February 25 – United in True Unity


“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” – Philippians 2:1-2 (NASB)

Our passage today from the letter to the Philippians, written by Paul the Apostle continues an appeal he made in chapter one. (Let’s remember that chapter divisions and verse markings were applied 1150 and 1500 years later.)

In Philippians 1:27, Paul wrote about living our Christian life in harmony with the message on which it is based. He followed that message with a call to show spiritual unity. This unity is possible because of the reality of the four qualities mentioned in 2:1. The “if” clauses speak of certainties, about realities, not questionable things. So in this passage “if” may be translated “since.” Paul appealed on the basis of any encouragement from being united in Christ; any comfort from His love; any fellowship with the Spirit; and any tenderness and compassion. We are exhorted furthermore to demonstrate unity in practical ways. This unity is ours in Christ. Our expression of spiritual unity results in complete joy for all. Matching the four realities are four specific ways in which our spiritual unity will be understood. We will find ourselves being like-minded, sharing and showing the same love; united together as one in spirit; and focused on one common purpose.

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December 10 – Constant Encouragement


“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (NASB)

How about the times in our lives when we need encouragement or comfort? Those days and times come into our lives unannounced sometimes. Today’s verse speaks of the grace of God through which we are comforted or encouraged. Remember, he knows our going out and coming in, every detail. God knows when his children need to be encouraged. He promises to give it to us. Jesus Christ, the Son of God and our Father God in heaven have provided for us eternal supply of encouragement to help us live the Christian life. This doesn’t mean that God encourages us once and it lasts forever. It means that He is eternally the source of encouragement and comfort when we need it from Him. He is with us all the time. He never leaves us so whenever we need encouragement, God will be with us to give it to us. When we need comfort He is our unending supply by grace. It is a promise from God that lasts for eternity because God’s promises last that long. They never cease and He never exhausts the supply. Let’s take encouragement from this promise today.

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Faith Walking or Fear Walking

Take a moment to read this verse. If the English Standard Version is not your favorite version, find the verse in your version and read it there.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.  2 Corinthians 5:6-10 (ESV)

A packed verse, I’d say. To fully understand and to fully appreciate the truth and promises in this passage would take some time. We are not, at this time trying to do an exhaustive exposition of the verses – but we want to go in for a close-up on one powerful truth, one very powerful promise. We want to consider how then we should live today. Focus on this — for we walk by faith, not by sight— and consider how we conform to it.

Do we?

Sometimes we do, right?

How about the other times? No so much. Why not?

The process of being transformed by the renewing of our mind[i] is anything but an instantaneous process.  It is indeed a process full of victories and failures, of successes and disappointments. It is a cycle of being on track and then off again as we continue the journey from where we are to where God has planned for us to be. It is good to know that on the days we think we have made no progress; we actually have because we have persevered to that day. God has been with us and we have learned something, we have exercised some spiritual muscles and they have gained some strength. We have been in the battle, in the war and it is there we have found rest and peace in the midst of trial, tribulation and even persecution. The war just happens to be the process of finding our rest.[ii]

When it seems the progress has waned it is still there.  We grow as we keep our gaze fixed straight in front of us.  Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but we have this commitment, keep our eye on the goal which is the one God has directed for us—to Jesus and to maturity. We are expectantly in this together and I’m all in – I’m off and running and I’m not turning back.[iii]

The proposition is this, “Our progress comes when we actively choose to live by faith and not by sight.”

Walking by sight is, in effect, walking by fear. Walking by sight includes more than the sense of vision, it includes what we hear and what we read.  As we walk by sight we will make decisions that are influenced by what we see and hear and what we see generates fear, anxiety, doubt, and hesitation. It blinds us to the places of rest and it keeps us agitated trying to fix things. In the bigger scope we fear what we do not actually see but what we imagine in our mind’s eye. We create scenarios of what is going to happen in the world or in our country. Our imagination ultimately spawns fear. This reinforces our perception and shapes our understanding. The old worn out saying “perception is reality” is a horrid axiom but we tend to live as if it is absolute. We desperately grab and cling to what we see around us (sight again) and what we believe will protect us. When we find no lifesavers or escape routes we despair and lose hope. Fear Walking, as we are going to call it is the way to hopeless ness because it robs us of hope. Hope that will not disappoint us is hope that we acquire when we walk by faith. Faith Walking is rewarded by hope and produces more hope.[iv]

This is where we might get a bit far afield in this discussion – and we might get distracted from what we need to learn about walking by faith. But we need to understand what is driving our thought process. We need to know that what we consider important is what our treasure is. Learning where our treasure is will reveal to us where our heart is. This is a point of significant conflict, it is a battle ground. You know that war we mentioned previously?  Some will see and recognize the potential that exists and threatens a way of life that they hold dear – a life they want to continue enjoying.  This life has brought pleasures, comforts and rewards. It has been enjoyed for so long that we have failed to even notice the existence of a rot that has been taking place within it for decades.

By now, the rot has reached deep into the roots and far up into the branches. It has invaded and poisoned practices and commitments that once were sacred and holy. The rot is so very perverse and has so deeply imbedded itself into our society that it is spoiling the true treasures we should hold dear. The rot has caused our own reasoning, our own understanding to replace the precepts and commandments given to us by God. We stop agreeing with God because such agreement costs us something we do not want to give up or do.

We can now identify traces of it everywhere as it sends out its runners to pollute and establish what is false as truth. The arguments for embracing the rot will always end up at a point where the meaning of God’s word is reassigned, redefined, and even rewritten to support the rot. The rot rejects anything from God that holds our life accountable to Him and makes us uncomfortable or requires us to give up some pleasure or presumed liberty. And because we do not want to totally jettison God all together, we must recast our understanding of God so that instead of being created in the image of God, we recreate God in the image of the rot. This is handled well by leaders of our assemblies, the ones set over us to shepherd us become the ones leading us away from the truth and faith and into a place of living fully by sight and reason. If our faith conflicts with the way we see things, the faith must change. We must adjust what we believe our faith to be suitable with what we see.  We are dressing ourselves up for destruction and judgement and we do not care. Instead of growing together in the Spirit, we have given over to the rot which has been infecting and splitting the gatherings of believers. Some believers, Fear Walkers, merge into the world to protect what they fear they will lose, and others choose to remain Faith Walkers, to be set apart and not succumb to the rot.

Here we will parenthetically set out some historical facts to help us understand why believers are set apart for specific purpose.

[ To set the identity of those who profess to believe in Jesus Christ apart from common labels, we will avoid the common label “Christians” and will identify believers by the term first used for them. They were known first as followers of Jesus, it was a true Jesus movement and officials and themselves referred to them as “Belonging to The Way” or “of The Way.” Because at the very beginning all believers were Jews who were still a part of Judaism, The Way was considered a Jewish sect or a part of the Jewish religion.[v]  Those that belonged to The Way gathered together in private homes. It was the pagans in Antioch that first used the adjective “Christian” to describe and identify the believers of Jesus.[vi] It was intended as a derogatory term.[vii]

The word “church” was used to identify a body of believers of The Way much before any building was constructed as a specific meeting place. It may well have been in the mid-3rd century that first building was exclusively set aside to be used as a gathering place for meetings of The Way.[viii]   It was hardly the intent of the early churches to become what they have today with the gatherings splitting into varieties with distinctive affections method and hierarchy. For God called first out a people to purify for himself, a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. We were all the church and the church was whoever was meeting together in homes at Philippi, and at Ephesus, and at Galatia, and at Thessalonica and eventually at New York and at Chicago, and at Longview. Wherever a gathering of believers were, that was where the church was. For some perspective on the early church and how it transformed when it became government approved see this blog post[ix] ]

The result of the rot has been worse than a wrecking ball as this malformation of what God calls us to let rot come in. Sometimes it has done its damage without the gathering even being aware. Can it be imagined that today any minister or leader in a gathering of believers, perhaps the gathering you are a part of, would stand up and say, “Where do y’all think all these dreadful fights and arguments come from? Do y’all think they just happen? Well, think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. Y’all get all lustful for what you don’t have and some are even willing to kill to get it. Y’all want what isn’t yours and mean enough risk violence to get your hands on it. Y’all wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? No, you wouldn’t, and just why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. Y’all spoiled children, each wanting your own way.” James 4:1-4

Our Faith Walking and our confessions quickly fade away when we switch to Sight Walking or Fear Walking. What we with our own eyes we believe more than what we might just have experienced because of faith. Our great example is our brother Peter who saw Jesus walking on the surface of the Sea of Galilee. It was by sight and it generated fear. This had to be a ghost for no person could stand on and walk on water – especially the surface of a tumultuous body of water. The disciples were in a boat crossing to the other side of this lake which was about 5 miles across. Jesus had not come with them this time as he wanted to spend time in prayer. The wind is against them and pretty strong. The waves were significant but not dangerous. It was sometime after 3 a.m. and the boat was about three fourths of the way across. When they see this what they think is an apparition. Peter recognizes Jesus approaching the boat, he is overcome with awe and to make sure that this person walking on the unsettled surface of the lake was Jesus he says, “If it’s really you Lord, tell me to come to you, right now.” Jesus had just confirmed that it was him but Peter wants more assurance because what he sees has actually put fear into him. Jesus says just one word, “Come.”

Peter is out of the boat and making his way on the surface of the water toward Jesus. His walk has suddenly become a walk by faith. We have no idea how many yards he walked. He is actually doing the impossible because he has faith. Jesus called him to come and he believed and he was Faith Walking…right up until he switches back to Fear Walking. He looks around and is astounded and recognizes that he is now attempting the impossible and he fears the outcome. He sinks. Jesus has to save his sorry soul or Peter would have drowned.  That is the way it always is. When we depend on what we see we become not Faith Walkers but Sight Walkers which become almost immediately Fear Walkers.

Is it faith or is it fear that directs our path these days. Fear, I’m afraid has many by the throat and is choking the life out of them. The reaction to the fear is to rush to solutions that seem tangible and embrace them without consideration of their faith. Fear walkers will strive to find a solution that will make things great again, will restore the life they have enjoyed and is now crumbling around them. Some will not even see the crumbling and although they will still be driven by Fear, “Fear is one of the most primal of all motivations.  It drives people to do things they would never even consider under normal circumstances.  It blinds them to truth, makes them cling in desperation to any hope that presents itself (even hopes that, in clearer-headed times, they would recognize as dangerous), and lash out viciously at any perceived threat to that hope.  It makes them see friends as enemies and not realize enemies are pretending to be friends.”[x]

Their solution is to hold fast to their confession of hope without wavering and trust Him who promised because He who promised is faithful. He Himself has promised that He will never leave us or desert us.

[Now, let me make it clear, that these comments are made for the benefit and in the context of those who are believers and followers of The Way – those who believe the Truth and have the Life because they have the Son of God. Those who have chosen to not believe have no real faith there is no one to put their faith in until they recognize their need, repent, confess, believe and receive the free gift of eternal life offered by Jesus Christ. He is the only Way, to God the Father.]

The danger we face when Fear is the motivator of our thoughts and decisions because we are not walking by Faith is that we fall into the trap (set by the devil himself) of believing that God cannot fix our world by Himself. Fear walkers believe that fixing the world and ridding it of all its wanton evils requires our involvement because for some truly ungodly reason Fear walkers believe God is not inclined or able to accomplish their will and what they (the Fear Walkers) want and believe they need. Fear Walkers fail to understand that with or without them, God’s will is always accomplished without fail. What He promises, He will do, what he has spoken He will deliver on.

Fear Walkers may cling to a way of life and a way of government and to a country that they believe has been established by God especially for their pleasure and blessing. They believe this because the establishers were, for the most part believers in God. Some were even quite devout followers of The Way. And because the establishers believed that a Creator God was responsible for all things and believe that God governed the affairs of mankind and because this belief was evident in the sayings and writing of our country’s establishers, our country, the United States of America was therefore established as a Christian nation. The degree, to which that assumption is true, or not true, depends on so many other assumptions and presumptions and interpretations it is safe to conclude that the question is not settled. We can be fairly certain that while America’s establishers were not pagan atheists and likely not even agnostics, they were not all devout men of strong spiritual character. It is unlikely that the majority were any more Faith walkers than much of us are today.

So with these conclusions what responsibility does the body of people of The Way have to their country? Does The Way in America have a different responsibility to American than The Way in France? How about The Way in Japan or Korea? Perhaps the responsibility of The Way in China, Venezuela, Congo or Argentina to their respective country is different because of the history of those countries. Certainly we would be a bit amiss to think that Japan or China or Congo are Christian nations or had a Christian beginning.

Would it be so very horrible to think that The Way in America is special with a special calling to preserve a special way of life because it had such a special beginning?

Yes, it would be very horribly wrong to think that.  For in truth we are more bound in our responsibilities to our brothers and sisters in Korea and Venezuela than we are to the reprobates who lead this United States of America. We have a greater responsibility to serve and help followers of The Way in Syria, Iraq, and Iran than we do to preserve our own way of life. When has The Way in American ever been excused from the responsibility given to it by the Lord Jesus Himself when he said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all 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.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NASB)

It never has.

 


[i]  Romans 12:2 (ESV) Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

[ii] http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/is-the-christian-life-peace-or-war

[iii] Philippians 3:12-14 (The Message) I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

[iv] Hebrews 11:1 (ESV) Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

[v] Acts 9:1-2 (ESV) But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

[vi] Lexham Bible Dictionary, Copyright 2016, Lexham Press.

[vii] http://www.ecclesia.org/truth/christian.html

[viii] http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/november/why-and-when-did-christians-start-constructing-special.html

[ix] https://prandersonblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/07/from-the-setting-of-the-sun-it-will-always-rise-again/

[x] From The Five Pilgrims “Fear: A Path to the Trump-side for Evangelicals”, C Phillips, August 19, 2016 http://thefivepilgrims.com/2016/08/19/fear-a-path-to-the-trump-side-for-evangelicals/

From the Setting of the Sun – It Will Always Rise Again

The setting begins about AD 44-45 and you have just entered adulthood; you are married and have started a family. Someone comes to your city and tells you the Good News and you believe. You become a follower of The Way which teaches that Jesus Christ is God and that he came to earth to live a perfect life, to suffer and be executed for no sin except the sins of the world and to rise again to a new life; and that believing in this Jesus Christ will bring to the believer a new life, an eternal life. You believed and became a child of God. People have begun to call believers such as you, Christians.

Imagine as a believer in Jesus Christ you are living in a nation that has a strange kind of religious freedom. The ruler is considered divine and you can worship your god(s) as long as you also worshiped and offered sacrifices to the official gods of the nation you lived it. The nation coveres a huge amount of land and rules over thousands and thousands of people from diverse origins and groups. Some religions are more tolerated than others but your faith and the religion that grew out of it has been pronounced by your government to be an “illegal superstition,” a crime under the law.

Some accuse people of your faith of practicing cannibalism because you observe the sacrament of Holy Communion. Symbolically eating the flesh and blood of Christ is misunderstood and condemned. This is just one of the fears that the people who do not believe and the government uses these fears to attempt to wipe out all who believe as you believe. Blamed for many things, you have become an enemy of the state just because you believe in Jesus Christ.  There is no public church you can run to for safety. There are no mega churches where you can go and be told that God loves you and will take care of you, and if you support them God will make you rich and all you need to do is just do good for yourself because God wants you to be happy.

In fact, anything that you say to anyone about your faith is likely to be reported to authorities or your neighbors themselves will take up the cause of persecuting you – it is not pretty and it is not easy and it costs a great deal to be a Christian. You and all who believe as you do are challenged each day because not only do you not have a public church, you have to meet in secret. You have no bible to carry with you and no iPhone or tablet with you favorite version of the Bible. In fact the whole Bible does not exist. Imagine how many without the Authorized King James would manage their study. “Biblical scholars” are very few and very far between. Your faith is outlawed and has no standing and no influence on the government. But you are okay and you are at peace. You do not allow anxiety to disrupt your heart and mind because you know in your heart what you believe and you know that God is with you, you’ve been taught his promises. You have decided that living for Jesus and, if necessary, to suffer and die for Him is better than the pagan and godless world around you. The society around you which you left behind when you believed is so perverse – immorality is more common than morality with women abused and used and babies are killed at will when born sometimes left out on the side of the road to die exposed to the elements – especially baby girls.

There is no Moral Majority no Council of Evangelicals, no Focus on the Family around to push an evangelical conservative and religious agenda with the government of  your nation. In fact if you were even to be presented with such a concept it would seem totally absurd and contrary to what you are learning from the small body of believer in your town. They are teaching with help of the Holy Spirit from the Holy Scriptures available, and from the letters and other writings that are circulating around the country among the churches. The disciples of Jesus Christ, now apostles of his message are teaching you how to live in a hostile and violent culture. It is not a safe vocation because some of the government officials see it as illegal activity.  Some of them eventually are arrested, put in prison, tried and put to death for their practice of teaching.  Others are persecuted because the wave upon wave of persecution from the government which is sent throughout the nation. None of these teachers are teaching how to influence the government unless it is through the effort of preaching the Gospel to all including the soldiers. God works through them to save even some of those government employees.

Actually for the next 300 years, those who are followers of The Way, the body of Christian believers which call themselves the Church, experience times of respite and then times of persecution. Depending on who the head of state is, Christians are either hunted or left alone but always, no matter what the circumstances, the message continues to be preached and the body of believers grows in spiritual maturity and strength. Some of the writings that have been circulating become accepted as part of a new portion of scripture. Sometime in the mid 3rd century, around AD 250, what comprised the  Holy Scriptures had been agreed upon by most of the leaders of the Church built on faith in Jesus Christ.

The First Promise and Covenant and now a Second – a Fulfilled Promise and Covenant come together or The Old Testament and a New Testament as we have come to know the complete Bible. By late 4th century – AD 397 – what is the bible we have today is settled by the leaders of the Church. Yet, the ordinary person still does not have a personal copy.  There still is only one version and it is not the KJV.

The first Apostles and evangelists and teachers teach others to be teachers. By the time the last of the first apostles passes from earth to heaven around AD 100, the church has become exactly what Jesus said it would, a force that even the gates of hell could not prevail against. And the gates of hell have been trying to prevail against the Church ever since. The force behind the gates of hell is Satan and his minions of demons – fallen angels with their commitment to destruction of Christ’s followers which is strong but not stronger than faith in Jesus Christ. There have been multiple times and ways that the enemy has successfully damaged the Church leading many off its original mission of going to all nations and making disciples of all people. If there is one tactic that is used more than any other it is to undermine the belief, the faith of the believer. Plant doubt and erode a believers faith and they become easier prey than those who stand firm in the faith and use their belief to counter the lies that come at them from the enemy, Satan. This remains true. The same faith that enabled and empowered believers in AD 45 or 60 or 90 is ours and just as able to empower us

Over the next 2000 years, the process of spreading the Good News and adding new people who become Followers of the Way into the Church continues and grows and it spreads across the earth. The true Church is always a threat to those in power and so it encounters many times of severe persecution throughout the world. The faithful are given a break from time to time as it was recorded in Acts 9:31, “So the church throughout … enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.” But as long as the true Church spread the message and fulfilled its mission, it posed a threat to the unbelieving world even when the unbelievers are falsely and deceitfully cloaked as the church.

A key element to a continued increase was the times of not always enjoying peace. In fact persecutions have been a part of the process and necessary for the church to grow. When the church enjoys periods of no persecution for too long, it becomes lazy and it loses its way.  It gets involved in becoming part of the power structure and the government and forgets The Way that it is to follow. The season of peace and then tribulation is followed by growth and then again peace and more tribulation and more growth have been happening all over the world in different places at different time. Once in the jungle in Ecuador five followers of The Way lost their lives trying to bring the message of Christ’s love and forgiveness to a people who had never heard the message before. They were speared to death on the beach that served as a landing strip right next to their small airplane. The people they were trying to reach and who killed them ended up accepting the effort came to know the salvation of Jesus Christ as well as many more. The blood of these believers was used by God to reach an unreached people and bring many into the Church.

It is evident that the season of peace and freedom for those who are followers of The Way, or claim to be Christians in America is coming to an end. Religious freedom has been ours for nearly 200 years, for the most part. Over the past 20 years and even more because it began probably 50 years ago, the focus of the organized churches in America has shifted. This has been in response to the shift in our culture as we have disposed of pleasing God as a primary influence and we have turned to pleasing ourselves. We are doing what is right in our own eyes just as the reprobate Children of Israel did over and over again after settling in the Promised Land. And, guess what? We are about to reap in fistfuls the same judgements God sent to his chosen people.

As the church in America, or the American evangelical church has diluted its mission it has effectively and essentially turned away from following Christ’s commandment. In place of what it has turned away from is the effort to save America and the American Way of Life. We hold our freedom given by the Constitution so dear that we overlook what our primary mission is. And we have come to believe that we can’t be followers of  The Way unless we have those freedoms secure and intact.

Not every person or every church by any means but as a corporate organization across America, the church has become mostly apostate, and in some cases cold and dead. Going through the motions and pretending to know the steps, our churches are now more involved in entertainment and helping their congregation feel comfortable than they are in rooting out sin and teaching righteousness and calling sinners to repentance.  Oh and lest we forget singing God Bless America instead of preaching Americans believe and repent and be a Blessing to God.

When our churches should be preparing their congregations for the storm that is coming and in some places already here, they are being negligent. Massive “ministries” are built to reach the world for Christ, or so they say.  Evangelical Christianity is now big business. Radio, TV, Internet, and Email are all employed and books, resource of the month, DVD sets of sermons and lessons are peddled. There is a massive amount of money that must be raised they say. Stand “shoulder to shoulder” in their effort to spread the message – what message?  The honest efforts that have integrity and are accountable to God and are supported by the gifts and offerings of God’s people are lost amid the charlatans and the peddlers.  Money is siphoned off for grandiose demonstration and productions and programs, huge assemblies in key major cities across the nations and ostentatious buildings. What would be the result of honest independent audits of these ministries.  Some are good and do it with a pure heart but many are shills for making the ministers rich.

Many in the American Church find their mission in trying to exert political change. They are working to “turn our country around,” or to “restore family values,” or “stop the slide into the slough” of our culture. They ring the alarm of things that are going wrong but they continue to forget the simple purpose God gave just as he departed to heaven, “make disciples of all nations.” Restoring America’s values is more important than reaching the lost and making disciples. So, they compromise with the world and they let sin slide. Again massive amounts of money are solicited and collected to help the right politicians get elected and when they are elected, they fail to do what they were elected for. Of course, because God is not in that movement for that is not the mission of the Church – evangelical or not.

This result is the reason for this blog. We need to get ready for the result.

The Church cannot correct the state when it needs to correct itself first. Shouting about same-sex marriage as the death of traditional marriage while we have allowed the sanctity of marriage to be eroded and destroyed from our very pulpits is simply an example. If we truly want to restore the family, why are we not equally obsessed, as Christians, with the sin of single parenting, absent fathers, abandoned families? When our Church leaders have for years be excusing their marriage failures as “led by God” how can we be so concerned that two people of the same-sex choose to unite? When a professing Christian has an affair, divorces and then marries again and then has another affair, another divorce, and marries again, and then has a third divorce, and is yet the leader of a church – we as a whole are disgraced. This kind of profession of faith is nothing but a sham with no shame.

No, I am not in favor of same-sex relationships and marriages. I am opposed to that because God is opposed to it.  But I certainly do not see that as more dangerous to our society than the permissive heterosexual activity that has been so rampant within our churches for several generations with the result that our youth have no sense of what God wants of them or what sex was designed for. Co-habitation is so common that it is now considered accepted even by many in the church because we do not want to offend and we do not want to lose those members.  Nothing is said about it and nothing is done about it. God gave marriage and the sexual union as a beautiful model of his relationship with us and for the purpose made clear in Scripture which was never rescinded.

No wonder we have evangelical leaders in our nation endorsing a man who while married to his first wife, hand an affair, divorced her and married his mistress and then had an affair and divorced his second wife and married his second mistress. They endorse a man who opened casinos and established strip shows and clubs in them. They not only endorse but they actually perpetrate a lie about him being a Christian or becoming a Christian when by his own confession has never asked God for forgiveness for anything. These evangelical leaders have endorsed a different gospel and a different requirement for salvation. And yet they remain in their pulpits teaching the Word.

No wonder our country is in such turmoil with such division and we Christians are seeing a new swell of persecution. The world is facing the growth of a religion of evil that teaches hate and killing of all who do not convert to them and yet has no clue how to confront it. Split in as many ways as possible they will appease, accommodate and misunderstand while evil is exercised all around them.   But they will unite in their disdain and hate and active persecution and even eventually will get to killing those who stand for Jesus Christ. That is the course of evil and it is on the rise.

It is time to prepare, strengthen your faith, learn what is really important and worthy of dying for. And be prepared if it comes to that. Remember that the Lord God has said, “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not anxiously look about you for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”[Isaiah 41:10] What power and what comfort to know just that and yet he has promised so much more. He has promised eternal life and if you believe now, you already possess a life that will never end. “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” [John 11:25-26]

“It is better to know than to not know,” says Jesse Stone, a character created by Robert B. Parker. I agree. I would rather know that difficult days are coming than to proceed in a dreamy fog of hoping somehow things are going to go back to what they were. They never do. Did we ever get back to the Garden of Eden? Did we ever get back to the days of King Solomon? Did we ever get back to…well, think, is there a time in history, near or far, that we really want to go back to?  We can’t go back in any way and if we could it would be to everything that was there, not just the good stuff.

The world that we started with in this blog was, of course the world dominated by Rome. It did experience, a dramatic shift that changed conditions for Christians from horrible to being much better…for a while.

Constantine became emperor after fighting a civil war in which he had marked his soldiers shields with a Cross. His victory after that led him to become a strong supporter of Christianity. In AD 313, he proclaimed that every person was free “to follow the religion which he chooses.” Under Constantine, Christianity rapidly became the dominant religion. It was not long before it became indistinguishable from the power of the state. Boy O’ Boy, the religious leaders had successfully turned their country around. It was a new day dawning. No longer would the Christians be persecuted and killed for their faith. Great, huh? The hand of God has finally rescued the followers of The Way.

Well, not so fast.

Certainly God was in control because He always is in control. Every King, every Emperor, every Prime Minister, every President is in place only because God allows it.

Just 82 years after Emperor Constantine stopped the state backed persecution of Christian, in AD 395, Emperor Theodosius made Christianity Rome’s new state religion. What happened then? Christians, who had so long been on the defensive, out of love and obedience to the example and teaching of Christ, forgave all and lived happily ever after….NOT. Not a chance. Now with a new power and license from the state as the official religion, Christians turned to attacking the pagan religions. They closed temples and banned sacrifices to pagan gods. They even transformed some pagan celebrations into Christian ones. For example, the church changed the birthday of the sun god on the 25th of December into the celebration of the birth of Christ.

Source for historical references: CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS FOUNDATION / Bill of Rights in Action  / Fall 1997 (13:4) 

There Is No Good Reason to Despair.

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord – Psalm 27:13-14

There is no good reason to despair.

God has promised that he will take care of us. In the middle of the worst conditions, in the middle of the most sever persecution, even if we are giving up our earthly lives because of our belief and confession in Christ Jesus, he will take care of us. If the time comes to choose between our head and our heart for God, He will be there to take us to a place of eternal comfort.

Too many times it is my physical condition and my comfort that matter most and if they are out of sorts, then my life is out of sorts. If my life goals are thwarted I become frustrated (another way to say angry).  This is not the way it is to be. Not in the land of the living.

So the world we have enjoyed is drying up and the freedoms we have enjoyed are evaporating. Our sense of security which is built on law and order is bring ripped away and we are feeling exposed, at risk and in danger. Those willing to be our protectors have become the hunted.   Pay attention to what is happening in the world and understand the result is fear and again anger. This fear and anger develops into hate against what we identify as our enemy.  Out of fear, anger and hate we create defenses to protect what we hold dear, our way of life.  What is our way of life? Is it liberty and freedom? Is it opportunity for all who work hard? Is it the pursuit of excellence and greatness? Is the the ability to succeed if we work hard enough and are smart enough?  Is it gathering together in buildings we call church or in the open square and lifting our voice in worship and praise?  Is it the ability to dress as we wish without fear of assault, rape and death?  Is this the American Dream? And, without this American way of life, we are what? Lost? Finished? In trouble? Hopeless?

The way of life which we have come to expect because it was given to use – often at the expense of the lives of others – and we have worked hard for it and because it has been considered our birthright in this country for so long, we see it eroding away beneath our feet. Be on your guard, has God indeed promised his children what so many today believe they are entitled to?  Have we been deceived by the siren song as it has been delivered from the pulpits of our church?  God Bless America, we sing while in truth, and for a long time, America has been forgetting God and replacing worship of the Creator God with worship of the creature’s desire.

What God has promised is found in his Word, not in the documents that formed and governed this country.  As wonderful those documents are in their original intent, and as dedicated to God as many of the those who formed those documents, the fact is, the Word of God has been discarded and we have placed our faith in the words of this country’s founding fathers. Some have their faith in the reinterpretation of those words by leaders who have never believed in God.

We have become confused about who it is that we are supposed to listen to and draw our hope from. We have placed our hope for security and greatness into the hands of people who impress us with their performance, or success, or promises and our hope is built on nothing less than what they say they will do for us.

In whom should we place our trust? It is God Almighty, not the President of the United States. Our faith is to be in what God has given us, not in what the White House, or Senate, or House of Representatives, or Supreme Court has given us or what our founding fathers have given and entrusted to us.  Take a look at what we have from these and consider again what political party or ideology is greater than the Lord God and his Word. Stop believing in might and power – believe instead in the power and promise of the Spirit of God.  It is time to unhook your political party from your faith and rest on faith alone. God can and will do everything he has promised and he does not need your particular political ideology to accomplish it.

The Elephant in the Room Part 1

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18

Why Part 1?

Because, there is more than one in the room.

This elephant is called Suffering.

Yes, I know, not a favorite topic – but that is why it’s an elephant in the room. No one really wants to talk about suffering. No one wants to think about suffering. Acknowledging that suffering is part of our lives just seems well, not right.

It’s negative.

It’s a downer.

But, it’s real. It’s present in each of our lives in some way. If you are blessed to be in a place where specific suffering is not happening to you, it’s probably touching you through someone in your family or a close friend.

Suffering comes is many different packages.

  • Some is physical, some is emotional, and some is mental.
  • Some is afflicted, some in inherited, some we are born with.
  • Some is due to illnesses or injury.
  • Some is deserved and some not deserved.
  • Some we know and some we do not know.
  • Some surprises us and some we see coming from a distance.
  • Some we experience because we have too much and some because we do not have enough.

The truth is that humans will always deal with suffering and ignoring it does not make it go away.

A gathering of believers* where we worship and learn from God’s Word has been teaching about elephants in the room. These are issues and subjects we don’t like to talk about, especially in church, but really need to be addressed.

Recently the elephant was suffering and as part of the worship service our pastor asked a couple in our church to share the journey they have had with suffering. Byron has Alzheimer’s disease. It has been five years since he and Dot, his wife, first learned that “Old Al Zheimer” was going to be taking up residence in their lives. Talk about a big elephant in the room. It is a long story but it is a story about how suffering has not crushed them and in spite of all the normal reactions and emotions and challenges and difficulties and adjustments they have turned this time of suffering into an opportunity of ministry.
What they shared – especially Byron words which came with difficulty but by the grace of God, touched me deeply. They started a catalytic chain within me. From Byron and Dot, I have begun to learn that suffering can be okay, that they will be okay. It is such an  odd thing to say about an incurable disease but I have seen and heard how God can apply a salve to the suffering and give mercy and grace so that I can know as certainly as Byron does that God is with me and that it is good, He is good and it is okay.

The source of my suffering is major depressive disorder and general anxiety disorder. I am under the care of a doctor and most of the time, these illnesses are managed. Sometimes they rear their ugly head and try to create havoc. These are very real but poorly understood by most people.

My approach up until now has been to hope and pray for relief and release and look for the day when I am no longer afflicted. I have hoped for a long time that eventually I would be free from this affliction. That is a very frustrating way to cope. Not the hope and prayers – those are my lifeline, but hoping must be properly placed and expecting that this suffering is only for a season has given me a wishful hope that disappoints on a regular basis. I’ll go a season free from the effects and be thankful. Then I am t-boned and for no reason at all, my mood crashes, crushing my feeble hope. It just happens. Trying to discern the triggers is simple a different way to look for the same thing – release.

God gives hope that does not disappoint. He gives hope that is certain and fixed in His Word. His Word is that He is with us. He will never leave us. He will not forsake or desert us. He will provide and supply everything that we need according to His riches in Christ Jesus and according to will, He will give us what we ask for. That is what he has given me in Byron’s words. I am suffering – sometimes much and sometimes not so much – and I know that all the time, every day God is with me He holds me up with His righteous right hand. Surely he helps me. It’s okay. I will live with this as long as it is according to God’s will and if that is until I am with Him in heaven, then it’s okay. No, I will not always like it but I will always be loved and cared for by my Father who loves me and gave up his only begotten Son for me so that I can have new life through Him. I know there is a day when my body and mind will be reconciled with my spirit and made perfect. That is a hope that will not disappoint and that is a hope that is okay.

 

 

*The Longview Evangelical Presbyterian Church

Surely is Most Assuridly

‘Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ Isaiah 41:10

When facing a serious challenge how confident can you be that God is there with you and that He is ready, willing, and able to help you?  Our challenges come at us at anytime from anywhere and most often without giving us the time we need to prepare for them. They come in a variety of severity. They may be financial, physical, mental, emotional, or a combination of any or all at one time.

The challenges that I face – well let us call them what they are, the trials and testing that I face tend to leave me in a state of disorder and I do just exactly what God has told me not to do, I spend a great amount of time anxiously looking about me trying to find our where it came from. I want to know and understand why – even though I have been instructed to no lean on my own understanding. I want to know what I can do to ease the pain or the confusion or the depression that sets in on me. Isaiah 41:10 is a verse that I look to every day,  every morning. I use it to remind myself of something I should never forget. I never need to fear because God is with me. He is my God and He promises to strengthen me according to His word.

God, however, knows me and the weaknesses and the limitations I have and so he underscores his promise with the word “surely” twice.  He will most assuredly help me after strengthening me. I have no cause, no reason to not believe that all the help I need to walk through this day will be there from God – even if I do not feel it, I know it is there. And, even more he stresses that he will assuredly uphold me with His righteous right hand. Wow! Why then do I doubt that my challenges are surmountable?  Why do I view my self as defeated when the Almighty God will strengthen me?

I know the truth even when I do not feel the truth. This world is in a downward spiral morally and spiritually and people who govern and people who influence policy have turned their back on God even though the still call out His name as if they know Him. Surely, God will help us, surely He will uphold us with His righteous right hand because he has said it. God cannot promise something that He will every fail to accomplish. The very nature of God is pure perfection according to His own will.

Today, I choose to believe that he will surely be all that I need and all that I need will be supplied according to His riches in Christ Jesus. No matter what is happening in the world or in my life or in my body, God is my strength and my song and He has become my salvation.

We Need One Another

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:23-26 (NASB)

A frequent response to the question about whether attending an assembly of believers on a regular basis is necessary is that one does not need to attend a “church” in order to be a Christian. Yes, that is true. Being a Christian, a Christ believer and follower who is saved by the blood of Jesus Christ and has the life of the risen Christ within them, does not require regular attendance at a gathering of believers. It does not require attendance in any way. Mostly because a true believer cannot not be apart from the church since he or she is a part of the church wherever they are. So, why does the writer of the book of Hebrews say that we should not forsake out own assembling together?

Think about it.

Why was this instruction given to us?

First, let us agree that creating a “new law” or invoking some “old law” we have lived under is not to anyone’s benefit. We do not need to re-energize any legalistic system of equating spiritual life with simply the act of regular church attendance. No – such systems are bondage and we are seeking freedom in Christ and to know why this instruction is given to us because it was not given to become a law over us.

Gathering together around the common belief that we are saved by grace has merit to such a degree that we are instructed to do so no matter how we have rationalized or reconciled our non-attendance. We gather because we need one another for encouragement, for stimulation toward love and good deeds. Can we do that by ourselves? If conditions exist where there is no possibility to gather with like-minded believers, God is faithful and still meets our needs. But where we can come together and support and share with one another, we should because we are humans and humans need this kind of support. We were not created to be solitary.

There is much that can be explored about this but today, the point is really to emphasize the one reason we really do need one another.

You see the day drawing near.

What day is that?

For believers in our day and time, there is a day coming (and it is already here for some believers) when we will be tested – our faith will be tested and we need to be ready to give an account of why we believe. We need to be strong and courageous and not tremble or be afraid. We need to be ready because Jesus promised that in this life there would be tribulation, trials, and testing. That if they persecuted Him, they will persecute us. Some will face the prospect of death because we believe. Some will lose family, some will lose businesses. Most certainly we are in a time when Christians in our country (USA) are losing the rights of religious freedom – to believe, act, speak, and operate our businesses guided by our faith. We need to be about the business of supporting one another.

The enemy of our souls is capturing the attention and affections more and more of those who hate God and despise Jesus Christ. A political movement in the guise of a religion has cloaked itself in lies about it’s mission of peace while flagrantly killing, raping, and destroying the lives innocent people. The leaders of our country in both parties seem more complicit than alarmed. We seem to have learned nothing from history of despots and evil dictators who practiced genocide. Appeasement and accommodation is again the word of the day.

Even good Christians are confused and in an effort to show the love of God they are influenced by the calls for “compassion” and “equality.” Believers are blinded by the world’s reasoning which stands in direct contrast to the Word of God and they try to find common ground which does not exist between our one true God of love and the false god of hate and violence.

These are not imaginations, these are things happening right now and only a few are standing up for what they believe. And they are paying the price.

We truly need one another at this time as we have always needed each other. We need to be in contact with others who love Jesus and follow the one and only God Almighty.

We need to be on our toes and we need to help each other be aware and alert. We need to be salt and light and that takes a covenant community.

We see the day drawing near for us and at it is even here for some – we need to be able to encourage and get encouragement from one another. We need to be spiritually integrated with each other in the love of Jesus Christ.

This is why God gave us this instruction. We need each other. Do not forsake the gathering of ourselves together to worship, teach, learn and encourage each other in the word of the Lord.

Without Wavering – Don’t Be the Chaff

Today the news in the world is once again full of what the wicked are doing in this world. And it seems like so many who say that they believe in God, in Christ Jesus, and call themselves Christian are being swallowed up by the world’s reasoning.  It also reminds us that to truly believe and to stand up for what the pure Word of God says is going to be too difficult to do without God’s understanding and His grace. A difficult time is coming for all who profess to believe the Word of God and commit to live according to its truth.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised if faithful;” Hebrews 10:23 (NASB)

Now, there is a promise that all the other promised of God can be trusted. The promise that God is faithful is enough because with God there will be no exception. “God is not a man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” Numbers 23:19 (ESV) The lesson is a simple one, God needs to say or promise something only once and he does not need to promise it over and over in order for it to be worthy of trust.  This is true of every promise.  However, the Word of God is full of repeated instances of God making the same promises. Why? If God only needs to say it once, why does he utter some of his promises over and over?

Really the answer is rather simple. The Word of God is a record of God’s activity and interaction with his creation – us.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.”  John 1:1-3 (ESV) We are a part of the things that were made by the Word who is God. As God, who is not subject to the restrictions of time, interacted and communicated, instructed and corrected, blessed and disciplined His creation, it was necessary to remind us of the truth. We are the ones who forget. We are the ones who wander off from the truth and seek our own way. We are all like sheep who have gone after our own understanding and desire to conform. The Word instructs and we find it difficult so we modify the instruction to fit our time and our culture. We do not want to be offensive so we adapt our thinking. And the result is we believe what makes it easier to live in our world. It may not be true but we convince ourselves that it is true indeed.

We have each sought to go our own way separate from God and He wants to bring us back and remind us of who He is and what He has promised and what He requires of us to do kindness, to love justice and to walk humbly with Him. He does not want us leaning upon the way we understand but to learn His understanding.  Therefore he tells us again and again the He is here. He is with us. He will never leave us. He will never forsake us. He will never desert us. He will always be here to help, to provide and to guide us in the path. That is why we can trust in Him with all our heart and we do not need to lean on our own understanding of what is happening. If we acknowledge this truth, he makes our path straight and if we watch the path of our feet, our ways will be established by Him.

So when the time of our need (which is actually all the time) presses us into remembering that we must turn to God and to what we know He has promised, we can actually and honestly trust what God has already said. If we have not heard it or learned it yet, that is the reason to study and seek God through His word. That is like going to the gym to keep our physical bodies in shape. We need a spiritual and mental gym where we learn and exercise our faith as we learn His promises. He does not need to promise us but one time but he has promised multiple time about many things and we will find those promises throughout the Word of God.

For the days that are coming when our faith will be tested and when the chaff will be blown away and the dead branches thrown out and gathered and cast into the fire to be burnt, we need to know that God is the one who has promised and He is the one who is faithful.

What Drives You?

“Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” Proverbs 30:5 (ESV)

Imagine, something is coming at you, something you know you are not going to like. You know you will be disturbed, upset, or even angered after you are forced to encounter it. How do you prepare for it? What is it that drives your reaction?  

Fear? 

Worry?

Faith?

Trust?

This is tough. We all want to avoid the battle and the pain that comes with it but we all know that we cannot escape from all of it. Sometimes in our lives we simply have to endure unpleasant encounters and the resulting consequences. Those are the times in our words and professions prove themselves; it is when the “rubber truly hits the road” and our faith is tested.

You have to believe that this is really difficult for me to even write about because I wrestle with it a great deal. It is what I am coming to call my own personal thorn in the flesh. I fear and I worry far too much about things that I have no control over. But I do have control over what I choose to believe and I do have control over what I say to myself and I do have control over what I ultimately put my trust in.  

I fear and worry about what is happening in our country and in the world. But that fear and worry have no effect on changing that – it only tears me down.  There is what seems to be an overwhelming shift toward evil – even among those who, in my opinion should know better. What once was commonly held as unacceptable – things to avoid and not accept or believe because they are just not right.  These things are being embraced because of the utter lack of reason and thoughtful consideration. Leaders and want-to-be leaders are embracing this change because of the uproar from those advocating the change for their own selfish and sinful passions and greed.

Everyday, there is more and more evidence and examples of Christ haters, God haters speaking out. Whole programs on television are dedicated to pronouncing the the hate of the program host.  It is no longer a matter of stepping aside and letting those who are corrupt in their thinking to pass by in the “live and let live” attitude.  Letting them have their opinion and freedom of speech is not enough any more.  No, that is not far enough anymore. Now, what is demanded that all people actually accept as good and proper what is fundamentally contrary to Christ’s teaching. In fact Christ’s teachings must now be changed so that they show acceptance and not offend those who hate Him.  

If this is not afforded by you or by me, then we must pay the consequences. Those consequences currently are mostly ridicule and scorn and hateful messaging but they will become more. It will become required by law not only to allow but to adopt. It already has been in some cases and standing on the Word of Christ as we believe it will be come unlawful. Those who expose evil and unlawful practices will be silenced by the very courts and legal system that should be holding the lawbreakers accountable. Lawbreakers are using the courts to protect and shield their activities.

But wait.

There is a reason the Word of God is crammed packed with promises and encouragement to not be afraid, to not fear those who can hurt the body but can do nothing to the soul. There is good cause to trust in what God says and be deaf to the accusation and temptations from the devil.

You see, in the final analysis, when the dust has cleared, the last man standing will be the Son of Man who gave his life for all who will believe. He will reconcile His word and His every word has been tested. It has never failed – it always proves to be true.  God is a shield to those who take refuge in Him – His word, His promise, we can count on it no matter what happens.