Month: December 2013

The Third Word from the Cross

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John 19:26–27
26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, z“Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

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Jesus’ Willingness to Care for You

There are at least three reasons that this word of Jesus to his mother and to the beloved disciple is a tremendous encouragement to our faith. The first reason is this: if Jesus was so eager to care for his mother in her hour of need, how much more is he eager to care for his disciples who hear the Word of God today and do it. Ordinarily one would reason just the opposite: if he loved his disciples who were not his relatives, how much more would he love his own mother. But Jesus didn’t view things in an ordinary way. With him it was strangely true: if he loved his mother with a natural affection, how much more can his obedient disciples bank on his love.

We know this because of an incident recorded for us in Luke 8:19–21:

His mother came to him and his brothers also, and they were unable to get to him because of the crowds. And it was reported to him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wishing to see you.” But he answered and said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

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That was not a depreciation of his mother and brothers, but an exaltation of obedience. It means very clearly, those who hear the Word of God and do it have a more ready access to Jesus’ fellowship and help than do his own family members.

In one sense it is very risky to hear and do the Word of God. For the Word of God is always calling us to sacrificial acts of love. “He who would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his own cross and follow me” (Luke 9:23). But in another sense there is nothing safer and more rewarding than to hear and do the Word of God, because Jesus said, those who hear and do the Word of God are my mother and my brothers. Loving obedience to the Word of God puts us in a relationship to Jesus which is more intimate and more certain to be heard and helped than his nearest family relations.

So you can see now what a tremendous encouragement it is to our faith when Jesus makes provision for the needs of his mother at Calvary. Those who hear and do the Word of God have an even greater claim on Jesus’ care than she. So if he took care of her, will he not much more provide for all your needs, “O ye of little faith”?

Jesus’ Ability to Take Care of You

The second reason that this word to Jesus’ mother is an encouragement to our faith is this: if Jesus could provide for the needs of his own in a moment of his deepest weakness and humiliation, how much more can he provide for your need in his present power and exaltation! Not only are you, as an obedient disciple, in a better position than Jesus’ own mother to receive blessing at the hand of the Lord, but he is now in a better position to give it to you than he was to her then.

According to Ephesians 1:19, 20 the greatness of God’s power which is working on behalf of us who believe “accords with the working of the strength of his might which God generated by raising Christ from the dead and seating him at his right hand in heaven.” The satisfaction made for our sin at Calvary was so complete that God honored this sacrifice by raising Jesus from the dead and giving him incomparable glory and power and wealth of all things. And so when the apostle contemplates whether we can bank on Christ for the provision of our need, it is this wealth of glory that gives him assurance. He says, “My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). The risen Christ is so full of glorious riches that he need not turn anyone away. As Paul says in Romans 10:12: “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches to all who call upon him.”

Therefore, the word of Jesus to his mother from the cross is a great encouragement to our faith. For if he could provide for his own in the moment of his weakness and humiliation, how much more can he meet all our needs today from the right hand of God, full of power and wealth and glory.

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The Church as a New Spiritual Family

The third reason Jesus’ word to his mother encourages our faith is that it illustrates for us the benefits of the church, the body of Christ. Notice that contrary to custom and expectation, Jesus did not admonish his own brothers to care for their mother. Whatever the reason for not putting Mary in the care of her other sons, the new relationship between Mary and John illustrates for us the provision made for us in the body of Christ.

You recall how Jesus told the rich man to sell all he had and follow him. The man turned away, and Jesus said, “How hard it will be for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And Peter said, “Behold we have left everything and followed you.” And Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms for my sake and the gospel’s, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.” Now where in this life are we going to receive 100 children and 100 mothers? Answer: in the church, the family of God.

When Jesus says to Mary: “Look on John as your son”; and to John: “Look on Mary as your mother”; he is showing us how our needs are to be met when we have left everything to follow him. Paul said in Acts 20:28 that Christ “purchased the church of God with his own blood.” Therefore, one of the gifts Jesus gave to us from the cross was the church: a loving, caring, sustaining, encouraging family beyond family. And it is a great encouragement to our faith that he illustrates the meaning of the church the way he did in the relationship between John and Mary.

So let us all take courage in the care and power and provision of our Lord. If he was eager to care for his mother, how much more eager will he be today to care for those who hear and do the Word of God! If Jesus could provide for the needs of his own in the moment of his greatest weakness and humiliation, how much more can he provide for your need in his present wealth of power and exaltation. And if Jesus purchased the church with his own blood and ordained that in it bereft mothers find sons and sons find mothers, then no one should be without a caring family today in the body of Christ. Amen.

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Are you the “Oil of God’s Joy” In this Life?

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Colossians 3:12
New International Version (NIV)
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

There is an old story of an elderly man who always carried a little can of oil with him everywhere he went, and when he would go through a door that squeaked, he would squirt a little oil on the hinges. If he encountered a gate that was hard to open, he would oil the latch. And so he went through life, lubricating all the difficult places, making it easier for all those who came after him. People called the man eccentric, strange, and crazy, but he went steadily on, often refilling his can of oil when it was nearly empty, and oiling all the difficult places he found.

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In this world, there are many lives that painfully creak and grate as they go about their daily work. Often it seems that nothing goes right with them and that they need lubricating with “the oil of joy”, gentleness, or thoughtfulness. Do you carry your own can of oil with you? Are you ready with your oil of helpfulness each morning? If you offer your oil to the person nearest you, it may just lubricate the entire day for him/her. Your oil of cheerfulness will mean more than you know to someone who is downhearted. Or the oil may be a word of encouragement to a person who is full of despair. Never fail to speak it, for our lives may touch others only once on the road of life. and then our paths may diverge, never to meet again.

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The oil of kindness has worn the sharp, hard edges off many a sin-hardened life and left it soft and pliable, ready to receive the redeeming grace of the Savior. A pleasant word is a bright ray of sunshine on a saddened heart. Therefore give others the sunshine and tell Jesus the rest.

We cannot know the grief
That men may borrow;
We cannot see the souls
Storm-swept by sorrow;
But love can shine upon the way
Today, tomorrow;
Let us be kind,
Upon the wheel of pain so many weary lives are broken,
So may our love with tender words be spoken.
Let us be kind.

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Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Romans 12:10

Follow the Blue Print of God Rather Than “You”

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“If we are to understand the point of this section as a whole, we must recognize that the phrase ‘whose faith is weak’ has a special nuance in this context. ‘Faith’ refers not directly to one’s belief generally but to one’s convictions about what that faith allows him or her to do. The weak in faith are not necessarily lesser Christians than the strong. They are simply those who do not think their faith allows them to do certain things that the strong feel free to do. What Paul wants the strong to do is not simply extend grudging tolerance to the weak, but to welcome them (the verb proslambano, used here, means to receive or accept into one’s society, home, circle of acquaintance). They should not allow differences over ‘disputable matters’ to interfere with full fellowship in the body of Christ.”

Romans 14:22 (New International Version)

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.

HOW TO GET ALONG WHEN YOU DON’T SEE EYE TO EYE

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It is said that when the British and French were fighting in Canada in the 1750s, Admiral Phipps, commander of the British fleet, was told to anchor outside Quebec. He was given orders to wait for the British land forces to arrive, then support them when they attacked the city. Phipps’ navy arrived early. As the admiral waited, he became annoyed by the statues of the saints that adorned the towers of a nearby cathedral, so he commanded his men to shoot at them with the ships’ cannons. No one knows how many rounds were fired or how many statues were knocked out, but when the land forces arrived and the signal was given to attack, the admiral was of no help. He had used up all his ammunition shooting at the “saints.” (Daily Bread) Unfortunately, the same could be said for many Christians today. When God calls on them to do something great for Him they have nothing left to give for they have used up their ammunition shooting at the saints.

Throughout church history churches have split for the stupidest of reasons. Some have split over the issue of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Locally some have split over whether it is spelled Immanuel or Emmanuel. Some churches have split over whether to sit on pews or chairs. Surely there has to be something of more significance in the church today than what type of furniture we will park our “duffs” on. Surely there has to be for if there is not then the church is finished.
An issue of National Geographic included a photograph of the fossil remains of two saber-tooth cats locked in combat. To quote the article: “One had bitten deep into the leg bone of the other, a thrust that trapped both in a common fate.” The cause of the death of the two cats is as clear as the cause of the extinction of their species. They could not survive because they were too busy fighting each other and the same can be said of the church today. As the apostle Paul put it: “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15).

Satan is a master at using controversial issues to distract the church from her true mission in the world. A former police officer tells of the tactics of a group of thieves: “They enter the store as a group. One or two separate themselves from the group, and the others start a loud commotion in another section of the store. This grabs the attention of the clerks and customers. As all eyes are turned to the disturbance, the accomplices fill their pockets with merchandise and cash, leaving before anyone suspects. Hours — sometimes even days — later, the victimized merchant realizes things are missing and calls the police. Too late.” (Tom McHaffie) How often this strategy is used by the Evil One! We are seduced into paying attention to the distractions, while our churches are ransacked. In this case we have lost not our merchandise, but our mission. And a church without a mission will soon be out of commission.

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Paul tells us that we are to “Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16). But how can we live in harmony when there are so many controversial issues that divide us? Paul gave the church in Rome some practical, step-by-step instructions on how to be in H.A.R.M.O.N.Y. with one another in Romans 14:1-15:7. We can learn from this information because we today have much in common with the Roman church. The Roman church was not divided in their faith. They all believed that Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life and that as such He was the only way to get to heaven. They believed that there was only one God and that Jesus Christ was His Son. They believed that Jesus died for their sins and that He rose again on the third day and that He was coming back again one day. However, they were divided on many nonessential details of the Christian life. There were some in the church who had some very strict convictions concerning things like particular days of worship and types of diets and they considered those who disagreed to be too liberal. Others, however, had an equally strong conviction that in Christ they were free from such constraints and they considered the others to be narrow minded. And so the Roman problem becomes all too familiar. Paul says that the solution to all of this is to stop condemning one another and start excepting one another. As we study today’s passage together we will discover Paul’s seven steps to H.A.R.M.O.N.Y.

SEVEN STEPS TO H.A.R.M.O.N.Y.

1.Hold Back Judgment on Disputable Matters. (14:1)

Here we see that the Bible forbids us to pass judgment on matters that are disputable. What is a disputable matter? A disputable matter is an issue on which scripture is not clear. The disputable matters to which Paul speaks are concerning diet and dates. Some believed that certain days like the Sabbath or other religious holidays were to be considered more sacred than others. They also held to certain dietary rules like not eating meat — probably because the meat in the market place had been offered to idols. The other group believed that all days were the same and that if you gave thanks to God for the food there was no problem with eating it and enjoying it. Who was right and who was wrong? Paul says that neither group is wrong because these issues are nonessential to Christian faith and practice.

What are some other examples of disputable matters? Frequency of taking the Lord’s Supper, modes of baptism, styles (of clothing, hair, music, ect.) and end times scenarios are all examples of issues that are nonessential to the Christian faith. And yet all of these issues have been sources of division among Christians. There was a time when Christians killed other Christians because they believed the others baptized incorrectly. One of my former pastors told me of a time a guest evangelist in his church taught that Christians would have to go through the Tribulation period and that another pastor from that town who was at the meeting became irate and insisted that he not allow the evangelist to continue his series of meetings. When it comes to styles you don’t have to like it, listen to it, or look like it but you cannot judge it. You don’t have to support it, agree with it, or propagate it but you cannot condemn it.

If the scriptures do not speak clearly on an issue it is because God has given us freedom to choose in this area. The Roman Christians were free to choose to keep the Sabbath as a sacred day but they were also free to choose to hold days as being the same. The Roman Christians were free to choose not to eat meat but they were also free to choose to eat meat. There are many things that Christians are free to do or free not to do, but the one thing we are not free to do is to pass judgment on disputable matters.

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2.Avoid Looking Down on Those Who Don’t Share Your Convictions. (14:2-4)

Paul says that the one who is strong in the faith and therefore understands that he is free from legalistic constraints in disputable matters must not look down on those who don’t believe they have such freedom. He also says that those who are weak in the faith and therefore feel that they must follow certain rules must not condemn those who don’t follow their rules. Why not? Because the other person is not your servant, but God’s. And so they answer not to you, but to God. And furthermore we see that God has accepted them both. Therefore, we dare not look down on the one whom God has accepted.
Of course, it is man’s tendency to look down on those who hold different views than himself whether those views be religious or political. So the next time you are tempted to look down on someone either because they do not share your freedom or because they don’t share your strict convictions remind yourself that you are not better than them nor are they better than you. Remind yourself of what the apostle Paul had to say about himself. “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle” (1 Corinthians 15:9). “I am less than the least of all God’s people” (Ephesians 3:8). “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). If that was true of the apostle Paul then it is certainly true of you and so you have no right to look down on anyone.

3.Realize That You Must Live for the Lord Alone. (14:5-12)

It was the final hole of the 1961 Masters tournament, and golf legend Arnold Palmer had a one-stroke lead and had just hit a very satisfying tee shot. He felt he was in pretty good shape. As he approached his ball, he saw an old friend standing at the edge of the gallery. The friend motioned him over, stuck out his hand and said, “Congratulations.” Arnold later said, “I took his hand and shook it, but as soon as I did, I knew I had lost my focus.” On his next two shots, he hit the ball into a sand trap, then put it over the edge of the green. He missed the putt and lost the Master’s because he had first lost his focus. (Carol Mann, The 19th Hole, [Longmeadow], quoted in Reader’s Digest) Arnold Palmer was not on that golf course that day to renew old acquaintances. He was not there to accept congratulations. He was there for one purpose and one purpose only — to put the ball in the hole.
We are not on this earth for the purpose of exercising our freedoms. Nor are we here for the purpose of adhering to strict religious convictions. We are here for one purpose and one purpose only — to live for the Lord. If we exercise our freedoms, we do so for the Lord. If we adhere to strict religious convictions, we so do for the Lord. If we live, we live for the Lord. If we die, we die for the Lord. And if we ever lose focus on that purpose then we, like Arnold Palmer, are in serious trouble. Arnold Palmer’s old friend may have been offended if Arnold had ignored him that day back in 1961, but Arnold would have fulfilled his purpose. Some people may be offended if you are more concerned with pleasing the Lord than you are with pleasing them, but at least you will have fulfilled your purpose. If you can please people and please the Lord at the same time, that is wonderful. But, if you can’t, make sure that you please the Lord. Paul said, “We make it our goal to please him [God]” (2 Corinthians 5:9). He also said, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

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4.Make Sure You Don’t Put Obstacles in the Way of Others. (14:13-18)

It is true that in Christ we have been set free from the law and legalism, however, we must not flaunt this freedom in the faces of those who are weak in the faith. Also those who have strong convictions are not to beat others over the head with those convictions. We are to exercise our freedoms and carry out our convictions in ways that do not cause our fellow Christians to stumble.
This section is primarily addressed to those who are strong in the faith and have freedom in disputable matters. You see faith results in freedom. The stronger the faith, the greater the freedom. The weaker the faith, the smaller the freedom. It is important to notice that Paul says that both groups have faith. In other words both groups have saving faith and are, therefore, true Christians. It is just that some are stronger in faith than others and those who are stronger in faith must be careful about exercising their freedoms in the presence of those who don’t have such freedom. The danger is that those who are weak in the faith may be tempted to participate in the freedoms of those strong in the faith when they themselves do not have that faith. This is dangerous because if anyone believes something to be wrong then it is wrong for them even if it is not something God’s word forbids. You see, it is a sin to violate your conscience. You must be, as Paul says, “fully convinced.” Because “everything that does not come from faith is sin” (v. 23). So if the exercise of your freedom causes a fellow believer to violate their conscience and sin you have “destroyed your brother for whom Christ died.” Paul includes himself in the group who are strong in the faith and have the freedom to eat anything, but he says that it is better to voluntarily restrict one’s freedom than to cause others to stumble by exercising it. In 1 Corinthians 8:13 he puts it this way: “If what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.”

Before we move on I want to share a word with those of you who may have had an obstacle placed in your way by someone. The greatness of our lives is often determined by the size of the obstacles we have had to overcome. If we can face an obstacle and overcome it, we become better, stronger people because of it. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that you can put an obstacle in someone’s way and justify it by saying you are just trying to make them stronger. What is does mean is that if someone has put an obstacle in your way then with God’s help find a way over it, around it, or through it.

Bette Nesmith had a good secretarial job in a Dallas bank when she ran across a problem that interested her. Wasn’t there a better way to correct the errors she made on her electric typewriter? Bette had some art experience and she knew that artists who worked in oils just painted over their error. Maybe that would work for her too. So she concocted a fluid to paint over her typing errors. Before long, all the secretaries in her building were using what she then called “MistakeOut.” She attempted to sell the product idea to marketing agencies and various companies (including IBM), but they turned her down. However, secretaries continued to like her product, so Bette Nesmith’s kitchen became her first manufacturing facility and she started selling it on her own. When Bette Nesmith sold the enterprise, the tiny white bottles were earning $3.5 million annually on sales of $38 million. The buyer was Gillette Company and the sale price was $47.5 million (Crossroads, Issue No. 7, pp. 3-4). When it was all said and done that was one obstacle Bette Nesmith was glad she had to face.

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5.Only Do What Leads to Peace and Mutual Edification.

What is good is bad if it leads to disharmony and does not build up the church. In Romans 12:18 Paul writes: “If it is possible as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” He says, “if it is possible” because he knows that it is not always possible to please people. You know the old saying: “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Well it is also true of pleasing people — “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” But the point is you need to do your part — the part that “depends on you.”

I would like to share a poem with you titled “A Builder or a Wrecker.”
As I watched them tear a building down
A gang of men in a busy town
With a ho-heave-ho, and a lusty yell
They swung a beam and the side wall fell

I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled,
And the men you’d hire if you wanted to build?”
He gave a laugh and said, “No, indeed,
Just common labor is all I need.”

“I can easily wreck in a day or two,
What builders have taken years to do.”
And I thought to myself, as I went my way
Which of these roles have I tried to play?

Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by rule and square?
Am I shaping my work to a well-made plan Patiently doing the best I can?

Or am I a wrecker who walks to town
Content with the labor of tearing down?
“O Lord let my life and labors be
That which will build for eternity?”
-Author unknown

The only question is: “Will you be a builder or a wrecker?”

6.Never publicize your personal convictions.

Why does Paul tell us to keep our personal convictions concerning these matters between ourselves and God? Because our personal convictions are just that — personal. If they were meant to be corporate God would have put them in His word. But He didn’t. He gave them to you personally and they should stay between the two of you.
There was a woman in Charlotte, North Carolina who set a world record while playing a convenience store video game. After standing in front of the game for fourteen hours and scoring an unprecedented seven and a half million points on the game she was pleased to see a TV crew arriving to record her efforts for posterity. She continued to play while the crew, alerted by her fiance, prepared to shoot. However, she was appalled to see the video screen suddenly go blank. While setting up their lights, the camera team had accidentally unplugged the game, thus bringing her bid for ten million points to an untimely end! The effort to publicize her achievement became the agent of her ultimate failure. It is often unwise to go public.

7.Yield Personal Preferences for the Common Good.

Paul is saying here that we should not insist on doing things our way. Insisting on doing things my way is the world’s way, not the Christian’s way. Paul holds up Jesus Christ as the ultimate example of someone who, rather than pleasing Himself, gave up His personal preferences for the good of mankind. We know from the scriptures that it was not Jesus’ personal preference to suffer and die on the cross. When He was praying in the garden prior to His arrest He asked God if it would be possible for that cup of suffering to pass from Him. However, He also prayed, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” If Jesus didn’t insist on His way, who do you think you are to insist on your way.
In the summer of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea off the coast of Russia. Hundreds of passengers died as they were hurled into the icy waters below. News of the disaster was further darkened when an investigation revealed the cause of the accident. It wasn’t a technology problem like radar malfunction — or even thick fog. The cause was human stubbornness. Each captain was aware of the other ship’s presence nearby. Both could have steered clear, but according to news reports, neither captain wanted to give way to the other. Each was too proud to yield first. By the time they came to their senses, it was too late (Closer Walk, December, 1991). If we continue on our present course, we will share in their fate.

Selfish Christianity

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John 6:22-27
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
22 The next day the crowd that stood on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other small boat there, except one, and that Jesus had not entered with His disciples into the boat, but that His disciples had gone away alone. 23 There came other small boats from Tiberias near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the small boats, and came to Capernaum seeking Jesus. 25 When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?”

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Words to the People

26 Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.”

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Think honestly about this question: Which interests you more—who Jesus is or what He can do for you? I’m afraid that too many of us are more concerned about what the Lord can give us than we are about getting to know who He is.

But this is nothing new—Jesus had the same problem when He walked on earth. The crowds often sought Him out for what He could do for them. Even though their needs were quite often legitimate, Christ knew their motives.

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There is a fine line between selfishly trying to use the Lord to get what we want and humbly coming to Him with our needs and struggles. Some of the issues we bring to Him are so pressing and urgent in our minds that our desire for Him to take action in the way we want becomes greater than our willingness to submit to His will. At times, what we call “faith” is really a demanding spirit.

We must remember that our earthly needs will come to an end, but Jesus Christ will remain forever. If our prayers have dealt only with presenting our requests to the Lord, then we are missing a great opportunity to get to know the One with whom we are going to spend all eternity. Let’s invest time in pursuing intimacy with the great God who created us. Then we can enjoy all the benefits of that relationship forever.

How much of your communion with God is devoted to your needs—even legitimate ones? Are you spending any time getting to know the Lord? Although God delights in our prayers and tells us to pray about everything, He also wants us to come to Him just because we enjoy being with Him.

Am I blaming my Leaders for ‘The Culture’ for Our Distorted View of God?

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Never permit a dichotomy to rule your life, a dichotomy in which you hate what you do so you can have pleasure in your spare time. Look for a situation in which your work will give you as much happiness as your spare time.

Pablo Picasso

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Dichotomy
“In contrast to trichotomy, the view accepted by most scholars is that man is dichotomous, or consists of two parts; a material aspect, and a non-material aspect. The non-material part is called by many different names; soul, spirit, mind, life force, or any of a dozen or more equivalent Scriptural words. These are not separate parts of a person, but are just different words for the different aspects of the non-material aspect of man.” [1]

Relevant passages

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:23
“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.” – Hebrews 4:12
“For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.” – 1 Corinthians 14:14
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Matthew 10:28

David F. Wells has written his book again. Indeed, reading a new book by Wells is something like my experience of reading new books by Anne Lamott. About 15 pages in, I find myself asking: Isn’t this the same book, again?
Readers who pick up Wells’s latest, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World (Crossway), will find themselves covering the same ground he’s covered since No Place for Truth (1993).
Wells—a historical and systematic theologian at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary—has a fairly simple “big idea”: a tale of loss and recovery. Culture has corrupted the church, and renewal means returning to a set of views we have lost. The argument is couched in potted histories that paint thinly with broad brushes, highlighting how the church has been corrupted by modernity and, especially, post-modernity. For Wells, the word is shorthand for everything-wrong-with-the-world.
The genre is pitched somewhere between jeremiad and rant, with predictable protests, retreaded cliches, and lots of complaints about the 1960s. It’s like how I would expect a theological grandfather to harrumph about “kids these days.” It will convince no one who doesn’t already agree.

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Because we’ve listened to the culture rather than Scripture, we’ve been suckered into a therapeutic rather than a moral view of God: God is reduced to a Therapist and Concierge. Even many conservative evangelicals effectively worship the god of Oprah. On this point, Wells’s diagnosis is helpful.
False Dichotomies
But what’s the antidote? As in his previous books, God in the Whirlwind outlines the “view” that needs to be recovered. This view has two countercultural features.

First, we need to recover a sense of the objectivity of God, the otherness and transcendence of God. “God stands before us,” Wells emphasizes. “He summons us to come out of ourselves and to know him. And yet our culture is pushing us into exactly the opposite pattern. It is that we must go into ourselves to know God.” Elsewhere, Wells writes, “When God—the external God—dies, then the self immediately moves in to fill the vacuum.” God begins to look like us writ large.
Second, we need to learn to focus on the character of God, which Wells describes as “holy-love.” By doing so, he is trying to hold together what we too often separate: Our therapeutic gods are loving but not holy; and our moralistic and legalistic gods are holy but not loving. But the biblical understanding of God, revealed above all in Jesus Christ, is holy-love. Wells ranges across the Bible to show how this holy-love runs counter to the erroneous cultural habits we’ve acquired.
But this also locates the book’s limitations. Let me highlight two.
First, both the analysis and the prescription traffic in false dichotomies. “The shaping of our life is to come from Scripture and not from culture,” Wells writes. But isn’t Scripture itself the product of a culture (many cultures), and doesn’t the gospel invite us into the alternative culture of the body of Christ? Our goal is not a biblical viewpoint bereft of culture, but a cultural formation that’s biblically infused.

Perhaps the most puzzling (false) dichotomy is Wells’s emphasis on the objective versus the subjective. This would confuse Augustine, for instance, who wrote: “Do not go outside yourself, but enter into yourself, for truth dwells in the interior self.” Yet no one would confuse Augustine with Oprah.
Indeed, Augustine’s Confessions recount the interior journey of a soul toward the majesty of God, culminating in the meditations of Book 10: “Through my soul I will ascend to him.” By turning inward, Augustine’s self-confidence is destabilized. “People are moved to wonder by mountain peaks, by vast waves of the sea, by broad waterfalls on river, by the all-embracing extent of the ocean, by the revolutions of the stars. But in themselves they are uninterested.” Yet he finds his own interiority more awesome precisely because it is unfathomable: “I find my own self hard to grasp. . . . I never reach the end.”

But in this internal vertigo, he also finds the One who is greater: “You are my true life.” “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you.”
Instead of reverting to Wells’s dichotomy of the objective versus the subjective, what if we engaged modernity with this kind of Augustinian strategy? What if we invited our neighbors (who are, admittedly, focused on the self) to honestly probe their depths? Might they learn to recognize—yes, even feel—the Creator who beckons from within?
The inward turn is not the problem. It’s that people don’t go far enough to experience the inadequacy of the self. They might be better served by exploring the writings of David Foster Wallace than by reading God in the Whirlwind.
Beat of a Different Drummer
If the book’s diagnosis of our cultural situation is off the mark, so too is its prescription. Wells rightly appreciates that we Christians have absorbed the cult of the self by osmosis. Nobody convinced us to view God as our concierge; to the contrary, this is more like what the philosopher Charles Taylor calls a “social imaginary” that we absorb unconsciously through the stories, images, and mythologies that suffuse our cultural milieu.
In other words, we are not just “thinking things” who have been “taught” to see God this way; we are desiring creatures who have been trained to “imagine” God this way. And our imagination is formed on a visceral, even unconscious level. It doesn’t just change how we think; it shapes how we love.

Yet while Wells is attentive to the dynamics of our cultural deformation, he is oddly flatfooted when it comes to imagining reformation. He prescribes an intellectual antidote for an imaginative disorder.
Late in the book, he introduces a metaphor that actually touches on this point. As Wells puts it, believers “live in the midst of their culture,” but “they live by the beat of a different Drummer. They must hear the sounds of a different time, an eternal time, [and] listen for the music from a different place.” The challenge is one of attunement: “How are we going to hear this music? How are we going to hear the Drummer whose beat gets lost in all of the noise of our modern world?” Indeed, this is the psalmist’s question, too: “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (137:4, NASB).

But the metaphor is better than Wells’s actual prescription. Instead of inviting us to absorb the rhythm of the Spirit, he prescribes a regimen of music theory, “a framework of ideas.” But if we’ve been following the wrong drummers, isn’t that because their beat got our toes tapping and captivated our imaginations?
The Spirit reforms our imaginations by a similar dynamic. By inviting us to inhabit the rhythms of embodied, intentional Christian worship, God not only informs our intellects but retrains our heart’s desires. Worship, then, is not just how we express what we already believe. It is also formative—an incubator for a biblical imagination.
Amid the whirlwind of modern culture, what we need most is not a better message, but a fresh encounter with the holy-lover of our souls, who will sweep us off our feet.

Will Obama Model Mandela and Free the Over-Criminalized and change Mandatory Sentencing Laws?

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In seeing the humanity of his oppressors, he displayed rare moral discernment.

The death of Nelson Mandela should prompt us all to reflect on the extraordinary and enduring power of his life. Mandela forgave his oppressors and forged a legacy for himself through overcoming hatred. His stigma’s [Felon] a terrorist. It is my hope that President Obama will make the remaining years in office a pledge to change the culture of America being a nation locked-Up and it’s people disenfranchised and living in a different Apartheid.

I pray and maintain a posture humility so my difference will make a difference in pursuit of changing the hiring practices of disenfranchised individuals and the bias practices being used to disqualify felon’s for housing and other social economics. It will not hurt President Obama to not compromise, but to implement change for a group of human being as Nelson Mandela has done with his life and trials as a leader of a nation that has been through what America is now embracing by way of disguise and descriptive practices.

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In seeing the humanity of his oppressors, he displayed rare moral discernment.

The tour guide had explained the humiliations and deprivations of Mandela’s long imprisonment, but what seemed beyond explaining is the strength of character that enabled a man to endure such things for so long and then to emerge as a national leader possessed of optimism, generosity of spirit, and a commitment to reconciliation rather than revenge. How is this possible?

When Nazi survivor Elie Wiesel spoke to the first year students in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences, he emphasized that hatred is as poisonous when one faces one’s tormentors as at any other time. Like Mandela, Wiesel suffered unfathomable personal losses that could easily have crushed his spirit or bred a blazing vindictiveness. Yet each of these men became a force for the power of love, tolerance, respect for difference — for the joy of human potential even in the face of dreadful human realities.

Here is some of what I learned about how Mandela did it: On Robben Island, just outside Table Bay at Cape Town, South Africa, there’s a lime quarry. In the brilliant sun, its white walls glare with painful brightness. Mandela, and the other prisoners forced to work long hours there, were not allowed dark glasses. The fine lime dust from their back-breaking work pervaded their clothes, invaded their lungs, and irritated their squinting eyes. Some of them, like Mandela, were educated men who knew that even as their bodies labored and suffered, their minds were free and strong. But many other prisoners were uneducated — even illiterate. So the quarry became a place of teaching and learning.

Writing in the dust with sticks, the educated prisoners brought a reverence for the power of knowledge to those who had never had the opportunity to develop their minds. Even prisoners who were criminals, rather than political prisoners, came to understand that grinding poverty, discrimination, ignorance, and lack of opportunity — the wellsprings of crime — were best addressed by empowering their own minds. Some of them became students, too.

This happened before the watchful eyes of prison guards, many of whom were untutored louts. Yet, louts though they were, they saw something valuable that attracted them more than it threatened them. So they also became students, and Mandela and the others taught them out of respect for their humanity and their interest in learning. Those guards experienced affirmations both of mind and of heart — in sharing their knowledge, the educated prisoners displayed a generosity of spirit that prompted both admiration and growing respect from the guards.

For Mandela this was an early stage of the movement toward reconciliation. We marvel at the tenacity and endurance of Ernest Shackleton, whose failed Antarctic exploration in 1914 threatened the lives of his 21 stranded crewmen. Shackleton persevered for 14 months, in the end saving all against very long odds. How much more ought we marvel at Mandela, who persevered for more than 18 years, saving his entire nation!

Preachers Self Worth; Methodology Gospels

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I’ve said many times before that I believe that some people who were Christians and left the faith or those who reject Christianity altogether do so not because of any objection to the teachings of Jesus Christ. They object to the actions of Christians themselves

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The Christian Post recently reported that mega church minister, Bishop, I.V. Hilliard, of the New Light Christian Center in Houston, made an interesting proposition to his congregation. According to the article, the church’s “Aviation Department” (yes, you read that correctly — aviation department) declared that the pastor’s helicopter (yes, you read that correctly — pastor’s helicopter) needed new blades. Click here to read the appeal letter.

This event is the same song but different verse of the prosperity gospel; this gospel promotes a tit-for-tat relationship with God. Since God wants you to be blessed and rich and prosperous, then giving to God will active that divine power within your life. At issue here is not only Bishop Hilliard’s request of money from the congregation for new helicopter blades, but also that Bishop Hilliard says that you will have divine favor in 52 days or 52 weeks if you donate $52. My initial reaction was “why not $40; that at least is a Biblical number?” Also, that’s quite a lengthy time frame — either a little over seven weeks or an entire calendar year. The problem with this mentality is that you will then start to look for it even if it is nowhere to be found.

It’s like having a pain in your leg and thinking that you have a serious medical condition because one article on WebMD or some forum post confirmed your suspicion. When we do that, we often disregard the mountain of other articles that state that your leg pain is merely a muscle pull. We want it to be one way so badly we are willing to disregard everything else. After those seven weeks are up and there still is no brand new Cadillac with a sun roof, XM Radio, and a V-8, then we are going to use the remaining time of our year to make the puzzle piece fit. This is not what God called the church to do; God does not call the church to try to solve the puzzle of whether something is a blessing because the church bought new helicopter blades.

What about that single parent who is faithful to their God and needs a car for work or school but can’t fork over $52? Are they just up a creek? Do they not reap the rewards of God’s blessing under this theological framework?

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This type of theology is predicated on the notion that God only does for you when you do for God. Last time I checked, that is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Giving to God does not mean that one will receive back from God. Giving in all of its many forms is about one’s response to God. God has gifted humanity with many different things, and our understanding of God and our relationship with God dictates our type of giving. We use the rule of giving 10 percent of income or goods, but study after study show that this is not the case for much of the Christian populace.

Is this the reason so many people have joined the Christian faith over the centuries? Is a relationship with God and with Christ merely about a new car and a financial stability? If this is the case then I believe we have missed the point of the Gospel. The Gospel compels followers of Christ to be selfless and to give up our possessions that can rust and break down. The Gospel is centered on the notion of the other, the lonely, the downtrodden, the outcast; they are the ones we are called to serve. Our faith should not be dictated on giving just because we want something. Our giving should be an expression of our faith in thanksgiving for what God has done for us. God does not care how big or how small it might be.

Bishop Hilliard did release a statement in response to the uproar. He mentions a few scriptures here and there but the one that he discarded was the one where Christ said one cannot serve God and money.

I’m not a minister of a mega church but I hope that if I were, I would not have a helicopter but rather use the money to feed the homeless or dig wells in Africa or something else more useful. This type of theology is appealing to some but some see the plight of the world — the hungry, the struggling, the hurting — and believe a helicopter for a minister is a waste of money. If the minister has nicer suits and transportation that most of his/her congregation, then is there disconnect between the printed words of Christ and the real world.

If Christianity is about giving to get … then it is doomed to fail.