tend to some very base problems. They then subtly boast about their humility in serving such poor people. They feel satisfied that the comforts given provide for a dignified death and look good on their spiritual resume.

But the reality is that these poor people, in man-pleasing politeness and misplaced compassion, are being prepped for hell. It’s like the nominal Church is dressing people up in the finest lace and embroidered silk, but fails to clothe their sin-sick souls with Christ’s robe of righteousness. They leave this world in “dignity” but stand before God naked and ashamed. These ministry “projects” die and go to an eternity without Christ! No wonder Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” [Rom 1:16 ESV] No wonder Isaiah says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. [Isa 64:6 NIV] We cannot, in our flesh, spiritually care for others. Our goal should always be to guide them to the One who can.

Now, Paul is also in complete agreement with Jesus when he says that it is with our hearts (i.e. our inmost being) that we believe. It is not just mental knowledge, although even that can prompt action. For example, I know that the sun in the summer makes for a hot day. I know this by experience, and also because I can Google just about any fact out there and find out that the surface of the sun is 9,941 degrees Fahrenheit. Because I have mental knowledge of these things, I am careful to use sunscreen if I go swimming, or wear a tank top and shorts to stay cool. This is mental assent in action. I have a fact known and experienced to be true, not only by myself, but others, too, and I have science to back it up. But is this believing, pisteuō? The other related word, faith, in Greek, is pistis, and is defined one way in Strong’s as: “conviction of the truth of anything, belief; in the NT of a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined with it.” That begs the question, “Is fact the same as truth?”

So many people do not believe the gospel (the gospel truth!). They will argue it is not factual or that it was written by mere men, men who, oddly, gained fame and fortune for their own opinions. Oh. Wait. I’m thinking of another book, The Power of Positive Thinking. Like all of God’s faithful instruments used in writing the bible, I think that author was persecuted, insulted, beaten, crucified, or beheaded for his testimony for Christ. Oh. Wait. I’m all mixed up again. That was the mere men who wrote the bible! In direct contradiction to the bible, the message in the “Positive Thinking” book is to just “believe in yourself.” And that has even been shortened now to just, “Believe.” When believing in ourselves gets old, we seem to need to reinvent ourselves from time to time. When we recommend our sinful selves, it only draws people to our grossly inadequate selves and away from the One perfectly adequate to author a book that does not present man in glowing terms or mince words or placate sinners. The shortened quip popular today, just “Believe,” conveniently relegates any true Object of our belief to oblivion. I mean, congratulations, folks. If it has achieved bumper-sticker status, why, let’s advertise it. And our actions illustrate what we do believe–everything and nothing! It’s as if we first replace God with ourselves, then with an open-ended invitation welcome a host of other more palatable possibilities, which actually, upon reflection, look a lot like ourselves and bend and shift and change to be acceptable to our own whims and society’s mores. We may not bow down to wooden idols in this country, but we certainly do bow down before our mirrors.

There have been many great minds that have argued for and have done fact-finding for the cause of Christ, such as Lee Strobel and Sean McDowell, so I don’t want to go over ground already covered, but only suggest that sadly, even if all the facts were supported by history and science, presented, and proved, there would be many people who would still not believe the gospel. Jesus said, “But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.” [Jhn 6:36 NIV] And, “But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'” [Luk 16:31 NKJV] We must remember that Jesus, God in the flesh, walked this earth, taught, performed miracles, and indeed, raised someone named Lazarus from the dead, yet the Jews not only didn’t believe Him–they crucified Him! Does fact, or proof, then, cause faith?

Please don’t hear me saying we should not even try to put our efforts into apologetics. My point is that the gospel message is the power of God for salvation to all who believe, the Holy Spirit gives us words to speak, and the Father draws people to the Son to place saving faith in Him. [Rom 1:16; Matt 12:11-12; John 6:44] Jesus, by the very fact he performed miracles to testify to the truth of His message in order that people would believe shows us that the Lord is always trying to plant and grow faith! We just need to be aware of God’s authorship in salvation. He is the Architect and Prime Mover in all things! And we also need to be aware that sometimes people will be engaged in mental ping-pong because they simply want to win the match or enjoy the exchange, not because they are truly trying to understand.

I digressed a bit. So, is fact the same as truth? A certain Roman prefect must have wondered this, too: Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say [rightly] that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” [Jhn 18:37–38 NKJV]

Jesus said He was born to bear witness to the truth. He lived up to this, didn’t He? There are 79 search results in the bible for Jesus saying, “Truly I tell you.” He himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. [Jhn 14:6 NKJV] And, “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [Jhn 8:31–32 NIV] John describes Jesus this way: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. [Jhn 1:14 NIV]

Now, in the natural world it is a fact that the number one Contemporary Christian song as of the date of this post is “Scars in Heaven” by Casting Crowns. It is also a fact that the number one CC song is “Hurricane” by Kanye West. How can both be fact? The former is based on popularity according to iTunes, and the latter on popularity by Billboard.com. So, iTunes ignores all other streaming and supporting evidence and ranks songs and bases popularity on actual purchases and downloads on their own service. Billboard.com uses sales information, radio airplay data, and streaming statistics from many sources to rank their artists. So you see, while both are facts, truth is skewed because of a different data set. A fact or truth is only as good as the data set that is used. If the data set is flawed, the conclusion will also be flawed. We see this in the scientific method used in clinical trials for medication efficacy or in cancer research.

Recently, some studies on the efficacy of ivermectin to prevent death from COVID-19 were found to contain erroneous data by independent reviewers. The result of the faulty studies was to lead people to take the ivermectin and have high hopes in it. However, when the data errors were exposed, its credibility lessened. My point in all this is not to take sides on anything too personal–it is to illustrate that our minds are all filled with different data sets, and for the most part, they are all faulty! The only way to correct the situation is to “independently review” the many conclusions we leap to, to consider that they may be wrong. We need a source of absolute Truth, which is found in Jesus Christ and the Word of God. “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” [Mat 4:4 NIV] He is our Source for the perfect data set.

So, the Lord in His infinite wisdom, first keeps faith simple. We trust Him when He says He is the promised Savior. But then, like any new acquaintance, we learn more about Him, and our love for the Lord grows. We read His Word and at some point we hear Jesus warn us, “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ [Mat 7:21–23 NLT]

This seems to be in direct contradiction to Paul’s saying that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” However, the word translated “calls on” in the Greek is epikaleō and has the sense “to appeal unto for help or worship.” In plain English, then, Jesus is saying our words add up to a pittance if we do not practice God’s revealed will. What is God’s will? First and foremost, Christ preeminent, it is this: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” [Jhn 6:40 NIV] I’m sure I have read somewhere that the words “looks to the Son” has a sense of ongoing activity. We don’t just look once and forget. We keep on looking to Christ throughout our entire Christian life. If we don’t, Jesus said we are like branches that break off from a vine. We whither and die without the nourishment from the firmly-planted root we have in Jesus. We grow from the Vine and find our security in Christ. The same God that keeps the entire cosmos in complete order, who pitches earth on a perfect axis, who spoke into existence the sun, moon, and stars, also guides our eternal destiny. This is the same power He uses toward us who believe. Our confidence can rest in Him. He is always working. He is always speaking!

All of this reminds me of the parable of the seed scattered on different soils. Jesus explained:

“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. [Luk 8:11–15 NIV]

There’s so much in these verses! We can see how “believe” in these sayings of Jesus is defined or implied to have a sticktoitiveness, something long-lasting and ongoing throughout and in spite of life’s distractions and challenges. Another gleaning we can get from this parable is that the impetus behind belief is the word of God. All things begin with God, His Word begins with “In the beginning.” John starts his gospel with, “In the beginning was the Word.” The Lord is “the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” [Rev 22:13]

An active belief…one that is engaged over a long period of time–for the long haul–should also be congruent with one’s behavior. For example, when I accepted Christ as my Savior, I just knew I could not go on living the kind of immoral lifestyle that I had. The Holy Spirit convicted me of my sin. I understood that it was my sin that separated me from God–how could I go on living in it? I didn’t just give mental assent and walk away. I acted upon my belief. Now, what about the reverse of faith? Most people know that stealing is wrong and we have laws to enforce it. But many people still steal. They are then violating what they know to be true by doing the contrary. They are acting in bad faith. Can one know stealing is morally wrong in God’s eyes, but still do it and escape His displeasure? So we see, knowledge, even that which is sublime, does not save us. Knowledge of a fact can’t always motivate us to do right. Knowledge needs to find an “amen” in our hearts, a robust love for its Source, an agreement to it in our spirits and appreciation for its purpose, which in God’s heart is to keep us and our neighbor from harm.

So, what about a natural event, like our response to a hurricane warning? Most people believe the hurricane is real and will act in accordance with that belief, either by seeking shelter, shoring up their homes, or leaving the area. Belief will always, at some point in time, spur on or influence our behavior, whether for the good or for the bad. It is obvious with the COVID-19 pandemic that some folks in this country believe our government has a hidden agenda in mask and vaccine mandates and so refuse the recommended remedy. Others trust the government to have their citizen’s best interests in mind and so follow CDC guidelines. We can see even in this that our behavior starts out with what is seeded in the mind, progresses to what facts we decide are true, and results in action in accord with our faith. And I would like to point out that a belief in a fact is different from faith in what God says is true–faith entrusts one’s whole life on the entirety of His teaching. Just like we can’t pick and choose what subjects are required in a college major because we would not graduate with the knowledge and skillset needed, so too we need the totality of God’s teaching to be conformed by Him to the likeness of His Son. And just like any secular education, learning takes time. God only expects us to use what we know or have learned at a certain point in time, as we can see from His parable of the talents. [Matt 25:14-30]

Now, what about a positive belief, such as that mountains are beautiful, breathtaking, and awesome to behold? That is pretty much a universal belief, yet we know other things about mountains that inform our actions, such as that they can be dangerous to climb, that you can get altitude sickness from their tremendous elevation, that avalanches can occur, and the like. If we only believe they are beautiful, and act only with that information but disregard everything else, we could easily get hurt! Likewise, Jesus’ words do not exist in a void. He speaks truth all the time, so we must pay attention to ALL He speaks. Amen!

I hope this post has clarified the nuances of the words belief and faith. Please don’t use it to judge (look down on) another person’s spiritual state. We are better served by looking at our own face in the mirror of God’s Word. Then with the mercy we receive we can humbly and mercifully minister to others. And I don’t want to so much make a distinction in another’s quality of faith, but rather his or her spiritual fruitfulness, for God works and improves that over time, too! Doesn’t the Lord say, “”A BENT REED HE WILL NOT BREAK [OFF,] AND A DIMLY BURNING WICK HE WILL NOT EXTINGUISH, UNTIL HE LEADS JUSTICE TO VICTORY?” [Mat 12:20 NASB20] Good seed + good soil = good fruit! My intent is rather to encourage you to grow in His loving care.

In my next blog post in the series, I’d like to talk about the semantics of the word “works” and the ongoing rift between Catholic and Protestant theology. I have touched on it somewhat in this post, because the words seem so intertwined. I will be writing a lot more on it, and sharing my own personal struggles, so if you sometimes get the feeling that you may be “working” for your salvation, please come back (and hopefully be blessed!).

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. [Psa 119:103–105 ESV]

Worthy Is the Lamb

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” [Rev 5:11–12 NIV]

I am going to interrupt my planned series for an important message on discipleship and its requirement of absolute surrender to the Lord’s will. My hope is to always encourage you, so if you feel challenged, keep reading and be blessed!

You know, Jesus said some really tough things to people when He walked the dusty roads of Judea. For example:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” [Luk 14:26–33 NIV]

Wow. Jesus did not mince words, did He? And apparently, He was not concerned about the large crowd following Him being offended or turning away. Why? Because He always spoke truth and knew that His words were life to us. He said, “For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” [Jhn 12:49–50 NIV] He also said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you–they are full of the Spirit and life. [Jhn 6:63 NIV] Want to speak life into someone’s heart? Imitate Jesus! Don’t flatter, don’t speak your own opinion, don’t fear to offend. Simply speak the truth in God’s Word.

Now there are similar passages in the bible that show Jesus’ demand for complete surrender to His will and obedience to His kingship:

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” [Mat 10:37–39 NIV]

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? [Mar 8:34–37 NIV]

I think fealty or loyalty, the type demanded by a king or military leader, is a good illustration in discussing these verses. Back in medieval times, a knight swore his fealty to the king on his life. The same in our military today. Complete loyalty and obedience to the superior officer is needed in the midst of battle or your own life or the lives of your fellow soldiers could be lost. So my questions are: How much more worthy is our King and Redeemer than a medieval monarch? How much more necessary to obey in battle when we know our fight is all-out war in the spiritual realm? We know how noble it is when a Marine or any military man or woman serves and defends their country and will give their life for that cause. How much more so for Christ? I want to challenge you to pray about these scriptures. If you are hesitant, ask the Lord to help you pray and what to pray, then wait. He will provide His steadfast love!

Let’s look at the contexts of some of these scriptures cited. In Luke, Jesus had just addressed the crowd of Jews and was pointing out that their priorities were out of whack. In the parable, people refused a great royal banquet because of a new field, a new pair of oxen, and a new wife. Now, I can understand a new wife being a loyalty challenge, but a couple of oxen and a plot of land? They just loved their possessions and relationships more than the Giver of the banquet. They were distracted by the newness of these earthly things, and didn’t recognize the honor owed to and greatness of the Inviter.

In Matthew, Jesus warns that He came to bring not peace to the earth, but a sword. One that would divide family members. He was emphasizing love for and loyalty to Him above any other loves in our life, especially including our own self.

In Mark, Jesus had just told His disciples that He would suffer many things and die. And Peter began to rebuke His master! I wonder what he was saying? “You surely won’t die…that doesn’t befit you…how will you rescue Israel?” Maybe. Yet Jesus’ answer was, “Get behind me Satan!” So, if you ever are tempted to think you won’t suffer for Christ, KNOW it is from our enemy. This is in direct contradiction to scripture: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted….” [2Ti 3:12 NIV]. Will be. No might be. The Word speaks of it in other places as our destiny! So, I challenge you, when it comes, will you commit to being faithful to our Lord?

Now, did you ever consider that Peter had heard all these things? Yet, after adamantly telling Jesus he loved Him more than all the others and would follow Him to death, he still denied Christ. Doesn’t the Word say we are to be a living sacrifice to our Lord? I remember a quote from many years ago I heard that stated: “The only problem with a living sacrifice is that it crawls off the altar.” This is so human. And so was Peter. He loved, loved, loved our Lord. But something in his heart crumbled when faced with the reality of Jesus’ arrest and foretold death. Perhaps, when Peter boasted that he would die even if all the others betrayed Jesus, his pride, his confidence in himself, and not God, was the root of the cause. But even in this, the Lord restored Him, gave him power from on high, and used him for many years to shepherd the Church. After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Peter would become a powerful preacher, healer, and teacher, and the Lord procured Peter’s victory in his martyrdom. So do not just resolve in your mind or feel cheerled or inspired to serve our Lord. Like Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Pray for His power.

Now I want to share the beautiful thing I promised would encourage you. The Lord tells us these things to prepare us, not scare us. And the best way we can be prepared is to have our hearts totally surrendered to Him–to give Him free reign in our life. It is a complete act of trust in the absolute and undeniable goodness of God. We often get cold feet when we think of giving complete control to God. At least I know I do! But remembering who He is and that He is the same One who showed His faithfulness and eternal good working throughout scripture can give us boldness. And this is the truth: He DEMANDS our complete surrender and INSISTS on love for Him above any other person or thing BECAUSE if we trust Him that much, He will give us the strength and the assurance of victory to live out our Christian lives. Paul said, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” [Phl 4:13 NIV] Paul lived a holy life, preached, pastored, suffered, endured prison, and died with the strength given to Him by our Lord. We simply can’t complete the tower or go to war without all the wealth and strength of our Almighty God. With our love and our very lives, let’s count Him worthy. Amen.

“He alone is your God, the only one who is worthy of your praise, the one who has done these mighty miracles that you have seen with your own eyes. [Deu 10:21 NLT]

He Alone is Worthy–Alvin Slaughter

Who’d be found worthy
In the heavens or the earth
To pay the debt of sin for everyone
Who could win the victory
Over death, hell and the grave
The Lion of the tribe of Judah
Jesus Christ the Son

He alone is worthy
To worship and adore
The Lamb of God victorious
Our risen Lord
He purchased our redemption
Our righteousness is He
Exalt the name of Jesus
He is worthy

He purchased our redemption
Our righteousness is He
Exalt the name of Jesus
He is worthy

Exalt the name of Jesus
He is worthy
He is worthy
He is worthy
He is worthy
Worthy worthy

Spiritual Amnesia

Give praise to the LORD, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced….” [Psalm 105:1–5 NIV]

I’ve been observing in myself a tendency to forget how the Lord has helped me throughout my Christian walk when life’s disappointments, spiritual battles, temptations, or difficulties come. It’s like I’m using a macro lens on the current unpleasant or stressful situation and my spiritual sight becomes like the periphery–all out of focus. It is much more healthy to use the “panorama setting” in these times, to remember God’s faithfulness and goodness that never wavers.

It seems to be human nature to avert our eyes off of Jesus and get sucked into the commotion going on immediately around us. Peter got out of the boat and walked several steps on water toward his Lord. This is amazing in itself–he had to suppress the fear that Jesus was possibly a ghost, that he himself was mortal, and that the weather was fierce! It is interesting it says that when Peter “saw the wind,” he became afraid and began to sink. But you can’t “see” wind! He saw its effects, heard it whipping around, felt it stinging his skin, witnessed the big waves it was creating. His focus shifted from Jesus to ultimately himself, his own ability to overcome the waves. So Jesus gently rebuked him: “You of little faith…why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:22-34)

We all tend to let our circumstances wrench our eyes off of our Lord in three main scenarios: when we don’t feel like our prayers are answered, when Satan seeds our minds with doubts about God’s goodness, and when heartache comes from loss of health. I want to look at this a little more in-depth and hopefully encourage you to greater constancy of faith as you grow and mature in the Lord.

It is perplexing when it seems like the Lord is not answering our prayers. After all, scripture says that “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.” [1Jo 5:14–15 NIV]

I’ll point out a few things about this scripture here. The Apostle John, in the previous verse, is reassuring his hearers that they can “know that you have eternal life.” He then goes on to the next verses above. It is my humble opinion that John is reasoning from his previous thought: that those who are born again and walk in the light can know they have eternal life because it is God’s will that everyone be saved, that we know He hears us, and so we have eternal life because we have asked Him.

Perhaps these saints were struggling with false teaching and John was correcting the error that those who are obeying our Lord could somehow not be sure of their eternal destiny. Now, John is very forthright in saying that if we hate people or practice ongoing purposeful sin that we are not walking in the light. He is just as forthright in saying that those who love others and obey Jesus are living in God’s light and can be sure of their eternal destiny with our Lord. Our enemy seems to tempt the first group into false security, and true believers into insecurity. The way to fight him if we are walking in truth is to trust the Lord’s promises and His character. The Word says, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does.” [Psalm 145:13 NIV]

Just a note: please do not hear this as condemnation if you have moral failings you are trying to overcome with the Lord’s help, and in your heart you truly regret your sin. The Lord knows our hearts and is merciful to the contrite. The Apostle Paul was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. [Philippians 1:6 NIV] The warning from John is to those who premeditate sin and use grace for an excuse to sin. And, God forbid, lead another “little one” into sin. [Luke 17:1-2]

Another area that perplexes me is unanswered prayers for healing. How many of us lose heart when our health fails and the Lord seems to be silent? I have been struggling with a disability for almost 25 years, have asked for prayer from others, and prayed continually since I was diagnosed. I have not been healed. I heard another testimony from a lady at church who has gone through a similar journey, how she had prayed and tried to “do better” and “serve more,” thinking it was something she was lacking. I know other people who suffer great physical disabilities, and again, the Lord seems silent.

Jesus said, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” [Matthew 7:7–8 NLT] He goes on to say that even human parents know how to give good gifts to their children, so how much more will our holy heavenly Father give us perfectly fitting gifts. Those of us with children know that gifts are given based on the temperament of the child, their level of responsibility, their ability to practice what they know to be good and true. I get the picture in my mind of the four-year-old who wants the candy or toy in the grocery checkout line. Don’t we often say no? Because we know it’s not needed, or not good for us. Sometimes, we withhold even what seems “good.” For example, if a teenager who struggles with drugs wants a car, the parent would withhold the privilege of driving until the addiction is overcome. How much more will the Lord withhold healing if our eternal well-being would be jeopardized? Please know our Abba always, always does what is loving and best for us! This is important, because the enemy wants to make us question and doubt God’s goodness.

If you struggle with illness, the best battle tactic is to remember God’s goodness. His Word tells us this repeatedly, and it is absolute truth. “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. [Mark 10:18 NLT] God cannot lie. When we are tempted to doubt because of our current experience, the root cause is lack of trust in the Lord’s complete goodness and faithfulness. In my experience, it starts with being tempted to think there is something wrong with me, that I’m not good enough, that my faith is substandard. But the focus is all on me, not our Lord! If we remember His faithfulness is true and how He helped all the saints throughout history, if we remember other times He has been faithful to us, if we testify about God’s goodness to ourselves and others, our focus gets shifted back to its proper place, fixed on Jesus. Please settle in your heart and mind that, as a dear friend always says, “God is good all the time, and all the time good.”

I’d like to challenge and encourage you on two fronts. First, be assured the Lord has heard your prayers. The reasons He may not answer (i.e. doing what we ask) are many and sometimes not known until we are home with Jesus. Again, remember, God’s will is good at all times. He has forever proved His good intentions toward us through the suffering of His Son. If He deems healing would eternally harm us or that we are not ready or that it is His “tool” to conform us to the image of Jesus, like the Master Sculptor’s riffler and rasp, then may we say and agree in our spirits, “yet not my will, but yours be done.” [Luke 22:42 NIV] Paul, a man of great faith, was not delivered from his thorn in the flesh, but was told, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” [2 Corinthians 12:9] I love Paul’s reaction. He did not throw in the towel and even get mad or sad. Rather, he said he would boast, gladly, about his weakness since the power of Christ would then dwell in him.

Secondly, have we ever considered that the Lord can do great things through us when we become weak? I’m reminded of an otherwise unremarkable fellow and his answer to the Lord’s call: “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!” [Judges 6:15 NLT] Note how ill-equipped Gideon seems to be. The Lord even trimmed his army from 22,000 down to 300 men! Little is better. It allows God to glorify Himself. It is a theme in this account and throughout the bible that our smallness magnifies the Lord’s greatness.

Sometimes we wonder why the Lord humbles us, and the account of the man born blind gives us insight: “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. [John 9:2–3 NLT] See? Our disability (or any perceived lack), with eyes of faith, becomes God’s stage where His power and goodness and holiness and compassion and love get the entire spotlight. How glorious of God to not let us put ourselves on any pedestal! How good it is to point to the One and Only source of goodness and life!

So, in our own day, I think of Joni Eareckson Tada, who despite quadriplegia, is a gifted artist and spokesperson for the disabled, inspiring thousands. This is her attitude: “I have been blessed with so much good health and a remarkable husband and opportunity to travel, that I want to pass the blessings on to the many millions of people with disabilities — more than 1 billion in the world.” I think of Nick Vujicic, the Australian-born evangelist who hasn’t let being born without arms and legs stop him from using his best gifts of communication and humor to reach and teach millions for Christ. He says, “If God can use a man without arms and legs to be His hands and feet, then He will certainly use any willing heart.” Note: this blog is not just intended for those who have a disability. It is for everyone who struggles with any kind of challenge, like poverty, or societal oppression, or depression, or addiction, or traumatic experiences–you name it. The Lord does not want us to live as perpetual victims. He desires us to overcome, despite. We are inspired by people like Joni and Nick because they don’t let their limitations limit God. They embrace His Word as truth: “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” [Mark 10:27 NLT]”

Satan, on the other hand, whispers things like, “You’ll never amount to anything because you are weak.” Or “Why is God allowing this to happen if He is good?” Dear child of God, stand against such lies! Submit to what our Lord is working out, and then witness the beautiful fruit he produces out of what seems to be barren ground. Remember, He turns ashes into something splendid. He brings life to the dead. He gives us His only Son to make our eternity blessed. He turns the tragedy of the cross into victory over death, sin, and hell. He says, “When the poor and needy search for water and there is none, and their tongues are parched from thirst, then I, the LORD, will answer them. I, the God of Israel, will never abandon them. I will open up rivers for them on the high plateaus. I will give them fountains of water in the valleys. I will fill the desert with pools of water. Rivers fed by springs will flow across the parched ground.” [Isaiah 41:17–18 NLT]

When I look at my own illness, I can see how it makes me aware of my frailty and how much I need to rely on Jesus to accomplish anything of eternal value. I can also see how it keeps me humble, how I have learned to battle spiritually, how I have learned in times that I “felt” the Lord had left me that He was in reality closer than ever. I have been taught the truth of “I will never leave you; I will never forsake you.” [Hebrews 13:5] I have experienced the reality of “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” [John 6:37 NIV]

How do you view your disability or barrier? Can you somehow see it as spiritually valuable, even though at times extremely frustrating and unpleasant? I can see how the Lord has used mine to develop compassion toward others who struggle, to use my experience to encourage others whose faith is being tested. To be a voice for those who, although full of faith and praying their hearts out, have not been granted healing. It is very likely that the Lord Jesus is calling you to victory in Him. Healing is not always evidence of our faith.

The world says, “Seeing is believing.” Is it? Look how fast the Israelites turned to a golden calf after seeing, on full display, the power of our Lord, enjoying the freedom gifted to them, witnessing the pillar of fire come between them and Egypt’s vast army. I can picture them taking their sandals off to spill out the dust and sand collected from the bottom of the split-open Red Sea. The miraculous was all around them–it touched them. Yet, within 3 short months of their deliverance, and a mere forty days after receiving the Lord’s commandments, again having front-row seats to God’s fear-inspiring power descending on the mountain, they FORGOT. The disciples argued about neglecting to bring bread with them AFTER Jesus fed thousands with only a few small loaves and they picked up numerous bushels of leftovers with their own hands. Jesus was standing in front of Peter when he started to DROWN! I am not picking on them. We do it, too. We can be fickle, forgetful, and downright faithless. Like all of God’s truth, He turns the world’s wisdom on its head. Believing is seeing.

So, my dear brother or sister, if you haven’t gotten your miracle, if you’ve named it and claimed it without seeing God answer your demands (imagine that), if you think you’re a faith failure, but you are still believing in God’s goodness and loving Him, take heart–this is truly great faith! Many times, faith is simply deciding to continue the journey even though we don’t see the destiny and the way is hard. Jesus said, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” [John 20:29 NIV] And, I might add, keep believing.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” [1Co 1:26–31 NIV] Amen!

Are You In God’s Way?

“Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” –Exodus 33:15-16

I have often struggled with the fact that the Church of our unchanging God and Savior, Jesus Christ, has become so worldly in its methods and judgement. For example, we meld worldly ideas into our mainstream churches as easily as a new fad, as if trying them on like the latest fashion trend. Remember platform shoes? If you were “in,” you wore these silly creations and were accepted, viewed as conforming to the current standard of beauty. But the eyes of the world are fickle. Beauty fades with the latest “new” thing, not because it is actually new, but because we are tired of the old. We need a change. The bible says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10)

Some of the current fads in the church have crept in like wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are worldly ideas that have been “Christianized,” made to look as innocent as a lamb, tweaked here and there so as not to offend our delicate consciences. But does it offend God? Our consciences can be hardened like callouses by repeated sin. They can also be overly tender, or most superstitious. For example, one could believe that if we don’t go to church every Sunday, we will go to hell. The truth of the matter is that if we don’t want to go to church on Sunday because it’s boring, God probably doesn’t want us there either. And that works both ways. He doesn’t want us there because it’s probably a dead church. If we go to a Spirit-filled church and still think it’s boring or that we’d rather be doing something else, He’s probably not too thrilled with us being there taking up pew space so we don’t feel guilty about our loveless weekly obligation. Because then we’re sleeping, or worse yet, spiritually dead. Does not even the world say, “The first step to getting help is admitting we have a problem?”

If you recognize yourself in any of this, take heart! He wants to wake us and bring us to life. Because He is anything but boring. Or unjust. Or bent on our ultimate demise. Our image of God is often a caricature of His perfection based on all the things that make up a modern church service: all the external rites and routines, the bad sermons that are full of hellfire and brimstone, and the false teaching that grace is given to excuse our unrepentant practice of sin and live like the rest of the hurting and miserable people in the world, because God is “love.” Love? As if he were an absent Parent not caring a whit about our safety, growth, welfare, education, or relationships. A worldly love that is sickening-sweet and always smiling down on whatever we do and dares to swallow the demonic lie that “all roads lead to heaven.” That we are all on the “same path.” That God is much more “tolerant” these days. As if he were sorry for his past insistence that He get all the glory due him. Truth says of Jesus, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Worldly love is not godly love. It’s flattery. Our Lord did not leave heaven, teach us about His Father, suffer crucifixion, take upon Himself God’s wrath, die, and raise Himself to life again so that He could now and forever flatter us! He did all these things to paint a poignant and painful heavenly mural of how lost and wretched we are without him. It’s as if the Lord were making His Church look in a mirror. We are asleep to what Jesus is doing. Or we are dead to His beauty. He wants us to “see” Him clearly, so that we don’t go around inflicting our faulty image of God on others. He wants us to “see” ourselves clearly, so that we repent.

One of the “new” ideas that has crept into the Church today is the teaching of the Enneagram. Its roots date back to many non-Christian sources, but became popular in the late 1960s when Oscar Ichazo studied many worldly spiritual ideas and founded the Arica School of Knowledge. The gist of the site is a mix of psychology, philosophy, and New Age mumbo jumbo. The goal is knowledge and self-awareness. Why are we drinking this in? What is God’s goal for us? Is it to know ourselves better, or to know Him better? Is it knowledge, or friendship with God? I know some are well-meaning, but that is the temptation. We want to “know” our strengths and weaknesses so that we can serve God better. That’s the Christian slant.

Do you think God does not see through this? The focus is on ourselves, on how we, mere mortals, can deduce from worldly assessments and typologies a way to serve God better! Doesn’t God provide us with His gifts and talents through His Holy Spirit? We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works. He is the potter, we are the clay. Are we not knit together by Him in the womb? Do we not trust the Lord who paid it all to also finish it all? Did Paul need to know his Enneagram to serve Jesus any better? Did the Apostle John, the one whom Jesus loved, need his Enneagram to be loved any more? Aren’t we saved and sanctified by the blood of Jesus, new creatures to be conformed to the image of His likeness? Are our destinies determined by philosophies of man, or the providence of God? John the Baptist said, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.” Does knowing our Enneagram equip us any better than the Holy Spirit poured out on Peter and his audience on the Day of Pentecost? My people, the leaven of the world is invading my Church. Such worldly wisdom dressed in a Christian guise is trading the rivers of living water for brackish water!

Another practice of the Church today is the celebration of Halloween with the rest of the world. It has been explained away as a holiday for our children. We dress them up as princesses and dinosaurs, something less ghoulish, to placate our Christian sensitivities. Then they see worldly children dressed up as witches and ghosts and monsters, and since they walk shoulder to shoulder with them on trick-or-treat day, they grow dull to the dangers all around them. They get attracted to “good” witch stories, ghost stories, and progress to demon-inspired movies featuring grotesque modes of death by evil forces, seeding our minds with the idea that Satan is more powerful than any child of God! What does the Word say? We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37).

We even use this holiday to “draw” people to our churches. I read recently about a megachurch that had a huge Halloween bash for the purpose of inviting the unsaved to the party, so that they can rub shoulders with us “righteous” folk. While getting people to church may seem to be a noble motive, a most assuredly God-honoring goal, does it really honor God? When a church holds a trunk-or-treat or some such popular idea, and has a big turnout, what do the newspapers take note of? “Thousands Celebrate Halloween at (insert your church here).” Notice what the world sees us celebrating, even though we dress it up in Christian garb? Shouldn’t we be noticed for celebrating Jesus? You may object. These innocent events are “family-friendly,” “safe,” and “fun.” The problem is that it is still imitating the world. Christians “need” a holiday to give candy to their kids, too. Do we? We don’t want to deny our kids some fun on that particular day, so we make it more “acceptable.” To whom? Many churches start well, even, but when they lack the “draw,” they add haunted houses and “spooky organ concerts,” advertising with smiling jack-o-lanterns so that Jesus is not too overwhelming to the dear lost souls we want to save. As if we’re going to hoodwink them into coming to church! Aren’t they rather confused? What is different about this church than the world? Isn’t it Christ’s presence? If not, how will the lack thereof glorify God? Isn’t Halloween just a less-scary version of the steeped-in-paganism original holiday?

It is a fact that Halloween is a Satanic high holiday in our present culture. It has been said by the founder of the Church of Satan that, “Halloween is the most important day of the year for devil worshippers.” Ages ago, it developed from Celtic superstitions and pagan practices devoid of God’s truth. Even if we “tone it down,” does it not obscure truth? What truth? That Goodness and Love triumph over evil, that Christ has overcome the world, that the prince of this world now stands condemned. That hell is eternal life without God, and that He made the way to heaven wide open through one tiny door of faith in Jesus’ deity, death, and resurrection. That He is not out to “get us,” but out to save us. Always. Halloween and everything associated with it obscures this with its association with evil and superstition.

You may still object. You say, “No, it is harmless. You’re making too big a deal out of this.” There are reasons, my fellow brothers and sisters. First, let’s look at the pattern of practices established throughout the bible. Did Moses need or use a pagan holiday to convert the Israelites? Didn’t they try that? Golden calf? They actually called it Yahweh, by God’s name! We know how that ended. Did the Lord command that the Israelites adopt the practices of the pagan nations? Weren’t they supposed to not want to be like them? Would an Israelite have sent their kid to a Baal festival because it was harmless fun? Listen to Paul:

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them
    and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.”

Therefore,

“Come out from them
    and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
    and I will receive you.”

And,

“I will be a Father to you,
    and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.” –Romans 6: 14-18

Did Jesus need or use a toned-down Roman festival to a false god as an opportunity to glorify His Father? Did Paul? Paul once saw an “altar to an unknown god,” among all the idols in the city of Athens, and subsequently preached Jesus to them, using it as a springboard to speak God’s truth. But he didn’t hold a festival for Artemis in Ephesus and invite the locals! We make up opportunities to share our faith because we know we “should” share the gospel, when in truth God creates all the opportunities to share the gospel for anyone who wants to, for anyone led by the Spirit of God to speak. Like Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35) His statement was prompted by the events that took place with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus saw Opportunity approach him in the form of a woman, a water jar, and a heavy heart. Then the entire town believed. Think about it. When His disciples fished and found nothing, when did they haul in the big catch? When Jesus was present. When he told them where to throw their net.

Which brings me to my next point. The Church tries to draw worldly people to Christ by being worldly. A couple thought processes are probably that if I can just get them into church, they’re on my own turf and I’ll have more chutzpa to share the gospel. Or, if they see us as being more lenient on sin, they will not be so offended. I see this in the above example, and also with a lot of music. Not that all Christian music is bad. It’s just that if it looks like the world, sounds like the world, it is of the world. In some Christian music, you can’t even hear the words. And they may be great words! But if they can’t be heard by a non-believer, how can it be a good witness? It looks and sounds just like Metallica to them. Yes, you have liberty! But do you look like Jesus at that point, or the world? Do we want to exercise “our rights,” or bring people to Christ? Didn’t Paul say, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” (1 Corinthians 8:13) How much more so for an unbeliever!

But you say, “The motive is to get them saved!” That’s well and good. But does our working and trying and finagling improve on the power of His Holy Spirit? Are we not born again by the power of God? And how did the early disciples get the chutzpa to preach? Jesus told them to “wait for power from on high.” It is not something we muster up. It is received. When we are ready. When we will use it for only God’s glory. When we rely on these worldly things, who gets the credit? Isn’t it often us? Hear the Lord: “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.” (Isaiah 48:11) Isn’t our whole approach to evangelization discussed here one of distrust? “How?,” you say. Does music, or the friendliness of our church, or any host of “good” things draw sinners to Christ? What does scripture say? “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:44) No amount of cajoling will bring the lost to Christ. It is the power and work of God from first to last. So that He gets the credit. So that people look to Him, and not mere man. He glorifies Himself for our own good.

I am not saying the Lord will never use our feeble attempts to share His love if done in humility. I know of a church that hands out little candy bags and inserts a gospel tract to the kids who come to visit. This is much more God-honoring, because the seeds of truth go out. Many times I sense He does use our “two little fish” out of compassion for the lost, and recognizes any good motive we have, especially godly love. But I sense he wants more. He wants to glorify himself fully. Who better to glorify God than God Himself? I hear him saying to His Bride, “Get out of the way.” In other words, cease striving, and start surrendering. Trusting. Obeying. Waiting. Seeing His opportunities. If a nurse tries to do an open heart surgery, she would either be thinking more of herself than she ought, or feeling completely inadequate. The surgeon would know she isn’t skilled enough, and would want her to step aside and let him take over. It is the same with the Great Physician. “Get out of the way!”

One last point. How do unbelievers recognize God’s people? John 13:35 says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Who is everyone? Isn’t it believers here? How can unbelievers recognize godly love? So how do unbelievers recognize the Church? Is it our collective love? Hmm…many times sadly missing. Is it our holiness? Hmm…again, we are not perfect, but all spiritual children growing at various stages. Is it our unity? This is downright laughable these days…sorry, not sorry. Were these markers in the early Church? Or did they seem to have problems imitating the world, too? How does the bible say the pagan nations recognize Israel’s God as the One True God?

“Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” –Exodus 33:15-16

Right before these verses, the Lord is telling Moses to take the Israelites, with whom he is displeased, to the land He promised their forefathers. He tells Moses that He will not go with them, but will send an angel before them to subdue their enemies. And in the verses above, we have Moses’ humble response. His heartrending disappointment at hearing God say He would not be with them. A little bit further on, we have hope:

“Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. “Lord,” he said, “if I have found favor in your eyes, then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.”

“Then the Lord said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you. Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” –Exodus 34: 8-14

See? God did not say He would be known by what the Israelites did or did not do. He would be recognized by His power and His work. For us. Doesn’t he tell His people by the Red Sea, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still?” Just like salvation. ‘”My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

We need to get smaller, so that God can be greater. Like Jesus. He gave us the example. He was God incarnate, yet a servant to all. He was more royal than the the loftiest earthly king, yet allowed the lowliest into His court. He was more beautiful than the vast majority of Jews imagined him to be, yet He came to earth to fully reveal His love. Yet He left it all–His glory, His royalty, His dazzling beauty–to be born a plain and helpless baby in a humble manger, in a little-known town, among headstrong and willful people who would not recognize Him as their God and Savior. Acts 10:38 says, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” See? God was with Him. Let’s pray like Moses, with whom God was pleased, that He will go with us wherever He sends us, as well. He is faithful, even when we are not. That is pure grace. Amen.

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” –John 28:20

Who is My Enemy?

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” –Sun Tzu, The Art of War

While it is always good to ask ourselves the question, “Who is my neighbor?,” now is the time to ask ourselves, “Who is my enemy?”

With all that is going on in the world today, I can’t help but think this quote is timely. In this country, we are a dynamic group of people with disparate viewpoints. Our weakness can be wanting to fight for those beliefs so strongly for our own particular group, that we forget who the true enemy is. For the world right now, that would be terrorists groups like ISIS. I am chilled to the bone to think they are sitting back and just waiting for an opportunity to take advantage of our current discord. In a 2004 article in Military.com (here), Oliver North made an appeal to our country to put aside the political infighting and focus on being united to fight terrorism. I repeat that same plea.

Every group wants its rights and privileges secured. When they become threatened, we scramble to prevent loss. This in and of itself is not bad if orchestrated in a peaceful manner. What is dangerous is to view the opposing group as completely evil simply because they don’t agree with us. This is what happened in the American Civil War. Our country split over a moral issue, and most everyone took a side. Each side felt they had the moral backing of religious principles to uphold their viewpoint, so much so that it became framed in apocalyptic terms in many psyches.

There is concern that we could be repeating the history of the rise of Nazism, but if that is a huge fear, we could be projecting it on current events and misinterpreting intentions. I am willing to pause briefly enough and assume a “let’s wait and see attitude,” keeping close tabs on events as they unfold. My concern is that things are so polarized with the new shift in power, that we miss who the real enemy is now. If we do, we are staged to repeat the history of our own civil war, and not that of the Holocaust in Germany. If we were plunged into a civil war, where in the world would the safety that we are seeking be? It is not logical to press the cause for safety, yet create a climate of war against each other.

Jesus said, “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.” (Luke 11:17). If we fail to identify our common enemy, they will gain the upper hand. Is that what we want?

For God’s Church, I make the same plea. While we have a real-world physical enemy, we need to recognize humanity’s true enemy in the spiritual realm. We also must recognize the state of our own hearts.

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” –1 Peter 5:8-9

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” –Jeremiah 17:9-10

The world is inundated with lies. Why?

  • And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” –Revelation 12:9
  • Jesus tells us that the devil “was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
  • What is the devil’s goal? To lead people away from the only way God provided for salvation: “Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.  I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

This is an attempt to cut through a lot of so-called wisdom these days, and see how it stacks up against God’s word. Jesus prayed: “Sanctify them in truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

Lie #1: God is not real, or “God is dead” (taken out of context and misapplied as it is today).

Truth: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” (Isaiah 40:28)

“The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 53:1)

Lie #2: Satan is not real.

Truth: The bible records the devil’s first lie, “You will not certainly die.” (Genesis 3:1-4)

God tells us Satan is real: “One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” (Job 1:6)

Jesus knew he was real: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ (Matthew 4:1-11)

Lie #3: There is nothing after this life, no Heaven or Hell.

Truth: When we die, we must stand before our Creator: “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many . . .” (Hebrews 9:27-28)

About the resurrection, Jesus said: “Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” (Mark 12:18-27)

Jesus related a parable about the poor man and the rich man showing their conscious state after they die: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.”

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire . . ..” (Luke 16: 19-31)

Lie #4: God is “mean” because he has consequences for disobeying him.

Truth: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

He is our Heavenly Father. He does all things out of love, and just like most parents who want the best for their children, he makes rules, not to deprive us, but to protect us from harm: “Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.” (Deuteronomy 8:5)

If government had no consequences to breaking the law, it would not be respected: “Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.” (Romans 13:3-4)

If consequences did not hurt, we wouldn’t be deterred from repeating the same mistakes over and over: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8)

Lie #5: Look at all the evil in the world. God, if he exists, doesn’t care.

Truth: God cares deeply and knows each of us intimately: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7)

He proved his love by sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sins: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18)

Lie #6: Salvation is hard. You have to be “good enough” to get to heaven.

Truth: Salvation is simple and easy: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)

Salvation is a pure gift. All we need to do is receive it, like a child depending on and trusting in their parent: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17)

Doing good works and being moral do not merit us heaven. If that were true, Christ would not have had to die. When we focus on our good deeds, we give glory to ourselves. God does not want us to draw attention to ourselves in that way. He wants and deserves all the glory because he alone is good, righteous, and holy: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)

Lie #7: Discipleship is easy.

Truth: Following Jesus is hard and costly: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple . . . In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (Luke 14:26-33)

Persecution is a promise: “ In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12)

Lie #8: Hypocrisy seen in others justifies my lack of faith.

Truth: We are all guilty of hypocrisy at one time or another in our lives. This is especially true of our speech: “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” (James 3:2)

Our speech will reveal what is in our heart: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)

Just what is a hypocrite? “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see . . ..” (Matthew 23:1-33)

God is concerned with our motives. It is easy for people to be judgmental because we can’t know someone’s intentions or motives. But God sees the heart. If our sole motive is to look good in other people’s eyes, that is a wrong motive, and we will only do what is right when someone is looking. That is what religion does. God wants our motive to be to act and speak righteously to please him. That’s what faith does. He wants us to fear what God thinks of us, not what people think of us. If pleasing God is our motive, then we will act and speak in right ways whether we are in public or private: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)

Hypocrisy is also seen in judging others: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Luke 6:41-42)

So, a hypocrite is someone who either judges another without mercy, without recognizing their own faults, or someone who is trying to please people without any regard for God’s heart. It is interesting that Jesus used this strong language toward the religious leaders of the day, not so much ordinary folks: “[Jesus] replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” (Mark 7:6-8)

Lie #9: Life starts after birth.

Truth: God knows us and ordains our life before we are born: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13-16)

Lie #10: I should not offend anyone by speaking the truth.

Truth: It is our duty as Christians to speak God’s truth, found in the bible, even if that means offending someone who has a differing viewpoint, as Jesus did: “Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” (Matthew 15:12)

We speak God’s truth in order to warn and save those who do not fear God: “When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. (Ezekiel 3:18)

Our goal in speaking truth should be love: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)

If you have found this message challenging, I have, too. The Lord has shown me my sin, and although it is painful, I know he means all discipline for our good: “And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

I hope reading this helps you as much as it has helped me writing it. God is so good: “do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

Spiritual Journey: A Riches to Rags Story

 Looking at his disciples, [Jesus] said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
 Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

–Luke 6:20-26

I have often seen these first three verses from our featured passage on literature for poverty relief organizations. Ripped out of context and applied literally, this would mean that Jesus is saying that the physically poor, the hungry, and the depressed somehow have more merit in the eyes of God, and that rich, chubby, happy people are doomed. Hmm. Seems to me there must be something more here than meets the eye–the spiritual eye!

The first four verses are easily recognized as a parallel passage to the beatitudes of Matthew, chapter 5. A key to understanding this passage is looking at the similar one. Matthew 5:3 states: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Jesus must be referring to poverty of spirit, not physical poverty. He is talking to people who recognize their spiritual need, their spiritual poverty in the sight of a holy and righteous God, because they will depend on Jesus for salvation. They rely on God’s mercy and grace, his spiritual charity, and not their own righteousness, and so the kingdom of God is theirs (Romans 3:21-24).

In verse 21 above, it is again not literal food Jesus is talking about. Matthew 5:6 speaks of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. How often Jesus spoke of himself as being living bread and living water! (John 6:51; John 4:10) Similarly, it is not those who are unhappy about justifiably sad events, but rather those who mourn over and regret their sin that are comforted. (Luke 18:13)

Verse 22 is the key to the whole passage. When are people especially blessed? When they have physical needs? No. Here, Jesus makes it clear he’s talking about his followers. It’s when we are hated, insulted, and called evil because we bear the name of Jesus. Just like the prophets and Jesus himself, every one of us who commits our life to glorify God will suffer. But even though we suffer here for a little while, Jesus reminds us to rejoice because our reward in heaven is eternal.

Unlike the passage in Matthew, Luke adds four woes to show a reversal of fortune in the spiritual realm. The first woe is to the rich. Does that mean that wealth is bad? No, some notable examples of faith were very well-to-do, including Abraham. Again, this must be taken in the spiritual sense: those who consider themselves wealthy before a holy God because of their own righteousness. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day felt like they were pretty righteous folks, and relied on their own interpretation of their Law for their feeling of spiritual security.

Again, Jesus said, woe to the well fed, or those who didn’t eat up Jesus’ parables or drink in his spiritual words. Woe to those who joke about or make light of their sin, and who want everyone to speak well of them in public, instead of saying what is true and right. Just like the false prophets in the past, they will tickle the ears of their listeners, seek glory for themselves, and lead people away from God. Woe, Jesus says, for the day is coming, if they do not heed his warning, when the tables are turned, and they will be without comfort, they will go hungry, and they will mourn and weep.

There’s a similar reversal of fortune found in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31:

 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Again, there is a tendency to just read this as a parable about the rich not lifting a finger to do anything for the poor.

This cannot be simply a parable about how the poor go to heaven and the rich go to hell. As mentioned previously, Abraham himself was wealthy beyond imagination. Here in this parable he is comforting Lazarus at his side. So if Abraham is in heaven, why and how did he get there? Why is the other rich man in hell? Why is Lazarus in heaven?

Throughout the bible, Abraham is held up as a model of faith, not in himself, but in God. The bible says that when God promised Abraham a son in his old age, that he “believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the night sky. Abraham’s spiritual children are all who, like him, believe God, and are credited righteousness: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

We know Lazarus did not go to heaven on his own merit. Poor people are just as needy spiritually as you and me. So here’s the deal. Did you know that the name Lazarus means, “whom God has helped?” Lazarus is just like those in our featured passage who are poor in spirit. He is hungry for God and covered with all sorts of spiritual sores that need healing. Even the dogs have more empathy and spiritual sense than the rich man!

So who is this rich man? In context, Jesus had been talking to his disciples, sharing another parable, and when the Pharisees overheard it, they sneered at Jesus, because they loved not only wealth, but also their way of life, their practices, their culture, their own wisdom, their own selves more than the lives of those around them. Jesus said to them: “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16: 15). They were supposed to be Israel’s religious leaders and teachers, but they held sinners in disdain and refused to help the most spiritually needy right under their upturned noses.

It would be like people today, especially modern-day religious leaders, who get wealthy without giving a crumb of real spiritual food to their flocks. Or individuals and religious leaders who weigh down people with many “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots,” before helping them understand Jesus’ only required work for entrance into heaven: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29). Or individuals and religious leaders today who like to mix extra-biblical material with orthodox Christian thought, polluting the faith with heretical ideas that do not glorify God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, but rather man. Simply put, the rich man is a pseudo-religious figure who cares nothing for the eternal well-being of the wretched soul lying just outside his doorway.

Am I trying to minimize the role of humanitarianism and the importance of aiding the poor in society? Never! Jesus himself tells us how we should care for and have friendship with the poor and disabled in our communities. He said, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed” (Luke 14:13-14). I’m only pointing out the spiritual overtones of these passages. God does not want us to look at our own works and say, “Well, I have gone to church every Sunday, I have given so much to the poor–hey, I’m a pretty decent and kind person. Thank God I’m not like [insert least favorite political candidate]. I’m sure he will let me in heaven.”

That is the attitude of Luke 18:9-14:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Note the reversal of fortune at the end? We seem to have it all backwards, upside-down, & inside-out! Isaiah 64:6 states it best: “How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” So, no. God doesn’t want us to rely on or boast about what we do. He wants us to say, “I believe in Jesus. I’m sure he will let me in heaven because I know he died for me . . . even though I missed church about half of the Sundays this year and I didn’t give five bucks to that homeless man today because I thought he would buy a bottle of cheap booze with it. Dear Jesus, forgive me. What should I do?”

Jesus: “The next time you see the homeless man, at least buy him a sandwich and a soda. I would prefer that you do this though, because the kingdom of God is all about relationship with me and other people: The poor and disabled are not just projects. They are potential friends. Eat with him. Listen to his story. Tell him about me. The sandwich will be gone in fifteen minutes. You’ll leave him in sixty minutes. If you and my other children keep doing this and more for him until he believes in me, then he will not only be off the street, but he will also be with me forever in eternity, just like you, and you will have gained a new friend. You will be so moved by the whole experience that you will actually look forward to worshipping me on Sundays and doing more.”

When you think about it, don’t you just want to tell everyone you can about Jesus? Don’t you wish everyone could experience the grace of God and come live in heaven with you? I do. Ahem. Let me say that I have not always had that attitude. God matured me over the years (yes, years!), and has helped me understand him in such a loving way that I want other people to know my God in all his awesomeness. Let’s pray for the heart to want to take as many people with us to heaven as we can, with God’s help. Hey. Even the rich guys dressed in purple and fine linen need our prayers, too.


Take Courage & Don’t Be Afraid

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:25-32)

 


 

Peter walked on water. If it had been me in Peter’s sandals–a fisherman on a wave-tossed sea, trying to bend my mind around the idea that my master teacher is somehow standing on the water and this really is not an apparition–I think I would have stayed in the boat with the other fellas. I’ve heard several sermons on this passage in the bible, all pointing out that Peter’s faith was pretty amazing, even if he began to sink. After all, there are few other accounts throughout history of anyone walking on water. A cursory Google search reveals a young dude named Maurus who was a monk under St. Benedict, and a Photoshopped image of Drew Brees strolling on a New Orleans river. Well, he is a Saint.

Since others have already said quite a bit about it, I’d like to approach this passage from a little different angle, focusing on Peter’s lack of faith. Why I am picking on the poor guy and focusing on his failure will be beneficial, so bear with me. Even Jesus did not praise Peter here, but asked, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

As a matter of fact, the phrase “you of little faith” was one of Jesus’s favorite ways to address his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew. There are five passages in Matthew that use this exact phrase or very close to it, and one in the Gospel of Luke. In each case, the disciples were worried about their lives in some way. In Matthew 8:26 in particular, Jesus added, “why are you so afraid?”

Current world political tensions coupled with our own election drama at home is creating an uneasy feeling about an uncertain future. There is a palpable sense of fear on both fronts. To make matters worse, some media outlets report either absolute falsehood or focus on the absolute worst of the opposing candidate. Still, after you sift fact from fiction, scary things are being said. But Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31).

Am I saying we shouldn’t feel apprehension? No. That would be inhuman. God knows we get afraid. The phrase “do not be afraid” appears 81 times throughout the bible. It’s not a command. It’s a reassurance! The key is to not let fear overwhelm us to inaction and to not act out of fear. In our passage, Peter became afraid. Why? He was looking at the wind heaving the waves about. He probably thought, “Oh, man, what if I’ve been tricked by a ghost and I’m standing in the middle of the sea? This was a really BAD idea.” The moment he took his eyes off Jesus, Peter began to sink. At this point, Peter is completely helpless. So he cries out, “Lord, save me!”

This reminds me of my own spiritual helplessness when it comes to saving myself. I will never be good enough to go to heaven in my own strength or merit. I have done and said stupid things all my life, even after I became a Christian, because like any child of God I need to learn and grow spiritually. I will continue to make mistakes, too (hopefully not on purpose). That’s why Jesus stressed the importance of forgiveness, both giving and asking for it. It’s called grace. God’s grace is his gift to us received in faith. All we need is a modicum of faith. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Well, that’s just ludicrous,  you say. Not even Jesus rearranged Israel’s landscape. You’re right. Jesus used hyperbole here to make a point. If faith the size of a tiny mustard seed can move something as big as Mount Everest, how little we truly need for life’s problems. It’s not the size of my faith that moves the mountain, but the immeasurable goodness of God. To the extent that I trust he will act in my best interest and everyone’s best interest, even if the situation is bad or looks bleak, I will have peace. I need to trust him that he is somehow, beyond my current understanding, working good for me or someone else. That’s part of spiritual dependence on God, of keeping our eyes on Jesus.

I think about Aleppo. I don’t claim to understand why innocent infants and children are dying by the hundreds, or are left traumatized, or are orphaned. I don’t claim to know why the horror of Hitler happened. I don’t claim to know the whys of many things. But I can recognize faith when I see it. I read a recent article about how the missionaries in the city of Aleppo are going out and evangelizing even amid the bombs and bullets. Not only do they face this danger, but the missionaries who stay to help with humanitarian aid and to share the gospel also risk torture, rape, and execution at the hands of the jihadists. Talk about faith under fire. Talk about things looking bleak. Talk about focus on Jesus.

Notice when Peter cried out to be saved that Jesus’ response was immediate. Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. They climbed back in the boat, the wind died down, and all the disciples worshiped Jesus: “Truly, you are the Son of God.” It’s faith in Jesus that allays fear, gives us assurance that there’s more than this life only, and moves the proverbial mountain.

If you disagree, consider this. Peter was a man of little faith in this instance, and also when Jesus was arrested. He said he would follow Jesus to death if he had to, but when his faith was tested, he denied knowing Jesus three times, one time even vehemently calling down curses. This same man became the leader of the church, a “pillar” in the faith. The other disciples had abandoned Jesus at his arrest, but all of them were later martyred for their faith with the exception of the Apostle John. Since that time, their work for the gospel has spread down through the ages and around the world to untold billions of people.

So, why did they all fail the first time? Well, a few things occurred to me. If they hadn’t, the early church would have been without first-hand accounts of Jesus, two gospels, end times prophecy, authoritative teaching, and all the myriads of influences the apostles had on individual lives. God, who always works good, had a better plan. That is why, no matter what happens on the world stage, in this election, or in my own life, I will trust God to answer my prayers only if they align with his perfect will.  After all, just before his crucifixion, even Jesus prayed “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (John 14:36). We can be thankful, for the sake of all believers, that this is the one prayer his Father did not answer according to the desired request.

Are You Looking for a Purpose in Life?

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” –Numbers 13:30

 

Have you ever been around someone who just exudes confidence and faith? They have a real gift of encouragement, if people are willing to listen. Not so with our dear Israelites. In this account of biblical history, twelve leaders, one from each tribe, are sent to spy out the land of Canaan and report back on what they see & hear. Out of the twelve, only Caleb & Joshua tell the community that the land is everything God promised, and that with God’s favor they will be able to possess the land the Lord will give them.

Have you ever been influenced by a group of people that is fearful? The other ten men in our little spy group were afraid of the people in Canaan, and emphasized to the other Israelites their physical size, saying, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:33) Yet Joshua and Caleb tell the people, “Do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14:9)

These ten men that spread the fearful report have the Israelite assembly so riled up and feeling defeated that they want to stone Joshua & Caleb, the men that are trying to encourage them to trust in their God! They grumbled against Aaron and Moses, whining: “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt? And they said to each other, ‘We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.'”

When we look at our circumstances and assume negative outcomes based on supposed facts stripped of faith, we would most likely come to a similar conclusion as the Israelites: if only I didn’t have to face this problem. I was better off before God’s intervention in my life. Let’s elect a different leader who will guarantee my safety and happiness.

Sound familiar? I know I have days where I struggle with the wrong outlook, and then the Lord reminds me I am forgetting about trusting him to do good for me. The only leader who can guarantee my safety and happiness is Christ. He is our Rock.

When I read the above account I couldn’t help but think of our current political climate. I’ve been praying recently about the handling of Syrian refugees, whether or not they should be allowed to come to the U.S. or if we should close our borders to them. I have come to the conclusion that while proper security measures should be exercised, actions motivated by fear alone frustrate the will of God. God’ will is to love Him and other people as you would yourself. I know if I were a refugee, faced with homelessness, war, death, hunger–I would want someone to take me in and show me some kindness and mercy, not to fear me because of my ethnic or religious background.

Jesus told his disciples that when it comes to their own hides, they should fear God, not man. It is my duty as a follower of Jesus to love–both my neighbors and my enemies: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 43-45) If you ever wonder what your purpose in life is, it is to love people and God. Like Jesus’ life illustrates, sometimes that means laying down our self-interest to focus on the benefit of another.

The Power in Prayer

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” (James 5:16-18)

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer . . . ” (1 Peter 3:12)

 

Last weekend when my hubby and I went to church, the pastor asked the congregation after the service if anyone wanted prayer for a family member who needed salvation. At that particular moment, I didn’t raise my hand, because to my delight, I was recalling how many of my family members and Randy’s family members have almost all given their lives to Christ over the years.

 

The years that have passed were filled with heartfelt prayer for them, and it was a wonderful thing to see God at work in their lives during that time and even now. It is not only evidence that the Lord hears us, but also a faith-affirming and substantive witness of nothing less than the divine working among the mundane day-in and day-out things of life.

 

I am learning to make life one long prayer, little snippets of praise and thanks and S.O.S’s sent up to the throne of grace throughout the day, not just during my quiet time with the Lord. It’s easy to forget to lean on Jesus when we’re more accustomed to going it alone and flying by the seat of our pants. Yet, like any good habit we start, it takes time for it to feel natural. I would like to make my prayer life as natural as taking a breath, because prayer in our spirits is like breath in our lungs. Prayer is air. It’s reliance on God that animates our spiritual life. It helps us grow in righteousness, trust the Lord’s goodness, and endure until the end.

 

A believer without a prayer life usually shows immaturity, a lack of faith, and short-lived enthusiasm for the Christian life. The solution? Pray, not only for them, but model it, too. Help them learn to talk to God themselves. There is something about interacting with the Most High God of heaven and earth, whether it is a casual chit-chat or a heartfelt plea for help, that makes me feel not only loved, but also valued dearly.

 

Late last year I decided to “adopt” a persecuted Christian in Darfur, Sudan. She had been in prison in this Muslim country for many months on trumped-up charges with the death penalty hanging over her head. I wrote to her, sending her scripture quotations that could be translated into her language. I then made it a point to bring her to the throne of grace every day. I prayed for about two months. One night, I was sitting at my computer and heard in the background a newscast about a Sudanese woman who had just been released from prison. I missed the name, so I looked it up on the Internet. It was her! Praise God Almighty! All the prayers that went up to the Lord from her family, her husband, her children, Christian workers, and all the other saints that prayed . . .He hears the prayers of his children!

 

I would like to encourage you to pray for someone regularly, perhaps a missionary, a Christian in a persecuted country, a family member, a friend, and as a special challenge, the guy that cut you off in traffic. Or someone else you’re mad at. Seriously. I guarantee that if you ask with love as the motive, you will see the Lord work in amazing ways, and neither you nor the person(s) you are praying for will ever be the same.

 

Hide and Seek

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”  He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” –Genesis 3:8-10

 

Do you hide from your Heavenly Father when you know you’ve done something wrong? How about when you are thinking about or feeling angry enough to do something wrong? Maybe you mask hiding from God with excuses, like, “I’m too busy to read the bible and pray,” or, “I just need to take a break.” Don’t feel too bad. I hide, and the first human couple hid, too. But I have learned over the years to trust God’s love for me much more. I’m learning to pray when I am first tempted, not after (when I have usually failed).

I have most recently learned to pray as soon as I get angry. It doesn’t have to be a formal prayer on your knees with hands folded–just a quick mental S.O.S. to God. I don’t know about you, but it seems that most of our troubles begin when we get angry. We lash out at people, disagreements flame into yelling matches, we hurt people we love. In society, our fuses are eerily short. A man gets cut off in traffic and in his anger, forces the offender off the road, or worse yet, fires a gun and kills him. The Dylann Roof’s of the world shoot dead some of the most loving people on the planet. Nations are easily offended by another country’s culture or aggressive attack and return the volley, fueled by longstanding hatred. And hatred is just anger concentrated and focused, like a laser.

In the bible, Cain is our first example of the bitter fruit of anger. “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering,  but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.  Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:4-6)   I appreciate the image of the verb “crouching” here, like a wild cat. When we get angry, sin is right outside our door, waiting to maul us like a powerful lion. We are no match for it. We must pray before acting, or anger will overpower us like it did Cain.

One of the consequences for Cain’s murder of his brother was that he would be “hidden from [God’s] presence.” (Genesis 4:14) Sin separates us from intimate relation with God, not because it is his will, but because it is our nature. Adam and Eve disobeyed God, which removed their total trust in that close-knit relationship with their Creator. Notice in our featured verse that the reason Adam hid was that he was afraid.

So too, the level of trepidation we feel about coming to God with our temptations and weaknesses may be one measure of our closeness to him. When you think about it, is it harder to ask for help or forgiveness from an acquaintance, or a close friend? I’m never afraid to ask my husband for help or forgiveness, because I know how tender-hearted he is toward me. Asking a stranger for help or forgiveness, on the other hand, makes me feel not only nervous because I don’t know how they will react, but also awkward because I feel vulnerable. Aren’t those two scenarios similar to how we can approach God?

Thanks to our faith in Jesus, though, we have regained the same trusting relationship with God lost by Adam and Eve before the fall. What does the bible say? “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,  Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

The word “confidence” in the original Greek is “parresia.” It means “freely, boldly, plainly, with assurance, openness, frankness.” If you have a good relationship with your spouse, this is the same type of comfort level God would like us to have in our relationship with him. Jesus was born in an earthly body and was tempted in every way we are, so he can also empathize with our feeble flesh.

I read a quote once that illustrated the difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is like seeing a man in a row-boat that’s filling up with water, and you call for help from shore. Empathy is like jumping in the lake, swimming out to the boat, and helping him bail water. Now that’s what Jesus does when we’re about to sink! Just as he left his glory in heaven to die for us on the cross, he comes to save us every time we call on him in prayer.

We can trust our heavenly Father’s love and mercy because of this empathy. Even though Adam and Eve sinned and caused the fall of mankind, what did God do? He made them clothes to cover their shame. (Genesis 3:21) What a tender, small gesture of God’s kindness and empathy. Perhaps he was looking into the future, when he would clothe each of us with robes made white in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:14)