Rainy Day Blues

My roomie’s little kids were slumped on the couch watching cartoons, fighting and whining. Was the blustery, gray day outside just a coincidence?

Through my window I saw a slate gray sky, but I also saw the trees waving at the sky, almost as if they were dancing with joy. Maybe they knew something that the kids didn’t.

As Jesus entered Jerusalem the last time, crowds of admirers threw their cloaks and palm fronds down in front of His donkey, waving and welcoming him as if He were about to free them from their harsh, Roman occupiers. Here’s part of the story:

And as He went, many spread their clothes on the road. Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: ” ‘BLESSED IS THE KING WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.” (Luke 19:36-40 NKJV)

Yet, mere days later those same admirers demanded that He be crucified.

Life is seldom as it appears; high above that depressing, gray overcast, mountains of blinding white cumulus clouds reached toward heaven. Sheets of rain fell to water the earth and complete the natural water cycle our Savior created to keep our planet beautiful and fruitful. The tragedy of His sacrifice redeemed us from slavery to the evil one, and His resurrection guaranteed us new, eternal life.

Despite the appearance of alleged evidence to the contrary, we have Jesus’ faithful promises to give us hope for a beautiful eternity with Him:

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:2-4 NKJV)

As we face the blues of uncertain, and just plain lousy, circumstances, we must look past them to our Savior, the ultimate promise keeper.

Headlock

If you watch wrestling or action movies, you are familiar with the headlock, a choke hold by which one contestant wraps his arms or legs around the opponent’s neck, intending to partially or completely cut off circulation to the brain. The goal is to cause the opponent to loose or nearly loose consciousness. Usually, the poor trapped wrestler will end the hold by slapping the canvass before he or she passes out or dies.

Not being a wrestling fan, that’s the closest I can come to summarizing that choke hold. I do know that soldiers employ choke holds in hand-to-hand combat, even though there’s no canvass for the enemy to slap, to end the contest and save his or her life.

You don’t have to watch wrestling matches or action movies to witness headlocks. Whether or not you recognize his moves, our mortal enemy practices a headlock on his victims, a maneuver with which I am sadly familiar. Our enemy’s headlock allows him to lock us in a vicious cycle of alternately wanting to believe God’s promises, and doubting them because they don’t seem to make sense, or maybe because they seem too good to be true.

My mind, along with every other faculty of my person, as well as the rest of creation, was subjugated to the enemy’s purposes when we failed our Creator through disobedience. According to popular Christianity, once we are saved from sin’s curse through believing in Jesus and accepting His gospel (good news) of salvation through His shed blood, our heavenly destiny is sealed and that’s that. Many, maybe a majority of us, respond to God’s saving grace by planting our bums on a padded pew while the enemy locks our brains with complacency.

According to God’s Word, our salvation by grace through faith is just the opening volley of a spiritual war that will last throughout our mortal lives. By allowing the enemy to through a headlock on us, we fail to prepare ourselves for the rest of the strategies that the enemy has planned for us. We’ll be satisfied with weak, substandard spiritual lives that are more likely to immunize nonbelievers to conviction of sin rather preparing them to receive the gospel.

Romans 12 tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, which rules out laziness or complacency and mandates spiritual, mental and emotional diligence for the rest of our lives.

When soldiers are in harms way, leaders tell them to keep their heads on a swivel so as not to fall into the enemy’s traps. So break out of that demonic headlock to be ready for anything the enemy has planned for you. How do you know when you’ve succeeded? Don’t worry; the enemy will let you know with a fresh barrage of demonic attacks. But if you’ve truly succeed in breaking free, you’ll be ready.

My Mistake

While reading Our Daily Bread today, I did a double-take over the author’s prayer at the end. I read it as, “Lord God, we are the source of all that we have.” While that reflects the attitudes of many people, I knew it was wrong. So I read it more carefully the second time.

It actually read, “Lord God, You are the source of all that we have.”

Why did my first reading wave that red flag of error so frantically? Because I’m familiar enough with God’s Word to know a lie when I see it. Now, I’m certainly not a Bible scholar, but I don’t have to be in order to discern error. The Psalmist provided the needed counsel:

Psalms 119:9-11 NKJV How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. (10) With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! (11) Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.

I praise God for the infinite wisdom He provided in His Word!

The Deeper Side of Christmas

This morning no gifts beckoned me from under my Christmas tree. For one thing, the Christmas tree belongs to my room mate, and any gifts there belong to his two little kids. And the other reason no gifts awaited me is I’ve sort of outgrown the commercial side of, “the Holidays.”

I received my greatest Christmas gift ever forty-odd years ago when I accepted God’s gift to me, “For God so loved [you and me] (so much) that He gave His only Son after His own kind (the physical embodiment of His eternal Word), that anyone who believes (accepts and places his confidence) in Him should not perish (see perdition or destruction), but have (possess permanently) [Jesus’] eternal life.” There’s a mouthful that you can take to God’s heavenly bank.

Those who believe this promise, and many others we find in God’s revealed Word, will feel a level of joy like none other. But those for whom Christmas has morphed into, “the Holidays,” get to enjoy a warm family time … after a month of chasing the perfect presents around the shopping malls and big box stores … and worry about paying for all the excess over the other eleven months. Amazing how heavy those little pieces of plastic can get, isn’t it?

Now that the rush is over, maybe you can flop into your favorite chair and contemplate what Christmas means to God. Think of what it would feel like to give your own child as ransom for the captives who hate you, for the ungrateful multitudes who have killed your messengers, despoiled your home and reviled your name. Most of them would reject your beloved child and suffer the consequences, but you would receive and embrace those few who love and embrace him and the freedom he bought for them.

May the deeper meaning of Christmas bless you now and forever.

Accountability

The financial industry, and the government agencies that oversee it, pass stringent regulations to prevent profiteering. That is completely understandable, as our fallen human nature is rife with greed and avarice; many people will do anything for a buck, or a million of ’em

Profiteering, though, isn’t exclusive to the financial industry, or even the government bureaucracy. Religion has more than its share of greed and avarice, if not for material gain, then certainly for a reward in the afterlife. These days we hear of Muslim “holy warriors” blowing themselves up to take the infidels with them, all to gain the martyr’s status with its reward of seventy-two virgins—or so the story goes. Yet, there is are examples of religious opportunism far closer to home.

Christendom offers many examples of religious opportunism, from multimillion dollar televangelists to the small church’s big donor who expects to run the whole little show. I call them big cogs in little gears; they don’t mesh, and are proud of it.

Regardless the arena or the scale, fallen humanity loves to opt out of accountability. We fancy ourselves as our own authority—even as we give lip-service to our devotion to God.

A less obvious, though far more common, religious opportunism is taking Apostle Paul’s inspired words out of their Scriptural context. When the apostle wrote of our liberty in Jesus, he did not mean to suggest that we could get away with taking God’s grace for granted, as many so easily do.

1 Corinthians 5:12-13 NKJV
(12) For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?
(13) But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “PUT AWAY FROM YOURSELVES THE EVIL PERSON.”

Those who use Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10 to justify an opulent lifestyle are just as guilty of misusing Scripture as Muslim martyrs, and their judgment is just as sure. Some of us have the gift of earning wealth, but forget about Jesus’ words regarding treasure in heaven.

Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV
(19) “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;
(20) but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
(21) For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

What we begin as a, “rainy-day fund,” takes on a life of its own, ruling us with a dictator’s iron gauntlet or hob-nail boot. You’re right, I didn’t mention spiritual or moral responsibility, but your treasure’s location speaks to those as well.

Atheists balk at accepting God’s existence either because some “Christian” demonstrated unchristian behavior toward them, or because if they did they would have to be accountable to Him. Why can’t God’s church see that principle just as clearly?

Remember What?

What’s inside YOUR noggin?

I’ve long wondered why I am the way I am. Did we go by alphabetical order in the memory recall and self-control line when I was created? Was it luck of the draw?

King David, by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, wrote: Psalms 33:14-15 NKJV From the place of His dwelling He looks On all the inhabitants of the earth; (15) He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works.

Often I forget about God’s sovereignty, His craftsmanship, His artistic ability. Years ago, like a thunder clap, I realized that God doesn’t make junk, that we aren’t trapped by our bad habits and corrupted self-image. By the Word of His mouth He fashioned my inner self, and He keeps track of all my works. He doesn’t ignore me and He most certainly hasn’t forgotten about me. Any lacking or loss of my faculties is due to sin corrupting His perfect creation.

When David wrote, “He fashions their hearts individually,” he referred to God placing within each individual a hunger for Himself, so regardless what we’ve done and where we are, all we have to do is reach out to Him.

Remember King David’s prayer: Let Your mercy, O LORD, be upon us, Just as we hope in You. (Psalms 33:22 NKJV)

Hurry Up and Wait

“How can I help you, son, to feel more comfortable here?”

People in the military’s basic training always have drill instructors breathing down their necks, usually yelling. The poor recruits have to run wherever they go, and it’s never fast enough for the D.I.s.

When they reach their destination the D.I. yells at them to form up in ranks and files … and then wait for his good pleasure. That’s where the saying, “Hurry up and wait,” originated.

Hurry Up!

Since you found this on my blog, you already know I have a spiritual application in all this:

2 Corinthians 6:1-2 NKJV
(1) We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
(2) For He says: “IN AN ACCEPTABLE TIME I HAVE HEARD YOU, AND IN THE DAY OF SALVATION I HAVE HELPED YOU.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

First, there’s the, “Hurry Up,” part. Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, who should have already been Christ-followers. Yet, he urges them to accept the Lord’s salvation.

If you are at all familiar with the Corinthian letters, you know it was a most worldly church. In fact, it was a church in name only, and many, if not most, of the attendees were nominal Christians, and were possibly even men and women of influence, or whatever served as the church board in those days. Trouble is, they influenced the church in the wrong direction.

To Receive, or Not to Receive …

I had thought that one could either receive, or not receive, God’s grace, but this passage plainly declares that one can receive God’s grace in vain. No Bible-believing Christ-follower would say that St. Paul was wrong, but many seem to ignore it.

The letter to the Hebrews issues us a challenge, and a warning:

Hebrews 2:1-3 NKJV
(1) Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.
(2) For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward,
(3) how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him,

And Wait!

But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 NKJV)

Okay, the above two passages may not be topically linked, but I think they go together nicely. Evildoers, i.e., those who are easily angered, wrathful and fretful, are evildoers, causing harm to themselves and others.

Waiting on the LORD means we are at His disposal, always available for His good pleasure, like a waiter or other servant. It also means we are willing to wait for Him to direct our lives, rather than running willy-nilly, trying to get things done for Him without His direction.

That Means Patience

Galatians 5:22-23 ESV
(22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
(23) gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Patience is one of the hardest parts of the Spirit’s fruit to get right. Patience and meekness, or gentleness, closely pair under the heading of love, which is really the heart of all the qualities of the fruit of God’s Spirit.

The longer I live in Christ, and the closer I get to my Father, the more I realize just how far I have to travel for the fruit of God’s Spirit to be fully manifested in me. Like I said, patience is the hardest part.

Easy Rider

Some off-ramps don’t appear worth taking.

“Enter by the narrow gate;
for wide
is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction,
and there are many who go in by it.
(Matthew 7:13 NKJV)

Seems like everybody has written or sermonized about the broad way versus the narrow, or the easy way versus the hard. We’re talking about destinations here.

When Jesus delivered his sermon recorded in Matthew’s gospel, chapters five, six, and seven, most of His audience were common folks, like you and me. His message hit home for them, as they knew they were sinners.

The elitist religious leaders, however, were also listening, and of course He wasn’t talking to them; no one could tell them anything because they were teachers, lawyers, priests, and scribes who knew it all. That’s not to say all of today’s teachers, lawyers, and clergypeople are know-it-alls, but … well, you know what I mean.

When I examine my conscience I know Jesus was talking to me when He sat on that rock on the hillside, as the broad and easy way has always been my default path—until, that is, I decided to give myself to God through Jesus Christ. But old habits die hard; I still struggle with self-control, occasionally reverting to my old ways. Now, however, my reaction to those slips and stumbles is entirely different; where I used to seek every opportunity to sate my fleshly desires, now such slips grieve me deeply. That’s how I know I’ve changed. Another change is taking my sins to God straight away, and begging for the grace to truly repent.

Wonder why I didn’t say, “ask forgiveness”? That’s because as long as I am in Christ, my sins are forgiven. And that’s even more reason for me to feel grieved when I sin; it’s like adding another thorn to Jesus’ crown of thorns.

My reborn self doesn’t want to ride easy any longer, but I pray for God to keep me on the hard and narrow way until I can give my Savior a big hug with tears of gratitude for what He has done for me.

Promises, Promises

2 Peter 1:3-4 NKJV as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, (4) by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

I believe God’s Word! When God tells me something through His Word, I know I can, “take it to the bank.” Unfortunately, actual banks don’t see it that way, but that’s their problem. If something in God’s Word seems out of whack, I know either the translation, or my interpretation, is in error, and not His revealed Word.

Apologetics

Daniel B. Wallace Ph.D. sets the record straight about alleged New Testament errors in his article, The Number of Textual Variants: An Evangelical Miscalculation. Though most Christ-followers would rather simply accept the Bible’s reliability, and that is certainly warranted, some knowledge of textual criticism helps greatly when trying to deal with skeptic’s challenges. Indeed, one of the major reasons for Christians loosing their faith is ignorance of apologetics (That branch of theology which defends the Holy Scriptures, and sets forth the evidence of their divine authority.1).

Human Promises

2 Peter 1 should give us great hope in God’s promises. Unlike Him, we mortals are quick with promises. Someone expresses a need and, with the best of intentions, we offer help.

A promise as simple as, “I’ll pray for you,” carries with it an obligation to actually pray for that person. Instead, it usually includes the unstated qualifier, “… when and if I get the chance.” And, yes, I’m as guilty as the next brother.

Those of us who have been reborn in the Spirit have no excuse for such laxity, as we are to always seek to become more like Christ. When we the church grow to where we can live by our promises, thereby completing Christ’s love in us, we will truly turn the world upside down.2

Father of all mercy, I am grieved that we who claim Jesus’ Name are so flippant about our word. By Your Holy Spirit’s power and through Jesus Name, empower us so we can complete our mission of turning the world upside down.

1 Webster’s 1913 dictionary entry for “apologetics” (Yes, Noah Webster was a Christian.)

2 Reference to Acts 17:6

Don’t Be a Mastermind

God doesn’t need masterminds, people who are always the smartest person in the room. He is the only Mastermind that the world needs.

God does need mind-masters, or people for whom God’s Spirit leads their thought life. After Apostle James dealt with our need for patience in trials, he summed up the idea of mental integrity:

James 1:5-8 NKJV If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (6) But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. (7) For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; (8) he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

He may as well have said, “If any of you thinks that he is wise, think again, and let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (JT’s paraphrase)

How Should We Behave Toward One Another?

Regarding the way we are to treat one another in the church, Apostle Paul wrote:

Romans 12:10-18 NKJV Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; (11) not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; (12) rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; (13) distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. (14) Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (15) Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. (16) Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. (17) Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. (18) If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

While I included the whole passage, the second part of verse sixteen speaks directly to those who would be masterminds: “Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.” 

Verses seventeen and eighteen build on that command—and it is a command:

  • We are not to seek retribution!
    Don’t we prize our grudges, though? Someone offends us and we assume it was deliberate, so even though we may wear a Sunday smile and shake the offender’s hand, in the back of our minds we seek payback. We all know that’s wrong, “But, this is different!” Instead, …

  • We are to regard what is good!
    Even if we don’t like someone, Jesus commands us to love them. Often that takes the form of burying the hatchet, but not in their backs. Bury it in the deepest part of the sea. If we do that, the last command will take care of itself.

  • We are to live peaceably with all people!
    That doesn’t mean we must live peaceably with all our friends, but even with those we don’t like.
    Here’s a sure tip: Pray for the unlovable, sincerely, passionately, and consistently. We can be sure that if God placed a difficult person in our way, it is to gain our attention; they need prayer more than all our Christ-following friends.

My advice? Pray through James’ letter to the twelve tribes scattered abroad (Christ-followers are descendants of Abraham by faith). Make those principles and commands your passion, and God will use you like never before. But don’t stop there; take the time to pray and meditate your way through the whole of God’s Word, and through His Spirit you will be the master of your own mind, rather thinking of yourself as a mastermind.