Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Not So Even Exchange

If you think about it, most of us, get baptized and receive His spirit, then we begin to give Him OUR own righteousness, rather than walking in His. Ours is less than worthless--in fact, it's putrid. The Bible tells us that "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6, KJV). Isn't is enough that He took our sin and replaced it with His righteousness, and now the gift we offer back to Him is "filthy rags"? The original language of the Bible doesn't clean it up so nicely--it bluntly says, menstruous rags or garments of menstruation, in Hebrew, of course. We all know that can be pretty gross with modern products, but imagine strips of cloth (washed in the Jordan, and bleach...aghhhh). But, even that isn't the whole story. Understand that menstruation in that time, for the Israelites, produced uncleanness. Just having a menstrual period meant that a woman could not be with the general public--or her family for that time, and until the priest declared her clean again, after washing in the ceremonial baths reserved for that purpose. It was treated the same as leprosy, etc. Remember the woman with the issue of blood, that Jesus healed--it was her bold faith to press into that crowd and touch Jesus that impressed Him--because she could have been stoned to death for that act. (Leviticus 15:19; Luke 8:43-48).

I think as Christians, sometimes we really don't get it. We sing it, we preach it and teach it, and we certainly talk about it, but when the chips are down, our lives depict something totally different--and our words begin to tell another story, too.

When Christ went to Calvary, what He made possible for us is so much greater than what most people think. It's really mind-blowing. When we are "saved" this is what happens: we GIVE Him our sin--not sins, but sin; in turn, He GIVES us HIS righteousness. That is why I say it isn't exactly an even exchange--but He wants it this way--and we definitely got the long end of the stick, in this blessed deal!

How is it that we give Jesus our "filthy rags"? If we walk in His righteousness, we live by GRACE, alone. Grace governs our lives--not laws, or rules, but grace. Grace keeps us from sin--His grace. It isn't by a rehearsal of laws and rules that we can be saved, because "if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law." [Galatians 3:21b, ESV]. The Law of Moses must be kept in perspective. It was temporary, while faith was before and after the Law--it was the covenant that God established with Abraham long before the Law (some 430 years) and it supercedes the Law. Once faith came, we no longer had to live by the Law--which was temporary--to keep us, only until Jesus. In fact, when we live by the Law, or laws and rules, we do away with the power of the cross.  That is just filthy rags.

None of this has anything to do with us--it's ALL about Him, and His ability, His will and His decision to save mankind. He did everything, for us. All we do is give Him back the righteousness that He gave us--anything else is unacceptable, and frankly, inexcusable. 

How do we walk in grace? LOVE. Jesus told us: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Love destroys sin. Sin is powerless against it. How can you love God so completely and sin against Him? And how can you love your neighbor as if he were in your very own skin and sin against him, knowing the pain or trouble that will be inflicted? That's grace summed up, and it encompasses the Law, only it doesn't require us to keep the Law without providing us with the power to do it--now we have the righteousness of God given to us, via the cross at Calvary (and that precious shed blood of Jesus Christ!). What more could He give??? If you're still questioning whether that's all there is to it, Paul reiterated it twice. In Romans 13:8,9 and again in Galatians 5:14. What a glorious exchange!!!        #simplegrace

Grace works!   

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Lot Syndrome

Greed permeates our culture—not only outside the church, but within it. Somehow, we have found ways to justify it, “scripturally”. There are movements among the Body of Christ that have a mantra which speaks to our desire for more. One catch phrase of these groups is: “You possess what you confess”.  In other words, what we speak, we have. If we desire more money, a bigger home, a better car, or wardrobe—career, etc. it belongs to us, all courtesy of our words. We embody that power in our tongues. And, it sounds good, too. Scriptures such as “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” [Proverbs 18:21] and others are used to rationalize the theory that God wants us to have whatever we desire, right now, in this life—that’s the Lot Syndrome. It’s “green grass” all over again. It’s not seeing the forest for the trees.

It is a trap and it is an easy deception that the adversary has used rather skillfully against God’s people. Many of us have not had advantages of education, careers and the comforts of life so we now are finding ways to justify and rationalize greed, scripturally. There is nothing wrong with hard work, and there is nothing inherently wrong, with having nice things—even the finer things in life, but there is something wrong with having them, before meeting the basic needs of our brothers and sisters. Instead, we use these mantras and twisted scriptures to blame them for the fault that belongs at our feet. Real Kingdom living, is not having whatever you want, it is investing back into the Kingdom—and into people that God calls so that they can invest in others, and so on, so that the Kingdom can continue to grow. It isn’t, nor has it ever been accumulating vast amounts of wealth for one’s self. That was never God’s plan—He always made provisions for everyone—including “the poor, the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger among you”. God’s command to provide for the disenfranchised was always without strings, “bootstraps” and expectations but simply a command to give because He has blessed you with the ability to give.

God never promised any of us that we could have whatever we desire, unconditionally. The problem that we are confronting today is a lack of scriptural context. The other problem that we have is a lack of understanding of the origins of the current doctrine of the “Name It, Claim It Movement”. For those who believe its foundations are scriptural, they are not; its foundations are medieval, and skillfully woven by satan who watched and waited for opportunities to trap the apple of God’s eye—and we fell (and continue to fall) for his tactics hook, line and sinker, because they appeal to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye—and the pride of life. It works, and it is easy. It works well on people, who have come through the ravages of slavery, Reconstruction, the Depression, and more recently a sagging economy, and a fiscal crisis. With a twinkle in our eyes, we grasp eagerly at the magic of an incantation that will get us whatever we want.

Some years ago, I read two Christian novels by author Frank Peretti, Piercing the Darkness and This Present Darkness. When I read them, I thought that they were powerful; but I also had the mistaken idea that it could never happen in the African American church—that somehow, we would see through that trick and not be so gullible. I was dead wrong. We have actually been the most susceptible to the trick for the above reasons. In America, because African Americans have (for the most part) been the race who has lagged behind economically for centuries, we were most at risk for the deception. We were the ones who had the greatest desire to acquire more, simply because we never had it—our insight into the “good life” was limited to the images on television until the 1960’s, in general. And, it was right around that time, that the Word of Faith Movement began to explode on the scene in America—it had been there, but into the early 70’s it became more prominent. And, it appealed to us, with promises of health, wealth and prosperity. Still, the deadly plan was conceived long before that time, and here is a timetable to depict that:

Emanuel Swedenborg: “Grandfather of New Thought”
Belief in God as a mystical force, the human mind has the capacity to control the physical world, works-based salvation scheme—ideas that later became core doctrines of New Thought
Scientist and inventor. Born in Sweden; relocated to Holland in 1770 after his doctrines were condemned by the Royal Council. Later he emigrated to England.
Phineas Quimby: “Father of New Thought”
Theory that the mind possesses the ability to create and influence. “If I believe I am sick, I am sick, for my feelings are my sickness, and my sickness is my belief, and my belief is my mind. Therefore, all disease is in the mind or belief.”
Clockmaker. Born in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Moved to Belfast, Maine and had an office in Portland where he practiced his healing arts.
Warren Felt Evans

Student & patient of Quimby. Prolific writer of New Thought material. He wrote: Mental Cure, Mental Medicine and Soul and Body . He was known as "the recording angel of metaphysics".
Born in Rockingham, Vermont. Writer and founder of a mind-cure sanitarium in Salisbury, Massachusetts
Ralph Waldo Trine: “Evangelist of New Thought”
Rejects the uniqueness of Scripture by claiming that Buddha’s writings were duly inspired. Trine advocated theological pluralism, (Jesus Christ is not the only way to salvation, and every religion is the same; further all organized religions possess the truth and one must find unity in the “Infinite”). Trine focuses on the moral teachings of Jesus Christ rather on the work and person of Jesus Christ and the cross—he rejects the cross and the Gospel as archaic  and irrelevant. For Trine, peace with God and higher knowledge are obtained by tapping in to universal laws and becoming conscious of of man’s oneness with the Father.
Born in Northern Illinois, Trine became involved with metaphysics after marrying and relocating to New York. He wrote more than a dozen books and became a leader and visionary in the New Thought Movement, eventually settling in Claremont, California with his wife, Grace, a poet. 
Mary Baker Eddy
Founded the First Church of Christ (or Christian Science) and published the Christian Science Monitor. Eddy started the Massachusetts Metaphysical College, in Boston. She was also a Quimby patient and shared his view that disease is rooted in a mental cause, but differed theistically.
Born in Bow, New Hampshire. Taught over 800 students in Boston her theory that God never meant for humans to employ medicine, medical intervention or hygiene. Her case being that Jesus never used them.
Charles Emerson
Founded Emerson College after attending Boston University’s School of Oratory where New Thought flourished  and many of the leading proponents both attended and taught. There he studied Delsarte and Swedenborg. Emerson was a minister in the Unitarian church. 
Born in Vermont, and raised as a Congregationalist, he began preaching in the Congregationalist church at 19, then later in the Unitarian church at Chelsea Massachusetts while attending the Boston School of Oratory and studying under his mentor, Lewis B. Monroe.
Charles Fillmore
In 1889, he started the publication, Modern Thought. Later he founded Unity Church and organization with his wife, Myrtle and they became the first ministers in the metaphysical church. Fillmore believed himself to be the reincarnation of Paul of Tarsus. He authored several books, including: Atom-Smashing Power of Mind, The Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, Prosperity, and The Twelve Powers of Man.
Born in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and having very little formal education, Fillmore was intrigued by mysticism at an early age and read many books on spiritualism, Eastern religions, and metaphysics. Later, he moved his family to Kansas City, Missouri, and he and his wife New Thought classes taught by Dr. E.B. Weeks.
Wallace D. Wattles
“Whatever may be said in praise of poverty, the fact remains that it is not possible to live a really complete or successful life unless one is rich”. Wattles wrote The Science of Getting Rich after studying various New Thought writers and formulating his “monistic theory of the cosmos”. Wattles practiced and taught creative visualization in which one uses his or her imagination to visualize specific behaviors or events (desired) occurring in one's life.
Born in Illinois, and lived in Indiana and Tennessee, in addition to authoring two books Wattles made an attempt at political office running on a Socialist Party ticket, in Indiana.
E. W. Kenyon: “The Father of the Prosperity Gospel”
1867- 1948
Kenyon was an evangelist, pastor and founder of Bethel Bible Institute in Spencer Massachusetts. Kenyon is the link between New Thought and today’s Word of Faith Movement. Kenyon combined New Thought philosophy with what was then contemporary theology and the Prosperity Movement was birthed. Although Kenyon’s writings reveal a level of critique against new Thought philosophy, they also demonstrate that, consciously or not, he incorporated New Thought teachings into his theological system. This is evidenced by Kenyon’s advocacy of positive confession theology, his deficient view of the atonement, and his elevation of human beings as well as his explicit teachings on health and wealth”.  D. R. McConnell, A Different Gospel: A Historical and Biblical Analysis of the Modern Faith Movement (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988, p. 45).
Born in Hadley, New York, Kenyon attended the Boston School of Oratory where New Thought was predominate.
“What I confess, I possess”.
John Kennington, who knew Kenyon stated that he recognized the strong similarities between New Thought (New Age) teaching and Kenyon’s teaching, and also stated that Kenyon admitted his leaning toward the philosophy. (McConnell, A Different Gospel, p. 25). 
Norman Vincent Peale
The Power of Positive Thinking; Guide to Confident Living were among the books written by Dr. Peale. Peale had no problem admitting his New Thought influence.  His books were widely read by mainstream Christians. Chapters such as:  Believe in Yourself, Expect the Best and Get It, Inflow of New Thoughts Can Make You, How to Draw Upon that Higher Power, How to Achieve a Calm Center of Your Life, How to Think Your Way to Success, and Change Your Thoughts and You Change Everything  reveal his New Thought philosophy on life.
Born in Bowersville, Ohio, Peale was the pastor of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, a Dutch Reformed Church (Calvinistic).
Kennneth Hagin: “Evangelist of the Prosperity Gospel”
Hagin mixed Kenyon’s teachings with Scripture to make his revelations acceptable to the church; the danger lies in the authority assumed by leaders within the movement. Because of their special and personal revelations they become immune to criticism to those who might be skeptical or have questions. In his book How to Write Your Own Ticket with God, Hagin claims that Jesus’ appeared to him with the message: “Say it. Do it. Receive it. Tell it.” He reported various incidents of encounters with Jesus, as well as dying and seeing the horrors of hell, in 1933. He was so immersed in the teachings of E.W. Kenyon that he was accused of plagiarizing his writings. Hagin believed that Jesus wasn’t unique in His designation as God incarnate: stating, “Every man who has been born again is an incarnation and Christianity is a miracle. The believer is as much an incarnation as was Jesus of Nazareth”.
Born in McKinney, Texas; moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1966. Evangelist, pastor. 
Founded Rhema Bible Training Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Rhema Correspondence Bible School; Word of Faith magazine; established the RHEMA Prayer and Healing Center  and Kenneth E. Hagin Ministries.

By the standards of the current Prosperity Movement, those listed among the most faithful in the 11th chapter of Hebrews would be faithless--with so much suffering. Peter's very elect saints by today's standards, would be condemned as unbelieving, being oppressed, enslaved, and often tortured, too. How different is today's gospel, in contrast!
It isn't a new "revelation"--just post-biblical (and anti-biblical), nor is it godly

1 John 2 King James Version (KJV)

1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.
Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.
He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.
10 He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.
11 But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.
12 I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake.
13 I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.
14 I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
20 But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.
21 I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.
22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.
23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.
24 Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.
25 And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.
26 These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.
27 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.
28 And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.
29 If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.

Friday, February 27, 2015

I Wish Above All Things...

"The elder unto the wellbeloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.
Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth."    [3 John 1,2 KJV]

This portion of Scripture--at least, the second verse is one of the most recited, "named and claimed" verses in the entire Bible, today, mistakenly. It seems to be lost on most of us, that it is a simple greeting between friends and not a declaration from God that we are to have the best of everything--wealth and health. This verse has become the mantra of the Prosperity Movement, sadly.

In actuality, this isn't God saying anything to us--or about us. We are merely getting a glimpse into John's love for his friend, as we read the salutation at the beginning of his letter to Gaius, who has been so faithful in Christian service. The second verse, is relatively unimportant to this chapter and this letter (in comparison to the body)--just as the salutation and conclusion of any letter would be. It is the body of the letter that is most important and telling--the body is the main point. In the body of the letter (verses 5-12), John writes to Gaius about the supreme thing (first)--love.
John spends a lot of time writing about love. In fact, it is said of John, that he, in his very advanced age, would be carried in among the saints saying only, "Little children, love one another". Love is first and it is the key that unlocks everything; not prosperity--not even health--in fact; not even faith (Galatians 5:6; 1 Corinthians 13:8-13). John made it the priority in his letter to Gaius, too. He commends Gaius for his love, service, hospitality to the people of God and to strangers. This meant a great deal to John--hearing of Gaius' faithfulness to others blessed him; hence the very warm greeting!

The second part of the body is dedicated to matters not so pleasant, in nature; specifically, Diotrephes. There is always a Diotrephes in the mix. Diotrephes was one who loved and sought attention. He wanted to be noticed--to be upfront. The recognition that comes from God wasn't enough--he wanted celebrity and glory from men. He had to be first--like the Pharisee's Jesus berated who always sought the upper seats in the temple and the place of honor at events (Matthew 23:6). That was Diotrephes. The apostles taught often against such behavior. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12, "...on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another." Not only did Diotrephes love attention, but he sowed discord. He despised authority, slandered the brethren and blocked those who wanted to do righteously--not self-righteously. Diotrephes made himself an enmity of the Kingdom of God--with a vengeance.

The final part of the body of John's letter was dedicated to Demetrius. Demetrius was the exact opposite of Diotrephes. Demetrius deserved to be mentioned by John, because he had a good report. He served faithfully, like Gaius--and John backed that up with a "Kudos" of his own. He spoke up to Gaius, on Demetrius' behalf, as we all should do. It's a great example, by John. We should be willing to give praise where it is due--it is a part of showing love to the Body of Christ. Acknowledge good works, and kindnesses shown. It really matters.

Finally, John concludes his letter--he ends with "peace" to Gaius. I never hear that in a declaration of the Prosperity Movement--I guess peace isn't high on the list of priorities.

Give me peace, any day.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Gideon, the Human

"The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, 'The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.'
'Pardon me, my lord,' Gideon replied, 'but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
The Lord turned to him and said, 'Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?'
'Pardon me, my lord,' Gideon replied, 'but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.'
The Lord answered, 'I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.'
Gideon replied, 'If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.'
And the Lord said, 'I will wait until you return.'" [Judges 6:11-18, NIV]

     I love to read about Gideon.
     Every time I think about his life, it excites me--I see the awesome power of God--imbedded in Gideon's doubts and fears. A lot of times, we are under the (mistaken) impression that our fears and doubts hinder God's ability to work in our lives; but clearly we can see from Gideon's life as a  "mighty man of valor" (KJV) that isn't so. God doesn't need our ability, or our superhuman strength and faith to use us. He simply wants us to be willing. He does the rest. In fact, to think that God needs our faith is somewhat egotistical. God doesn't need anything from us. He wants us. We need Him. In fact, any faith that we "possess", came from Him, we don't muster it up or create it in our ourselves, but Paul writes in Romans 12 "For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith." [NASB]

     When I read this passage in Judges, I see the character of God at work, in spite of our doubts, fears, idiosyncrasies, faults and shortcomings. I see God's power to move, even in a mere human. Gideon was made of the same flesh, as you and I. It would be easy to forget that as we read the great exploits, but most of us (if we're honest) can identify with Gideon shaking in his sandals, hiding out in the winepress trying to thresh wheat.
Ancient Winepress
If you have taken the time to find out anything about the difference between a winepress and a threshing floor, then you will know that what Gideon was doing was no small task--but he was driven to it, because of his extreme fear of the oppressive Midianites.

Threshing floor

     The Midianites were a destructive bunch. They did damage for the sheer fun of it--they would take the food and crops of the Israelites, not to enjoy themselves, but simply to destroy and watch them suffer. While Gideon was about this very difficult work of trying to save some wheat for his family, God appears to him, in the form of an Angel. The first thing God does is speak to Gideon's identity. He calls this fear-filled, bitter man "mighty man of valor" or "mighty warrior" (NIV). You see, God does not see as man sees. He has the divine ability to see us in the framework of eternity. Our very finite minds cannot fathom what God sees-- although, thankfully, from time to time, we get a glimpse of glory!
     On this day, Gideon saw no glory, only the drudgery and constant oppression that he witnessed and lived daily. And, he voiced his resentment--so much for not questioning God. Gideon goes so far as to accuse God of abandoning Israel. We have all wondered where God was (even if we didn't have the guts to accuse Him, like Gideon!) in the midst of hard trials, when we felt as if we were alone. Just as God was with Gideon, preparing him for something great (in the winepress), He also prepares us for great things in the place of pressure, and adversity.

     Gideon's doubt doesn't shake God. His identity crisis, doesn't move Him; nor does Gideon's sarcasm, bitterness, accusation or even the need for a sign. God patiently and kindly bears Gideon and his issues, until he is ready for the task at hand. And even, when he steps into his assignment, at first, he takes some fear with him. Gideon's first exploit was under cover of night for fear of his own people. The idols had to go. They were the reason Israel was in this predicament; not because God had forgotten them. They had forgotten God. But, Gideon knew they (the Israelites) would kill anyone who interfered with their idol worship, so he gathered his men together at night and destroyed the altar of Baal, and cut down the Asherah pole. 

     It's not hard to move when you have total confidence. It's much more difficult to act when you have doubts and fears--but how God-honoring is it, when you act in spite of them? I'm reminded of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah who said to King Nebuchadnezzar, "we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." [Daniel 3:16-18, NIV]. I'm also thinking of Hadassah (Esther), saying, "And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish." [Esther 4:16, NASB]. Then, I remember the disciples as Jesus giving them final instructions after He was resurrected: "they worshipped Him, but some doubted". Yet, just as with Gideon, Christ continues with the plan: "And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 'Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'"

     And, He is still with us, in spite, go.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why I Pray the Way I Do

I was just thinking about prayer and many might think I spend a minute time praying for myself and those around comparison to what I spend most of my time praying for, that is probably accurate. I stand guilty as charged.

I personally feel as if I and those around me are so blessed that my prayers could be put to better use, elsewhere. I spend the majority of my time praying for people I don't know--have never seen, and probably never will, at least in this life. However, I look forward to hearing the stories of the miracles and help that God provided to them, when we all see Jesus, as a result of my prayers and the prayers of countless others. It excites me to know that one day I will get to hear how miraculously food was provided in a village that previously had none, and they heard the Word of God, and believed as a result of the miracle which gave them the faith to recognize that He, alone Is God. I look forward to the stories of Boko Haram, the Taliban, ISIS, and Al Qaeda falling into utter confusion because of the prayers of a few, and having their efforts against Christians thwarted.
 And, even more stories from Christians in underground churches in China, about secret police who came to Christ, or Indian Christians living in a hostile environment finding a reprieve from the constant oppression.
I can't wait.

I think these people need my prayers a lot more than the people I see on a daily basis, who have the ability to worship freely, and have food, clothing and shelter. I don't know of anyone in prison because of the Name of Jesus. In fact, most, if not all of us, have more than enough.

I do think it's important to pray for those in leadership--the Bible tells us to. We need them to make wise decisions, and to execute justice without partiality, so they need our prayers.

Sometimes, things we are praying for God to handle, we forget that are His Hands and Feet in the world. While we are praying for our brother or sister nearby to be blessed with enough to feed and clothe their family, when we have more than enough, we're failing to see that we are the answer to the prayer. God has already supplied the need, we have to be willing to get involved in His plan.

There are some emotional and spiritual struggles that all of us have in our lives that I pray for, but I have to admit, I don't spend much time focused on "us", even for that, because we don't have nearly as much to contend with as 2/3 of the world's population.
The oppressed of the world
win my attention and prayers, hands down--they have much bigger battles to fight, daily, and greater decisions to make. How many times have you had to choose between your child and Jesus???

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls." [1 Peter 1:3-9, NIV]

Friday, January 16, 2015

Forgiveness: An Act of Love

There really is no true love without forgiveness. After all, the ultimate love was shown to all mankind in the forgiveness of sins, by death at Calvary. We see, very clearly, the role of the Forgiver as He grants forgiveness to sinners and those of us (all of us) in need of repentance. As we come to Him in repentance with hearts filled with contrition, seeking and asking for forgiveness, He freely grants it. It is His desire to give us the keys to the Kingdom.

Our human relationships resemble (or at least they should), the divine model. Not only the Forgiver, but the seeker. Our tendency is to focus all of the responsibility on the forgiver--the person who has been wronged. We place this great burden on one party to forgive, but not much is required of the person who committed the sin/fault. That is so opposite of Jesus' teaching.

In Luke 17, Jesus teaches on forgiveness: "And Yeshua said to his disciples, 'It is not possible that offenses shall not come, but woe to him by whose hand they shall come. It were better for him if the millstone of a donkey were hung on his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he would stumble one of these little ones. Guard your souls. If your brother should sin, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day and seven times in the day returns to you and says, 'I am sorry', forgive him.'

And The Apostles said to Our Lord, 'Increase our faith.' He said to them, 'If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you may say to this sycamore tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea', and it would obey you.'"

In Matthew 5, Jesus teaches how we must approach Him when we have caused a breach in a relationship with a brother or sister. "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift."  [Leave there thy gift before the altar,.... This might easily be done, and the business soon dispatched, at some seasons; particularly, at their public feasts, as the passover, pentecost, and feast of tabernacles, when all the Israelites were together:
and go thy way; make what haste thou canst,
first be reconciled to thy brother: use all means to reconcile him; acknowledge the offence; ask his pardon; assure him that thou wishest well to him, and not ill;
and then come and offer thy gift, by putting it on the altar, before which it was left. This shows, that acts of love and friendship are preferable to sacrifices; and that sacrifices offered up in wrath, and whilst unreconciled to others, are unacceptable to God, and of no avail: and so much the Jews themselves seem to acknowledge; when they say (e):
"that transgressions, which are between a man and God, the day of atonement expiates; the transgressions which are between a man and his neighbour, the day of atonement does not expiate, , "until he hath reconciled his neighbour."''
Which is enlarged upon, and explained by Maimonides (f), after this manner:
"the day of atonement does not expiate any transgressions, but those that are between a man and God, as when one eats anything that is forbidden, and lies with anything that is forbidden, or the like; but transgressions which are between a man and his neighbour, as he that hurts his neighbour, or curses his neighbour, or steals from him, and the like, are never forgiven, until he has given his neighbour what he owed him, and has "reconciled" him; yea, though he has returned to him the money he owed him, he ought to "reconcile" him, and desire him to forgive him; yea, even though "he has only provoked him by words", (which is the very case in the text before us,) , "he ought to reconcile him", and to meet him until he forgives him: if his neighbour will not forgive, he must bring with him three of his friends, and meet him, and entreat him; and if he will not be reconciled by them, he must bring them a second, and a third time.''
So that he was to use all means to obtain a reconciliation.
(e) Misn. Yoma, c. 8. sect. 9. (f) Hilchot Teshuba, c. 2. sect. 9. Vid. T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 87. 1. Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible]

Forgiveness has two very distinct sides. The debt of responsibility in forgiveness does not belong solely to the forgiver but to the one in need of forgiveness. When one needs forgiveness, it is of utmost importance to ask for it; it is an act of contrition, setting aside pride. It shows the person offended, that there is an awareness that harm was done. That simple acknowledgement and laying aside pride goes far in healing and repairing not only the relationship, but the hurt experienced by offended person. Sincere, heartfelt apologies seem to come hard to so many, today. Perhaps, because true repentance is lacking. That is perhaps why the disciples exclaimed at the end of Jesus' discourse in Luke 17, "Lord, Increase our faith." Our hearts must come to a place of repentance--changed from hearts of stone to fleshy hearts that will acknowledge our sins and faults against others, so that we are moved to change the behavior and ASK for forgiveness for the sin against them. It is sin to "sweep it under the [proverbial] rug". Moreover, it goes against the grain of love.

Love seeks healing and reconciliation, even at the expense of one's own pride.

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails." [1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV]