Where Did We Take A Left Turn?

Thus says Yahweh: “Stand by the ways, and see, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Jeremiah 6:16

The Holy Bible of the Judeo/Christian faith has a way of getting right to the heart of a person. It says in Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”. I can testify that Elohim and His Words have shaken me to the very core of my soul in the last several months. Shaken to the point where everything that I thought I knew wasn’t exactly as I had thought. That the very things that I placed trust and faith into are not the clear and fullest truth. That I’ve been on a path, or road if you will, that is not the same road from where it all started…in the very beginning. Let me explain.

From the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, subsequently translated into Latin, English, and a variety of other languages, the very words of the canonized Bible…what is commonly called the Old and New Testaments…have impacted the vast majority of people around the world for multiple centuries. From those very powerful words, written by approximately 40 authors over the span of about 1500 years, comes the voice of Yahweh God to the people that inhabit this planet. All things came from God through Yeshua/Jesus, (the son of God), according to the very words of the Holy Scriptures. It says in Colossians 1:16-17 “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. In Genesis 1:1, the first of the 66 collected books that make up the Holy Bible, it says “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” 

If we look through the timeline of the Bible we learn that God created Adam and Eve, the first people, who fell into sin (a breaking of God’s laws) and lost the paradise God had given them (the Garden of Eden). Subsequently through lineage, Noah came about, but so did rampant sin against God, who then flooded the planet (saving only Noah and his family) to start fresh. Essentially God establishes a group of people through Abram (Abraham) and his offspring to be a holy people (holy means “called out”) and to eventually establish His laws to these people through His prophet Moses, after God lead the Hebrew people (Hebrew meaning to “cross over”) out of bondage (Egypt). He gives them a land (the Promised Land) to live in and to worship Him. Unfortunately the 12 tribes of the now-called Israelites have conflicts with one another and are separated (northern 10 tribes and southern 2 tribes) and go through many rise and fall periods because they kept breaking God’s laws. Even after multitudes of warnings from various prophets of God to repent (meaning to turn away from sin), their sinning continued. This went on for centuries. But God had a plan for not only the Jewish people, but for the rest of the world as well.

The last Old Testament period prophet came proclaiming that the “Promised One”, the Messiah, who would take away the sins of the world would be coming. John the Baptist announced that one was coming to take the punishment for all sins and give all people a way to be restored to God. Thus, Yeshua Hamashiach, Jesus Christ, came. Jesus followed and fulfilled all the laws and commandments of God perfectly (something no one can do) and gave us the example to follow. Since the punishment for sin is death, the way prescribed to atone for sin was a blood sacrifice. God gave His Son Yeshua/Jesus as that sacrifice (he took the punishment for all the sins, past, present, and future) and made it that whoever believes in him, follows him, makes him lord of their lives, confesses and repents of sins, will be saved from eternal death (hell/hades). While Yeshua was walking on this planet, he had followers that he taught the ways of God too. They became his disciples, who would subsequently continue on the teachings of Christ, even after Yeshua rose from death into eternal life in heaven. 

All the new believers were called Christians, followers of Yeshua as their Messiah. This Christianity began as an outgrowth of Judaism and still remained the believer’s basis of their worship and knowledge of God through their understanding of the Tanakh, what we call the Old Testament. The early Church continued the Jewish traditions, as seen in their later writings (the 4 Gospels, epistles, and other texts that subsequently coalesced into what is now called the New Testament). Even non-Jewish people (Gentiles) who believed in YHWH God and saw Jesus as the Messiah were grafted into this worship. (There has always been non-Jewish people who worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through the centuries with the Israelites as noted in the Old Testament. Examples would be the word “sojourner” in the Torah and many other references to Gentiles). Thus, the early “church” of believers in Yeshua gathered regularly together to worship Yahweh on the Sabbath and teach about Yeshua and his Way to others. 

For reference, I am not an Messianic Jew, nor do I hold to Hebrew Roots or Torah Observant religious beliefs. I will say though that I believe that the vast majority of modern church denominations and movements have drifted extremely far from the true roots of Christianity’s origins and beliefs. Sadly, in many circles, it has come to the point where they have even gone to the extreme of completely dismissing the Old Testament, or at the very least, have minimized the true intent of God’s plan for all people in how they should live and worship. The God of the Torah didn’t change the rules along the way. Nor did He delete the standing orders of how He is to be worshiped. Yeshua/Jesus never said that the old ways were done away with and we can now worship the creator God in a “new” fashion. So, when did it all get purged and whitewashed and become a homogenized new religion? At what point did the followers of Christ put away the teachings of the Torah and the worship at the synagogues on the Sabbath day (which technically falls on Saturday)? When did all this stop, and better yet, why? There is a lot of history that has been either ignored or erased that shows man has injected his own agendas and ideologies into the Christian religion. Being a follower of Yeshua Hamashiach, (or as it has been Anglicized as Jesus the Messiah), doesn’t change anything from the Old Testament, other than the temple sacrifices have been done away with because of Yeshua’s ultimate sacrifice. I say all this based on what I have read within the Scriptures and have studied from history. You can look it up yourselves!

We do know from history that the early church “evolved” to a point where the progressing early leaders wanted to separate themselves from the Jewish religion all-together. When Emperor Constantine was Romanizing the Christian religion, he created a council (Nicaea) in 325 to declare what the Christian religion was to “believe in”. Essentially by the 4th century, Judaism was purged from Christianity and the two were deemed “separate” entities…neither to be practiced together. But prior to this declared split by the self-appointed “leaders”, the believers of Yeshua were practicing the Jewish Torah and customs set out in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible…or “Old Testament”, as we call it in westernized society). It was also during the ecumenical council that they felt the need to separate the Jewish Passover and Easter (the crucifixion of Christ). Easter was severed within the “new” orthodoxy from its calendrical and thematic connections with the Passover. Also changed was the day of worship gatherings. No longer would it be on the Sabbath (Saturday) but instead on Sunday…just to segregate the two! In fact, it was through these “evolutions” that many of today’s westernized holidays related to Christianity were invented. It came to the point where you could not believe in Jesus and go to synagogue on Sabbath per the leaders of the “new” Christian religion. In fact, there was a lot of anti-Jewish (anti-Semetic) discourse and writings/sermons that came out of this time, such as Bishop John Chrysostom’s (c.349-407) sermon titled “Against the Jews”. Essentially, this chasm grew and grew between the Christian faith and the Jewish faith (the very Jewish faith from which it all originated from). With all the new declarations of what Christian orthodoxy should look like, it expanded and essentially became a whole new separate religion. 

Why am I sharing this Reader’s Digest Condensed version of church history with you? All this to point out something that so many people who proclaim themselves to be believers in Jesus Christ (who may or may not be active participants in the many modern Christian church(s) out there today) seem to be completely unaware that all the current denominations and doctrines and such that are part of the so-called Protestant (and Catholic) churches today were removed from the original church and purpose. Man decided they didn’t like what God had instituted, that it was too archaic. So, thinking that he knows a better way of doing things more than God, he changed what God had decreed. And it’s this kind of thinking that will cause God to give them over to their own passions and demise. Romans 1:21-25 says: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

These verses (and so many other warnings from God to man within the covers of the Holy Bible) are not just about lifestyles and the flesh…but they warn of how man’s self-righteousness and arrogance to depart from how we are to follow and honor and worship God will be man’s complete downfall and dismissal from God! God commands us in Deuteronomy 6:5-6 that “You shall love YHWH God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.”  And the part that many have ignored, or dismissed all together, is that God’s commands have not changed from Genesis to Revelation. The only thing that changed in history is what man has decreed for himself. If the Bible is God’s Word and is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then why did man deviate from it? If God declares that the grass may wither, the flower eventually fades, but the Word of the Lord will stand forever (Isaiah 40:8), then why have the assemblies and councils of men dismissed (large) portions of Scripture? Psalm 33:11 says that “the counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations”. Sounds like there isn’t a new “version” that God would be switching to because He sent Yeshua as a propitiation for our sins against His Holiness and His decrees! In fact, there really isn’t a “new testament” from the “old testament”, but rather a pre-messiah and post-messiah section of the whole of Holy Scripture! We accept the 10 Commandments, why do we dismiss all the rest of His commands?

As I have battled within myself regarding the issues of faltering faith these last several months, I thought that God, perhaps, had given me over because of my weaknesses and confusion. I couldn’t resolve the many red flags that kept cropping up as I tried to rectify and remedy myself to all the theology and doctrines I had studied over the many years. I knew something was wrong, and it didn’t help that the enemy took advantage of that to get me believing that I walked away from God, or that I was never saved, or that I was, per some theological stances, “predestined” to hell. Yet, now I am seeing that perhaps it wasn’t just me that was confused, (though disclaimer: I am still sorting out quite a bit here!) but that the current state of the accepted Christian religions in the world today are actually wrong. That history shows man taking liberties to change God’s decrees and laws and commands just to fit his own ideologies and narratives. Essentially, the vast majority of today’s Christian churches are following deviated orthodoxy that was created by men who were bent on removing the very Jewishness of God’s people and God’s Messiah, who was himself Jewish!  

With that, I am taking new course in life regarding Bible reading and believing. Since these are Jewish Scriptures written by Jewish believers that follow a Jewish worship decreed by YHWH God, the very God who gave us all a Jewish Messiah who had Jewish followers and disciples who all kept the Jewish customs and traditions and worship, and historically had grafted in the Gentiles who wanted to worship and study and believe in this very same YHWH God and follow the Jewish ways, et.al., I plan on re-reading the Bible in its entirety, but without the man-made doctrines or theologies that I had been indoctrinated into believing up till now. I will be reading the Holy Scriptures with a first century Jewish/Gentile perspective as all this was intended from the very beginning. I believe that the Books will be more alive and enlightening to this soul that I could have ever imagined! 

Amen

To Be Or Not To Be…

If no beginning, then no end.

One of the worst things that combats our walk with God is the continual questioning and wondering. Though certain ideologies are claimed to be clearly implanted within the words of Scripture, we tend to read past them and doubt our faith and salvation regardless. Our frail nature creates within us a whirlwind of uncertainty that, though answerable from the Book itself, we tend to relish and dwell on failings and shortcomings to the point of souring our very hope of salvation from eternal damnation. From the simplest to the most complex methodologies of the saving process derived from interpretations of the Holy Bible the Christian salvation and subsequent life afterward have often created a downfall to many due to the confusion associated with differing opinions. One has only to read through social media debates on any topic of Christianity to see that the different views can create such a contention between the claimed believers…even to the point of hostility. Unfortunately, many people see this and can often be turned off becoming followers by these contradictions and views. Others have either walked away from the faith all together or have settled into a non-orthodoxy religion that mixes Biblical teachings, accepted social constructs, and humanistic ideologies just to ease the tensions within their own soul. 

I confess myself often a casualty of this war. From my non-religious and generic upbringings to deeply held reformed theological views to questioning the validity of all the claimed orthodoxies from every side, I have run a course of confusion and challenge that has hobbled my beliefs to the point where I’ve thrown my hands up in despair more often than I care to admit. And even though I have presented to you my gleaned understandings of Scriptural studies through various media these last few years, I find that everything is still in question, including my own “salvation”. For some this will come as a shock, yet for others this may be seen only as a season of challenge. And yet within still remains…no faith. 

Before the mob begins lighting their torches and gathering in the square for a public hanging due to heresy or blasphemy, let me speak in my defense. 

It is obvious to see that there are many “versions” of Christianity in the world today and each “version” claims they have the “gospel truth” at its own core. Within the walls of each religion lies their pre-ordained definitions of what is and what isn’t orthodoxy. Some churches have embraced a strict Biblical-only walk of faith and function while others have opened their doors accepting any and all definitions of Christian. Some would look at me as sinner destined to the gates of hell while others would claim my destination as heaven. Of course, the only true basis for what should be the definitive answer of how Christianity should truly be is based solely on the original source book…the Holy Bible. 

But, now we are back to the questions brought on by the many perceived interpretations. You may read a particular set of passages to mean one thing and others may see them through a different lens, and thus, the contentious battles that rage, the casualties that increase, and the vitriolic attacks upon one another. With these matters flaring between groups, it is no wonder that many walk away or struggle with doubts and uncertainties as to what is the “right way” to believe and how they should walk through this life under the religious banner of “Christian”. When people see such infighting within the proclaimed “church”, it creates either a hesitant heart or a coldness that turns them away all together. 

One of the main questions that has foundered my walk has been “am I truly saved”. Some will claim that once you say a prayer accepting Jesus as your savior, you are saved. Some add that baptism must accompany the prayer. Some say that all are saved no matter their lot in life. Then there is the repentance portion of the salvation process. Some will suggest if you repent (turn away) of sin and are baptized, that you will then walk in newness of life and have eternal salvation. Others will counter that repentance is a daily process that must be adhered to and that adding works is “un-Biblical”. Still others hold to “once saved, always saved”, no matter what you do after your admission into salvation. From terms such as “easy believism” to “works salvation” to “Lordship salvation”, the many views all state their case from the Bible and hold to the claims that “our way is right”. But is there only one right way?

Based on whatever style or path of salvation you may interpret as the correct one, there is the facet that some who come to saving grace and repent of their ways will display a “change” or newness of life. Examples would be the addict who finds Jesus and becomes clean from substances, or the violent person who finds compassion and is transformed, or the depraved whose life is converted into one of charity and love. These, and many more, are evidences that this newness of life has taken affect and turned the wayward lost to a new and directed path following Christ’s Biblical example. Yet most will agree, without evidence of change, without a turning away from the “old nature”, there remains the questions as to whether or not the conversion was genuine. Making bold declarations through words are just that…words. 

Many people will make proclamations out of an emotional rush. Often times people can get caught up in the moment of exhilaration from their surroundings that they flow with the masses and align themselves with the crowd. Perhaps an emotional tent-meeting causes an unsaved person to be swept up in the moment and they make declarations of asking Jesus into their life. But then over the course of the next few days, life for them is back to normal. Or, perhaps, in an instance of heartfelt duress one should make promises to God that if He helps them that they will commit their lives. Yet afterward their life goes back to normal. You see, there are numerous situations where verbalizing something doesn’t necessarily cause someone to newness of life and salvation. 

But, this is not to say that those moments can’t have the Biblical “happy ending”. There are many who make that commitment to Christ and walk boldly and succinctly from that moment onward. And though their life is still filled with ups and downs, many are clearly changed into a new creation and they live their lives afterward as a Biblical Christian. Though each life is different, many have a new heart that is desiring to serve the Lord, worship the Creator, and live their lives to the glory of God above through Jesus Christ. They passionately study the Bible and engage in a bible-believing church regularly. They are bold in their walk and don’t hide this new way from those around them. They are truly Christians. In these cases, the change is evident.

So, we can see that each person can have a variety of outcomes and walks. Many people have vast amounts of knowledge about the Bible and theology, yet without a heartfelt change in their day to day life. Many people have a true faith, yet though not desiring to deeply study the Bible, they live life with just their trust in God. Many are overwhelmed by the whole faith movement and shy away. And then there are others who just coldly reject the notion of an invisible supreme being.

There are also the people who have “chased” after God, seeking the salvation experience for themselves, and yet have felt nothing inside, no change. Oftentimes I can identify with them. They may approach the Bible with reverence, awe, and accept the Word as from God, yet might not feel or see any change within their life. Religious groups differ on the impact of the salvation process on a person and will either say that the truest religious experience is one of passion and emotion, or will claim it is only by strict adherence and obedience to the Scriptures that shows the fruit of the claim. No matter the view, approach, or process…we had best be certain that we get it right the first time through this short life of ours because there are no second chances.

One thing certain is that salvation defined should come from what God’s Word actually says. Since the criteria from which all of humanity will be judged is within the pages of Scripture, it would behove any who is pursuing the life-after in eternity to know what the Author of life and the Judge of creation has to say. One aspect it does clearly define comes from the very words of Jesus, Himself, who says “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. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt 7:21-23) Clearly, there is a definitive pass-fail based on these verses. It is imperative we know the right ways.

You can believe without truly believing. You can trust without truly trusting. And you can claim yourself to be something even though you may not be that something. Many go through the motions, carry on the facade, and display their life to some as they deem convenient. Yet in front of others they may come across as someone else. These “actors”, portrayers of characters, live a variety of lives depending upon who they interact with. This lifestyle is clearly represented by a vast majority of people who might attend church services on the Sabbath, yet live their life outside the church walls as “someone else”. These folks might be the type who claim themselves “holy” or “religious” under particular circumstances and yet not cast a single shadow in the doorway of a church. Essentially, these people are part-time Christians. 

But, based on what is written within the covers of Scripture, living the Christian life part-time (or even 3/4 time) does not meet the high demands of God. We cannot expect to glory in God for eternity when we did not give Him our full attention on earth. Nor can we expect God’s decrees to be “suggestions” that we can pick and choose based on our feelings at the time. I’m not expert in anything, but can say with certainty that no matter what avenue of salvation you see is right, this God of the Bible is an “all-or-nothing” God. You cannot expect to just include God part of the time in your life when it’s convenient to you and also expect His full mercy and grace. Going through the motions or verbalizing yourself a Christian does not cut it based on what the Bible says. Sure, you can twist or re-interpret various verses in an attempt to fit your personal narratives, but in the end who are you fooling? Those around you might fall for it, but I’m sure the God that created all things knows the truth. Are you fooling Him?

Yet based on these things, if we really looked around at all those claiming themselves saved and yet who might be living that part-time life, we could surmise that there are truly a lot less people that have a ticket bound for heaven than would appear on the surface. If part-time or verbal declarations don’t meet the criteria of God, then what does that truly mean for many of us? Well, there are only two paths out of this life; heaven or hell. No middle ground. No participation trophies. No sneaking in by the “skin of our teeth” by last minute saves. Again…this is an all-or-nothing God of the Bible. If most of us were truly honest with ourselves, we would discover that we might not be in that “elected”, destined-for-heaven, group. Instead, what we might find is that we don’t quite measure up or meet the criteria. In fact, we might discover that though “many are called, few are chosen”. And that is not just a generalized verse, but that it is a reality many of us need to think over very hard.

Personal evaluation, and even re-evaluation, is a very important thing that might carry eternal consequences for us. We cannot afford to be so arrogant as to what we “think” our lot will be, or should be, in the future. Many may think themselves bound for heaven and yet after an honest and deep introspection of our life we may discover that salvation truly hasn’t come like we think. Though we are challenged by doubts and questions on a regular basis, these might be the important prompts for us to take a hard look at the real you and compare where you think you stand before God versus where God says you stand. The task can seem very daunting and overwhelming to most, but like anything that is truly important, we cannot afford to waver or even dismiss this matter and just rest on our self-designed laurels. Everyone has a view, an opinion regarding religion, but we cannot afford to just follow blindly. Many are led astray because they did not take the all-important time like the Bereans who “searched the scriptures daily to see whether those things were so.” 

The time is short. What I thought was, might not be. What I thought I knew, I really didn’t. I am not alone in this. We cannot have an ending if we didn’t have a beginning. 

Confessions Of A Slacker

There is a formula that many people like to use when conducting themselves in prayer to the God of the universe so as to assist staying mindful of important things to include. The method is by using the acronym A.C.T.S. ACTS stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. In truth, it really does help! Beginning with Adoration, we are reminded to worship, bless, acknowledge and praise Yahweh God as the creator of all things, the One who holds the universe together, and for His immeasurable love that He has for His creation. Next we Confess our shortcomings and violations of His decrees by acknowledging them in repentance and asking His forgiveness. We then give Him Thanksgiving for the wonderful blessings, mercies, and gifts that He bestows on us every day, recognizing where our sustenance is from. And afterward, we add in important requests and items of concern before His throne of grace, asking for His intervention to affect our lives and those around us. 

Many who call themselves Christian have no problems with praising God for His blessings, thanking Him for the things we receive, and in giving Him a spiritual “high-five” acknowledgement for providing an answer to prayer. Essentially the Thanksgiving and Supplication portions of the acronym flow nice and easy for most people who claim belief in God. Where we tend to be a bit short-sighted is in our Adoration and Confession. Adoration is something I have spoken about many times before, how so many are somewhat shallow with holding a deep and reverential awe to the One who breathes everything into existence and sustains all things by His hand. We are, likewise, quite lax in our submission to God’s laws in the manner that He calls for within the Scriptures. The Bible asks “does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice.” (1 Samual 15:22) And we also know that to God, “sacrifice and offering You have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.” (Psalm 40:6) Essentially saying that what God is looking to receive from us, above and beyond the sacrifices and offerings, is our love, devotion, trust, commitment, and submission to Himself in all things. Like the birds of the air and lilies in the field (Matthew 6:26-30) that trust God for all things, so, too, He will be for us a Father who provides all we need, and thus can have complete faith and devotion to Him.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16). Well, I need prayer! Because my confession to you is my lack of study of the Word of God, the Holy Bible! Now, before I go on, I can say with complete confidence that I have countless excuses as to why I lack daily Bible reading and study, and many of them (I’m sure you would agree with me) are valid and true! And while there is no set schedule written in the Word of God that we are commanded to customarily commit to the study of the Bible daily, there are numerous verses that declare the importance of our duties to study God’s very words. Ezra, as an example, “had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10) Yes, we should want to study the Scriptures, not because of commands, but because of our inward desire to know the Author and perfecter of our faith! And yet, many of us fall short of that very desire. I can also submit that reading memes or social media posts with Scripture verses in them does not constitute a Bible study…contrary to popular belief! Snippets of Scripture are just that…small pieces of the very word of God. You wouldn’t take a couple pieces out of a jigsaw puzzle box and feel satisfied that you have the whole picture, would you? Nor can you look at a handful of sand and truly feel that you have now experienced what it is like to be at a beach. And such is reading the occasional verse or two out of the Bible. That method does not give you complete understanding of God and His amazing love and grace as well. 

The reason that so many people wander life thinking that they know Yahweh God is that they have entrusted their religion to a handful of verses and experiences and then they fill in the many blanks with their own perceptions and ideologies as to what they think the God of the Bible is really like. Essentially, the majority of people have a very small percentage of Biblical knowledge and a large percentage of their own added humanistic conception. This is not only heretical, but dangerous to the soul. Making up what we think God should be like is in essence creating your own spiritual religion based on some core gleanings from what little you may truly know about the Bible’s contents or even what little you may have heard from some church attendance or what others have shared. This is the very reason so many churches have careened off the Bible highway and crashed…because they decided to run with their own understandings and not the Bible’s actual written truths. Proverbs warns of this dangerous practice when it says “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Yet, as I mentioned, there are excuses and reasons that cause me to stand (sit) before you and confess my sins. First and foremost has always been my time availability. I am so good with mismanaging time. I can get up early and quite easily get distracted away from Bible reading and devotions with just a glance at my phone or tablet. News, weather, social media, texts, and  emails quietly draw my mind away from matters of the spirit. During the all-important coffee time, my brain runs through the daily “to do” list, and before I know it, it’s time to hit the shower, dress, gather my lunch, and race out the door for work. Of course there’s the drive time (I have a fairly long commute) that I could spend with God, but of course as soon as I try to mumble a prayer or listen to Scriptures or preaching via radio, I am distracted by the nuances of traffic and and the many sketchy drivers around me. And then…work. Again, too many distractions to commit time and thought. After work, the drive home, is my time to wind down and compose myself, all the while dodging the inconsiderate drivers who are also on their quest home. Once home, more distractions with domestic duties, dinner, cleaning, and before you know it…time for bed. See? Many excuses and reasons. 

In essence, it is quite easy to substitute our time with God and His Word and replace it with time with the world. And then we wonder why our spiritual walk is struggling and lacking. We wonder “where is God” in our daily battles. We find ourselves wondering why we are so unsure of our footing in the pilgrimage we are supposed to be on. We wonder how the enemy is able to weaken us so much daily. The answer might be obvious, but obvious doesn’t solve the problem.

There are so many people that I see on social media and the like who display their Bibles with full-blown color coded, every-verse-lined and marked, as well as noted and referenced on every page! And what shames me more is that for many, these might be their second, third, or even more, copy of Scriptures that they have studied so diligently that they end up wearing out the pages and ink! All praise to God for their amazing and inspirational devotion to the study of Scripture! More confession: none of the several Bibles I own have anything near that wear and tear within the covers. In fact, many have multiple pages that have never had my hand upon them to be read. This is testimony to “something is wrong with this picture”! 

We know from Scriptures that the god of this world is the devil, and that he and his minions will do everything in their power to snatch people from God. Even if the person is a saved Christian, the enemies of God will try to destroy their peace and joy and damage their relationship with Jesus. This place is not our eternal home. Jesus said that “if you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” (John 15:19) We are not going to have an easy path on this journey through here because we are not only attacked internally by our own nature, but because we are also under siege by the external powers of darkness as well. There is a war going on around us and we are involved whether we like it or not! And subsequently, this war is working to keep us from God and His Word.

So I mentioned that the answer to this dilemma is obvious, but recognizing the problem doesn’t solve the problem. The obvious answer is simply dedicating more time to the Word of God and to prayer. But, not so fast! As I also mentioned, there is this war of time that we are being pulled into daily. From the moment we wake up to the end of the day when we lay down for sleep, we are bombarded by attention grabbers. And whether the demand is from work, kids, appointments, family, friends, or other obligations, we are being tempted away from our personal time with God. But despite what we may think, we really do have personal time available no matter what our circumstances, and that we can devote time to God and His Word. The distractions mentioned above can, and should be, simple enough to avoid as an excuse. This is where spiritual discipline comes in to play.

When we look at our Savior Jesus, He gives us examples of disciplines that show how we are to grow and become strong in faith. Foremost is that the study, memorization, and meditation of the Scriptures is paramount to growth and our walk every day. Without the Word of God in our hearts and minds, we can easily succumb to the demonic influences that are all around us. Jesus used the Scriptures to turn away the temptations of Satan, even when He was at His weakest physically (Luke 4; Matthew 4). Paul reminds us that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16) The Bible is our sword of the Spirit and our only offensive weapon against the fallen evil we come up against. 

Another key part that Jesus shows us is the power of prayer. Jesus took time away from His ministry regularly and purposefully to “recharge” and focus personally on the one whom He is to glorify. He would break away from the crowds, and even His disciples, just to spend important time with His Father in Heaven. This was written for us to see that no matter what life is throwing at us, we also need this intimate time with God. We pray to communicate with God through Jesus, who is our mediator with the Father and to cast all our worries and anxieties on Him as we also listen to Him and commit all our ways to Him in everything we do. Christ instructs us to “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) These were not just suggestions, but important instructions because of our weak nature. 

How much does this lack of prayer and study affect me? Quite honestly; a lot! The devil has a purpose to draw us away from God, to strip us of the power of His Word, and to disrupt our intimate communications with Yahweh God. We cannot survive any battles in life if we do not have proper protections, proper weapons, and proper knowledge. To survive the onslaught of the enemy, we must maintain our battle gear, stay in communications with our Leader, and know the tactics of the enemy. Essentially, we read and study the Bible to understand who God is, who we are, what God requires of us, how God saved us through Christ Jesus, and to how to stay connected to God through prayer and the study of His Word…all by the work of the Holy Spirit to help and guide us through. We learn to recognize the enemies tactics and stay equipped with the armor of God and the Sword of the Spirit, the Holy Bible, so as to withstand the attacks. 

Having our attention diverted away from our walk with the Savior simply means that our focus is on other things, such as self and the world. It’s then that sin can so easily creep in and weaken us. Being distracted is like letting our guard down…and the moment we do, that is when the devil pounces. So these excuses we use to skip time with God through His Word are actually tactics of the enemy to break down our defenses and cause us to forget God. In Deuteronomy 4 we are instructed to “give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life.” In order to stand firm on the Truth every day we have to purposefully task ourselves to prayer and reading, to commit our ways to the Lord…long before we pick up a phone, log in to a computer, read a paper, watch news and weather, or even enjoy that first cup of coffee. It is when we put God first, then “we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6) It is when we acknowledge that our life is under Him, through Him, and for Him, that we now set our priorities right and are properly equipped to face any and all of the challenges each day!

Amen

And I Wondered

I crossed into the promised land. The land flowing with milk and honey. I was shown all the promises of God. His Word was ever before me. I knew the statutes, I knew the laws. 

And yet I continually looked to the pagan cultures, the pagan places, the very people that I was to push away…I embraced them. I held their ways in awe, revered their lives, and I envied their gods. I became like them. 

And then…I wondered where did my God go? Why did God forsake me? I cried out…where are my blessings? Why do I feel alone? I wondered about this as I continually participated in the pagan ways that I knew God had called me out of.

 When I left Egypt, I denounced the old ways and turned my heart to follow God and His ways. And yet, in my heart I still longed for the life of Egypt. My heart still lived in Egypt.

When I came into the land that God was giving me, I told God I would follow Him. And yet I blended in with the cultures around and embraced them. I lived among them and I was like them.

God’s Word was still there. His words never changed. But I did. 

And yet I wondered…where is God? Why has He forsaken me? He has left me to my own devices.

And I wondered.

Sometimes in life we journey a particular direction, and yet God sees fit to re-direct our steps just before we reach what we believe to be our destination. To some, this would appear to be God denying us blessings and happiness…specially in light of promises He may have made regarding those blessings. And yet, we get re-directed, perhaps even to the point of having to retrace our steps, causing us to think that we are going backward in life. Such was the situation of the Israelites in the Old Testament, and such can be the circumstances we may face in life today. So, why does this happen? One simple thought is that God has plans for us and we might need to be put on a better path instead of our own. That happens more than we may know, but that also shows us that God is walking with us and guiding our very steps and that He wants the very best for us! But another look might show that perhaps God is redirecting our life’s journey because we are fighting against Him by doing our own thing. God took the Israelites back into the wilderness right when they were about to enter into the promised land because of their disobedience and, well, quite honestly, their whining! 

In my previous podcast/writing called “Between Two Worlds”, I spoke about the issues people have when they try to walk between two worlds; the ways of God and the ways of man. The lure of this world, to fit in and enjoy the fun and excesses it has to offer, is a temptation that many easily embrace, including those professing to be Christians. And yet God is clear when He tells us to “choose this day whom you will serve.” And despite what many modern and liberal churches may claim, there is no gray or middle area that is acceptable to God. Revelation 3:15-16, Jesus says “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” This is a bold declaration that tells us we are either walking in the ways of God or we will be rejected in the end, and that rejection is to eternal damnation. Harsh, yes…but a reality that we cannot afford to waffle on. 

I also pointed out the struggles that the Israelites had with falling into the temptations of idol worship that the pagan people around them would actively participate. These types of activities that the people of God would involve themselves with not only angered God, who is a jealous God, but would also cause loss of blessings because of their actions. You can easily see the direct correlation that I am drawing here! In our lives, in my life, the Lord is illuminating the reality that we are to be a people who worship Yahweh God and Him alone. We can learn to identify the many idols that take away our devotion and worship from God when we take the time to look into His word and then look around at the things that we count as important in our lives. The bottom line is that living contrary to God’s commands is a losing venture. Though you may enjoy some temporal pleasures in the here and now, eternity will have a completely different result.

As I read through the accounts of the Israelites in the Old Testament, I can’t help but put myself in their shoes (sandals) and wonder how my faith would hold up under those circumstances. One of the most important elements in reading and studying the Scriptures is to understand the time and culture associated with the words. Looking at the Word through a 21st century lens will cause us to misunderstand key elements of teaching. We specially have the conflict of having a modernistic, westernized viewpoint to begin with that can skew our application of the Scripture’s teachings and its Biblical worldview. But when we understand the people and places and times that are displayed within the pages, we then see how God is the same yesterday, today, and forever! And most of all how God’s words and decrees are still applicable to us today!

God’s plan for humanity was to set apart a people, the Israelites, and teach them who He is, what He requires, and His laws or statutes. Essentially through these holy (set apart) people, God’s Word would spread to all nations so that even the Gentiles (non-Jewish) could be grafted into God’s redemptive work through His Messiah, Jesus. The non-Jews were brought in by the promises of God when He set aside His covenant with the Israelites because of their stubborn and defiant attitude toward God. But now that the Gentiles (us) have been given the hopes and promises of God’s eternal salvation through His son Jesus the Messiah, we also have the commands to honor and worship God and Him alone. 

Yet, so many walk this world without a thought of God, and, in the same manner, even those who say they believe in God and His son Jesus and yet live life under their own ways and means…just like most of the Israelites did. And you easily see where their neglect of God as their Lord got them!

The temptations that this world offers people today can be seen as more intense, more available, and more accessible than in Bible times. The advent of television, computers, and the internet has seen to it that people can readily access any form of sin they wish just with the push of a button. Yet even in Biblical days, sin’s lure was potent and drew many to their demise. The Apostle Paul had to write many times to the church he planted in Corinth to correct them for their “worldly” and “pagan” behaviors and practices…some of which even the pagans themselves condemned! And sadly, Paul, were he alive today, would be writing those very words to many so-called churches today…most right here in America…because you literally cannot tell the difference between the church and the culture around it. The command to “come out from among them” was not grasped by the Corinthian church, nor has that command been adhered to with many of todays “churches”. 

“Flee immorality.” Simply put, you cannot serve the flesh in the ways of this world and expect God to walk with you. Not only is the dishonoring of our bodies by fleshly lusts an abomination before God, but our willful drive to put self first in our day to day life is just as bad. The world embraces, and even pushes, open sexuality and fleshly desires just as the many pagan temples did back in the Biblical times. Nothing new under the sun here. But neglecting God and His decrees because you want to do things your way because it makes you “happy” or “feels good”, is the very thing that caused God to withdraw His Spirit from the people in Biblical times and that punishment still happens today. Having the “me first” mentality is the very issue that drove the people in Corinth to put self-pleasure as a priority over God’s decrees and, sadly, we see this irreverence to God and His Word even among the many self-professing Christians today. Truly a sad testimony to the very lost and pathetic people that are wandering this world without knowledge of God. 

How do we defeat the issues of “me-ism”? How do we fight the temptations that pound at the doors of our soul day in and day out? How can we stand against the waves of worldliness and selfish desires? Before any solutions can be implemented, we must first and foremost know who God is by knowing His Word. So many men and women all around the world have views and opinions as to who God is and how we should worship and follow Him, yet there is only one true source that we need to focus our time and studies on and that is the Word of God, the Holy Bible! It is in the pages there, God’s inspired complete Word, that gives us what we need to know about God, His son Jesus our Savior, the redemptive work that God has laid out for us, and how we can walk through this war zone with faith that He, alone, will bring us to our promised land in the end! Though the Word appears to be deep with complexities that some may think they cannot understand at first, it is important to know that our Lord has given to us His Spirit, that will illuminate the very Word to our souls and open our eyes to its truths! This we do with simple faith, like a child who trusts his parents for all things to sustain them through life. 

This walk might not be on an easy road that is evenly paved with clearly marked signs and directions. We might be on a path that has many hills and curves. We may be on the wrong road in life and need to turn around and go back to a new starting point. We might be traveling rough roads that have caused us deep pains and sorrows for many years. We might be in a position where we are totally lost and have no point of reference where to go. What I can tell you is that the Israelites as well as many believers in Christ Jesus have been exactly where you might be now. Each one of our current locations might be unique to us but, like the people before us who have sojourned through rough and hostile places, we can be assured that God above knows each of us personally and knows exactly where we are and how to get us on the road that He has for us to reach the Celestial City of Heaven. Our road map is the Holy Bible and our guide is God’s Holy Spirit! We do not travel this journey alone! We just need to trust completely in Him. We may not like some of the ways and means we go, but He does know the best way. He may be taking us down a particular path for a season and for a reason that we need! We have to just trust Him and stay focused on His Word!

Like those that have gone before us, we may have a tendency to think we know better. We might want to do things our way because it brings us instant gratification. We may think that we know a good shortcut through life. We may want to go a different way to experience firsthand the pleasures of the world along the way. But deviating from God’s plan for our life only brings us to ruin and misery. At some point God will let you go (give you over) to navigate this life by yourself. But one thing that is important to know is that you will never arrive to the eternal joy in the heavenlies by your own power. You will not be able to enter into the rest for eternity by doing things your way. Only God’s way will lead you to that peace and joy that He alone can offer. And only through God’s way will you be able to have peace and joy during the journey…knowing that God is in control for our best.  

The journey might be rough, difficult, confusing, and even completely different than what we thought was the better way, but we can know for certain that God will never leave you or forsake you. He will never put you in a direction that is beyond your capabilities with His help and guidance. God knows you. He says in Jeremiah 1:5 “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” He also says in Luke 12:6-7 “are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” If God is for us, who can be against us? 

Therefore, we can take comfort in God’s plan for our lives by trusting in the salvation work of His Son Jesus, who took our place on the cross and bore the penalty for our sins upon Himself unto death, yet rose from the dead and lives today…defeating death for us! He sits at the right hand of God, interceding for us! Jesus said that no one comes to the Father except through the Son and that by putting our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we can be restored to a rightful relationship with God! We repent of our sins, submit to God, resist the devil’s lure to sin, and walk in faith guided by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God! By this only can we enter into the promised land!

Amen

Got Milk Or Meat?

Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14

Have you ever experienced those hot summer days where you just cannot seem to quench your thirst, even after drinking some refreshing cold water? Or have those moments where you wander around the kitchen looking for something to quiet the rumblings in your stomach, hoping not to spoil dinner, but just want a quick snack in hopes to tide you over…but after nibbling you find you’re still hungry? One thing that many westernized people struggle with is the insatiable need for instant results. We chase after fads because often they make promises of immediate solutions. All those late night infomercials that promote wellness, healing, self-improvement, and the like, by either taking some pills or using this-or-that product show the desperation of people to shortcut the work that is often necessary to obtain their goals. Everyone is looking for the “quick fix” to make them happy and there are many companies that are more than willing to take your money and give you the “miracle” without the work! But, do they really work? No, because in reality the things we think we want or need does take work and time. There are no overnight miracles.  Unfortunately, this is the life of most modern Christians today when it comes to gaining spiritual fuel for the soul. Instead of putting in time and labor, many resort to quick-fix short-cuts instead.

When someone first comes to faith in Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior, their first steps can often be likened to a newborn baby that can only take milk early on for their nourishment. Obviously, babies cannot eat solid foods in the beginning days of life until their systems develop. The same idea holds true with new Christians. They are not prepared to absorb the heavy meats of doctrinal or theological substance until they have the basics of their faith understood. “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord (1 Peter 2:2-3).

Some “newborn” Christians try to delve too fast into deep spiritual matters before they have a solid foundational stance on the Gospel. Problems can come about because there are so many deeply contested topics of theology and they can become overwhelming and cause the new believers to stumble or get confused since they still struggle in the flesh. New Christians early on may still hold a worldly viewpoint that can conflict with the Gospel message. Paul addressed that issue to the church in Corinth by saying “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3) He told them this as a warning that they need to lay a firm foundation of Gospel truth, turn away from the worldly passions and ideologies, before they were ready to gain deeper spiritual insights. 

A solid Biblical upbringing in the faith builds over time through the study of the Scriptures, coupled with good teaching from a faithful church and fellowship with Godly saints. This growth is called sanctification, and is a process that continues in the life of a believer until the end times and our appearing before the Lord in Heaven. Like any training, we must strive diligently to grow in the new life in Christ and “not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.” We are also to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:14-15) By thorough study of the Scriptures we can “avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness”

Being lackadaisical in our walk can lead to spiritual laziness and weakness of faith, which can certainly be used against us by the enemies of Christ. It says in Hebrews 5:11-14; “Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” 

The solid food that is referenced in Hebrews comes from a deep and sound Biblical understanding derived from the study of the complete Word of God. We will never get a full understanding of the Scriptures by reading snippets of verses from the Bible or seeing the occasional memes posted on social media. Nor do we gain a full understanding of the Bible reading nothing but devotionals. While there is nothing wrong with these things in the periphery of our faith walk, we cannot use them as a substitute for reading and studying the word of God. Many of the best preachers and teachers will present Scripture using a method called “expository preaching,” where they will teach through an entire book of the Bible, from beginning to end. Then when complete, they will start another book and teach through that one from the beginning to the end. By this method, you learn not only what the Word is saying, but you will also gain knowledge of the history, context, and other related Scriptures that becomes the “meat” needed for your edification and growth. And we need to do this ourselves!

Unfortunately, many Christians remain stagnant in their growth because they don’t put forth the effort to read and study the Word. They might feel they receive sufficient “teaching” because they read a paragraph or two from a daily devotional that might contain a Scripture verse related to the commentary. While these are nice and quick encouragements, this should never be a substitute for daily reading the Word of God. It can become easy to dismiss a regular reading and study when the rush of life flares up and we have limited time outside of the hustle and bustle of our daily schedules. Often we find that we are either too limited with time or too tired from the exhaustive schedules to sit down with the Lord and His Word. When this occurs, it is quite easy to slip into the comforts of a quick devotional and count it as “good” with God. But, again, this is mere “milk” versus “meat”. 

Since there are so few Churches truly teaching depth from the Word of God each week, and add to the fact that many professing Christians don’t attend church either regularly or at all, there is a gaping void in people feasting on the riches of God’s Word with fervency. Without a good solid growth, many will easily fall prey to the enemy’s lure and lies. False teachers multiply casting their deceptions because the believers are not equipped enough to identify the devil’s falsehoods. The busy Christian feels comfortable with a casual and light atmosphere gathering, so as not to place too heavy a burden of theological teachings on their already chaotic life. By avoiding having to “think” too much on the teachings, they can relax and count the feel-good fluff as “enough” of God’s Word to suffice their intake. If the soul is not hungry for more, than it might be time to evaluate your standing with God!

We don’t need to become Bible scholars or theologians to study the breadth and depths of God’s Word. But the Bible does tell us to search the Scriptures diligently and that the Word of God is important in our lives as believers because “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12) Every aspect of our growth needs the deep study the Word of God because “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) God’s Word is the “lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119) so that we know where we are going and have the confidence to finish the race!  In fact, we are even commanded to meditate on it day and night! 

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Joshua 1:8

Remember that Jesus defeated the temptations of the devil in the wilderness because He was able to quote God’s truths from the Scriptures back at the enemies lies. If our Savior used Scripture to thwart the devil, what makes us so sure we can stand against temptations in this world without the full knowledge of God’s Word? This knowledge is so important in our daily walk to stand in the truth and avoid temptations from the enemy. If we take His Word casually, that very Word which God has given to us for our edification and sanctification, we can easily become deceived into thinking that we are walking faithfully, and yet we are going through life essentially unarmed. Without the deeper studies, beyond the bits and pieces we glean from “other” sources, we will never truly get the complete nourishment that our souls need to survive this fallen and dark world. Milk is never enough to fuel and strengthen us to withstand the storms in life and finish the race. We need to devour full meals, a complete course of meat from the entirety of Scripture, to grow and be equipped, as He wants us to be…mature and complete! 

Quick snacks may help tide temporal hunger pains, but our souls need complete sustenance. The full three course meal daily consists of the study of the entire Scripture, solid Biblical teaching, and fellowship of the Saints. Anything less is like going to bed hungry and can leave you weak and vulnerable to the ravages of sin. God has seen to it to provide all that we need from our beginning walk with Christ until the very end, but we need to know His Word which says “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11) His Word is the “Sword of the Spirit” that helps us be able to stand against the evil one’s attacks and lies. God says in His Word that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” So, let us know Him and His will for us completely through the diligent study of His Word, the Holy Bible, and become the mature and solid believers that God wants us become…equipped for every good work to the glory of His Name!    

Amen

What of “-ism’s” and “-ologies”?

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore. Psalm 133

There is a word that can bind people so close to one another, and yet can also divide people to the point of extreme hostility. That word is “theology”. But why? It simply defines as the study of the nature of God and religious belief. How could something so wonderful as to know the God of the universe be such a polarizing activity? There is also a related science, a systematically organized body of knowledge regarding theology that is called systematic theology, which aims to arrange religious truths into a self-consistent doctrine. In other words, keeping all the many aspects gleaned from the study of God and His word into a concise and organized manner. Yet, as with so many sciences, there are usually people who will argue against someone’s findings. I may, just as an example, find that the color green is the best color in the world and be able to make various valid arguments to support my declaration. Yet, along comes someone who has plenty of valid arguments that not only shows that green is NOT the best color, but in fact, that yellow is actually the best. Both sides may have valid and substantiated arguments that support their claim, both may include evidences and the science to show they are right, yet both conclusions may be almost opposite of each another. This same dilemma happens regarding the many facets of systematic theology.

I bring all this up because of recent observations where I have noticed a rising hostility among people who claim themselves to be followers of Christ Jesus. These are folks who study the Bible with a fervor and share their understandings of the text. They are usually encamped in one particular doctrinal ideology or another. Some of the titles they may identify under might be as adherents of Calvinism or Arminianism. Some might stand firm in their philosophy of conservative or liberal interpretation. Others might hold fast to a belief system that adheres to a particular church denomination. Then there are some people that float on the winds of whatever suits their needs from day to day, with no particular set system of belief. Regardless of where people plant their flag or what hill they will choose to stand and die on, Christianity has such a vast array of theological interpretations…and they often differ to the point of contention! 

To make matters worse is the level of indignation that people or groups have when they perceive an attack on their belief system. Not only does a particular group make declarations why they are right about their method and conclusion of study, but they are likely to lob grenades of counter-point at the other camps. Essentially a “war of words” about the Word! And this warfare has been going on since the early church. Nothing new under the sun!

The first hostility between two interpretations of religion actually goes all the way back to Genesis. In chapter 4 we read the account: 

And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

We can see that there were two differing approaches in which God was worshipped through their sacrifices. Abel’s heart was obviously in the right place compared to Cain. God knew their intentions and didn’t receive Cain’s offering, which in turn created the friction that essentially lead to Abel’s death and God’s punishment of Cain. All of this took place not too long after the fall in the Garden of Eden and the subsequent punishment that was meted out for their parent’s failing to “follow the rules”. God has clearly told His people the rules, or laws, since the beginning. Unfortunately, since humanity is not perfect, they had (and still have) a tendency to fail, or fall short, of God’s demands and end up punished. When you add in the variety of man-made interpretations of God’s words, you now have even more potential for traveling down a wrong path to destruction.

Christians will debate every field of Biblical study intensely, such as eschatology, the study of end times. One of the more heated fields of constant debate amongst Christians is regarding Soteriology, or the study of salvation, how we are saved by God. There are many ideologies, or camps, as it were, and it appears to be a progressive elaboration as time moved forward. Essentially what we have today was built upon the theologians who built upon previous theologians, and so on and so on, backward throughout history to the time of the early Church fathers and finally to the root, which is the Scriptures of the Apostles and Prophets. But as each time period progressed forward, it seems that the next generations would add and expound on the previous generation’s writings to address the disputes that were growing within their circles. Paramount in all this was the Reformation and the eruption of the many denominations. Each determined that their polity and theology was right and drew up confessions and other doctrines to explain and justify their views. There are countless resources available these days with the advent of the internet that can keep you in deep research of the historical paths and disputes for decades! I am not going down those rabbit holes!

The wars that rage these days are now being played out in the realm of social media. What were once disagreements that were shared either by letters or face to face in meeting places centuries ago have now engulfed the World Wide Web. Not only has the battlefield grown in size, but so have the number of soldiers. From the handful of early church fathers, who contended with a smaller myriad of scholars and theologians to the current army of active participants these days, the forces are filled with not only Biblically trained pastors, preachers, and teachers, but, by extension, the average believer who may or may not even sit in the pews of a church. We now have access to a plethora of books, videos, audios, and so much more that covers just about everything and anything related to our belief systems and it’s available at our fingertips 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Loaded with knowledge from all these sources, the theologians and pseudo-theologians arm ourselves with their beliefs, creeds, confessions, systems, denominations, and doctrines and go to battle just to argue with the world who is right and who is wrong!

My problem with all this is the carnage that is left in the wake of all these so-called experts in their battles. While the various church denominations continue progressing to soften, misinterpret, and/or even dismiss the Holy Bible as the inerrant Word of God altogether, there are sadly many confused people who are looking for God’s truth, and yet, are left struggling to define what is the right path in the midst of this utter chaos that they see in the world of Christianity today. Meanwhile, groups adherent to particular systems of theology grow increasingly harsh and mean-spirited over doctrinal matters, and the poor new believers become overwhelmed with the vast array of interpretations and ideologies available and are ultimately left throwing up their hands and walking away. As the vast sea of denominations continue to water down the Bible’s truth and cover-up the Gospel, the learned theologians and others from various academia are amping up their assaults on anyone who doesn’t fall in line with their conclusions.

People, we cannot be so arrogant as to say that we have definitively determined what God has done, or is currently doing, regarding all matters of His will in relation to our salvation and sanctification. There is a danger of reading into the Scriptures in the light of man’s ideologies. For example, we cannot take the soteriology of someone’s interpretation and apply it unilaterally across all peoples. Since the early church fathers, man has worked diligently to read and understand the Scriptures and apply and teach that which God has given to us through His prophets and Apostles. And the core of these understandings have come together by way of creeds (Latin credo, meaning “I believe”). From the Old Testament teachings, such as Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one”, all the way to the New Testament where the Apostle Paul speaks to the Church in Corinth and summarizes the Gospel saying “for I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve”, we learn that these Biblical creeds were rendered simplistically and give us as a summation of what we need to know from the Word of God.

But fast forward into the church growth with their various additions of schools of thought and you start to see not only the creeds grow in length (i.e. Apostles to Nicene to Athanasian), but subsequently from the Reformation onward that church bodies created confessions of faith as their core documents of how and what they believe the Scriptures to say. Add on top of these confessions a multitude of ideologies and doctrines from highly regarded theologians and you start to add namesakes to the theological differences. Thus, people started to identify with, not only their denominational affiliation, but also their form of theological tradition and Christian practice. The largest of the Protestant movements after the Reformation was Calvinism, Arminianism, and Lutheranism. Three distinct practices that rose in popularity and grew while sweeping across Europe, England, and eventually America. In this writing though, I am not going to discourse all the details of what each stands for because it is too involved. Just know this, that people have debated these doctrinal stances for centuries and I am not here to solve the differences. 

But why I do bring them up is because these ideologies are just part of the many sources of deep contention that is dividing the fellowship of the Bible believing saints. As I mentioned before, many that are seeking the truth about Christianity and God’s Word look out into the field and see a hostile war that has a “take no prisoners” mentality. They are afraid to enter into the arena of salvation because they will instantly be bombarded with a dozen methods of soteriology that will make their head spin when demanded to “choose” the method they think they were saved by. Next, they will get hit with all the other various “-ologies”, such as ecclesiology, eschatology, hamartiology, pneumatology, and many more systematic doctrinal views, that they will need to learn all about, and then join a side. Once done, they will be enlisted to attend a particular “camp” that agrees with their systematic stance. If they disagree on any one point, they will be ostracized from the believers and cast away. But if they meet the criteria, they will then need to sign onto the applicable confession of faith (be it Augsburg, Belgic, 39 Articles, Canons, Westminster, London Baptist, Heidelberg, etc…) and not deviate! Once aligned properly under all the correct titles and headings, given that their agreements are in line with the right namesake “-ism” of belief, they will then be fitted for battle and expected to take all the counter-claims against everything they now profess to believe. 

I know that this sounds overly exaggerated and quite harsh, but this is happening in the arena of Christianity today! People are not allowed to just read the Bible and let the Holy Spirit illuminate the Word into their lives! I’ve personally been hit with so many doctrines from every direction that it has caused me to question everything! But what I question most is this: If I am faithfully on my knees, confessing Christ Jesus as Lord, thanking God for His grace and mercy upon this poor sinner, and prayerfully reading all of God’s Word as my only source of life because of Christ’s atonement on the cross for me so that I can glorify Yahweh God and worship Him forever, then what am I doing that is so wrong in light of man’s doctrines? I’ll tell you what…nothing. Because what I read and see in that Holy Bible is exactly what God is speaking to me about…Him and His Word given to me. I don’t need any commentaries, doctrines, viewpoints, interpretations, or much more other than what the Holy Spirit will give to me by faith. I don’t need to know exactly how God works in the area of my salvation or how the end times will specifically be played out. These man made doctrinal “-ism’s” have no bearing on my salvation, my sanctification, and my walk daily with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Nothing that man has deemed doctrinal usurps God’s Word or plans. Nothing that man defines changes God’s works. Nothing man holds as right will override the Righteousness of God. God meets us where we are, gives us what we need, and we stand firm on His truth by His Word…alone. 

Amen

Amazing!

I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.

The line from the beloved hymn, “Amazing Grace”, is a beautiful testimony of the redeeming and saving grace and work of God toward us sinners through His Son Jesus! But before we are touched by the Spirit of God to come out from among the tombs, we all lived our lives amongst the world’s fallen. When looking at all that are wandering through this world, you would not be able to distinguish any differences between the lost as they daily imbibe on the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Everything mentioned in verses 19-21 of Galatians 5 are likened to trophies that are purposed to win…personal goals that are daily chased after…always fueling the drive to accomplish as many of them in the most extreme fashions before life’s end.

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. — Galatians 5:19-21

As we wandered this world looking to find purpose and definition for our existence, the flesh was our monster. It wanted to be fed by all the delights that this world had to offer and we complied to full degree, always hoping to gain satisfaction and accomplishment. Yet, what we often discovered was that the offerings were merely samples, always leaving the flesh in want of more. There was never a fulfillment of happiness or completion. What was taken as the fuel of gratification always left us with an insatiable appetite for more. The true and satisfying fruit we needed, the inward peace and happiness we all craved, was actually down another road, one that we were not taking through life. God had offered us the fruit of the Spirit through His Son, we just needed to give up our ways for His ways.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. — Galatians 5:22-24

Our issue is that we were deaf and blind to what God offered us. We didn’t see what truly is the satisfying fruit. We didn’t hear the words calling us to the right path in life. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4) We chased after our own desires for a time and a season until, by sweet mercy, the Spirit healed us by His amazing grace. 

Although the Lord has given you bread of privation and water of oppression, He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher. Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left. — Isaiah 30:20-21

In the Gospel of Mark, there is recorded a couple of special occasions when Jesus shows miracle healings on two different men, each afflicted with issues that prevented them from a normal life. One man in chapter 7:31-37 was deaf and had a speech impediment. The other man in chapter 8:22-26 was blind. In most of the miracle healings, Jesus would display the evidential proof that He was truly of God in front of the masses. Often He would simply use His voice to command the impairment to be gone and the person would be healed instantaneously (both physically and spiritually). But in the case of these two men, Jesus, in His love and compassion, took the objects of His pity away from the crowds and intimately gave them restoration. 

In the case of chapter 7, the man’s friends brought him to Jesus and implored (begged) Him heal with a touch. In a unique fashion, Jesus took the man away from the crowds to heal him. As the Messiah put His fingers in the man’s ears and then spit and touched the man’s tongue with the saliva, Jesus, Himself, had an emotional moment. He looked up to heaven and sighed. His sigh was the result of anguish and sympathy over humanity. All of these ailments are the lamentable fallout from sin entering the world, as recorded in Genesis 3. Yet Jesus also showed that He has the power to repair that fallout damage. Not only through the creation of food and the physical healings he performed during His ministry, but also through the resurrection power to raise the dead back to life as well! His command for the ears to be opened and the impediment of the man’s tongue to be removed is just a sample that shows us His victory over sin’s grasp in the world! Even when we are unable to cry out in our dire state, God makes a way. He hears our pleas and rescues us. Even when we cannot hear His Word, He speaks to our souls and comforts our yearnings and pains. He gives us hope and restoration by His healing touch, knowing our afflictions. So many of us have the ability to hear the Word of God, yet either forsake the opportunity or perhaps hear the Word and quickly dismiss it. Regardless of our situation, God is granting us such an amazing blessing to receive His truth and we should embrace that with eagerness and thankfulness!

In chapter 8 of Mark, after feeding 4000 people with seven loaves of bread and then having an encounter with some Pharisees, Jesus had to take a moment to rebuke the Apostles who were murmuring amongst themselves because their main concern was that they forgot to take the leftover bread with them. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? (verses17-18). The disciples had seen many miracles and heard Jesus’ teachings, and yet act like they are deaf and blind and almost immediately forget who they are with and the power He has shown. We, also, have that very problem of forgetting so quickly, specially in light of the amazing things we have seen in our own lives that God providentially has done for our sakes. Oh, if we would only reflect daily on these things!

Continuing in the chapter, we see Jesus arrive at the village of Bethsiada. Once again, friends brought out their companion to Jesus and implored (begged) Him to heal him with a touch. This man, being blind, was taken away by Jesus. But this time not just away from crowds, but away from the village itself to the open country. Jesus spit in the man’s eyes and laid hands on him. When asked if he saw anything, his reply is not what we would expect. He could see, but not clearly at first. He said he saw men that looked like trees walking around. Verse 25 says then again He (Jesus) laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly. Jesus did not fail healing the man the first time. He first cleared up the man’s spiritual blindness by removing him from the town to lay hands on him. By this, He dispersed the remaining darkness of his weak faith. Jesus then laid hands on the man’s eyes to restore his physical clarity. The priority is to get away from sin, clear up the spiritual vision so that we can see God’s truths with an unabated heart and mind. Living in sin (sin lifestyle) and yet asking to be cleansed and healed is the same as wondering why you don’t have clean clothes when you keep washing them in a mud puddle. You must first “come out from among them”, leave the lifestyle of the world’s sin nature, and then be restored. Jesus afterward told the man not to return to the village (verse 26), essentially saying not to return to the sinful life.

It is important to note that Jesus displayed His teachings and healings in a variety of ways because He wanted people to see that He is not confined to doing things in a rote manner. We must understand that there is nothing regimented or routine, by our standards, when it comes to God. We also need to remember that no matter what we think, say, or do, God’s providence gains the same end always…even if in ways that are contrary to our methods. Every day is new and different. We may feel like life is about doing things repetitiously, but when it comes to spiritual matters we must not lock ourselves into repetitive sayings or motions. God wants us to share and express our devotion, worship, and love to Him from the heart, not just saying or doing the same ritual all the time. If we get fixated with a ritualistic life and thinking that we are pleasing God, consequently the ritual becomes our idol and we forget who we are supposed to be focused on. When we take our eyes off of the prize, we easily lose focus and resume to live life our way. We tend to put God on a back burner, so to speak, and end up back in the darkness of our selfish desires, worshipping the created over the Creator. Jesus said in Luke 9:62 that “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” We must remember that our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We can only accomplish this because of the miracle healing from Jesus and His resurrection power over death (our former life) unto us! 

Another important aspect to remember is that as Jesus displays His power and authority over all creation, He did not seek His own glory, but rather to turn men to repentance and to glorify God the Father. After Jesus healed the man in Mark chapter 7, He told him not to tell anyone. Jesus set us an example of self-denial. He did not boast or brag of His power, but solely put men’s focus to the One above, through whom all blessings are bestowed. Jesus, being the true mediator, would look heavenward to His Father for all things and showed His dependence on the Father. Though all creation was created by Him, and through Him, and for Him (given into His hands), He would praise and glorify His Father and, in submission, seek God’s will, not His own will. We get a proper perspective of our lives when we acknowledge and strive to bring glory to God first and foremost in all that we say and do. We live to do the will of God in our day to day lives, no matter how menial the task may seem. We also see that self-glory is taking away our focus from God and puffing ourselves up. We are to deny ourselves, take up our cross (crucify our old flesh) and follow Jesus and His example! 

Whether a miracle healing such as the two men above or something as simple as a safe drive to work, God shows His power through Jesus the Messiah upon the world in many different ways. We are all spiritually blind at first, lacking an understanding of the knowledge of God that is displayed in His Word, the Bible. But, like the light of the morning, it shines more and more to the perfect day, and then we see all things clearly (Proverbs 4:18). Jesus meets us where we are and uniquely addresses each of us, no matter what our background or ailment may be. He can have our sight and hearing restored so as to see the glory of God and be able to hear His Words! We may have in our past echoed the sentiment of the prophet, who felt unworthy, and declared “woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips,” but we know that He reaches through the darkest places to bring His people out and cleanse them from the sinful lifestyle we’ve been living. There is no sinner too far gone that He cannot heal from the damages of sin.

How and why He does all these things is what is called amazing grace! None of us deserve His mercy, but God is that loving…to pull us out from the chaos of the world we were walking in, show us the right path, heal us of our infirmities, and restore us to a right living! Only Jesus has the power to wash away our sins by His blood shed and His resurrection! Without Him we have no hope. With Him, we see His light shining through the darkness and hear the words of His salvation and experience His Amazing Grace! 

Amen

The Word Is The Word

One idle day I realized that I had never looked up the word “word” before. The dictionary defines the word “word” as a sound or combination of sounds, or its representation in writing or printing, that symbolizes and communicates a meaning and may consist of a single morpheme or of a combination of morphemes. Of course, then I had to look up “morpheme”, only to discover that it is a linguistic unit that cannot be divided into smaller meaningful parts. So, in my simplistic thinking, a word is a combination of letters! Learn something new every day! 

The Bible is replete with words. God gave us the ability to communicate with each other through various means such as the written word and speech. Having a common understanding is important for a variety of reasons as we communicate to each other our needs, desires, wants, and plans. Yet, since there is a variety of people on this planet, (and after the incident at the tower of Babel; see Genesis 11:1-9) it is only obvious that there are many differing versions of language, where one may not translate simply to another…as from one people group to another. For example; when an English speaking person lands in a different country where English is not spoken, you now have a potential barrier in communication because the sounds and writings of a particular thought might differ from one another. Thankfully, there are people who have the talent and skill to learn many different languages and thus have the ability to interpret from one language to another. Such is the way God has communicated His Word to all  people throughout the generations. 

Commonly known is that the Bible was written primarily in the Hebrew language (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). Both languages have survived through the centuries and scholars have excelled in capability to translate from the original languages into other languages. Thus, what was a particular writing in one language can now be enjoyed into the reader’s own language. The only thing that is not (often) captured by written word is the nuances of thought. There is also cultural and contextual considerations to apply that may affect the intended meaning of a phrase or word. What might have been a common understanding in 800BC might not equate clearly to modern-day America. Even from English translations of the Bible in 1560 (Geneva Bible) and later in 1611 (King James Version), words used in those translations might not come across so clearly into our modern vernacular today. Examples might be the usage of “thee” and “thou” meaning “you”. Or adding “st” at the end of some commonly used words such as “would” or “could” may cause someone a confused look. Regardless of Old English or modern English, we who speak English can still enjoy the truth of God’s Word in our native language.

Without getting too linguistically technical or theological in purpose, my main intent of this writing is to examine a few words that are somewhat unique to the Bible…as in, they are not commonly used in the average English conversation or writing…and, yet are very important to have a good grasp of their meaning. For this task, I will use some words found in Psalm 51. This is a well known Psalm containing David’s repentance prayer. I want to only look at the few particular words that are found in verses 1 and 2. As I’ve mentioned, this is not intended to be a deep, theological study, but to highlight some words that I’ve found people, (myself included), tend to skim over and only having a basic understanding of the word, yet possibly could be missing the importance of their meaning and application to our walk with God. I will only compare the words using the four most common English translations that are used by most serious students of the Bible. They are KJV (King James Version), NASB (New American Standard Bible), ESV (English Standard Version), and NIV (New International Version). I will display the KJV version of the verses, and in parentheses have other translations (if different from KJV) of the particular word (in italics).

  1. Have mercy (Be gracious – NASB) upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness(steadfast love – ESV; unfailing love – NIV) according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies (compassion – NIV and NASB) blot out my transgressions
  2. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

To begin with, we must first acknowledge that mercy and grace are two of the most important words within all of Scripture and should instantly give the believer cause for celebration and relief! Mercy and grace are blessed attributes that are shown by God toward us because of His compassion and love for us. For God to show us any favor when we are truly unworthy is nothing less than a pure and merciful love! The great Puritan, Richard Baxter wrote “Delight yourselves in the particular discoveries of (God’s) common mercies to the world, and His special mercies to His saints, and His personal mercies to yourselves from your birth to this moment—both upon our souls and bodies and friends and name and estates and affairs in all relations.” (Baxteriana, 155)

Through these two special attributes, God’s compassion delivers us from the punishment we deserve, and even so much more as to extend His grace (unmerited favor) through the gift of salvation; His Son Jesus! The great English minister Matthew Mead wrote “It is beyond the power of the greatest gifts to change the heart; a man may preach like an apostle, pray like an angel, and yet may have the heart of a devil. It is grace only that can change the heart. The greatest gifts cannot change it, but the least grace can. Gifts may make a man a scholar, but grace makes a man a believer.” (Almost Christian Discovered, 31-31) It would be beneficial for all Christians to do an in-depth word study of grace and mercy in relation to the Bible because it characterizes two of the glorious attributes of God that define His love toward us, and for us! We ask God for His mercy and grace upon us because without them, we have no hope for a future glory with Him.

The word lovingkindness is not a commonly used word in today’s English vernacular. Both the KJV and NASB use it, whereas the ESV translates the Hebrew as “steadfast love”, and the NIV translating it into “unfailing love”. I personally like the word “steadfast” because it defines beautifully as “resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.” That is an incredible love! We see often times throughout the Bible that the word lovingkindness is used to indicate a special generous heart or favor toward someone. It is used to represent God’s unwavering affection and kindness toward His people because of His love. The Hebrew word is sometimes translated into “faithfulness” or “unchanging love”. It is a type of passion and commitment that transcends the normal expression of loving someone. It is His manifestation of personal love that is immovable and forever. It is synonymous with the words mercy, kindness, and goodness. We know that His mercy and grace come to us because of His special affection, His lovingkindness that never fails or waivers toward His creation; His people.

The third word in verse one is shown in the KJV again as “mercies”. Other translations use the word “compassion”. The Hebrew word is used throughout the Old Testament and is often interchangeably translated into English between mercy and compassion. What this expresses is that God’s tender compassion toward us sinners is a gift beyond what we realize. God truly does understand all things, and thus, understands our fallen condition. He has a special empathy with His creation and tenderly desires to show us His mercies. This is nothing that we can obtain from Him through our own merits. As it stands, God’s mercy is shown in part by His withholding the wrath that we deserve because of our sinful nature. But, He also loves us with a forgiving compassion…much like the love a mother may have for a wayward child. Without this attribute of God, we stand to lose His peace eternally. 

The next words in verse one and two will transition the focus of thought from God’s attributes of mercy, grace, and lovingkindness to our own natural attributes that we possess since the fall in the Garden of Eden. The fact that the words mercy, grace, and lovingkindness precede the words transgression, iniquity, and sin should be of importance to us. David is acknowledging these wonderful characteristics of the LORD first and foremost as being key to our being cleansed of our unrighteousness and sin against a Holy God. Transgression is an act of rebellion against God. We are filled with guilt because of our depravity, our condition of iniquity. Our condition, as such, is because of our propensity to sin. Sin is the nature within us to which we are conceived and born into this life here. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:3-5 ESV). We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. 

David has his confession of sins and the asking for forgiveness in the correct order because he first acknowledges God, who is Holy. God has displayed His righteousness through the law so that we are without excuse in knowing our transgressions against Him. It is our sins that separate us from the peace of God. David later admits (verse 4) that all guilt of iniquity is primarily against God’s holiness. When we become convicted of our sin, we must make peace with God by confessing our sin and repenting (turning away) from this activity. Then God can cleanse (wash) us by His mercy and grace and restore to us the joy of His salvation and renew a right spirit within us. All this is only by the greatness of God’s compassion! Thomas Watson, another great Puritan writer, said “many love their deliverance, but not their deliverer; God is to be loved more than His mercies.” (Godly Man’s Picture, 119) We first acknowledge and glorify God, then we acknowledge our standing before Him!

We see a similar formatting when it comes to the Lord’s prayer found in Matthew and Luke. Before anything is asked for, before anything is confessed, we first acknowledge, praise, and glorify our Father in Heaven. When we have a firm grasp of God’s position because of His holiness and righteousness compared to our position in creation, we develop a better reverence and awe of the magnificence of our Creator! Our perspective of God should bring us to our knees in worship and praise…not just for the things He can do, but the things He has already shown us, given us, and done for us! Without His mercy and grace toward us, without His Spirit to save us and draw us to His salvation through Christ, we are lost forever without hope and peace. And this is a truth we need to remember as we approach His throne of grace. Before we open our mouths flippantly, asking and begging for things, we should first acknowledge His amazing sovereign love and compassion toward us sinners! Before we hand over a laundry list of wants and desires, we should get ourselves right with God by confessing our sins and repenting of our transgressions against His laws. By His will we exist. By His will we are saved. By His will we can be renewed in His presence and restored to right standing! We love because He first loved us! So let us love His Word!

Amen

When Obvious Isn’t Obvious

Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. — Ecclesiastes 5:1-2

Have you ever watched a small dog when they think they are about to get a treat? The energy build up in them looks like a rocket firing its thrusters, ready to launch into space. Their tail wagging so fast seems to match the speed of a hummingbird’s wings. Then there is the uncontrollable shaking, enough to match the effects of an earthquake on a bowl of jello. Next comes the little whines and moans that sound like a race car engine running at maximum RPM’s. Without a hesitant thought, they explode at the speed of light to whatever it is they desire, knocking caution aside! Impetuous little creatures! Yes, aren’t we all though?

I remember long ago hearing a sermon that mentioned several times how impetuous the Apostle Peter was. He was always the first to jump in with a word or action. He jumped out of a boat in the midst of a storm because he wanted to walk on water like his Master Jesus. He tried to correct the Lord on occasions when he didn’t like what Jesus had just said. He even got excited as that little dog when he saw the glory of the Lord at the transfiguration. He would just react in whatever fashion struck him in an instant!

Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified. Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” All at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, He gave them orders not to relate to anyone what they had seen, until the Son of Man rose from the dead. (Mark 9:2-9)

We all can have a tendency to react impulsively from time to time. Peter, James, and John (as well as the other apostles) had been sorrowful when Jesus said He would be turned over to the authorities to be killed. Jesus took the three up to the mountain to experience the transfiguration and show them His glory now, and yet to come. But, even after the crucifixion, even after seeing the future glory of their Master, they still had doubts of uncertainty. It was almost like they hadn’t listened and learned from their mountaintop experience. Later, James would write in his epistle that “everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19.) He seemed to be sharing a retrospectively learned lesson he gleaned watching Peter back on the mountain. 

Do we have knee-jerk reactions to things we encounter daily? Are we quick with a reactive word of retaliation or disagreement when faced with something that goes against our thinking or beliefs? Do we get down or angered when life isn’t going the way we think it should be going? If you answered no to any of those questions, I applaud you for being the most controlled, even-keeled, and level-headed human being on the planet! Because I, for one, have only one answer to those questions…an emphatic YES! Many times we react without having full knowledge of the facts. We jump to conclusions that could be wrong because we didn’t know the whole story or see the big picture. We take a little bit of information and “run with it”, as they say. More times than not, though, this can lead us down the wrong path or worse. We may end up anguishing over things that we don’t really have the proper information regarding. When we know the full story, have all the facts, see the big picture, then when things happen we are better equipped to handle in proper fashion. 

From birth to the grave, all our life experiences should be growing our understanding of how to handle things that might come our way. The more of life we experience, the wiser we can become at facing situations. Yet, it is important to also understand that what we come across in this world is not new. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes informed us that everything that happens in this world is not a new thing. He says; “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11) The old saying that if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it! But, all has happened before and will happen again.

So the questions arise: are we learning from these truths? Do we tend to (symbolically) keep putting our hand on the hot stove when we know that it will hurt us when we touch it? The chaos and evil we are seeing in the world today shouldn’t come as a surprise, so why do we continue to react in shock and anger when we see evil flaunting itself? (I personally claim my excuse as being short-term memory problems.) I think that many of us have that very problem more often than we want to acknowledge. But why? Why don’t we remember the learned experiences God gives us from the mountaintops?

When God illuminates us to a Biblical truth, we have a tendency to act impulsively or even shocked as we look around and see rampant sin in the world. Or, when we peer out through the lens of Scripture at this fallen world, which includes those establishments that claim themselves as “churches” that, yet, are readily embracing sin and rejecting God, we get frazzled and upset that there are people who act like…well, fallen people. We need to remember that even ideologies like hedonism, which was once thought of as evil extremism, is not considered by the world as extreme anymore. It has almost become normalized in this fallen world. Again, this shouldn’t surprise us anymore. As the darkness descends faster and faster, people have given up on eternal hope and now embrace temporal pleasures at all cost. This is nothing new under the sun and it has all been clearly pointed out before through the Scriptures. A friend once said to me that “this world is at its ugliest. I don’t even hear the birds sing as I used to.” Sad. But, again, since this is not something new, why are we reacting like we do? We end up getting worked up over things (and people) when we should already know that this is the life around us as shown in the Bible. We would all know this already if we had we paid better attention to God and His Word.

Part of the issue lies with the church and where the attendee’s have been placing their focus. I can say with near certainty that the majority of their attention is not on God and His glory. It is more often than not on themselves. Like the pagan worshippers of yesteryear, “churches” today are filled with consumer Christians. They have the “what can I get from God” and “God plus something” mentality, among other issues that are running rampant within their walls. I think that some of us are aghast by what we are seeing around us these days because God is awakening some who are taking time to listen to His Word. But for others, they focus their time, effort, and energy injecting themselves into everything other than God and His truth. They press hard to have their say in all matters, push their agendas into programs, keep everyone busy with busy things. Many tend to ask “why God” when looking for answers about the fallen world’s conditions, but don’t stop once to listen and learn from the One who sustains all things in existence. Even in prayer, their voice is loudest with requests, and even demands, to God without a praise or worship for all He has done. Essentially, this is called self-exultation.

How so many tend to forget the lessons from the past like Mary and Martha. There can certainly be a balance between being fed and serving. But for many, it is often too much of one thing and not enough of the other. Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” –Luke 10:38-42

Matthew Henry put it best when he wrote that “religious exercises are not vain things, but, if we mismanage them, they become vain to us.” There is nothing wrong with having a zeal to doing things, but we must remember that zeal and passion by itself will go terribly amiss. People are shocked at the condition of the world because they spend their time talking over God and not stopping to listen, reflect, and grow. When we focus our attention on God and His Word first and foremost, we then tend to have a deeper desire to know Him, love Him, and trust Him more in this fallen world. We learn that He does have all things under His providence and will, and as such…we take comfort and strength in facing the daily matters around us. We are not shocked or surprised when evil rears its ugly head, because we know that in the end of all things…God! As such, we need to use our knowledge and experiences along with our zeal and passion to strive for a corrective balance in our day to day life! We can worship and glorify God most by focusing on His Word and truth, placing them in our hearts. But, also still serve His Church by sharing His truth and tending to His flock. It is just a matter of where lies our priorities in the things we say and do!

Our flesh keeps getting in the way of our spiritual understanding and retention. I tend to trip over my own flesh as easy as tripping over shoe laces. We learn, yet so quickly forget. Peter, John, and James were exposed to a truth that should have solidified their faith and trust in their Messiah. From what they experienced, there should have never been a worry about the coming cross, knowing that on the other side was the redemption that all mankind desperately needed to have peace with God. Yet, impetuousness and worldly distractions caused them to miss key elements in their walk with Christ. Peter had zeal, but he lost focus with Jesus while worrying more on humanly matters. Even the vast majority of todays church have their priorities skewed from the proper goal. When we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we know that all things are taken care of by His hand. The storms around us are of no worry. We know they are coming, that they are here, but we rest in our Savior’s hands…He has overcome the world!

I personally need to remember that there will be mountain top experiences from God that should teach, encourage, and comfort me. But when I return back to the sorrows of this world, I need to remember His glory and be able rest in the truths I’ve learned. If I don’t, then I have to ask myself “what did I forget on that mountain?” The three Apostles saw the glory, yet when the sorrow storms hit they quickly forgot. Jesus kept saying that on the 3rd day He will rise, be raised up! We get a proper perspective of the lowlands from a higher point of view. Jesus gave them that. God gives us His Word to help us remember what our perspective can, and should, be. When we reign in our hastiness and our impulsive mannerisms and speech, we tend to hear His Word more clearly, know His will more clearly, and can glorify and worship Him more sincerely. God provides His Light and Truth to us on the mountaintops so we can survive the valleys. We just need to put aside our distractions, laying aside every weight and the sin that entangles us, and listen…to Him. 

God tells us in His Word in Isaiah 46:8-10 to “Remember this, and be assured; Recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’”. 

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 summarizes our duties proper saying “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” 

Amen

Pray More, Worry Less

We measure the passing of life using various instruments such as clocks and calendars that are based on the rotations of our planet earth while on its’ travels around the sun. When we approach the end of the calendar year cycle on December 31st, humanity celebrates the closing of the past and the beginning of a new future. We look to the new year as a time for refreshing, renewal, and even rebirth. Resolutions are made to place goals in front of us, intent on keeping us motivated to accomplish bigger and better things in the year to come. For many Bible-believers, the three best resolutions (in my humble opinion) are to pray more, read the Bible more, and trust God more. I’d like to believe that these three should normally be an everyday passion and desire in our lives and that we shouldn’t need to have specific time and date marks to set these as goals. But for me, that can sometimes be a struggle.

I have written and spoke in the past about the importance of reading, studying, knowing, and living the Bible in our daily walk through this fallen world, and as such, I will not repeat here what I feel is an obvious and purposeful act every person calling themselves a Christian should be doing wholeheartedly. Likewise, as God has pressed on my heart and soul immensely these last handful of years about learning to trust Him more and more, this too should be our daily duty…to be keenly focused on Him as we face the daily challenges that can create turmoil in the heart of a believer. After all, since God is, so should we trust and obey! But what about praying more?

Recently, I’ve been introduced to a catch-phrase that got me reflecting on a weak area of my life, one that I believe God has been telling me I need to pay heed too because of the importance of it in our lives; Praying! And the phrase that has been popping up simply says “pray more, worry less.” Pray more, worry less! Such a great reminder to us all! And something that I need to be preaching to myself about daily!

You see, I am habitually out of the habit of praying regularly. Sure there’s the routine of praying before dinner or saying a little night time prayer before bed, but is there regular prayer in my every day walk? Sadly, no.

Prayer is more than just a conversation with God. Prayer is more than reciting some rote words of petition. Prayer is our spiritual link between the Sovereign God and ourselves! Just as devices need to be plugged in to an outlet for power to operate, so are we needing to be plugged into God through prayer for power to operate. So the questions arise…why do we not pray as we should? Is prayer so difficult a task?

A prayer can be as simple as a quick plea to God for help or strength to face a battle, or it can be as long and intense as a deep and emotional cry for salvation. Prayer can be a little “thank you” to God for His providence, or can be a long conversation to discuss the worldly matters all around us. Prayer is not restricted within a box. There are no set parameters that must be met in order for God to hear our prayers. We see throughout the Bible a myriad of prayers uttered under a wide variety of circumstances. From kings to commoners, anyone who knows the God of the Bible can, and should, call on the name of the Lord!

Before getting into the Scriptures regarding prayer, there is one other facet of the phrase above I want to point out: worry less. The implication of the phrase is that if we pray more, we worry less. And I think that we could easily accept that at face value. The more we trust and rest in the arms of God, the less the world’s weight rests on us! Simple! Of course there is more to it, but it’s important at the beginning to understand that the two parts do have a cause-and-effect relationship. As we look at the importance of prayer, we can keep in mind what the effects of prayer has on our lives.

I first think of the Apostle Peter in Matthew 14 who exited a boat at the behest of Jesus and started walking on the water to Him. He was doing what is normally considered impossible, all because he kept his eyes on Jesus. But when Peter took his eyes off of Christ and started looking at the waves around him, he began to sink. Why? He lost his focus and connection with God who has the power over all things. He unplugged from the Creator and started dealing with the created on his own. We, too, have these very same issues today. We know that God is with us, but we need to cling to Him, always staying connected to Him, and hold on to His hand through all of life’s ups and downs.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

We know from Scripture that God is with us! When sheep follow the shepherd, they keep their eyes on him at all times. When sheep lose sight of their leader, they tend to stray. We can walk through the fields of this world with little worries by keeping our eyes firmly fixed on our Savior, who alone is our proper guide and guardian. By staying in constant touch with Him we always have His direction, comfort, and assurance that we are in His fold as we should be. It’s when we stop talking with Him, stop listening to Him, that we find our souls in distress during life’s storms because our eyes are not where they should be…on our good shepherd, Jesus, who laid down His life for His own!

As mentioned before, the Bible is replete with prayers from every walk of life…all directed to the one true God. We also have the most perfect of prayer that is illustrated by the Son of God Himself, Jesus, revealed in both Matthew and Luke. The key elements we must note in the the Lord’s Prayer is that the first petitions are addressed and acknowledging God. This is important because so many people will start talking to God by asking (or demanding) that God do something for them. Obviously by doing this their focus is on themselves first and foremost. And we know from the Bible that selfishness goes against the very relationship between God and man. When we address God, we need to be mindful that our position is one of subjection to a Righteous God. He is the creator, we are the created. “Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker—An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’? (Isaiah 45:9) Even Jesus was compliant with God’s plans when he stated while praying in the garden “yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, prayed often to His Father. Why would Jesus, who is fully God, yet fully man, have to pray to God? Because of the importance to purposefully talk with, and listen to, God. Jesus was not only having important conversations with His Father, but He was also showing us how it should be done. If you note Jesus’ most intimate times in prayer with the Father, you will see that He went off to be alone. Christ walked away from the distractions of life to spend quality time with God. This is an important aspect we need to emulate when we have time with our Heavenly Father. In Matthew 6, right before our Savior taught the Lord’s Prayer, he gave instructions about our time with God. He said “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:5-8)

Spending our time focused in prayer with God is time worth spending to 1) acknowledge the God of the universe and how important He is in our life; 2) worship and praise Him for the merciful grace and blessings He has given us; 3) stand before Him in confession of our sins and to seek His forgiveness and cleansing; and 4) ask Him for the things we need, by His grace. Even though He knows what we need before we ask, we can be sure that God does hear us. He loves and cares for us and wants us to prosper and grow. He will not only supply the things we need, but will also give us the comfort and peace we need as well. Jesus said “are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7)

We face many trials and tribulations, tests and turmoils in this journey through life here and we need God’s Spirit and His Word to bring us through. Even in times of prosperity and joy, we want to take time to thank and praise Him who gives abundantly all things as well! We can talk to Him any time, anywhere, under any condition, but it is very important to spend quality alone time before our Lord often! Always remember that the most important way we have been given to communicate our worship, as well as our worries, is in prayer. Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) We shouldalso remember what the very last verse of the Psalm 150 says to us; to let everything that has breath praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6).

Let us rejoice that we can come before His throne of grace to worship and praise Him. That we can always cast our worries and woes before Him. That we can take comfort in knowing that Jesus is ever making intercession for us, even when we don’t know how to pray or what to pray about. That God hears us always and wants us to come to Him in all things at all times. That we just need to pray more and worry less!

Amen