Put Christ back in Christian

I have been hearing a lot of people lately say that “We need to put Christ back in Christmas”.  This got me thinking… I have a problem with this statement.  To be a true Christian is to be a disciple, and we don’t just need to put Christ back in Christmas, we need to – Put Christ back in Christian!  

For the 30 – 40 days (depending on the year), between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, every Christian puts their “God” on.  We all talk about housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, helping the needy, and in general… saving the world.  We show greater tolerance for people who are different than us.  Diseased, addicted, promiscuous, other faiths; all these people seem to receive just a little more “acceptance” from us during the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.  My problem with this is that this is what Christians should be doing everyday, all year.  Put Christ back in Christian!  

In Matthew 25: 31-46 Jesus is telling His disciples about the Final Judgement: 31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ In the rest of the chapter, Jesus goes on to tell the disciples that when we …refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ 46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”  Nowhere in this teaching does Christ say “do this for only 30 – 40 days a year.”  Christ was teaching a lifestyle; a lifestyle of discipleship, a lifestyle of servant leadership. Christ was not teaching a month long fad!  Put Christ back in Christian!

How do we know Christ was teaching a lifestyle not just a fad?  Fair question.  In Matthew 4: 18-22 we see how Jesus “recruited” his first disciples.  In verse 19 Jesus says: “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!”   In verse 22 Jesus calls to two brothers who are in a boat with their father.  When Jesus called them, the left the boat AND their father behind.  You don’t leave your profession or your family forever for a fad. There is no definitive time that Jesus’ ministry lasted, some say three years, some say as few as one; however even after Jesus was crucified and risen, His disciples continued His teachings for the rest of their lives.  Day in, day out, all year long.  This is not a fad – Put Christ back in Christian!

In Matthew 28: 18-20 Jesus gives His disciples “The Great Commission.” 18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  “…I am with you always, even to the end of age.”  This does not sound like a short term, month long job, this sounds like a life long event.  Additionally in verse 19 Jesus says “… make disciples of all nations…”  Jesus doesn’t discriminate or single out a certain type of person, He says “all nations”.  If you look at Jesus’ ministry, He interacted directly and loved the diseased, addicted, promiscuous, and other faiths.  These were the people he came to save. We see a few examples of this love and interaction in Mark 1:34, Luke 8: 26-35, John 4: 1-26, and Luke 10: 30-37.  In Matthew 22: 36-40 Jesus tell us the Greatest Commandment: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” 37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”  “… love your neighbor as yourself…” This command is only second to “…love the Lord your God…”.  There is no wiggle room here; #1 Love God, #2 Love Others.  Jesus doesn’t want us to do this only from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, He wants us to do this every day, all year long, all life long.  

Put Christ back in Christian!

 

 

Legalistic or Relational

This past week I have been blessed to have had my father visit for the first time in over a year.  Additionally, since my walk with Christ, I have not had any real time to spend with him.  My father has only known me as a cynical, selfish, arrogant man; and this week has posed a unique set of challenges and opportunities for me to trust God and to be the man He is calling me to be.  I have a great deal of love and respect for my father, however, I learned this week that we have very different world views.

I learned that viewing the world with a legalistic perspective is very contrary to viewing the world with a relational perspective.  These weren’t the “words” used for our many discussions; however these were the underlying tones.  My father posed many moral or ethical questions and opportunities that the “old Dan” would have answered quite differently.

My father has never met a stranger, and he will be the first person I know to offer a cold homeless person, the coat off his back.  He loves and cherishes his sons and grandchildren, and I was able to witness this more than ever during this last visit. And although my father is an amazing man with a very large, generous, and loving heart, he sees the world through legalistic eyes.  What I have observed is that a legalistic view of Christianity allows a great deal of wiggle room in a person’s actions and opinions.  This is not to say that my father is any less a Christian than the next man, this is to say that legalistic and relational Christians see and act differently in the world.  During our time together and our discussions I learned and gained some insight into my childhood lessons and upbringing.  I was able to see firsthand how a legalistic view of Christianity allows you to compartmentalize Christ into different areas of your life.  Like my father, I am a sinner; we are all sinners who fall short of God’s love.  However, during our time together this past week, I saw several areas of “Godly Compartmentalization”.

I believe compartmentalizing God is due to a lack of understanding repentance.  The root word of repentance is repent.  Merriam-Webster defines the word repent as: to feel or show that you are sorry for something bad or wrong that you did and that you want to do what is right.  …you want to do what is right.  Not just wanting to turn from sin, but turn towards Christ – That is what it means to repent.  In Hebrews 6 the author talks about maturing in understanding – not needing to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds…  In Hebrews 6:4-6 it says: 4 For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come— 6 and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame.  

If you go back to the beginning of the book of Hebrews, the writer is warning believers who have fallen out of relationship with the Lord and returned to their legalistic ways.  He is trying to impress upon the Hebrews that returning to their Old Testament (OT) Judaic ways of rules and regulations, was not why Jesus Christ came and died for our sins.  God saw in the OT that His people were getting wrapped around the axle trying to follow His commands.  The OT Jews took the 10 Commandments that God gave to Moses and created 613 commandments (or Mitzvot).  These were primarily for the priests but some were also designed for men, some for women, and some were only for a certain point in time or for a certain situation; and some were “forever” as indicated in the verses that say “do this forever”.  The Jew’s of the OT didn’t understand that from the beginning in Genesis, all God wanted was for a relationship with His people.  We were created in God’s image Genesis 1:27.  We were perfect.

When it became clear over and over throughout the OT, that because of our fall and inability to stay in relationship with God, He sent His Son to earth to be a living example of how that relationship should look.  Perfect obedience, perfect love and perfect trust in God.  The problem is our humanity.  We are sinners by birth and our only salvation is the through the acceptance of God’s grace.  God gives us grace whether we deserve it or not (prevenient grace).  Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19). And in the book of Romans Paul wrote: But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).  These verses demonstrate the (justifying grace) of God. They point to reconciliation, pardon, and restoration. Through the work of God in Christ our sins are forgiven, and our relationship with God is restored.  Justification is also a time of repentance — turning away from behaviors rooted in sin and toward actions that express God’s love.  As in the book of Hebrew, we are called to grow and mature in our ability to live as Jesus lived (sanctifying grace).  Salvation is not a one-time event, it is a lifelong pursuit of God’s will for our lives.  Legalistic Christians miss this whole message because they are stuck in the prevenient grace stage of the message.

Legalistic Christians believe that regardless of their actions, regardless of God’s will, and regardless of how often they continue to repeat their sins, they are still forgiven.  In part they are correct, however, for true salvation, you must have repentance. You must press on, with God’s help, in the path of sanctification toward perfection. Although perfection can never be obtained in this lifetime, Relational Christians understand that it is a continual process.  A process of being made perfect in our love of God and each other and of removing our desire to sin.  This is the life of a Relational Christian.

God has a plan for all of His children.  All of our stories are unique and designed for His glory.  God transforms each of us in His time and way, so that our lives can be a living sacrifice to bring glory and honor to Him. As Disciples of Christ, our job is go out and make disciples of all people. (The Great Commission – Matthew 28:16-20).  We do this by following the words of Christ in Matthew 22:37-40: 37 Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”  This means God first and everyone, everything, and every action you do should be second in your priorities.  This is Relational Christianity.

What type of Christian do you want to be, a Legalistic Christian or a Relational Christian?  Do you want your will over God’s or God’s will over yours?  Are you willing to tell God ‘No, my desires over yours’?

Boasting about Weakness

When was the last time you admitted you were weak?

Prior to accepting Christ as my savior, I never would admit weakness.  Ask any man: What makes a man a man?  Most men will give you a stock answer like, “providing for my family”, “being a good father”, “being successful in my profession”, or maybe even… “the ability to overcome any obstacle placed in front of me”.  All of these are probably pretty typical answers you might get.  I can say this with confidence because I know that prior to salvation, these would have been my answer.  For a man to admit weakness is unacceptable in today’s society.  Our society doesn’t want weak men.

The bible tells us different.  In both the old and new testament God reveals to us that admitting our weakness is critical to our salvation.  In fact, our weakness is why God sent his Son down from heaven to save us.  We had become slaves to the law.  In Romans 8: 1-17 Paul talks tells us about this.  In these verses, Paul teaches a very confusing lesson to the casual reader.  What Paul is talking about in these verses is Transformation. Transformation of our sinful hearts to our Godly hearts.  Transformation from sinner to saved.  For years I heard sermons about these verses, I read these verses, I even attended bible studies about these verses.  My problem was that I wanted to understand these verses with my mind and apply worldly, sinful logic to them.  This can’t be done.  These verses from Romans are meant to be understood with our hearts, not our minds.

A couple of years back, I sustained a traumatic brain injury that changed my life.  I couldn’t drive to my own doctor appointments because of the effects of my injury.  In fact, I couldn’t even stand without losing my balance.  I was now dependent on my wife, family, and friends to help me with routine daily tasks.   To a “man” who had control of everything in his life, this was humiliating and emasculating.  Depression set in and thoughts of suicide were serious considerations at that point.  Then God stepped in and opened my eyes.  One night I had a dream so realistic and bone chilling, my life changed.  I was walking along a path with God and passing different times and places in my life.  Times as a teen, a young adult, and even recent times in my 40’s.  I was mortified and embarrassed. God was standing there with me watching all my sin-filled actions.  Every one of them. He just kept walking with me, never saying a word, just watching me commit act after act of deed’s I knew were wrong.  When I woke up, I was sweating and humbled beyond words.  I fell out of bed and knelt down next to it and wept.  I cried like a baby.  I begged for forgiveness and a second chance.  I knew I could do better if He would just let me prove it.  Then it happened, a sudden calm.  I understood that there was nothing I could do to “prove it”.  I just had to accept my sinful nature and surrender my will to His.  He helped me understand that if I let Him, He would take care of not only me, but every thing. It was a scary peace.  I was transformed.

Fast forward to today.  Due to circumstance and weather issues, my wife was left stranded at an airport in NC with no way home.  God stepped in and she was put on a flight back to Washington Dulles airport. Unfortunately, her departure airport was a different airport in our area, so once she was there, she would be stuck.  Dulles airport is about an hour from our home, and with my limitations, for me to drive at night in the rain was a less than desirable solution.  I prayed for God to take care of her and our family and to help her not be stressed out.  I knew we would be OK even if we had to wait until the morning for me to go get her. Unbeknownst to me however, my wife had posted our situation on social media.  She summarized her situation and my willingness to pick her up; but due to my diminished abilities, her concern with that solution.  To the glory of God, people came out of the woodwork to help. So many offers from friends (even friends we have not spoken to in a while) came in to offer to drive over an hour from their homes in the rain at 11:00 pm to go get her.  What a blessing.

I am telling you all this because prior to my salvation, I would have never let this happen. I would have driven tonight in the rain despite the risk because that is what a man does to take care of his family.  A man steps up.  Bologna!!

A man acknowledges his weakness and his position as a child of God.  A man surrenders control of his life to his Creator and trusts that His perfect will, will work things out for His glory.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9 God tells Paul that His grace is all he needs.  Paul then tells us that he celebrates his weakness so that the power of Christ can work through him.  Paul has been transformed to understand what a man is.  A man is not what society, even then, dictates.  A man is someone who surrenders his will to God and understands that His grace, mercy, and love are all he needs.

Have you admitted you are weak?

Listen to that Little Voice Inside You… It’s God!!

People often ask… “How do you know if God is talking to you”?  For the longest time, I was one of those “people”.  I did not understand how Christians could hear God talking.  

The answer… Stop listening with your ears and listen with your heart.

For those unfamiliar with my story; I grew up in the Catholic church, I went to church regularly as an adult, and even when I was my farthest away from God, I still believed in Him, I just didn’t want to acknowledge Him.  I have often wondered how true Christians could say they hear God talk to them?  Do they have a special phone number? Does God appear in front of them in the form of a burning bush?  Maybe they have to be someone really special like a pastor, priest, or minister? I  didn’t understand.  Hearing God speak to you is not as hard as many think.  Once you make that 18″ journey from your head to your heart, from revelation to transformation, it’s not if you can hear God, it’s when you hear God.

Being transformed into a disciple is a heart condition.  From the book Transforming Evangelism, The Wesleyan Way of Sharing Faith, authors Henry H. Knight III & F. Douglas Powe Jr. tell us this about being transformed: Some may be disappointed that holiness does not mean life will be defined on their terms, but it does mean a life participating with God. This life is lived differently because we are no longer held captive by the brokenness that so often defines our being.  This is transformation. Once you surrender control and start letting God define, not only your actions, but your entire life; then you will hear God talk to you.  Coincidences no longer exist, there are just “God Moments”.  

I know this sounds hard to believe, in fact two years ago I could never have believed or understood this. However, God’s plan is undeniable and once you surrender your will for His perfect will, you are able to understand.  Imagine the finest orchestra conductor, marking time, waiving his baton, and signaling exactly how and when he want’s the different instruments of the orchestra to sound in.  It is a seamless movement of beauty. God work’s in much the same way, just on a much greater and impressive scale.  He controls everything from the wind in the trees to the waves in the ocean, from the moment your born until the moment you die, from the sounds that you hear to even the next breath you take, these are all under His divine and perfect control.  Once you understand that, coincidence and worry disappear.  In Matthew 6:31-34 Jesus himself tells us: 31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. 34 So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today”.

I have come to see many instances in my life where God was speaking to me, I just either chalked it up to coincidence or didn’t want to hear it, whichever suited best in those moments.  We all hear that “little voice” inside us.  Call it a conscience, call it intuition, call it whatever you want, but I tell you this; I believe that “little voice” is God talking to you.  I will share one recent example of that “little voice” when God spoke to me.  A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine from church invited my wife and I to a local professional hockey game.  He and his wife know we are hockey fans and came upon some last-minute tickets and invited us to go.  We graciously accepted the offer and headed out for a night of great fun and fellowship with another couple of believers.  When we arrived at the game and found our seats, I felt very blessed.  We were right behind the goaltender about 8 rows back off the glass.  If you know anything about hockey, you know these were great seats.  

Until recently, my only professional hockey game experiences, at this particular arena were with one of my pre-salvation friends.  A great man and friend, and one I am proud to call brother.  To my shame however, all of our trips to hockey games were filled with alcohol induced frivolity and less than christian behavior.  Once I was saved, this friend and I sat down to discuss the heart changes I was experiencing and where it left us as friends.  I didn’t want to lose his friendship, but I also knew that God had other plans for me than the lifestyle of alcohol induced behavior he and I enjoyed.  Through discussions, my friend came to the self-realization that he had a problem with alcohol and stopped drinking.  We still meet for lunch or dinner to hang out and visit, but we stopped getting liquored together.  

Back to the game! So my wife and I are with this couple from church, in these amazing seats, and all I can think about is sharing it with my old drinking buddy.  I ignored the thought for a while writing it off as “it’s because I’m at a hockey game”, but I kept feeling like I needed to share with him where I was.  I took a picture of our view from these great seats and texted him “thinking of you buddy”.  Less than two minutes later I am getting slapped in the back by my old drinking buddy.  He was also at the same game about 5 rows up and 1 section over with another friend of his.  We were literally within 50 feet of one another and had no idea.  

After the “are you kidding me’s” and the “unbelievable’s”, we sat and started chatting.  It didn’t take long for me to realize he was a bit less than sober.  When I called him on that fact, he looked at me a little embarrassed then acknowledged and admitted to his current condition.  After a little discussion, he agreed to change his behavior and before the end of the game, he was sober and in control of his actions.  Because I listened to that “little voice”, because I heard God; I was able to impact another person in a positive way.

To me this is an example of a God Moment!  Why would I be out with another couple having a great time and want to text my old drinking buddy?  What are the odds that he would be at the same game within 50 feet of our seats?  I believe that God orchestrated that entire evening to his perfection, so that I could witness to a fellow believer who is in a different place in his walk with Christ.  I was able to show my buddy that you can have fun at a hockey game without imbibing.  I was able to take a person who many are too intimidated to stand up to and tell him to change his behavior.  I was able to listen to God tell me to act.     

Hearing God is not always a passive act.  In 2 Corinthians 3:11-12 Paul tells us: So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever! Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold. Quite often when you hear God, it will require your active response.  Because this is uncomfortable for us, we often ignore or even disobey God.  We stop listening to the “little voice” inside us and do what we want to do.  Remember the journey from revelation to transformation is only 18″, but once you make that trip, you no longer live life on your own terms.  You are to live a life in active participation with God. 

Idolatry

Idolatry
noun idol·a·try \-trē\
: the worship of a picture or object as a god

The root word of idolatry is Idol defined as:                                                                                     1. – a greatly loved or admired person                                                                                                 2. – a picture or object that is worshiped as a god

Today I start this message with these definitions because they have been on my heart a great deal lately. Exodus 20: 1-6 lays out a very clear instruction regarding idolatry.

Ten Commandments for the Covenant Community
Then God gave the people all these instructions: “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. “You must not have any other god but me. “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.

Discussions I have had recently tell me that many in our world believe that idolatry does not exist in America. The argument I have heard made is that we don’t have churches who make physical idols to bow to and worship. Really? In Ephesians 5:5, Paul spells it out clearly. He minces no words and describes exactly what idolatry is: You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. In fact, all of Ephesians 5 is about living as Christ lived. Elevating or worshiping nothing above Christ. Even husbands and wife’s are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Not to elevate or worship each other above Christ.

When people pick 1 or 2 verses from a book that has 31,102 verses and take use them as literal support for their argument, it amazes me. I am not the smartest man in the world, but even I know to cross reference and fact check before I start making absolute arguments. This is important about any argument, but especially when arguing a basis for religious foundation. I believe that any thing that is elevated to a priority in your life above God, automatically becomes an idol. Facebook, TV, Football, Electronic Devices, Alcohol, Vehicles, Any Thing – It is an idol. Having a church built to worship something is not the only criteria for qualifying an idol. Elevating any thing to a position that it becomes between you and God is what makes it an idol. Sadly, based on that criteria, people can even make the Word of God (the Bible) an idol.

Where is your priority and focus?

My Prayer Today                                                                                                                           Father God, cleanse my heart and forgive my sins. Lead me to You in everything I do. Help me to trust You always and put nothing between us. Make me Your hands and feet to the world, and let Your Light shine through me in everything I do.

In the name of Your Son, Jesus,

Amen.

It Is Only 18″ to Salvation

A good friend once told me that the 18″ between your brain and your heart is the longest 18″ you’ll ever have to travel.

In my church and small group there is a saying: “Information leads to revelation which leads to transformation”. Essentially this means that just knowing and understanding God is not enough. You have to LIVE (like) God.

In the book of Philippians, Paul was writing from prison to the people of Philippi. He was writing to encourage them to continue their growth in Christ. Paul suffered many trials for being a disciple of Christ and he wanted the people of Phillipi to understand that there are bigger things going on than his struggles.

Throughout the book of Philippians, Paul talks about “Joy”. The joy of prayer, the joy of faith, the joy of new believers turning to Christ… Despite all the hardships Paul has endured, he still finds joy in everything. In Chapter 4 verse 4-5 Paul says this: 4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! 5 Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Paul tells us this after he reminds us in Chapter 2 of the importance of having the attitude (or mind) of Christ. This my friends is the transformation that I am speaking of. For me that transformation took my total mental, physical, and spiritual breakdown.

I was raised in the Catholic church and going to Catholic schools. I knew who God was, because they practically beat the knowledge into you. I had information. I also understood who God was, because of my morality. Once you know about God, you have an understanding of right and wrong, you have morality. The problem was that I had MY morality and that was not the same as God’s. I had revelation. 

So here I am, walking around with the training and confidence of the United States Marine Corps, my own sense of morality, and a heart filled with pride. I was a very scary and dangerous weapon for the Enemy. Your own sense of morality combined with pride allows you to justify almost any action. You believe that you have control of almost every situation, or at least the belief that you can gain that control when you want it. This is completely and wholly contrary to the mind of Christ. Paul describes the goal best in Philippians 2:3-8.

3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. 5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.  6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Until your revelation travels that 18″ from your brain to your heart, you can’t have transformation. Transformation like Paul is speaking of in the above text. Christ describes it to the extreme in Luke 14:25-35. In this text Christ is speaking to a large crowd that has been following him and he decides to let them really know the cost of transformation. Christ say’s:  “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. 27 And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. Christ goes further to explain that to be a disciple it takes more than just knowledge, it takes commitment. The kind of commitment that can only come from surrendering your will to God’s Will. 

What Christ is saying in Luke 14:25-35 is that as humans we will never be perfect, and we should hate that fact. Our goal, our yearning, should be Godly perfection. The only way we can achieve perfection is through dying to God. A popular way of saying this today is “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. This is easy to do intellectually, but very hard to do purely or spiritually, like Christ. Christ loved everyone, regardless of their position, actions, past, or even future because that is what God does. Christ just did these things as a human so we could see that, it is possible. I didn’t understand this until I was broken. God had to strip me of all my confidence and pride for me to understand that I was human. God had to break me to save me.

This doesn’t mean I am perfect, I fail everyday. However, now I hate that fact. I hate that I am human and susceptible to the temptations and enticements of the Enemy. I hate that I sometimes lose my temper, that I swear, that I covet nicer things, that sometimes I am not a good steward of the gifts God has given me. I hate all these things, but I know that because I have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I am forgiven. I know that as long as I continue to turn towards God, I am saved and God is directing my heart. I know that I have been transformed. 

Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Are you turning towards God and letting him direct your heart? Have you traveled that 18″ to Salvation? Have you been transformed?

If you would like to discuss this, please contact me. I am no preacher, but I can tell you my story and maybe that will help make your 18″ trip a little easier.

Unexpected Blessings

I have written quite a bit about my life before salvation. I spent a great many years “on the wrong side of the tracks”. Even with that as my mindset, my heart was always ready to help others. Over the years, my wife & I, in spite of my selfish, angry, hateful self; have always been blessed enough to help others out. We did this in many ways, outreach and charitable giving are just a couple. I always did these things for selfish reasons though, never because it was my blessing as a son of God to help others.

I think one of the the most significant and relevant ways my wife and I helped others; was that we have let many people live with us during difficult times in their lives. Some were family, some were friends, and some were friends who became family. Some stayed with us for a summer, some stayed with us for a few years. We did this because we enjoyed helping others, but I seemed to always find a way to make the situation benefit me. Since I have accepted Christ as my Savior, my heart has undergone some drastic changes. Until that time, I was always expecting payback or some sort of reimbursement for our help to others, especially when I could get no direct benefit from their presence in our home. Like I said, I always wanted to benefit from our generosity.

Now I celebrate my ability to help others when I can, with no ulterior motive. The resentment I felt for the people we have helped but received no benefit from, has melted away. I now understand that every breath I take is a gift from God, and for me to be selfish or expect payback from anyone for my generosity is not only unreasonable, but ungodly. I don’t know if it is because God has humbled me or if because my wife and I are no longer able to help others, but my mentality and my heart has changed. Since my injury (and subsequent salvation), I have been unable to work, however, God has always provided us with enough to meet our needs. God is so awesome, He even occasionally exceeds our needs. None the less, due to a drastic reduction in household income, we struggle more than thrive. It is funny though, because of our hearts for God, the struggles seem small and manageable. I know that He will meet our needs as long as we are faithful to Him.

I am writing all this because recently I was contacted by one of the previous tenants who stayed in our home. In reality, I was less than “good” to this particular tenant. Someone who based on their past experience with me, has every right to punch me in the nose. None the less, this person contacted me and said they had been following my blog and wanted to help. They told me that they knew times were tough financially and they were now in a position to help me like we helped them. I was flabbergasted. In my mind, I am so undeserving of this person’s help because of my treatment of them, that at first I didn’t understand. I prayed and discussed this with my wife for some time. Finally, I heard God tell me that His love for me is boundless and sometimes letting others bless you, is His way of blessing them. Wow! God is so amazing that while he worked on me, He was also working on someone I had wronged. This person told me that they too had learned about the love of God and wanted to help us. Not so much because we helped this individual, but because God had blessed this individual. Ultimately, my wife and I graciously accepted the offer of assistance and today I am filled with love, admiration, and respect for this person. This person reached out to me to show me God’s love. How awesome is God!

Jesus talks about this in Luke 6:33-35 (NLT):

33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. 35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.

Trust God – He is good!

MercyMe has a song called Flawless. One part of the song lyrics is: No matter the bumps, No matter the bruises. No matter the scars, Still the truth is, The cross has made –
The cross has made you flawless. No matter the hurt, Or how deep the wound is; No matter the pain, Still the truth is The cross has made – The cross has made you flawless!

God has sent His son Jesus for us. Jesus died on the cross for us. Leave your bumps, bruises, scars, hurts, wounds, and pain at His cross. He will bring you peace and amazing, unbelievable things.

Forgive yourself and others – God does!

Two Steps Forward – One Step Back

I have written a lot lately regarding my faith and quoted a lot of scripture. I have done a great deal of research and study to accomplish these posts. I do this: A: Because it interests me and I am enjoying my newly found faith. B: Because I am finding being in the Word is helping me become a better disciple. & C: I want to communicate to others who believe they are in dire situations, that it is never to late to let God into your life, regardless of the mess YOU think it may have become.

Today, I am taking a different approach. I am going to write about why I believe when our life starts going well in one area, we feel attacked in other areas. Additionally, I am going to try to do this from a secular approach. Not that I don’t have scripture to support my position, I just want to try to mix this up, so it may be more appealing to the non-believers. Preaching to the choir is easy, spreading His message to the public, that’s not always so well received. So here I go…

I believe that whether you are a believer or non-believer, we can all agree that none of us are perfect. I believe that our lack of perfection is just one of the many failures that facilitates this phenomenon of two steps forward, one step back. In the United States we have created a culture of “Now”. We want everything Now. Our lives, even from a very young age, are being driven by instant gratification and Social Media. I have seen elementary age school children with Smart Phones, Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram accounts. Our news media, competes to “scoop” their competition. How many time have you heard “You will only see this video on News 4“? Our society has moved from an era of cooperation and cohesiveness to an era of cut throat competition and one upping each other. You can even see this at a youth sporting event. You can see the loss of vision for the game and sportsmanship, shift to the focus of parents berating umpires and officials for a “bad call” against their child. When this is the example and environment that our children are exposed to, how can we expect them to share and cooperate with each other?

Individuals are so focused on themselves, that they can’t be bothered with the needs or concerns of others. We are so consumed with “Now”, we can’t be bothered by the past or future. When we look at life through these blinders, we only see the issue of the moment, and since the moment (or time) is not a fixture, but a fluid environment, how can we ever be expected to accomplish any one task?

If you are over the age of 40 look back into your life before cell phones, before the internet, before online gaming, before Mp3’s… life was much different. If you can remember those times, you needed the help and support of others much more than you do today. You couldn’t Google the answer for your question, you had to ask others for help. Maybe you had to go to a library and interact with someone for help finding the correct book. You may not have even had a TV, and even if you did, you probably didn’t have more than a few channels. It wasn’t until the late 70’s that Cable TV really got big. In fact, VCR’s were still the only media available for recording or watching movies at home until the late 80’s. During that era, people depended on each other for information, help, guidance, and spiritual issues.

If you are under the age of 40, you still probably remember a time when only the people who were considered to be executives or wealthy had cell phones. If you look back, you can probably recall when people would sit in a restaurant and talk to each other instead of texting on their phones. When if you wanted to go on a date with someone, you had to stand in front of them and ask them if they would like to go out for a meal or movie with you. People interacted and depended on each other.

Before technology made our lives easier (deep sarcasm), we had to depend on others. We were more focused on the “how” then the “now”. Somewhere along the way, as a society, we gave up on the “how”. When we were given the chance, we abandoned each other for ourselves. I believe this is where we lost our way. We chose the technology, or easy way, over relationships. Technology has isolated us from, not only each other, but in many cases, from spirituality. Whether you are a believer or non-believer, you can’t argue that isolation is not good for anyone. Even global society realizes the negative repercussions of isolation, and uses it as a form of extreme punishment for prisoners. Is this the future we want to inflict on ourselves and our children?

If we are willing to do this to ourselves, imagine the way Satan can use isolation. Satan understands that if we are self-dependent, or isolated, we have no need for belief in God. This isolation or no need for God, is simply not true, hell, even Satan believes in God. Even if you don’t think or believe that YOU need God, you must admit that the support of others is important. Even the worst of the worst criminals in society band together in community. What better way for Satan to work himself into our lives than via self-dependence? Self-dependence equates to pride and/or arrogance. Believing so highly in oneself is a sad and lonely existence at the very least. In its greatest manifestation, it will result in an eternal damnation.

As I have been on both sides of this fence, I feel safe discussing this topic. Living a care-free, come what may, self-dependent life, is fun in the moment. I know, I have been there. At some point however, when I looked around and saw who my “friends” were, and what “community” I belonged to, I got scared. Friends only had my back when it was convenient for them, and when they stood to gain from the relationship. Community was only there if there was no fear of judgement for their actions. Outsiders or a “do-gooder” were the freaks who didn’t understand what a good time they were missing. I know some of you reading this can relate to this. Now just for a minute, sit back and look at your life. How often are you taking two steps forward and one step back? If your like I was, quite often. The hole gets deeper and the methods of covering the hole become more drastic and severe. This is Satan manipulating you to believe it is OK to be this way, to be self-dependent. This is the perfect life for those who don’t want to rely or trust others, because they don’t want to feel guilty when they mess up. This is self-induced isolation, and Satan thrives on it. He counts on it, because remember Satan believes in God, and Satan knows you need the help of others, but he doesn’t want you to know that.

Once you come to the realization that being dependent on others, that needing help is really a sign of strength, not weakness, then you can start pushing Satan out of your life. Once you understand that life is not meant for you to go through alone, you will start to see life change. You will start taking four or five steps forward before you stumble. Don’t let me mislead you, you will stumble, but as long as you are pushing Satan out, you won’t go backwards. By realizing only God (AA/NA call Him a “Higher Power”), can save you from that eternal damnation, only then can you truly start moving forward in life.

I guess what I am saying is that it is never to late to turn around. No matter how deep your hole, no matter how dark your past, no matter where you are, it’s not too to. Someone near you understands and love’s you, in spite of yourself. I know I do, and I know God does. Reach out and be strong, ask for help.

Father, I pray tonight that these word fall on receptive ears. That Your light be so bright to someone who reads these words, that they turn away from Satan and towards You. Let the grace and mercy You have shown me, be available to all who will accept it. Only You can save us from ourselves God, and I pray that You continue to forgive my sins, and keep me open to Your will. That I may continue to spread Your message and glorify You in the process.

In your Blessed Son’s Holy Name,

Amen

Are You Holding a Grudge because You are Bigger Than God?

Forgiveness is hard!!

I have been praying a great deal lately about forgiveness. Not only for myself to be forgiven, but for me to able to forgive others. Most Christians, at one point or another, learn the Lord’s Prayer or “Our Father”. In Matthew 6: 5-15, Jesus instructs his disciples how to pray – specifically in versus 9-13:

Pray like this:

Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be kept holy.
10 May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
    as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today the food we need,[a]
12 and forgive us our sins,
    as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
13 And don’t let us yield to temptation,[b]
    but rescue us from the evil one.[c]

More importantly, in versus 14 & 15 Jesus tells us: 14 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. This, to me, is one of the most important teachings of Jesus. 

As Christians, we are often guilty of non-forgiveness. We want revenge, we want justice, we want payback, and so many other personal or earthly ways of parity; forgiveness never even cross’s our mind. In 1 John 2: 1-12, John tell us, God’s children, that our sins are forgiven because God gave his Son Jesus as a sacrifice, not just specifically for us as Christians, but for the whole world. With that in mind, if God forgives, do we dare to believe or think, we are above or better than God when we don’t forgive?

Speaking personally, I don’t think anyone has ever wronged me (or can wrong me), more than I have wronged God. To God, ALL sins are equal. Only man, puts different value to sins or wrongs. That means God has shown ME more grace and mercy, than I will ever have to show anyone else. By not forgiving or extending grace and mercy to others, I am putting myself and my desires above God. Do I really want to be that arrogant? Do you?

The top four antonyms for forgiveness are, blame, cruelty, meanness, and mercilessness. If we are not forgiving, than by definition we are doing the opposite. Holding or placing blame, cruelty, meanness and mercilessness, will all lead to bitterness. A bitter life is a sinful life. One definition of the word “bitter” is: Characterized by intense antagonism or hostility – bitter hatred. This is scary but important. In Hebrews 12: 1-17, the apostle Paul writes about how through discipline, God is treating us as if we were His own children, because we are. We have earthly parents, but God is our Eternal Heavenly Father. Paul even explains and understands that we don’t like or enjoy discipline, but afterward, we will benefit and bask in the Love that is Christ. In Hebrews 12, verse 15, Paul tells us: Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. If as Christians we are not forgiving unconditionally, like our Heavenly Father, than we are “…corrupting many”. Is this the legacy we want to leave on this earth?

I know we all have pain and resentment about someone or something in our lives. We are human, we are sinners. We all fail and fall, but that is no excuse. We have to trust that our relationship with God is so much bigger than any relationship we have here on earth. We as Christians, are called to know that if God forgives us, we have to forgive others. However, if we hold on to that resentment and pain, that bitterness and cruelty, and don’t let it go; if we don’t forgive, than God won’t forgive us. These are not my interpretations or words. These are the words of Jesus. They are recorded and written for us to benefit and learn from in Matthew 6: 14-15. How can we walk around and call ourselves Christians if we are harboring ill feelings towards others? We can’t, and it is laid out for us:

14 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

None of us are perfect, and we never will be. As Christians however, we are held to a higher standard. A standard we should be proud of. A standard that identifies us as a child of God. I’m not saying it is easy, forgiveness is hard. However, if God can forgive our sins, who are we to not forgive others?

Are You a Self-Helper?

Self-help isn’t the cure-all that it is touted to be. Although there is something to say for independence and accountability, trusting solely in your self is a recipe for failure. In part, the proof of this is that “self-help” books exist. If human beings were able to rely solely on themselves, they would not need the input or support of others, via “self-help” books to solve their issues. The secular world would like you to believe that there is no problem that you can’t solve, if you just put in a little hard work and introspective. This is simply not true. Human beings are designed, even desire to be in relationship. Whether a parental/child, sibling/sibling, co-worker/friend, or husband/wife; humans want to be in relationships.

According to a landmark paper by psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary it’s because of a fundamental “need to belong.” Baumeister and Leary go on to list 8 identifiable principles as evidence that support their hypothesis. In the words of the Baumeister and Leary, “it seems fair to conclude that human beings are fundamentally and pervasively motivated by a need to belong, that is, by a strong desire to form and maintain enduring interpersonal attachments.” I think it’s also fair to conclude that without the need to belong, the science of relationships would not exist. So if as human’s we have a fundamental “need to belong”, proved by science, why are so many always searching for the “self-fix”?

God tells us that as humans we are flawed. Not because God made us flawed, but because we made a decision to ignore His divine instructions, and now we must suffer the consequences. (Genesis 3: 16-19) In this illustration, God let humans know that there are consequences for his/her actions. God lets us know that we are not to rely on ourselves, because as humans, we are weak. God also makes it clear that trusting ourselves only leads to disaster. He makes it clear that as humans, we need to put our trust and faith in Him. In Exodus 34: 13-15 the Lord sends this message to His people:

13 Instead, you must break down their pagan altars, smash their sacred pillars, and cut down their Asherah poles. 14 You must worship no other gods, for the Lord, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you. 15 “You must not make a treaty of any kind with the people living in the land. They lust after their gods, offering sacrifices to them. They will invite you to join them in their sacrificial meals, and you will go with them.

If we then accept that we are dependent on relationships, how can we accept the science and deny God? I believe that God proves the science. Throughout the Bible there are instances after instances where God tells us to put ourselves into relationship with Him. A few examples include: Leviticus 26:46Joshua 22:28Psalm 24:5Luke 12:21Romans 4:13Romans 5:11Colossians 1:282 John 1:9Not only does God want us in relationship with Him, He wants us in relationship with each other. A few references of that are: Genesis 2:241 Corinthians 7:2Ephesians 5:281 Timothy 3:12Proverbs 17:6Acts 3:251 Samuel 20:173 John 1:6.

Throughout the Bible God tells us that relationships are good. Relationships with Him and each other. God is clear however, that the priority relationship, is in Him. We see that above in Exodus 34:14. God is Jealous. He is jealous about his relationship with us. Once we have that relationship established, then we can seek relationships with each other. I say, “Once we have that relationship established…”, because we can never have that relationship “right”. We are sinners at our very being and in our very soul. It is important to understand this fact. Only with the Holy Spirit and Grace of God, can our relationship with Him be established. Amazingly, once that relationships is established, no matter how often we sin, if we let Him, God will continue to strengthen that relationship. He will continue to convict our hearts. A friend of mine put it like this… “we still sin, we just don’t enjoy it anymore”. I think this is a great assessment of how our relationship with God will continue to grow, once the relationship is established.

This fact, the fact that God wants us to be in relationship with Him first and each other second, is counterproductive to the secular world. Peace and harmony are not good for secularism. Opposition and divisiveness are what is good for a secular world. War, fighting, racism, judgement, and general conflict are what our society pushes for. Take a look at the papers. The homosexual agenda is being promoted, even in some churches. Nations who publicly state that they want to see the destruction of the United States are being given not only the weapons to make that possible, but the authority to make that possible. If the World Leaders making these decisions were in a relationship with Him first, do you think these type of things would be happening?

I believe the reason for this, is that as a society, we are being systematically programmed to deny faith in anything other than ourselves. God is being destroyed and surgically removed from all areas of our world outside the walls (and even inside the walls) of the church. If we speak about God in public, we run the risk of not just ridicule, but persecution for our beliefs, and we feel intimidated. Why? Paul tell us in 2 Corinthians 11:23-12:10 that speaking out for God is difficult:

23 Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served Him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. 28 Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger? 30 If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am. 31 God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, who is worthy of eternal praise, knows I am not lying. 32 When I was in Damascus, the governor under King Aretas kept guards at the city gates to catch me. 33 I had to be lowered in a basket through a window in the city wall to escape from him.

Paul’s Vision and His Thorn in the Flesh

12 This boasting will do no good, but I must go on. I will reluctantly tell about visions and revelations from the Lord. I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell. That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses. If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said,“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Why as Christians does this surprise us? Why are we afraid to be bold in faith?(Ephesians 3:12) Make no mistake, opening your heart and surrendering your will to God is scary at first. However, this action, and this action alone is what will begin to establish what God calls the most important relationship. The relationship that He is jealous for. The relationship between God and yourself. Being a Christian is easy, being a disciple is hard. God tells us that Himself in John 6: 60-70:

Many Disciples Desert Jesus

60 Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” 61 Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them,“Does this offend you? 6Then what will you think if you see the Son of Man ascend to heaven again? 63 The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But some of you do not believe me.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and he knew who would betray him.) 65 Then he said,“That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.” 66 At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. 67 Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” 68 Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. 69 We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Then Jesus said, “I chose the twelve of you, but one is a devil.”

Jesus knew that even among His chosen 12, one would betray him. Yet God still allowed that relationship to be established. That relationship showed the power of God’s Grace and the frailty of the human spirit. When man tried to rely on himself, it accomplished two missions. It fulfilled the prophecy of the Old Testament about Jesus’ death and betrayal, and it cost God, His Son’s life. So if both, God and science, say that relationships are a fundamental human “need to belong”, why are we as Christians so afraid to speak about our God?

The secular world wants to drive a wedge between God and as many people as possible. This happens by promoting non-biblical teaching and by telling people their situation is not their fault. The secular world continues the lie, by telling people all they need is themselves… “You don’t need anyone or anything to thrive, all you need is to focus on yourself and your abilities”. The sad part of this is that the Christians are caving, and the secular world is winning.

Take a stand today, say “I am a Christian and I need God”. Tell the people you see in line at the supermarkets and bookstores… “I don’t need some self-help book, I have a God help book, it’s called the Bible”