“You are the Light of the World” – ummm, really?!?

Coming to terms with the “theology of the cross,” and the fact that Jesus calls every disciple to “deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23, NASB), means coming to terms with authentic Christian living in everyday life. Discipleship is not so much about studying the word as it is living the word as we learn it. Discipleship is not so much about spending time in daily prayer as it is making our lives a perpetual and continual prayer unto God. Discipleship has little to do with how many times we “gather with the saints at the river,” but with our willingness to love and serve a lost and dying world. In fact, it grieves me, sometimes, that “church” has so commandeered our time, energy, and allegiance that people are too busy doing “churchy” stuff to connect with the world around them in authentic and meaningful ways.

Have you heard that old, kinda “worn out” adage that says: “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one, any day!” Well, I guess, some old saying should be well remembered because Jesus says pretty much the same thing when He talks about our being “light” in this world of darkness. He said:

“Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” (Luke 8:16-18, NASB)

In this passage, Jesus is reminding us that authentic faith ultimately gets down to what people “see” in us. It’s all about “living” our faith in the eyes of the world; not just singing about it during the Sunday gathering. And, if you look closely at Jesus statement above, you’ll notice that people have an uncanny knack for seeing through the surface of things into who and what we really are. Yes, we all wear masks at times. We all try to create a façade and manipulate people’s thinking concerning who we are and what we’re all about. But that never really works, does it? I mean, we all know that, eventually, the masks fall away and the façades disseminate in the light of daily living, don’t they? We may fool a few people for a little while but, ultimately, the people who matter most in life, and the people who need us the most in life, are going to come to know us as we really are.

Jesus’ comments, above, remind me of the parable of the talents wherein we learn that those who hoard their gifts unto themselves, rather than investing them in life, love, relationships, and the mission our Lord has set before us, will ultimately loose them altogether. How are we “living” our faith?

In what we’ve come to call, “The Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus initiated His earthly ministry with this very same concept, saying:

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)

When we put a little salt on our taters, we expect it to make a difference. We would consider it “worthless” if it didn’t. What good is salt that doesn’t enhance the taste of our food, preserve our pork, or help freeze our homemade ice-cream? What good is a so-called “Christian” who hasn’t denied himself and taken up his cross; or who is not in hot pursuit of Jesus? When it comes down to daily living, authentic faith can’t help be become evident in our lives. People will see our faith, if what we have is a living faith, because it will be seen in our works — how we love, how we serve, how we seek to make a difference in this world and in the hearts and lives of others! As James said, “But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works'” (James 2:18, NASB).

I hasten to add that a living faith should never be equated with dogmatic self-righteousness. People who interprete faith as “holiness” in the eyes of men, or as achieving some high level of “perfection” in our performance, have allowed our old Adversary to sidetrack, if not completely derail, them. Faith is not acting like that self-righteous Pharisee who, when he came to pray, said, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12, NASB). Rather, faith is becoming like that tax collector, standing some distance away, who was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (verse 13). Faith is acknowledging that we’re all in the same boat, that “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10, NASB) because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (verse 23). Authentic faith is agreeing with heaven’s judgment, that, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (I John 1:8-10, NASB).

And, perhaps, this is the greatest testimony of the children of light; and the very thing that people need most to see in us. They don’t need to hear our doctrine, so much, as they need to see our humility. They don’t need us to slam dunk them with our righteousness — as though we were somehow better than them — so much as they need us to lay aside our masks, quit with our façades, and confess our weaknesses, our faults, our failures, and our need for Jesus. While we seek to love them, while we seek to serve them, while we seek to go out of our way to make this world a better place by leading people to faith in Christ, people need to see these actions coming from broken and contrite hearts painfully aware of our own shortcomings, but all the more in love with Jesus for His sacrifice of grace and mercy. This is the “theology of the cross.” This is authentic Christian living. This is real faith. This is being the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world!” This is letting our light shine before men “in such a way” that they see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.

That they may see HIM in us,

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

Matters of the Heart

How to deal with human traditions and matters of opinion, and keep them in proper perspective when it comes to matters of the Christian faith, has always been a challenge for the children of God. In writing to the “ekklesia” in Corinth, the Apostle Paul said, All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (I Corinthians 6:12, NASB). Again he told them, All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (I Corinthians 10:23, NASB).

In stating that “all things are lawful,” Paul is not endorsing or permitting those things that are specifically and explicitly condemned in scripture – such as: “…immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Ephesians 5:19-21, NASB)

Nor is the Apostle Paul giving people license to set aside and not practice those things specifically and explicitly taught in scripture – such as: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12, NASB), or “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38, NASB), or be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, NASB).

Far from permitting what is explicitly condemned, or setting aside what has been specifically commanded, when the Apostle Paul says, “All things are lawful,” he is referring to that vast area of human endeavor that falls within the scope of human judgment and opinion. He is speaking with regard to the “ekklesia” determining what is relevant and expedient as we seek to live our lives to God’s glory day-by-day and carry out the work, the mission, and the ministry to which Christ has called us.

Because we do not want to become a catalyst for further division [denominationalism] within the body of Christ, and because we do not want to “bind” where God has not “bound” by pushing our personal opinions on others and holding them accountable to our own expectations as though they were the will of God, we need to give serious consideration to some concepts presented in scripture concerning the area of human opinion, cultural relevancy, and our use of Christian liberty. The Apostle Paul said:

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:1-4, NASB)

The Apostle Paul also shared this concept with the “ekklesia” living in Corinth as he described for them how he conducted his own daily life and ministry in various cultural settings, saying:

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. (I Corinthians 9:19-22, NASB)

Paul did not sit up on his “high horse” judging and condemning people because they did not look, act, or think like him. He did not insist that everybody come around to his personal way of thinking before he could have fellowship with them. Instead, because he knew that “all things are lawful,” Paul exercised his freedom in Christ to get out of himself and his own world and into the hearts and lives of others. To the greatest extent possible, without violating his allegiance to Christ, he became like those people he sought to reach and teach. He utilized “all means” available to him in his effort to “save some.”

These Biblical concepts encompass the very epitome of the freedom of the New Covenant. While some people take the position that “whatever is not specifically commanded in the New Testament is strictly forbidden”—often erring in the area of “binding” where God, through His inspired word, has not bound—others take the position that “whatever is not specifically forbidden in the New Testament is permitted”—often erring in the area of “loosing” where God, through His inspired word, has not loosed. Both of these positions originate in the mind of man, are fraught with inconsistency, and fall short of what the scriptures actually teach.

The main reason these types of philosophies fail us is because both positions are entirely legalistic—they move the discussion out of the realm of faith and into the arena of law. In other words, both positions stem from the mindset of looking at the New Testament as though it were a book of law—much the way the Old Testament children of Israel might look at the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Many people don’t seem to comprehend the fact that, unlike the Ten Commandments—which were engraved on tablets of stone—and all the rest of the Law of Moses—contained in the written scrolls of antiquity—the terms of the New Covenant are written on our hearts and in our minds. Remember, God said, concerning the New Covenant in Christ, “I will put My laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them” (Hebrews 10:16, NASB).

God’s holy and inspired written word—the Bible and in particular, the New Testament—is certainly essential to that process. In fact, we are told, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (I Peter 2:2, NASB). However, the gospels, the histories, the letters, and the prophecies that comprise our New Testament in no way read like a book of law; and to treat them that way leads only to what Jesus warned His disciples about when He said, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6, NASB). Like the people of Jesus’ day who were spiritually enslaved to the Pharisees, treating the New Testament as though it were a book of law places us in the precarious position of being controlled by the would be “scholars” and alleged “theologians” of our day; many of whom far too gleefully and voraciously adhere to that role.

Taking a rather “legalistic” view of God’s written word and Christianity in general, the modern-day Pharisees—religious leaders—of our day love to argue and debate over what they believe is “authorized” in scripture. This kind of legalism reduces the teachings of the New Testament to “the letter of the law,” rather than elevating them to “matters of the heart.” It takes love for God and for others completely out of the picture when it comes to making decisions about how we will chose to live our lives.

Does the new covenant child of God really need a “thus sayeth the Lord”—with book, chapter, and verse—to “authorize” absolutely everything we say and do; and, if there is no specific command or example, are we, then, prohibited from doing it? If so, then a lot of “churches” are in trouble because they have incorporated themselves, established business accounts, purchased property, built buildings, incorporated mechanical instruments of music in worship, appointed worship directors, song leaders, church secretaries, and a host of other “ministerial staff,” and have established orphanages, hospitals, and schools, all while engaging in a plethora of “ministry” activities that were unheard of in Bible days.

By the same token, does the new covenant child of God really need a specific prohibition spelled out in the “letter of the law” to know that something is not pleasing to God and that they shouldn’t engage in some possibly destructive activity? Because there is no specific command prohibiting some activity, does that mean one should feel free to participate in it even if, by doing so, we take advantage of others or hurt them in some way? We can all probably think of many examples wherein these kinds of legalistic “rules” appear absurd.

Is not my heart, when surrendered to the will of God, sufficient to convict me with regard to these and all other spiritual matters? God thinks that it is, for the Bible says:

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16, NASB)

We must be very careful with this concept, however, because it is, after all, our hearts that God is after. The scripture makes it clear that, even if something does, indeed, fall under the category of “all things are lawful”—belonging to the realm of human opinion—if I believe in my heart that it is sinful then, for me, it is sinful. The Apostle Paul says:

I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean … It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:14 & 21-23, NASB)

The concept that “whatever is not from faith is sin” is an incredible truth. On the one hand, if I consider something to be a sin, or even if I simply “doubt” that it has God’s approval, and yet I choose to engage in the activity anyway, what does that say about the condition of my heart; am I not, internally if not outwardly, walking in rebellion against God? On the other hand, James says, “to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17, NASB). So again, if I refuse to do what I believe the Lord wants me to do, am I not, internally, walking in rebellion? It matters not whether the issue is specifically addressed in the written word of God because it is my heart that convicts me; and it is my heart with which my Lord is most concerned.

From my heart to yours,

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

Christianity – Not a Belief System, but a Walk of Life!

The challenge every covenant child of God now faces is to, as Jesus stated, “deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23, NASB). Or, as the Apostle Paul put it, “I die daily” (I Corinthians 15:31, NASB). At the heart of this “lifestyle of death” lies the recognition of our own unworthiness, the acknowledgment of our dependency on God’s grace, and our desire to continually surrender our will to His will. It is impossible to carry one’s cross while walking in rebellion to the expressed will of God. The Apostle John reminds us of that fact when he says:

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (I John 1:6-10, NASB)

Now, obviously, to “walk in the light” does not mean to walk perfectly, or without any sin whatsoever. If it did, the text would not say that “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses [present, continual action] us from all sin” because we would have no need for such cleansing. Also, if to “walk in the light” meant to live without ever sinning, we would have no need to “confess our sins.” So then, just what does it mean to “walk in the light?” A clue is given in the preceding verse wherein we are told that, if we “walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Remember, Jesus told His disciples:

For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light. (John 12:35-36, NASB)

You may remember that, early in his gospel, the Apostle John described Jesus as “the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (John 1:9, NASB) and saying, “we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, NASB). Truth and enlightenment are descriptors the “the light,” and both are essential to comprehending the grace of God poured out for us through the sacrifice of His Son. John said, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” and “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:5 & 11, NASB). Though their Messiah was standing right in front of them, the Jewish scholars and theologians simply could not wrap their heads around just who Jesus was. “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness” (I Corinthians 1:22-23, NASB). However, as John also points out, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12, NASB).

So, to “walk in the light” is to walk with enlightenment, comprehending the truth of the gospel, acknowledging Jesus as God’s own Son, our Savior. It is to bring our hearts into subjection to the will of God and our lives into conformity with the truth of Jesus’ teachings. The Old Testament prophet said, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105, NASB). Jesus said it this way: “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32, NASB).

The Bible makes it clear that we cannot “walk in the darkness”—ignorance and rebellion—and still consider ourselves disciples of Christ. If we do that, the Apostle John says, “we lie and do not practice the truth” (I John 1:6, NASB). Contrary to what many believe, authentic Christianity is not simply a belief system, it is a walk of life.

Thus, the Hebrew writer admonishes us, saying: “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification [holiness] without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14, NASB). Wow — now that’s a pretty direct and challenging thought; and one to which we would do well to sit up and take notice! The word “sanctification” in this passage is the Greek word ἁγιασμόν – “agiasmon”— a form of the word “hagiázō” meaning: “to make holy, consecrate, sanctify; to dedicate, separate” (Hagiazo, 2013). To “pursue” this sanctification is to make every effort to distinguish ourselves as children of God, not only by what we believe, but by the way we choose to live. It is to bring our lives into conformity with the will of God; to seek to please Him rather than ourselves. As the Apostle Paul said to the “ekklesia” in Corinth, “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9, NASB).

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

Are Christians Today “On The Run”???

Sometimes I have to take a step back and ask, “Wow! Does the Adversary have us ‘on the run’ here, or what?” What I mean is, are we ducking and dodging, running and hiding, rather than “standing” for what God’s word teaches? Are we running away from “the good fight of faith” (I Timothy 6:12, NASB), rather than stepping up to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3, NASB)? Don’t get me wrong, I’m no warmonger — spiritually or physically. In fact, I sometimes think my testimony and my ministry sometime suffers due to my natural aversion to controversy. But there comes a time when even the most passive among us must find the resolve step forward with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17, NASB) in hand, and squarely face the opposition.

I marvel, though, at the effectiveness of Satan’s devices. While the Apostle Paul reminds the children of God in Corinth that “we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11, NASB), it appears as if many of us today are, indeed, ignorant of his devices, or simply unable to contend with them. For example, our enemy knows just how overwhelming and pervasive culture and society can be; he has mastered the power of “group think” and is an expert “herdsman” — rounding up the sheep together with the goats and herding them all together toward the cliff of destruction. He aggressively goes after the strays who don’t want to run with the herd and reigns them back in again; chastising them for their disorderly conduct. He and his “spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, NASB) seem to know just how to prompt, prod, and goad them into compliance.

I’m thinking, now, of comments made yesterday by Kaniela Ing, a member of the Hawai’i State House Finance Committee who voted in favor of SB 1 — the Hawai’i Marriage Equality Act of 2013 — when he said: “Marriage means help. Marriage holds families together and forms a loving environment for children to be raised, so why deny more loving couples from getting married? Isn’t allowing our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters that opportunity the conservative and Christian thing to do?” (Lincoln, 2013). Satan must be laughing up his sleeve at that one. Sadly, Ing, being quite deceived, knows not the spirit with which he speaks. God, through the prophet Isaiah, gravely warned against such folly, saying: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah, 5:20, NASB).

Christians, of course, want to do the “Christian thing,” don’t they? And that means loving and accepting virtually everyone’s notion of morality, regardless of how perverse it may actually be, right? We are a kind, gentle, and peace-loving — if not always peace-making — people, aren’t we? I mean, no one wants to be thought of as narrow minded, backward, intolerant, or old fashioned. And, certainly, no one wants to be called a “bigot,” or “prejudiced,” or a “hater,” or even, heaven forbid, “homophobic.” So when these kinds of accusations start flying, and the mind-control is turned on and brought to bear, what are the children of God supposed to do, simply crumple in the face of the onslaught, allow ourselves to be reigned back in, and rejoin the herd? I thought the church was supposed to be “the pillar and support of the truth” (I Timothy 3:15, NASB).

In my reading from the book of Ezekiel today, I came across a passage of scripture originally meant for ancient Israel, who had sold out their faith in order to become like the nations around them — they too wanted to fit in — but that, I think, also speaks powerfully to our society today. God, speaking through Ezekiel says to them: “But the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not right.’ Are My ways not right, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are not right?” (Ezekiel 18:29, NASB). People today, even some who call themselves, “Christians,” violently react to certain passages of scripture such as: “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 6:9-10, NASB) and they say, “The way of the Lord is not right!” The modern, en vogue, pseudo-scientific, politically correct, and socially acceptable mindset is to categorize homosexuals along with minorities, people with disabilities, and others who may be in need of special rights and protections by law. But the word of God does not make the matter a civil rights issue, but rather, a moral issue. It places them squarely in the category of those who have made a “choice” to pursue a life of unrighteousness. Again, I can hear the voice of rebellion crying out, “The way of the Lord is not right!” To which God answers, “Are My ways not right… Is it not your ways that are not right?”

The new covenant children of God need to be careful with this one. We are called to hate sin, not the sinner — “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB). We need to remember that the family of God is made up of people who were once fornicators, idolaters, adulterers effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, swindlers; and “such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11, NASB). However, if our ultimate goal is truly to put the best interest of others ahead of ourselves, and help men and women, young and old, get ready to go home to be with God forever in that “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13, NASB), then we need to understand that we are doing them no favors by failing to stand up and declare the truth of God’s word and call them to repentance. To those who say, “The way of the Lord is not right!” Ezekiel closes his prophecy with this dire warning:

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,” declares the Lord God. “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you.Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel?For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live.” (Ezekiel 18:30-32, NASB)

Furthermore, insofar as our own personal relationship with God is concerned, we need to decide who’s love and acceptance we cherish most, and where our own loyalty and true commitments lie. Perhaps we need to also remember Jesus’ call to discipleship and His warning: “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:25-26, NASB). Ashamed to Jesus? Ashamed of His words?

“… stand firm in the Lord, my beloved” (Philippians 4:1, NASB).

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

References

Lincoln, M. (2013). House committees pass same-sex marriage bill, advances to floor for vote. KHNL Hawaii News Now. Retrieved from http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/23887893/watch-at-5-house-committees-pass-same-sex-marriage-bill-advances-to-floor-for-vote

What Can I Offer Him?

With what shall I come to the Lord
And bow myself before the God on high?
Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings,
With yearling calves?

Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?

(Micah 6:6-8, NASB)

I sometimes get so frustrated with the worldly, fleshly thinking that so often pervades this secular humanists society in which we find ourselves. People who don’t want to acknowledge God, who think that this world and everything in it is just one cataclysmic accident, are always looking for reasons to justify their position; or to denigrate the beliefs of others. So bad things happen: a commercial airliner with hundreds on board disappears out over the southern Indian ocean — or wherever it ended up; a land slide in Washington wipes out an entire community, killing dozens; people we know and love, young and old alike, are taken from us by cancer, or by a terrible auto accident, or by who knows what — there are a thousand ways to die in any given day. Humanity lives with perpetual heartache and tragedy. Sometimes I think there are definitely more “broken hearts” out there than there are those that remain yet unscathed.

I’ve experienced the sensation of all the strength suddenly draining from my body upon hearing the news that someone I love has departed. I’ve spent sleepless nights sighing, crying, and wrestling with God — asking, “Why, oh Lord, why did You let this happen?” And it frustrates me to no end when I see the atheists, the agnostics, the anarchists, the “unbelievers” among us prey upon that. They try to lay all that tragedy and heartache at the feet of God, or those who believe in God, and say things like: “Why does your so-called God let this happen?” or “If there really is a God, and if God is really good, then He wouldn’t let these kinds of things happen.”

How bout that Bill Maher guy, you know the popular comedian and commentator who totally ripped into that “Noah” movie that was recently released. I’ve heard some comments he made being discussed on conservative airwaves, but according to a recent article in The Christian Post, some of what he actually said on television was:

“The thing that’s really disturbing about Noah isn’t the silly, it’s that it’s immoral. It’s about a psychotic mass murderer who gets away with it and his name is God. Genesis says God was so angry with Himself for screwing up when he made mankind so flawed that he sent the flood to kill everyone. Men, women, children, babies, what kind of tyrant punishes everyone just to get back at the few he’s mad at? I mean besides Chris Christie,” he said.

“Hey God, you know you’re kind of a d**k when you’re in a movie with Russell Crowe and you’re the one with anger issues,” he noted.

The comedian then tried making the case for why people should not get their moral direction from the Bible. “You know conservatives are always going on about how Americans are losing their values and their morality. Well maybe it’s because you worship a guy who drowns babies,” he said. (Blair, 2014)

But actually, I don’t know what’s really worse, the fact that this guy said a bunch of things like that on national television, or the fact that, as Blair (2014) noted in his article, “TV host Bill Maher left his target audience in riotous laughter…” I’m like, “Seriously? A whole studio full of people actually thought those comments were funny? What is happening in America, today? And who were all those people anyway? Do you have to pass some kind of liberal, agnostic, secular humanist litmus test before being admitted as a member of his audience?” I think I would have just quietly, or not so quietly, stood up and walked out… after having hauled off and thrown my right boot at the stage — forgive me Lord; I know, I know, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of” (Luke 9:55, NASB).

I have to confess, I shouted out “booooooo” and threw some popcorn at the movie screen when I took my granddaughters to the cinema last week and, before the movie, they showed a totally raunchy, sexually suggestive, piece of garbage that was supposed to be some kind of “music video.” My teenage granddaughters, one on each side, just stared at me, somewhat disapprovingly, in stark amazement. “WHAT?” I exclaimed! And they totally broke out in laughter! Well, you know, you just kinda get tired of all the “nonsense” — a dozen other words come to mind > a hem < — being perpetually shoveled in your face by today’s liberal media! >>> so I threw some popcorn back at them; I know that must have seriously upset the whole Hollywood film industry <<<

Anyway, back to my point and, I think, I have one. The thing is, what the secular humanists are missing is the fact that IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THIS WORLD! I mean, it “IS” for “THEM” because this world is “ALL THEY’VE GOT!” Or so they think. For them, it’s all about the comfort, the safety, the prosperity, the well-being, the happiness, and long life of humanity in this present realm. And being thus so fleshly minded, they cannot conceive of a God Who does not necessarily put humanity’s materialistic wants and desires, and physical, fleshly good first and foremost — at the very topmost rung of His eternal ladder of priority.

Have you ever read the book of Job? Talk about a mind-bender ~ sheeeeeesh! God broke the man’s heart in more ways than any of us can dare to imagine or would care to innumerate. And when Job cried out “why?” God’s response was: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4, NASB). Furthermore, even though Satan was the actual ravager who inflicted all the harm, God was willing to take responsibility for it because He allowed it to happen. Job didn’t know that he was a key player in a cosmic spiritual battle of epic proportions. And, that part was never even explained to him. All he knew was that, though he was suffering immeasurably, there was a God who cared for him. And so, he absolutely refused to do what Bill Maher did, “curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). Well, Maher hasn’t died, physically, yet, so maybe there is still some hope for him, too.

As Micah cried out, so I cry out, “Oh God, what can I bring to you, today, as a sacrifice of praise and worship that is in any way worthy of You?” All my commandment keeping falls short. All my service in Your kingdom pales in comparison with what Your Son has done for me? Do You want my sacrifices? If I could, somehow, manage to do what that rich young ruler who came to speak with Jesus couldn’t do — if I could sell my every possession and give the money to the poor — would that be enough? Is a sacrifice of praise from my lips, a song or prayer that exalts You — we call it “worship” — really what You want from me? Or, is it something else You’re ultimately looking for?

In an absolutely stunning passage of scripture, the Apostle Peter said

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. (I Peter 1:6-9, NASB)

In light of teaching like that, do you think we can, or even should, be exempt from the distress of various trials? How, then, would faith ever become real — something more than a mere abstract concept? How, without distress, can faith be “tested,” be “refined,” become “more precious than gold”? Remember, Jesus said, “in this world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NASB). Can we, do we, believe that?

And so, what is the ultimate call? Is it all our religious stuff and ecclesiastical trappings — our so-called “worship”? Or, is it not, to find a way through all the tragedy to keep our faith intact and, as Micah prophesied so long ago, “to walk humbly with your God”? To, like Job, remain faithful to Him no matter how much it hurts; to refuse to curse God, to refuse to give up on Him, to refuse to play Satan’s game and blame God for all the heartache in this world and thereby justify unbelief. But rather, to allow the heartache, the pain, the suffering, the sorrow to purge the dross and perfect our faith!

Those of you — us — who are going through the fires, or who have been through the fires, or who will, beyond doubt, one day surely go through the fires, have something to offer God that is immeasurably valuable beyond anything in this mortal world: a broken, contrite, faith-filled heart!

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

(Psalm 51:17, NASB)

Beyond words,

~ Salty ~

Luke 17:10

References

Blair, Leonardo. (2014). Bill Maher curses God, Bible, Noah story and ‘stupid’ Americans who believe; Calls God ‘psychotic mass murderer.’ The Christian Post U.S. Retrieved from http://www.christianpost.com/news/bill-maher-curses-god-bible-noah-story-and-stupid-americans-who-believe-calls-god-psychotic-mass-murderer-116276/

11.) A Philosophy to Live, or Die, By!

“And in Your book were all written

The days that were ordained for me,

When as yet there was not one of them.”

(Psalm 139:16, NASB)

As I observe the gathering storm clouds, dark on the horizon, my thoughts are scattered; but I know I’ve got to get a handle on all of this. This cancer could very well take my life. We’re not sure just what variety of thyroid cancer I have, nor what the staging may be. Has it already metastasized? Are my days numbered?

I believe the day and hour of my departure from this old world is already known to God. I believe, from this passage of scripture—Psalm 139:16—that He has known it long before I ever came into this world. The days of my life are “ordained” for me.

What I’m not wise enough to know is how much the decisions that I make in life have helped determined that day and hour. On the one hand, if the Lord already knew that I was going to choose to live an unhealthy, undisciplined, and self-indulgent lifestyle, or that I would make stupid decisions that would lead to an early grave, did He, then, ordain my days accordingly? Or, on the other hand, if the Lord already knew that I was going to choose to live a healthy, wholesome, and disciplined life, and make intelligent, insightful decisions that would enable me to live long and prosper, did He, then, ordain a longer life-span for me? Some say it doesn’t matter what choices we make; that when your time is up, it’s up; and if it’s your day to go, you go—by one means or another. Others say it does matter and that the day of our departure is scheduled, at least to some extent, according to the decisions God knows we, and others, will make as we go through life.

James, the elder in Jerusalem, and physical, younger brother of Jesus, exhorts us saying: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5, NASB). So, I ask for wisdom in all matters pertaining to life, health, and living to the glory of God during my time on earth. Whether it extends my life-span or not, I want to make good choices and live healthy and strong. I want to be an example of the quality of life that we can have if we choose to live God’s way—with spiritual and physical discipline. Perhaps these choices have already extended the days that have been ordained for me, even before there was a one of them. Perhaps these choices have nothing to do with my lifespan, but do provide a healthier lifestyle and a higher quality of life for however long I’m here. Either way, wisdom dictates that God is far more pleased with me when I make good decisions than when I don’t; and that’s enough motivation for me these days!

So, should I go vegetarian? Vegan? Should I adopt some strange therapeutic diet that has me pulping and juicing all day long? Should I give up coffee, tea, chocolate, ice-cream, along with all other processed sugars and carbohydrates; fruit or no fruit, or only certain fruits? Can I eat fish; pelagic fish, only farm-raised fish, shellfish? Do I go with high protein, low protein, or whole foods only? I know I can always have all the “green leafy vegetables” that I can eat—(someone just shoot me in the head, already).

And why does eating a fresh, healthy, organic diet have to cost THREE TIMES MORE than eating the normal, chemical laden, toxic diet that we typical Americans have become accustomed to? Should I get into a high-powered exercise routine, running, resistance training, or cross-fit? Will more moderate exercise, walking, swimming, biking suffice?

When it comes to treatment for what ails me, do I agree to surgery? Chemotherapy? Radiation? I know that whole “cut, poison, and burn” therapy is highly controversial and condemned by many. So, what about alternative medicines and therapies? Should I, really, be placing raw seaweed under my tongue for a few minutes, before swallowing, everyday? Do I agree to coffee enemas five times daily—yikes! And at what point does the treatment become worse than the disease? When does having some measure of quality in one’s life outweigh any possible life-extending benefits that some treatment might provide? How many have been put through hell on earth, only to die anyway, when foregoing the “life-saving” treatment may have ensured a higher-quality existence and a far more peaceful death process?

If the day of my departure is already determined, and any decision I make while here on earth does not change that, then I’m going to go for whatever treatment or therapy I think will give me the highest quality life experience possible while I’m here, regardless of whether or not it promises to extend my days. If the day of my departure, while already ordained, is determined by decisions I will make while here on earth, then I’m going to go for whatever treatment or therapy I think will extend my days, unless those days are going to be miserable; then, I think I’d rather just go out peacefully; with grace and dignity. Either way, I think I’m saying the same thing, aren’t I? Quality of life outweighs length of life! And, being the big “chicken” that I am, I’d rather avoid as much pain as possible.

It wasn’t long after I shared the diagnosis with others—in fact, about two seconds—before people started advising me on how best to treat this illness. While I do appreciate every concern and each person’s kind word of advice, I have to tell you that it all gets pretty confusing really fast. Sometimes I feel myself buried under an avalanche of conflicting, contrary, and opposing opinions and so-called “research.” Even people in the medical profession, for whom I hold a very high esteem these days, seem to continually contradict one another.

So, what can I do? I can follow James’ advice and ask God for wisdom. Then, trust the wisdom He gives me. Right now, that wisdom points me in the direction of trusting my doctors and their medical team, almost implicitly. They’ve told me nothing, so far, that doesn’t make sense or that would appear to eventually lead to a lower quality of existence.

Forgive me, those of you who love me, if I appear to, at least temporarily, shelve some of your good advice and alternative suggestions. Right now, I don’t really feel like I have the luxury of indulging in various medical or philosophical alternatives. I only have the mental fortitude and emotional strength to focus on the course that is clearly set before me. However, as things progress and change, I do reserve the right to hold on to all conceivable options.

But know this, Ne’ and I have talked it over and neither one of us is into extending our lives on earth at all cost. I’m not afraid of death—at least that’s what I keep telling myself upfront; as the storm gradually swells all around me. While I don’t relish the thought of being separated from the people I love in this world, even if only for a little while, death itself holds only the promise of beauty, joy, and happy reunions for me. As I face the storm, those thoughts fill my heart with courage and my limbs with strength. What I’m about, first and foremost, as far as this world goes, is quality of life; living each day for the glory of my Lord with as much energy and exuberance as I can muster. It’s a philosophy, I know, by which I am choosing both to live and, perhaps, to die. I want, so much, to identify with the Apostle Paul’s take on his own mortality when he says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21-24, NASB).

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Please feel free to comment below, or write to me: mybiblestudy777@gmail.com

7.) Why Me, Lord?

Sad Violin ArtisticSooner or later, somewhere along the line, when confronted with a potentially life-threatening illness, or some other tragic situation involving people we love, the thought crosses our mind: “Why? Why me? Why now? Why is God doing this, or allowing this, to happen?”

And you know, there are plenty of half-hitched people with some pretty goofy ideas out there who think they have all the answers for us. Some say that it’s God punishing people for their bad behavior. But while I’m sure that I do deserve plenty of punishment for all my bad behavior, I’m not convinced that God works like that. In fact, Jesus, Himself, discounts that kind of thinking in His teaching about the need for authentic repentance. As the story goes:

… there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:1-5, NASB)

So, there you have it. We are all sinners and we all need to repent of the selfishness in our lives. But God doesn’t punish some of us physically, here on earth, for the sin in our lives while letting others go scot-free. Rest assured, people will be held accountable for their sin; and those who choose not to repent of sin, but to embrace it during their time here on earth, will meet their fate in the final judgment. Check out Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus for more information about that (See: Luke 16:19-31). But, according to Jesus, the bad things that happen to us here on earth are not due to God’s direct punishment.

That having been said, the Bible does teach us that God “disciplines” the children He loves. Consider this incredible teaching written to the Hebrew children (Jewish Christians) who were suffering tremendous hardships and persecutions at the hands of their fellow countrymen, as well as the Romans, during the first century:

…you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:5-13, NASB)

It seems as if, having been confronted with cancer and the fact of my own mortality, and in light of eternity, my personal goals and ambitions don’t seem to matter to me so much anymore. Somehow, it’s not about my plans and what I want to do for God anymore, but about His plans and what God wants to do with me in whatever remaining time He has designated for me here upon the earth.

It’s not that I no longer have the right and the privilege to pursue my personal dreams, goals, and ambitions. These are the things that make our lives unique and wonderful. But it’s more like God wants me to give those dreams and ambitions to Him, completely and without reservation. He is calling me to surrender them to Him at the foot of the cross, along with everything and everyone else in my life; so that He can take them and do with them whatever He sees fit. Perhaps they need to evaporate before my very eyes. Or, perhaps He will work with them, mold and shape them, and make of them something more beautiful than I could ever imagine. But, I’m convinced, He won’t do that until I let go—until I give them up by giving Him utter control of my destiny—and that includes a willingness to be content with whatever He decides to do with them.

Furthermore, I don’t think God is content to leave me at my current level of discipleship. And why should He be? When I think of all the trials and tribulations our brothers and sisters in Christ have had to go through as they lived out their Christian faith—losing their homes, their families, their livelihood, even their very lives for the sake of Christ—why should He be content with my lukewarm approach to faith. The Apostle Peter reminds us of the purpose behind God’s discipline, saying:

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1:6-7, NASB)

God wants and deserves my unadulterated allegiance—a refined faith, purified, as necessary, through the fires of tribulation. It is written even of Jesus that, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8, NASB). So, if even my Lord Jesus needed to suffer in order to experience the true value and significance of obedience, then who am I to argue against it, or run from it? “Oh, God, my Father, give me the faith, hope, love, joy, and peace to embrace your discipline, in whatever form it comes!”

Now that’s just me and God at work in my life. We are all individuals and God is intimately working His will in different ways and in different measures within all of us who love Him. I don’t believe that the discipline God is working in my life applies equally to everybody, or anybody, else. I don’t believe God’s reasons for confronting me with thyroid cancer are the same reasons my little nephew, Gatlin, had to endure Ewing’s sarcoma at such a young age and die at age 14; or the same reasons our sweet Jessica had to deal with Fanconi anemia and succumb to it at age 11. I don’t believe God’s purpose in suddenly taking Tim’s life, at age 23, bears any resemblance to His purpose in disciplining me with cancer.

While some of the same disciplinary benefits may be inculcated upon the hearts and lives of the parents, families, and loved ones left behind, the only sure connection that I can see between any of us, and the trials we’re individually required to face, is “FAITH”—the uncompromising belief that, “…we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NASB).