The Humanity of Christ

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For various reasons, the Deity of Jesus Christ, as well as the whole of the glorious Trinity, has shown up in much of my preaching of late. Certain sermon topics have taken me there. It is a rich study including both the Old and New Testament scriptures. The Bible says much on this topic.

Today, I wanted to speak to you about the opposite end of that stick, Jesus’ humanity. The full humanity of Jesus is a biblical fact. He was a man as much as you, I, or any other man, except for our sinfulness. Fully God, yet fully man. In Jesus, manhood is God’s. Some in the past did not believe so.

The Cathars lived in the 12th century. In a sense, they were the last of the Gnostic philosophers. They taught that only the spirit is good; all things flesh and blood are evil. They believed that once baptized, if someone sinned again, he would permanently and hurtfully alter his spiritual condition and be alienated from God forever. They believed in this so much that many would not participate in baptism until they were on their deathbed, making it that much less likely for them to sin against God before they died, damning the soul. What foolishness and a wasting of spiritual life.

Though these had their own scriptures (very late to the scene and inauthentic) written by other Gnostics, they could also reference (and distort) certain legitimate biblical passages to bolster their claims, such as Romans 7:18 (“For I know that in me – that is, in my flesh – nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.”), Romans 7:24 (“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”), and Galatians 5:17 (“For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”)

I will not break all of that down right here, it does not suit my purpose, but leave it be said that these passages speak of the sin nature and not merely the physical human body. You can read Romans 6 which speaks on this. The human body can indeed be used for God’s goodness. It is a matter of to whom does the Christian yield, to God or Satan, to the Spirit or the sin nature.

The problem, as to our topic, comes in with the false ancient belief of the Gnostics that the Christ could not have come in the flesh, since the flesh is always evil. They used weird shape bending teachings that had the “Christ” appearing here as a spirit, and then “Jesus” appearing there, now a man. The two were ne’er to abide together. They would assert that God cannot have a real human body. Their story goes that physical bodies are always evil and God cannot be evil, so it follows . . . on and on.

The aged apostle, John, was already dealing with this false doctrine at the end of the first century, before his death, when he wrote, quite pointedly, in 1 John 4:2-4 this:

“By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

He does so again in his second epistle, verses 7 and 9: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.”

“Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.”

Pretty sharp terminology there against the Gnostics. Jesus had (and has) two natures. Both are full, complete, and distinct from each other. The first (Deity) does not change or alter the next (humanity). How could Jesus have hungered in Matthew 4:2? How could He have thirsted in John 19:28? Let alone these, how could He have died? God ravenous, thirsty, and dying? It was the human who experienced these things. Yet, at other times, He would forgive sins, control creation of His own power, spoke of His eternity past, read the thoughts of total strangers, and claimed the place of glory and divinity. It was his Deity who performed these things. Both in Him, active and real, abiding in the same person at the same time. It had better. Without them, we could not be saved.

In 1 Corinthians 15:16-17, Paul writes, concerning the resurrection, this: “For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!”

It was not the Christ (divine) who lived the perfect life, and then, presto-change-o, the Jesus (human) who died. The Christ is not the Great Houdini of the Skies, in, then escaping out from, human form. They are one. Through His incarnation (God becoming flesh) infinite God could now die for an infinite number of men. And they are not infinite; there are only just so many. The humanity of the Christ is just as important as His divinity.

How did He achieve this? It was His coming, by the power of the Holy Spirit, into the womb of the virgin maiden, Mary. Actually, Philippians 2 (verse 6 and 7) describes it better than Luke 2 does, though let us revere both:

“Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.”

That phrase, “made Himself of no reputation,” is (in the Greek) kenoo (“emptied”) and heautou (“himself”). Heaven was His. Glory was His. Owned by right of His being. He gave these up. Not his divinity, but the pleasure of his divine place. In the very act of becoming a man, He, the greater, took on the lesser, so that He could save the least.

The fictitious Tarzan was Lord of the Apes. That may not exactly sound like the hill in life that you were hoping to be king of, but so what; it suited him fine. Through a set of most unfortunate circumstances, none of them of his choosing, Tarzan lived with the apes, ate with them, grew up with them. He all but became one of them. He did this too, in one sort of way, socially. But in the end, two things: he was not, in fact, an ape, and what he did do with them was not wholly voluntary.

Let us say that you, like Jane Goodall, the primatologist (ape-ologist, whatever) of the 60s, really care for apes, just like Tarzan. You love them. Your heart beats for them. Dare I say, in very poor humor, that you are ape for apes. Yes, let’s. Let’s further say that your concern rises all the way up to wanting to save the creature from certain extinction. I might carry the same sentiment. I might even put my money where my mouth is and mail in a contribution of $100, or even $1,000, alas, my ability to assist would end about there. Jane (the scientist, not Tarzan’s heartthrob) certainly did more. She dedicated her entire life. She lived out there in the rain forests among them. She visited them daily, studied them. But in the end, she did not, nor could not, actually become an ape herself, could she. Even the “living with them” ended every night, when she would return to her tent with its cheese and crackers, warm bed, English tea, and mosquito netting.

Jesus did what Jane Goodall would not do, at least, certainly could not do. He not only lived before us for a time, but He become one of us, right down to DNA ladders. He took on the actual form. The eternal God was assigned a date of birth, a human one, so that He might also be qualified for an end date, dying for mankind.

Romans 5 articulates some more the need there was for Christ to become a man so that he could help men. Verse 15 says that since by “one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God . . . by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.” Verse 17 adds that “if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace . . . will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” And verse 18: “. . . through one man’s offense judgment came to all men . . . even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men . . . ”

Forgiveness and removal of the offence from all the law books of heaven might very well rise from the place of a merciful heart, but it is also that same heart which possesses only the purest righteousness. What would mercy look like in the court of a judge who lets serial sexual predators and mass murders go scot-free with no more than a stern look and a rebuke to “never do that again. Now, vamoose. And don’t let me catch you again at any more of your high jinks.” The murder and abuse rates would vault to the sky. No one is willing to get in their way, so why should they stop, with sinful desires gnawing on their wills all the time.

I would even go as far to say that righteousness must be satisfied before mercy can play any part. In one way, it trumps mercy. Mercy may win the day, but righteousness always wins. Even hell says that Love sometimes loses. Mercy will not yield to unrepentant sin. God’s righteousness won’t let it. It always has the right of way.

God solved all of this through His plan of salvation. “I will send my Son. He will go to Earth, become a man and perfectly pay the price. If anyone will accept that payment, turning from their sin and applying faith to the significance of the events surrounding Calvary, I will forgive that person.

Romans 5:8 speaks to the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Compare what Christ did to other acts of great compassion. A protective father does less when he offers up one of his kidneys to a needing son or daughter. A security agent does less when he takes a bullet for the president. A fire man does less when he runs into a burning building. Unbelievably altruistic actions all, impressive sacrificial kindnesses, each one, but then there is Jesus.

God’s Son left heaven, not just to His beat in the Earth district to bust a few muggers, He, God the Son, took on the actual, and infinitely lesser form, of man, right down to our sin. There is no comparison. Even his 33 years of living here, volunteering for a sweaty brow and tired limbs after working all day and then doggedly falling into a primitive mattress, when before He was the Self-sufficient Almighty Lord of all. His becoming acquainted with physical weakness and bodily suffering and death, it goes far past anything we know as charitable activity. It is on another plain altogether, off by itself. It makes Mother Teresa look like a slacker.

I’m not sure exactly how I feel about all of it. Besides being blown away, besides loving God in heartfelt gratitude, it seems like what Christ did beckons more from me. I am left with looking on the giving of all my heart, soul, might, and life is not nearly a good enough gesture to state proper appreciation. Yet, in the end, heartfelt thanks is all we lepers really possess.

“This Thanksgiving, thank you Lord for your greatest gift of all – Jesus, the Son of Man.”

 

 

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Preach the Word

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We’ve been talking about the church in America, its shortcomings and needs. We will end this line of thought with the granddaddy of those issues, the drought that is being suffered today in biblical preaching.

Do you remember that scene with Peter and the resurrected Lord in John 21? On a walk down a beach our victorious Savior had three pieces of advice for him:

In verse 15, “Feed My lambs.” In verse 16, “Tend My sheep,” and in verse 17 “Feed My sheep.” That was it. Simple and to the point.

“I really need this, Peter,” He was saying. “Someone to do this.” Peter would be one of many preachers to take up the cause.

So, “feed” is mentioned twice, and “tend” once. Provide this to whom? “Lambs” are mentioned once, and “sheep” twice.

These are very good translations of the Greek. The word for “sheep” means literally “something that walks forward.” It has adult sheep in mind. The word for lamb is a lambkin, a little lamby-pie. Those that are very young, in much need of help. For some, they are so young that they have not yet been weaned. Later on in his ministry Peter says to new Christians (1 Peter 2:2), “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.” That is infant young.

Remember Nathan in 2 Sam. 12:3 when he was telling the story of the “poor man” who had “nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished . . . it ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom.” That paints a pretty good picture of our word. Those that are tenderly innocent, very young, so defenseless, brand new to the world. Some sheep are like that, newly born and in much need of instruction from God’s Word. They are fairly desperate for it, whether they know it or not. The best ones are those who are bothered with nagging hunger pains. It’s inside them, goading them to get more, and more, and still more of God’s Word.

The quelling of that urge comes only in feeding, of course, giving God’s Word to them, both in church and on the way, in their homes, out in the world. Jesus shared the Word in a sermon on the mount, in upper rooms, beside a sycamore tree, and next to a favorite watering hole.

This week alone I meet with lambs (young) and sheep (older) several times to give them God’s milk and meat. This was outside of my Sunday pulpit and any formal Bible classes. We did this in my home on my couch, in two restaurants, around a table at the church on a quiet weeknight, and in two situations in other people’s living rooms. That was only this week and only with church related people. I did no hospice calling.

In every one of those situations, the best part came when we broke the Bread of Life together, God’s Word. That’s our word “feed” in John 21.

The word for “tend” would be a more general word to encapsulate all that a shepherd might do for his charge. Its root is the word for “shepherd” or “pastor.” It means to supervise, even rule over. This would be every chore: build the fold, mend the fold, get the sheep into the fold (rescue), ward off enemies (defend the faith), tend their wounds, lull their anxieties. Many disciplines are involved with this word, but again, the chief benefit would come when connected, in some way, to the application of God’s Word.

Here it is from Ephesians 4:11-13:

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,” Why? “. . . for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

Pastors, preach the Word! Preach all the Word. Teach and tend to both your own growth and the growth of your flock.

If that is all true, and it is, then somebody, when you find out, please tell me, what in the world is going on?

In the church of Christ, biblical preaching is in a full galloping retreat. It has been replaced with poem reading, storytelling, whimsical antidotes, adding a light brushing of Scripture over the top, as if the recipe “called for a bit, but please, not too much, lest you ruin the dish.”

Whole doctrines are being ignored. Bizarre new ones are given seed. Watchmen and sentries are not on their posts. Some are AWOL, others sleep. This is being propagated certainly from our secular society, no surprise there. This has always been the mantra of the world. “Those wet blanket Christians.” In the tribe of the Scoffer our silence could never come soon enough. But the sad news today is that this is also being sought after from the pews. Worst of all, it’s being encouraged even from the pastor side of the pulpit.

This is happening in a myriad of ways. Preaching time is being abbreviated. The number of preaching services reduced. I saw one splashy ad in a newspaper for a new church that bragged loudly on the 15 minute sermon, and only once a week. The rest of the worship time would evidently be filled with praise worship. This is not to diminish the effect of song in church. On the contrary, the Word itself fans its flames, but never at the sacrifice of preaching and teaching.

Mentioning many wonderful and profitable spiritual gifts in the church in 1 Corinthians 12, the passage puts all those gifts on equal footing. One is not advanced over another. The encouragement is to look on all the gifts alike with the common goal of the edification of all. But then the chapter concludes with Paul saying in verse 31, “earnestly desire the best gifts.” This would be the speaking, teaching gifts. Not to exalt the ministers of those gifts over the ministers of other gifts, we are fellow laborers only, but do promote the teaching itself.

“Desire this corporately,” Paul is saying. In other places in the Bible it says to “increase them.”

Today the opposite is going on. The message is being watered down and DEcreased. Some ministries are walking back on dogma and doctrine altogether, trying to “avoid the good fight,” instead of “fighting” the thing. Some ministers out there demonize those who stand up for revealed divine truth. Ministers doing this. A much more open policy of acceptance of all things is being propagated.

Political correctness has stolen andthe mic completely away. George Whitefield once said, “It is a poor sermon that gives no offense; that neither makes the hearer displeased with himself nor with the preacher.” Now, I wouldn’t go out of my way to offend. Offense is no man’s goal, but if the truth would offend, then truth over camaraderie. After all, what is companionship anyway, if it’s not in truth. Nothing else will stand the test of time. We can surely stand together in the wrong, like children in ocean surf, but the next wave will sweep us off our feet and out to sea. Where then is our camaraderie. We get to drown together?

Ills in society are being wholly ignored. Some have even avowed to never, under any conditions, utter the words “sin” or “hell,” ever. It’s looked on as being too negative and dividing.

Now, while our message is certainly not sin and hell, (hardly, its polar opposite more like it) these need regularly to be the topics at hand. To be personal here, quite frankly such inactivity from the pulpits of America often takes my breath away, as if I’ve been slugged in the gut. What my eyes now behold rising from our churches and whole denominations, I can hardly believe. Our pastors are mothers who won’t nurse, doctors who refuse to examine, caterers who will not cook.

Some have regulated themselves to preaching (if you can call it that) only 5-10% of what is written. Usually it is something in the area of promoting upbeat thinking, avoiding anxious negativism, and finding real success in life. Three noteworthy topics worthy of our time. I am in agreement to help people with their thought lives. Maybe I would squabble on how the Bible defines “success.” But then, my fellow workers in Christ, there is also so much more that the Bible says. Let’s get on to some of that forsaken territory. Much of the church today stands in ruins precisely because its individual parts lie loose and unassembled on the floor for want of more than 5-10% of the owner’s manual.

Preachers of God, open your Bibles wide. Release water from the dam. Your people are parched. Maybe even consider taking down the dam entirely. Let the river flow. Study you Bible unabridged and unabated, then tell others what you witnessed there. Dam construction should be greatly encouraged. By all means, build them high and hold back much, but not the words of Christ. Not the prophets of old. Not the hand of God across Belshazzar’s wall or over the tablets of Moses.

Some have even gone so far as to preach the Bible’s opposite. Not just avoiding talking on certain topics (a hush-hush taboo), but condoning certain anathema behavior. Here I do not have any one sin in mind. Much is changing here.

The spiritual disciplines are hardly being taught at all, and diminished if they are. How much time is needed daily in prayer and in the Word is hurtfully being recommended to a few fleeting minutes of the day. All the while, the space that is left behind is being filled with the work and play and cares and mindsets of this world. Someone has said, “nature and cats, both abhor vacuums.” True. Something is going to flow into that space and fill every crack. So let it be, for you and I of Christ’s church, a compulsive disorder towards the words of God: needing it, wanting it, even nuts for it.

In churches today there’s not enough truth being served up to keep a shrew alive, let alone a lamb, let alone a whole flock of sheep. In some circles, intense biblical counseling is a thing of the past. Some ministries won’t touch it with a ten foot pole. “Too much liability there. Let’s just throw a good Christian read at them from the bookstore.” I wouldn’t half object that if it were a robust biblical “read,” something that might have arisen from the observations of Tozer or Spurgeon, or one of the great Christian minds of today. Charles Spurgeon once cut right to the quick of it with, “Preach Christ or go home.” My sentiment exactly. If they do throw a book at them that did teach the truth vividly, and might lead one to repentance, then I might be in favor of it, but that is not what’s happening.

Within the bowels of the church, as to any sort of biblical correction and restoration of errant, straying sheep, that’s being avoided at all cost. Correction is being done only when something absolutely must be dealt with, being the grossest sort of behavior. Only then will the leadership lift the proverbial finger, and then reluctantly.

In short, we have gotten ourselves into a great big heaving mess, folks. Long ago the first weeds started to show in this; now the lawn is full.

What is needed?

It’s already out there. Jesus to Peter: “Read and feed. Toil and tend. Intensely.

You can do your part. Start to foster a personal daily lively exchange with the the Lord through His Bible. If you don’t have such an urge, and you do need an urge, then give that to God. “Lord, my heart has grown apathetic, and my love for You weak.” Stir up the Spirit. Perform repentance actions. Ask for that urge to return. Read books from the greats. Look up the sermons and writings of A.W. Tozer, George Whitefield, John Wesley, Oswald Chambers, Watchman Nee, D.L. Moody, and John Bunyan. The list is long.

Increase your study of the Bible through your own church. Encourage your pastor. Challenge fellow Christians. Take up some of your own teaching. Teaching others is one of the highest, best roads to learning. This might at first sound weird, but it’s true. If not a class, disciple a younger believer one-on-one. Either disciple or be discipled. Have him or her over to your house for Bible study with an aim toward spiritual growth. Doing so is a hoot, trust me. You’ll flip for it.

And go to prayer. Pray for your church. Pray for other churches. Pray for a new breed of Christianity to emerge. A New Testiment kind. That would be a novelity. Pray for God to make Colossians 3:16 come alive in both you and your fellowship:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

May God bless our restorative actions.

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Four Ounces

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Let us say that you have stumbled upon the discovery of a miracle pill that would safely take care of all heart disease and strokes. Yep. It has the amazing ability to clean out all arteries and veins, and renew damaged heart and brain tissue, completely reversing a person’s cardio system, top to bottom, back into the heart and brain health of a strong 20 year old athlete. It will do this for a person no matter his or her age (40 or 80), or condition. This pill would take care of it, with no side effects, no matter the advancement of the disease. Heart and stroke patients would have to go find something else to die of.

In my made-up, but wonderful fantasy, you come across this miracle drug in a little makeshift lab that you run in your basement, in your spare time. Its ingredients are not expensive. All it takes is a special combination of some very available compounds that have never before been arranged in that particular order.

Question: Would you tell anyone else about it?

Answer: Them and their cousin’s cousin’s friend’s nephew. And everyone in between.

You couldn’t keep such a sublime thing a secret if you tried. It would become virtually impossible. It would be too important for the welfare of so many. Hundreds of millions. Soon you would be on every talk show in the world. Three hospitals would be renamed in your honor. The next Nobel Peace prize would be a cinch. You would be instantly rich and famous, rightfully so. You would be receiving “thank you” cards in the mail for the next 50 years. Your name would be added to the list of the most recognizable names in history. Every magazine which does so would name you as Person of the Year. Maybe Man or Woman of the Century. The thought that you ever contemplated, even for one whimsical second, keeping it a secret would be ludicrous.

Yet the 21st century church has managed precisely that with something far more wonderful than this – the gospel of Jesus Christ. Most never tell another soul about it.

What can the gospel do for a person? What are its healing properties? Here is the short list, not at all exhaustive, and with only a single dose: It erases all sin. It renews any soul, no matter how dark. It transitions one into a right relationship with the living God. All enmity is ended with the same. It wins heaven forever, and submits one to a total reversal on the curse of Eden, which is the root cause of every disease known to man.

By the way, as to the cost to the user? Zero dollars. As free as the air we breathe today. Yet again, 90% of Christ’s church would never tell a soul about it, as if the supply was limited and they wanted to horde it all for themselves. All the time knowing right well that the supply is inexhaustible. There is more than enough to go around to every man, woman, and child in the world. All 8 billion.

Yet what treatment does the gospel get from us? “Ssssh.” Not a peep.

It’s true. This is going on. Answering “why?” would be a most interesting. I don’t know if I am up for it. Why does the church not talk about the gospel to friends, co-workers, and family members? Let me try suggesting a few reasons.

First, could it possibly be that some, when you come right down to it, do not really care for other people? This would hardly ever be admitted, yet for many, this could actually be case. They know the Lord. Maybe their wife and kids know the Lord too. That’s all they care about.

“That’s not true. Maybe I don’t witness very much (or at all), but I care about people, plenty.”

I know that no one would ever say such a silly thing aloud, so selfish sounding, but listen again: “I care, I just refuse to lift a finger to tell anyone how they can avoid the torments of an eternal hell and live in paradise, for free, forever and a day, and for one more day, and another, and again, and one more, and another day on top of that day still . . . but that doesn’t mean I don’t love them.”

In this example, there might be, lying low, another reason for our silence: “I don’t like talking about hell. It turns people off.”

One guy told this to me once, in a sense. We were talking about spiritual things. When I asked him if he thought that he was going to heaven when he died, he said that he felt confident that he was. When I asked him why he was sure of this, he quickly became very short on details. He had almost nothing to say as to how he planned to achieve this pretty nifty feat.

So I offered, “Can I show you what the Bible says?”

“Sure.”

“First,” I said, “you need to believe in the unfortunate news about sin. That we all have ‘sinned and come short of the glory of God.'” (Romans 3:23). Then you need to understand that “the wages” of those sins “is death,” which is hell forever. (Romans 6:23). This is not how I said it. I took more time than just rambling it off in three seconds, but that was the gist of how I opened.

Then I read those two verses out loud to show that it was indeed a biblical truth. Here the guy interrupted me. He was a 20 something years old. A young guy.

“Wow. You’re spreading a lot of negative energy there, man.” That is almost word for word what he said.

I begged to differ. If a doctor, an expert in his field, walked into the counseling room with a most fatal lab report in his one hand, and a beaker of some bland tasting cure in the other, and he told you, “If nothing else happens, you’re gonna die (holding up his left hand to show you), but I have here the 100% cure (holding up his right hand to show you that too).”

Further, let’s say that all of that could be substantiated by 30 other reliable medical experts from all the great universities and hospitals. Would you say that this doctor was a “bummer,” or would you say he was a “savior?” Was he filled with “negative energy” or was he the most wonderful, brilliant, God-blessed doctor who has ever put on scrubs. Oh, and by the way, let’s also add that on top of all that, he told you that the remedy had already been paid for.

“You will live and there will be no hospital bill coming in the mail afterwards.”

Don’t sit there and tell me that you would hem and haw and say that the guy was filled with bundles of “negative energy.” You would be doing handstands one minute and be downing the contents of that beaker the next. You might even hug the guy.

The problem in my true life situation of witnessing was not with the “doctor,” but the “patient.” My guy didn’t believe the bad news I gave him. He didn’t buy the illness. He didn’t trust what I held in my left hand. I must have been lying to him. If such was the case, then I would be everything that he thought I was. Maybe even worse. A huckster. A snake oil salesman.

But the fact is, I was none of those things. Both my left and right hands were filled with the unadulterated truth. The diagnosis WAS that bad, and the cure IS that good.

Could it be that part of the problem with today’s Christian who doesn’t tell others about the Lord is that they don’t grasp the gravity of the very disease they were once cured of? Are they not convinced fully of its certain outcomes?

Still others are filled with fear and pride, opposite ends of the same stick. These usually say that they would rather go the friendship route. “Build tidy friendships with the person before any witnessing. I don’t offend them with the ‘bad news’ side of the equation.” So they cut it right out. The problem with that is, no one will ever drink the medicine. Why should they? There is no illness, according to the friendship evangelist.

But when the Bible says to not have a timid spirit, but one of “power, love, and a sound mind,” (1 Timothy 1:7) surely something more than this soft approach is being commanded. Let me illustrate it this way. Did you ever play Tic-Tac-Toe? It is that simple game that nobody wins (unless your opponent is three years old). In one sense, that is what this witnessing approach is like, the one that makes them “friends first.” Let me give you a made-up example.

Let us say that it is Christmas time, a great time of year to bring up Christ. We say His name enough. Every time we announce the season. Perfect! You are sitting outside a store in the mall. A man sits down next to you. Watch. If the friendship approach is used, it will go something like that Tic-Tac-Toe game.

You: “How’s it going?” (O)

Him: “Hi.” (X)

You: “Merry Christmas.” (O)

Him: “You too.” (X)

You: “Let me guess, waiting for your wife?” (O)

Him: “You got it.” (X)

You: “Same here. It could be worse. It could be us in there, and them out here drinking Starbucks.” (O)

Him: “You got that right.” (X)

And after about eight more minutes of the same, what do you have? In the end, gospel-wise, nothing. Nobody wins. In fact, that friendship approach doesn’t even produce for you a friend. Odds are, he is going to leave that mall and never think about you again the rest of his life. Oh well.

Don’t be fooled. If you put on your Kingdom glasses you’d know that what really just happened. You blew a ripe opportunity for the Lord.

Now, let’s look at a more direct approach. It is not friendliness’s opposite. It’s not unfriendly. Not at all. I am very friendly when I witness. Often both I and the person I am talking to are both laughing, but I get to the point, sooner rather than later. Here it is, that same situation being used wisely.

You: “How’s it going?” (O)

Him: “Hi.” (X)

You: “Merry Christmas.” (O)

Him: “You too.” (X)

You: “Let me guess, waiting for your wife?” (O)

Him: “You got it.” (X)

You: “Same here. It could be worse. It could be us in there, and them out here drinking Starbucks.” (O)

Him: “You got that right.” (X)

You: “Say, can I ask you a very important question? (O)

Him: “Shoot.” (BINGO, you’re in.)

Yep, the same thing. Sure. Have a little fun, but then, way before the sun sets and the cows slowly start heading home, get to the subject at hand. Do it and do it right early. As far as us and the world, the gospel is nearly always the subject at hand. I’m not saying we never talk turkey to doctors, mechanics, and the guy who hands you your rented shoes at the bowling alley. What I am saying is, the gospel should always be a faint breath away. Not much at all needed to get us to it. Not a smack to the head, not a nudge to the ribs. We want to. We are prone to.

With only about 4 ounces of courage being applied to the recipe, whatever happens next, if you make that “important question” a faith question, what happens next is going to be revelatory, useful, bold, informative, whatever. Most importantly, it will be gospel.

It doesn’t even matter much what question you finally ask? Here is a brief assortment, off the top of my head.

Choice 1: “We say ‘Christ’mas, but who do you think Jesus Christ was when He walked the earth?”

Choice #2: “You seem like a friendly guy. Do you think that you are a good person?”

Choice #3: “We’re almost at the end of the year. If this was near the end of your life and you died, do you think that you would be going to heaven?”

Choice #4: “This may sound like heady stuff, but it’s important. What do you think happens to us after we die?”

Seriously, I could see myself using any one of those approaches. I have found that it does not much matter what approach you use at that point, just get there. If you didn’t like any of the ones that I offered, (you might even think them worthless), and you used another, that is perfectly fine. It does not matter. If you keep doing this, consistently, you’ll see the same thing. I’m telling you, once you say, “Can I ask you a question?” and the person says “Sure,” whatever comes next will be wonderfully, delightfully gospel.

It’s not hard. Witnessing is the easiest thing in the world. It is merely the regular application of those eight words, “Can I ask you a very important question?” When you go beyond them, you might get chopped off at the knees. You might get ridiculed. You might get passive resistance only. You might gain a listening ear. You might even witness the newest conversion on earth to the Lord, but whatever you get, it will be gospel. Love of it, indifference to it, or hatred of it . . . it all makes no mind to the gospel. God will use any, and all, of those responses in the heart of the listener. Gospel giving, even in a failed attempt to move things much forward because of resistance, is ALWAYS useful. Never doubt that.

What is required to get this done? Only that one simple question being asked with exactly four ounces of courage added to it. Not one drop more or less. By the way, in this scenario, “courage” also goes by another name: “faith.”

How much time are you going to spend building a friendship with a guy whose hair is on fire, before you tell him what’s happening just above his eyebrows? None at all. You might even scream it. “Hey, bud, you’re lit.” Why? Because, well, his hair IS on fire and you know what damage fire can do, but quick. So, you spring into action.

One time recently, I rubbed the back of a total stranger. It was a man. No. It wasn’t an accident. I did so very purposefully. I believe that it is true when I tell you that, to the best of my ability to remember, I have never rubbed the back of a total stranger before, and I will probably never do it again. It wasn’t any sort of prank. I wasn’t following up on a dare. It was all my own idea. I didn’t care that he was a stranger; neither did I care whether he was a man or a woman. I did what I did instinctively. The real question is, “Why did I do it?”

We were at this restaurant. The guy was sitting down to the table behind ours. I had scooted my chair over just a bit to let him in. It was very cramped seating. It was then that I noticed that the man had a spider on his back. A good sized one. I was going to just tell him, but then, when he was down in his chair, the spider moved up his back very quickly. He was a slick and speedy bugger, going for the guy’s collar. With no time for thinking, and no time for propriety, not even enough time to think of my own safety, I gave that spider a quick and decisive brush. Not against his back with a slap, but to the side, and off his back. Then I stood up to find the spider that I had just set sail. That was when I first started talking to the guy.

“Sorry. You had a spider on your back.”

He watched with great interest (to see if he had to slug me or not) as I looked for the spider on the floor.

“Is this some sort of nut? Who is this guy rubbing my back?”

Then someone spotted it, moving across the tile. I promptly stepped on it, as it started speeding away again. It was really the Richard Petty of the spider world. When the guy saw the size of the eight legged monster, he immediately thanked me.

“Hey, thanks, buddy. I appreciate that.”

“You’re welcome.”

My actions were bold, and fairly impolite, but the situation called for it. In the end, what I did was by all means appropriate. Why? Because we all know what honking spiders can do.

Well, in the course of time, I have also come to know what sin can do. What it does every day to people. Sometimes very quickly. So I go about with my measly four ounce jar of courage, and that is enough for me to ask people one simple question.

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Faithfulness

light

First, a confession. Here it is:

“I, William Jonathan Cole of Marshall, MI, without corrosion of any kind, and of my own freewill, did watch and enjoy the 1960’s television show, Speed Racer.” It first ran when I was 10 years old in 1966. I, and my brother Bob, were there for its full three seasons with bated breath for each of its 52 episodes. I must have seen each one 15 times. It’s embarrassing to say. I was just a kid. Stupid-city, I know, but true. Whew! Thanks. That’s a load off. I’m glad you were there for me. Some of those brain cells have since started to grow back. I’ve even begun to walk again. Maybe I’m just an optimist, but I truly believe that I’m going to make a full recovery.

While we are at it, I have another confession. I publish this blog on the 24th of every month. Last month, I missed that date. Some of that could maybe be excused. I went on a long vacation out east and simply could not get the article ready in time for publication before I left. But I’ve been back for over a week now, and all that time I have purposefully allowed my internet absence run a while longer. This time my continuing lateness was on purpose. Why?

In my series, I have been talking to you about problems in the American church. Today, I want to talk about faithfulness.

About five years ago, I was going to pull a fast one on my congregation, mischievous pastor that I am. I was soon to be preaching on the topic of faithfulness. Looking ahead to the morning of the message, I contemplated not arriving to church on time. Yes, me, its pastor. I was going to miss Sunday School all together and half of its worship service. That would get them talking. When I would, at long last, arrive during the preaching time (a few minutes late then too), I was going to show in my PJs with a cup of coffee and a plate of breakfast with me.

Why! For the congregation to see, in full regalia, slothful unfaithfulness on parade. That is what it looks like, folks, when expressed in a life. It’s unkempt and on no time schedule. It shows up when it shows up.

I wisely asked for board approval to pull my stunt. I still wasn’t saying that I was definitely going to do it. I just wanted their opinion, should I. They loved the idea. They gave me a clear go-ahead. I thought and prayed about it some more. In the end, I didn’t pull any shenanigans. I delivered the message conventionally. Why? It felt wrong; clever, but wrong. I do not want to be marked at all by unfaithfulness. At least not the purposefully kind. I did a little bit with this blog in the past couple of weeks. Let’s leave that as the closest I will ever come to proving my point. “Lord, help that prove true.”

Nothing works without faithfulness. Not this blog. Not a train schedule. Mail delivery. Calls to 9-1-1. NASA launches. Child rearing. High school football games. TV program lineups. Brain surgeries. Weddings, let alone whole marriages. If successful, they all require most detailed faithfulness, and steady handed loyalty.

Let’s pull out just one of my examples for examination: the high school football game. What if the other team didn’t arrive until three hours after the scheduled kickoff time, with no phone call as to any problem they had encountered? What if every visiting team did that? What if the concessions lady left her key to the Snack Shack at home and there happened to be no spares around? What if the parent volunteers scheduled to man the gate thought cleaning out their basement that night more important than coming to the game? What if half the players from the home team decided to go on dates with their girlfriends that night? “Hey, it’s Friday with the latest blockbuster movie in its premier weekend?” What if?

No challenger? Barely a home team? No concessions? Indeed, not even access into the stadium? Do you believe the local radio stations and newspapers would keep on covering such events? That is unfaithfulness’ testimony; it produces nothing, but barrenness, as much of an oxymoron as that is.

The only reason things don’t get that bad is because of faithful people. Did you hear that? I’ll say it again. The sole reason that Friday night high school football games, as well as all other such events, are not that bad is because there are enough faithful people around. Unfaithfulness only takes apart, dismantling everything it touches, like King Midas, only in reverse, golden things into common stuff.

A few years ago, a local school was having trouble rounding up enough girls for the fast approaching softball season. This is a true story. In recent years they had fallen on hard times with terrible problems getting girls even to show up for practices and games. The players would make every excuse. They were “sick” all the time. Out-of-town, real important visitors were in. You name it. Tired of their now famous namby-pamby reputation, the coach got this year’s lean roster together in their meeting room and laid down the law. It went something like this:

“It is my desire that our school produce a competitive team this year. We will play so many games. We are limited in the number of players available. The good news in that is, it means lots of playtime for everyone. We won’t be perfect, but with hard work and practice, we will improve. The fruit of our labors will start to show on the field. What I need from you is one thing: commitment. We haven’t been dedicated in the past couple of seasons and it has showed in our performance. Personally, I am sick and tired of lousy results. If we are going to field a team, I want it to be because each member of that team really wants to be here. So that’s what we’re going to do. I want each member to commit to the whole, ‘I will be at every practice. I won’t miss one. I’m going to work hard this year, doing my best. I will be committed to my fellow players. I want to be good coming out of the blocks and work from there at becoming even better, all year long.’”

“Quite frankly, if we don’t get that level of dedication, we’re not going to move forward with a team at all. Who’s in?”

That team did not “move forward.” They did not field a team that season. As to the vision that was cast, there were only a few takers. No one else wanted to be committed to the team to that extent, which, if you know anything at all about sports, is a rather basic, elementary level of commitment.

My question is, coming out that first day, the ten or so girls that showed up for the team meeting wanted what? It would be perfectly fine with most of them to really stink things up week after week? Did they just want to sport the cool caps? Did they want out early from the last class of the day on game days? Were they looking for a phony varsity letter to sew onto a bogus school jacket? What? They sure didn’t want the game of softball.

Nothing, not one single thing in all the whole wide world works adequately without faithfulness. It’s true. You know it and I know it. Everyone knows it. Why then is there so much unfaithfulness around? And please, tell me why does unfaithfulness rear its ugly head in something as fundamental to the human experience as our walk with God. I might understand your giving up on any sport, maybe you should. There is a proper place, time, and manner for such things. Some of our endeavors in life change in the course of time, but unfaithfulness to God, our Maker, emanating from those who fancy being called “true believers?” At that point, I am a bit confused.

That school dismantled their girls’ softball program that year. Why fake on? As far as Jesus Christ is concerned, if you are unfaithful, is that really what you think of Him? Less than an average softball coach who no longer wishes to tolerate subpar allegiance? Do you believe that He, Almighty God, has the stomach to hold in and swallow such dispassionate offerings? If so then you might want to take a look at Isaiah, chapter one, and all of the book of Malachi.

By the way, after a year of not playing, that team started up again the next season with a group of girls that did care about what they were doing. Soon they were hitting the ball in the slot, turning double plays, sliding into second, with people in the stands supporting their admirable efforts. Life on the ball diamond was fun again. Their uniforms were being ruined with grass stains once more, as is the intended use of all good uniforms.

So it is possible to turn around unfaithfulness. In the Bible, Peter did. The gospel writer, Mark, did it. Nineveh too. Horrible, awful, woeful King Manasseh did it. Do you struggle with loyalty to the things of God? You can do it too.

When it comes to the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, “faithfulness” is seventh virtue in, nestled warm between “goodness” and “gentleness.” 1 Timothy 3:11 says to be “faithful in all things.” In Matthew 25:21, the word finds its home right alongside getting the report that our lives were “well done” and the news that the quality of that performance was “good.” Faithfulness.

What are the root causes when we see the lack of it?

I believe that it is not complicated. It’s little more than the unwelcome appearance of that nasty ol’ mole who burrows about the yard of our hearts – apathy. Not caring. Disinterest or diverted interests. Lack of love.

Run away apathy seems to have our whole country, including Christ’s church, in a veritable strangle hold right now. Very little Holy Spirit air is being let in or out. In many situations, things are quite terminal.

But for the time being, let’s leave that be. I would prefer to mention the ones who are faithful to God, those who hold to His commands royally and loyally and gustily. These think of the words of God the same as what end stage COPD patients think about their oxygen tubes. Why do they carry in their hearts such esteem? Precisely because it is these same ones who are blown away by Christ’s presence, overcome by His goodness, grace, and glory.

For the next few moments, let’s relive the experience of driving down a dark country road late at night, no other cars around for miles. After a while, you come upon someone driving towards you in the oncoming lane with his brights on. This has happened to all of us. A common experience. How does that affect you? It depends.

Mostly, it depends on the make and model of the vehicle approaching, and the power of its headlamps. If it is a Nissan Kickapoo compact, it may not do anything to you at all. You might even wonder if those are his brights. “They look like they are on? Sort of wimpy for brights. Maybe it is just brighter regular headlights.” Hardly worth your notice at all.

But then, we’ve also been in that situation with a passing large pick-up truck with real brights on, from the Shekinah Headlight Company. You know the sort. It’s the kind of truck that the police like to commandeer when doing nighttime searches across dark fields, with row after row of headlights up and down the front of the vehicle.

I had this experience a few nights ago. It was dark. I was rolling along peacefully between the rumble strips, listening to soft music, when suddenly, lights appeared from around a bend. Finally, the whole monstrous vehicle came out. At first glance, the thought was, “Hey, that guy has his brights on.” When the vehicle got a little closer to me, my face began to go into a contorted squinting as I thought, “They sure are bright.” Then things really started to turn dramatic as the guy got closer still. All I could see was Sun. My eyes were nearly closed to its intensity, as I reached blindly for my own headlight controller. This so that I could hurriedly blink a message, ship-to-shore, by flipping my headlights on and off in that Morse code we all know: “Brights on. Disengage immediately.”

That failing, he continued towards me. Nearing the time when he’d actually pass me, it got so intense, my car was now filled with little else but white light as I reenacted some deleted scene from the film “Interstellar.” Moments before death, I reached out to hold the hands of Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway so that we could all go out together. Moments before impact, I felt like confessing something, clearing my conscience, so with arms, torso, and space helmet shaking due to the stress of our spaceship being fatally sucked into some theory of Einstein’s, I turned to Anne and said in a rattling voice, “I . . . must . . . confess.”

“Whaaaat?” More noises sounded of windows and space helmet visors cracking.

“I’ve . . . seeeen . . . Princess Dairies 2 . . . 19 tiiiimes.”

“Ooooh?” Car bolts were right then unscrewing, themselves.

“I . . . looove . . . your early stuuuff.” Several heat shield tiles sheared right off from the side of my car.

Just when the squealing of outer space death reached its peak, with myself screaming my primordial end, suddenly, it – FLASH – all returned to its former serenity. I was back cruising in the midnight and all was quiet.

Catching my breath, I looked in my rear view mirror to see the bed of a matte black pickup and the sound of country music receding.

Another time when this happened to me, the light was so intense, I kid you not, by the time the guy had passed, I had near completely stopped my car on the roadway. I kept slowing it more and more as the oncoming truck approached, so that I would not hit him on the one side or a mailbox on the other. By the time he was alongside me, I had little sense as to where I was at all on the road, it was that severe.

I knew what had just happened, but still, I had to ask, “What in the world was that?

Last week, we enjoyed communion at church. You probably did too. Did the meditative thought of the death of Jesus do that to you? What I just described? Was He magnified brighter, and brighter, then brighter still in your heart, as you contemplated again God’s love for you? Or did He pass you on the left with all the impact of a Nissan Kickapoo? Did the thought of Christ’s sacred death on your behalf blow you away, to a standstill, right there in church? Which is the average Sunday experience for you?

1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

It sure blows me away, I can tell you, every time. I believe that it is this which keeps me faithful. It is certainly is not the peerless virtues of wonderful Me that does it. Men are faithful to that which they deem intense; never to the mundane or subdued.

I am asking you to do a thoughtful, serious review of your spiritual life. With it, invite a heart change to anything that is substandard. By God’s Spirit, do this. Make it your aim to never be faithless again. Change that. Surely be faithless to Satan. These days, he could stand much more faithlessness to his causes. But please, I beseech you brethren, never, ever again, not one moment longer be blasé to the eternally worthy purposes of the Brilliant One.

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The Ravages of Riches

USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Man sleeping in bed

In America we are well to do. It may not feel that way to you, and you would probably be right. You might even be struggling right now. I’m not challenging that. But I’m not really talking about social class or income level when I say that. What I’m talking about is “by comparison.” You compare too. You would be talking about yourself compared to Warren Buffett. See, that’s an American comparison. Of course, by those standards you and I, and most all of us pooling our resources together, would be dirt poor. What I mean is another, different comparison: us to the Savior.

By His own admission, He had not the pillow to lay His wearied, blessed head. Even the foxes and birds possessed more than He. Compared to Him, and compared to His first followers, we are all filthy rich. To see this, you need not look any farther than to your things.

I’ll start with that which I have already mentioned: pillows. At the current time, we have this particular television commercial looping about our brains with annoyingly continuous play. It is for something called “MyPillow.” Here are some of the claims from its web site. It is “guaranteed” to be “the most comfortable pillow you’ll ever own.” Italics theirs, actually. They say that it is “the official pillow of the National Sleep Foundation.” They woke up just enough to claim a favorite pillow, then they went back to sleep again. Those kooky folks down at the NSF. Their pillows have helped people to get a good night sleep who suffer from “insomnia, migraines, allergies, RLS (whatever that is), fibromyalgia, and sleep apnea.” Wow! That’s some work there. See? Jesus had no pillow and we have – “for a limited time at these crazy prices” – “MyPillow.”

Stuff. We all got it. Piles and rooms full. Even at the lowest, poorest Ghetto parts of the economic spectrum, usually you will find the ownership, or access to, a television, a car, some fairly regular income (including the ill-gotten gains of some), a drawer full of clothes, flush toilets, and refrigeration. Take those last two, “refrigeration” and “flush toilets.” Two hundred years ago, the royal family didn’t have them. Television wasn’t even invented. Two hundred years ago – 1815 – radio was still nearly one hundred years off. Even electricity in our homes to power such stuff was a dream 75 years away. Now, we all have electricity everywhere – the wall or Eveready kind – at the flick of a finger. All of this has come about within mostly the second half of those 200 years. In civilization time, 200 years is like “yesterday noon.”

We all have loads and loads of stuff. For some, it may have been purchased from Macy’s. For others, it came from Goodwill, but still, it’s there.

The love of money is the love of stuff. Money buys stuff. That’s all money is good for, really, stuff buying. It’s a poor insulator. You can’t eat money. Can’t drive it. But you can use it to buy something that you can eat or drive. More money, more stuff.

There is a place in modern day Turkey. It is called Eski Hissar. It used to be called, in New Testament times, Laodicea: the City of Stuff. It was one of the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3. In fact, it was named after the wife of Antiochus II, Laodike. Believe you me, Antiochus wives could pack palaces out with stuff. Their shoe closets alone could choke a horse.

The city was very well to do. With an ancient medical center, a thriving eye salve business, the agricultural production of its much desired and unusual fine black wool, and banks, it was a fine hub for Roman industry.

In the year 60 AD, the city was devastated by an earthquake, nearly destroyed. Laodicea was so wealthy, its citizens refused the financial aid of Rome. They rapidly rebuilt on their own. Since this occurrence took place a mere 30 years before John wrote Revelation, it is possible that he was referring to it in Rev. 3:17 when he says that they had become wealthy “and have need of nothing.”

Today, not many live there. Mostly, it is a place of ruins. Two Roman theaters, a stadium, a colonnade, the aqueduct, a large necropolis, and the crumbled remains of three early Christian churches may all be visited. Yes, even the archaeological ruin of churches. I guess they did not listen to the warning given to them. It is recorded in Revelation 3:17 and 18:

“Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.”

“I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”

What did that spiritual blindness lead to? A lukewarmness (v. 16) that Christ despised. He literally could not stomach it. He threatened to “spew you out.”

“Such words. What a harsh God.”

No. Verse 19 says quite the opposite: “as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” His advice? “Therefore, be zealous and repent.”

Stuff, even the Goodwill, Salvation Army variety, can get in the way. In fact, it will unless you do something about it. God doesn’t hate pillows. He doesn’t even hate the much lauded “MyPillow.” What he hates is the love of such, maybe even the service to it. We go too far in our comfort search. We make zones out of it. Impenetrable fortresses, more like it. Soon, God, and His CZ (comfort zone) busting ways, is on the outs with us, spiritually, at least.

Is this you? Has America made you soft? Are there shows that you never miss (DVR, baby), and church services that you do often miss? Do you struggle with the books of the Bible, but can rattle off jingle after jingle from the 80s and 90s? Do you work two jobs for the establishment of the temporal kingdom and barely lift a finger for the eternal one. If so, you have been wooed off the Way , brethren. The jingles worked. You have been successfully detoured, and maybe not a little.

What to do?

Revelation 3:20 says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”

Realize the problem. Reopen yourself to Christ. Wake from your sound, restful spiritual sleep. Get off your soft pillow and down onto your hard knees. Ask God for forgiveness.

Then you must do what verse 21 suggests simply. You must “overcome.” Surely you have more resolve than a pillow company. Some may have to radically shrink what they own. Do it. Get rid of some of it. Throw it overboard and control the rest.

Overcoming is mastering – you controlling it. Keep going until you feel God back in control of your life. Keep going tell you feel yourself lean. Don’t stop until God’s will is habitually being accomplished in your life, and in the lives of those near and dear to you. Don’t even stop then. Keep right on going. Why not? It’s the right direction. Build a few fortresses yourself. You spew out a little, or He will.

Verse 22 ends with: “He who has an ear, let him hear.”

Did you?

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Trouble in Anatevka

fiddler

These are the opening lines to the great Broadway musical, Fiddler on the Roof:

“A fiddler on the roof . . . sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say, every one of us is a fiddler on the roof. Trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy.”

If I may use that in a different way altogether – there is today another sort of fiddler slipping recklessly along the housetops. That being, any Christian who messes with pornography, or any sort of sexual sin for that matter. He fiddles with absolute disaster. It is another one of the glaring problems with the Church in America. As that man or woman tries to play a happy religious tune, it is suddenly brought to ruin in the fall of a failed life, wooed and won by untamed sexual desires.

Sorrowfully, it is today an all too familiar story among Christians of every stripe – pastor to parishioner. It knows no bounds. The statistics are startling.

In one survey, 50% of the men who attended a packed Promise Keepers convention viewed a porn website within one week of the event. So much for keeping ones promises.

It is reported that 54% of all Christian pastors report having viewed pornography in the past year. Pastors. 54%.

In 2003, Focus on the Family did a survey that revealed that 47% of those that responded said that pornography was a problem in their home.

One pastor did not believe these reported findings, at least for his own church of 600. “Some 50% participating in pornography? Half my congregation? I mean, come on. How can that be?” So he collected data from his own people. Of those responding (the true numbers would be substantially greater, most hide), he discovered that 25% had viewed pornography in the past 30 days; 44% viewed it in the past six months; indeed 61% viewed pornography in the past year. His church was worse than the national average.

What is going on? What is the root cause of all this? I believe it is two things. A regrettable combination of a relaxed Christianity seated within an oversexed, beckoning society, especially American society.

In the United States alone, on the internet, there are over 68 million daily searches for pornography. That is 25% of all daily searches. A quarter of all activity. The United States is the world’s top producer of pornographic DVDs and web material. The second largest is Germany; they each produce in excess of 400 porn films for DVD every week.

There is no controlling it, even when not at home. 20% of American men admit to accessing pornography right at work. How many more don’t admit it? 70% of all internet porn traffic occurs during workdays between 9 am and 5 pm. Most disheartening, a recent study found that seven out of ten youth in America have been unwillingly exposed to pornography in some form. It’s all so easily acquired now. Full admittance with a few easy taps of the finger.

Even besides the pornography problem, our society flings sex out there for general consumption endlessly, in all directions and every which way it can. Unless your home television only gets the Hallmark channel, you are being inundated with commercials that stifle purity horribly, even when watching the good shows. Take a simple stroll down almost any street in America with pretty good foot traffic. It is getting difficult to do so in any sort of a relaxed manner with increasing immodesty of attire. So often you have to look away. Praise the Lord for wintertime. People actually wear clothes in the north tier states. A three month break for all of us.

Look at the skin game going on at the checkout line of your local grocer with its myriad of racked magazines, all with the young and the lovely across their covers, often in very compromising clothes and poses.

Even with the very best intended of internet searches, popup ads are willing and able to suspend any imagination that is wayward in the slightest. Availability is immediate.

The only proper single lifestyle that the Bible offers – chastity – is mocked to no end in every corner of our culture. In today’s topsy-turvy world, it is “right that is wrong” and “wrong that is right.” There seems not even the place to hide briefly from the bombardment. Certainly no cease fires are being offered.

I am not suggesting that you never go the the store, watch TV, or walk down a street. I am suggesting that while you are “in this world,” be not “of this world.” Be careful where you go and what you do at all times. I’m no prude and I am right. For a long time now this Earth has been no friend to God, nor to His people. Many good things on the planet does not mean “good planet.” Step careful. Be aware.

As a result of the blitzkrieg that I have outlaid here, spiritually and physically, we find all that was written in Proverbs 5-7 to be wholly true. Reading its 85 verses is a must for every committed Christian today. In fact, we shall go there now for both a highlighting of the problem and finding its prescription for cure. Yes, rest assured, there is help.

As to the problem, sexual sin does not rumble along the countryside aimlessly. It has been hoisted onto a set of very purposefully laid tracks. It is bound headlong towards a destination most particular. Where is that “end of the line?” Proverbs 5:4 and 5 says that though its enticements are sweet, sexual sin’s end is “bitter as wormwood,” and that promiscuous living is a “sharp . . . two-edged sword” that kills. “Her feet go down to death.” Verse 14 of that chapter says that it will bring you to “the verge of total ruin,” even in “the midst of the assembly.” So this, your little secret, is going to become public at some point. God will see to it.

Chapter 6, verses 27, asks the question, “can a man take fire to his bosom . . . and not be burned?” So you have that to look forward to also.

Then there is the losing of your honor. Chapter 5, verse 9, says that you will “give your honor to others.” Chapter 6, verse 26, says, “by means of a harlot, a man is reduced to a crust of bread.” The preciousness of your life is gone, sold to the lowest bidder. And it is possible for the sale to become permanent. Verse 33 says that “his reproach will not be wiped away.”

Make no mistake, sexual sin is one hair-triggered snare, set to tangle your feet hopelessly and hold you. Chapter 6, verse 22, says that the one who falls for it is “entrapped” and “caught in cords.” Verse 32 says that he “destroys his own soul.” Self inflicted wounds.

The bad news just keeps rolling on in. Read those chapters of the Bible. Really. Maybe that too will work to liberate you, if you find yourself there now, and hope to ever see the light of freedom.

Towards this (a far better end), advice is also given. First, Proverbs 5:8 says to “remove your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house.” Stay distant. In fact, Paul suggests to “flee away.” “Get thee out from there,” and I do mean now. All the good men of the Bible did. Joseph was one. He ran like the dickens. True, he lost his freedom for a while, due to the perjuries of a deceitful women, but he kept his integrity, and God restored the rest. His end was noble, true, and fruitful.

So Joseph fled the palace. Lot fled the city. Moses fled the nation. Again, heed my words, brother, sister. “Get thee out from there,” as one might from a burning building with hair on fire. Your trip might send you to a lengthy detour in your day, but it will also save your life, if not your soul.

If you are in a safe place, not tempting the tempter, and yet it still finds you (a billboard or an enticingly dressed shopper), immediately distract your eyes into another direction. Looking is buying. The Master himself said so.

Secondly, if you are married, increase you loving attention to your own spouse.  Proverbs 5:15 and 16 says “Drink water from your own cistern, and running water from your own well.” “Let her (not another) satisfy you at all times.”

Maybe Satan is setting you up right now by having you ignore the attention of your own spouse. Maybe you two are fighting more, or both carelessly letting “familiarity breed contempt.” Whatever it is, renew your loving attention to her today.

You single folks, be determined to preserve your vessel for a holy use. That could possibly even mean sex in a future marriage. You wait for him or her, as the holy Christ awaits his church/bride right now.

Thirdly, it always helps to renew the thought that God is watching you at all times. His eyes are seared onto the back of your neck. Can you feel it? That sensation of being watched? Yes, you are being filmed and recorded from up in heaven. Proverbs 5:21 says that “the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and He ponders all his paths.”

Next, and most helpfully, step into the light by confidentially admitting your weakness to another trusted Christian friend or minster. In the midst of all the Proverbs 6 sexual sin discussion, verses 16-19 gives seven things that are an abomination to the Lord. Among them are “a lying tongue . . . a heart that devises wicked plans” . . . and “a false witness who speaks lies.” Those all have secrecy in common. It is the norm to keep this battle private. When we do, and that is accompanied with continued failure, it leads us into a downward spiral: even further deceit, which leads to even further descent, which leads to even further denial.

Getting it out in the open, to the right person, in the right setting, is more than helpful. It disarms the enemy greatly. Not any single right move may spring you free from a lifelong habit. It is the accumulated whole of putting to work all the spiritual interventions that God has to offer. Together, in concert, they do the trick. Full disclosure is one of the more capable missiles in His arsenal.

And lastly, study and learn scripture passages that counter this sin. Verses on purity. Verses on the abiding Holy Spirit. Verses on the holiness of God. Verses on victory and courage. Verses on change. Towards this, listen to Proverbs 6:20-22:

“My son, keep your father’s command, And do not forsake the law of your mother.”

“Bind them continually upon your heart; tie them around your neck.”

“When you roam, they will lead you; when you sleep, they will keep you; and when you awake, they will speak with you.”

Those are some pretty comforting words. She, the adulteress, would not have you wise to her many devices. She would keep you young and dumb, all the way till the “arrow pierces the liver.” (Proverbs 7:23)

Fool her. God has greater plans for you than this. Surely you yourself have greater plans than that. End the sham. Man up and get help.

In the game of chess, “check” will lead to “checkmate.” Eventually, God will win the day. Make a move. You will be saved, and then He will long-last receive the glory in this terrible thing that Satan has always intended for the destruction of you and the weakening of Christ’s church.

In the film version of Fiddler on the Roof, the movie concludes with Tevye leaving his beloved village with the fiddler following behind. In our spiritual fight, even obeying the Lord fully, it (temptation) will not leave you alone. Not fully. Surely, even if, at times, from a distance, promiscuous society will attempt to close in again. You must be ready.

Out there are precisely two kinds of Christians when it comes to this area of life: the Josephs of the Bible and the statistics of this world. You must decide now, today. Which one better fits God’s plan for your future.

 

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The Abduction of Solitude

solitude

In 1517 a lone friar by the name of Martin sat down in his study to put pen to paper. The result? He would produce a most important theological work, very pointedly so. It was his attempt as a cleric to bring about needed change within the Roman Catholic Church of which he was a minister. Over the centuries, it had strayed from many foundational truths. So harmful were certain abuses, Martin Luther felt it his duty to speak out, come what may. It would very nearly cost him his life. That work came to be known as the Ninety-five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgencies. He posted it to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, the day before All Saints’ Day. It was October 31, a very Hallowed Eve that year.

Initially, things did not go very well. Historically though, his action was used to fundamentally set Christ’s spiritual church back on its feet. It led a return to orthodoxy. God be praised for the faithfulness of this minister of the gospel who was so dedicated, heart and soul, to divine truth. There were others before him; many more would come after. Truth is safely preserved in the hands of all those who “rightly divide” it.

That was in Europe, though its influence would spread throughout the world. In that same vain, as to the state of the Church in America, I hold these things against it.

We don’t like to be against anything these days. We prefer to “beg to differ.” This, however, is not very usefully, let alone it is not very Pauline, let alone it is not very much like Christ. In the opening chapters of the book of Revelation, Jesus felt compelled to reveal (2:14) “a few things” that He had “against” them. It was of utmost importance that certain harmful practices and attitudes be set straight.

While theologically it is not as daunting of times in some respects, still we do find ourselves at a crossroads of sorts to which a few things really ought to be said. There are a lot of sound doctrinal statements floating around out there with good truths in them. It is our practice (walk) that suffers sorely. In a series of essays, I will present five topics. That’s a full ninety less than the good friar (so give me a break). Each will state the detour the Church in America has taken, just as it will also encourage the return trip. The first of these will be the Abduction of Solitude.

Just hearing the words, “the practice of Christian solitude,” what does it trigger? Of what do you think? Some, if honest, would be short with me here: “Solitude? Pray a lot? Is that it? Fine! I’ll start by praying more. I pray for my food. I pray for my day. I pray after devotions. By gum, I even attend prayer meetings. You want more? I’ll jack up my nighttime prayers. How’s that? Five minutes into seven, maybe, on high and holy evenings, a double digit ten or twelve minutes.”

I am not talking about that. True, in part, this will have a concern for prayer. Prayer is integral to divine solitude, yes, but the Scriptures have in mind far, far more than that.

For me, after 33 years of Christian salvation and devotion, I am just now entering into the classroom of solitude. I am its freshman. The number one rule is “shhh”. At a time of optimum busyness, with demands for my attention at an all time high, I am seeking its opposite. I desire more a slowing down of my spirit. Sometimes I seek even a slamming of brakes. I am talking about shutting off the noise of the day and walking alone with God.

One pastor, whom I have talked to about this, calls it simply “being before God.”

Here is a cute T-shirt slogan I saw on the streets of Chicago many years ago. It was so clever; I stopped to jot it down.

Descartes: “To do is to be.”

Sartre: “To be is to do”

Sinatra: “Doo-bee-doo-bee-doo”

In a fashion, I might agree partly with the second, to lead with “being.”

It should be the deep desire of every Christian to “do” on Christ’s behalf. It is our commission. Not “doing” is like Michelangelo not painting or a boxer not socking someone in the mush. Doing is what we’re supposed to do. As we set off in that precise direction – to do for Jesus – we find a deep rooted problem. We cannot.

In Joshua 24, it talks much about service. It uses the word “serve” 12 times. 11 of those 12 concerns serving the Lord. The congregation of the people committed to doing this. They were adamant. “We will serve the Lord.”

In Joshua 24:19, their brilliant commander said, “You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God.” It is not that they would not. Their eventual not “doing” wasn’t his human intuition, neither was it a prophetic word that God gave him. Worse, it was a statement of fact, knowing the quality of their walk and the requirements for obedience. They could not, and would not, because obedience is a spiritual action and they were carnal.

They said the same thing in the beginning of their exploits through the promise land. In Joshua 1:17, the congregation committed boldly, “Just as we heeded Moses in all things, so we will heed you . . . ” That was about the last thing that Joshua wanted to hear. They followed Moses horribly while he was alive. Continually they vexed his righteous spirit, just as they did God’s. What was the problem? So often, the norm for those Israelites was an outward showy walk which was deficient of any significant inward substance. If that is the case, “not doing” is a given.

We had Kite Sunday at church recently. After the worship service, we held a weenie roast, then we all went out into a nearby field to defy gravity with wind. At one point, one of the men of our church was helping one of the little kids, at precisely the same time that I was helping another. Each child eagerly held his kite’s spool of string, while Vic and I both stood 20 feet away, holding their kites aloft. There all of us stood, waiting and waiting. What were we waiting for? A wind to gust. Finally, it did, and we burst into action. Both kites shot upward. A great success.

Jesus said a similar thing near the time of His ascension. In Acts 1:4, He commanded them to not “depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father.” His quote in verse 8: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall (then) be witnesses to Me . . . ” Before they could “go and preach the gospel,” before they could run their race, before the preaching and teaching, before God’s will could be done on earth, they all had to wait for the Spirit wind to fill their sails.

Why not set out to a life of service before? Because then they would have surely failed. In the end, it is only God who can provide true spiritual service to this world through churchmen, His tools. Without Him, we too would not have been able to serve. Box kites on the ground. So, there they were, the early church, waiting on God. They expectantly sought His empowering. The very same thing must be learned by every Christian alive today. It is one of the keys to success. We must make our primary target walking with the Lord. Sweet communion.

We have moved shockingly away from this. There is hardly a whiff of it in the average Christian.

What has gotten in the way of this? In short, everything else. Specifically, the arresting of our focus by all these modern tools, especially electronic devices: cable, satellite, smart phones, semi-smart phones, internet, computer games, social media, social media, social media, Sirius radio, Snap Chat, pods, pads, and now, iWatches. It drones on endlessly. We can hardly breathe and certainly would never dream of logging off, or even hitting pause. We act as if man-media is now the given constant. It consumes our every waking minute, even at work, chewing up all attention time. It is a serious problem that we hardly even recognize to exist. Today we give the briefest nod to any thought of controlling it in our youth. They are surrendered, absorbed, consumed while we sit around watching the steady unraveling of what we used to call our “spiritual lives.”

No one denies that the above items are all information based. That being so, of course, it is possible to use the same for good. Maybe even a lot of good, but if, at the same time, we do not realize the problem, that a Pandora’s box has exploded open, we are sorely naïve and out of touch spiritually.

This is not a bashing of technology, though a few rounds of such wouldn’t hurt. Let me not enable any appeasers with thoughts of my being out of touch with the use of the archaic, “newfangled.” Technology is just so much of the noise. There is much more that also runs interference.

With both parents now working, and other demands being made on married couples, with high school, college, and pro sports mania consuming, especially, the male mind (they even make some of it up with Fantasy leagues), and 24 hour everything now, that “one thing needed” (Luke 10:42) is being entirely ignored. Jesus also called it, “that good part,” which is sitting at the feet of God.

Today, we must find a way to spend more time alone, quietly, in the presence of our Maker. We are intense now only is the direst of circumstances, and it doesn’t last. For this, review our country’s prayerful response to the attacks of 9/11. Busyness should not hamper patient presence before God from occurring. It should be one of the catalysts for its promotion. In the gospels, the more that life crowded in on Jesus, the more He pulled away. He would go off into the wilderness or up to the mountain. He did this with faithful habit.

One new Christian that I was discipling told me how the only real time he could muster to get alone with God was when he went in to use the bathroom at home.

“I know that sounds terrible, but no one is in there. It’s peaceful and quiet, so I leave a Bible inside and do most of my reading and prayer there. Is that wrong?”

I assured him that it is good to talk to God, and hear from Him, in any place and at any time. Making good use of shaving and teeth brushing is very wise, but I also added, “that cannot define your time with the Savior. The world gets your undivided attention 23/7 and God is regulated to a smelly toilet?” No! We have to give Him the very best of our time and attention.

What to do? First, begin with the elementary things. Get yourself an excellent devotional Quite Time routine. Master it. Be faithful to it. One will be suggested in the appendix of this essay.

Second, extol God daily. Spend time with Him praising His name. Significant time. You must sing the hymns and choruses of God. You really must. You must magnify. You have to push your thinking of God to the BIG. This is most prevalent when we are in trouble. Always, no matter how looming your predicament, God must loom larger. Act like it. Talk like it. Pray like it. Let your daily schedule show how big God is. Bask. Son bathe.

Third, you must not rush your time before God. It cannot become much of a timed thing. Daily devotions might fit into a schedule. I would compliment you if it does. There is nothing wrong with that. But presenting oneself before a great and living Creator must be unhurried.

Here is the rule for how much time is a good enough amount of time for being reflective before Him: there is no time enough. Whatever time you can manage to scrap, scrounge, protect, and present, do. Monks – who may have been the only ones to abuse this, in a cloistered manner – have long ago fallen out of church fashion. When was the last time you met a monk. Call me when you do. I’ve never met one.

Go into any casino. Look around. You will notice something peculiar, besides widows being bilked of their life’s savings. What is it? There are no clocks. Not a one. The powers that be don’t wish for you to be reminded of the time. They want you lost, floating far out in the Love of Money Sea. We must find a way to do the same with God, mammon’s counterpart. We have to find whole mornings, not mere hours. Certain things will be accomplished only by taking a week or month of being in His presence. Some take a lifetime. Yes, others, but a day. Still, consider this level of spending time with God as an unmicrowavable dish.

“Where are you living, Pastor? On what planet? Who has time for that?”

You’re right. That’s just it. I am living on a planet that has no, or very little, time for that, and that is exactly what it has come to look like – a planet that has no, or little time, for God. In exchange, give me the prophets, any of them, except for maybe Balaam and Jonah. Balaam, “no,” for sure. Give me three kings: David, Hezekiah, and Josiah, but especially David. Read the Psalms. You’ll know why. Give me Mary of Bethany. Give me the apostles, but especially John who always leaned towards Jesus’ side. He even stood dutifully beside His beloved mother within earshot of His dying words. Give me anything that speaks of closeness to God, and at the same time, distance from the world.

For this, let me be unapologetically clear, you will need to sacrifice. Things must die. There is no other way. Sacrifice IS the way. You cannot have both. You have but two ears and two eyes, the only four gates to the mind. What fills those gates? For how long does it fill them? Get radical here, brethren.

Fourth, adopt this. Do some spiritual things that relate to walking with God in a “40 days and 40 nights” block of time. It was a favorite in the Bible, surely. Doing something for over a month pushes it towards habit. You might emphasize mediation on verses of the Bible for a particular “40 days and 40 nights” timeframe. Learn and use hymns effectively at home for 40 days and nights. Promote a single Bible theme in your life for that time span (brotherly love, or faith, or mercy). Privately give one thing up for 40 days and nights. This will change and recharge you.

Lastly, learn how to walk with the Lord, both literally and figuratively. I’m talking about your two legs. We walk the dog. We go for a walk with the kids. We walk for exercise. We walk to the store for a head of cabbage. Certainly, the very Cause of our existence, God, outscores some vegetable shopping on our priority list. I am a firm believer in going for real back road, city sidewalk, or nature trail walks with the Lord. Think as you walk. Pray as you walk. Commit as you walk. Confess sins as you walk. I am dead serious. Practice spiritually walking with God as you physically do the same. It is most invigorating. If, due to weakness, you do not ambulate well, sit in total solitude in a restful garden spot. It is the same.

About here, some need to hear that this is no replacement for church. In fact, it is not church, not in the slightest. Church is church. The word church means “gathering.” This is solitude. Just because one does need time to mediate, does not mean that one does not also need time to congregate. Both are separate and individually purposed disciplines with distinct functions and aims.

Jesus always did both. He strode along the rooftops of the mountains at night, then He returned in the morning to spend quality time with his disciples. The mountains are mostly about “He” and “me.” Church brings in the necessary “we,” a very important component in the Christian life.

So, “if I don’t do this solitude stuff, what of it?”

Three things: 1. You will miss one of the greatest pleasures of living a human life on planet Earth. Animal life enjoys nothing better than a good hunt. Plant life, a wet drink of water. Human life, time alone with God. 2. You will seriously hamper your spiritual growth as a Christian. 3. This world will, more and more, gain the upper hand in your life. Eventually, you will even find yourself fulfilling the lusts of the flesh, somehow, whether deep down you wish to or not.

Let us leave God to the last words on this . . . .

“I returned and saw under the sun that – the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong . . . “ Ecclesiastes 9:11

” . . . This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts.” Zechariah 4:6

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” Ephesians 6:10

“Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.” Isaiah 55:6

 

APPENDIX

Here is a format for daily devotions that I came upon a few years ago and have adapted to my use. It is the ABC’s of Quiet Time. But again, this pertains only to the first discipline listed. Significant time alone with God is different. In many ways, it is higher.

Assess – Start out by taking time to do a personal spiritual inventory. It’s best to journal your thoughts. Be frank. Bring all into the light. Confess any sins.

Behold! – Pray for spiritual guidance, then thoughtfully read a reasonably sized portion of Scripture. Maybe reread it. If need be, re-reread it. If you have to . . . you get the idea.

Contemplate – Take some time to study that passage and mediate on what it says. Like the spring farmer, plow your mind’s field with the Word. Turn it over in your head. Let the nutrients rise.

Direct – Give that truth a direction to go. Write out a practical application based on what you have learned from God that day. Commit this to the Lord.

Etch – Work on the memorization of Bible verses, etching their words into your brain’s cortex.

Fellowship – Take time to fellowship with God, praising His name. Maybe sing an appropriate hymn. A hymn book should be used liberally in any home. Finish with prayer. Keep some sort of prayer request sheet or log so that you can pray for the needs of “all the saints.”

That’s it! I might, in passing, mention the unwritten “G”. Go into your day now. The pump is primed for good things.

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