Monday, August 31, 2015

The Father's Heart


“I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found.” 
 Henri J.M. Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son


The prodigal son is my favorite parable. There’s so much to learn from the viewpoint of the younger son, older son, and the father. Jesus presented a story which challenged the religious society’s belief system. His words continue to speak directly to our hearts today.
The entire crux of the story is the father’s heart. The angry younger son showed his resentment and bitterness by demanding his inheritance. An action which stated their relationship was dead. Such a request was a slap in his father’s face. What a gut-wrenching, painful event. A father’s heart torn to shreds and a family shamed by this dearly beloved child.

How did the father respond? By giving his immature, reckless son what he’d asked for and allowing him to leave home. There’s no indication the father begged his son to change his mind and stay. No stern lecture about disrespect and disobedience. Just a sorrowful acceptance of his son’s choices.

Later when he was out of resources, this son meditated on his father’s merciful, compassionate, loving sacrifice. Was he wrong about his father’s heart? The guilt and shame over his actions must have been tremendously heavy. Yet remembering how his father responded gave him hope for redemption and he headed for home. At best, the prodigal son hoped to become a servant. He prepared a speech, intending to beg for just a small measure of forgiveness.

The father was watching, hopeful for his son’s return. Unconcerned with convention, unfettered by bitterness, the father ran joyously to embrace his son. Immediately a celebratory party was ordered. When the prodigal son tried to speak, his father cut him off, declaring to all that his lost son had returned. No sermons. No hesitation. Only relationship.
But I think there were actually two prodigal sons in this story. I love Henri Nowen’s quote because it speaks to the hard heart of many Christians. Thankfully, many folks bypass the rebelliousness of the younger son. They follow the rules, attend church, tithe, work hard in ministry, etc. But what is the motivation of their heart? It’s revealed when God shows mercy to a sinful, disobedient child.

When the older brother heard his father was throwing a party for the brother who shamed the family, he was filled with anger.

Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him! Luke 15:28-30

The older son did not understand the father’s heart any more than his brother. All he needed to do was ask for what he needed and it would have been given. “‘My son, the father said’, ‘you are always with me and everything I have is yours.’” (Luke 15:31) Rather than rest in a loving relationship, the older son based acceptance on good works. He believed obedience would bring him special status, feeling betrayed when the father showed mercy.

No matter which son you resemble, the key is to move toward the father’s heart. Do you look for unconditional love in all the wrong places? Do you run towards trouble or stand in defensiveness? The younger son eventually came to his senses (Luke 15:17) and turned around. We don’t know what choice the older son made. Did he, too, see the error of his ways and embrace his father? What about you? The father is always watching and waiting for your return.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

What Will It Take to Get ME to Act



I sent $50 to ACLJ the other day. I listen to Jay Sekulow on the radio from time to time, and the American Center for Law and Justice is out there fighting for Christian principles every day. They are fighting my fight right in the trenches.

I spent 2 hours on a picket line in front of the Planned Parenthood in Lawndale last week. 200 folks showed up and we got a little press. Some of the cars that passed gave us a thumbs up or honked in appreciation.

That's it! There you have the sum total of my activism for the last year.

There are so many organizations deserving my support. Focus on the Family, Family Life Today, World Vision are three that come immediately to mind.

I attend a lot of things. Church, small groups, Bible studies, mens' breakfast. I go mostly to be fed, but I do teach in one Bible study and participate in the others.

This morning I'm feeling a bit underwhelmed by how little I "Seek after righteousness for His name's sake." There doesn't seem to be a "hunger and thirst after righteousness."

I DO listen to the news and commentary programs on Fox and get all riled up. I am upset by the unrighteousness and good at shaking my fist at the TV screen. I DO share my indignation with friends, family members, and associates. I Do post some responses on Facebook to unrighteous comments.

Will I really get into the trenches and spill my precious time, energy, cash, and even my dignity if they start killing babies after they're born because they are inconvenient or the wrong sex? Will I write elected officials, help to elect sincere politicians, and write checks to organizations when the heads that are being chopped off are Christians living in Santa Monica? Will I stop shaking my fist and actually take some kind of action when an acknowledged socialist gets elected to the Presidency? What about a proven liar?

What about you?  What will it take to get you active?  Maybe you are already active. Tell us about it in the comments and motivate others into action.

One action I did take was to write a book on discipleship and how to surrender fully. That book is available on Amazon as a paperback or an Kindle book. Just go to bit.ly/GodCalled




Saturday, August 29, 2015

What the Bible says about same sex marriage?

Recently when the Supreme Court issued the ruling to make same-sex marriage a legal right I’d read articles and blogs by well-meaning Christians who say as Christians we should rejoice with the LGBT community. The articles likened the LGBT community to discriminated groups like African Americans in slavery time: That this ruling should be placed in the same platform as the civil rights movement that saw equal rights for the black—something I wholeheartedly champion—is the point of most of these blogs.


 

Also the writers claimed that as Christians we should always show love to our brothers and sisters (they quoted verses which include the words "brothers and sisters") and that God is love and love prevails over the bigotry against the LGBT community that Christians seem to show.

 

I cannot disagree that we should always show love to all, LGBT and non-LGBT, murderers, and non-murderers, liars and non-liars etc. But as Christians we should live defined by the Word of God. (Provided we believe the Bible is the word of God, and that the Bible trumps all. Some people who call themselves Christians may not believe in “sola scriptura” and live by codes set by other theology and doctrine that is not solely set by the Bible. I believe these people are not Christians (born again)—at least until they repent (“metanoia” in Greek—meaning “changing of the mind”) and believe the Bible is the WORD of God and the words in the WORD must reign supreme over all other books and even our own thinking—mine included.


 

When I refer to Christians here, I do not include these people since I don’t think they are Christians—at least not yet, and hopefully they will be born again and have the Holy Spirit live in them—by then the Holy Spirit will help them to “repent” and they will agree that the Bible is the Word and as Christians believe that “sola-scriptura” is the only code for a Christians to live by.)

 

Using the Scripture alone as a basis for understanding how the Lord wants us to live, believe and think, how do we handle the issue of the LGBT and the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage?


 

Let’s tackle the easiest of the issue—that of love. What does it mean to love someone? It is after all a great commandment for all believers? (Luke 10: 27 "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'…'")
The Love chapter (1 Corinthians 13) qualifies “love” as many thing but in the context we are tackling it also says:

As defined by 1st Corinthians 13 : 6   Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 

Love rejoices in the truth it says. So what does rejoice in truth mean?
According to Strong’s concordance rejoice (Number 4796) sygxaírō  means  "identify with

“Truth here according to Strong’s Concordance’s Definition ( number 225) : truth, but not merely truth as spoken; truth of idea, reality, sincerity, truth in the moral sphere, divine truth revealed to man,

Which means we as Christians must identify with moral or divine truth as defined by God,

And it does not delight in evil or some translation defines as “unrighteousness”. (1 Corinthians 13:6) “Unrighteousness according to Strong’s is:
93 adikía -- the opposite of justice; unrighteousness, as a violation of God's standards (justice) which brings divine disapproval; a count (violation) of God's justice, i.e. what is contrary to His righteous judgments (what He approves).

So from this definition it appears that “justice” is qualified as that which is approved by God. A violation of God’s standards is actually defined as injustice.

Why am I being so pedantic about going back to the original meaning? Because there’s a reason why the OT and NT are written in Hebrew and Greek, and if we want to understand what God’s saying should we not study what was written?

The Bible after all says every “word”, “jot and tittle” are so crucial to understanding that not one should be removed (Jesus said in Matthew 5:18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God's law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.)

In fact a curse is pronounced upon those who alter or subtract a word, by the way. (Rev 22:19) Again if you are not a Christian reading this I’m not speaking to you—but if someone professes to be a Christian he/she should at least examine each word (in the original Hebrew and Greek) and see if the words be true for himself/ herself.


I hope at least in looking at 1 Corinthians 13:6 “love “ is defined as not celebrating with the Supreme Court’s decision to allow gay marriages. This is not to say we condemn the gays and lesbians, but that if we profess we are Christians and believe every word that proceeds from God’s Word we must not gloss over what God has written in the Bible. And we should not try to convince or deceive other Christians to think it’s okay to rejoice with the Supreme Court decision. It’s one thing to be deceived ourselves but to try to teach other “Christians” with arguments that would lead others astray holds a heavy penalty.

Again God’s words not mine: James 3: 1
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.


So my brothers and sisters in Christ (again brothers and sisters is not a broad term to include every person on this planet—we only become part of the same family when we have Jesus as our savior and God is our Father,) should we rejoice with the gay agenda? Should we as Christian rejoice with sinful actions?

Some may argue that homosexuality is not a sin. So, next time, let’s look at the Bible again to see how the God of the Bible views homosexuality.


(We will also one day look at whether it’s important for Christians to believe sola scriptura—a topic I hope to blog about in the future.) 

Emma Right is an award winning young adult and children's fiction author. Her fantasy and suspense thrillers for young people have won multiple awards and have been Amazon best sellers. A homeschool mother of five she hopes her books will empower, entertain and enlighten her readers.  Find out more at emmaright.com and get free books for children.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hey, We're Going to Steal Your Pastor

A while back my church voted to call a new senior pastor. The man in question accepted our call. It seemed we were stealing him from another church. I have a question: aren’t there some ethics involved in this?

At our church business meeting, the pastoral search committee moderator (a retired senior police officer) said light-heartedly that some of the committee’s activities had of necessity been kept secret, so that other churches not find out we might be trying to steal their pastor.

It was a long meeting, and towards the end we learned that the man we were calling was just two years or so into a three-year contract with a particular church. I didn't know the details of that contract. Maybe it could be cut short at any time. But the impression we gained at the meeting was that he would be breaking his contact to join us.

When someone raised a question about this, a member of the pastoral search committee simply said that, according to its website, the candidate pastor’s church regularly changed pastors.

Which seems to be saying – if others are doing it, why shouldn’t we?.

What sort of message is that? I sent my three kids to Sunday School and church youth group precisely hoping that they would learn about transcendent values, about right and wrong and about not following the ways of the world.

Nine days before the meeting, which took place in December, one of our pastors told the congregation that, some months earlier, God had revealed to him that around Christmas time we would be appointing our new senior pastor, and that the man would be aged 39 (exactly the age of the candidate pastor). At the meeting itself, the members of the pastoral search committee spoke in detail of how God had led them to believe this man was the right person for our church.

It would have taken a brave church member to speak out against the man, and few did. The vote in his favor was overwhelming. (For the record, I also voted in his favor.)

Now I know that God can over-rule the law of contracts, not to mention criminal law, natural law and any other law. But I’m not sure that our church should.

I was also uncomfortable that the man we called was pastor of an expatriate church in Asia. I would imagine that such a church might face a long and expensive process in finding and bringing over a new English-speaking pastor.

Frankly, I’m confused.

What does anyone else think?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

RECALCULATING!


Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. 



Ever since I started using a GPS, traveling to unfamiliar places has become a lot easier for me.  When using the GPS, it’s been my experience that any time I don’t follow its instructions to the letter, missing a turn or taking the wrong exit, I get this voice alert: “Recalculating!” That alert simply means I am getting off the path to my intended destination, and therefore need to follow the subsequent instruction to get back on track. To my surprise, following the new directions does really work. I may get to my destination a bit later, but I do get there.

Christians are called to shun sin and evil, to walk in Christ’s footsteps, allowing the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to direct us. However, every now and then, we get off course, the result of our sin nature, and need to be redirected. The Holy Spirit directs us, and quite often redirects us when we are not walking in obedience to the word of God. Do you ever hear the Holy Spirit’s alert -“Recalculating”? If so, how do you respond to Him? Do you continue down the path He is steering you away from, or do you take the redirected path to continue sweet fellowship with your Lord and Master?

What are some of the wrong paths we may find ourselves on, requiring His redirection? Consider these: have you ever been on the path of un-forgiveness, envy, jealousy, laziness, procrastination, lust, fornication, adultery, greed, evil desires, or the like? See Colossians 3:5. If we are honest, we’ll admit to at least one of the aforementioned behaviors. Now, how have you responded to the Holy Spirit’s nudging? Have you allowed Him to redirect you, or you are still on the path that will lead you farther away from God? The Word says God’s wrath is coming because of these sins (see Colossians 3:6), and Paul admonishes, “Now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:8-10 NIV84).

Obedience to the Word of God is proof that we love Him! See John 14:23. We cannot claim to love Him while deliberately living in disobedience; if we do, the Bible says we are liars (see 1 John 2:4). Stop doing wrong and return to the path of submission. The Scripture says, “The Father disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as son” (Hebrews 12:6 NIV84). Also, in Revelation, God warns the church in Laodicea, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent” (Revelation 3:19 NIV84). Don’t make Him bring hardship or calamity into your life; He is patient with us, but He loves us too much to sit back and watch us destroy ourselves. Don’t continue to live in sin with the attitude that “God forgives.” It is disrespectful to intentionally do things we know break His heart or offend Him. 

No matter where you got off course in your Christian walk, the process to get back on track is the same. When the Spirit convicts you of something, you need to agree with Him, repent, and ask for forgiveness. Don’t stop there; go on and remedy the situation. You might need to apologize to others, return or pay back what you borrowed. In short, you need to make restitution as needed. Let’s allow ourselves to be redirected by the Holy Spirit so we can continue to grow in our Christian walk, and have unbroken fellowship with God. Let’s be attentive, so we don’t miss hearing the Spirit’s alert: “Recalculating.” 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Mourning Loss



There’s been so many sad, heart-breaking events in the news this summer. I absolutely believe God is in control and He grieves with us at the hurt and pain His children endure. Join me in this prayer as we release the sorrows in life and find comfort in God’s heart.

Father God, let this sadness envelope my heart
As a fog rolls across the coastline.
When despair clouds my vision & joy’s naught to be found,
It’s your voice I will follow, for I’m blind.

Savior Jesus, let me mourn each loss in my life
As a mother whose cradle is empty.
When the anguish it threatens my soul to undo,
In its midst can I truly embrace Thee.

Precious Spirit, please leave a tear in my eye
As a glistening jewel in the sun.
Though the waves of pain constantly rise up and fall,
Its reflection shows your comfort’s begun.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Do You Believe in Eugenics? - Take this Test



Here is a test to determine whether you believe in the Darwin inspired idea that the we as humans should be more careful about our approach to breeding.

1. Do you believe that the world would be better off if we had even more tests for babies still in the mother's womb, and then be able to abort those who had various problems? Check mark as many as apply:
  • IQ under 90
  • Downs syndrome
  • Probably a criminal
  • Missing a limb
  • High likelihood of ADD or ADHD
  • High likelihood of addiction
  • Sexually confused or disfunctional
2. Many who reach the age when they are able to create babies are likely to produce children that will have serious problems in their life. If you were in charge would you like to be in favor of sterilization of certain people. Check those that apply:
  • Murderers
  • Drug Addicts
  • Juvenile offenders 
  • Emotionally unbalanced
  • Sexually confused or disfunctional
  • Those who are poor, unmarried, and promiscuous
  • Prostittutes
  • People with low IQ
  • People who have downs syndrome or other debilitating diseases
3. The world has 7 billion people now, and even though advanced countries have falling populations, Africa continues to increase at an alarming rate. Mostly because of the increases in Africa and the Middle East, the population is likely to be at 9 billion by 2050. What would you like to see happen? Check all that apply:
  • Have a one child policy in Africa and the Middle East like they had in China. Abort any pregnancies after one child per family
  • Dramatically increase the number of womens' health clinics in Africa to provide birth control and abortions.
Add up all the above items that you have checked.  If you have checked any of the above items you
would qualify as supporting the concept of eugenics. Eugenics assumes that there are classes are groups of people that by being born or procreating are harming racial purity among humans. This was a very popular notion among Easter elites at the beginning of the 20th Century. Margaret Sanger was among the most vocal proponents of Eugenics, and her organization, Planned Parenthood continues to this very day to help her vision come true.

The other major leader who believed strongly in Eugenics was Adolf Hitler. He believed that Jews, Gypsies, and others should be exterminated even after being born in order to purify the race.

Margaret Sanger also believed that Jews, Blacks, and those of brown skin should be discouraged from making so many babies. To this, add all of the others in the second question. Eugenics sometimes seems like a very smart idea, at least to those who think of themselves as the superior part of the race that should be preserved.

How did you score?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Mystic Biscuits

Are they on the menu at your church?

Definition from Merriam-Webster dictionary:
Mysticism: a religious practice based on the belief that knowledge of spiritual truth can be gained by praying or thinking deeply.

Full definition:
1
 : the experience of mystical union or direct communion with ultimate reality reported by mystics
2
:  the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience (as intuition or insight)
3
a :  vague speculation :  a belief without sound basis
b :  a theory postulating the possibility of direct and intuitive acquisition of ineffable knowledge or power

Any of us seeking God can relate to this definition on some level, whether or not the term is part of our comfortable vocabulary. Even Christians who don’t spend a great deal of time praying are likely to offer up some positive thoughts toward God. Contemplation and meditation are encouraged in our churches. Hopefully, those processes are not simply flights of free thinking, but are directed by Scripture. For knowledge of spiritual truth comes only from one source. While true and complete nourishment from the Word might be the underlying goal, too often we’re satisfied when somebody throws us a mystic biscuit.

The mystical exercise can attach enlightenment to any source. Religious experimentation involves the desire, whether organic or instructed, to find God and make an emotional connection. What it doesn’t represent is the reality of becoming knowledgeable of who God is and of what He has chosen to reveal to us.

Knowledge can come from experience, but it’s not in itself an experience. It’s a possession, gained not by a mystic chasing after God, but by the truth of the Word of God. This is not to say a knowledgeable Christian doesn’t desire that “feel good” moment in God’s presence. It’s not a criticism of worship, but an encouragement to base desire and worship on truth, and not on experience.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.   Colossians 2:8

Why is the sound knowledge of God that comes from Scripture placed so high above the willful expression of our need to know Him? Is our effort worth nothing? Can we not experience the glory of God by giving something of ourselves? We may find a measure of what God intends us to perceive, but it won’t change us into who He intends us to become.

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. John 17:17

We are not permanently altered, spiritually transformed, or saved for eternity by our experiences. Only by the truth of the Word is true knowledge of God known. The empty promise of this world is the lesser valued, experiential treatment of God as a prize to be obtained by our own speculation.

But this practice certainly isn’t widespread in evangelical churches. Is it? The mystic biscuits might slip in, appealing to our need to be fed. To be filled instantly. To be mesmerized. To be entertained. Perhaps it’s our consumerism mentality which adopts the mystic show invading some churches. It doesn’t necessarily mean our intention is to seek something other than truth, or to be satisfied with anything besides God. But we might think we’ve realized truth—assumed we’ve reached God—when all we’ve really done is employ a flimsy practice to launch ourselves into a state of spiritual euphoria. That’s nothing beyond the digestion of a mystic biscuit. And it’s not what we need to survive. Scripture doesn’t teach that God’s people perish from a lack of mystic experience, but from a lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Which Shares Would Jesus Buy?

I’m a freelance writer, semi-retired now, but still specializing in finance, investment and the stock market. It’s not work I’m entirely comfortable with. I know that many Christians – including some in my own church – regard the financial markets as casinos. But I have a family to feed, and I haven’t been able to make a living writing on Christian themes, so the stock market it is.

Friends sometimes suggest I write a book on “Christian finance.” That is, on money management for Christians, like Larry Burkett. I’ve resisted, for several reasons, and it’s probably as well, because, according to a "Religion BookLine" email newsletter from Publishers Weekly, the market for those books is crowded.

The newsletter (which is not online) put the spotlight on several books related to Christians and finance. About one of these it wrote:

The book’s tone is more aggressive than other Christian guides, exhorting readers to think of debt elimination as a “war,” with its accompanying sacrifices. Exclamation points, italics and parenthetical intensifiers so abound in the text that by the book’s end, even the most committed reader will feel rhetorically exhausted.

I’m not comfortable with “Christian finance” books that lay down lots of rules. After all, even a Christian financial principle like tithing is open to various interpretations.

I don’t believe Jesus gave specific instruction concerning the stock market, savings accounts, debt reduction or whatever. Instead, he taught love, forgiveness, service, integrity, trust, humility, prayer, compassion, justice and more. These virtues should naturally (and increasingly) govern every aspect of our lives, including our attitudes to money.

That’s not to say that personal finance books are useless. Far from it. (After all, I write some.) But I don’t think that Christians necessarily need “Christian” personal finance books, any more than they need, say, “Christian” car repair manuals or “Christian” aerobics guides.

Martin Luther is famously quoted as having exclaimed: “I would rather be operated on by a Turkish [Muslim] surgeon than a Christian butcher.” (Though some doubt he really said it.)

A short article from Christianity Today magazine has influenced my own attitudes. By J. Raymond Albrektson, it is titled “Is the Stock Market Good Stewardship.” Here is an excerpt:

The bedrock of a biblical understanding of wealth is that it all belongs to God, but he entrusts us to manage it during our lifetime. Our task is to decide how to divide the pie. How much do we give away to help meet the needs of others and expand God’s kingdom? How much do we consume on our own needs? And how much do we set aside for future needs?

We’re basically trustees, and a trustee normally does not take high risks with the owner’s wealth. When you entrust assets to a financial manager, you expect rational plans for putting that money to work, not unreasonable risks in hopes of a quick payoff.

I would commend the article to anyone interested in this theme.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

YOU MAY DISAGREE BUT AT YOUR OWN PERIL




“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV84



Truth is defined as that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality. There is something very refreshing and freeing about truth, because it does not change. Truth is non-negotiable; it is not affected by peoples’ view of it, and it does not take other positions into consideration; it stands alone. If it took other positions into consideration, there’d be no truth; it will cease to exist, and sadly, there’ll be only conflicting ideas that lead to chaos.  Consequently, there will be no need for law enforcement of any kind in society; everyone will be free to live out his or her own truth. What a messy world that will be! 

Psalm 24:1 NIV84 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Will this fact change because someone insists there is no God? Of course not! If a child says to his parents, “You are not my parents,” would that change the fact that they really are, and could produce documents to prove it? Certainly not!

If you live on planet earth, anywhere in the world, you belong to God, and it behooves you to listen to what He says. One of the most basic things He wants us to pay attention to has to do with our relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus. In reference to Jesus, the Bible says, “To those who believed in His (Jesus) name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:14 NIV84). Do you believe in His name? Until you believe in Him, you are not His child; you are His creation, and of course, you are free to disagree with His claim of ownership on your life.

If you do not wish to be a child of God, then you are all set; you don’t have to do anything different from what you are already doing. On the other hand, if you’d like to be a child of God, you’ll need to ask God for forgiveness of sin through Jesus. Disagreeing with this process is very unproductive, because disagreement is not an acceptable excuse for unbelief. It won’t exempt you from accountability. It will only place you in the category of unbelief for which the consequence is already spelt out. It goes like this, “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18 NIV84). 

God is Truth; He does not change, and He does not take His words back (see Malachi 3:6, Isaiah 31:2). So we are the ones who need to change. Our way of thinking needs to come into alignment with His Word.  If He says our relationship with Him will be restored only through faith in Jesus, then that is the only way to go.  Please don’t waste time going around in circles, and coming up with seemingly-cute arguments, because His Word will never change to accommodate your unbelief and disobedience. You are free to choose what you want to believe, but also, be aware that what God says is final! Time is running out; do it God’s way by placing your faith in Jesus today for salvation! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV84).

Monday, August 17, 2015

I Long For Jesus


As I look at my life on this beautiful summer day, I'm filled with thanksgiving for the abundant blessings God has given. Some of these blessings are external, but the ones I'm most grateful for are found in my soul. I've been a Christian most all of my life, but it's only been in the last 15 years I've experienced a deep relationship with Jesus. I moved from a fear-based legalistic spiritual life to an authentic, vulnerable relational-based viewpoint. I wrote the following poem to symbolize the transformation. This poem can be the prayer of your heart as well. 

I long to look into the eyes
Of He who died for me.
To see the love that shines therein
For all eternity.
Your piercing gaze into my heart,
Will cut thru my every wall.
And I will gladly surrender to you,
My hands, my heart, my all.

Jesus, I long to touch your face,
To caress each and every line.
To feel the nail prints in your hands;
The punishment that should have been mine.
I want to wash your feet, my Lord,
With tears of joy and love.
My heart is longing to be with you
In your temple in heaven above.

Jesus, I long to hear your voice,
Into my ear you will say
The words I long to hear the most,
“Beloved, here you will stay.
Forever you will sit with me,
Forever by my side.
It was only because of my love for you
That I went to the cross and died.”

So each and every day of life I struggle
To carry my cross.
And sometimes it threatens to crush me
And I think that all is lost.
But then I raise my eyes to the sky
And pray that soon will be,
The day that I will truly look
Into the eyes of He who died for me.


By Judy Lair 1997

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Study Shows Participating in Relgion Provides Reduced Depression in Seniors



The American Journal of Epidemiology has published the results of a study that shows a correlation between being in community with others of faith through a religious organization and a substantial reduction in the evidence of depression This is UNsurprising in my opinion. The bigger surprise may have been that joining other kinds of groups may provide momentary happiness, but long term depression. 
Quote from the extract of the study: "Participation in religious organizations may offer mental health benefits beyond those offered by other forms of social participation."

The study was done in Europe where we might expect the population to be much less evangelical than Americans, but the dominant religion is still Christianity. But in any case, the results shouldn't be surprising at all. If you read the Bible and listen to the sermons, the recurring theme will be to:
  • love God and others (other directedness) 
  • forgive others and yourself 
  • forget the junk in your past and don't be anxious about anything (worry)
  • be disciplined in your life 
  • not put faith in worldly riches
  • have a great group of like minded friends around you
  • give daily time to praying for your needs, intercession for others, thankfulness, and contemplation of your life. 
Why wouldn't that lead to sustained reductions in depression? Any secular therapist would have to agree that someone who follows these precepts will be happier, emotionally healthier, and just plain nicer to be around.

The other three social participation groups studied were educational, political, and charitable. There was no explanation for why being in such organizations might cause an increase in depression. There is a general tendency for the elderly to become depressed, so it may be that these groups merely didn't help that inclination, where being a religious group did.

Do you have other thoughts on why these results turned out the way they did?


Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Intolerant Gospel

Tolerance, subjective thinking, and Pharisees


Much is expected of us, even demanded regarding the virtue of tolerance. At its essence, it is an honorable mindset—accepting of others and kind in speech and action. In its expression, it has evoked a cultural shift into something less generous. The finger of the enlightened often points at Christians as being the source of all intolerance. They’re staunch, backward throw-backs thumping their Bibles and thumbing their noses. Well, there are some of them out there. They give the rest of us a bad name.

But there are as many personalities among Christians as there are among Buddhists and Hindus and Muslims and Jews. And even atheists. Personally, I’m a tolerant sort, preferring the life of a disciple as opposed to a Pharisee. By that I mean I choose to never stop learning and growing as a believer. I won’t consider any person beyond redemption.  And I refuse to hang my believer’s hat on anything other than the Gospel.

Is there a ring of intolerance in that last statement? Am I denying there may be some other way besides the one I follow? Isn’t the Gospel itself a picture of intolerance?  

In light of contemporary reasoning, the Gospel of Christ is considered to carry a message contrary to a more acceptable philosophy of subjectivity. Though we Christians may claim separation from worldly attitudes, trends edge into our thinking. Soon we’re convinced it’s no longer enough to be kind. We must now be in complete agreement with everybody. But that throws doubt at our convictions. We start to believe what’s true for us may not be true for all. Perhaps there are no absolutes. The best we can do is hold to an ineffective belief system and practice being less offensive.

But it isn’t simply a thought adjustment aimed at Christians. The ideology infects our entire society and leads us all down the same crooked road. Now tolerance is the rule and anyone who breaks the rule is an outlaw. Our very thoughts make us criminals, and what was intended to free us becomes our prison. We fall under the oppression of subjective thinking. And we call it tolerance.

Should we blame the liberal media? Probably. But what about the modern-day Pharisee? Like the leaders in Jesus’ day who didn’t appreciate His commonality with the less sanctified, we’ve all encountered Christians set on attaching something other than grace to redemption. They insist you fit the profile. And while I might make their cut, I find myself intolerant of their insistent badgering and eye-rolling. I’d rather be with Jesus and the tax collectors.

Which brings me to the intolerance of the Gospel. It’s only there if you look at it backwards. The Gospel is not about cleaning up so you can follow Christ. That might be what the Pharisees want you to believe. But it’s actually about following Christ and hiding behind Him so God won’t look at how filthy you are. Is there only one way to get to that safe place? Yes, and that’s the absolute truth. To tell anybody otherwise would be unkind.

Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.”
John 14:6

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ikea Catalog - Reaching Into People's Hearts

More than ten years ago I wrote an article for a former website titled “The Bible vs. the Ikea Catalog – Which is Winning Hearts?” It looked at how the annual Ikea catalog was overtaking the Bible as the world’s most distributed publication.

I actually did a bit of research to gather material for the article, including making contact with the Ikea head office and seeking out statistics from various Bible societies.

Though estimates differed, it seemed possible that more than 100 million Bibles were being distributed worldwide each year. Concerning distribution of the Ikea catalog, I wrote that it topped 100 million for the first time in 2001.

I actually thought my finished article had something pertinent to say, and after posting it on my site I sent out emails to various other bloggers alerting them to it.

However, hardly anyone seemed to pay much attention, and the article quickly went into my archives, relatively unnoticed.

But then something happened – very gradually it got linked to by lots of other sites, and traffic to the article started to build. Within a couple of years it was by far the most popular commentary on my former site, attracting hundreds of visitors each week.

It took me a while to work out where all this traffic was coming from. To my amazement, it eventually turned out that one of the main sources was this Wikipedia entry, “Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-Tung,” which linked to my article and said about Mao’s Little Red Book:

The estimated number of copies in print well exceeds one billion, certainly a record in mainland China (although, worldwide, its publication is a distant second to the Bible, or third if all publications and printings of the annual Ikea catalog are counted as a book).

And thanks to that Wikipedia link I found my article featuring prominently when people did Google searches for information on the Ikea catalog.

So is the article still relevant?

Well, I noted then that distribution of the Ikea catalog topped 100 million for the first time. Now it apparently exceeds 200 million.

Back then I wrote about Ikea:

It already has around 150 stores in 22 countries. In 1997 it opened in Shanghai, two years later in Beijing and a year after that in Moscow. It sees these stores as stepping stones for further penetration of those countries. It is gearing up to enter Japan. The catalog printing run is set to soar.

Today the company operates more than 300 stores in 37 countries.

I think the conclusion I wrote then is as relevant as before:

China. Russia. Japan. Western Christians are spending heavily to reach people in such countries with the Gospel. Will we win hearts as readily as Ikea?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

THE TEMPLE OF GOD




GOD'S TEMPLE IS SACRED 




What is a temple? A temple (from the Latin word templum) is a structure reserved for religious or spiritual activities, such as prayer and sacrifice, or analogous rites. So in short, a temple is a place of worship, and for the Christian, the temple is the house of God.

The first Israeli-temple was a permanent worship center built by King Solomon, the second king of Israel, four years into his reign. It was built four hundred and eighty years after the Israelites came out of their captivity in Egypt (see 1 Kings 6:1). David his father, had wanted to be the one to build the temple, but God had other plans. God said to David, “Your son whom I will put on the throne in your place will build the temple for my name” (1 Kings 5:3 NIV84). In preparation for this project, King David put together most of the materials and supplies the builders would need for building the temple. 
  
That structure was huge and magnificent! See 1 Kings 6:2-36. Unfortunately, it was later destroyed by fire; by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, during the reign of King Zedekiah (see 2 Chronicles 36:17-20).
The temple was later rebuilt at the command of Cyrus, king of Persia, who proclaimed throughout his kingdom, that God had appointed him to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem in Judah (see Ezra 1:1-4). Some of the Israelites in captivity returned home to undertake that project. When the foundation was laid, the Israelites who had seen the first temple, many years prior, wept bitterly, because the foundation of the new temple was no match for the first one (see Ezra 3:12-13).

The temple remained a place of worship, a place of sacrifice, and a place where God met with His people. Anything or anybody considered unclean for health or other reasons was not allowed in the temple; an indication that God wants the temple to remain holy at all times.

During the time of Jesus, the temple area had become a trading place. Offended by the practice, Jesus overturned the tables and benches of the traders, and drove them out saying to them, “It is written my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13 NIV84). 

It is obvious that the temple we’ve looked at so far is a physical structure visible to the human eyes, built by humans, with human hands, human effort, and physical materials. But there is another temple; it is invisible, made without human hands, or human efforts. It is not built over time, but rather instantly.
This temple of course is a spiritual temple. It is erected as soon as a person makes a confession of faith in Jesus Christ. At that instance, God comes to indwell the believer in the form of the Holy Spirit. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit makes one’s heart the temple of God. God didn’t live there prior to conversion, because it was cluttered with sin. Jesus’ blood cleanses us from all sin, making our heart the only suitable dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. So now God’s dwelling place is no longer a physical structure, but a spiritual one, our heart. The apostle Paul on teaching the people of Athens about the true God, said, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands” (Acts 17:24 NIV84).

Just as God demanded His temple to be kept holy in the Old Testament, so He requires of us, in the Church-age to keep the temple of our bodies clean. It is important to note that there are consequences for destroying God’s temple.  

On warning the Church of Corinth, about taking good care of themselves, the apostle Paul said to them, and to all Christians of course, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NIV84). On the topic of sexual immorality, Paul again wrote to them, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God” (1 Corinthians 6:19)?

If we constantly remind ourselves that we are God’s temple, we’ll be a bit more careful about what we do to our bodies, what we do with our bodies, and what we subject our bodies to. For instance, some of the conversations and music we listen to, some of the things we think about, and some of the things we watch have the ability to contaminate our thoughts. Let’s remember, “We are the temple of the living God” (2 cor 6:16 NIV84). Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians, “Whatever is true, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 NIV84). May God help us to respect His house and keep it clean!





Monday, August 10, 2015

Rich Young Ruler



I love that there’s no “one size fits all” answer with God. I don’t believe we are instructed to turn the other cheek for everyone nor are we to call everyone a “white washed tomb” as Jesus did to the Pharisees. When I run to God and ask how to love well, sometimes He tells me to say or do something immediately. Other times I’m instructed to just listen and validate feelings. In some circumstances, God tells me it’s best for us both if I love people from a distance in a prayerful way. 

A Relational approach to life involves learning how to receive clarity from God about how we best support other people’s learning curve. Many times this looks like stepping back and allowing our loved ones to experience hurt and pain as a result of their own immature decisions and rigid beliefs so they will seek God.

Jesus’ interaction with the rich young ruler in Luke 18 is a good example of this principle. This ruler had worked hard to follow all the commandments since he was a young boy. The account leads us to believe he was serious about his relationship with God. He had put time, effort, and energy into following the guidelines set out by the religious establishment. But even after being a model pupil, this ruler recognized the religious system could not assure him of God’s acceptance.

The ruler heard about a new teacher named Jesus and sought him out to ask him the burning question of how to achieve eternal life. I find Jesus’ response fascinating. The first thing he did was to challenge the ruler on the issue of Jesus’ credentials. When people are not ready to hear God’s answer to their question, they go shopping. Hearing something they don’t like from one source, people often rationalize and discount the source, then go searching for another opinion. I wonder how many “good teachers” this ruler had approached with this question. Jesus immediately established the fact that only God alone is the “good teacher” and if we ask God a question, we need to be open to hearing and receiving His truthful answers.

Jesus led the ruler to the heart of the matter by exposing his flawed life strategy. The ruler had been taught to keep every single commandment, assuring him he would receive God’s approval. Jesus points out that knowing information and blindly following rules never results in knowing God or others intimately. God’s strategy for our life is based on inner heart attitude rather than outward obedience. Jesus told the ruler to sell everything he had, give it to the poor, then leave home and come travel with him as a disciple. Luke 18:23 says the ruler sadly turned away. Unlike following a straight-forward set of commandments, Jesus’ words necessitates wrestling with heartfelt sacrifice as well as external cost.
Humankind has developed a hierarchy that relies on wealth, rules, status, etc. to bestow worth and value. God tells us,
The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (I Samuel 16:7 NIV)
We set up rules and systems that make it possible for people to build their own Tower of Babel and reach up to God. But we are fooling ourselves because God always talks about heart attitude, intent, motivation, and character -- and those things can never be achieved by simply obeying commandments.

The rich young ruler was saddened that the cost of being with God meant bankrupting himself financially in the present life. The life strategy he was taught caused him to ask Jesus the wrong question. Rather than seeking to know what hoops he needed to jump through to get the prize, he should have been asking how to draw closer to God’s heart. Viewing the world from God’s heart changes our perspective on everything.

I want to believe this ruler eventually sold all he had and went to follow Jesus. I hope this encounter with Jesus caused the ruler to come to the Apostle Peter’s belief that only Jesus has the words of life. Transformation of our humanistic life strategy brings us into the presence of the Almighty God, a gift that trumps all earthly treasures. But maybe all he could see was what he would give up and he learned how to shut off his disappointment so he could continue living by the rules.

I do acknowledge the rich young ruler was apparently living a very good lifestyle, making it easier to focus on the positive. That’s not the case for most of the people coming into my office. They tell me stories of hurt and heartache that has or is presently happening to them or to people they love. Everyone on this planet hopes for a quick solution that will stop pain and head them toward happiness. No matter which position you are in, the Bible is clear that the price of healing is truthfully seeking out all the self-protective ways that separate us from the love of God.

John 8:32 promises that God’s truth will set us free when we commit to a lifestyle of asking hard questions and sitting in painful feelings. Truth is not a scientific conclusion arrived at by examination of data. It cannot be separated from the person of God.


Excerpt: From the Other Side of the Couch by Judy Lair, LPCC