Through Jesus Christ our Lord

Some churches end congregational prayers with, “Through Jesus Christ our Lord.” While that’s more-or-less Scriptural, I wonder whose Lord He really is. Can I make that prayer more specific by saying, “Through Jesus Christ my Lord?”

What does His lordship mean to me? What does it mean to you? For Jesus to be our Lord, we must obey Him, not only when it’s convenient, or easy, or when we agree with His commands. Jesus said in John 14:15  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” That’s simple cause-and-effect, like a stone tossed into the air and falling back to earth. It will happen with no exceptions.

He also said in John 15:9-12  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (10)  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (11)  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (12)  This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

So, Jesus’ lordship is all about love: His love for you and me, and our love for Him—evidenced by our love for one another, regardless what they’ve done to us. If there’s any question about what that special kind of love looks like, we need to revisit St. Paul’s definition of godly love:

1 Corinthians 13:4-7  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  (5)  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  (6)  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  (7)  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I could turn each statement of that passage into a personal question, but I think that is something each of us must do as a devotional exercise, and not just once, then forgetting about it. We must question each action, especially those involving others, according to God’s standard, and never be satisfied with the results until we see perfect conformity. Of course, that means we’ll never be satisfied, which is just and right, considering who is our Mentor.

Please don’t be daunted in your pursuit of God’s perfect love. As St. Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 3:13, As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. And in Galatians 6:9,  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

By those Scriptural standards, is Jesus Christ my Lord? Is He your Lord? If you’re not sure, go to God in prayer right now to sincerely confess your failures, ask His forgiveness, and commit yourself to Christ’s lordship. Your life will become His, and His life will become yours, forever.

Cogs, Big or Small

Bro. Big Cog

Which is better, a big cog in a small wheel, or a small cog in a big wheel? When I was a kid I was lucky enough to have a dad who brought surplus military hardware home from his Navy civil service job. One device was a precision instrument of some kind, and its large gears had the smallest cogs I’d ever seen. Each cog didn’t have to be all that strong because there were a lot of them, and they ran so smoothly that there was hardly any vibration or backlash.

Now imagine that same machine with big gear teeth; its movement would be anything but smooth and its precision would be laughable. Which type of “gears” would make a machine, church, or any organization, function better?

I currently fellowship with a large church that has a well-developed staff and volunteer force. The pastor wisely and efficiently delegates many responsibilities to Spirit-filled, capable people who carry them out with all diligence. It is a joy to behold.

Somehow my church manages to cull out most of those who would be big cogs, or the self-important members that seek power over others who are trying to serve God with their gifts and talents. Everyone is just another brother or sister, with no big I’s or little You’s. Yes, there is a Scriptural hierarchy based on years of selfless service and spiritual maturity, but they are seen as in no way superior to the most lowly members of the body. I present this positive example of a correctly functioning congregation in the hope that anyone who reads this will compare their fellowship with this ideal.

Do I agree with everything those in authority decide to do? Of course not. Anyone who expects their church to conform to their expectations is—excuse the expression—a fool, who would become a big cog, refusing to mesh with the body of believers. That is the sin of vain pride, which is the foundation for all presumption and abuses of authority, and is the sin that got Lucifer ejected from the heavenly assembly.

I sincerely hope that you do not see yourself as “better” than anyone, whether big, or small, cogs. God doesn’t expect us to be humble; He demands it (2 Samuel 22:28; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Philippians 2:3; Colossians 3:12James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:5).


How Tempting!

Patricia Gras begins her program by asking, “Are there universal laws to reach wealth and success? Do you ever wonder why some people succeed no matter what they do, while others fail miserably?” According to Sherry Buffington PhD, author of The Law of Abundance, life’s all about luxury, balance and happiness.

What interests me is not her Laws of Energy, which govern everything, or the subconscious mind, both of which, she claims, are underrated. What fascinates me is her definition of life’s purpose, and the order in which she states its elements.

First, life is all about luxury, which Noah Webster defined as, “A free indulgence in costly food, dress, furniture, or anything expensive which gratifies the appetites or tastes.” I’m afraid old Noah missed the deeper implications of pursuing luxury; while it indeed gratifies the appetites or tastes, it appeals to the fleshly pride of, “I’m a Have, and you’re a Have Not.” The New Testament speaks eloquently to pursuing luxury:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. (1 John 2:15-16)

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1Ti 6:9-10)

Abundance, according to the good doctor, is also about balance. Yet, pursuing a life of luxury is anything but balanced, as life is about so much more than luxurious living, as evidenced by all the happy folks who live at a subsistence level, and all the affluent folks who have dysfunctional lives.

And regarding happiness, Jesus spoke powerfully on the subject:

Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:2-12)

Jesus aptly began His beatitudes with, “the poor in spirit.” That doesn’t mean spiritual poverty, but just the opposite, Spiritual Abundance! It means being content in whatever state God allows in your life. Three Scripture passages contribute directly to that thought:

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: (Philippians 4:11)

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Dr. Buffington obviously speaks from the context of fleshly, temporal values, which means we Christ-followers must not subscribe to the “Prosperity Gospel” that so many false teachers push upon us. Let us not follow a, “different gospel,” as Apostle Paul condemns so heartily:

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)

Remember, people are watching your life, and your values, whether Biblical or worldly, serve as a guide for those seeking God’s truth. You and I are letters from God, more to be believed than any televangelist. So make sure you’re life is preaching God’s gospel, and not man’s.

I’m a Tweaker

Seems I can’t leave anything well enough alone. Sometimes I improve stuff, but other times I just complicate things.

Today I actually managed to improve my computer’s audio output, a problem I’d been wrestling with since my friend gave it to me. Oh, it functioned perfectly, except for the minor issue of lousy sound. And after months of tweaking the settings I, out of desperation, uninstalled a program called Realtek High Definition Audio. As a result, my BOSE multimedia speakers now sound like a room-full of stereo equipment.

This time tweaking worked, but how often do we try fixing things that ain’t broke, only to mess them up but good? As an example of such “fixing,” consider Christianity. Apostle James got down to basics when he wrote:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27)

“Yeah, that’s fine in principle,” I hear someone thinking, “but it doesn’t work in today’s complex, media-glutted world.”

Maybe you should talk about today’s complex, media-glutted church. A simple example of such unnecessary complication is the guitar, organ or piano that plays behind our preacher while he draws his message to a close. Are they trying to pluck our heart-strings by plucking their guitar strings? Our preacher is a true man of God who enters the pulpit thoroughly prayed up; you know that’s true because of the convicting and redemptive impact his words have on the congregation. Why, then, does he need musical accompaniment?

Yes, that’s nitpicky, but it’s just a small example of our attempts to deliver the gospel more effectively, of trying to help God’s Holy Spirit do His work of convincing His church to obey just a few Scriptural principles and mandates.

When will we take God seriously, and raise our hands in surrender, rather than in liturgical praise choruses that are forgotten when we climb into our cars and head over to Costco for some last-minute shopping. God loves the praises of His people … His holy people.

Through the Perp’s Eyes

While watching a murder mystery on Netflix (yes, I watched a secular TV program), I thought of how predictable such police dramas really are. The detective’s investigation presents certain telling facts to him, or her, as in the case of Miss. Marple, that the audience only knows about because of a change in the music track’s tone. At the climactic expose, the brilliant detective gathers everyone involved in the mystery and dramatically reveals everyone’s motives for committing the crime and all his clues until he points his finger at the perpetrator, who usually makes a silly attempt at escaping.

I wondered what sort of drama would unfold if the whole story were spun through the perp’s eyes. We would witness his disadvantaged childhood and his falling in with the wrong crowd, or the heinous act that drove him to murder. We would watch him plan the perfect murder, and applaud him for trying not to hurt any bystanders. We’d follow the insensitive detective’s investigation draw ever nearer to the poor, misunderstood murderer, hoping against hope that he would somehow escape. And if the program were executed well enough, we might even draw a tear or two when our hero is captured and sentenced to death.

As the prophet Nathan told King David, “Thou art the man!” The world doesn’t call us criminals because we sin, but we’re exactly that in God’s eyes. He sees the murder in our hearts when we hate another, or the inner adultery when we lust after that attractive someone, or our secret idolatry when we envy what doesn’t belong to us. Yet, even though we may be aware of those sins, we excuse them because, “I had good reason for that,” or, “I didn’t do anything really wrong.”

Apostle John tells us, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1) First comes conviction of sin, understanding that you are not perfect and are, in fact, a depraved sinner. Second comes heart-felt confession, which includes repentance. Then comes forgiveness and renewed innocence, leading to a changed life.

Quit looking at your life, “through the perp’s eyes,” and see yourself through the Judge’s eyes. It’ll pay eternal benefits.

No Coincidence

I’ve felt a bit down of late, to the extent that I’ve asked God to take me home. I would like to say that such feelings aren’t self-pity, as I hate that dynamic because it denies denies God. Trouble is, I can’t say that, so I suffer shame in addition to my depression, steering me toward the vicious maelstrom that would suck me into emotion’s depths.

The enemy of our souls is often our emotions’ lord, manipulating them, and thus our will, away from godliness and the edification that it holds for us. God, however, never abandons his own to Satan’s wiles, but through “coincidences,” buoys us up when we most need it.

Today’s “coincidence” took the form of Crosswalk dot com’s daily feed, Streams in the Desert. Here’s the portion that ministered to me:

Have you asked to be made like your Lord? Have you longed for the fruit of the Spirit, and have you prayed for sweetness and gentleness and love? Then fear not the stormy tempest that is at this moment sweeping through your life. A blessing is in the storm, and there will be the rich fruitage in the “afterward.”
–Henry Ward Beecher 

That’s the sort of “coincidence” that makes me love my Savior God ever more deeply. I’m confident that He has some wonderful purpose for allowing my bouts with depression to continue. When all is revealed I will marvel at His supernatural wisdom and love toward me, and spend eternity thanking and praising Him for it.

Where Is Your Closest Idol?

An idol is anything you place between yourself and God. It’s something to which you pray and offer sacrifices. The Bible speaks of idols manufactured of wood, stone, silver and gold, but it doesn’t limit them to those materials. Idols can be of flesh and blood. Instead of the dumb idols of heathen religions, we hold idols such as money, possessions, property, vocations, recreation, power, and even loved ones, if we place a higher priority on them than on God. But possessing idols doesn’t stop there; if we spend more time primping before our mirrors than offering our heartfelt praise and petitions to the only living God, we have an idol. If the TV demands more of our time than ministering to our families, or helping others in need, we have an idol. The same could be said of gaming, shopping, or even working. If that is the case we may just have idols.

How can we pray and offer sacrifices to all those things? If we gain gratification from them in exchange for time offered to them, they may be our idols.

Please don’t think I’m trying to guilt trip you. I’m not suggesting that you have to live as a monk, constantly praying and reading your Bible. Not at all! I’m simply urging you to keep worldly pursuits and spiritual pursuits in balance. For instance, after a day’s work in the New Life Center thrift store … my sore feet prove it … I looked forward to just vegging with Netflix, but after watching one program I felt led to read today’s Our Daily Bread, which suggested this topic.

Am I “Saint James” for doing that? Hardly! I simply enjoyed a moment’s lucidity, motivated, I’m sure, by God’s Holy Spirit. He wanted to speak to me through the devotional which, in turn, motivated me to write this piece, preaching to myself all the while. I don’t know how to type with fingers pointed back at myself, but I’m trying (figuratively).

Don’t think that praying and offering sacrifices to yourself is always positive. I well know that engaging in negative self-talk, instead of asking God for positive change, can be a prayer of sorts. I also know that flagellating yourself emotionally can produce a perverse sort of self-gratification. I know because I spent many years doing just that, even after I offered my life to God through Jesus. Nothing can be a greater joy-kill than negative self-talk.

Our most devastating idols are the ones closest to us, because they make seeing beyond them well nigh impossible. Please, pray for God to open your eyes to all the idols in your life, then ask Him to give you the grace to strike them down. Only then will you gain power over them. God worked through prayer in the Old Testament, and He can work for you now.

This World Is Not My Home …

… I’m just a passin’ through.

I love the old country gospel songs, even the twang that goes with them. I thought of this one at Walmart this afternoon, when I couldn’t bring myself to leave my trash in the shopping cart after using it.

You may wonder why that’s such a big thang. Man, I was tempted most fiercely to do it. I mean, the afternoon sun was hot and I was sweating bullets already; I didn’t need that walk over to the garbage can with a few pieces of plastic wrap. They have “associates” who need the job security, don’t they?

If you’re wondering what plastic wrap in a shopping cart has to do with that old gospel song, I’ll tell you with a question. If you were visiting someone, would you leave your garbage in their car, or on their couch or table? Would you leave it laying around at church? Only if you were an absolute clod would you do that.

What is this world to you? If it were your own home you could fill it with waist-deep trash and nobody could say a thing, though what others would think of you is another story. But it’s not your home. According to God’s Word you and I are only sojourners:

2 Corinthians 5:6-9 ESV (6) So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, (7) for we walk by faith, not by sight. (8) Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (9) So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

Assuming you were a Christ-professing clod showing disrespect of others’ homes or your workplace, or even your local Walmart, what would that say about your Savior? Say, you pick up a product here, find a better buy over there, and just leave your first choice where you picked up the second. Why, that’s great! You’ve just ensured someone’s job security, but please keep your mouth shut about your faith while doing it.

Better yet, think carefully about what you do, whether or not it glorifies your Savior. Even in private, think about what you do, as what you do in private tells who, and whose, you really are.

Lord, Make Me a Francis

Randy Kilgore recounted the touching story of his last meeting with his friend, mentor and father in the faith, Francis Allen. I encourage you to click the link and read it, if you haven’t already done so.

Though I never met Francis Allen, I think of him as a model of Christ-likeness in his willingness to exhort others, to “round off some rough edges” of those he loved in Christ. But first, I must allow God to use a “Francis” to round off my rough edges.

I think a more apt image of myself, and any Christian-in-the-rough, would be that of a natural diamond, freshly dug from the earth. After having the mud washed away, it appears as a garden variety, crystalline stone. Only when the gem cutter makes the first, tentative cuts will its potential beauty and value appear. Along with that, however, will appear many imperfections deep within. The cutter will study the rough diamond to discover the true gem hidden there.

Finally, after much careful deliberation, he will firmly clamp the rough stone, line up a laser or a diamond saw (comprised of many microscopic diamond chips), and begin the laborious process of cutting away all of its impurities. When the cutter finishes the first cuts, he will examine the stone even more carefully, visualizing the final, multifaceted gem still hidden within the glittering stone.

The cut stone must still endure the grinding and polishing wheels that will form the facets necessary for the finished gem to most brilliantly reflect the light shined upon it. This is the most exacting aspect of the gem-cutter’s trade, for any error will ruin the stone, requiring the cutter to create a smaller, less valuable gem.

I’m sure you can appreciate the spiritual applications of the gem cutting process. Each step has an equivalent in our spiritual growth. My question is, do you have a Francis Allen in your life to serve as a tool for the Master Gem Cutter? If not, find one, or you will never reflect God’s light in all its brilliance and beauty.

C.S. Lewis on Being Called

“Please, what task, Sir?” said Jill.

“The task for which I called you and him here out of your own world.”

This puzzled Jill very much. “It’s mistaking me for someone else,” she thought. She didn’t dare to tell the Lion this, though she felt things would get into a dreadful muddle unless she did.

“Speak your thought, Human Child,” said the Lion.

“I was wondering—I mean—could there be some mistake? Because nobody called me and Scrubb, you know. It was we who asked to come here. Scrubb said we were to call to—to Somebody—it was a name I wouldn’t know—and perhaps the Somebody would let us in. And we did, and then we found the door open.”

“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion.

“Then you are Somebody, Sir?” said Jill.

“I am.”

From The Silver Chair

When I read this story to my daughters a long time ago I failed to explain its significance to them. Uncle Jack had a knack (rhyme not intended) for presenting complex theological ideas in charming and simple ways. Though I disagree with Lewis on many points of doctrine, where I find agreement, their profundity amazes me, and this passage presents the work of God’s Holy Spirit spot on. And I love the way Uncle Jack slipped God’s divine Name (I AM) into the dialogue so naturally.

We fail to appreciate God’s work in and around us because we don’t possess spiritual eyes; all we have is faith in what we can’t see, but is more real than what we see with our fleshly eyes. This mustard seed faith summons God’s power to move human hearts and minds from carnal-orientation to spirit-orientation, a move that, by comparison, makes tossing a mountain into the ocean seem like kicking a stone along a path.

Just know, dear friend, that God’s answers to prayer are more often spiritual than material in nature, and when the spiritual answer just doesn’t cut it, you are not of His mind.