Devotions

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

I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.” [Gen 26:4–5 NIV]

‘”Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did.”‘ [Jhn 8:39 NIV]

This week, I’m picking up where we left off in the last post and forging ahead to the word “works” and how the semantics behind this word has caused a wide rift between Catholic and Protestant faith traditions and also seems to be shifting to what it was never meant to define, and, therefore, twisting God’s truth. As for myself, the tension between Paul and James had left me feeling very confused at one time, because my whole heart was to please the Lord, but it felt like if I “worked,” or served the Lord in any way, I would displease Him, and if I did nothing, that would displease Him, too. I was caught in a double bind. Perhaps it was only peculiar to my emotional makeup, but I think that in considering the constant push and pull engendered by this word in theological debate that it affects more folks than I imagine. I also truly believe that my struggle in this area will not be for naught, for as my good friend always says, “God wastes nothing!”

Maybe the best way to approach this is to define what the word “works” means, then discuss what it does not mean. First of all, the Hebrew word for “work” in the Old Testament is “maʿăśê” and means an action (either good or bad); an act, deed, or labor. In the New Testament, the Greek word is “ergon” and similarly means a deed, doing, labor, or work. In the Old Testament, the main idea behind the word is one’s actions, whether God’s or man’s. In the New Testament, again, it alludes to actions, as in the above cited scripture in John 8:39. The Mounce Interlinear phrases that scripture like this: “They answered him, saying, “Our father is Abraham!” Jesus said to them, “If you were really Abraham’s children, you would be doing the deeds [ergon] of Abraham.” So, the sense is always doing something, our actions. Both testaments agree. There are so many scriptures that show this that I won’t cite them all here. A good resource is the Blue Letter Bible, which lets you search a word or phrase and then look up the words in the original languages.

There is a similar Hebrew word, āśâ, that means simply “do,” that has also been tranlated “to work.” For example, Isaiah 64:5 says, “You meet him who joyfully works [āśâ] righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.” Which is confusing, because the very next scripture is translated in some bibles as, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” The word for “righteous deeds” here is ṣᵊḏāqâ, which normally means “righteousness and justice” in a moral sense. For example, Deuteronomy 9:5 uses the same Hebrew word here:

Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. [ESV]

This is such an interesting verse because the Lord is warning the Israelites that they should not feel conceited or proud, as if their own natural morality has earned them their favored position with God. Rather, the Lord acts because the other nations are so wicked that He has deemed judgement necessary, and because He is fulfilling His promise to Abraham and his descendants. We know, from the verses that follow, that most of the Israelites were a “stiff-necked” people, stubborn: “Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD. [Deu 9:7 ESV] Moses goes on to list their faithless acts that show their lack of moral righteousness [ṣᵊḏāqâ].

So, I humbly suggest that the word ṣᵊḏāqâ should not be translated “righteous deeds,” in Isaiah 64:6, but, “righteousness,” or moral soundness, for the simple reason that the very preceding verse says that God meets those who joyfully work [āśâ] righteousness [ṣeḏeq, which is from the same root word listed above]. We can see from this that God welcomes righteous actions and justice–what he doesn’t condone is Israel’s unfaithful acts and disobedience under His rule. So, through our more modern lens, we see the words “righteous deeds” in verse 6 and associate it with Paul’s denunciation of works throughout his New Testament letters, that they are “filthy rags.” I suggest a fuller understanding is that the prophet spoke of the Israelite’s very moral fiber, their righteousness before God, or lack thereof as evidenced by their behavior, which better aligns with Deuteronomy 9:5.

The next logical questions would be, “Well, what was Paul’s definition of works?” I suggest that in his letters his emphasis is on “works of the law,” i.e. observance of the entire Mosaic Law, and often, specifically, circumcision. This seems to be a big contention back in his day, with some of the Jewish converts requiring and teaching that circumcision was still needed for Gentile believers. Paul vehemently denounces this, stating, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” [Gal 2:21 ESV] He is saying these Jewish converts are trying to add to initial belief in Christ, that in order to be righteous before God, to be saved, one had to also observe the custom of circumcision and the Law of Moses. This contradicts the Council of Jerusalem, where Peter there stated, “and He made no distinction between us and them [the Gentile believers], having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” [Act 15:9–11 ESV]

From this whole heresy by these Jews, Paul begins to reason out why rules and regulations do not save a person, but only our faith in Christ. He often drops from “works of the law” to the shortened “works,” which I think is confusing for young Christians. He must not mean righteous deeds done after we place our faith in Jesus, because he encourages those! He even EXPECTS that! For example, Paul’s famous line in Ephesians 2:8-9 is:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works [ergon], so that no one may boast.”

But we see in the very next verse that good works, good deeds, are part of God’s plan for us:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works [ergon], which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Eph 2:10 ESV]

In the context of these verses, Paul is talking about the Mosaic Law, the “the law of commandments expressed in ordinances” (verse 15). Those works. Any works (external rules and regulations that supersede love and justice) set up by a religion that expects strict adherence or you will not be saved. Paul and the other Apostles argued that God welcomed the Gentiles, baptizing them in the Holy Spirit with the visible sign of speaking in tongues to confirm His acceptance. He did this once they put their faith in God’s Savior, not because they observed Jewish rules and regulations, or, for that matter, had done anything but repent and believe: “The time has come,” [Jesus] said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” [Mark 1:15 NIV] Once they were born again through the Holy Spirit’s power, they would do by their new nature the good things of God’s law, those things that called for a righteousness and justice in morality. They would grow in grace: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” [Eph 4:15 ESV].

From all this we can see that in Paul’s mind, he defines “works” as rules and regulations that supposedly give us a favored relationship with God. Just as the Jewish people contradicted the spirit of God’s good law, we can do the same today. Like the Lord told Israel through the prophet Zephaniah, we can develop the same heart attitude: “Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.” [Zep 3:4 NIV] For example, Jesus told the Jews, “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” [Luk 11:42 ESV] They practiced the rules, but had no moral fiber, no innate righteousness, no justice in their hearts. They stuck up their noses at “sinners” without thinking to help them to repent or show them kindness. They wanted to follow the rules. There was to be no work on a religious day, and they got angry with Jesus for healing sick folks on the Sabbath, viewing it not as mercy, but as a work. They accused Jesus of having a demon because He spoke truth that contradicted the Jews views and customs, yet He was God’s beloved Son.

Likewise, we can proudly tithe, go to church every Sunday, or sing in the choir, and we are satisfied because people see us do all these good things. Then we go home and arrange clandestine rendezvous with our lover, without thinking of love for our spouse. Then we go to work and steal from our employer. Then we go to the bar and get wasted, picking a fight with the quiet guy in the corner minding his own business. Then someone offends us, and we vow never to forgive them. Then we buy a big screen TV after refusing a meal to the homeless man on the corner. And we feel righteous? Like so many of the Israelites wandering in the desert, we behave abhorrently. We live faithless lives. For the love of God, where is the love of God? We twist what is good, namely, God’s grace, into an excuse to work our own selfish deeds: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Gal 5:13–14 ESV]

So, we can see Paul is not saying that mere righteous actions after salvation contradict faith. If you are ever made to feel guilty for trying to express your love for God in doing good, tell the enemy, the father of lies, to talk to the hand. Just like Jesus “worked” on the Sabbath, we too can do good in the Sabbath rest of God. For instance, our scriptures cited under the heading show God said that BECAUSE of Abraham’s obedience and the keeping of His commands he would be blessed and shown God’s favor (the commands God gave him that came before the Mosaic Law, not the rules of some other menfolk who happened to set up religious shop). Abraham first believed the Lord–he took Him at His word. Then a beautiful obedience flowed from that heartfelt faith. Paul never indicates that any of Abraham’s actions were somehow a work. Rather, he emphasizes that God’s promise of favor came to him before the covenant of circumcision and the Law, therefore we don’t receive the Lord’s favor by performing rituals or following any rules. We receive favor by faith in and obedience to Christ. Paul argues that an outward rule does not touch the heart, that it can never engender true faith and therefore is quite powerless to change one’s life. But faith in Jesus IS life-changing, because He is THE Life-Changer! He is constantly working His grace in us to conform us into His own likeness. A rule cannot give life. It is itself a dead thing, and only produces after its own kind. Christ begets Christians (little reflections of Himself). Paul never advocates that because Abraham did nothing, that we should do nothing! Abraham would never have been a hero of faith or have been called God’s friend had he not acted out his faith.

Since I’m venturing into what “works” is not, what Paul does not have in mind, let’s discuss morality. May I state clearly that holiness is not a work–it is an expectation of conduct. Paul said, “[I] declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. [Act 26:20 ESV] So many in the church today think that works include living a holy life, or conversely, excuse their lack of morality, their purposeful sin, by crying out, “Grace, grace!” Now, please don’t hear me wrong. The following is a warning to do you good, not condemn you if you repent. God is always trying to do you good! Now, the Lord himself states:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does [poieō: to work, perform] the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works [miracles] in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers [ergazomai, a form of ergon] of lawlessness.’ [Mat 7:21–23 ESV]

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do [poieō] what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” [Luk 6:46–49 NIV]

So we see that moral and godly conduct is not a work. It is expected. It is fruit from the holy seed of rebirth and regeneration. Of course, this is the caveat. Morality without Christ is useless, for just like Paul reasons that if the Mosaic Law could make a person righteous, then Jesus did not need to come to earth, suffer, die, and be resurrected for our salvation. Like I stated in my last post, God has an order in salvation. The seemingly good things we try to do before salvation are works, because, for the most part, we are trying to please man or ourselves. The good things we do after salvation are fruit, because we are trying to please God.

We can see from all of this then that James is not contradicting Paul, he is contradicting those that misunderstand and misquote Paul. James says:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” [Jas 2:14–26 NIV]

James cuts right through the ring bologna, the illogical conclusion that Paul means one needs to never do anything after we come to faith. Our faith is meant to produce a crop, to multiply, to produce fruit, not be buried like the inaction of the wicked and lazy servant (Luke 19:11-27). When James says, rather sarcastically, that even demons believe [pisteuō] there is one God, he is rather sassily saying, in modern English, “You say you have faith and don’t need anything to support it? That you believe in one God, and that’s enough? Well, you do beautifully well, ‘cuz folks, demons believe that, too. I’m just sayin’! How can I tell the difference between you two if I do not see your works (fruit)?” Brothers and sisters, our faith needs to be a living, breathing testimony to the belief that Jesus is the Savior and Good Teacher. If not, it would be like taking a physics class and learning all the theorems but never getting a job and putting your newfound knowledge to good use. If we tell someone in need to go and be warm and well-fed but do nothing to make it happen, how does our wish for them align with the outcome to see them well-fed and clothed? It would be like an artist confident that he or she can paint a beautiful masterpiece, but never picking up a paint brush! Doing good, then, is not work. Belief worth any salt will produce action.

So, James is correcting error, not Paul. We can see how semantics can be used by the enemy to lead people astray, even back then. And the enemy is still doing it today. I think for Martin Luther, his anger at the Church was directed toward the vice he saw rampant, the manipulation of the sheep, the consignment to superstition in so many “doctrines” that were unscriptural and made up by man. The leaders in Rome had fallen into the same trap and were rowing in the same boat as the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. In our present age, the pendulum has seemed to swing to the other ditch (so often the enemy gets us off track by going to extremes), so that faith is so simple you can practice ongoing sin and have it swept under the rug by grace. How does that work for a nine-year-old? Don’t they refrain from what they know is bad because they either fear being disciplined, or because they love their parents and see the good they desire for them? Guess what my next topic will be.

I just want to add that in my life, I have often felt the Lord’s good correction and his love for me behind it. But there have been times that seem like the Lord is harsh. I firmly believe that if the result of what you are thinking or feeling is defeat or complete rejection, that this is the enemy trying to dishearten you. If your thinking or feeling is that you regret your sin and want to turn from it, and you are thankful for the correction, this is the Lord’s loving hand. I feel like the enemy’s tactic is to make a thrashing seem like it is from our Abba. It’s kind of like how a good father will sit down and correct us, maybe even dole out discipline, like grounding, but the evil neighbor comes over, blindfolds us, and gives us a beating. So be aware, brothers and sisters, that the Lord only desires our good: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” [2Co 7:10 NIV] Our God is the Author of life! Just because as a believer we are corrected does not mean that our Father has rejected us. Matter of fact, it shows that we are indeed His children:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined–and everyone undergoes discipline–then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. [Hebrews 12:7–8 NIV] And again, “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. [Proverbs 3:11–12 NIV] See? He corrects us because He LOVES and DELIGHTS in us! Please hear me: if the enemy is calling you a failure, a loser, a no good so-and-so, with no hope of remedy, this is spiritual battle. The proper mindset is to confess our sin and know that God is faithful and just to forgive us AND purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) Once we do that, once we humble ourselves before the Lord, we are submitting to God. THEN we resist the devil and he will FLEE! [James 4:7] Yes. AFTER we repent and submit to God, we can tell the devil to go retire to a warmer climate and, as one dear brother I know suggested, remind him of his final fate. Amen.

Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” [Luke 10:19–20 ESV]

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but He who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. [1 John 5:18 ESV]

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

Orthodoxy Drift:

How Semantics, Euphemisms, & Coined Phrases Influence the Church–Part I

“Stand at the gate of the LORD’s house and there proclaim this message: ‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”–safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.” [Jer 7:2–11 NIV]

I am going to attempt in a series of posts, relying fully on the Lord’s help, to point out that many words used by the inspired authors of the bible and coined phrases in use now have experienced or are experiencing a semantic shift in today’s culture, words like grace, works, freedom, and unconditional love. A semantic shift occurs when a word takes on a different connotation and meaning over time. For example, the term “gay,” back in the thirteenth century, meant “lighthearted or joyful, but in the fourteenth century also took on the connotation of “bright and showy.” The term “the gay ’90s” refers to the 1890s period of a happier and more simple time in the United States. I remember back in my high school days using the word to mean “dumb or boring,” as in, “No way. I don’t want to hang out with Pete at his house. That is so gay.” Today, of course, it almost always refers to a homosexual person or practice.

We also recognize word changes in today’s political euphemisms, terms like “ethnic cleansing” or or “the Final Solution” or “alternative facts.” The diabolical nature of using these words is that they obscure truth when they are used to justify an action or soothe our conscience. What kind of fruit do these words produce? That is my major concern in this post. When words get redefined in the Church, it has far-reaching effects. It leads to either great error such as occurs in heresies, or in well-meaning folks, misunderstanding that leads to either an incongruent life or a double bind. The devil can use this to confuse, mislead, and beat up the Lord’s sheep! So let’s look at a few biblical words, euphemisms, and coined phrases that have changed or are beginning to change in our time.

The first term I will tackle in this post is unconditional love, and then I’ll touch on the euphemisms we use for the word “sin.” We hear the phrase “unconditional love of God” a lot in churches today, so please don’t feel like I’m being critical of the folks who are–I am only trying to help us recognize the enemy’s subtle error (which I also have accepted in the past without any real evaluation of the term). The secular website, “The Good Men Project,” explains the phrase this way: “The general idea behind unconditional love is to love someone wholeheartedly and unselfishly under any circumstance. It is a love in which one person cares for another person’s overall happiness and health without expecting anything in return.”

The trouble with this definition is that most folks leave out a lot of qualifiers and exceptions not contained in the synopsis. For example, the article admits that staying in an abusive relationship is not productive, nor is objection to a unhealthy habit a negative. If we didn’t add these qualifiers, that would be taking the short definition way too far. We would become a doormat by letting others treat us however they want or giving to others every whim they demand. If humans can recognize that unconditional love is in this sense not healthy, because there are always exceptions, because we have boundaries, how much more can we not recognize that to expect unconditional love from God is not healthy for us, either? The Lord is not a doormat. He is God Almighty! But what the world reasons is that unconditional means just that–no conditions whatsoever. Why? Because it appeals to our flesh to have someone else totally committed to our happiness. The problem gets twisted because we, in our natural state, don’t know what makes us truly happy. For example, I used to think smoking cigarettes made me happy. The reality was it was not my overall happiness that was in view, but my momentary pleasure at experiencing the rush of the nicotine. (At the Lord’s command, I quit. I truly believe I would not be alive today had I not listened to Him. This is true happiness!).

Unbelievers do the same thing. They equate happiness with what is giving them pleasure at the moment. And that changes so fast because we are all fickle. A person may experience some negative consequence from one pleasure, then run to a different one. Then we preach the gospel message and the Holy Spirit convicts an unbeliever of the illicit pleasure, and they say, “You are being judgmental. You are not loving me unconditionally.”

Do you see the shift in meaning for the average person? Now, in psychology it is defined more appropriately, and professionals will correct these erroneous applications and the unhealthy outcomes they produce. They often liken unconditional love to a parent, especially a mother’s love for her child. She will patiently teach, correct, and fight for her child–even die for her child. This does reflect God in so many ways. But I find it interesting that that they choose the likeness of a mother, rather than that of a father. God likens Himself to a father. Perhaps because mothers can tend to be less harsh or can take love to unhealthy extremes because of their emotional makeup. (On a side note, I would like to point out that psychology recognizes the unhealthy application of the term unconditional love in people, but because of unbelief, will not acknowledge it toward their view of God, if any!). So, the mother analogy is more correct, but I think there is a tendency to forget the Lord’s more stern side because of this. And, inevitably, as we shall see, the parent-child analogy does not even uphold a loose or even strict reading of the term.

For example, the above definition says that unconditional love does not require or expect anything in return. How often do we find ourselves telling our children, “We feed you, with clothe you, we give you shelter–and you treat us like this? The natural reaction is pain and anger at the failed expectation of obedience or demonstration of love. What about the illustration of marriage? I think I’m getting this from a sermon I heard or book I read a while back. What if a couple got married and the husband never showed his wife affection, never spent time with her, never talked to her, and constantly hurt her feelings? Would the wife just accept this in the relationship? If human beings will not feel healthy or put up with (either emotionally or in actual action) such treatment, then how much more would the the Godhead not tolerate such things? “But He is God, He can handle it,” you might say. It is true He is more longsuffering than us, but that does not mean His expectations change or are canceled out because He is perfect. If He did, we would not be the benefactors of His ultimate good He intends! His love necessitates conditions, or we would come to spiritual ruin and die.

Now, a bit on the euphemisms for “sin.” The world today does a couple things when confronted with the gospel message that we are sinners in need of a Savior and that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Euphemizing sin makes it less offensive to ourselves, like a subtle justification that we are really not that guilty. People make “mistakes,” and are “not perfect,” or, my favorite, are “just fun-loving.” We use euphemisms for many other words for particular sins in the bible, such as “cohabitating,” for “fornication,” and “cheating” for “adultery.” My point is that people, even Christians, don’t like to be confronted with their sin. I feel it is important to use and define these words properly, especially for unbelievers, for the simple fact that they are used over and over in scripture. If the dots aren’t connected, or connected to a different meaning, the truths in God’s Word will not be understood or lose their power. For example, in Jeremiah, the Lord says, “Israel treated it all so lightly–she thought nothing of committing adultery by worshiping idols made of wood and stone. So now the land has been polluted. [Jer 3:9 NLT]. So, if the common word “cheated” is used here, it brings to mind the word “dishonesty,” instead of the repugnent sin the Lord used to illustrate Israel’s propensity to worship worthless idols. Our Lord desires understanding: “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.”[Hos 4:6 NIV]

Not only do the unsaved balk at the word “sin,” but they also associate it with rejection of their natural human worthiness or identity–a denial of the God-given dignity He desires for everyone. So, if we tell someone that homosexuality is sin in God’s eyes, they will shoot back that we should love unconditionally like Jesus did. They are right that we should do as Jesus did. He corrected. He reasoned. He told parables. He condemned sin. Did He love unconditionally as they mean it–to accept them just the way they are and bless their continuation of sin? Absolutely not! Jesus said, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. [Mat 18:8–9 NIV] Jesus used violent terms and hyperbole to illustrate how we need to handle sin. We are not to mollycoddle our flesh. We are to crucify our flesh: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” [Gal 5:24 NIV] We do this through the power of the Holy Spirit, not through any human means.

So, if we are to be imitators of God, does God love unconditionally? The term “unconditional love” does not occur in the bible. It was supposedly first coined by the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm in the 1930s, then picked up on by the free-loving sixties culture. How is it that the Church has adopted this coined phrase from an atheist? Or, pardon me, to use his own euphemism, his “nontheistic mysticism?”

Now there are many illustrations in the bible that seem to allude to the unconditional love of God, such as the prophet Hosea marrying an immoral woman to illustrate to the Israelites the Lord’s fidelity even after all their spiritual prostitution to foreign gods. But this is not unconditional in any sense of today’s layman terminology. The Lord sought Israel’s repentance, a turning away from their sinful ways to embrace His righteous ways. God’s love is many things: compassionate, longsuffering, and faithful far above any human ideal. He draws us with His loving kindness: “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent?” [Hos 11:4–5 NIV] So, in the sense that God overlooks sin or winks at it, continuing to bless us and let us continue in it, no, it is not unconditional. Our Lord has given us so many conditional, or if-then statements to receive His blessing –requirements to be met–and an expectation of obedience and for His love to be returned. Consider just the following verses from scripture:

You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master. [Gen 4:7 NLT]

If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. [Deu 8:19 NIV]

If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God. [Deu 28:1–2 NIV]

If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God–good! But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your ancestors. [1Sa 12:14–15 NIV]

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. [Isa 58:6–10 NIV]

If you do not listen, and if you do not resolve to honor my name,” says the LORD Almighty, “I will send a curse on you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not resolved to honor me. [Mal 2:2 NIV]

You say, “But that’s the Old Testiment. We are under grace now through Christ our Lord.” Okay. Let’s check that out:

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. [Mat 6:14–15 NIV]

“If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. [Mat 18:6 NIV]

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. [Mat 18:6, 15–17 NIV]

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” [Mar 8:38 NIV]

“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. [Luk 14:26 NIV]

If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. [Mat 10:37–39 NLT]

“Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. [Jhn 8:39 NIV]

If you love me, keep my commands. [Jhn 14:15 NIV]

Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins. [Heb 10:26 NLT]

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. [Rom 8:13 ESV]

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. [1Jo 4:11 ESV]

And this is just a spattering of scriptures. How is it that we have bought the lie that the Lord’s love is unconditional? It seems that the Lord’s forgiveness and compassion rather show His faithfulness, not His tolerance of sin. Repentance and change is required to have God’s blessings. In order to do those things, there is an order in God’s wisdom. First, we need to believe in the Son of God. Jesus, when asked what work the Jewish people must do to be doing the works of God, said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” [Jhn 6:29 ESV] Our response to the gospel message of faith in Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and promise of eternal life MUST begin there. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” [Jhn 3:3 ESV] We must experience new birth through the power of the Holy Spirit, new life in Christ wrought by His power. It needs to be in this order first so that it agrees with the rest of scripture that states salvation is an utter gift and victory given before we do anything good, and is lived out by the power of God. So belief, not in a god, a higher power, Allah, Buddha, or any other gods, but only in Christ Jesus (a condition, no?)–that He was who He said He was, that He did what his disciples said He did, and that His words are truly Spirit and life. I think part of the problem in the Church today is also the definition of faith or belief. How should we think about these two words? I will discuss that in my next post.

For now, I’d like you to be sure of what I am not saying. I am not saying God’s love isn’t amazing, nor longsuffering, nor superhuman, nor dependent upon who I am or how I live when I hear the gospel preached. That’s important, because Paul says that “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] But please realize this is the start. This is the embryo of faith. We do not stop there. New birth happens. Growth should follow. How to walk in faith should follow. A baby that is fed and nurtured naturally grows. We are fed by the words of the Lord in the bible. We are nurtured and matured by the Holy Spirit.

I am also not saying that the Lord will not accept us when we repent. That is always his goal, to restore us, teach us, correct us–not condemn us. This side of eternity, His love is always held out to us. If you hear any of my words any other way, it is most likely spiritual battle (or I have not made myself clear enough). Often the enemy attacks when the Lord is trying to correct us for our good. What the Lord desires is godly sorrow that leads to repentance. [2 Corinthians 7:10-11] Do not listen to what Satan says:

Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” [Gen 3:1] What type of fruit does this produce?

We need to listen to our Lord: “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it. [Isa 55:10–11 NLT] May God’s word prove true always! Amen.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross | Isaac Watts

  1. When I survey the wondrous cross
    On which the Prince of glory died,
    My richest gain I count but loss,
    And pour contempt on all my pride.
  2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
    Save in the death of Christ my God!
    All the vain things that charm me most,
    I sacrifice them to His blood.
  3. See from His head, His hands, His feet,
    Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
    Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
    Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
  4. Were the whole realm of nature mine,
    That were a present far too small;
    Love so amazing, so divine,
    Demands my soul, my life, my all.

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!

Let Love Lead

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” –1 John 4:7

Many years ago, I heard a sermon given by a wise pastor who said that when you are deciding whether or not to do something, and you feel pushed and anxious about it, that this is not from the Lord. His prompts are more like a draft horse pulling a plow. His powerful love leads us. After all, the Bible says that, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (Romans 8:14) The Greek word for led used here is agō, which means to lead out or guide.

In the context, Paul is talking about our battle against our flesh. When we are led by our flesh, we pursue our own pleasure over and above what God’s Spirit desires. But in another place, he says that if we “by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the flesh,” we will overcome. We will allow the Holy Spirit to lead us into ever increasing holiness.  But it can be applied to everyday decisions, too, like job choice, what charities we give to and how much, our choice of close friends–things like that. And that was this pastor’s point: to not be badgered into, guilted into, or in any way, shape, or form coerced by man. So I’d like to talk a bit about motives today. They are SO important and what the Lord looks for when we do anything.

Not too long ago, I saw a quote from a church sign that said, “Forgive your enemies. It messes with their minds.” Now, I think our first reaction to this would be to smile, maybe even laugh…worse yet, to follow that line of thought because it would make our flesh quite satisfied to lay our enemy in the dust. However, Satan is subtle. If he can get us to pick up this kind of spirit of payback, the Lord will not honor our “forgiving.” We are to be imitators of God, not the world. The Lord forgives us because He loves us and wants to restore our relationship with Him. He does NOT want to “mess with our minds.” We are to forgive our enemies with the same motive in mind–to mend the relationship, to somehow draw them to Christ. That is why the directive is: “repay no one evil for evil;” rather, “overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17;21)

There seems to be three major motives that cause us to act when serving God: duty, fear, or love. For example, we may go to church every Sunday, tithe, or live a moral life out of a sense of duty, a sense it is expected and has been practiced for as long as one can remember. These same things can also be prompted by fear–that God will not love us if we don’t give ten percent, that God will not forgive confessed and repentant moral failings, that we’ll go to hell if we don’t (fill in the blank here). Then there is love. God is love, and in all things, the Lord is after our hearts to do, say, think, and live motivated by love:

When Jesus was asked by one of the teachers of the Law what the greatest commandment was, he replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

See? Love “pulls” the plow (in my analogy). The Word often refers to Christ’s teaching as a foundation, and that Christ is the chief Cornerstone. He holds up the entire structure being built by God. And Jesus lived love perfectly. Notice Jesus said that the foremost desire of God is to love Him? In what other religion throughout the history of the world does a deity desire love from its followers? Servile worship, fulfillment of rituals, a laundry list of rules in minutiae, a sense of always needing to placate its anger–these are the norm for the world. And sometimes it creeps even into Christian denominations. But the only true God says first and foremost, “Love me.” This is at the top of His list. It is true it is a command, yet our Lord commands and demands it for our good, because He is the source of all things good. If we love Him first, preeminently, all love and goodness will flow from Him, to us, and then to others. If we love Him first, we will in our hearts be seeking His desires and favor, and will not be caught in the snare of pleasing ourselves or others before pleasing Him. And all of the Lord’s commands, wisdom, and counsel should bring us joy, because His motive is always to love, protect, and bless us.

Now, the reason we all love is because God has loved us first. He modeled it to the world in Jesus, and displayed it on the cross in full public view so that we would not misunderstand or be tempted by the enemy when life gets tough that, somehow, God does not love us or always do what is right. The enemy is a liar, the father of lies, and speaks falsehood fluently. Satan’s first temptation of Adam and Eve painted God as someone who would withhold good from His creation. He maligned God Almighty, our perfect Heavenly Father. He has continued this tactic to this day. But the Word says that God’s love is so expansive, that it is as high as the heavens. I once tried to put that in some sort of mathematical illustration, but I think I failed. The best I could come up with is that the known universe is so big that you could travel around the world trillions of times to exponential powers to match its breadth, creating numbers I could not relate to! The LORD himself tells us He loves us this much. So, because God is our Source, our Model, and our Savior, because we are born again by the power of the Holy Spirit, we love, too. His Word says:

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” –1 John 4:7-12

Even the second command in God’s list of priorities is love for one another in the body of Christ and for our unbelieving neighbors. The bible says that this proves our love for God. The Lord wants us to be kind, tenderhearted, and freely forgiving toward others, because it is His heart that we imitate Him, that we be conformed to the image of Jesus. If we do not love others, we cannot love God, because God showed us so clearly that He loves others, even His enemies. This is not a Kool-Aid, New Age, or hip sixties free love kind of thing. It is a strong and deep love rooted in seeking the best interest of the other. God’s love is hard. It is hard because it is different. The world is always trying to remake God’s love, to dress it up, prop it up, and talk it up to suit people, not God. Who is the Creator, and who is the created? Should the child tell his parent what he can and can not do, what is good and what is not?

The 1960s saw a lot of self-seeking lifestyles, and the New Age movement tells us that we need to “accept” each other, meaning if a lifestyle does not agree with God’s Word, we should keep silent and not “judge.” The problem is that such worldly reasoning does not submit to Divine authority. It thinks all our ideas are made up in our own minds and by our own standards. No, God’s love is not negotiable. When He tells us “no,” that is love, too. We are not “judging” our children when they do something wrong, are we? We are teaching them and protecting them from harm. And our love, which is like some base metal, is not superior to God’s love, which is like a precious metal. How can we set down guidelines for our own children, but reject any standard of right and wrong from our own Heavenly Father?

This second command is so important that the Lord tells us not to worship Him at the altar before seeking reconciliation with someone we have sinned against and offended! Jesus said, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24) In modern English, we could say, “Do not give your offering when the plate is passed if you know you’ve sinned against someone. Your Heavenly Father will be most pleased if you go and reconcile with that person first. No amount of tithes and offerings can compare to or make up for the evil that results when you do not seek the good of your neighbor or brother. When you have reconciled, come back to my Father’s house and He will accept your gift and will take delight in you.” So much of God’s paradigm is a complete one-eighty in importance and order from the worldly take on life! And our flesh gravitates to those false ways of doing things because it is just easier. Isn’t it easier to write a check to your local church than to humble yourself, admit your sin, and ask for forgiveness?

The apostle Paul’s eloquent praise of love in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians tells us that, without love, no spiritual gift, no vast sum of knowledge, no great sacrifice benefits us. He point blank states it amounts to zilch. He says such things, even seemingly godly things like supernatural gifts, giving all your worldly goods to the poor, even moving a mountain or two, done for show, selfish-gain, or any fleshly motive, leaves us noisy, of little esteem, and unprofitable. And it impresses God not one iota.

Can you see how easy it is to want to impress people? Because it pleases our self. The world clamors after fame, recognition, and respect from people for one’s own sense of self-worth and importance. God’s children should be about the desire to bring Him fame (glory), recognition, and honor. Paul was a good example of this. He is known now as a great man of faith. But back then he suffered disrespect, slander, accusations of poor leadership ability, reproach…you name it. But he overcame because his motive was always to please God, not man. The bible says we are but dust. Why do we then try to impress one another?

We need to seek our self-worth and praise from God alone. Only then will we be truly confident and content. Love seeks to please the object of its desire. Praying for the Lord to help us love Him more is, in my opinion, one of the best prayers you can pray. It is the solution to all besetting sin and a foundation that will withstand any temptation or tempest. And it is the Holy Spirit who pours out God’s love in our hearts. (Romans 5:5) Jesus said, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

If we apply this lifegiving principle to all we do and pray, we will bear so much fruit. I sense such pleasure from our Lord when I ask Him to help me love in difficult situations and even in the day to day stuff we experience. For example, is our giving done because we feel guilted into it, or has the Lord led us to love the church body, both local and worldwide? Are we moved by compassion to help the homeless man, or a down-and-out family member, or folks who do not have access to human service organizations? Or would we rather give only because it is tax deductible? Do we have a set amount in mind, or do we listen to the Lord’s prompting? Would we give more than ten percent if the Lord would direct us? Would we be obedient enough to give less than ten percent if the Lord would direct us to pay back a a bad debt first? Is it loving to file bankruptcy on our creditors because our church is asking for more money?

Another way to apply love is when we judge another. Is our heart to restore and correct, or condemn? So many times a person’s story affects the severity of the rebuke. For example, I had a friend, a believer, who committed adultery many times over. I didn’t know how to pray, I couldn’t understand. But I counseled them against such things, and prayed for the Lord to help them walk in the Spirit. I found out later that they had a mental illness and physical reason for the behavior. The behavior is still wrong, yes, but the correction is meted out with more mercy because their mind was not right.

There is a beautiful example of how God views a person’s motives, what is in their heart, in Mark 14:3-9:

“While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

The disciples wanted to reprimand this woman for “wasting” the expensive perfume she poured on Jesus. Can you imagine giving something worth so much to Jesus only to be judged as wasteful and foolish by others? Perhaps they were offended because she didn’t ask them what to do with the perfume? But Jesus said what she did was BEAUTIFUL, and He was so touched by her act of love that He promised her example would be repeated wherever the gospel was preached in perpetual memory of her. He saw the great love in her heart for Him. Some of the other disciples, preoccupied with procuring a more “righteous” purpose for the perfume, missed the preciousness of her act. So in most everything, when we have a holy love for Jesus in mind, it brings His heart joy.

The most obvious application of being led by love is our choices in life. We are called to be holy, and “love does no harm to a neighbor.” (Romans 13:10) God’s moral requirements are meant to protect us and others. We are told not to have sex outside of marriage because it represents a close intimacy that is a lifelong commitment. Sex outside of marriage requires no commitment, no promise of faithfulness, an easy out for our fickleness. We are commanded not to commit adultery because it wrecks our dignity, hurts our spouse and children, and can even lead to jealous fits of anger–things that will scar our life for years and years to come because of some momentary imagined “fix” or fleeting pleasure. We are commanded not to get drunk, because it leads to debauchery when our inhibitions are lowered. Addictions ruin entire families when a job is lost because of it or funds to care for one’s own children are spent on the desired drug. We become unloving when we let our flesh rule our bodies and lives. Our flesh produces rotten fruit. When we walk in the Spirit, we bear His fruit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Good fruit that will last throughout eternity.

On a final note, I’d like to add something. The Lord wants an emotional kind of love from us, the feeling of tender affection. But He looks for proof of it in our actions. He always has. In Ezekiel 33:30-32, The Lord says of His people, “Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.” Do we lack preaching in our age, in this country, or has everything become entertainment, too? Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” (John 14:15)

In the Apostle John’s first letter he writes:

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18)

I have heard of congregations angrily splitting over politics, ministry approaches, building projects–even carpet colors! Really? Does our opinion matter so much that we stubbornly resist one another to the point of what looks like a broken up teenage romance? Remember little old Clara Peller who is famous for her line in the 1980’s Wendy’s commercial? She’s holding a competitor’s burger, stares at the lack of bun coverage, and with an unimpressed quip asks, “Where’s the beef?” I wish she were still around to ask the Church, especially here in the United States and in more affluent countries, “Where’s the love?”

Oh, how we need to clothe ourselves in love! Love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8) Love always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:7-8) God never fails. (Isaiah 55:10-11) “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” (2 John 1:6) He who walks in love follows Christ. If we suffer illness, poverty, death of a dear one, ridicule, scorn, false accusations, imprisonment, even death–the Holy Spirit will fill us with His love so that we will not ultimately fail. He will lead us to His heavenly victory. “Do everything in love!” (1 Corinthians 16:14)

I write this to challenge and encourage. God’s spiritual children mature over time, just like physical children. Do not let the enemy steal your hope. Hope always in the Lord. He is our ever present help and merciful redeemer. He is patient and kind. He offers His good gifts freely. We need only ask.

Jesus said, “…On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18) Amen.

Are Christians Supposed to Make the World a Better Place?

“Jesus said…In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.” –John 18:37

I’ve often heard people, well-meaning believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, say things like: “We need to make a difference in our world, in our country, in our community, and in our homes.” Or, “Let’s get out there and change the world.” Should we? Or do we, ever so subtly, even by something seemingly good, get sidetracked from our vocation as Christians? I often have felt a check in my spirit when I hear things like this. Up until maybe 4 or so years ago, statements like this confused and weighted me down. I would ask the Lord, “What do you want me to do? Should I start a charity for refugees, protest for the anti-abortion movement, support veterans, fight for civil rights?” The list expands with every desperate need we see in society. So the Lord Jesus has taught me something from all this that I’d like to share with you, with the hopes that it will keep you on task and at peace.

First, let me ask that you read this with care and knowing that love is the motivation. I am NOT saying we are never called to do good works. That is unscriptural. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10). I merely want to draw your attention to the purpose and order of our to-do lists, which, sadly, these days are way too long. We live in a world of Marthas! Remember that it was Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, that chose the good part. It is a distraction and tactic of the enemy to drive a wedge between us and our Lord—always doing and having little time to build our friendship with the Lord. When we love others, we want to spend time with them, yes? How much more should we spend quiet time alone with our Lord and Savior, prayerfully reading His Word and enjoying His presence. He has called us to friendship, not a productivity initiative. We first have to receive from Him, then share it with others.

To start off with, lets talk about our purpose in doing good works. What did Jesus say? “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). Is our purpose here to make a difference in the world? Or to bring glory to God? I beg you to see that our purpose behind our good works is to bring the magnificence of our God to light. So that we can point lost people to Him, not ourselves. So many churches have big programs and events and drives and whatnot. What gets headlined in the local paper or their own web site? Their church! I suppose the idea is to get people to church to hear the gospel. Then they get there to find lots of friendly people, coffee bars, rock concert-type music, and a message that basically says, “God loves you just the way you are.” Which is true in the sense that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” But then they say, “Hey, this church ain’t so bad!” But I suspect most folks walk away with the idea that God loves them so much that they need not change their sinful way of life. This is perverted love! What parent would allow or encourage their son or daughter to continue using something like heroin if it would destroy their life or even cause their death? Is the Lord less loving than a human parent?

I digress a bit, but the preaching of repentance is sadly missing in our seeker-focused churches we have today. But we hear, “God’s love is unconditional.” This is a lie straight from hell. I’m not saying His love is withheld if we do wrong, but it is enforced! Most unchurched people use the term unconditional love to mean that God accepts me as who I am and will allow me to do whatever I want. He will never tell me I’m doing wrong, because that’s being judgmental. ?! Listen. When you get a call at 2 AM from a police officer who informs you that your son or daughter was picked up for drunk driving and has totaled the family car, most parents say, “Oh, that’s okay. No big deal. We will buy them another car so they can go kill themselves or someone else in a head-on collision going the wrong way on the freeway of life. After all, we love them. They’re our child. We need to cheer them on!” NOT. So, anyone who argues that God’s love is unconditional in an attempt to excuse their sin, I challenge to let their own children run their home. Let’s see how that turns out. The church needs to let the Lord run His home, not placate sinners.

Repentance is the one main ingredient lacking in the gospel message today. I even read somewhere that repentance is a work and therefore not necessary because salvation is by grace. This is twisted. Please read in the Word how the apostles preached. Paul said, “[I] declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” (Acts 26:20) Even ‘[Jesus} said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”‘ (Luke 24:47)

There are many more scriptures I could list. Bottom line is that the modern church looks more like the world than a Jesus follower because its kowtowing to the society’s likes and dislikes. Sermons are more akin to a sales pitch or grand marketing scheme to draw the most conversions, because mega is “in” and truth is so outmoded. What does the bible say? “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

It feels so good to scratch an itch. The Church needs to stop it’s co-dependent relationship with its members. The coffers may run dry, the pews may look pretty empty, but let’s let the truth be told out of love. Paul said, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2: 7-8) What? Works? No. Holiness and righteousness are not works. They are fruit! Remember, Paul said this, the champion of salvation by grace through faith! We need to repent. Itching ears need truth or they will perish. We may even be surprised at the result when we stop striving to fill the seats and let the Lord of Hosts do His saving work.

Okay. So the purpose of our good works is to bring glory to our loving God, out of love for Him and our neighbor. The next point I want to make is the order of our to-do lists. What should be our priority? What is our purpose in this world which is passing away? What was Jesus’ purpose? “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.” (John 18:37) What was the disciples’ purpose? “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) We are to be witnesses for Christ, preaching His gospel, testifying to His truth. The Lord’s desire is to fill his house! This should be our number one priority. We can lobby for anti-abortion laws, protest for civil rights, be a champion for the homeless, but if the gospel message is not preeminent, the work will swallow up the purpose of our lives. Truthfully, if our focus gets shifted to the cause, we end up with the same sad world BECAUSE it is the Lord who changes hearts, not man-made laws or government action. The laws may change, but the individual’s heart remains cold. I am NOT saying that any of these causes are not good. I am saying they are out of order. God wants us to speak truth so that He can renew and conform us into the image of his Son. A law does not do this. Only the gospel message can. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)

Brothers and sisters, please understand. A follower of Jesus is not called to make the world a better place! No amount of doing good will fix this world. Jesus did the ultimate good. He died for us and has given us new life. Did this change the world in the sense of making it a utopia? The early church was brimming with good works. How did they fare in making the world a better place? Who is the ruler of this world? Did Jesus tell us it will eventually get better over time? Or worse? Did he not ask that at the day of his coming, will he find faith on the earth? My concern is that this “better place” thinking is more of a New Age type idea, that if enough people get together and do good to one another, they will impact the world for the better and will evolve into superior humans. Do they see good results? Yes, at times. But devoid of a clear gospel message, people may have all their rights secured and their bellies filled but they are still going to hell. The fix is temporal, not eternal. We need to stay on task. The Apostles preached and testified about Jesus and worked hard making disciples. They apparently, if you look at the world then and now, did not make it a better place. They made eternity a better place!

So what should a Christian do when the world tempts us with all its needs? Look to a person’s overarching need for salvation, then let the Lord supply. Otherwise, we go bankrupt. We have not enough resources or energy or power. Our heavenly Father, on the other hand, can reach into his infinite storehouse. Listen. When we feel tugged and guilty to meet some need in our world, and feel overwhelmed with the task, that is not the Lord calling you to serve. It is a distraction. Jesus, God in the flesh, did not abolish slavery or any other “just” cause because he stayed on task. He came to seek and save the lost. It was His mission, and it should be ours. I am not saying to not get involved in any of the things I’ve mentioned. Just don’t let it distract you from the top of the list. Pray for direction. Do not feel “pushed” or burdened with guilt. It is the order of things that I contest. Any good to society that comes from our good works must ride on the coattails of the gospel message, or it loses its eternal value. So let’s focus on making eternity a better place. Let’s be about the Father’s desire to make His house in eternity full. Amen.

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.” —Luke 14:23

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

In Memory of My Sister

For Jodi, JoJo, Jodz, Black Bartz

Jodi: her birthname. In Hebrew it means “praised.”

JoJo: the name she chose to identify herself. In Scottish, the term “Jo” means “sweetheart.” That her name was JoJo just means she was a double sweetheart.

Jodz: my nickname for her. It means nothing, other than it was my pet name for her, and that I was fond of her.

Black Bartz: her nickname given to her by her family while she was growing up, because she had such a dark complexion.

I am going to miss Jodi. I got to know her pretty well over the years. She even adopted me as her sister. She’d start her text messages with her usual, bubbly, “Heya Sis!” Her last text to me was about how she made split pea soup and wanted Randy and I to have some, and that she’d leave a container of it outside her patio door in Jack’s kitty condo. My only comment to her was, “Just don’t leave it in his litter box,” to which I received a line of belly laugh emojis and her, “I’ll try not to mix those two up!”

(Talk about mixing things up: when Jodi told me about her new Maine Coon kitten named “Jack,” and her new sweetheart named “Rick,” I would get the two mixed up in my head. I’d tell Randy, “Yeah, Jodi’s got a new boyfriend named Jack.” Imagine my confusion when I’d talk to her and she’d say things like, “Jack is learning how to use his litter box!” I’m sorry Rick. I was born blonde. I’m so bad at names.)

Jodi was a good friend to me. When I stuggled with my bipolar illness, she’d talk and listen. Well, she talked more than listened, truth be known. She could talk the ear off frog, wherever frogs have ears. Somtimes it irritated me, like when I was busy, which was most of the time. Not as often, the Lord helped me see she was a bit lonely. So I let her chatter, knowing somehow that it was my turn to listen. And try to be patient. After 2 hours on the phone. Funny how I’ll miss that now.

There are many times when Jodi was a good friend to me. When I was in the hospital with pneumonia and a 104.7 degree fever, she came to visit. When she wanted to make up for some kindness we had done, she’d buy us groceries. When she would buy her favorite white and dark chocolate Zebra mochas, she’d always get this Starbucks addict a venti latte, too. When she really couldn’t afford it, she’d buy us Christmas gifts and host a small get-together at her apartment with Jeff, her mom, and Randy and I. She’d make her famous tuna salad pasta. Randy hated the peas, but usually ate them because Jodi was his sister and it was made with love. “They’re so good for you!,” she’d say.

The best thing about Jodi was that she was my spiritual sister. Someone had asked if Jodi had a faith preference or local church. From our long conversations, I know she believed in Jesus. She asked questions, wanted to go to church at Elmbrook, was confused on some points (like most of us are), but I know she had faith. I know she loved Jesus, however imperfect that looked. God knew her motives. Like he does with all of us. To him, we’re like 5-year-olds bringing our scribbled drawings to our Mommy or Daddy. The really cool thing about God is that he’s not an art critic. He puts it on the refrigerator. He’s our loving parent. He sees any desire to please him in some small way as our attempt at love.

Jodi was not perfect. She did not go to church every Sunday, or tithe, have it “all together,” or always say or do the right things. She was a lot like me. And that’s okay. Like any good parent, our heavenly Father does not look for perfection, but rather love. If we do something “wrong,” he gently corrects us because he knows we will either hurt ourselves or someone else. So often we imagine God is giving us a good whoopin’ or rejecting us, when all he is trying to do is love us. Protect us. Giving us something good for us. Like any loving parent. Or sister. Kind of like eating the peas.

I know that Jodi is in heaven right now, welcomed by her perfect Father, imperfect herself, but full of faith and love. I mean, how can you critique love? How can you criticize love? When it comes to love, the old adage, ”Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” does not waver with age, race, religion, intelligence, or life experience. We all see the beauty in love. The bible says, “God is love.” If you picture God in any other way, as angry, vengeful, spiteful, hurtful, fickle, demanding, or any other insecure thought we might have, it is a forgery. It is counterfeit. It is a lie. God is love. All his motives are rooted in love. Can you see his beauty? All he wants is for us to love him back like his little child.

Jodi was a good friend to me, a sister I never had. She made me feel loved by all the little stuff she did for me. I also think Jodi would want you to know how very much she loves you all. Despite. All has been forgiven, because she knows how God has forgiven her. So, if any of you would like Jesus to relay your love to her, I am confident he would do that. If you would like to tell him you’re sorry, or that you love him, I know he’d welcome you with open arms, too.

The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:10-31)

10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Thank you, Jodi Lynn Vail, for being my friend.

“Can’t Tip Someone Who Doesn’t Love Jesus.” Check, Please!

“Remind [believers] to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy….” –Titus 3:1-5

Neo-Nazis. Antifa. The Right. The Left. The Liberals. The Conservatives. Muslims. Blacks. Gays. I can feel the hate. What is fake news, and what is responsible journalism? Where is truth? Then I read the above note quoted in my title, scribbled on a restaurant bill to a lesbian waitress, and my first thought was: have Christians actually forgot that their goal in life is to help lead others to Jesus, to WANT to see them go to heaven? I’ve read quite a few comments posted in response to this, and many common-sense opinions offered. I wanted to add my own, but decided to pray about it first. I find that I am often over-eager to weigh in with my own opinion, without first praying about it and finding out God’s take on things, found in the Bible, which is often misquoted or taken out of context.

To wit: many people responded to the above discussion by saying, “Jesus loved everybody. He would give a generous tip.” True, but sometimes I think this leaves the impression that he would smile and lie to you to win public approval and give you a false sense of security. But is this a true picture of God? How do we know unless we read his message to us for ourselves? Jesus said, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37) Jesus’ words and testimony are in the Bible. You cannot know God without reading his Word!

So, did Jesus love everybody? God’s MAIN message to us is one of love. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) There are many people, including some professing Christians, that think that God is “out to get them” or others for the bad things they’ve done, to punish them. Yet 1 Timothy 2: 3-4 says: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  Notice it says that God desires “all people” to be saved? Neo-Nazis. Antifa. The Left. The Right. The Liberals. The Conservatives. Muslims. Blacks. And yes, those who wear gay pride tattoos. God is not “out to get us.” He is out to save us.

If you get the impression from other Christians or have the impression yourself that God is a cosmic killjoy who wants to punish people, consider the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. The entire chapter is actually Jesus’ response to the judgmental attitude of the religious leaders of the day, who grumbled about Jesus’ habit of hanging out with “sinners” to teach them about God.

Jesus starts out by relaying a story about a young man who dishonors his father by demanding his inheritance early, then goes off to another country to squander it on “reckless living.” A famine arises in this land, and the son finds himself destitute, having less to eat than the pigs he was hired to tend. He comes to the realization that if he goes back home and asks his father for forgiveness for his rebellion, he might be merciful and take him back as a servant, where he’d at least have enough food to eat and a warm bed. And the following is the picture Jesus wants us to have of our Heavenly Father when we come back to him humbled and destitute:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” –Luke 15:20-24

What is Jesus saying? God is waiting for you to come home. He wants to throw his arms around you and kiss you, because he never stops loving you, even when you wander off and act foolishly. His heart overflows with joy that you are safe at home, back in his care. Note in this story that when we are separated from God, we are spiritually dead to God? A dead person cannot revive themselves. We are powerless to fix the problem. We need divine help. If we don’t realize we are spiritually dead, or lost, we won’t ask for help, until, like the prodigal son, we realize our hopeless state. Thank God Jesus said: “I have come to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) Are you lost? God is actively looking for you!

Jesus also referred to God as our Heavenly Father, a figure that should represent the most tender relationship between a caregiver and a child. Jesus left his glory in heaven to be born as a human, to teach the truth about God, and to lay down his life for us and rescue us from the peril of spiritual death. I don’t know about you, but that is love in action. When men and women give their lives to save another, we call them heroes. We put up statues. We learn about them. We sometimes try to emulate them. We honor them. Why not God?

So, back to the starting point, we have ample proof that God is love. Maybe, instead of asking if Jesus loves everybody, we should ask, “Does Jesus treat everyone “nicely” so as not to offend?” Truth be told, no! “I thought Jesus was the embodiment of love,” you may say. He was. He is. So much so that he will tell you the truth, even if it offends you. His motive is not to offend you. It is always, always to save you. If God is love, he cannot do wrong. He cannot lie. Just like a natural father teaches a child & disciplines a child, it should be out of love, out of wanting to protect that child from hurt and pain. When people reject God’s moral laws and insist on their own, they will find that they are hurting themselves and other people. Over and over again, the bible warns us about living a life that pleases ourselves or other people, and not God. That is the problem with homosexuality. But let’s not single out homosexual conduct. It is ANY conduct that is contrary to God’s loving wisdom.

We see churches these days wink at sin, refusing to correct those practicing it, because they don’t want to offend anyone. It’s the norm of society, so they reason that we have to conform to the world’s standards or folks will not come to church. This is what religion does. It tries to make God palatable. This is not Jesus’ example. As a mother or father of a child you love, you wouldn’t lie to them to avoid hurting their feelings if you knew their behavior would end their life. You would tell them the truth, even if it hurt, so that they would not die. It is not bigotry to call homosexuality a sin. It is not bigotry to call engaging in pre-marital sex a sin. It is not bigotry to call any sin “sin.” God does, and he is not a bigot. He is our Heavenly Father. He is love. He cannot lie.

God inspired the apostle Paul to write, “ Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9)

I write this not to judge you, but to bless you. I do not write this out of a superior attitude. I would like you to know that before I became a Christian, I lived a very sinful, immoral lifestyle, and I was miserable because I was hurting myself. I was trying to meet my needs my way, instead of relying on God to provide for me. I would like you to know that after I became a Christian, I did not become perfect overnight, nor am I now. I would like you to know that when I experienced God’s love for me and his forgiveness, despite my messed up life, he put in me a desire to please him and trust him like a young child who listens to her dad because he knows better. I would like you to know living a life under God’s care is the richest blessing imaginable.

So just what IS bigotry? Is it intolerance toward someone who has a differing opinion? Yes and no. When we have an attitude of fear or superiority toward another group of people, and act on those attitudes, that is bigotry. But society seems to twist this to suit their own agenda. For example, if we stand up and tell people what they are doing is wrong in God’s eyes, we may be called a bigot. Yet we know how to stand up to racism, and would think it is crazy to be called a bigot for doing so. We know how to correct our children when they do wrong, and would think it strange if they called us bigots for doing so. Just like any parent, God does not allow his children to do anything and everything they want. Is this intolerance? Or is it love? The difference between bigotry and love is now obvious. When our motives lack love, our actions will give us away.

Jesus always treated others with respect and compassion, with one surprising exception: he was very blunt with the religious leaders of his day. In Matthew Chapter 23, Jesus publicly denounces them, saying, “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!,” no less than five times. He calls them “blind guides” and “blind fools,” finishing his critique up with, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:33)

Likewise, religious leaders and their followers today who do everything to be seen by people and be approved of by people in their groups have no heart for God or other people. People who judge and condemn others do not have God’s Spirit. I actually saw a post recently that a professing Christian was praying that certain people they didn’t like would go to hell. Not as a flip statement. Actually praying that God would damn them. To those who think like this I would say, “What was Jesus’ example?” Jesus may not have made nice with the Pharisees and Jewish teachers, but he had the common decency to warn them about the consequences of their own willful actions. He also prayed for them.

We can choose to listen to God, or ignore him. If we ignore him, there will be negative consequences, not because God wants to see us suffer, but because we chose to do things our way. We bring it on ourselves. Anyone who has a teenager or has been a teenager can relate. Jesus wanted those religious leaders to believe in him as God’s provision for their salvation, to not rely on their own perception of themselves. They thought they were righteous, but they wanted to kill Jesus for speaking the truth. Think about that. They wanted to kill God’s most beautiful revelation of himself. Yet when Jesus hung on the cross, and those same people were ridiculing him and hurling insults at him, this was his heart: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

Next time, leave a tip. Give people a reason to love Jesus. Next time, for the love of God, pray that all sorts of people will go to heaven, even if you don’t like their actions, don’t agree with them, or they hurt you. That’s what Jesus tells us to do. Next time, talk with a sinner. Eat with them. Jesus did. After all, you’re one, too. Not tipping someone because they identify with the gay community is not standing up for God. A tip doesn’t represent support for someone’s lifestyle. It is a gift given in thanks for good service received, not a reward for our morality. If that were the case, none of us should get tipped! And how can we know a person’s heart? God knows our hearts: our angry thoughts about others, our hatred for certain people, our lack of generosity, our insistence on our own way, our pride, our lack of a forgiving attitude…and more. Yet, he offers us forgiveness and eternal life if we first do one thing: believe in his son Jesus as our Savior. Gratis. Without cost. Complete and utter gift. After that simple act of trust, we become his spiritual children, and grow and mature just like our own children do.

Not tipping someone is a missed opportunity to share his mercy: “And as Jesus reclined at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13)

He called me. Now he’s calling you. And if you’re already a Christian, thank God for next times, the absolute grace of God that allows us to grow and learn like any child.

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