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Saturday
Mar182017

Spirit and Truth

At a university conference on business, Fred Smith, a successful executive and editor, followed an engineer to the podium. The engineer, in his speech, had remarked, “ I am a scientist. I deal only with hard facts—things you can see and feel. ” When it was his turn to speak, Smith said, “ I don’t mean to be discourteous, but most of life is made up of soft facts. I respect hard facts, but when I take the long view, I notice that the rocks and the riverbank do not control the water that flows in the stream; the water forms the rocks and the bank. All matters of the spirit are soft, but they ultimately control. Armies, formulas, and scientific technology do not guarantee that a civilization will survive. That is up to other factors. The soft is just as factual as the hard, but more difficult to deal with. ” (Empowering Your Church through Creativity and Change, Marshall Shelley, General Editor.) [1]

In John 4:23-24, Jesus said, “True worshippers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit and they the worship him must worship him in Spirit and in truth.” Some say that truth and Spirit balance each other, but, a closer examination teases another thought to life. Both elements are not independent of each other, as though you could have truth without the Spirit and be formalistic; or you could have Spirit without the truth, and be fanatical. Since neither formalism nor fanaticism are good, then, so the thinking goes, it is preferable to have both of them as a counterbalance to each other.

Both hard facts and soft truths make up the structure of the church today. The hard facts of the oneness of the Godhead, of the deity of Jesus Christ, of the new birth experience, of holiness and separation from the world and the soon return of Christ all exist as non-negotiable tenets of faith for the church. Different in shape, less intense in practice, however, are the subtle truths that have a much softer feel to them. Christ’s words concerning worshipping the Father in Spirit and truth and the new birth immediately suggests the supernatural the Spirit of God moving in synchronization with the hard facts of truth, as in the Spirit baptism, the operation of the gifts, anointed preaching and teaching, inspiration in writing and singing, and the direct leadership of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.

 A study of the operation of the Spirit in the New Testament God directly guiding his church through the influence of soft truths. Healings, angelic visitations, earthquakes, powerful prayer services, conversions, anointed testimonies and sermons, wisdom, revelations of future events and the word of knowledge abound. One instance was clear instructions from God by means of the Spirit in the change of plans to go to Bithynia. They ended up in Troas in accordance with the Macedonian vision. These cannot be construed as hard facts. The only universal hard fact is that every born again believer must receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (John 3:1-8; Acts 2:1-4; 10:46; 19:5).

Look at John 3:8 in the NIV. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” In other words, no believer can base his or her experience or relationship to God on pure mental, cognitive processes. A personal, subjective relationship must exist between a person and God. The hard facts of gospel truths must work in tandem with the soft truths of spiritual manifestations. The hard facts of the gospel represent the skeletal structure of the church, but the soft truths of the Spirit functions like the soft tissue of the church. These two elements are not opposite but equal; they are totally interdependent, integrated, each vital to the other’s viability.

Jesus operated in soft truths that defined the way He conducted Himself and ordered His ministry. He and His disciples ate corn and healed on the Sabbath, He ate in the house of sinners, He allowed a woman to touch his feet and wash them with her hair, he conversed with the woman at the well, He touched dead corpses and healed the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter. These actions were condemned by the hardline Jewish hierarchy, but were in perfect congruency with the Spirit and intent of God. In fact, in His encounter with the Jewish leaders over eating corn, Jesus closes with an astounding statement. “And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27. To declare that the Sabbath was subservient to man, and not the other way around was a soft truth of the highest order.

The ultimate example comes to light in the exchange between Jesus and His disciples concerning His identity. Simon Peter expressed the hard fact when he said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” This forever established the absolute deity of Christ, and Jesus did not deny it, but applauded Simon Peter for his insight. This is where the soft truth comes in. Jesus did not say first to Peter, “You are correct. You know who I am.” His first words to Peter demonstrated that He fully recognized the method (soft truth) of the revelation before He responded to the substance (hard fact) of the revelation! “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 16:17. Finally, he said that the revelation of the deity of Christ was the rock upon which the church was built. This does not minimize the substance of Christ’s identity, but it does give great credence to the way it was revealed.

How important was this incident in the life of Peter? Remember when Peter saw the vision of the sheet being let down from heaven filled with all kinds of unclean animals? The door to the Gentiles swung open wide, not because of prophetic passages in the Old Testament foretelling it, but because Peter had learned to allow the Spirit of God to lead him. All the way to the household of Cornelius, Peter undoubtedly encountered resistance from his own brethren for the act he was about to engage in. “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.  And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.  For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,  Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?  And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” Acts 10:44-48. Still, the Jewish leaders balked. Even their “ringside seats” at the conversion of the Gentiles left them unconvinced. Later, the early church convened a general conference to fully vet out the controversy. Only then did they officially welcome the Gentiles, although racial and religious bigotry continued for a long time.

What excitement awaits the church in the twenty-first century as the soft truths of the Spirit of God moves, reveals, prompts, suggests and inspires the people of God? The hard facts will never change; the soft truths will continually change. They represent the focused will of God for the present time, place and person. If the infilling of the Spirit is a doctrinal necessity, shouldn’t the operation of that same Spirit become a functional necessity? We’ve only just begun!

 

Monday
Feb272017

Jesus Is My Everything

This is the final segment of the chapter on Your Cosmic Relationship.

While we have accented academic concerns of the cosmic relationship with Christ, most people are more interested in its personal aspects.  God did not simply create ideas or virtual realities.  He created us as feeling, sensate, flesh and blood individuals who thrive on relationships and interpersonal contact.  The very core of our existence relies on the union of male and female, not only as the method of reproduction, but also to give meaning to the quality and context of life.  Jesus showed His understanding of this fact.  While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him.   Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.”  But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”   And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”  Matthew 12:46-50.

Much of this is under assault today, as if we can re-program our DNA and deconstruct happiness.  This is not to say that relationships are perfect; indeed, few achieve that sublime status.  What we can say is that every relationship, plus God, can produce all the happiness and joy that a person could want.  Whatever your spouse, your friend or your neighbor lacks can be found in Christ.    A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.  Proverbs 18:24. Gospel writer Steve Richardson expressed this thought in lyrics in his song, Just to Walk with Him:

My steps had led me far away,

Sometimes I wondered why,

They had taken me down lonely roads

Beneath the darkened sky,

But every time I lost my way,

My Lord came to me,

He sought me out,

He took my hand and said He’d walk with me.

 

Through the valley of the shadow,

Or on soaring mountain height,

Jesus walks with me, and He lets me see,

His hand upon my life,

He is closer than a brother,

Closer than a friend could ever be,

And to think the God of heaven,

Takes the time to walk with me!!

 

Just to Walk with Him means everything to me,

Just to know He’s near, His hand is leading me,

Tho’ the world pass me by, go their way, let me be,

Just to Walk with Him Means everything to me.   

Throughout the Scriptures, God demonstrates His willingness to compensate for our lack.  A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, Is God in His holy habitation.  God sets the solitary in families; He brings out those who are bound into prosperity; But the rebellious dwell in a dry land.  O God, when You went out before Your people, When You marched through the wilderness, Selah Psalm 68:5-7.  As such, we will never be without anything we need.  The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”  Psalm 23:1. No greater comfort nor consolation exists than one finds in his or her relationship with Jesus Christ.  

The closer God comes to His people, and the more His people depend on Him, the more of Himself He reveals to them.   This progressive revelation keeps unfolding.  The children of Israel would know him by other names, names which would not replace any other name, but would keep adding to his first name of I AM THAT I AM.  Then the LORD said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh. For with a strong hand he will let them go, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.”  And God spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the LORD.  I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name LORD I was not known to them.  I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, in which they were strangers. Exodus 6:1-4.  Each designation showcases another facet of divinity: 

El Shaddai (Lord God Almighty)

El Elyon (The Most High God)

Adonai (Lord, Master)

Jehovah Nissi (The Lord My Banner)

Jehovah-Raah (The Lord My Shepherd)

Jehovah Rapha (The Lord That Heals)

Jehovah Shammah (The Lord Is There)

Jehovah Tsidkenu (The Lord Our Righteousness)

Jehovah Mekoddishkem (The Lord Who Sanctifies You)

Jehovah Jireh (The Lord Will Provide)

Jehovah Shalom (The Lord Is Peace)

Jehovah Sabaoth (The Lord of Hosts)

El Olam (The Everlasting God)

Elohim (God) 

The God that we serve cannot be deemed one-dimensional, boring or unimaginative.  He reveals Himself to us in countless ways.  Whatever your need is, whatever you’re facing, God will be whatever He needs to be in His revelation to you.  God understands the need of mankind to relate to Him on a personal level. He is the ultimate EVERYTHING God!

Thursday
Feb162017

Your Cosmic Relationship: Jesus as Everything

This is the first segment of the next chapter in “Hand in Hand: Deepening Your Relationship with Jesus Christ.” 

Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  He meant that when different parts are assimilated into a single entity, they deliver an effect that eclipses the simple addition of the parts.  Some have compared this concept to a wristwatch.  All the gears, works and pieces have nothing to do with time.  Put together, however, a greater impact called “time measurement” appears.  

We have looked at the separate parts of the believer’s relationship to Jesus Christ in the preceding chapters, but the greatest impact occurs when all parts combine into the outcome.  Think of it this way.  The human being cannot be defined as a collection of arms, legs, hair, skin and organs.   When each of these elements come together to form a complete person, something very different emerges.  Holistically speaking, life is more than leadership, prayer, social life, time management, etc.  While we may isolate and study different aspects of the relationship, they have no meaning on their own any more than body parts severed from the whole have functional utility. 

The act of believing propels one into a new and revolutionary dimension.  One or two definitive relationship cannot explain the combined, total impact.  Rather, the new birth encompasses all of life. Thus, Jesus is everything.  Therefore if any person is [engrafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17 (AMP). 

When we say Jesus is everything, we mean that He encompasses the believer’s every significant relationship, every meaningful role, every worthwhile endeavor and every motivating aspiration.  It is not enough to say that life would be meaningless without Jesus.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. John 1:3.  Simply stated, there is literally no existence without Him  He is the source and substance of life.  He is past, present and future; he is all things visible and invisible; He breathes life and meaning into everything from the tiniest cell to galaxies of outer space.  The Book of Job supplies the vestibule to this expansive concept. After Job and his friends spewed their questions about God out for all the world to see, God responded with this withering interrogation: 

Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?  “Or who shut in the sea with doors, When it burst forth and issued from the womb; Job 38:3-8.  

God continued with unanswerable questions that sent Job reeling.  Have you entered the springs of the sea? Or have you walked in search of the depths?  Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the doors of the shadow of death? Have you comprehended the breadth of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this. Where is the way to the dwelling of light? And darkness, where is its place? Job 38:16-19.  On their own, Job and his friends could neither capture nor comprehend the majesty of God’s existence. 

All Things Begin with God 

Led by the cadre of prodigious Greeks in the fifth century B. C., philosophers and scientists have attempted to analyze the world throughout the centuries.  They have used myths, mysticism and mathematics, along with philosophy and science in order to explain all things.  A. W. Tozer said, 

“The human mind requires an answer to the question concerning the origin and nature of things. The world as we find it must be accounted for in some way. Philosophers and scientists have sought to account for it, the one by speculation, the other by observation, and in their labors they have come upon many useful and inspiring facts. But they have not found the final Truth. That comes by revelation and illumination.”  (Man: The Dwelling Place of God.) 

This statement means that no eternal truth springs from the heart or mind of man.  Such a conclusion humbles man and exalts God.  Despite man’s most intelligent efforts, he will never bridge the gap between himself and divinity.  No matter how ingenious his thoughts, how elaborate his schemes, how convincing his arguments or how widespread the acceptance of his views, man will never encapsulate the essence of truth unless God inspires his thoughts.  The belief system that undergirds this argument is First Cause, which holds that everything that exists had to come from something else in existence.  Therefore, the only place to start is Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  

The past cannot go back forever, then; the universe must have a beginning. The next question is whether something caused this beginning, or whether the universe just popped into existence out of nothing. We all know, though, that nothing that begins to exist does so without a cause; nothing comes from nothing. For something to come into existence there must be something else that already exists that can bring it into existence. The fact that the universe began to exist therefore implies that something brought it into existence, that the universe has a Creator.  (Existence-of-God.com). 

Your relationship with Jesus Christ shapes your thoughts about the world.  It monitors your incoming ideas, alerting you to suspicious influences, whether they originate within your own mind or come from outside sources.  You cannot validate ideas that stem from personal opinion, speculation, free-wheeling thinking or worldly trends.   Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.  Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. James 1:17-18. Conclusions originating from any source other than God have no merit.  

The Christian Worldview 

All primary mathematics students are taught to reduce fractions to the lowest common denominator.  You divide both the numerator (top number) and the denominator (bottom number) by the numerator.   In the nomenclature, 18/36 = 1/2. As we discuss the Christian worldview, we also reduce everything to its lowest common denominator.  (There is a school of philosophy known as the “Lowest Common Denominator” view, and we do not espouse its principles.)  But as it applies to believers, our worldview may be fully expressed in our relationship to Jesus Christ.  He is our lowest common denominator. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “He [Jesus] who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.” 1 Timothy 6:15-16.  He expounded on this theme in context in his letter to the Colossians.  Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. Colossians 2:8-10.  

David Noebel writes, “A worldview is the framework from which we view reality and make sense of life and the world. ‘[It’s] any ideology, philosophy, theology, movement or religion that provides an overarching approach to understanding God, the world and man’s relations to God and the world.’” (David Noebel, Understanding the Times.)  The Christian worldview holds that our purpose in life is to love and worship the Lord Jesus Christ, incorporating His values into our lives.  This worldview permeates the whole of life and dictates the significance of every aspect of the human existence.  Birth, death, marriage, child-bearing, family, work, in short everything that makes us human, falls under the purview of the Christian faith.  Again, the Apostle Paul defines this perspective.   God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.  Acts 17:24-25.  If we believe and accept this truth, the consequences are profound. For in Him we live and move and have our being.’ Acts 17:28.  

We, therefore, cannot think of life apart from our relationship with God.  Many issues of modern life, like sexual orientation, abortion, stem cell research, bio-engineering, genetics, transgenderism, euthanasia, must be defined by the Scriptures.  Beyond those hot topics, our personal identity and humanness fall into the mix as well.  Why is it important to state these positions?  Because, the advance of popular philosophies that deny the Christian worldview and promote competing ideas has seduced many believers.  Thus, they seem oblivious to antithetical beliefs that they hold simultaneously.  For example, one cannot believe in the sanctity of human life and support abortion at the same time.  One cannot believe creationism and yet accept the conventional theory of evolution.  One cannot believe in the one God of the Bible and still agree with the pantheon of gods in world religions.  One cannot believe in the absolute truth of the Scriptures and embrace relativism or post-modernism.  Unfortunately, some have tried to blend these disparate views into a new kind of Christian position that holds onto the Bible with one hand and the world with the other.  It is an unworkable paradox that eventually destroys one’s faith.  The best answer for the Christian remains the reply given by the Hebrews in exile.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18.

Saturday
Jan282017

So, Just How Personal Is Your Savior?

We’ve heard it all our lives.  It rolls glibly off the tongue of the nominal Christian.  “Accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior.”  Of course, Apostolics understand that there is more to the new birth than a verbal assent to accept Christ.  Jesus told Nicodemus to be born of the water and the Spirit.  Peter preached the first sermon at the inauguration of the church in which he called for repentance, baptism in Jesus’ Name, and the infilling of the Holy Spirit.  (Acts 2:38)

But, let’s go back to the personal part.  This is the pill that gets stuck in the throat.  We can talk all day long and into the night about the idea of sin, the love of God for the sinner, the pain of Calvary and the efficacy of the blood of Jesus.  We can argue over soteriology, redemption, atonement, propitiation and the like, ad nauseam, yet, never feel the impact of opining on these very subjects.  My contention is that anything that is not personal is not real. 

Take the Kate Steinle case.   Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant and repeat felon from Mexico who’d been deported five times, is accused of shooting Steinle, a 32-year-old medical device sales rep, as she walked on a San Francisco pier. The shooting set off a heated, national debate over sanctuary cities, immigration policies, legislative proposals, illegal alien statistics, gun control laws, and endless rancorous arguments over ideas and concepts.  On and on it has gone, and nothing has been resolved as of this writing.  On January 17, 2017, a judge did deny a lawsuit against the city of San Francisco, saying it was not liable for Steinle’s death.  The magistrate did say that the parents could sue the federal government because the gun belong to a ranger in the employ of the United States.

But all this back-and-forth conversation does nothing to assuage the pain of Kate’s family.  For them, it is not a matter of statistics, or social policy or immigration laws.  People can engage in these discussions as much as they want, but at the end of the day, they can go home and forget about it.  It’s just talk.  There is no impact on their personal lives.  Things like this don’t become real until your personal life is blown to smithereens by a senseless act that everybody else yawns and dismisses as a matter for the daily log.

So it is with sin and salvation.  As long as sin is generic, as long as evil is theoretical, as long as guilt is hypothetical, then it’s not real.  If sin and salvation are not personal, they will never be fully appreciated.  If we can relegate salvation to far-away tragedy, at a distant time and place, by someone who is legendary but unknown, then it will never be real.  As long as the cross can be confined to the stale words of a memorized prayer, or the lyrics of a song, or the text of a sermon, or the seed thought of an article, then it will never be real.

How can it be real?  When you make it personal.  When you see that it was your sin that hammered the spikes into His hands and feet.  When you recognize that it was your transgressions—literally—that drove the spear into His side.  When you fully admit that it was your lying, cheating, stealing, fornication, abusive actions, pride, rebellion, greed, violence, slander, and so much more that crushed the life out of the Savior.  That’s when it becomes personal.  When it becomes personal, you will experience an epiphany, a revelatory moment, a soul awakening that will propel you into a dimension you never thought existed.

Isn’t it strange?  We want healing to be personal.  We want deliverance to be personal.  We want our daily interaction with Jesus to be personal.  We want Jesus to know what’s going on in our marriage, our family, our job, our church, our ministry, our friendships, our situations in life.  When we pray, we just want to say, “Lord, you know what I’m going through right now,” which means we want—we expect—Him to be personal with us.  Why, then, do we not really personalize our salvation?

If He is your Savior, make it personal.  See your sin there, on the cross.  Own it.  Claim it.  Confess it.  Spell it out.  See His blood covering your sin.  Hear your Savior speak your name.  See His eyes fully engage your gaze.  He’s more than a generic Savior.  He’s more than a theologian’s lesson on soteriology.  He’s your Savior.  He bore your sin. 

 

Friday
Jan272017

Jesus: Best Friend Forever

(This is the final segment in the chapter “Your Private Relationship: Jesus, Best Friend Forever.”) 

Discipline

Undisciplined persons lose control over their private lives.  In the company  of others, they may seem to have it together.  By themselves, however, they cannot force themselves to do anything, whether diet, exercise, study, pray or anything else that is done privately.  

First, failure to discipline yourself does not represent an inability to choose. No one has stripped from you the right to determine your own behavior. No self-discipline means you are making the wrong choice. Lying in bed when you should get up is simply choosing one behavior over another. Do not say to yourself, “I can’t get up.” Say, “I can get up but I choose to lay here in bed and accomplish nothing.” When you do not write the report that you should write, when you do not make the phone call you should make, when you do not exercise your body when you should, you exercise this same privilege of choice. Your choice of inaction means that you could just as easily have chosen to act. Telling yourself otherwise is self deception.  

Second, self discipline deserves loving, not loathing. It cuts out the fat that has glommed on to your soul. It releases the vibrancy of life locked up within your bones. It gathers up all the potential power wasting away in your being and sets it afire. Self discipline is a huge bolt cutter that chomps through the steel chains wrapped around your arms and legs, setting you free to do what you were created to do. It is an emancipator, not an executioner; a redeemer, not a captor. Self discipline can write the check for your costliest dreams. Until you see it as an ally, you will never fully submit to its demands.  

Finally, the unfortunate connotation about self discipline is that no one can help you. Not true. You need the input from friends, relatives, teachers, coaches, mentors and advisors, especially in the formative years, in order to remain securely engaged in self discipline. Blessed are those whose parents imposed strong discipline upon them as children. In my personal conviction, discipline is not something a parent does to a child; it is something a parent does for a child. The youth who emerges from childhood with self discipline firmly in hand is fortunate indeed.  

Think of the difference between a disciplined and an undisciplined life as the difference between a power grid crackling with thousands of volts of generated electricity versus a bolt of raw lightning flashing across the sky. The one is methodical, the other spectacular. The harnessed electricity in the grid, however, powers thousands of homes. The lightening creates a great commotion, and then it’s gone. Self discipline does not suppress, it compresses your effectiveness into a concentrated form.  

“In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves…self-discipline with all of them came first.” –Harry S. Truman

Thought Life 

Nothing is more private than our thoughts.  In the arena of the mind, we can roam wild and free, without restraint and without penalty from external powers.  Frank Crane’s nineteenth century classical musings about thought life in poetic verse still stir the imagination:

                Bend close! You will smell the lily fragrance of love, the stench of lust,

now odors as exquisite as the very spirit of violets,

and now such nauseous repulsions as words cannot tell.

         Nobilities, indecencies, heroic impulses, cowardly ravings,

good and bad, white and black — the mystery of mysteries,

the central island of nescience in a sea of science,

the dark spot in the lighted room of knowledge,

the unknown quantity, the X in the universal problem.  

Thought preceeds behavior.  Even expressions or acts that we label thoughtless, or that we chalk up to impulsive actions, follow patterns orchestrated by premeditation.  Unless we impose restrictions on our thoughts, we imperil our welfare, if not our lives.  Imagination, fantasy, speculation and virtual reality can create immoral scenarios in which we can engage in wrongdoing without actually commiting sin.  To indulge in these thoughts may be the threshhold to the real thing.   Indeed, many people sin vicariously  in their minds through the sins of others.  Though they are fully aware of God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them themselves but approve and applaud others who practice them. Romans 1:32 (AMP).  This possibility elicited this strong admonition in the Scripture: 

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. 2 Corinthians 10:4-6.  

Our thinking should be brought into alignment with the will of God.  But, can we control random, unwanted thoughts that sometimes invade our minds?  Can we really bring them into captivity? In a piece of homespun advice, my father used to say, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you don’t have to let them build a nest in your hair!”  If you can’t control stray thoughts, you can control whether you dwell on them or not. 

Conversely, good thoughts can lead to wholesome behavior.  If you form the habit of ruminating on positive themes, or on Scriptural truths, or on thoughts about God, you can reap actions that will edify and strengthen the world around you.  This was noted in Paul’s writings to the Philippians.  Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything Praise-worthy—meditate on these things. Philippians 4:8. The thoughts that dominate your mind become the platform for your life’s endeavors.    

Popular children’s book author, Frances Hodgson Burnett, included this pithy comment in her beloved, “The Secret Garden:” “One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts—just mere thoughts—are as powerful as electric batteries—as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison. To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live… surprising things can happen to any one who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place.”’Where you tend a rose, my lad, A thistle cannot grow.’”  

Authenticity 

To be authentic is to be honest, real and ingenuous.  But, before you consider this final aspect of your private life, remember that all  humans were born in sin and shapen in iniquity. (Psalm 51:5).  The fleshly existence of a born-again believer is not the real person.  Any attempt to establish authenticity on the basis of the flesh will be 180° out of phase.  For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Romans 8:6.  

We must place authenticity in the context of character.  In other words, don’t be phony.  The interesting story behind phony explains the meaning of the word.  It seems that nineteenth century English shysters pulled a common scam on gullible people.  They would pretend to have found a gold ring on the roadway, and then try sell it to an onlooker for a fraction of the cost, or so the con artist said.  The ring, called a fawney, was actually brass, and it was probably dropped by the faker himself.  A fawney (morphed into phony) came to be known as one who appeared to be one person, but was really someone very different.  Authentic people do not project themselves to be something they are not.  They eschew hypocrisy.  They respect themselves, they are sensitive to the sentiments of others, and they honor the overarching moral traditions that drive the culture.  These traits go beyond proscriptions against lying, cheating or stealing.  This pyramid sit on a much broader base.  Authenticity embraces the idea of truth itself, and genuflects at its shrine. 

Twenty-first century society has an authenticity crisis.  Psychologist Sherrie Campbell wrote, “In a society roiled-out on bling, cash, ego, nakedness and status we have lost our authenticity. We have lost morals and what it means to be ourselves. So many are caught up in following the crowd they have gotten lost in it. How can any type of true success come from being a follower? Followers are lost to their authenticity and are chasers of “status” and “wealth.”  Dr. Campbell continues on to cite ten qualities of authentic people.  They are:

  1. Self-reflective
  2. Healthy-ego
  3. Focus on possibilities
  4. Good character
  5. Visionary
  6. Listeners
  7. Transparent
  8. Open and consistent
  9. Team orientated
  10. Draw upon experience 

Campbell’s fourth point, “Good Character,” goes to the heart of authenticity:   

“You cannot be authentic without first possessing a strong sense of character. This means you do not say things you do not mean, promises are not made you cannot keep and you stay in a place of integrity in all of your dealings, in and out of work. The reason people trust you is because you keep your word, you are not emotionally labile and people sense they can trust you to be who you say you’re going to be with a sense of consistency.”  www.entrepreneur.com. 

These five elements: confession, transparency, discipline, thought life and authenticity, comprise a healthy private life.  The celebrated “right to privacy” may exist politically, but it doesn’t fly with God.  He knows what is in man, and He deals with us accordingly.  His omniscience perfects His judgment, and makes His pronouncements absolutely just. 

Monday
Jan232017

To the Protesters:

I hope you are patriotic, that you love this country, that you recognize its greatness in the pantheon of nations, and that you are grateful for its heroes.  I also hope that you support the constitution, that you respect its time-honored institutions, and you acknowledge its democratically elected officials. 

I respect your right to protest peacefully, and will do everything in my power to protect that right.  Your freedom of speech, freedom of the press, right to assemble and freedom of religion are as precious to me as they are to you.   

Here’s where I differ:   

Your freedom to dissent is not a right to interfere.  If it is, you implicitly give me the right to interfere whenever I dissent with an administration you like. 

Your right to protest is not a right to riot.  If it is, then I could have rioted when a previous administration was in power.  

Your disagreement with your government is not a warrant to disrupt governing.  If it is, I could have disrupted past governmental authorities.   

Your dislike of elected authorities does not mean you can threaten them or advocate violence against them.  If it does, then much havoc could have been launched against previous officials. 

Our currently elected president is an imperfect person, voted into office by millions of imperfect citizens.  I do not believe that the person who lost the election was a perfect person supported by millions of perfect citizens.  I may be dense, but I’m not delusional. 

I recall a slogan of the past, “Give peace a chance.”  Remember that?  You should. It was a John Lennon song.  Many of you who protest Trump sang it along with the Beatles.  Can you give Trump a chance?  This is his first day in office.  Maybe he will disappoint all of us.  Maybe he will do some stupid things.  But, maybe, he will make America great again.  You may actually like what he does.  Assuming, of course, that you want America to be great.  Assuming that you don’t hate the country.  Assuming that my opening paragraphs are true. 

I do want America to be great again.  A great America is not a menace to the world.  Whether Donald J. Trump can do it or not is beside the point.  I hope he can.  If not, I hope somebody can.

At the moment, though, Trump is what we’ve got.  Semper fi.

Sunday
Jan222017

First Impressions: The Trump Presidency

Just out of the starting blocks, President Trump has already created a furor of reactions to his style of governing.  One should not judge too soon, but I cannot help but have some reactions of my own.  We are going to witness a chief executive officer of this nation that is totally different from the mold of the past.  While he may respect traditions, he doesn’t seem to be bound by them.

Trump’s inaugural speech strongly indicated that he has a defiant attitude.  In the company of his predecessors, he roasted them with a rundown of the country’s problems.  The cameras panned their faces and put their obvious discomfort on display for the world to see.  Past winners of the POTUS’s seat might have shown deference to their distinguished audience.  Trump, however, stuck to the guns of his campaign rhetoric.  He thought the former occupants of the office did a bad job and he had the audacity to point it out.

But his speech also gave the vast crowd of supporters red meat of specific plans.  Pundits expected him to retreat into feints and vagaries, hedge on his promises, and  become “presidential.”  Not a chance.  He fooled everyone except those who knew him, or who, at least, read his book, “The Art of the Deal.”  Donald J. Trump doesn’t like to watch grass grow or paint dry.  He did not run for office as a politician, but as a wheeler-dealer, billionaire businessman who’s MO was getting things done.  As he said, the time for talk was over.  The time for action had arrived.  The jaws of the professionals may have dropped, but the jaws of the public spread in a grin from ear to ear.  It was fascinating to watch him pull the plug on the swamp and see the water start to spiral down the drain.

Even more instructive was sending out his press secretary, Sean Spicer, to rip the press for falsely saying that he had gotten rid of the MLK bust from the oval office, and for misrepresenting the size of the inaugural crowd.  Commentators railed on him for pettiness and launching into an inappropriate tantrum instead of dealing with substantive matters.  But they will learn that this is the Trump style.  When attacked, strike back even harder, and do it immediately.  He served notice on anyone who tries to unfairly hit on him that they will not be ignored.  He not only put the Trump way on display, he also was—in my opinion—making up for years of Republican trepidation and fear.  Few in the GOP have deigned to oppose the press, and voters have criticized them for caving in to Democrats on issue after issue.  When Trump thinks he’s right, the fight is on.

Is this the way a president should act?  Would it be better to have the POTUS fit the mold of decorum and protocol, but fail to move the country forward?  Or can we put up with a brash, rough-and-tumble, anti-politician who couldn’t care less about impressions, but who makes good on the very promises he made to the voters who elected him to office?  We shall see.  If President Trump can whip Washington into shape, if he can control the borders, if he can create millions of jobs, if he can engender respect in the world through strengthening the military, if the citizens of this country will be better off in 2021 than in 2017, then I wouldn’t mind seeing it happen. 

Finally, it was pointed out to me than the inauguration included more prayers than any swearing in ceremony in the nation’s history.  I also heard the name of Jesus mentioned more times in this inaugural event than I ever remembered in recent history.  This bodes well for the church.  Our Bishop, David K. Bernard, remarked recently that we have an open window of opportunity given to us.  May we take full advantage of this window and do everything we can to foster revival and growth while we can. 

“I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9:4-5. If Donald Trump can be an instrument in the hands of God, I pray that he succeeds. Let us pray to that end. 

Wednesday
Jan112017

The Second Level of Sonship

If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Hebrews 12:8 (NIV).

Warning: Many would consider what you are about to read heretical.  Read it before you make a judgment.

First, let’s level the playing field.  Generic Christianity believes that a simple, verbal confession of Christ saves you.   A shrinking number of Christians insist that a person must sincerely repent and be baptized to be saved.  Apostolics believe that salvation requires repentance, water baptism in Jesus’ Name, and the infilling of the Holy Spirit.  (Acts 2:38). The point is that everyone believes that something must happen to the thinking of any individual who wants to be saved.  This “something” brings a person into a brand-new relationship with God.  The most common word in the Scriptures used for this is “son,” or child.  (Gender-neutral). 

Our initial experience of faith qualifies us to be related to God.  It is a relational aspect resembling natural birth.  When a baby is born into the world, he or she is related to the parents.  The DNA of the parents infuses every cell of the new-born.  No one can dispute the fact that every person on the planet came from a specific set of parents.  This cements the blood relationship.  Spiritually, we must ask if this is the same in terms of our relationship to God.  Is there anything necessary beyond the new birth to qualify us as children of God?

Jewish custom answers these questions.  Although born into a Jewish family, sonship was not fully established at birth.  That’s why Paul wrote the Galatians and said, “Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” Galatians 4:1-5. The legitimately born child had the potential to ascend to a fully credentialed member of the family, but was expected to go through training and maturation before being granted that position.  The child’s status progressed from relational to positional. As a precursor to this idea, John said, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:  who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12-13.  Other Scriptures that expand on spiritual adoption deal with the same concept. (Romans 8:15, 24; 9:4; Ephesians 1:5).

To clarify, the new birth qualifies you to become a child of God.  It represents the first level of regeneration.  But, if you want to move into legitimate, full-blown Sonship, you must submit to discipline, chastening, rebuke and even tribulation to be adopted into the family.  Does this sound like heresy?  I thought so too, until I began thinking about it.  I reflected on the fact that multiplied millions of people claim Christianity as their faith, yet the vast majority have few, if any, earmarks of true Christianity.  Why is that?  Even in local congregations, a sizable number of attendees populate the rolls, but a much smaller percentage of them get involved in the church.  It appears that many people get their spiritual DNA, but fail to progress to Sonship.  In the political realm, just because you sign a petition doesn’t mean you are ready to become an activist for the cause.

If this assessment is not true, then why did the writer to the Hebrews bother with the discourse on discipline and chastening?  What would be the benefit of such a passionate exposition on an aspect of living for God that was totally unnecessary?  If I can have a relationship with Christ and forego the stress and discomfort of tests and trials, then why would I expose myself to those rigors?

New Testament writers expressed this sentiment so strongly that it could easily be interpreted as thematic.  Over and over, believers are challenged to contend, fight, endure, improve, struggle and advance in their devotion to God.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians, Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV) 

The litmus test for sonship, however, comes down to submission.  The believer who resents rebuke, who will not accept correction, who refuses to lay down his or her own will and take up the will of God, and who resists the light yoke of the Lordship of Christ cannot advance to sonship.  They de-legitimize their spiritual birth.  The rationale for this conclusion comes across as brutally logical.  Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:9-11 (NIV). 

This discourse leads us to a final question, a concern that many readers may have about this article.  Does failure to be disciplined disqualify one from salvation?  Perhaps not.  I would never throw God’s grace into question.  At the same time, however, the church will never triumph in a hostile world unless true warriors who are dedicated to the max emerge.  I do not believe that God calls us to mediocrity.  I do not believe that it is God’s will for us to be “Christians-in-name-only.”  Let us re-dedicate ourselves to “become the sons of God,” and grow up to our full potential in Christ.  Like my Dad used to say, “If you just get your foot in the door, don’t be surprised if someone stomps on your toes!”