In Your Face! Christian Witness and Facebook

Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.(Proverbs 9:7)

When our Christian beliefs get slammed on Facebook, how are we to respond?  The question that has been weighing on us for years is: What do we do when our Christian sensibility is assaulted by postmodern thinking ?  This conflict is now spilling over to social media .  If posts from our “friends” on Facebook get “snarky,” begin to pronounce judgment on our beliefs, and even condescend to take aim at our personal integrity, what are we to think?  How do we respond?  We are to be faithful to our Christian duty and witness and proclaim the Gospel, but how can we cope with what the Bible calls “scoffers?”

There are several Biblical guideposts for our Christian walk and talk in the world.

1.  We should expect the scoffers of the world to revile our Christian faith, attack our efforts at Christian witness, and vilify us personally. The true object of their outrage is not us individually, but our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.(1 John 3:13)

The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. (John 7:7)

2. The scoffers of the world hate God because His living presence demands a response.

He is Lord and Master and deserves and demands our obedience.  Even if one does not believe, He Is Who He Is.  Truth is not dependent on belief.  You don’t have to believe in gravity for it to operate.  Truth is Truth.  Since scoffers are unwilling to obey, they seek to deny the power of God and the right of the Creator to be Lord, Master and Judge of His creation.  Scoffers fear the consequences of the truth that we are all under judgment.  It scares them to know that there is freedom from condemnation only in Jesus Christ–through His blood sacrifice on the cross.  Since the Apostolic Age, scoffers have ridiculed believers and our hope in the promise of eternal life bought for us through the life, death and resurrection of Messiah.

 “…scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.  They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”(2 Peter 3:3-4)

Why do scoffers reject the Good News that Jesus offers them eternal life?  To avoid the scrutiny of the Almighty Judge, scoffers must deny Christ, His first and second comings, and the very power of God, that they may continue to revel in their own wretched lives.  They hide from the light that the Gospel sheds on the meaning and purpose of our lives.  The Bible tells us that the unbelievers who dare not repent (turn away from their sinful ways) crave the darkness.  They shun the Light that would bring their hearts, minds and deeds under God’s scrutiny.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19)

Unbelievers refuse to acknowledge God as the light, as the source of our truth and wisdom and goodness.  Instead, scoffers proclaim their own light, a light they themselves create through their own knowledge and worldly wisdom.  But the truth that God reveals in the Bible tells us that this self-proclaimed wisdom is folly.

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?  There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 26:12)

3. We should expect the world to condemn Christians for asserting that we hold to the one Truth.  We will be called “arrogant.” 

Scoffers describe Christians with words like “intolerant,” “prideful,” and “mean-spirited.”  They say that Christians are out of touch with the real world in which no one can claim to have THE Truth, because there is no truth!  That’s the mantra of the postmodern world.  Everyone’s version of truth is valid.  So the world looks us in the eye, wags a finger in our direction and shouts:  just get over yourselves!  However, it is not our lives to get over anymore.  We Christians do not belong to ourselves.  The Truth is that it is the life of Jesus Christ that animates our very being.  We are a new creation, and can no longer be conformed to the world.  In our new life of the Spirit, we cannot compromise Jesus Christ. 

I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

4.   Man either loves and embraces Jesus Christ as God, or rejects, vilifies, attacks, and crucifies Him.  This divide is what truly separates believers from the world.  We must understand and acknowledge that there can be no compromise with the world.

Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? (James 4:4)

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. (Luke 11:23)

5. Unbelievers cannot understand us.

If we have been truly transformed by the power of God, then the Holy Spirit has softened our hearts, opened our minds and allowed our ears to hear the truth of God’s word.  This transformation is the gift of God, and can even change the hearts of the most grievous of sinners, like Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of Jesus Christ’s followers, who as Paul became the greatest evangelist and defender of the faith.  Those whom God has not touched, has not saved, cannot hear the Word of God and do not understand us and our message.  They are blinded to the truth.  Our efforts at engaging with them cannot succeed by our power.  Only the power of God to regenerate them and renew their minds can open them to the truth to which we bear witness.  Without regeneration, our words will be dismissed and hated.

The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:3-5)

Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words. (Proverbs 23:9)

6. Like the church at Corinth, there is danger in trying to accommodate the world with our faith.

What risk is there in mixing with the world, its ideas, in sharing in the diversity of human beliefs?  Isn’t all religion just a single beautiful mosaic describing man’s relation to God?  NO.  There is real risk in commingling with the ideas of the world: the risk that the truth that is Christ Jesus be compromised or altered.  The church at Corinth was guilty of allowing accommodation with the false teachings of the world and it had begun to corrupt their true faith.  In his first epistle to the church at Corinth, Paul called them out and rebuked them.  Paul’s message was plain: believers must keep separate from these influences.  While in practical terms, we must live in the world, and be part of its society and its culture,  we cannot allow our faith to be diluted or compromised by the false teachings and philosophies of the world.  There can be no compromise of the Truth.

 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?  What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

    “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
   and I will be their God,
   and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
   and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
   then I will welcome you,
 and I will be a father to you,
   and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

7. Unbelievers are not the neutral, independent, rational creatures they purport to be.

Those unbelievers who pretend to be independent, tolerant, rational thinkers, are, as Paul tells us, actually not free.  They are not what they think themselves to be: independent, wise and self-reliant.  For there is no neutrality in the spiritual warfare that rages in the world; either we are for Jesus Christ, or we are for His adversary, Satan.  All unbelief, all unrighteousness, all lawlessness is of Belial, Satan (see 1 Corinthians 6 above).  The real object of all unbelievers’ scorn and the focus of their attacks are Jesus Christ and the book that proclaims His story, the Bible.  Postmodern unbelievers who reject God do not attack Buddhism, or Hinduism, or  Islam–they do not waste their venom on those false idols.  Satan focuses their attention on his real enemy, his conqueror, Jesus Christ.  That hatred of Jesus Christ so evident in the world today is what tells us that His Truth is The Truth.  If it were merely myth, merely the opium of the masses, then the world would just ignore it and move on.  But they cannot ignore it.  It is real.  They must destroy it.  Unbelievers, in attacking Jesus Christ, unwittingly serve another master, Jesus’ adversary.

8. Our purpose in life is to give glory to God in all we do.  By standing apart from the world we choose to become holy as God commands.  By bearing witness to our faith in the world, we offer evidence of the fruit of the Spirit that God has given His children.

But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct. (1 Peter 1:15)

Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9-10)

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:8)

Our life’s purpose is to give glory to God by being conformed to God’s will, be holy as God is holy, and witness to a lost and fallen world.  The Gospel that we proclaim does not resonate with unbelievers by the force of our reason, by the clarity of our own human minds, but by the power of God, expressed by the goodness of our hearts, and by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit that works in men.  Our mission is to preach the Gospel, to reflect the truth of God in our lives, and pray that God will unharden the hearts of those following the false faith of Unbelief and the demonic religion of self-righteousness cloaked in a philosophy of “tolerance.”  We must pray tirelessly that the Holy Spirit work through their consciences, unharden their hearts and allow the Word of God to transform each into a new creation.  Then, only then, can they hear and understand the truth that we proclaim.

Therefore, let us persevere and exhort our brothers and sisters in Christ to engage those around us, be faithful witnesses of our faith and pray for the lost.  We do not however, have to fight the battle for souls with every individual on every front at every instance.  We cannot  respond to every Facebook post that cries out against Christ with a false view of the world.  We do the work of God when we witness faithfully to our faith, proclaim the truth, the Good News of Jesus Christ, and allow the Holy Spirit to work in the consciences of our fellow men and women.  We pray that God will do a miraculous work in their hearts, the work of regeneration.  We witness and open the door; God enters and saves those whom He will save.  God desires to reach the lost.  We are His agents.  We must continue to witness everywhere we meet people, even on Facebook, and speak the truth, but we should for the most part expect closed minds and hardened hearts.   After all, before our salvation, were we any different?  We know that the victory has already been won on the Cross.  In our quest to witness to the truth and power of Jesus Christ, we will be mocked, derided, dismissed, attacked, and vilified.  Be of good cheer.  So were the apostles.  So was Jesus.

Published in: on March 8, 2010 at 10:52 am  Comments (7)  

Department of Peace or Prince of Peace?

Congressional legislators are preparing to introduce a bill to create a Department of Peace. That’s a hoot. The government that saved us from our energy problems with the Department of Energy will now create peace through bureaucracy. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of peace. Everybody is in favor of peace.  What is peace anyway? Where can we find it? What does it actually mean? Is it just the absence of war, or is it a social utopia where everyone just gets along? Is it an economic state where one’s needs and cares are provided for, or perhaps a psychological state, where anxiety has been eliminated? Perhaps it’s all these things, and none of them. 

I suggest that in this world of men there can be no peace. The one peace we can ever count on, the most important peace we’ll ever find, is a peace made possible through the grace of God. Our only real peace comes from one source: the Prince of Peace. Let me explain.

 Jesus declared:  

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

 In his walk, Jesus affirmed that we who believe in him already have his peace within us.  But at the same time he asserted that this peace is not the same peace that the world knows. It is not a peace on the political plane. It is not peace among men. It is not peace of mind, or freedom from the cares of this life. The peace we need  is not with the world, but a peace with God. It is not a temporal peace, but an eternal peace. It is peace in Jesus for all eternity. It is the peace that comes from the promise of eternal life to be fully realized in the kingdom of heaven when we “shall see him as he is”(1 John 3:2).

 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

In fact, even with the peace of Jesus in us, the world still brings trials and troubles (tsuris, for all you fellow Brooklyn-born Yiddish lovers). What then is the meaning and the source of this peace that Jesus gives to his followers? Let’s consider the state in which we live before Jesus gives us his peace. The human condition, absent his peace, reveals what peace means and whence it comes.

 The bad news is that if we die without Jesus, we do not have, and, in fact, cannot have, peace. What’s worse, instead of eternal peace, those without Christ will experience only pain and anguish and suffering. In this life we may consider ourselves at peace because we are temporarily free of the worries of the world like jobs, money, relationships, health, but real peace? Most folks think they are on good terms with God because they do their “more than fair” share of good works. But the self-satisfaction and complacency we may feel in the world does not equate to any peace with God. Peace with God is impossible without Jesus. Why? The Bible is clear.  We lose our chance for the peace that is available only through the gift of Jesus when we  war against God.  The truth is that every one of us has declared war on God. We are rebels, and rebels make war on authority. What greater authority is there than our Creator? We are rebels whenever we reject God, ignore his commandments, or blaspheme his name. We are rebels whenever we sin. Even worse, we are rebels not just through our personal sins, but by our very nature–our sin nature that is endemic in all men. We declare war on God every day of our lives, and that war began when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God’s law in the garden of Eden. Before we rebelled, there was peace, and God walked among us.

 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. (Genesis 3:8)

 Through Adam and Eve sin entered the world and ever since there has been no peace with God, only alienation, enmity, and condemnation.

 Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.(Isaiah 59:2)

We are at war with God. Because man’s very nature is corrupt, we, like Adam and Eve, seek to hide from God, or make God disappear. 

The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8)

 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
   They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds. (Psalm 14:1)

 We boldly exhibit our rebellious behavior by dismissing God as a fiction, reject his authority, reshape his message in the Bible, or even by creating our own gods of narcissism, sex, entertainment, sports, and nature. We cannot tolerate a God who demands that we glorify him in all we do. We seek instead to be gods ourselves in order that we justify our headlong obsession with pursuing and fulfilling our selfish desires. In an atmosphere in which we are isolated from our creator, cut off from he who sustains the universe and controls every aspect of our lives, how can we find peace? It is impossible. Instead of seeking peace outside ourselves, in Christ, we protect our self-righteousness, shelter our thoughts, actions and attitudes from scrutiny, and declare war. And the more we insist on creating our own illusory peace, on being our own masters, the more we must eliminate, attack and destroy God, our real master.

 Simply put, we do not want God around. We want to be free–free to pursue our own self-gratification.

The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man,
   to see if there are any who understand,
   who seek after God.

 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
   there is none who does good,
   not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

At the core of the Bible is the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is proclaimed and foreshadowed in the law of Moses, spoken of by the prophets, recounted as history in the gospels, and interpreted and preached in the rest of the New Testament epistles and books. It is the Gospel that brings peace to all who believe. That’s good news for sure. But what was the bad news? After all, good news in the absence of bad news is just news.  It’s like a visit to the doctor. You walk into your doctor’s office, sit across the desk, and listen as he makes a bold announcement. “I have really exciting news!” He then tells you that he has just received a new experimental and recently approved drug that 100% cures a certain rare and debilitating disease. You listen and wonder: “How nice, but why should I care about this obscure piece of medical news?” Now, if the doctor had first told you the bad news, that in fact your test results are in and YOU have this rare and debilitating disease, then the announcement of the new miracle drug is good news, maybe even the best news you ever received from a man!  

If the Gospel is the Good News that brings peace to all who believe and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord, what is the bad news?

First and foremost, without accepting the peace that Christ gives us through his death and resurrection, we are for all eternity at war with God. That war will have a victor and a day of reckoning–our personal armistice day. On that day when we stand before the great white throne, we will be judged. At that moment, poised on the edge of eternity, it will be too late to come to terms with God, too late to surrender, too late to settle out of court. If we accepted Jesus and surrendered to him while in the world, we are free from condemnation. Jesus made our peace, settled our case, nailed our debt to the cross with himself. But those who stand alone, separated from God, reliant only on themselves, without faith,  stand condemned.  The only step remaining for them is the sentencing. As a just and good good judge must punish the guilty, unbelievers, those in rebellion against the King of kings and Lord of lords, will be cast into the lake of fire for all eternity.

 The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. (Psalm 9:17)

 Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.(Revelation 20:13-15)

 How then do we receive this peace that Jesus gives? It is not something we earn, not something we can achieve on our own, not even something to which we contribute anything . It is a gift, a free gift of the grace of God. It is true peace, an end to the war that is central to our life–our rebellion against God. Jesus made our peace once for all time when he took on flesh as Immanuel (God With Us), and chose to intercede for us before God the Father. He intervened in history as a man and paid our penalty (the death penalty) for our rebellion, for our sin, upon the cross. He took our punishment so we would not have to. He gave his life as a peace offering–a peace between us and God.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.(1 John 4:10)

 As Israel covered its sin year after year with the blood sacrifice of animals, so Jesus once and for all eternity became the perfect blood sacrifice to wash us of our sins.

He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:12)

He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, where he now sits on the throne of his Father as both man and God as our intercessor before the Father. Through Jesus we can make our peace with God. Jesus is our God and our peace. In order to obtain it, we have only one choice– we must surrender. And Jesus has dictated the terms of that surrender– and they are non-negotiable. We must surrender our lives, give up our commitment to sin, and live for him and him alone. We must surrender our worldly attachments, our relationships, our idols, our pursuit of self, our prideful control of our own lives. Our peace has been won through the cross and Jesus offers it to us by faith and repentance. When we confess that Jesus is Lord, he must become our Lord and master. Our peace with God through Jesus comes at a high cost. It costs us everything!

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.(John 12:25)

Without a surrender to Jesus, there can be no peace in our lives. The world will always provide troubles, tribulations and trials, but they are only our burdens in this world. The peace that Jesus gives us is eternal. Pray and make your peace with God today. Surrender to Jesus, the Lord of lords and King of kings. Let us open our ears, allow the Holy Spirit to soften our hearts, that we may be saved. The only true peace is with God–the Prince of Peace.

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.(Psalm 85:8)

Published in: on February 23, 2010 at 9:05 am  Comments (2)  

Food and Loathing: Man’s Hunger, God’s Provision

 One who is full loathes honey,
   but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet. (Proverbs 37:7)

 Man is always hungry, in need of nourishment both physical and spiritual, and constantly in search of food. How he decides what he needs, how he seeks it, how he appreciates it, how it nourishes him, and what it prepares him for, reflects his relationship with the Provider of all things, the Lord God.

 There are two sides to the equation of provider and consumer. The consumer, man, needs sustenance. He cannot provide it for himself; only God can. So man turns to God for his food, but in two different ways.

 First is the man who demands food from God, but he does not do it with humility, as is befitting a dependent beggar. This man is full of pride, full of demands. He wants only the food that he determines for his own plate. He rejects God’s choice for him. Further, he is not even grateful with what God has already given him, though God has sustained him and nurtured his very being from his birth. He is ungrateful. He is a rebel, and he dares to dictate to God what he needs. This hardness of heart and arrogance was characteristic of Israel while wandering in the wilderness. As told in Psalm 78, Israel rejected God’s menu, decided what it wanted to eat, and demanded that God improve the offerings!

They tested God in their heart
   by demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God, saying,
    “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” (Psalm 78:18-19)

 God was rightfully offended and expressed his anger, yet, as a God of mercy, satisfied their selfish demands.

He rained down on them manna to eat
   and gave them the grain of heaven.
Man ate of the bread of the angels;
   he sent them food in abundance…
he rained meat on them like dust,
   winged birds like the sand of the seas;
he let them fall in the midst of their camp,
   all around their dwellings. (Psalm 78: 24-28)

However, their wishes fulfilled, they paid a great price–the wrath of God was poured out on them for their ingratitude, disobedience and rebellion.

the anger of God rose against them,
   and he killed the strongest of them
   and laid low the young men of Israel. (Psalm 78:31)

Even this divine retribution failed to soften their hearts. Despite His working in their lives, in his miraculous intervention to feed and sustain them and in his punishment, they remained hard of heart. God repaid them in kind.

In spite of all this, they still sinned;
    despite his wonders, they did not believe.
So he made their days vanish like a breath,
   and their years in terror. (Psalm 78:32-33)

The second man acknowledges that God is his provider; he understands he is unable on his own to sustain himself. He is trusting in God completely and in whatever God offers and provides, he is grateful. For even if the portion that God provides is not the honey of this world, all who trust in Jesus know that his provision for them is the manna that comes from heaven. The good shepherd feeds his sheep.

All men are hungry, but only those whom the Father draws to Him understand what they hunger for and seek it. For God himself reveals the true source of our sustenance. Jesus told us:

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

What does Jesus promise us? His bread will provide everything necessary, for he knows better than we what we truly need. Our sustenance is the word of God and it fills us with the promise of eternal life. If in this life we taste bitterness, failure, persecution, rejection, suffering, it is in order that we taste the ultimate victory in Christ–victory over sin by his conquest of sin, and victory over death in his death and resurrection.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6)

We have no righteousness of our own. We can only obtain our righteousness by becoming partakers of the righteousness of Jesus, who made it available to us by his death, burial and resurrection.

 It is the attitude we have toward our sustenance and our sustainer that reveals our true health. We are fully nourished only when our hearts reflect the love of God for us in his provision. When we are prideful and determine our own fullness, and dictate to God what we need, it reveals a hardness of heart that keeps Jesus from working within us for our proper development. The story of the young ruler is a clear example for us. After his encounter with the young ruler, Jesus told the disciples:

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)

The young ruler was not only materially rich. He also had a rich opinion of himself. He thought he had all that he needed already. His stomach was filled with his own honey. He thought himself righteous by his obedience to the law and the commandments. But Jesus revealed his true wretched state to him when he held up the full mirror of the law. When Jesus told him to give all he had to the poor, the young ruler recoiled, and condemned himself by the law.  He was guilty of idolatry, since he valued his riches and possessions above his devotion to, and his trust in,  God. It was his self-righteousness that made him feel full, and led him to reject the sweet honey of salvation that Jesus offered him.

So today the world thinks itself full, completely satisfied by its own honey. The honey of rationalism. The honey of self-esteem. The honey of moral relativism. The honey of universalism. Everyone considers himself full. Everyone therefore rejects the food of God. Few know that they are starving. Few know that their sin fills their stomachs with a false sense of satisfaction. Few know that sin separates them from the food that can truly satisfy their needs and make them a new creation.  Each is content with his own worldly diet, and thus misses out on the bread of life that is found only in the person of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray that we always feel hungry and ask the Lord to provide for us in all things, and ask that through the Holy Spirit working in us, and through Jesus living within us, we are humble and thankful to our Father in heaven for our daily bread. For we trust in God that everything that He provides to his believers, whether honey or food tasting of bitterness, is for our eternal good.

Published in: on February 11, 2010 at 1:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

My Way or God’s Way?

My Way or God’s Way?
 
It’s imbedded in today’s postmodern ethos that there is no one way for anything. There’s apparently no one way to live, one way to think, nor one set of rules or standards. Everyone is (seemingly) free to find his own way.  We profess that there are a plethora of self-proclaimed truths, but not one Truth. What’s true for one person may not be true for another. Everyone is entitled to his own truth. Therefore, one man’s way is as good as another’s. 
 
I agree that the way of every man (his truth) is, by reason of his underlying human nature, equal. I also hold that the way of every man is, by his very human nature, wrong. For our nature, separated from God, is corrupt. Only through the work of God can we be truly free–free to throw off the bondage of our sinful nature and choose to serve God and walk in his ways. We do not have the truth in us. Only God reveals his truth to us.
 
This belief in the validity of self-proclaimed righteousness is akin to the correlation between academic achievement and self-esteem in the education system. According to national surveys, in states where math achievement test scores are  highest, the students’ self-esteem is lowest. Kids who score well and know math think very lowly of their own math skills. Where achievement is low, self-esteem is high. Kids score poorly on math tests, but feel good about it! Why? Because achievement requires the motivation to engage in behaviors that are taxing and difficult and driven by a motivation to improve. That means stress and work. No one likes that. It’s like bad-tasting medicine.When students feel insecure in their own knowledge, they strive to improve and learn more.They may not feel better about their math, but they are better at math. Where students feel good about themselves and their level of math learning (no matter how weak), they feel no compunction to bother studying. As Alfed E. Neuman proclaimed “What, me worry?”
 
So it is with mankind today. We strive first and foremost to feel good about ourselves. We have a right to feel good. Therefore  we create a world where whatever makes us feel good is acceptable; not just acceptable and to be pursued, but a right to be demanded. We have a right to feel good. Each person’s way is thus dictated by a proclamation of a self-revealed, self-defined truth. “I am the truth,” each person proclaims. In that climate of worship of the self and a quest for absolute positive self-esteem, why bother to learn what we may lack? Why listen to anyone question our truth? Why believe there is a truth? Why believe there is a just and judging God whose word declares that what we are doing is wrong? Why allow inconvenient truths to emerge about our underlying feelings of doubt, insecurity, depression, isolation, alienation? Let’s reject, explain away, cover up or attack the source of other truths. After all, we want to feel good! So we protect our own little selfish truths at any cost.
 
There is only one truth. There is only one way: the Way of Jesus Christ. He is the only shepherd who can lead us out from the suffocating burdens of our doubts, fears, troubled spirits, and, yes, our untruths. There is no other way along which we can find meaning and value in our lives; for the purpose for our lives does not lie within ourselves, but outside, in the realm of the Spirit, the realm of the Eternal, the realm of heaven, the Kingdom of God.
 
How can we find the way? It is impossible for us alone, but with God it is possible. The way is not a philosophy, or set of moral values. The way is a person. A divine person. Jesus tells us that He is the Way.
 
 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
 
Jesus is THE Way; not a way, or one way. He is the only way. We know from the Bible that for us to get on the Way, we must believe that Jesus Christ is who he says He is: He is Lord and Savior who on the cross paid our penalty for sin, and through His resurrection, we are given the promise of eternal life. 
 
What do we know about His way?
 

1. It is hard to find and most people will never find it.

 
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (John 14:6)
 
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.  (Matthew 19:24)
 
 If anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him (John 11:9)
 
  
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into he kingdom of God. (John 3:5) 
 
 
2. Most people will be deceived into believing they are on the Way, but in fact they have entered through the wrong gate. It may have a sign marked “Highway to Heaven,” but it is a false road.
 
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.(Matthew 7:13)
  
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 7:21
 
Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. (Jude 1:5)
 
The Israelites were delivered and God cleared their way ,  parting the sea for them, feeding them miraculously. Yet most turned against their Deliverer and were punished, and perished before reaching their destination. Now if those who were redeemed out of bondage in Egypt could be misled into thinking they were following God’s way, how much more might we be deceived into a false security of being on God’s path to eternal security?
 
3. You can’t buy a ticket to get onto the Way.
 
No effort on our part apart from faith can get us on His way.
 
…if  you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart  that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

 
 Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone. (Romans 9:32)
 
 
 
4. On the Way you bring nothing but faith and  trust in Jesus. It is a road that requires no packing since you enter empty-handed. We must leave everything of our old selves behind: possessions, relationships, idols, desires. We can only bring two things with us:  faith exhibited by a burning love for Jesus; and a deep abiding trust that he knows exactly what we need and will provide it for us his own time.
 
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Matthew 10:37
 
Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21
 
5. The Way will not be one of comfort and worldy fulfillment and success.
 
 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24
 
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life. Matthew 7:14
6. We will never return to our old path.
 
As we enter through the gate that is Jesus, we are regenerated (made a new creation) by the Holy Spirit. We are empowered to follow Christ and are firmly planted on an entirely different road than in our former lives. Through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, as Christ lives in us, we will never go back. 
 
Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”Luke 9:62
 
 
 
7. We have responsibilities along the Way
 
 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:29-30
 
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15
8. We are not alone on the Way; Jesus is with us.
 
 The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. (John 10:3-4)
  
While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have  guarded them, and not one of them has been lost. (John 17:12)
 
9. He gives us His Holy Spirit
 
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. John 14:26
 
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Luke 3:16)
10. We have God’s promise that we he will secure each of us along his way.
 
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:6
 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Romans 10:13
 
I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
John 10:9
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.(John 6:44)
 
  
 
11. God rewards those who keep to His way.
 
But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Matthew 24:13
 
 
12. The Way is a sure one as long as we fix our eyes on Jesus Christ.
 
If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. (John 11:9)
 
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
   which shines brighter and brighter until full day (Proverbs 4:18)
  
Let your eyes look directly forward,
   and your gaze be straight before you.
 Ponder the path of your feet;
    then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
   turn your foot away from evil. (Proverbs 4:25-27)
 
Most of us wander through life lost, searching, unable to find our way. Most  cannot see the way. Most do not bother to read the road map to life, the Bible. There is hope only in Jesus. Take heed that we do not trust in our own reason, our own hearts, or our own way. Draw wisdom from the Word of God as living water from a deep well, and we shall be firmly established on Jesus Christ’s way. The hard way. The only way. God’s way.
Published in: on February 5, 2010 at 12:52 pm  Comments (2)  

Christmas: Ten Reflections on Salvation

As we enter our celebration of the birth of Christ, let me share a few personal reflections.

1. He came into the world, our savior, our salvation being a free gift by his grace for everyone.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:10)

Who did not receive him? Not the King, Herod. Nor the Jewish authorities. Nor anyone who knew of the coming of Messiah through the scriptures.  Israel and the world were alerted to the birth of the Messiah, not by prophets or priests, but by strangers, Gentiles, these wise men from the East. Herod’s advisors knew from the scriptures the place of birth was to be Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
      are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
   for out of you will come a ruler
      who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’

Yet no one from the court, neither Herod, nor the Jewish scribes, nor the Jewish leaders who awaited their messiah, nor anyone else, bothered to go to Bethlehem. Was it too far? Hardly. Bethlehem is only five miles from Jerusalem.

 

2. Although Jesus came to save the whole world, not all received him.

 The only ones who came to greet their savior were the shepherds. The shepherds were invited to the birth of  Jesus by an angel. They were going about their business tending their flocks. They responded to the angelic message with fear and trembling, but were energized to act on the good news. They exercised their faith and decided to go to Bethlehem at once. They interrupted their worldly business and hastened to the manger of their savior.

The innkeeper was invited to Jesus’ birth . He, like those caught up in their own works of the world, had no time for the birth of his savior. He was far too occupied with the hustle and bustle of his booming business, precipitated by the Roman census and the comcomitant crowds of pilgrims passing through Bethlehem. Thw world was too much with him, and he missed his opportuinity to greet and worship his Lord and God.

3. Jesus became a man as we could not–free of sin. He was a sinless man surrounded by a world of sin.

For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest,holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens (Hebrews 7:26).

4. Jesus chose to be born in humble circumstances. He left his place in heaven, where he was surrounded and adored by hosts of angels. He stood up from his throne, took off his crown of glory, and condescended to become a man like us (being still fully God). He left his throne room and was born not in a royal palace of human creation, but amidst stable animals. He left the heavenly realm, and entered ‘our world’ (one he created) in a most humble setting– stable carved out of a cave.

5. The place of his birth, the stable, was not his;  it had to be borrowed from the Bethlehem innkeeper. So too at his death his final burial place as a man would be borrowed–a cave borrowed from Joseph of Arimathea.

6.  The angels rejoiced at his birth.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 
    “Glory to God in the highest,
      and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2: 13-14)

 The angels, so used to worshipping and praising their Lord in heaven,  must have marvelled at their Lord and King so lovingly condescending to become a man, in fact a baby,  in a cave. His royal robes he exchanged for swaddling clothes–“swaddling clothes” indicated either rags or bandages. His  first worldly possessions, these swaddling clothes, would also be his last possessions as a man. Swaddling clothes enveloped him at his birth; burial bandages surrounded  his human body at his death and burial.

7. Contrary to the popular image of our household creches, the wise men were not present at the manger scene on the night of his birth; rather thay came to visit later, and presented their gifts to Jesus not in a stable, but in a house.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)

8. At his incarnation, Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of scripture. There were dozens of prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament. We were told why Jesus would be born, how he would be born supernaturally,  and even where he would be born.

 Isaiah told us a child would be born who would take upon himself our sins.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
   we have turned—every one—to his own way;
 and the LORD has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

The first prophesy about Jesus is related in Genesis 3:15.

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

Here in Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, we are told how his birth would be supernatural, through the seed of a woman. Seed is normally passed through the man, as the seed of Abraham.  This indication that the conqueror of Satan would spring from the seed of a woman plainly describes the supernatural incarnation of Jesus–the virgin birth.

Micah 3:2 told us where he would be born: in Bethlehem.

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
       though you are small among the clans  of Judah,
       out of you will come for me
       one who will be ruler over Israel,
       whose origins  are from of old,
       from ancient times.

“Bethlehem” in Hebrew means “House of bread.” How fitting that Jesus, the bread of life, would be born in the House of bread. 

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. (John 6:51)

9. The mystery of the incarnation

God came into the world, took on human flesh in the person of Jesus yet remained fully God. Fully man, fully God. The incarnation is a mystery beyond human reason; we cannot fathom its depth, but  by the grace of divine revelation we can rejoice in it.

10. Christ’s full mission was not to be born and become man. His purpose was to die–for our sins. His mission was to become our sin and take our rightful punishment–death. Through his sacrifice we are justified in the eyes of God and by grace through faith we receive  the promise of eternal life.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 6:23)

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. (Romans 5:1-2)

What then is the lesson of the incarnation for us in our lives? As Christ was born only to die as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, so we as Christians are called to die. We are to die to our sins, die to our old life, die to our old self. We are called, and enabled  by the grace of God,  to become a new creation, to put sin behind us, repent and turn from our old sinful self. In Christ we are made new. In Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, our sins are forgiven.  Through the Holy Spirit, we are called and empowered to become like Christ for the purpose of giving glory to God the Father.

The world around us is filled with false philosophies and lying teachers who declare that all that we need is within our own power. All we need is a boost from below, a little self-help coaching or some extra spiritual effort to get us closer to God. They breed in men a false hope that we are either in no need of a savior or little gods ourselves and we can and ought shape our lives according to our own will. What the incarnation teaches us is that we are powerless on our own. God condescends to come down to us, undeserving as we are, and gives us his grace. Our salvation is not generated from below; it is a gift from above. As Christ came down from heaven to be born in Bethlehem so we too must be born “from above.”

Let us contemplate the miracle of the birth of Christ and how his birth, and his death and his burial and resurrection, call us to a faith in his work of salvation on this earth–a gift of his divine grace to the world and to each one of us who believe, repent and surrender our lives and put our trust in Jesus.

Published in: on December 21, 2009 at 10:42 am  Comments (1)  

Through the Narrow Gate

For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:14)

I was blessed that day that God reached down and grabbed me, shook me until I trembled. My pride was finally broken, my confidence in myself and in the world shattered, my hope in my ability to be master of my own life forever dissolved. I yielded decisively and totally to Christ, repented of my sins, put all my trust in Him as Saviour and as Lord of my life. I was a new creation.

Now that I have passed through the narrow gate of salvation, I want nothing other than to follow Him. But He said the way would be hard. Somehow I thought the hard part was getting to the gate and entering in. I hadn’t realized that it was God who had shown me the gate and had guided me through. I couldn’t have done it myself. Now where is that hard way along which I must tread? How do I take even a single step? Where is my map?

Of course the road map is the Word of God, the Bible. And there is prayer, my universal GPS system. But how can I actually make specific decisions about my life in Christ? I am moved and commanded to love the Lord, but how?  How did He love us? By coming and being an obedient servant. That is what I must learn–to become a faithful servant. Not easy for someone like me who has felt the urge to lead and control all his life! How can I know how I can best serve? This is my question and my challenge as I stand at the beginning of the narrow path of my new life in Christ.

 I am certain His will is not some mystery only God can fathom and we will accidentally stumble upon it and shout “Eureka!” How can we know that God has a plan for us and discern the outlines of where to place our feet as we take our next steps in our walk with God? I see three clear signs that God is working in me and that indicate my way ahead.

1. Life. God gave us life. Before the world began He knew our names, and created us to give Him glory. We are not the product of some cosmic accident.

“I was appointed from eternity,
from the beginning, before the world began.” (Psalm 8:23)

Not only that, but God has a plan in place for us.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

The purpose of our God-given life is to glorify God.

“Everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:7)

2. We are each given attributes, talents, skills, experiences that equip us for giving glory to God.

“To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. “(Matthew 25:15)

Each of us is expected to use what we are given to glorify God. Some give glory by His strength through service; others give glory through their weakness, even through suffering. In any case, it is God who is glorified in all that we do in His name, whether mighty works, or humble sufferings.

3. Our circumstances. All that we have is from God. Where we live. Where we work. Whatever resources we have He has given us and He expects us to use them for His work and His glory. He has placed us exactly where we are and looks out for us, just as He guides the littlest of His creatures.

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

These then are the signposts for our road ahead. Our existence , our very lives, are a gift from God. Our purpose is to use that life to reflect back to God the Father, our creator, the glory that is His and His alone. We can discern our path by studying the trail of our lives and how God has steadied us along the way, the talents He has given us , and the circumstances that presently surround us. These of course change over the course of our lives, through mountain top experiences  and valleys of despair, but our purpose remains the same. We are to take up our cross and follow Christ– follow Him as obedient servants. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit within us to convict us when we stray from the path and to strengthen us in times of need.

Our way ahead may seem unclear in worldy terms. How do we use our talents in the world to serve God? How do we develop our resources to generate a return that our master will deem praiseworthy? How will we know when we need to go in a different direction? The answer lies in the trust we place in Jesus. He tells us that He not only shows us our way; He is our way.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. (John 14:6)

And that our first step in the world is to seek what is treasured in heaven– righteousness.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

The will of God in our lives is not a secret. By analyzing where God has placed us and how he has equipped us, by prayer and reflection, and through meditation upon the Word of God, we can confidently put our best foot forward and follow Christ along the hard way. I pray that we all meet along that way to Heaven marching confidently and joyously behind Jesus!

.

Published in: on November 16, 2009 at 11:22 am  Comments (2)  

The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 111:10)

To the contemporary mind, this proverb is difficult to grasp, may be troubling, and is probably quickly dismissed or explained away. After all, today we often best explain God with words like love, tolerance, and acceptance, in accord with our all-embracing, all-forgiving, all-accepting postmodern ethos of “relative truth.” Our cultural norms mandate openness and tolerance for everything and everyone, and reject judgement, standards, or even negative thoughts and feelings.  Everybody should just get along, do their own thing, and not interfere! Biblical teachings like the Law of God, fear of God, judgment, sin, and Hell are not sensitive to today’s self-righteous individual seeking to actualize his or her total human potential (ugh! what do you say on your death-bed: I came pretty close?).   However disconcerting to the modern mind and out of step with progressive humanism, the “fear of the Lord” is a concept consistently sprinkled throughout Scripture. It is part of the Word of God. It is God’s revealed truth to us.  He demands as Lord (and I suggest) we might benefit by paying closer attention and seeking wisdom and understanding.

Let’s look at some Biblical references to the first key word in the verse: “fear.” A simplistic interpretation is that we must fear the Lord because if we don’t we will be punished. God is a mean father figure! This fear then is best visualized by an act of one’s cowering in the face of a wrathful Creator. Fear seems to suggest that we obey, or be subject to His wrath. This is a threatening God, certainly not  one the postmodern mind could accept. After all, we are good people, and seek only to grow as individuals in our quest for self-actualization, like an amalgam of Hegel, Darwin and Maslow. God must be on board with our march along the road of human progress!  Why would he be angry? Why would we ever fear Him. He is the Creator of the whole “Let’s just get along and accept everyone and everything” deal, right?

The Bible teaches us plainly that His wrath is real and is justified in the light of man’s depraved condition, our slavery to the sinful nature of the fallen world. The fear of the Lord is a far more complex teaching than an angry father with a belt in hand waiting to tan our hides. It is not (only) our fear of punishment that drives us to rightly fear God. The Old Testament is full of God’s wrath pouring out on His disobedient children; yet with direct personal rebuke from God, they continued to sin–no matter how swift and dreadful the punishment and how real their fear. So how to fear the Lord? What benefit can come from it? Why would God, who is omniscient and omnipotent, counsel us to fear Him?

Our God is a God of love, mercy and righteousness. He is all-knowing, longsuffering and of great goodness. We know He loves us (the Bible tells us so) and desires that we, in spite of our sinful, disobedient nature,  be reconciled to Him. That is why He sent His Son to be the perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins. He paid our fine so our sins could be wiped off the slate. So any fear we have must be tempered with an acknowledgement of and reciprocation of God’s love and mercy for us. So perhaps fear may produce some good fruits. What does the Bible tell us?

To fear the LORD is to hate evil. (Proverbs 8:13)

We are told here that fear of the Lord spurs us to hate evil. What is evil? Evil is that which is in opposition to God; in a word, sin. So by fearing the Lord we can oppose sin, and be bold to rebuke the instigator of lies and sin in the world, Satan. By hating evil and sin, we distance ourselves from our old sinful man and produce fruit as a new creation in Christ, thereby giving glory to God.

The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor. (Proverbs 15:33)

Through fear of the Lord, we are humbled, precisely because our wretched condition makes us acutely aware how small and insignificant and unholy we are when in God’s presence(which is everywhere at all times). As we shrink in the presence of the Lord, our fear of God becomes total awe, an awe of wonder at how good, how loving, how holy is our God. We are overwhelmed by His glory, especially in light of how unlike Him we actually are, despite being created in His image. How far we have fallen and still fall short of the glory of God!  Our humility then demands that we acknowledge our lowly position relative to God and place  Him ahead of everything–especially ourselves! God, the Father of lights, from whom comes every good gift and every perfect gift, becomes our first focus, the first light of our lives to whom we give all honor and glory. That means we take a second (and lowly) place,  disdaining any honor for ourselves. Our proper humility is  expressed in everything we are and all we do. For every work we may accomplish is but the action of God, working in us through the Holy Spirit. We can take  no credit for our “achievements,” whether they be works of virtue, or the expression of spiritual gifts. We are wise to recognize our proper position before God.

The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. (Psalm 147:11)

There are two key points contained in this psalm verse. First, it is pleasing to the Lord that we fear Him. Why? Because the result of that fear is that we put all our trust in God. We trust that His love is as He says it is, unfailing. The real fear, then, is that if we do not put our trust in the Lord, and lay everything in our lives at His feet, we are left to our own devices, our own plans, our own self-help manuals, or seven steps to success books. Without the Lord in control, we indeed have much to fear–from ourselves and from living our lives apart from the Lord. Fearing the Lord’s absence in our life is cause for true terror. But we have the promise of God’s unfailing love, a love not fickle and changing like human love, but a divine love that is beyond our comprehension, immutable, and unending.

Fear of the Lord is to our benefit. It leads us to obey our Lord and His commandments. It allows us to give God His proper glory and worship. It places us in our proper position of servant –slave to  a kind and benevolent and merciful Lord. Once this relationship between God and us is firmly defined and established, we can begin to appreciate and enjoy God’s unending love for us, and seek to return that love through our entire being. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom!

Published in: on October 15, 2009 at 3:32 pm  Comments (2)  

14 Reasons Why Christians Rock the World

1. We refuse to place ourselves at the center of Creation and worship ourselves

2. We refuse to bow down to rocks, trees and Mother Nature; thereby worshiping the creation rather than the Creator

3. We reckon God as perfect:

               perfect in love: and so we are taught to love

               perfect in justice: and so we are commanded to obey

               perfect in His Word: and so we are enlightened by the Truth of  the Bible

4. Christians show respect for all men, created in God’s image, by seeking their eternal salvation

5. Christians reject the human faith in progress and humanism: the twin deceptions of Satan

6. Christians do not need a social gospel; the Gospel teaches and the Holy Spirit leads us to produce all good fruits that serve God and men

7. Christians practice mercy

8. Christians protect life

9. Christians ended and today fight slavery

10. Christians founded and run hospitals, schools, food banks, orphanages, receovery centers, homeless shelters, etc.

11. Christians are at the scene of every natural disaster: floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanoes

12. Christians support Israel spiritually and materially and politically

13. Christians do not put their trust in men to make this a better world

14. Christians live in a far greater hope: the promise that Jesus Christ is coming to judge the world and institute His kingdom

Published in: on September 15, 2009 at 10:05 am  Comments (1)  

Waiting on the Lord

“The steps of a good [righteous] man are ordered by the Lord” (Psalm 32:23).

Waiting on the Lord. I am in one of those holding periods in life, awaiting my next work assignment. I am perpetually a wanderer, landing on shores unfamiliar to me by routes unknown to me.  As I look back over my past transitions, it is clear that my carefully imagined, stressed-over plans for my material life were never fully realized–and when things materialized approximating my intended result, it was never on my terms or my timing. My career changes, from teacher/coach to financial advisor, to investment branch manager, to Wall Street regional vice president, to marketing executive, have been uneven, unequal, and even, at times, uncalled for or unwanted. I’ve moved from New York to Florida to South Carolina to Florida to Colorado to Texas. 

 I’ve also wandered from serving the Lord. While I have always believed (as do the demons and Satan himself !), there have been huge periods of time where I was without faith and worship, spiritually adrift, in and out of the church of my childhood, without a church at all, back to traditional church, and finally, mercifully, summoned by the Father and delivered into the hands of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.


 “No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)

 

 

My belief and religious efforts were not enough; could never be enough I now understand. God had to reach down and shake me by my foundations, break my pride, shine the mirror of His Law on me and lead me to repent and acknowledge Him as both Saviour and Lord–a Lord who commands us to obey His Law and conform to His will.

 

Now I await Him and my next calling. His path will open to me,I am sure, but in what way and when, I do not know. He has already made the important and decisive moves–leading me out of my old self into a new creation. What I originally thought was  deliverance from a debilitating “environment” of work and life, I now recognize was  reshaping of my own heart. it wasn’t the outside that needed changing; it was my own self that needed radical transformation. That came through the trifecta of salvation, regeneration and sanctification. My regeneration has created in me a clean heart, renewed my spirit, and begun to make known to me God’s promises to deliver those things I seek. He has put me into the hands of a wise and loving wife, and into the embrace of a caring church that humbly calls upon the name of our merciful Lord and Saviour. He has led me through the narrow gate to follow Him down the hard way. What I could never do, He has decided for me and promised me:

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

The wait is not totally in the dark. We know from the Word what truths lie ahead. To take up one’s cross and follow Jesus is not a promise of easy living, fast money, and an instant circle of friends and supporters.The Lord must purify us, refine us as gold in a fire, and prepare us for His service and His kingdom. If we go back to the epistle of James, we can harken to the lesson that ‘trials produce benefits.’ Trials may be beneficial when they are: corrective, constructive, glorifying to God, and/or demonstrative of our trust in God.

 

Corrective: Sometimes we fall back onto our own plans, our own power, our own thinking. Stinkin’ thinkin’ I like to call it. The Lord wants us to stick to His plan!

 
“Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.”(Amos 3:7)

“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11)


Constructive: We are impatient, and want our calendars filled in completely and way in advance. Patience requires waiting on the Lord to work in us in His own good time.

“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7)

“All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come.” (Job 14:14)

 

Glorifying: What the Lord plans for us is always glorifying to Him and His kingdom, even if it means apparent and real suffering, humiliation, and setbacks for us in the world. The very reason we live is not for ourselves but to give glory to God.


“Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name.” (Psalm 29:2)


“Therefore in the east give glory to the LORD;in the coastlands of the sea, give glory to the name of the LORD.” (Isaiah 24:15)


“Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” (Acts 12:23)

Rewarding: Our reward is that by yielding to the yoke of Christ, conforming ourselves to His will, we will enjoy Him forever. That’s not just an ordinary earthly reward; that’s an eternal reward!


“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

Trust in God, not the self: By enduring trials and tests, we can earnestly thank God for who He is, not just for the good things He does for us. It’s all about Him– especially in the valleys, for He is with us.

 “Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 106:1)

As we all wait on the Lord, we can be assured He is working on us and in us: for me He is imparting lessons on patience, humility, selflessness, trust in Him, and in His plan for my life. He is refining each one of us for service. And that commission to serve God is never over and is never perfectly fulfilled by any man except the God become Man, Jesus Christ. So I wait: imperfect, humble, anxious, excited, praying for strength and trusting in Him.


“I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.'”(Lamentations 3:24)

  

 

Published in: on September 10, 2009 at 9:56 am  Comments (2)  

Trials, Tribulations and Tsuris: How We Benefit

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

Just when I thought my life was finally all tidied up, nice and ready for presentation, like a trophy fish to put up on the wall, something happened to mess it up. Again. Ever get the feeling that our quest to take care of our ‘to do’ list is just a human version of the hamster wheel. We think there’s an end in sight, but in reality the last item on the list is only an illusion–there is no end to the wheel. Our life in the world is never all put together. How much more special than a false promise of relief from all suffering to be able to proclaim that God has called us to be  His children, with a promise of forgiveness of sins and eternal life with Him. The ol’ hamster wheel doesn’t feel so bad when we can take a long, as in eternal, view of things.

But while we’re still here, trying to make the best of a fallen world despotically ruled by fallen, depraved, wretched man, what do we get? Trials, tribulations and tsuris. Tsuris is a rich, perfect expression, a Yiddish word I learned at an early age growing up in Brooklyn. Tsuris means “trouble” and is always exclaimed with somber demeanor, accompanied by much nodding of the head, and with an exchange of deep full eye contact  attesting to the revelation  in a glance that the sufferings of this world are universal, though not uniformly distributed across space and time.

We all go through valleys in life. It’s the cavalcade of valleys that makes the false gospel prosperity preachers so attractive: they seem to have the answer to avoiding those valleys. They promise only the peaks of life: success, health, wealth, peace and happiness. I can’t imagine these guys ever having a successful ministry in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn. Everybody there knew the truth about tsuris and its established role in life. And there was enough tsuris to go around for everybody.  There was a whole generation of people who had fought in the Second World War; two generations that had lived through the Depression; lots of people who came to New York in the lower decks of steam ships from less than wonderful lands; and I had neighbors who had serial numbers tattooed on their wrists. What could Joel Osteen or Benny Hinn possibly offer them? 

So, what’s my point? It’s this. We all (save the Joel Osteen ‘life is yours  for the asking/taking’ group) acknowledge that tsuris is our human condition, so how can we best understand it?

Let me list a few benefits we get from the trials of life. We can thank God for the benefits, because after all, He has a plan, and all things work for the greater good, right? If we approach and understand that our trials are part of God’s plan, we can give glory to God in them and in what we become through them.

 

Benefit 1. Our trials are tests of our faith. Job comes immediatley to  mind. I think especially of Abraham, commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. Human sacrifice? Kill the seed that was to fulfill God’s promise to make Abraham’s offspring as many as the stars in the sky?  Did that make any sense to Abraham? Did he question God at all? No. Now that was a test. Compared to that, how bad can my tests really be ?

For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 13:3)

Benefit 2. We are humbled through tsuris.  The sin of pride is a strong one (I can personally speak to this one), so trials and tests come along to humble us. We are not as strong, as pure, as self-reliant as we’d like to think. Even Paul had  a thorn in his side to keep him humble. When he asked God to remove it, God politely declined. Three times.

“a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. ”     (2 Corinthians 12:7)

Benefit 3. Tsuris devalues our attachments to the things of the world. When you’re lying in a hospital bed, or visiting a dying relative, how important is that car, or house, or job, or whatever? If we are attached to something in the world, and it distracts us form knowing that our real treaure is in heaven, God must show us that the real value of the things of this world is zero compared to what He offers.

“it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)

Benefit 4. Through trials we learn to seek first the Kingdom of God.  Despite the good sense that we shouldn’t wait for trouble to turn to God, we still do. As God is merciful,  He  hears us in our time of need. What we hope is that the ear that so eagerly inclines to the Lord during a trial will permanently stay attuned to Him and follow His will. Out of trouble comes stronger communciation with God, and with that, faith. Our struggle with trials has a glorious end.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

Benefit 5. Arising out of troubles, we are enabled and moved  to help others. How many great charities and causes have been started out of one person’s or one family’s specific trouble? We can take our pain and experience  of a trial and strive to help others avoid the same condition or better cope with it when it does strike them, whether that be disease, addictions or social ills. As Jesus said to Simon Peter:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-31)

Benefit 6.  Through trials, we become stronger spiritual warriors.  Every trial we endure, we emerge stronger. Stronger because we are more attuned to the human conditon, more sympathetic to our fellow man, and more reliant on God and more obedient to His will. It’s the only logical result. It is simply not in our power to avoid or successfully manage the trials and tribulations of life on our own . We need God to be our guide, our comfort, and our hope for the future.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:11-12)

 

Benefit 7. We come to appreciate the blessings the Lord bestows on us. When we see tsuris descend on those around us, or even on ourselves, we can stop and offer thanks for the good things God bestows to His children: life, hope, and then promise of eternal life, plus all the worldly blessings we take for granted: our homes, our food, our livelihood, our church, our freedom from persecution, from war and terror, and more.

 
“A faithful man will abound with blessings.” (Proverbs 28:20)

Benefit 8. Through tsuris we become more obedient. As we reflect on life’s valleys, we come to realize that many of them are brought about by our disobedience, by our choosing to not follow God’s laws. Chastening may lead us to the realization that God’s law is for our own well-being. In obedience we will be more secure, keep many of the dangers of the world at arm’s length, and grow in God’ s love.

“Although a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”  (Romans 5:8)

 

Benefit 9. Through trials we learn patience. God works out our life plan according to His schedule, not ours. And His schedule includes the microscopic items in our lives, and the eschatological unfolding of the universe.  We may wait impatiently for resolutions we can only guess at, but the Lord already knows, so what’s the worry or the hurry?

But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:25)

As the trials of this life rage against us, we must be strong, not in our own abilities to endure, or to overcome, but in our faith in our Lord, and our hope in His promises. Our trials can serve to refine us and make us stronger in Christ.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,  I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;    your rod and your staff,   they comfort me.
(Psalms 23:4)

Next time you find yourself in a valley, be at peace. You are not alone and not without hope.

Published in: on September 1, 2009 at 3:50 pm  Comments (3)