assumptions

The Resurrection Isn't Just an Easter Sunday Thing

IBS_trainersAs director of a Bible school in the Philippines, I got together with a group of teachers every Friday afternoon. We talked about the progress of the students, challenges in the classroom, and it was a time for me to mentor them. We worked on ways to improve our teaching and mentoring of the students. At one of these meetings, I shared about the importance of having a message theme—the primary truth and focus of a message.

I had them review Peter's message, as he spoke to the crowd gathered at the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:5-16). The goal was to identify Peter's message theme (Acts 2:22-36). At first, they had a hard time with it.

Sometimes we miss the obvious

They came up with all sorts of ideas the first time they reviewed the text. None of them saw the focus of Peter's message.

Sometimes we listen or look so hard at the truth, we miss the simple and obvious.

I encouraged them to look through Peter's message again, and to look for the truth repeated throughout it. I told them to look for five obvious references to this truth.

One by one, they looked up as they realized what it was. It was so clear and obvious but seemed hidden from their understanding. Why? They were focused on what they were convinced of already.

I've found this to be true over and over again, both for myself and others in the process of discerning the truth in the Bible. It's hard for us to set aside preconceived ideas and assumptions.

It's hard to see beyond what we've been taught to see.

Photo credit: creationswap.com ©joelMilhouse

Seeing the obvious

Last week my post ended with a short quiz of two questions, one multiple-choice and one open-ended. The first question had five choices and asked which important truth gets neglected.

I really enjoyed the responses and input I saw, and hope it got you thinking, even if you didn't respond. The second one asked what the central most important truth is in the Christian faith.

Getting back to my story with the teachers, what was the primary focus of Peter's message? The resurrection of Jesus!

Peter makes at least five explicit references to the resurrection in his message (Acts 2:24, 25-27, 30-31, 32, 33, 36).

How the resurrection is essential

I see the resurrection as essential to the other four truths in the multiple-choice question. Actually, the resurrection is essential to the gospel and the biblical story of redemption throughout the Bible.

When the truth of the Lord's resurrection is over-looked or neglected, it has a major impact on both our theology and walk of faith. Here's a few of the impacts—

  • The central focus of the gospel message of the early church, as seen throughout Acts, is diminished (Acts 1:21-22; 2:22-36; 4:10, 33; 10:34-43; 13:26-39; 17:22-32; 23:6).
  • The effective work of the Lord's death on the cross is nullified (1 Cor 15:14-17).
  • It's directly connected with the reason why we have a living hope—our own resurrection and hope of eternal life (1 Peter 1:3).
  • The resurrection is essential to our relationship with Jesus in our everyday life (Eph 2:1-10; Col 2:11-12; 3:1-4).

The resurrection is essential to the gospel and the biblical story of redemption throughout the Bible

Connected and essential

So, how is the resurrection of Christ related to the other four truths from the quiz last week?

The fear of God—the impact of Christ's miraculous resurrection reminds us of God's awesome power and might.

A call to repentance—the promise of new life, reconciliation and restoration through redemption requires repentance, which was an essential part of Jesus' gospel message.

Eschatology and prophecy—the central message of many of the parables of Jesus, and the OT prophets, is that an end of the age is coming with a final resurrection.

Prayer—our vital communication with God is founded on trust in Him based on hope. Why do we hope? As Job said in the midst of his suffering, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth" (Job 19:25).

Looking ahead

As mentioned above, the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead enables us to have a true, living hope—to be confident of a future in this life and beyond.

My hope is that some of what I've shared will help you see how vital the resurrection is to our relationship with Jesus. I also hope to explore more of this in coming weeks.

At least two of these truths are either neglected or misrepresented, so I want to look at them more closely—the fear of God and repentance. When was the last time you heard a message on either one of these?

Again, let me know your thoughts and feedback. If this post (or this blog) is helpful, please share it with others.

Here's a chapter excerpt from my book on one of the chapters about the resurrection—feel free to download it—Chap-11_A-Living-Hope Also, if you like it, consider getting the whole book—the e-version is only 99 cents!

Thanks for reading... and sharing!

Acronym-ically Speaking

Image credit: blinkblink1 / 123RF Stock Photo Acronyms. Gotta love 'em… lol (laughing out loud)! Whether it's government agencies or texting lingo, they've become an integral part of everyday life, at least for most of us. Like them or hate them, they are part of our information-overload culture.

But acronyms, as a rule, are context dependent. Unless you know the context they're used in you won't understand what they mean.

I know a group of believers and a ministry that goes by CIA—Christians In Action. Of course, when most people see these initials the Central Intelligence Agency comes to mind. BTW (by the way), that reminds me of a great line from the movie, Red October— Capt. Bart Mancuso: "Central Intelligence Agency... Now, there's a contradiction in terms."

Acronyms

Terminology and phrases used over and over often get shortened into acronyms.

When I did some work in the chemical dependency field we wrote reports for intake and assessment interviews. Comments were made about a client's social history (Hx) and recommended treatment (Tx). These abbreviations are common within social services and helping professions.

Acronyms are shorthand abbreviations for terms. It saves time and energy. But if you're not familiar with the context they're used in, it can cause confusion.

Christian lingo

Herein lies one of my pet peeves—the use of Christianese. It is a generic, catch-all phrase for Christian lingo and terms. I also call it Bible-talk. For the uninitiated (non-believers or new Christian believers) it is unintelligible talk. It doesn't make sense because there's no frame of reference to understand these terms and phrases.

As with most things I learn, I stumbled into a way of dealing with the overuse and abuse of Christianese. It wasn't discovered through research and study, but a desperate attempt to help my students understand the Bible and theological terms.

In 1995, I established a Bible school in the Philippines with a curriculum based on the Inductive Bible Study (IBS) approach. Working with students for whom English was a second language (ESL), I needed to find a way to help them learn beyond the typical transfer of knowledge—copying and repeating.

How could I get them to understand well-known Bible verses beyond a surface familiarity? How could I help them understand what it means to be born again or what redemption is?

IYOW

I developed the expression IYOW, for In Your Own Words. I asked the students to define words and express Bible verses in their own words. It proved to be a challenging yet fruitful process.

Several years ago we had a group of Americans come over on a short-term mission (STM). They went out with our first-year students for an outreach mission in another area. As part of our curriculum, the students had a class on personal evangelism along with the outreach (OR). This class required them to redefine common Christian terms related to personal evangelism.

I was glad to see how well the students did, but confounded by how the Americans struggled with the assignment. They had a hard time transferring what they knew into words of their own. They seemed to be bound by unspoken rules, as if it wasn't proper to decode these terms into simple words.

A useful tool

I realized I had stumbled upon a useful tool for teaching the truth. Not only for my students, but those who think they know the truth.

You try it. Take a common biblical term (i.e.: salvation, communion, etc.), Christian expression (i.e.: altar call, accept Christ, etc.), or well-known Bible verse (like John 3:16) and put it into your own words (IYOW). You may find it more challenging than you expect.

Next week I'll begin a new category of posts called, IYOW. From time to time I'll try to decode certain terms used in Christian circles (ie: church). I hope it will be helpful and insightful, and maybe a little fun along the way.

What are some Christian expressions or biblical terms you'd like to understand better?

Let me know. Just put them in the comment section. Maybe I'll use one of the suggestions in another post.


For a fun look at Christianese check out this video (still one of my favorites)— Christianese

For a more in-depth view of Christianese, here's a resource in development that might help, and give you a chuckle or two— http://www.dictionaryofchristianese.com/

What gives Words their Meaning?

Nehemiah 8:8 Learning English is difficult. It has a strong emphasis on grammatical structure.

I remember weeks in grade school and middle school diagramming sentences. I don't think that's done anymore. Pity.

It shows in the way people speak and write. And pity because, I think every student should endure the same torture (just kidding).

English!

English words can have different meanings and pronunciations, but the same spelling. Did you read the book? She read the book. The book was red. Imagine how difficult this is for someone learning English as a second language (ESL)!

How about two words that sound the same, spelled differently, mean different things, and used in the same sentence! He read the red book.

Context is important

This week I talked to two different people who used the acronym PT. One spoke of physical therapy, the other referred to physical training. How could I know the difference? The first person described what he meant as he explained what he was studying. The other one is in the military—known for their use of acronyms—who talked about his physical conditioning.

It's the context a word is used in that gives it meaning.

The one speaking (or writing) has something in mind when using a certain word, phrase or acronym. However, those listening or reading may not be familiar with how the person using the word intends for it to be understood. How many times public figures (mostly politicians) say their words were "taken out of context" when what they say stirs controversy. Christian believers, are you getting where I'm going with this?

Disconnect

This past week, someone asked me what my occupation is. My answer was that I'm a writer and teacher. The inevitable next question is, "Of what?" Right now I'm involved with three part-time jobs to pay the bills, but for the majority of my life I've been a teacher and leader. The transition from teacher-leader to writer-occasional teacher, and as an online teacher-writer, has been a steep learning curve.

When asked what I wrote, I told of my recently published book and my current writing project. I explained my concern of many Christian believers not understanding the speech they use, called Christianese, nor did non-believers understand these words.

As we talked about this, I could see it struck a chord in her heart. Although her church background is different from mine, we both saw a major disconnect of young people from church, or Christianity in general.

Why? There are plenty of stats and opinions, but I believe one thing that goes unnoticed is this issue of Christianese. Christian believers need to speak in plain language, not an obscure form of it. If we want people to understand what we're saying, we need to make the meaning of it clear.

What is your experience with hearing Christian terms and Bible-talk?

Have you ever considered the language you use when talking about Christianity?

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For a funny look at Christianese check out this video by B.A.D.D.– Christianese

Here are some Scripture references that might help to make the point even clearer— Nehemiah 8:8, 12; Proverbs 1:2; 25:11; Luke 24:27

What, Me Worry?


Remember the Mad Magazine cover with Alfred E Neuman asking, "What, me worry?" Perhaps I'm reaching too far back for some of you, but his iconic face and this question were a popular sight in the heyday of Mad Magazine (1960's-70's). It was the first irreverent and satirical magazine to impact pop-culture. Now, we are deluged with irreverent satire in all sorts of media.

A few days ago I read through a familiar passage in the Bible. It's familiar to those in Christian circles. Something simple caught my attention this time. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), Jesus gives insight and practical advice on how to live within God's kingdom. It's practical, yet spiritual. It's not mystical, but deals with motives of the heart and internal struggles. What do most people struggle with on a daily basis? Worry.

In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus' basic message is don't worry! Don't worry about what you eat, wear or what the future holds. His remedy is this—make life in God's kingdom and a good relationship with Him your priority. The rest will take care of itself. Actually, Jesus promises that God will take care of it. Of course, this requires faith in God and His faithfulness (Heb 11:6), but that's a whole other topic.

Here's what caught my attention— "Everyone is concerned about these things…" (Matt 6:32 GW). Other Bible versions express it differently, but the truth remains. The rich man worries about all his stuff (material wealth). The poor woman worries how she'll feed her family each day.

When I was a young believer, and new husband and father, I would often sit in my "worry chair." It was a big vintage-60's, wing-backed, turquoise chair inherited from my grandmother. I could spend an easy hour or so just worrying about how to support my young family, and what I should do with my life. After sitting and worrying, I would get up feeling worse than when I sat down.

Staring at me, on the wall across from the chair, was an artistic calligraphy of Proverbs 3:5-6, with a similar message as Jesus' on trusting God. These verses, their truth, are burned into my memory. That is a good thing.

But as I much as I know it, I still struggle with worry. Now I look back some 40-some years and wonder what the future holds. I've seen God's faithfulness over the years, so I don't doubt Him. But I worry about different things now and tend to doubt myself.

I'm not going to get into all that, because that's not my point. We all worry and we all tend to doubt God. God knows this. He knows us, even when we may think we're drifting alone in this life.

The resolve to worry is still the same, trust. Trust God. Use whatever smattering of faith you have and throw it in the face of worry and doubt.

What are you worrying about at present? Be honest with yourself and God! BTW, how's all that worrying working out for you? Maybe it's time for a change. 

“Don’t ever worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ Everyone is concerned about these things, and your heavenly Father certainly knows you need all of them. But first, be concerned about his kingdom and what has his approval. Then all these things will be provided for you. “So don’t ever worry about tomorrow. After all, tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt 6:31-34 GW)

Killing of the Innocents

Last week I saw a clip from a movie about the life of Jesus, one of the many shown each Christmas and Easter season. It is a disturbing part of the life of Jesus (Matthew 2:16-18) where King Herod orders the murder of all boys two years and younger. It is a prophetic echo from the prophet Jeremiah when he foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem hundreds of years prior to Herod (Jer 31:15). Herod orders the killing of these innocent children out of his own self-absorbed anger and jealousy. It was pure evil.

Reflecting on the recent evil killing of innocent children in Newtown, CT, I'm reminded how often such killing takes place unnoticed by the general population of the world. But it doesn't go unnoticed. Not by those parents, children, and communities who witness these atrocious and evil acts. Neither does it go unnoticed by God.

The Fix
I addressed this a bit in another post (Broken), but I have some further thoughts on the aftermath of the killings. A lot of debate developed over how to fix whatever problem caused it all. How to prevent such tragedies. I heard three general themes or issues through all the rhetoric—gun control, violence in the media, and mental and moral health management.

Gun control will be debated over and over, and some good points can be made. Two thoughts come to mind. Gun ownership is a right according to the Bill of Rights, and once a right is eroded in some way (like the current assault on religious freedom, ie: Christianity), it is a slippery slope for more erosion. Okay, I get that. 

But the 2nd thought is this—guns are instruments of destruction, pure and simple. That's their purpose, whether it's a target, an animal, or a human being. Yes, they can be a deterrent and means of protection (self-defense). Yes, others with evil intent must be restrained, whether individuals or people groups (nations). But, the ultimate question is how much is enough, and will it really be enough?

We do live in a violent culture. I see this obsessive fascination in the many forms of media that inundate our culture—movies, TV series, digital games, cartoons, etcetera and so on. It isn't normal and it isn't healthy, just ask the many men and women of the military returning from active war environments, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.

This also can become another so-called freedom issue. But is it really? Do we really need all this violent input involving zombies, vampires, and people who take the law into their own hands. We (our culture) glorify violence, plain and simple. And if we think it doesn't have a lasting and impactful influence on our psyche, then we are in serious denial at best, or simple self-inflicted delusion.

Deeper down
The third general theme of discussion formed around people with mental health issues and the general moral compass of our culture. This gets much closer to the core issue. But alas, morality cannot be legislated. Well, it can be put into law, but it won't just happen because of a law, no matter how well enforced.

How about the prevention of violence by the mentally ill? First of all, who determines which people are at risk for violence? How does one go about doing this? It's a rather impossible task to accomplish. Too many variables and factors are involved, and the bigger issue would be those in contact with whoever could be considered potentially dangerous. Dr M Scott Peck looked into this issue in his book, "People of the Lie."

Determining who is bent towards violent, evil action is not easily discerned. Ultimately, it's a people problem. All of us have a certain capacity for doing terrible things. It's called selfish human nature. When self-indulgence and self-exaltation (and other self absorbed characteristics) go unchecked anyone can be self-destructive, and this can spin off into violence towards others.

A cursory view of un-rewritten history (think– non-politically-corrected) brings the reality of human evil into sharp focus. It is easy to blame tyrants such as Hitler, but what about the many people who played a part in his spectacle of evil? The problem of evil is an internal one. Whether we choose it or not, it coexists in our world with good—moral, ethical and spiritual goodness. 

External restrictions and controls will never fix this problem. It might slow it down a bit, for a while, but it won't solve the problem. It requires a change in human nature. An internal change. One impossible for humans to bring about on their own.

Can we fully understand the power and nature of evil? Perhaps not. Even so, it's real. When innocents are killed it is incomprehensible, regardless if it takes place at an elementary school, an island retreat (Norway), or the region surrounding Bethlehem.

The truly innocent One
The story of King Herod's senseless, brutal massacre stems from jealous insecurity, after hearing of a newborn king of the Jews (Jesus). But this innocent child escaped his terror. Later, willingly, Jesus submitted Himself to the murderous plot of Jewish leaders and the complicity of a Roman ruler. Even at 33 years old, Jesus was still innocent—sinless.

His innocence (sinlessness) was sacrificed for man's lack of innocence (sinful nature). This is the only solution for evil—an internal change, a change of inner nature. Only by trusting in Him and His work of redemption upon the cross can we hope to escape the power of evil. Will it remove the presence of evil in the world? Not until people's hearts are changed and they receive a new nature.

I look forward to the day when God will end evil's reign for good (Rev 21:1-4). Until then, I must continue resisting evil in my own life, and spread the message of the only solution I know. I choose to look beyond the killing of innocents to the only One I know to be truly innocent. He is the judge, not me. He is the One who will resolve all things in His time (Eccl 3:1-8, 11).

How will you process senseless violence? What will you, and can you, do about it? It is your choice, each of us, and it is a daily choice to be made.

POP!

Pop! The sound of a cork escaping the confines of a champagne bottle. The brilliant explosion of fireworks across a deep black sky. A splash of brilliant color on a stark white page. Even the sound of Rice Krisipies in a bowl when fresh milk is poured over them. (Are you old enough to remember the old jingle, "Snap! Crackle! and Pop!"?)

All of these catch our attention for different reasons. They're different than the norm. Well, maybe not the Rice Krispies. I've read and heard that writers, bloggers, journalists, speakers, pitch men (err, pitch-persons) are supposed to start their verbiage with some attention-getting hook—some type of "pop!"

Pop or popped?

So, why are pop music or pop culture, and other such things, designated with a pop prefix? Especially when they don't stand out as anything special? Most pop-this-or-that seem pretty bland, middle-of-the-road, dull, or even blah.

In the 80's, mixes of several songs with different beats and rhythms were popular. Sometimes the songs were indistinguishably mooshed together. I hated those. It ruined the identity and distinctness of the songs for the sake of who knows what.

Popular or mediocre?

And that's exactly what happens with most things pop—they lose identity and distinctness by appealing to a wider slice of what's popular. When that happens a dilution of value takes place. They lose their pop! for the sake of popularity. It reduces things down to a state of mediocrity.

This contrast of "pops" illustrates a contrast of choices in this life. You can go with the flow and walk with the crowd, or choose a different way.

When I was wandering and lost in life, one Scripture passage stood out to me—Matthew 7:13-14. It speaks of two different gates leading to two different roads, which lead to two different destinations.

I realized that I needed to make a choice if I wanted to escape the mundane life of this planet. A life different now and forever.

A different way

When I hear too much Christian pop music, it bores me. And nowadays, too many Christian talks or messages (that used to be called sermons) do the same thing.

They bore me because there's not much depth or substance to them. But they sound good and appeal to a broad section of people (I guess). In other words, they are popular, but lack pop!

What path are you traveling in life? A path that is popular or one less crowded?

Does it lead to fullness of life here and beyond?

If not, maybe it's time to make a different choice.

Who's to Blame?

Over the past couple weeks, even months, the news media has broadcast stories where questions abound. The questions boil down to— Who's to blame for...? You can fill in the blank— the election, the Benghazi tragedy, the Hamas-Israeli conflict, and so on. After the tragedy of September 11th, a commission was set up to determine which government agency was at fault.

The blame game seems at an epidemic level in our nation, but it's not limited to us. And it's not a recent problem, nor is it cultural. It's a human problem and not going away anytime soon.

Sorting out blame, aka responsibility, is found at all levels of life and in every corner. It happens between people of all walks of life. Husbands and wives engaged in domestic discussions (aka arguments) spend a lot of time determining blame. Even within our own mind, our conscience, the blame game rages.

But why?
What drives this search to assign blame? It's quite natural to us, we inherited this trait. This isn't just shifting blame backwards, it's reality. Was is it our parents, grandparents, extended family? Well, yes and no. We do learn patterns of behavior, and develop attitudes and prejudices from our family backgrounds. But we're all just passing on what's been passed onto us.

I like to go to the beginning of the book to see how the story starts. Any good story lays ground work for the plot at the beginning, then drops breadcrumbs to follow to the end of the story, the resolve.

So, where did all this blaming start? In the garden of God, paradise. Yep, even in paradise, problems exist. But it didn't start out that way. God set man and woman, the first ones, in a place of earthly perfection, but with one caveat. They could eat from any tree in the garden except for one—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:8-9, 15-17). Of course, because of human free will, the inevitable took place—the man and woman ate of the tree. When they ate the blame game began (Gen 3:1-13).

Before jumping to conclusions to assign blame keep in mind that God warned the man first (Gen 2:16, 17). God asked the man about their problem (feeling naked), not the woman who ate from the tree first (Gen 3:9-11).

Here's the point—
The blame game comes naturally to us. We're programmed for it. But why do we continue it even when it resolves nothing? Good question! First of all, it's one of the ways we deal with guilt by putting it off onto others. As if we're not responsible, just innocent bystanders, victims.

It's also a way to justify ourselves as better than others. If I can pin blame on someone else to appear innocent, then I can convince myself and maybe a few others I'm better than all that. It's called self-justification. A lot of this goes on in our heads by comparing ourselves to others.

But the one element of blame we often miss is the ultimate focus of blaming others. It points back to God. Here's the simple view of it—

The man answered, “That woman, the one you gave me, gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (Genesis 3:12 GW)

Do you see it? "God, it's your fault. You created the woman and she gave it to me."

When things go wrong in our life, or in the world (in our estimation)— we lay the responsibility at God's feet. Here's the classic example— "If God is a God of love, why is there so much evil in the world?" The basic problem with this is the limited perspective we (humanity) have of life, this world, God, ad infinitum. 

Honesty—
When you find yourself playing the blame game, ask yourself some honest questions.
Why is it so important to me to assign blame?
What's my part in all of this? What is my responsibility?
How am I finding fault with God?

How different life is when we stop blaming and forgive, even as God forgives us. God alone is faithful and blameless. He alone resolved blame, guilt, selfishness, and wrong long ago.

God had Christ, who was sinless, take our sin so that we might receive God’s approval through him. (2 Corinthians 5:21 GW)

At the Feet of Jesus

Last week someone wrote to call me out about a phrase I used, saying it seemed like Christianese. It was, but I did give a simple simile as explanation. But I thought it might be good to explain it a bit further. I said that if there's something you (anyone) is struggling with, "Lay it at the feet of Jesus."

As I mentioned in my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Christian believers tend to use a set of words and phrases laden with meaning, but not understood by others. Even believers who use these expressions don't understand all that is said. Christianese is a general term describing words, cliches, and expressions used by people in the Christian faith. The use of Christianese isn't bad, it's just puzzling for those uninitiated to it. One of my favorite takes on Christianese is the short video produced by B.A.D.D. If you haven't seen it, it's worth the watch, funny and makes the point. Another good resource for understanding Christianese is a site called Dictionary of Christianese. If you click on the link, it will take you to a site where you can download a 30-page sample.

As I said, using it isn't bad as long as the words and expressions are explained for those who don't understand. These expressions are a form of figurative language, the use of figures of speech. All of us use figurative language in one form or another. Why? Because it paints a picture and becomes an abbreviated way of saying things. In fact, a figure of speech can make a point more clear than a lengthy (often tedious) explanation (think—listing off statistics versus illustrations of comparison).

A couple of stories So, back to the expression of "lay it at the feet of Jesus"—what does this mean? The best way to describe it is found in a couple of stories that illustrate it. Many stories could be used, but two stand out to me.

In Luke's gospel (Luke 7:36-50), Jesus goes to the home of a Pharisee (religious leader) to eat. While He's there a "woman of the city, who was a sinner," comes and anoints Jesus' feet with oil, and washes them with her tears and hair while kissing them.

Jesus is reclining at a table with His feet extended out, and she comes to express her appreciation and devotion to Jesus—at His feet. This, of course, causes the Pharisee to judge Jesus, which leads Jesus to tell the man a parable about forgiveness. Do you see the picture? Reading the whole story may help the picture come into focus better.

A second story involves two sisters well known to Jesus, Martha and Mary, and is found in Luke 10:38-42. Martha is busy with the work of the household (as to be expected), but Mary "sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching." The place of women in that day was to serve in the household. The place of men was to listen to the teacher. It's as if Mary has forgotten her place.

Martha complains to Jesus, but He doesn't give the response she expected. Instead He tells her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."

Coming to Jesus isn't just about laying our needs before Him, but of being with Him, listening to Him, worshipping Him. It is an expression of trust, of implicit faith in Him. Sometimes we may need to bring whatever it is we struggle with to lay it at His feet, to entrust it to Him. But our trust and confidence to bring our needs to Him this way is built up as we spend time at His feet.

And so, the more we are like Mary than Martha, and more like the woman of the city, the more confident we will be to entrust our life, our needs, our heart to Jesus. Then we will also find Him stepping in on our behalf when others accuse us, including the enemy of our soul (the devil). The illustration (above) from one of Dore's woodcuts gives us a picture of the Lord's intercession. It depicts Jesus' forgiveness for the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:1-11). He defends her against her accusers and extends mercy to her.

Jesus shows us great mercy and blesses us with immeasurable grace, especially when we learn to trust in Him in greater and greater ways—as we learn to sit at Jesus' feet and to lay our lives at His feet.

Stop It! But How?

I'm a product of the Jesus Movement of the early 70's. This movement was characterized by the common saying, "It's not about religion, but relationship." It is a relationship based on trust, trust in Jesus. Trust, an implicit, all-encompassing trust, is another way of expressing the idea of faith (see Hebrews 11:6).

A couple weeks ago I looked at the dilemma many Christian believers have with trying to be good Christians.

It requires a lot of self-effort to do so, but is counter productive to walking by faith, that is, trusting in God. And so, there is a struggle with how a believer can grow in faith and spiritual maturity without a good measure of self-effort.

Self-effort is often mistaken for self-discipline. They're different, at least in a spiritual sense. The first puts great emphasis on external actions and behaviors, while the other focuses on internal strength.

Where does this internal strength come from? It is only with this internal strength that a believer can overcome the struggle the apostle Paul spoke of—

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15)

Many personal struggles in life can be both disturbing and difficult. This is abundantly clear from working with abandoned and abused children and young women. It is what every pastor contends with in caring for people within the church. Many painful and unjust wounds are complex and resist simple solutions.

But not all personal struggles are complex. Most are simple and are tied to our universal, and inherent selfish nature as humans. They can be more readily resolved, but as Shakespeare said—"Aye, there's the rub!"

Overcoming struggle with sin, selfishness, laziness, greed, lust, and so on, requires a willingness. A willingness to not be pulled into the same paths of deliberate or mindless behavior, and the internal attitudes and mindset that propel them.

Human will is powerful. I am, however, not a believer in the "you can do anything you put your mind to" pop psychology. In the end, it is a set up for failure. I believe God is more sovereign than my own free will. And yet, I know God honors the free will He created in me.

On the other hand, God is sovereign enough to bring even the most powerful to their knees, as the great emperor Nebuchadnezzar found out (for a great story see Daniel 4).

Now, back to the question of how to "stop it." How can a person move forward towards spiritual growth and maturity, yet without relying on self-effort? Let me go back to the scripture mentioned a couple blogs ago [Stop It!]—Hebrews 12:1-3 GW.

At first glance it would seem the focus needs to be on what we might call self-effort—

We must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. (Heb 12:1 GW)

And that is what we as humans tend to do, especially within a culture that prides itself on self-determination and built an industry around doing it yourself (DIY). That's how we are wired.

But further reading and observation reveal the key—

We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God. Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don’t become tired and give up. (Heb 12:2-3 GW)

To overcome daily personal struggles, the focus needs to be on Jesus. This is where faith comes in. Again, the basic element of faith is trust. Trust requires the surrender and submission of our will to God. "Aye, there's the rub," that is our dilemma.

However, Jesus has shown us the way in the garden of Gethsemane when He asked the Father if He could avoid going to the Cross (Matthew 26:36-46). Jesus also struggled with His self-will, but after three requests He submitted Himself—His self-will—to the Father.

Even with the most complex struggles and personal issues, this is what's needed. It is the only true solution to "stopping it"—to be set free from the things that entangle us and seem to hold on to us.

It's easy to over think all of this. But it is relatively simple. It is also a daily struggle every believer will live with until we see Jesus face to face (in heaven). The struggle with self-will is the struggle of life, even a life of faith. Will we give in, or resist? Will we remain a victim, or be an overcomer?

What are you struggling with on a daily basis? Is it something recent or something that has plagued you for years? Whatever it is, entrust it to Jesus. Lay it at His feet, so to speak, as a dog might drop a ball at his master's feet. This is what Jesus spoke of in Matthew 11:28-30 GW—

“Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Place my yoke over your shoulders, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble. Then you will find rest for yourselves because my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Stop it!

©123RF

Bob Newhart has a hilarious comedy skit as a psychiatrist. His therapy is a simple, two-word solution for problems—"Stop it!" If you've never seen it, click on the link ("Stop it!") for a good laugh, but keep reading!

If only solving life's problems were that simple! Well, in some ways it is. But, alas, many difficulties in life continue to trouble us. Why? Why don't we just stop doing some things, or start doing other things? The Apostle Paul addresses this in his letter to the Roman church (Rom 7:15-19). What got me thinking on this line was my reading in the book of Hebrews. It's a comprehensive look at how Jesus Christ fulfilled and superseded all that is written in the Old Testament Scriptures. After remembering the many heroes of faith in Israel's history, a strong exhortation is given in the next chapter.

Since we are surrounded by so many examples of faith, we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God. Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don’t become tired and give up.  (Hebrews 12:1-3 GW)

Over the years I've found that many Christian believers try to live as good Christians. My advice to them is—Stop it! Many might say, "But aren't we to lead lives pleasing to the Lord?" Of course we are, but we go about it the wrong way.

Being a Christian is not about trying to do better, it's about being. The popular saying of the Jesus Movement of the early 70's was, "It's not about religion, it's relationship." My children are my children, regardless of their behavior—they just are. They were born into our family, and although there was some labor on my wife's part, they did nothing to become our children and do nothing to maintain their place in the family as our children.

Over the past 20+ years, Susan and I have worked with abandoned and abused children and young women. Without exception, the most important thing for each of them was being connected to their family. In many cases, they needed a substitute family through adoption. It is amazing how strong a bond this is—the bond between child and parent.

In the case of the abused girls or young women, Susan and I, along with the extended family at Rainbow Village, became a surrogate family. This was and is important. We are known as "Mama and Papa" because of the relationship we have with them. This has been an important element in their recovery from abuse.

It works the same way with believers within the Body of Christ, the church community. It is an extended family. It is to be a place of healing and restoration. A place of nurture and growth. A place of belonging.

OK, so what about moving forward in this relationship with the Lord Jesus? Is it possible to just stop it when it comes to our struggle with sin and personal issues? This text in Hebrews (above) indicates this—at first glance.

Go back and look at those three verses (Heb 12:1-3) and observe it more carefully. There are a couple important keys to running the race and growing in faith. Next week I'll go over this. In the meantime, if you're trying real hard to be a Christian—stop it! Just be one. Just be a child of God who trusts in Him.

What the World Needs Now

A popular song in the mid-sixties went, "What the world needs now—is love, sweet love..." sung by Jackie DeShannon [http://tw.gs/Way9d for more info see– http://tw.gs/Way9g]. It's still one of my favorite songs from the sixties and the YouTube video (first link) captures the innocent hope of the sixties for a universal love. Another one of my favorites songs was by the Youngbloods called, "Get Together" [http://tw.gs/Wayba], which became somewhat of an anthem for the peace movement of the sixties. The sixties were a tumultuous time of expectant hope and altruistic (at first) belief in the goodness of humanity, with a divergent mix of protests and campus unrest, a war overseas, economic change, and a moral and spiritual vacuum.

The sixties came and went, and a certain naive hope seemed to die with the close of the decade and the beginning of the "Me Generation", the seventies. We seem to be in a time of another divergent clash of expectations, but without innocence. In fact, there's a whole lot of mud-slinging and name-calling, but it's not just the fury of another divisive election. It seems what the world needs now is humility. At least some civility.

When you look into the heart of God, who is love (1 John 4:7-8, 16), the nature of His love is humility. Out of His great love He gave His Son—for the whole world (John 3:16). And looking to the Son we see humility. The apostle Paul points this out as he exhorts the church in Philippi to be unified (Philippians 2:1-4) through humility towards one another. Then he points them to Jesus for an example (Phil 2:5-8 GWT)—

Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Although he was in the form of God and equal with God, he did not take advantage of this equality.Instead, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, by becoming like other humans, by having a human appearance. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross.

Jesus, the personification of God's love, said this about Himself in Matthew 11:29 (GWT)

Place my yoke t over your shoulders, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble. Then you will find rest for yourselves

We in the American church, including all evangelicals whatever their distinctives, are too often caught up in being "right" (and I don't mean politically). The focus of teaching and practice (how we are to live) is more on upholding moral standards and protecting our rights and freedoms. Having good moral standards is honorable, and it is the great privilege of living in America to enjoy certain rights and freedoms (see US Constitution for more details– http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html). But with privilege and freedom comes responsibility. And morality is based not on human goodness, but the nature of God.

I fear we (the church) are moving faster and faster in the direction of becoming modern-day Pharisees— self-righteous and hypocritical, and lacking in mercy, grace and humility. The Jewish leaders who longed for their messiah to come deliver Israel missed Him when He did come. They condemned Him and found a way of putting Him to death. They were to caught up in themselves and maintaining their sense of rightness.

How can this be reversed? Can it be? If it can't be we are hopeless. Ah, but a solution exists. Change comes one life at a time, one heart at a time. Then, and only then, will lasting significant change take place in our churches, our nation, and the world.

Jesus said, "Come learn of Me..." and He also called all believers, all true followers, to deny themselves (selfish ambitions, pride, self-centeredness, etc.), die to themselves (take up their cross), and then follow Him (Matt 16:24)—simple, relational, intentional, and personal discipleship. This has always been the Lord's "solution" to world peace.

It requires no degree or certificate or special training. It's a matter of sharing the life we have in Jesus with others. Really, it's that simple. But, it's an investment. It requires discipline and commitment. And it requires humility. Are you ready for a change?

The Hitchhiker and The Cross

On a hot summer day, I drove across the lower desert valley towards Palm Springs. In the lower desert, summer days can be exceptionally hot! Summer days in the southwestern desert of America are intense—like opening an oven set on high, then sticking your head inside it. If you’re out in that kind of heat it can do some harm! It dries you out quickly, causing heat stroke or worse.

I was a Christian believer involved with a nearby church and retreat ministry and spotted a hitchhiker along the road. I decided to have mercy on him. I also saw it as an opportunity to share my faith. He got in and we exchanged the usual greetings. As I drove, I asked him about his life and if he knew the Lord. I had plenty of witnessing experiences, but was unprepared for what unfolded.

The young man took great exception with what I said and began arguing with me. Actually, he began cursing my religion and me. He shouted at the top of his lungs, “How can you believe in a God who would kill His own son in such a bloody sacrifice?” As we approached a busy intersection, he opened his door and jumped out of the car before we had stopped. Walking across the adjacent lane, he continued shouting and cursing at me. His reaction stunned me.
Many people find it difficult to understand why God would allow His only Son to die a horrible death upon the Cross. Plenty of people reject Christianity for this very reason, though not as vehemently as this hitchhiker. The whole concept of Jesus’ blood cleansing someone of sin is hard to comprehend, especially in our day of advanced technology and education. The idea of a blood sacrifice was not hard to accept in Jesus’ day, and was common among ancient people. Even today, people in other cultures are familiar with sacrifices involving blood.

My personal observation is that many believers do not understand the essence of Christ’s death. Many focus on His physical suffering and gruesome death, but it is the spiritual truth—the purpose for His death—that is most important. In theology, it’s called the Atonement of Christ.

His death is the pivot point for understanding Jesus' great reconciling work on the Cross. The text of Hebrews 9:11–10:18 sheds light on the uniqueness of Jesus as a Savior, portrayed as the High Priest who offers a perfect sacrifice for the atonement of sin. He is the very sacrifice Himself.

A deeper significance to this atonement is His blood—the requirement for true reconciliation according to the Old Covenant. His blood establishes a New Covenant—a new relationship of commitment between God and those who trust in Him by faith. This change in covenants moves relationship from a requirement of obedience to empowerment—from restriction to freedom.*

The Father's redemptive heart demonstrated through the love of His Son Jesus upon the Cross encompasses more than forgiveness of sin. It certainly includes forgiveness, an all-inclusive forgiveness for the world (John 3:16). But it is also a turning point in how people can be in relationship with the one, true, and living God. Though often misunderstood and misconstrued when viewed through the lens of humanity, it is a powerful expression of love beyond our full comprehension.
There is both a simplicity and depth to the reconciling event of Jesus' death on the Cross. It's seems too simple a solution. And yet, when a person begins to understand some of its depth and fullness, it is humbling.
What's your view of the Cross? How has it liberated you? How does it empower you in your relationship with the Lord and in daily life?

*another excerpt from my upcoming book, now in it's final editing for corrections process

Hasty Judgments, Wrong Assumptions

Katrina flooding in New Orleans–Win Henderson/FEMA

People, all of us, are quick to make judgments—we do this even without realizing it. It's more obvious whenever a great tragedy or disaster occurs—assigning blame and responsibility is all the rage, literally. The larger the event, the more blame is slung around. 


What concerns me most of all are the self-proclaimed prophets. Some foretell events that don't happen, while others are quick to claim it must be God's judgment. Depending on your own reactions, it's easy to fall into one camp or another of defending or blaming.

I remember someone claiming a cataclysmic earthquake would strike Los Angeles during the 1984 Olympics—as God's judgment for LA's evil. When it didn't hit he claimed it was because prayer and repentance had forestalled it. I was a pastor in Southern California at the time and was saddened once again by another false (and humiliating) prophecy. In Old Testament times false prophets were to be stoned to death. In our days it just heaps more scorn on the reputation of the Christian church.


Claiming that a disastrous event is God's judgment is much less risky (sort of) and harder to disprove. But this also tends to bring ridicule on God's church. I don't think God's too worried about His own reputation—He's a lot bigger than all that—but as in politics, slinging mud just doesn't win hearts. If it's truly a revelation from God, then by all means declare it. But if it isn't...there will be accountability both now and in eternity.


There needs to be a whole lot more genuine fear of God when it comes to speaking things in God's Name (imho).


Jesus spoke several times about this very tendency towards hasty judgments and wrong assumptions. Here's one I came across recently—

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:1-5) 

Here, Jesus challenges the people's assumptions about two groups of people who died. He questions their judgment by asking, "Do you think...?" Twice the Lord warns them to repent.


Hasty judgments breed wrong assumptions. If left unchecked, these same judgments and assumptions come back to bite us.


Jesus follows this dialogue with a parable (Luke 13:6-9), the story of a man who planted a fig tree that wasn't bearing fruit, even after three years. The man wants to dig it out, but his head gardener asks for another year—if it bears, then good, if not, then "cut it down." In the context of the story, the fig tree speaks of Israel and the judgment they suffered for rejecting their Messiah when He came.


When events and situations are large and removed from our day-to-day life, it's easy to make quick judgments and rash assumptions. A couple recent events come to mind—the GSA spending scandal, the Trayvon Martin case, the Secret Service scandal, and so on. It's easy to form opinions about these, but (for most of us) they're far removed from our own life.


But what about the hasty judgments and wrong assumptions we make every day about people and events in our own lives?