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Monday
Apr242017

Seeing the Big Picture

“For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him?” 1 Corinthians 2:16 (KJV) 

We live in the Visual Age.  If we can’t take a picture or a video of it, it’s like it doesn’t exist or never happened.  Cell phone cameras have sent picture-taking to the stratosphere in the last few years.  Experts estimate that over one trillion photos will be taken this year, dwarfing previous records set by old technologies of Polaroid and plastic film.  New uses of pictures feature “selfies,” composite photography, and identification photos that can scan crowds of people and pick out faces.  Video clips have brought giant corporations like United Airlines and American Airlines to their knees.  It is not unusual for people to store ten to fifteen thousand pictures on their phones.  Many upload their pictures to the internet where thousands more view them.  The new phrase is “it’s gone viral!”  One still picture has been viewed more than a billion times! 

In recent years, genius minds started to speculate about what they could do with the countless images orbiting in the cyber universe.  One group programmed an internet robot to cull millions of pictures of Notre Dame cathedral from cyberspace and compiled them into an incredibly detailed rendition of the famed edifice.  No tourist or architect could photograph the whole building, but, when combined with thousands of others, the results were stunning. 

We often complain about spiritually myopic people who so are obsessed with their own lives that they can’t see the big picture.  The truth is that all of us suffer from the same condition.  Some may see a little more than others, and some may have a different perspective, but none of us can grasp the picture that God sees.   No one knows the mind of the Lord, and we surely can’t teach Him anything.  (1 Corinthians 2:16).  All of us see life through our own lens.  The zoom, wide-angle and pixel capabilities may vary from person to person, but we still operate within our personal limitations.  

So, here is the concept that every one of us must understand.  The big picture is made up of millions of little snapshots taken by people like you and me, and compiled into one overarching view.  The redeeming quality about each individual view is that when we join it with that of a brother or a sister, we inch our way closer to the big picture.  Never get discouraged by feeling that you are insignificant.  Never discount the contribution you are making to the whole.  “But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.” 1 Corinthians 12:20-22 (NKJV).  An independent, arrogant spirit not only exalts self, but it also minimizes the work that others do.  It is a huge mistake to pull away from the body and become isolated.  Such people often think they see the big picture, but they only see life from a restricted view.  

All of us have seen famous pictures, like the World Trade Center on fire, or the marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima, or the legendary kiss of a sailor and a nurse when we won World War II.  One picture can impact a nation or a generation.  Saint of God, Sunday School teacher, praise team member, choir member, usher, greeter, home Bible study teacher, van driver, prison chaplain, tithe-payer, custodian—whatever you do, keep snapping your individual pictures.  Leave the rating up to God.  He alone will judge where to put your picture.  Fifteen times, the Apostle Paul uses the word “salute” in the sixteenth chapter of Romans.  Most of those salutations were for people unknown to us, but they were not insignificant.  They must have been extremely valuable to the success of the early church.  One of these days, all the pictures will be compiled into one, grand picture!  The only way to be a part of the big picture is to take your own little picture.  It may register as a much bigger picture than you could have ever imagined!

Friday
Apr142017

Your Relation Relationship

(This is the next segment of the chapter on Relation Relationship in the book Hand-in-Hand: Deepening Your Relationship with Jesus Christ.)

Marriage and Divorce 

Through marriage, God created more than a utilitarian means for reproduction.  Deep and complex needs for humans—as opposed to the rest of the animal kingdom—required trust, stability, commitment and love both for the marriage partners and for their offspring.  Marriage satisfies these human needs.  At the outset, divorce was never in the picture.  Jesus said, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” Matthew 19:8-9. 

It is impossible to calculate the enormity of damage that today’s skyrocketing divorce rates have inflicted on marriage as an institution and the families who have suffered its ravages.  Scholars researching divorce agree that, while the participating parties may feel free and unencumbered, the effect on society has been negative overall.   

“The divorce of parents, even if it is amicable, tears apart the fundamental unit of American society. Today, according to the Federal Reserve Board’s 1995 Survey of Consumer Finance, only 42 percent of children aged 14 to 18 live in a “first marriage” family—an intact two-parent married family. It should be no surprise to find that divorce is having such profound effects on society.”  Patrick Fagan and Robert Rector, The Heritage Foundation.  www.heritage.org. 

While the FRB no longer tracks these details, nothing suggests that the trend has reversed.  In fact, current data collection differs so significantly from previous decades that some conclusions are skewed.  For example, divorce rates seem to be in decline, but this doesn’t reflect the higher number of couples who have opted out of marriage for cohabitation.  No statistics exist that show how many of those arrangments fail each year, although some say that couples who live together before marriage are fifty to eighty percent more likely to divorce.  (focusonthefamily.com).    

Modern opinions about divorce posit that people just “fall out of love,” or that they simply grow apart.  Extreme cases of battering and abuse need to be addressed, but Christians should never accept the premise that divorce is normal or inevitable.  Divorce represents a failure of basic Christian principles like love, kindness, respect and forgiveness.  Dyfunctional marriages  invariably point to dysfunctional people.  Believers who strive to improve their discipleship find ways to work through and overcome potential marriage-ending conflicts.  A strong relationship with Christ by husband and wife will manifest itself in a secure marriage.  The wise man wrote: “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies.  The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain.  She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.”  Proverbs 31:10-12.   

Christians view marriage as sacred.  As a decree from God and integral to their core values, they do not take any threat to their marital vows lightly.  When their relationship runs into trouble, they are willing subject themselves to a complete analysis of the breakdown.  Marriage is not separate from, but a vital part of their Christianity.  

Honor Your Parents 

Small children need their parents for sustenance, discipline and protection.  They outgrow these needs as they mature and they strive to become independent.  This transition can become problematic the closer children get to adulthood.  If it is not handled carefully, it can lead to conflict and lingering bitterness.  God knew that such feelings could destroy the family unit, so He gave this command to the nation of Israel: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12. 

The word honor has interesting connotations.  The literal meaning is “to be heavy.”  With regard to the relationship between a child and a parent, the sense is to make weighty, to consider important or to hold in high esteem. This creates a bond between the two generations that holds them together even after children become fully functioning adults without any real need to depend on their parents for the necessities of life.  This command remains in force regardless of the quality of the relationship.  Even though children do not love their parents, or their parents did not raise them with wisdom or prudence, they must still honor their mother and father for bringing them into the world and providing for their basic needs while growing up.   

Honoring one’s parents has two prongs: things one should do and things one should not do.  An adult child should show concern for parents’ welfare, especially during times of illness or weakening strength.  Communication, consultation, providing assistance when needed and staying responsive are all on the list.  By the same token, children should not abandon their parents, as it were, and virtually act as though they were ophans.  Neither should they talk disrepectfully to them or demean them in any way.  As was mentioned earlier, caring for the family name belongs to each succeeding generation.  Honoring one’s parents means to refuse to bring reproach on the reputation of the family, whether my actions or deeds.   

Finally, Tim Challies, author and blogger, points out one more way that children—especially adult children—can honor their parents:  

“We can best honor our parents by forgiving our parents. And this is actually possible, for we serve and imitate a forgiving Savior. In the Bible we see Jesus’s willingness to forgive the ones who had wounded him. In the very moment the nails were driven into his flesh, he cried out “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Standing at the foot of the cross and considering such a Savior, who are we to withhold forgiveness from our parents? We honor our parents by extending grace and forgiveness to them.”  -www.challies.com 

Care for Siblings 

The relationship between brothers and sisters dominates the pages of both the scriptures and of secular literature. The protocols for this relationship lie deeply imbedded in the holy writings, in culture, in legal documents, in social customs, in family traditions and in the actual give-and-take of life situations. Love, hatred, loyalty, betrayal, treachery, devotion, fighting, tenderness—all these elements and many more characterize filial bonds. Even more, the concept of brotherhood and sisterhood transcends genetic ties and holds a general meaning for associations between people who share in the same cause or class. Yet, for all this, the dynamics of the sibling linkage remains largely mysterious. We would all add great richness to our lives if we developed a more complete understanding of what it means to be a brother or a sister. 

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9.  This is one of the intriguing stories of famous brothers and sisters of the Bible which include Cain and Abel, Jacob and his twelve brothers, Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Rachael and Leah, Moses, Aaron and Miriam, Hophni and Phineas, Absolom, Amnon and Tamar, Peter and Andrew, Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and my personal favorites, Huz and Buz (Genesis 22:21 ). The Bible has certain protocols by which we are to treat brothers or family members. (Deuteronomy 15:1-3, 11; 24:10.)  

Sibling rivalry basically stems from competition for limited or scarce resources among brother and sisters. In the natural habitat, siblings usually compete for food and will fight with each other until one of them manages to kill or drive the other out. The triumphant individual wins the exclusive use of the food resources available in that area. That this is indeed the case can be seen by simply looking at most families’ photo albums. Looking through these albums, one can see that there are usually many pictures of the birth and first year of their first-born child. For the second child, there are fewer pictures. And, from the third child on, one may have a hard time finding pictures of them in the album.  It’s as if they didn’t even exist!  

The role of a sibling is much more than most of us make it. Several important factors make this obvious. A finite number people in the entire world share the same parents. Blood relationship binds brothers and sisters together beyond any bond they have with others. While marriage changes the dynamics of that relationship in many important ways, marriage doesn’t destroy genetics, loyalty to parents and shared experiences of childhood. These precious elements of closeness will never be duplicated and must not be lost.  

As they grow older, many siblings do not communicate very well with each other, beyond superficialities. “Opening up to each other” means exposure, vulnerability and revealing hidden thoughts. That can be dangerous. Siblings can be too guarded, too sensitive and too obstinate with each other. Perhaps it’s because they continue to play out the petty conflicts they had growing up. In many cases, they still compete with each other, only instead of racing or wrestling, they compete with cars, homes, possessions, bank accounts, education, etc. Some still rival each other for the attention and favor of their parents. Old jealousies, spats and attempts to irritate each other stay alive. Adults siblings should accept that those days are over and they are no longer rivals.  

Carol, my eldest sister died suddenly on March 26, 2007 . I did not know it at the time, but her loss deeply affected me. I had many things that I wanted to and should have shared with her, but I just didn’t. I blamed it on the distance or my busyness, but the fact is that I wasted all the opportunities. I filled up my time with things that were way down on the priority list. Now that Carol’s death has taken her from this life, denying the enjoyment of a living relationship with her, the lost treasure of her life seems infinitely more pronounced to me.  

Past events tend to mold and shape present relationships. Interpersonal dynamics can be shaped by many things (e.g. words, acts, attitudes). Present behavior follows templates established long ago. Siblings may instinctively put up their guard around each other for these reasons. Instead of sharing their thoughts, they suppress them because of fear, rejection or ridicule. Tragically, suppressed feelings create unnecessary pain and forfeit potential fulfillment that ought to be experienced in the familial relationship. 

Brothers and sisters who fail to express love or approval for each other cause great emotional damage. This is actually a cruel form of manipulation. Here’s how it happens: Subconsciously, one of them acts in a way that says, “You must earn my love or approval. Giving it to you, however, may make you stop doing what I want you to do. Therefore, I will never give it to you.” Withholding love and approval force a sibling to keep working for it. Withholding love and approval may lead siblings to believe they are unloved and unworthy. This can develop painful emotions and creates baggage for life. How bad can it get? Heinous crimes or suicides often result from a sense of being unloved or unworthy.  

Many brothers and sisters use physical distance between their places of residence to bury unpleasant feelings and live a relatively stress-free life. It may insulate them against further hurt, but it is just managing or coping, not resolving. We shrink our souls into small boxes that leave out much of the beauty of life. These defense mechanisms really short-change our happiness and impoverish our lives. If siblings treat each other in such a way that they can’t be open and honest with each other, or if they are superficial or silent with each other, then they have cost themselves the benefit and beauty of having a brother or a sister.

Friday
Mar312017

Your Relation Relationship: Jesus as Family

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

The old proverb, “blood is thicker than water,” speaks to the idea that family relationships are stronger and more important than friendships.  While there are exceptions, this view holds true in most cases.  The biological ties between persons related by blood—parent/child, sibling/sibling or extended family relationships—call for loyalty and honor that eclipses all other bonds.  Anyone who is in a serious and committed relationship with Jesus Christ will honor his or her family.   

God’s creation of Adam an Eve as a married couple, and their command to be fruitful and multiply, serves as a model for the family structure.  Out of this construct, we can discern the general purpose of the family and get an idea of how it was to operate.  Paul expounds.  Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 1 Corinthians 11:2-3.  The relationship between family members became highly significant in terms of the social order and civilization.  This order provided the basis of law, government and society. 

Family studies, of course, covers an immense field, so we must limit our scope to the effect that Jesus has on our biological family.  How does one’s relationship with Christ impinge upon his or her treatment of family?  Modern views of this basic building block of society have shaken the foundations.  Divorce, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, feminism, abortion and other radical shifts in the family structure and reproductive issues call for a reexamination of Biblical values.   Ten areas of concern deserve our scrutiny. 

Importance of Family Name 

Onomastics, or the study of names, occupies a strategic place in our understanding of history, geography and anthropology.  Origins of nations, tribes and ethnic groupings, as well as individual family trees derive from the study of names.  Today, onomastics has become a vast and complex field of study.  

“This year, more than 120 million babies will be born on earth. Those who survive will sooner or later undergo the initiation process of receiving a name. At one time anthropologists thought that some groups of people were so “primitive” and unorganized that they didn’t use names. We now know that the anthropologists were mistaken and that the idea came about because research fieldworkers were not able to get inside the minds of the people well enough to understand the customs and taboos that required that names be kept secret from strangers (Feldman). The truth is that names are a part of every culture and that they are of enormous importance both to the people who receive names and to the societies that give them.” H. Edward Deluzain. www.behindthename.com. 

Reverence for names may be found throughout the Bible.  God, Himself, set the standard in the third commandment, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God in vain. Exodus 20:7.  In the Old Testament, the giving and receiving of a name was central to a person’s status.  While each person was given a unique first name, he or she also inherited a surname or family name.  The first name was used among close associates, but the surname indicated the family, clan, tribe or nation to which one belonged.  When Abraham’s servant went to find a bride for Isaac, he met Rebecca and asked her,  “Whose daughter are you? Tell me, please, is there room in your father’s house for us to lodge?”  So she said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, Milcah’s son, whom she bore to Nahor.” Genesis 24:23-24. She identified herself by Bethuel because, in those days, the last name was expressed in terms of the father’s name.  Since surnames identified entire groups, they carried with them the reputation and honor of the name in question.  By her name alone, Eliezer knew much about this maid who served his camels. 

The Abrahamic Covenant incorporated Abraham’s name as part of the promise.  I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. Genesis 12:2.  A thorough treatment of this vast subject would take many pages, so let us summarize by saying that the family name was to be held in high esteem, inviolable and above reproach.  Each member of a family was charged with honoring the name that he or she bore.  This curse was pronounced upon those who provoked the Lord.  Behold, My servants shall sing for joy of heart, But you shall cry for sorrow of heart, And wail for grief of spirit. You shall leave your name as a curse to My chosen; For the Lord GOD will slay you, And call His servants by another name. Isaiah 65:14-15. Also, the wise man of Proverbs said,  “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” Proverbs 22:1.  Implicit in these pronouncements is the decree to honor one’s family name. 

Providing for One’s Family 

Committed Christian parents place the welfare of their family above their own lives.  The New Testament issues a scathing rebuke for those who neglect their families. But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8.  Child abandonment, failure to care for one’s children or thrusting the obligation of parenting onto others amounts to a grievous sin in the eyes of God.  Particularly egregious is catering to selfish pleasures when one’s own children have not had their basic needs met.  Mothers and fathers have a duty to attend to their children’s needs first before taking care of themselves.   

Modern families at or below the poverty level have become accustomed to state agencies stepping in to take care of children.  The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services operates a program called The Child Care and Development Fund which “provides assistance to low-income families who need child care due to work, work-related training and/or attending school.”  Nearly every state has federally-funded Head Start programs.  Other states assist with Child Care and Adult Food Program, Social Services Block Grant, Special Improvement Project, Transitional Living Program for Homeless Youth, along with many county and municipality programs.   

These programs have benefitted many children in poverty, but they have also been abused and defrauded in many cases, not only by welfare recipients, but by the employees of the agencies themselves.  In the bigger picture, one wonders how many parents have turned their children’s care over to the government while pursuing their own selfish pleasures.  Christian parents, even if they must access these programs in desperate situations, should do everything in their power to meet their family needs by honest work.  In the end, the children’s welfare is not the state’s responsibility, but the parents. 

Duties of Husbands and Wives 

No human relationship is more symbolic of Christ and His Church than marriage.  All the elements necessary to a a good relationship—love, commitment, faithfulness, communication—are best illustrated in the union between husband and wife.  It is no mystery, then, that marriage partners who have a healthy relationship with God most likely have a solid marriage.  But the Bible does not leave the concept of marriage to the abstract.  Concrete rules to reduce the terms of marriage into nuts and bolts appear throughout Scripture. 

Husbands are to love their wives, provide for them, treat them with gentleness and kindness, and show them the respect they deserve.  The Apostle Paul clearly equates the role of the husband with the relationship Christ has with His church.  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church … So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church … This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.  Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself.”  Ephesians 5:25-33.  These guidelines go beyond mere civility or male attitudes.  The Scriptures set forth marriage as a model of oneness and companionship.  The special creation of Eve specifically highlights this role.  (Genesis 2:20-24). 

The Bible instructs wives to submit to their husband’s leadership, treat him with respect and be obedient to his commands.  While this language seems sexist and out of place in modern society, it was never meant to be followed in a totalitarian or dictatorial way.  Paul includes this disclaimer.  Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Colossians 3:18.  When a husband is submitted to Christ, the wife has comfort in submitting to her husband.  By her submission, she is showing her submission to Christ.  If her husband is not a spiritual man, she should still submit to him insofar as it is pleasing to God.  Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.  For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands,  as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror. 1 Peter 3:1-6. 

Finally, with regard to intimacy in marriage, the Scriptures are not silent.   Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.  Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.  Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 1 Corinthians 7:2-5.  When a married couple conscientiously follows these admonitions, the relationship can flourish and become strong. 

(More to come).

Wednesday
Mar292017

Don’t Call Them Sanctuary Cities

Here’s another beautiful word that’s going to an early grave, like “gay,” “choice,” “Miss,” “waitress” and “mankind.”  My church background makes the abuse of the term “sanctuary” especially infuriating.  Early fourteenth century culture spawned the word sanctuary, meaning “a building set aside for a holy purpose,” or “a sacred place.”  Later, the term came to mean a safe place or a refuge.  Historically, many churches have offered their buildings as a haven for persecuted people.  Some church leaders even extended their offer of safety to criminals who were wanted by law enforcement officers.  Yet, I would venture to say that even these leaders would not sit by and allow protected felons to go on a killing spree within the confines of the church grounds.  A sanctuary unsafe for everyone is safe for no one.

A house of worship was called a sanctuary, and still carries that same meaning today.  Architects label the auditorium of a church building as “the sanctuary.” To fill a sanctuary with law-breakers perverts and subverts its holy purpose.  Calling such cities that refuse to honor the law of the land “sanctuary cities” is linguistic corruption of the highest order.  Even worse are those elected officials in such cities who train their citizens how to resist and break the law.  As a federal taxpayer, I should not be forced to support such cities through federal funds and grants. 

I can think of scores of alternative terms that would more accurately describe these cities.  “Prison camp, jail house, prosecution-free zone, lawless enclave, high-risk area, anarchy paradise, rebel territory, constitution-free municipality and anything-goes city.”  Let me say that as an ambassador of the church, I am interested in the soul of each person, whether documented or undocumented.  As a citizen of the country, I am interested in all persons abiding by the law.  Anyone who experiences a genuine conversion should be willing and eager to obey the law.

I suppose my ranting will fall on deaf ears.  That makes me wonder if we will still use the term “sanctuary” in its proper sense.  Some down-home folks just called it “the church house.”  Not too fancy, but it may be all we have left.    

 

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.