bias

Tolerance and Intolerance

Photo credit: lightstock.com Welcome people who are weak in faith, but don’t get into an argument over differences of opinion. Some people believe that they can eat all kinds of food. Other people with weak faith believe that they can eat only vegetables.

People who eat all foods should not despise people who eat only vegetables. In the same way, the vegetarians should not criticize people who eat all foods, because God has accepted those people.

Who are you to criticize someone else’s servant? The Lord will determine whether his servant has been successful. The servant will be successful because the Lord makes him successful.

One person decides that one day is holier than another. Another person decides that all days are the same. Every person must make his own decision. When people observe a special day, they observe it to honor the Lord.

When people eat all kinds of foods, they honor the Lord as they eat, since they give thanks to God. Vegetarians also honor the Lord when they eat, and they, too, give thanks to God.

It’s clear that we don’t live to honor ourselves, and we don’t die to honor ourselves. If we live, we honor the Lord, and if we die, we honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this reason Christ died and came back to life so that he would be the Lord of both the living and the dead.

Why do you criticize or despise other Christians? Everyone will stand in front of God to be judged. Scripture says, “As certainly as I live, says the Lord, everyone will worship me, and everyone will praise God.”

All of us will have to give an account of ourselves to God. (‭Romans‬ ‭14:1-12‬ (GW)


Jesus said His followers are to be known for their love for one another (John 13:35). Sadly, Christians have a reputation for being self-righteous and judgmental, not to mention hypocritical.

Why? Because of disputes about beliefs and practice, and other petty disagreements. This tends to create an "us versus them" mentality towards believers and nonbelievers.

As Paul points out, this has gone on for years. Intolerance towards others is nothing new. Christian believers get outraged by the intolerance of non-believers towards us, but we don't realize the log in our own eyes (Matt 7:1-5).

How we live out our faith shouldn't be focused on what we do or don't do, but how the Lord shines out through our lives towards others.

We are to be examples of the cross—the Lord Jesus' redemptive death and resurrection—by walking the way of the cross (Matt 16:24).

One day, sooner than expected, we will be held accountable for how we live. Everyone. That Day will reveal how we've honored the Lord with our daily lives now. ©Word-Strong_2016

Freedom from Antidiscrimination

Photo credit: unsplash.com_RLopes Anti-discrimination is a big concern nowadays. In a nation that touts “freedom for all” and guarantees equal rights, there should be no discrimination. But there is.

Discrimination has existed as long as humans have lived. It isn’t limited to one nation or people group; in fact, you could say it’s an equal opportunity factor.

In America, we’re most concerned about discrimination in the areas of gender-types, race, religion, and social-economic status. Sadly, the protected rights of one group can infringe on another.

Hearts and minds

Laws can be passed and policies created, but they won’t change people’s hearts and minds. It’s in a person’s thinking and emotions that prejudice and bias reside.

Unless a person is changed internally, any changes on the outside are temporary and often fickle.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”—Galatians 3:28 (NKJV)

The kingdom of God is so different from the world around us. God rules His kingdom with love and love prevails over laws.

When a person encounters God’s grace and is changed spiritually in his heart and mind, he begins to see people differently than before. At least, that’s God’s intent and purpose for His children.

[bctt tweet="God rules His kingdom with love and love prevails over laws" username="tkbeyond"]

God doesn't discriminate

This verse isn’t saying nationalities, status, or gender no longer exist in a physical sense, but within God’s kingdom, in relationship with Jesus Christ, we are all one.

God doesn’t discriminate. After all, He’s doesn’t want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9).

We see this through the life of Jesus displayed in the four gospels. Of course, this openness to people of all backgrounds angered those who created barriers against many people.

In the end, Jewish leaders manipulated people to turn against Jesus. They were definitely discriminatory.

[bctt tweet="God doesn’t discriminate—He doesn't want anyone to perish" username="tkbeyond"]

God's worldview

When God’s grace is worked into our hearts and minds, we can look past whatever causes prejudice and bias. The love of Jesus and His call that we follow Him (Luke 9:23) ought to strip us of such things.

So, why does discrimination of any kind exist within the Church? Why do we as believers react in prejudicial ways toward others?

Simple. The prevailing culture of the world too often exerts more influence on us than the radically different culture of God’s kingdom.

[bctt tweet="God’s kingdom is radically different from the world's culture" username="tkbeyond"]

What can be done about it?

Each of us must choose the worldview of Jesus over the worldview of our culture. His worldview is summed up in John 3:16—God’s love prompted His death for all of humanity.

It’s not like wearing blinders or rose-colored glasses, but having a gracious heart and a renewed mind.

[bctt tweet="Choose the worldview of Jesus over the worldview of our culture" username="tkbeyond"]

Some questions and an encouragement—

How do you see prejudice and bias in your own heart and thoughts?

Why do you think any prejudice or bias exists in your life?

Look at who you tend to view in a negative way, how can you pray for them?

Likewise, who do you feel has a negative attitude towards you, and how can you pray for them?

Find ways of building relationships with people who are different from you, and ask the Lord to guide you in doing so.


This was originally posted on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog, here's the link– Freedom from Antidiscrimination

Is This the Will of God?

Photo credit: lightstock.com I remember seeing this title—“In Everything Give Thanks?!”—on a pamphlet someone gave to me. I was a young pastor and the author was a popular televangelist in my area (So Cal).

I looked up the Scripture reference and saw that he added his own punctuation to the text.

In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

His opinion and perception was that the apostle Paul was wrong. His biased view of theology prompted him to reinterpret God's Word.

A wrong view

This man was wrong, flat wrong, for a number of reasons I won't get into now.

What he did is what many of us do when we come to something in the Bible that's hard to understand or accept. We look for a work-around. We try to reframe or interpret a text so it's more to our liking.

When we try to do this, just like this man did, we put ourselves in a precarious position. It's an audacious and presumptuous attitude to question the truth of God's Word, because it doesn't line up with how we think it should read. We read our own meaning into the text when we do so.

An important element of studying the Bible is to understand it within its context. This includes the surrounding text and its historical context.

Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32) So, we need to be students of all that is in God's Word.

Encouragement from experience

Paul wrote this letter to disciples who endured considerable persecution for their faith, so he wanted to encourage them.

Paul could identify with them. He was persecuted by the same people (see Acts 17). Paul's exhortation was based in truth and experience.

He wanted these believers to know what they were experiencing wasn't unusual or unexpected. He also encouraged them to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing...” (verses 16-17).

These were not empty words, nor a casual comment. He was encouraging them to persevere in their faith.

Genuine gracious faith

True faith sees beyond the circumstances (Hebrews 11:1), and is grounded in relationship with God (Hebrews 11:6). Paul was telling them to be thankful regardless of their circumstances.

This is the response of genuine faith. It isn't overcome by trials, hate, even tragedy. It stirs us to rejoice, pray, and give thanks to the One who is the origin and focus of our faith—Jesus!

How can we be thankful in all circumstances? Here's a few ideas to consider—

  • Consider what the apostle Paul endured in Chapters 16 and 17 in the book of Acts. Can you see how he endured his hardships?
  • Make a point to be thankful to the Lord in the midst of whatever circumstances you experience this week—good or bad.
  • Be thankful for as many things as possible every day for a week. See if your attitude changes and if your week goes better than the previous one.

What are ways you've found to be thankful regardless of your circumstances?


If you liked this post, please share it with others!

You might also like last week's post as well, Dealing with Unmet Expectations

A Shelter and a Refuge

Photo credit: lightstock.com

Genocide. Oppression. Slavery. Terrorism. These words remind us of great injustices within our world.

When we hear of such things we want them to stop. We may wonder how such evil can exist in the world. Some people question the goodness of God to allow such things to take place. "Where's the justice in all of this?"

But how is real justice determined? What yardstick should be used?

Scripture

For the choir director: A psalm of David, to be sung to the tune “Death of the Son.”

I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done. I will be filled with joy because of you. I will sing praises to your name, O Most High. [vss 1-2]

My enemies retreated; they staggered and died when you appeared. For you have judged in my favor; from your throne you have judged with fairness. You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked; you have erased their names forever. The enemy is finished, in endless ruins; the cities you uprooted are now forgotten. [vss 3-6]

But the Lord reigns forever, executing judgment from his throne. He will judge the world with justice and rule the nations with fairness. The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O  Lord, do not abandon those who search for you. [vss 7-10]

Sing praises to the Lord who reigns in Jerusalem. Tell the world about his unforgettable deeds. For he who avenges murder cares for the helpless. He does not ignore the cries of those who suffer. Lord, have mercy on me. See how my enemies torment me. Snatch me back from the jaws of death. Save me so I can praise you publicly at Jerusalem’s gates, so I can rejoice that you have rescued me. [vss 11-14]

The nations have fallen into the pit they dug for others. Their own feet have been caught in the trap they set. The Lord is known for his justice. The wicked are trapped by their own deeds. [Quiet Interlude]

The wicked will go down to the grave. This is the fate of all the nations who ignore God. But the needy will not be ignored forever; the hopes of the poor will not always be crushed. [vss 15-18]

Arise, O  Lord! Do not let mere mortals defy you! Judge the nations! Make them tremble in fear, O  Lord. Let the nations know they are merely human. [Interlude] [vss 19-20]

(Psalm 9:1-20 GW) [Context– Psalm 9]

Key phrase— for you, O  Lord, do not abandon those who search for you

[bctt tweet="for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

How does this psalm begin and end? What is expressed at first and requested at the end?

What assurance is expressed about the Lord? What is said about justice and those who trust in the Lord?

What is said about enemies and the fate of those who don't trust in God?

What assurance is given about the needy and poor, and for the people or nations who oppress them?

Reflection...

Most judgments from human governments and rulers are subjective and unfair. Too often, the undue influence of wealth and status subvert justice. This is played out in courtrooms and governing directives throughout the world.

We all tend to claim our own innocence or right to receive mercy. But true justice is impartial. And no one—no human—is free of bias or prejudice. It's built into us.

Impartial justice requires some standard of rightness and truth. Yet, even when that exists, as in a constitution or other canon of law, how it's interpreted or meted out can be biased to favor one person over another.

God alone is true and just. He sees what we do not and cannot know. The Lord is impartial—unmoved by wealth, or status, or fickle emotions.

Better to trust in Him than our own sense of right and wrong. He is both just and merciful by nature. He will not abandon those who seek Him and trust in Him.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

When you see injustice or oppression, how do you react?

Are you bothered, even angered, when you see people receive leniency or an acquittal because of their wealth or status?

Have you endured unfair or unjust treatment in your own life?

Are you willing to entrust your life to God with confidence in His justness and mercy?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

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.

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.

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

The Core of the Gospel

MJ_sharing
MJ_sharing

Culture has an amazing impact upon people. It subtly shapes their worldview of everything in life, from birth through adulthood.

This impact is strong and resistant to change, but it will change given sufficient cause. The change can be either good or bad depending on one’s worldview, values, or beliefs.

For example, the enslavement of Africans, abducted and traded as if they were cattle, was culturally acceptable in European countries and America. Now, it is illegal and immoral. But that change did not come easily.

A major culture change

A British Member of Parliament named William Wilberforce challenged his prevailing culture in the late eighteenth century. He proposed legislative measures at great cost to his reputation, wealth, and health for more than forty years.

But change came in 1833 when slavery was made illegal in England. It had a ripple effect felt across the oceans of the world, which included the newly established United States of America, the former colonial territory of Great Britain. [1]

Religion and culture

In many countries around the world, religious conviction is tied to the intrinsic culture.

The Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic, with a strong contingent of Evangelical (Protestant) Christianity, a significant Muslim minority, and ancient folk traditions. Many Filipinos struggle with becoming born again, [2] because of the strong influence of Roman Catholicism—it’s rituals, traditions, and longevity.

Thailand is primarily Buddhist. Many Thais find it difficult to distinguish their national identity from their religion. Likewise in Indonesia and Malaysia, where the world’s largest population of Muslims reside. In many countries, it is illegal to proselytize someone of Islamic faith towards another faith.

The impact of culture

In the early 2000's, our Bible school in the Philippines sent out two young Filipinas as missionaries to Thailand.

MJ and Ruchell learned the Thai language quickly, and made friendships with ease. They lived out their Christianity with genuineness and simplicity, and were well received by their neighbors, including the landlord of the simple apartment they rented in Chiang Mai.

As they built relationships, they offered prayer for their new friends. Prayer was accepted with gratefulness. But when it came to accepting the Gospel and Jesus, who was unknown to them, there was resistance.

They were Thai. They were Buddhists. They were afraid of changing their religion and no longer being true Thais.

American culture and Christianity

America’s culture  is known for its respect for individual rights. As a result, Christianity in America is often self-focused and personalized.

Based on versions of the gospel, as given by popular preachers, many people regard Jesus as their best friend, someone personally interested in them, but not as their sovereign Lord. It is such a prevalent view it’s been categorized as a religious belief of its own—Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. [3]

A popular worship song about the Lord’s death on the cross goes,

“You took the fall and thought of me, above all....” [4]

The Father’s purpose for Jesus going to the Cross was, indeed, to bring redemption for all people. But a self-focused bias is not reflected in the biblical version of the gospel, but is in a plethora of popular songs, teachings, and various Christian self-help books.

Culture bias

This cultural bias is exported around the world, reflecting an American, self-absorbed view of Jesus and the Gospel, which adulterates the gospel message. This has a crippling, often tragic effect.

The Gospel can be minimized and reduced into brief terms. When this happens, its importance and significance is overlooked. Biblical truth may be talked about and discussed without being passed on to those who need to hear it.

Ministries in America can focus more on getting people into the church than caring for the physical and spiritual needs of the people. Worship services can be more focused on presentation and performance than the Lord Himself, whom it is all intended to exalt.

A distorted focus

Are believers in churches being discipled unto the Lord Himself, or trained for doing certain tasks? The need to accomplish a list of spiritual activities can take the place of spending personal and intimate time with the Lord.

Things like spending time in prayer, devotions, reading the Scripture, serving in various ministries, and so on, are good things, but not an end in themselves.

The Lord desires His people to give themselves to Him.

These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:8-9 NKJV)

I want you to be merciful; I don't want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that's more important than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6 NLT)

It's all about Him, not us

Christian activity can look past what is most important—the personal element. The Christian life is far more than the sum of all Christian activities to be done.

What the Lord considers most important is revealed in the story of Matthew 16:13–28. It’s not complicated or theoretical, but simple and essential.

It is the core of the Essential Gospel and the Christian life. It runs counter to the culture of the day—the culture then and now.

Whether the culture is primitive or sophisticated, the Gospel and the call to follow Jesus is not “...all about me,” nor any individual. It’s all about Jesus.

Do you see your own culture's influence in how you view Christianity?

This is an excerpt from my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Unraveling the Mystery

Footnotes for this excerpt are below

[1] Reference for William Wilberforce— http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wilberforce

[2] Born again is a term Jesus used in John 3:3-8 when talking to Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee. It has become synonymous with a personal faith conversion to orthodox Christianity, especially within evangelical circles.

[3] Here are a couple links to articles about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)—

http://goo.gl/RvllH | https://goo.gl/fxIwRm

[4] The lyrics are from the song, “Above All,” by Lenny LeBlanc

Is it Just Me?

Is it just me or is there an inordinate amount of overreaction nowadays? Last week I read (in our local sports section) that the wife of a LA Lakers player received a tweet that he hoped their family would be murdered. Why? Because her husband had missed a shot at the end of the game...a basketball game. It's not like the Lakers were doing that well any way, but this kind of reaction is way over the top.

Then there's all the political hype, hyperbole, and party rhetoric, all of which is commented on ad nauseum (that's means way too much, like it's never ending) by the media, pundits (people who make a lot of puns? just kidding), and a vast array of blog posts. I don't even want to go there...is it November yet?


How about driving? It amazes me how easily people get ticked off because you get in their way or don't do what they think you should do. I've seen people gesture (inappropriate kinds) because I or someone else didn't run a red light...because the person behind wanted to get through the intersection! Or then there's showing courtesy and people thinking you're nuts for doing so and getting irritated, like "what's wrong with you, just be rude!" I'm thankful for the considerate drivers, even if they are going kinda slow in my lane ;-)


I don't want to go on with an open-ended rant about all this, but there is a point so let me get there. There are some really serious issues in life that are a whole lot more important than basketball games and opinions. LIfe and death issues. Making it from month to month challenges. Relationships. And, oh yeah, there's your eternal destiny to consider also.


Now I like sports, especially baseball— I'm a die-hard LA Dodgers fan (NL) and also a Tampa Rays fan (AL). I'm a Jaguars fan because I live in Jacksonville now. I like watching the NBA playoffs and NCAA tournament, and have a great appreciation for what the world calls football...soccer. But they're all just games...entertainment...a break in the daily routine, and so on. They're not life and death issues. I like Tim Tebow and other Christian athletes who don't take themselves or their profession too seriously—competitive, yes—life and death, no.


What's going on in your life that stresses you out?
What's so important in your life that you lose your cool, get robbed of peace, or just feel kind of angry or depressed all the time?
What will it take to get you to just "chill out!"?


I realize not all issues and situations in life are simply a matter of "chilling out," but God is there in it all, and He's always available. Many years ago I remember hearing of the value and importance of being thankful, and I've tried to practice it daily and throughout a day. I don't mean quoting corny cliches (actually puns) like, "attitude of gratitude," I mean genuine, heart-felt thanks. Here's one of King David's expressions of thanks—

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless youand praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,and his greatness is unsearchable. (Ps 145:1-3 ESV)

I find when I discipline my mind to be thankful, my heart follows quite willingly. It's a choice I need to make, and those who know me know I can be quick to react (and overreact!) and have strong opinions. As I said, it's a conscious choice I need to make. 


Sometimes I need to just go for a walk or bike ride. I'm blessed to live by the beach, and blessed to have so many of my immediate family nearby. Many times I need to take a break and be thankful, get things back into perspective from God's point of view (prayer and worship music help a lot, and reading the Psalms).


What are you thankful for?
What helps you to unwind, chill out, take a break?
If you're not sure or nothing comes to mind, it's time for a change.

The Problem with Judging

The presidential campaign is in full swing, and the political rhetoric and retorts are flowing. Whether it's candidates or pundits, party faithful or the peanut gallery, everyone's got something to say—most of it reactive. But it's not just politics, strong reactions and judgments abound on a myriad of issues—scandals, "stand your ground," militants and terrorism, religion, morality, and so on. Reaction and overreaction isn't limited to the public arena, it's been going on since humanity existed.

Remember the first murder on earth? Cain kills Abel because God accepts Abel's sacrifice over Cain's—that in itself is revealing. Why would Cain kill Abel over what God chooses as more acceptable? Seems like the anger should have been aimed at God, not Abel. In a way, it was. And so it is with our own reactions and judgments. 


It's not that people aren't problematic—we are. That's exactly the issue. We have our own expectations of how things should be—how people should be. The problem with judging one another is our limited vision and perspective. As the Lord Jesus pointed out, our vision is obstructed by our own stuff.

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. (Luke 6:37-42)


With all the apps for smart phones, I'm surprised there's not one called "iJudge" (maybe there is and I'm unaware of it). It would likely be downloaded a lot, especially if it were free. But judging others isn't a freebie—it costs us (the iJudge) and those we judge.


What irritates you about people and things in general? Perhaps, you and I don't need to look any further than the mirror. The best way to do this is not introspection—focusing on one's self, but simple surrender of our self to the Lord (our selfish nature)—through prayer, reflection on the truth in God's written word, worship (individually and with others), and genuine friends—people who will tell us the truth in love.


The world is in desperate need of such a focus. Come to think of it, we all are.