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!

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 “alter 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

Spiritual Journey: A Riches to Rags Story

 Looking at his disciples, [Jesus] said:

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

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

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

–Luke 6:20-26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hide and Seek

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are Christianity and Karma Mutually Exclusive?

 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  –Luke 6: 37-38

I don’t know about you, but I try my darndest to live by the Golden Rule, to “do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31). My non-spiritual side wants to do to others AS they have done to me, to return like for like. And I admit, I do have a day here and there where I am especially cynical or fearful and am tempted to do to others BEFORE they have done to me!

In the above scripture and the verses surrounding it, Jesus teaches his disciples about the attitude of mercy they should have toward their enemies, or those that persecute them. Taken out of context, it almost sounds like the worldly notion of karma, that you get back what you give out, or the popular “what goes around, comes around.” This is not what our Lord and Savior is saying, for he tells us in verses 35 and 36: “love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

In other words, we are not to return evil with evil. Even in verses 32 to 34, Jesus tells us that it is not good enough to return like for like: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.” It is completely natural to do to others as they do to us, to treat them with the same respect they give us. It is, however, supernatural to do good to others who are treating us badly. It is in this same spirit that Jesus prayed on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Dear brothers and sisters, does this sound like karma to you? Do you hope for retribution for your enemies, or do you hope for their salvation? The bible repeatedly reminds us that the world is in spiritual darkness, and that people who do not believe in Jesus are blind. Why would we be surprised when we are treated badly by them? Weren’t we just as bad before coming to Christ? One problem with karma is that we usually speak of it when we are wanting evil visited on another, not when we want blessings conferred. We even forget that hell is not meant for our own personal enemies, but only for those who reject Christ as their savior. It is the intention of wanting to see harm done, if not by us, then by somebody, maybe even God, that is dead wrong. In the above scripture, Jesus tells us that it is by praying for good and by returning good for evil that we are rewarded, not by some nameless cosmic principle, but by our own dear Father in heaven, the Most High Sovereign Lord of Hosts. Remember, Satan loves to take away God’s glory and power, and to obscure his name and mercy. 

There are logical problems with karma, too. It does not explain suffering for one thing. Why do babies die or young children battle cancer? Have they done something wrong? Would it be just to punish them for something their parents have done? Heavens no. What about Christians who are persecuted for standing up for what is right or bearing testimony to the saving grace of Jesus? Do they deserve it? And finally, what about Jesus himself? Did he deserve to suffer and die on the cross? Double heavens no!

Mercy, on the other hand, oozed out of Jesus’ pores. He sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane in his struggle to bestow undeserved mercy on us all. We need to follow our spiritual leader, our example. Verse 40 says: “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” Let’s struggle against what is natural, and pray for grace to do the supernatural. Sometimes, when I am still angry with someone, my prayer will go something like this:

“Heavenly Father, darn it all, but I don’t want to pray for this person. I feel vindictive and mean-spirited right now. But regardless, please bless so-and-so with the privilege of knowing you, help me forgive, and do not count this against them, for without you we are all lost, not knowing our right hand from our left.” (Jonah 4:11) Nine times out of ten I will feel an immediate change in my attitude, and if not immediate, fairly soon after. Then I am able to pray properly. It is like a visceral feeling of God’s pleasure, which turns my heart upside down and empties it of all spite so that it can receive his grace and have room for “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.”

 

 

 

I Love You to the Moon and Back

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

–Psalm 103:11-12

On the way to church this morning, my husband mentioned during our small talk that the odometer had just turned over to 66,555 miles. “Just think,” he said. “We’ve driven a little over a quarter of the way to the moon!” Although I knew the moon hadn’t been our destination these past ten-odd years of driving, I had to laugh at his delightful way of mapping our progress. It started me thinking about heavenly bodies.

Back on a cold late night in March 1997, I remember looking up into the dark sky to see the Hale-Bopp comet furrowing its cosmic path across the heavens. I had just heard on the news that the comet would be the closest to the earth this night, a mere 122,236,887 miles away. That’s 512 times the distance the earth is to the moon! As I stared in wonder at this astronomical phenomenon, the Lord whispered Isaiah 55:9 to my heart: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” I felt so humbled and awed at the greatness of my God!

I don’t think it coincidence that the sermon this morning was about how much God loves us, despite our faults, our sins, and our flimsy excuses. We might feel we have a neon sign on our forehead that flashes our sins and that is all God sees. We need to remember that because of our faith in Jesus, he sees us in whole, as his precious child. He sees our regret for our sins. He sees our frustration when we try to overcome a sin on our own, without the help of the Holy Spirit. Most importantly, the Lord sees our fear that he may stop loving us.

It was no mistake that God wanted me to think on an astronomic scale this morning. He wanted me to know that there is at least 122,236,887 miles of his love for me, for each and every one of his children. In my heavenly journey toward Love, in odometer terms, it’s like I’m still in the driveway, just beginning to explore God’s endless road of loving kindness. Can you hear him speak to your heart? It’s as if the Lord is calling out, “I love you to the moon and back and many, many times more.”

Are Your Spiritual Knickers in a Knot?

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” –1 Peter 5:5-7

When you get dressed in the morning, do you remember to put on humility? Here Peter says to “clothe” ourselves with it. The Greek word used is enkomboomai, which means “to put on a garment that is tied.” In the first century, the garment worn with a belt of some sort was the tunic. It was the undergarment worn next to the skin and was usually covered with an outer garment called a “mantle.” When Jesus laid aside his outer garments to wash the disciples feet, one of them was the mantel, and he would have been left wearing his tunic.

The Greek word Peter chose for “humility” is tapeinophrosynē, which means “lowliness of mind” or “modesty.” It makes me wonder if Peter had in mind a word picture of putting on an undergarment for the sake of modesty.

 The Greek word used for “proud” means assuming, haughty, and arrogant. James 4:6 also uses the same Old Testament quote as Peter used above. Then, in verse 7, he gives a striking juxtaposition: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” The word “submit” in Greek means to bring under a state of influence or to make obedient. The word “resist” in Greek means to oppose or stand out against. James lists some of the evidence of pride: fights, quarrels, murder, envy, covetousness, self-reliance, wrong motives, distance from God, pleasure-seeking, and friendship with the world. These folks had it all backwards. They were resisting God, not the devil! 

One of the things the Lord corrected me for in the past was arguing with people about interpretations of the bible. He helped me see that I wanted to win an argument, not a soul. Jesus did not argue with people and insist he was right. He gently taught the truth. He also allowed time for the Holy Spirit to do his work. For me, I know I have to slow down and be patient with people when I share my faith. Sometimes I want fast-food service when God has in mind a much more elegant, leisurely, enjoyable dinner.

Our Lord clothes himself with “splendor and majesty,” and he “wraps himself in light as with a garment.” (Psalm 104:1-2). We can be clothed in many things: salvation (2 Chronicles 6:41), joy (Psalm 30:11), shame and disgrace (Psalm 35:26), strength and dignity (Proverbs 31:25), despair (Ezekiel 7:27), power (Luke 24:49), the imperishable and immortality (1 Corinthians 15:54), and Christ (Galatians 3:27). What outfit are you wearing today?

The clothing in our closets may or may not be as extensive as our spiritual wardrobe, but we all must remember to wear the undergarment of humility.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, you are clothed in light and truth. Love is your kingly raiment. Clothe us in your Holy Spirit so that we may be like Jesus, who is gentle and humble in heart toward all. Amen.

The Camel and the Needle

But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is [for those who trust in riches] to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” –Mark 10:24-26

What? Is Jesus saying that he can’t save rich people, or that wealth is bad? Wretched out of context, you might think so. A more careful reading reveals so many things jam-packed into this relatively short conversation in Mark chapter 10!

First, there seems to be a contradiction here compared to the preceding verses. In Mark 10:14-15, his disciples decide that Jesus is too important a religious teacher to waste his time on blessing little children. But their attitude toward children makes Jesus indignant. He tells them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Is it any wonder that by the time we read verse 26 that the disciples are dumbfounded by the seemingly impossible task of entering the kingdom of God?

Looking at a little more context, Mark 10:17-22 tells us that a young man runs up to Jesus, falls on his knees, and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  The first thing he tells him is, “Why do you call me good? No one is good, except God alone.” In one breath, Jesus alludes to his deity AND makes a blanket statement. God alone is good. No one else can claim to be good. The greek word for “good” is agathos, meaning “good, profitable, generous, upright, virtuous.”

Jesus then reminds this man of several of God’s commandments, such as “you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.” The young man tells Jesus that he has kept these laws since he was a little boy. His desire to please God was humanly sincere. To test that sincerity, Jesus tells him there is one thing he lacks if he wants to be perfect. He tells him to go and sell everything he owns, lock, stock, and barrel, give it to the poor, and invites him to become a follower. Then the bible tells us, “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

You see, with this little spiritual “pop quiz,” Jesus reveals that the young man’s desire to observe external rules perfectly cannot be compared to an internal love for God. By asking this rich young ruler to part with all his wealth, he pinpointed his failure to keep the first commandment, to love God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, to love God passionately. The man simply loved his money more than he loved God. He turned from Jesus and chose to walk away from the only One who could save him and give him supernatural love! And here we come to our quote wrenched out of context.

Starting in verse 24, after this dramatic exit, Jesus looks around him and tells his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” He then gives this striking image that likens the rich person’s salvation to leading a camel through the eye of a needle! Camels are not only large animals, but also carry heavy cargo. They are true beasts of burden. Some scholars believe this could be a reference to a narrow gate that required the reign-holder to strip the camel of its cargo before being able to pass through. Others claim the meaning was simply a hyperbole, or exaggerated statement, referring to the actual eye of a sewing needle. Regardless, the message boils down to the impossibility of the situation.

And here, I think we have in a very condensed passage of scripture, the message of the gospel. Salvation is simple. Remember verse 15? You “receive it” like a little child. It is a gift of love from our heavenly Father, just as earthly parents provide for the needs of their children. Another thing to note is that children are not beasts of burden, like camels. They are not called upon to physically or emotionally labor for the love of their parents. A good parent simply loves their child and allows them to play and grow while nurturing their development. How much more so with our perfect Parent? And one last thing. If the camel in this word image refers to the rich man, what does the eye of the needle represent? Jesus! We live in a world filled with the mindset that all paths lead to God. But Jesus made it clear that there is no other way than through the eye of a needle, Jesus himself. He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

And the crowning gem to this story is in verse 27 where Jesus says: “With man [salvation] is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Dear friend, if you feel God tugging at your heart to come to him, don’t be afraid. You don’t have to be perfect. Simply receive his love like a small child. If you already are a Christian, but because of an imperfect parent you have the habit of always working to please in order to get love, rest in knowing God’s love is not earned. Perhaps you are in a faith tradition that teaches you may not go to heaven if you don’t give enough, sacrifice enough, go to church enough, serve enough, pray enough. I pray God frees you from that false notion, because “Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7: 24-25) Trust in God’s goodness until love, a perfect motivator, replaces fear. Your heavenly Father wants you to simply love him so that all else follows. God’s love is not earned. It is simply returned to the Giver.

PRAYER: Dearest Father, lead all of us to Jesus, who loves you infinitely, and allow him to cover our feeble attempts to please you with his perfect sacrifice on the cross. In his precious and holy name, Amen.