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?

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.

I’m Beside Myself

I always knew I was a bit odd, and you won’t find too many to argue with me on that point. I even have the authority of God’s Word to back me up:

For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you. (2 Corinthians 5:13)

Bible dictionaries tell me that the word rendered, “beside ourselves,” means to be out of one’s mind or insane. Most assuredly, that’s the way the world views Christ-followers, although some of us qualify as bonkers outside of Christ’s influence.

Back in the day, those who would be, cool strove to be seen as, “right on, groovy, out’a sight, and with it.” But according to 2 Corinthians 5:13 (that’s the bold printed passage above), such pop-cultural approval is exactly what we Christ-followers are not to seek.

Am I saying we need to dress in black, home spun suits, drab, ankle-length dresses, and speak in King James English? Not at all! I am saying that Christ-followers must first seek to minister to the world as did Christ, whom the religious leaders at the time viewed as at least mad, and possibly even demon possessed. Yet, the common “sinners” knew they could go to Him without fear of condemnation.

Holiness goes against the world’s rules, and those who refuse to participate with its corruption are thought a bit odd. And therein is the rub; if we’re told a lie often enough, we may begin to believe it. The world tells us that our religion needs to be relevant, so they can identify with it. The more the church accepts the world’s principles, the more those of the world approve, until all resemblance to the true, Biblical church is lost. What’s left is only a shell of human religion, with all the festering religiosity within.

Sometimes we may have to do a little church-hopping to find the true Body of Christ, but I guess that’s the cost of faithfulness. In the final analysis, what value has the world’s approval compared to God’s approval and our eternal destiny? If they see me as beside myself, so what? I’ve been called worse.

Prayer Is an Attitude

Surrender to God in prayer, even though you have nothing but yourself to give.

I am only human. Moments of weakness come upon me, weakness that Jesus paid for on “the place of a Skull,” where the Roman soldiers dropped his cross into a socket dug in that hard earth. I know even as I choose to ignore God’s principles that, though He is grieved, His presence is none-the-less with me, and upon my confession and contrition, that sin-guilt is washed away(1 John 1:9).

In view of my chronic weakness, I have a prayer ready at a moment’s notice:

O Father, please prevent my taking Your grace for granted, and keep me from bringing a reproach upon You.

Two Kinds of Prayer

The two ways of living are: self-centered, and God-centered. The same applies to prayer: Self-centered prayer makes demands of God, usually under the guise of claiming His promises and expecting Him to give us what we want. And yes, we can take that attitude even when praying for others, when our confidence lies in the power of prayer rather than in God’s sovereignty.

God-centered prayer takes the attitude that we are both subservient and submissive to Him. He owes us nothing, and only by His grace may we stand, kneel, sit, or lie prostrate before Him in prayer.

God-centered prayer confesses our sin and expresses our gratitude and praise for His forgiveness, before we enter into our shopping list of petitions.

God-centered prayer echoes Christ’s words in Gethsemane, “Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.” We must never take the arrogant attitude that just because we want something it is automatically aligned with His will.

God-centered prayer expresses sincere gratitude for His action regarding our prayer—and everything else for that matter—whether or not we get what we want. “Everything else” means just that, even when we don’t see the immediate blessing.

Pray Without Ceasing

See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:15-18)

Verse 17, “pray without ceasing,” stands out to me because simply praying for fifteen minutes, let alone continuously, is a challenge. I see it as maintaining a mental attitude that allows me to pray spontaneously, without having to clear my conscience of unconfessed sin, before I can come boldly to the throne of grace.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Will you receive a “Holy Ghost blessing” every time you pray? No, and don’t expect it or you will become disillusioned. Once in a while, though, if you concentrate on Him, God will make this promise real to you: “Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” (1 Peter 1:8b)

Dratted Tailgaters

The State of New Mexico was reworking I-25 through Raton Pass, so the speed limit through the construction zone was reduced to 35mph. I would have happily obeyed the speed limit, but for a car whose driver wasn’t satisfied with obeying the law and rode my bumper unmercifully.

Being a compliant sort, I allowed him to hurry me along to about 50mph. I mean, the pavement was good for a detour and as it was Sunday, hardly anyone else was on the road, so what was the harm?

Apparently that State Patrolman saw the situation differently, and my lack of resolve to obey the law cost me $85. I wondered why he stopped me, instead of the tailgater, and I voiced my concern to the patrolman. His answer? “You were driving too fast through the construction zone, and shouldn’t have allowed the other driver to influence your driving.” He probably didn’t realize it, but he applied Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (2) And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Besides, it was a radar trap and I was in the lead, so I got the ticket and learned a valuable lesson.

I wonder why that lesson doesn’t transfer more easily to life in general, and more specifically to my faith-life. Lesson #1: I must not allow the world system to seduce me into disregarding God’s principles for holy living. Many will say, “I’m forgiven, so why should I concern myself with holy living?” Apostle Peter saw the issue a bit differently: 1 Peter 1:15-16 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, (16) because it is written, “BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” Sure, we have Christ’s imputed holiness if we are living for Him with our sin-guilt washed clean by His holy blood, but throughout the New Testament He urges us to live not according to the world’s corrupt standards, but by His standards, which is the definition of holiness.

Lesson #2: While tailgating in traffic is unsafe, illegal and stupid, “tailgating” Christ our Savior is by far the safest way to reach our ultimate destination.

Are you a “world-tailgater,” or a “Christ-tailgater?”

Apple Cluster Sin

Sandy’s Donuts makes “apple clusters.” They are the yummy clusters of goodness that most bakeries call, “apple fritters,” and simply typing that places me in serious temptation. Like this morning when, after getting up late, I didn’t feel hungry for breakfast, so I delayed it til after 2pm when I began feeling hungry. But that isn’t when the apple cluster temptation began.

My yearning for those clusters of fried, sugary goodness began as I was trying to concentrate on my daily Bible-reading … of course. While struggling through those Scripture passages, I prayed for God to counter my almost-certain baked goods binge. After my reading I realized that our household garbage receptacles were nigh unto overflowing, so hungry as I was, I set to gathering the refuse and began the fifty-yard trek to the dumpster. During my return trip I began feeling convicted about my yummy, afternoon plans as God’s inaudible voice reminded me of the consequences:

First, James 4:17 NKJV Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. This nugget of wisdom from author James isn’t new to me; in fact, it haunts me more than I care to admit.

Do you really want to willfully sin?” said that pesky, silent voice.

Isn’t it somewhere included in ROBERT’S RULES OF ORDER that debaters aren’t supposed to detonate the “S-bomb”? If it’s not, it should be.

Second, “You will feel depressed and bogged down later.” Again, nothing new, but the hard truth of experience. While my palate loves those apple clusters, the rest of my body does not. No need for Your quiet voice here Lord, but thanks for the reminder.

Third, “You’ve already grown out of at least two wardrobes …” Enough said.

And finally, my own inner voice for a change, “Of course, You’re absolutely right Lord. I’ll be glad I didn’t. And thanks ever so much for Your help.

Sin? Really?

How could enjoying one (or two) wonderful apple clusters possibly be sinful? After all, lots of other fat Christians (forgive my frankness) manage to indulge their appetites for such palatal pleasure, so why not me? The answer is easy; I don’t want a thousand or two calories, however delicious, forming a barrier between my Savior and me. Regardless how you cut it, to willfully disobey is sin.

Does satisfying any of your appetites, whatever they may be, put a busy-signal on your prayer-line? Does praising your loving Savior seem just a bit hollow when you allow His conviction to penetrate your denial, and indulge anyway? If we honestly have to answer in the affirmative, James 4:17 applies directly to us.

Where is your battle line drawn?

I confessed just one of my struggles, but I have many more. What are your struggles? You may be skinny as a rail, able to look down your nose at us fat folks munching out on our sugary poison, but Apostle John says you are not free of your own guilt:

1 John 1:8-10 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.

If God’s church seems lacking in vitality, you and I can see the reason by simply looking in a mirror. A sinning church is an impotent church. How have we sinned? Read the New Testament and apply it to yourself, rather than to Betty-Sue over there.

And pray! Serious, sin-confessing, prostrate-on-the-floor prayer. Then watch the Holy-Ghost victory flow.

Peter’s Stunning Affirmation

I confess to having questions about certain Biblical statements, and theologians’ opinions don’t help much. If said highly-educated theologians were to establish a consensus in their interpretations I would have little choice but to accept their analyses at face value. But they haven’t, so I keep questioning.

Speaking of difficult teachings, John 6 records one of Jesus’ most controversial statements, and debate about it continues to this day:

John 6:53-58 NKJV Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. (54) Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (55) For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. (56) He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. (57) As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. (58) This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”

This teaching was so misunderstood that when outsiders heard of it they accused Christians of cannibalism. When some of Jesus’ followers balked at His teaching and turned away from Him, He said to the rest of His disciples:

John 6:67-69 NKJV …, “Do you also want to go away?” (68) But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (69) Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Though Peter finally got it, his understanding was not his own. When I quoted excerpts from John 6 above, I omitted some crucial truths for the sake of continuity. Not only is this crucial, but it is the source of heated controversy even today.

John 6:63-65 NKJV It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. (64) But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. (65) And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”

If you were hoping for my personal opinion regarding these profound truths, I’m afraid I must disappoint you. It is enough for me that Jesus preserved these truths and spoke them to me through His Holy Spirit. I pray for Him to wash our minds of preconceptions, to make them ready to receive His unadulterated Truth. And it’s all right there in black(or red)-and-white, waiting for open and pure minds to receive it.

I’m Not Dying

Oh sure, the world is quieter than it used to be. I glance down at my hands and they look like I forgot to iron them. I lack energy to get out of my own way. I have to be careful what I eat; everything I enjoy is off my diet and likely to come back to haunt me. I have CRS, but can’t remember what it means. People say these dreaded words to me: “Can I help you with that sir?”

But I’m not dying—I’m transitioning! And it’s about time; seventy years on this blue-and-green marble is long enough in my book. What about God’s Book, though?

God’s Word doesn’t tell me, “Let your light shine before men, until you get old, then hang up the spent lantern.” I can’t find the word, “retire,” anywhere in the Bible. Even the Levites, when they completed their twenty-five years of temple service, were assigned other duties.

No, my thinning skin should just allow Christ’s light within me to shine through all the brighter. These words of Jesus changed my life when I realized He was talking to me:

Matthew 5:14-16 NKJV “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. (15) Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. (16) Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Without the Christians who held up their light before me, I’d be a goner. And without me and millions of other Christ-followers holding up His light, the world is full of goners.

“Getting saved,” isn’t our final game play, it’s just the starting gun’s report, the kickoff, the tip off, throwing out the first ball, and there’s no timer on the game board. In fact, there’s no game board, ‘cause keeping score is God’s job, and notching our Bibles for every “decision for Christ” is pure presumption, an act of pride that should alert us to the probability that our motivation is not to glorify our heavenly Father, but to glorify ourselves.

Now I need to examine my own life’s priorities; is influencing others to live for God numero uno? Or do I just want to sit back and enjoy the view of others marching straight into perdition? If the second option is true of me … or you … we may as well be dying, ‘cause we’re no earthly good.