Suspicious Worshippers

The Gospel According to Matthew.  The Path of Feigned Worship. Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Listen to “Thoughts in Worship 11.27.2018” on Spreaker.

“Then Herod secretly summoned the wise men and asked them the exact time the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you find Him, report back to me so that I too can go and worship Him.” After they were gone, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up! Take the child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to destroy Him”” (Matthew 2:7–8, 13, HCSB).

Wily Worshipers

Worship is not a joke! We were born to worship. Unfortunately, some worship self, money, unholy pleasures, sexual habits, entertainment, people, false gods, and the status quo. Some who claim to worship God, really are antagonistic to all that is godly and are displaying “… a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Timothy 3:5).

Today’s theme passage chronicles an example of what lies, deceit, and hatred produces in those who claim to worship God. We all have heard the story during the holiday season. Herod felt threatened by baby King Jesus, feigned worship, and sought to kill Him instead. Is there any principle we can learn from this story?

While none of us are probably insecure monarchs who feel our thrones are threatened or are willing to commit mass murder to protect our legacies, some of us fear our pride will be dismantled by God, so we keep up appearances like we are true worshippers, but we really are not. In fact some of us have actually experienced the power and presence of God, but turned away from Him; and by virtue of that fact, “…seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” (Hebrews 6:6). Pretending to worship God, but living in un-repentance is just like crucifying Jesus.

Hope for Prideful Pretenders

Yes, stories like Herod’s are interesting, and even may provide information for our understanding, but we must adapt them so we can apply godly principles to our lives. Among the many principles we can apply from the story, one bubbles up to the surface: false worship or pretend worship of God leads to a host of atrocities. Therefore, it is our privilege to get to know our Creator and not give in to pride, fear, or self righteousness. We can commit to asking God daily to introduce His beauty and character to us, so love, power and trust will result. Remember, it’s a daily journey, and God is with you every step of the way.

This has been the gospel according to Matthew. Be transformed by it.




New Birth Experience: Fully Rely On God This Time

The Gospel According to Matthew. Thinking of the New Birth during this season. Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Monday, November 26, 2018

Listen to “Thoughts in Worship 11.26.2018” on Spreaker.

“…Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary, who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Messiah. So all the generations from Abraham to David were 14 generations; and from David until the exile to Babylon, 14 generations; and from the exile to Babylon until the Messiah, 14 generations. The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:16–18, HCSB).

Surprise

It was a miracle! A young woman who had never had sexual relations with any man was pregnant. How many times have you heard of instances when women did not know they were pregnant until the third trimester? How many times have you heard of a woman feeling weird, going to the doctor to find out what was going on, and then … “surprise!” being diagnosed, not with something that caused weird feelings or nausea, but rather pregnancy? They simply did not know. Even when these women did not realize they were pregnant and were surprised by the fact, they did have sexual relations, and pregnancy was the outcome of that experience. Makes sense.

Well, Mary’s case was different. It was so different that God sent an angel to her to explain what happened. Even though she was indeed a virgin, she was pregnant. Miraculously, in fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies, this holy young woman of God was pregnant. The Holy Spirit reached down into her DNA, with all of its historic and genetic relevance and placed the blessed embryo (for lack of a better way of saying it) who we would finally recognize was the Son of God! God’s power overshadowed the human predicament, and Mary bore the Son of the Living God. Miracle!

Weak Roots in The Family Tree

Since we do not have a lot of time to exhaust this holy topic, I would like to direct your attention to an intriguing aspect of the story. Even though Joseph had nothing to do with Jesus’ birth, He did still come through the womb of a normal human woman. This means that the list of persons preceding our theme passage were all ancestors of Christ. This also magnifies the reality, that Jesus Christ entered upon the human scene with the need to rely on His Father, fully, so He could live a righteous life. Have you read the motley cast of characters, with all their foibles in the list? This simply says to us, that the Father did not orchestrate some sideshow and call it the plan of salvation. No! Jesus had real human ancestors whose genetics could have impacted His character if He did not rely on His Father’s strength 100% of the time.

Are you willing to rely on God for power to live above sin just like Jesus did? We do realize there is a difference here – Jesus was victorious from His birth until He died. We all have sinned and come short of God’s glorious intent for our lives. However, John 3, Romans 6, and Romans 8, all teach us that we can be victorious from our newbirth until we die or Jesus returns, as the case may be. If we make mistakes along the way, following our newbirth experience, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One.

This has been the gospel according to Matthew. Be transformed by it.




Why Is There No Thanksgiving Music?

Grateful Hearts, Thankful Hearts Live Longer. Love Harder.

Tips and Tests for the “Grouch-ruts” Among Us.

Today I went in to a retail store and was immediately accosted with secular Christmas music. Now I don’t have anything against Christmas—or Christmas music for that matter. In fact, for the majority of the known world Christmas represents the birthday of the most important person I know and love: Jesus! (even if they don’t actually believe in, know, or love Him).

But I digress…

The Connection between “Black Friday,” “Cyber Monday” & No Thanksgiving Music

My theory as to the reason why there are way more secular Christmas songs than Thanksgiving ones is basically because people are selfish…they like to get stuff! The more the better! And the songs remind them of the good, tingly feelings they get when they get stuff. Don’t believe me? Check out what the Apostle John said—or wrote–when he wisely observed:

“For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world” (1 John 2:16, NLT). Solomon (the wisest person in the history of the world—ever) wrote these saltily lamented these lines: “Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content” (Ecclesiastes 1: 8, NLT).

It seems that not only is there Christmas music playing on the first day of November, but all the retail stores have all their Christmas promotions already going—some already even have something they’re calling Thanksgiving “Pre-Black Friday” promotions in full-swing! It seems that the retailers don’t want anybody to stop and think about how empty they are emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. They are making an all-out effort to squeeze the practice of thankfulness, thanksgiving and contentment out of our hearts and minds.

But why? Can the answer to this age-old question really be this easy? Simply put: people aren’t truly thankful because they aren’t truly contented.

Not More Stuff—But More Savior!

During this time of the year the world works very hard to erase the fact that Jesus is the owner, sustainer—and provider of all good things! We are tempted and tainted by slick advertising campaigns promising happiness, peace, and contentment is found in some store, rather than the Savior. However, God disagrees, and writing through the Apostle Paul he reminds us to keep our eyes focused on the truth with this stark reality check:

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.

But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:6-10, NLT).

What Matters Most

Again, the writer of Hebrews keeps us focused on what’s most important: “Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you’ ” (Hebrews 13:5, NLT). The focus for the Christian is not more stuff to make us happy, but more Savior aka Jesus!

Finally, Jesus Himself put it about as plainly as can be:

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met” (Matthew 6:30-33, MSG).

Mind the M.D.’s!

If what God says about stuff vs the Savior isn’t sufficient (and I certainly hope it is), secular science proves that thankfulness and gratitude is great for you—on Thanksgiving and all-year long. The brainiacs at Harvard Medical School write this: “Research (and common sense) suggests that one aspect of the Thanksgiving season can actually lift the spirits, and it’s built right into the holiday — expressing gratitude.”*

Additionally, research shows that people who are regularly grateful as a daily life habit are:

  1. Happier
  2. Have more life satisfaction
  3. Have less disease (mental and physical)
  4. Live longer

So now that you know that you should be more grateful and give thanks, but honestly, you’re kind of a grouch-rut (in this world, it’s easy to be one). Well, take heart: God wouldn’t tell you to do something without giving you the process and the power to do it.

Gratitude: God’s Way

God shares a practical formula for effectively beating the thanklessness and a personal negativity problem. It’s laid out most clearly in the New Testament book of Philippians. The apostle Paul wrote this book to Christians—from jail. So if anybody knew about being thankless and focusing on the negative stuff in his life, it was Paul. In Philippians 4:4-8 he gives us the process for overcoming them (I’ll wait for you to read this on your own).

Let’s break the process down into separate steps:

  • Be glad (verses 4, 5). God wouldn’t tell us to be glad if it weren’t possible. Why can we be glad? Because we have a relationship with God
  • Be gentle with others (verse 5). When we get thankless, worried, and anxious, we tend to easily and quickly lose our cool. We treat others—especially the ones we love the most—rudely or impatiently. But Paul says that we should be gentle, especially when we’re being pressed by our own problems.
  • Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything (verse 6). Again Paul encourages us not to worry about anything, but to engage and strengthen our relationship with God. I find it interesting that here Paul invokes a standard and very effective psychological counseling principle of “replacement”: To eliminate a negative behavior, replace it with a positive one. The replacement principle is key when dealing with habitual or compulsive behavior. Translation: stop worrying and start praying!
  • With a thankful attitude, tell God the things you’re worried about (verse 6). God is your Father. He knows your heart and cares about the things you’re going through. He truly wants to know what you’re worried about, so go ahead and unload. He can take all your mess and heat. Paul first wants us to change our focus from ourselves to God. Additionally, I find it interesting that Paul qualifies how we should be sharing with God. Our attitude should be thankful—but many times we just have…an attitude.
  • Being connected to Christ through a real relationship will allow Him to bless us with peace that no one can understand (verse 7). This peace will control our hearts (our feelings) and our minds (our thoughts). In other words, God’s peace will take total control of us.
  • Keep being glad (verse 8). Basically, repeat step 1. Initially, you’ll have to work this process many times throughout the day…because you’re dealing with habitually compulsive behavior of selfishness and thanklessness. But take heart; it does work.

Paul then goes on in verses 10-20 to expound on how being thankful and contented changes our focus from one of self to Jesus. He summarizes this passage with these four verses: “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. . . . And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3: 11-13, 19, NLT).

Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.

Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis.

  1. Pray. People can use prayer to cultivate gratitude. God is waiting to hear from you—not just about what you want, but more importantly about how grateful you are for His salvation and for who He is.
  2. Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself more joyful and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you note or letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person’s impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Don’t be cheap, but buy fancy stationary (yes, it’s still made). Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude note or letter a week.
  3. Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.
  4. Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one, thoughts about the gifts you’ve received each day from God and others.
  5. Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
  6. Meditate. Meditate daily upon the Word of God. Pick one Bible verse or passage and spend the day thinking about it and mentally allowing it to marinate your soul. Meditation is a powerful and effective spiritual practice that you can use, but, like prayer, it has to be cultivated to be effective. I suggest that you start with a specific chapter of the Bible.

A Parting Assignment

Now that you’ve learned the truth about why people around the world become crazy and more frenetic during this time of year, and God’s prescription for the solution, I’d like to challenge you to take time every day for the rest of November to read Psalm 118. Bible scholars call this specific Psalm “The Thanksgiving Psalm,” and rightly so. It’s an absolutely beautiful Psalm about what’s most important to the Christian about Thanksgiving. It is about giving God thanks for His immeasurable free gift of salvation to us. It expresses gratitude for a joyful life on this earth filled with power and purpose. And, finally, it expresses joy in the promise of eternal life spent with Him!

As you read it, take some time to talk to God about all the things you’re thankful for that day and once you begin to do this, you will begin a beautiful and powerful positive habit that will bring you peace, purpose, and joy all the months of your life, and not just on Thanksgiving.

I’d like to wish you all, not a ‘Happy Thanksgiving,” but in order to be happy, give God thanks.

*Accessed on November 7, 2018 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier

 

Thanksgiving Songs. The Contenders. Listen In:

If you’re so inclined, check out and enjoy this collection of Thanksgiving songs that I’ve been able to find:

 

 




The Protest Is Not Over: Confusion in Confession

“The Protest Is Not Over: Transformation is Key to Reformation.”  Confession is good for the soul, unless, you’re doing it with the wrong person.  Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Monday, November 12, 2018

Listen to “Thoughts in Worship 11.12.2018” on Spreaker.

“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

New Look at An Old Word

Repent! This is a powerful word; a word full of promise. In our common speech we don’t use this word much unless we are in a religious setting. Simply put, repentance is a gift from God. He makes us aware of where we have missed the mark of holiness. His Spirit gives us the godly sorrow for sin, and the resolve to do God’s will by faith. He leads us to make restitution  possible (Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:9-10).

Let me share a familiar verse we have already used in this series: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The only way we are able to confess our sins (or agree with God’s perspective on our sins), is that the Holy Spirit brings conviction. The only way we can act righteously upon His bringing our need to mind is with His power. This is a gift from God. He is faithful to forgive us. Not only is He faithful to forgive us, but if we continue in the spirit and mindset of confession and repentance regarding the sins we do recognize with His guidance, He will continue to guide us, not hold our sins against us, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

He has got us fully covered. There may be times, when we have stolen from or defrauded someone, that fruit of repentance will be manifest in restoring what we have stolen. In cases like these and others, we have an obligation to make amends with the injured or offended party. It’s only right to do so.

God Has Us Covered. Why Confess to People?

Notice the blessing of the passages we have cited thus far. In neither of the passages does it say that we must confess our sins to a human priest. All human beings possess a sinful nature just like we do. They did not say that we must journey on a wearisome pilgrimage to somehow expiate our sins. It does not say that we should await priestly instruction on what act of mercy, voluntary sacrifice, or act of service we will perform in order to receive absolution.

Confession and repentance are not predicated upon third-party human intervention, whether priestly or by church authority. This is critical. We are not subject to some earthly validating power in order to reconcile with God. We are not subject to the whims, behest, mercy, or self ascribed requirements of any human entity to receive the blessed gifts of forgiveness and cleansing from our unrighteousness. Do you believe it?

Gratitude for His Priestly Intervention

Thank God for giving us His Son, all sufficient and merciful; along with the power of the Holy Spirit to deal with our sin problems. Thank Him for not allowing human beings to control whether we are saved, lost, or want to attempt to earn our way into favor with heaven. Thank God for handling this dastardly beast, we call sin, all by Himself, and using faithful followers of His to guide us into His atmosphere, where we will find grace to help in times of trouble.




The Protest is Not Over: What Happened to The Sabbath?

“The Protest is Not Over: Transformation is Key to Reformation.” Somewhere along the way we forgot God’s Day. Message Magazine’s Daily Devotional for Sunday, November 11, 2018.

Listen to “Thoughts in Worship 11.11.2018” on Spreaker.

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made” (Genesis 2:1–3).

Most Wonderful Time of The Week

I love the Sabbath. Every Saturday, God has provided special time for us to worship, fellowship, focus, serve, and experience regeneration on new levels, not available during the week. I say new levels because, while those who love God worship Him everyday, there is only one day (the Sabbath) that God blessed, set aside for holy use, and spiritual rest, commemorating our rest in the blessing of salvation. If God blessed it, that means it’s special.

Remember. Remember is an interesting word. Keep. Keep is an interesting word too. Holy. Holiness is an intriguing principle. In Exodus 20:8-11, the Bible says God commanded in His perpetual law, for us to remember the seventh-day Sabbath. In this context, we are memorializing the creatorship of God. We are showing honor for His power to give life and to breathe new life into those who are being saved. The Bible says that we should remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. In this context, to keep means to consecrate, sanctify, dedicate as special, and to devote.

Holy Set-Aside

I am intrigued by the redundancy of God’s command. He said to remember the Sabbath to consecrate it as holy. It’s almost like He’s saying that the day/time He blessed during the creation week should be holy, holy. To keep is to devote as holy, that which God said was holy. If God said it, I believe it. I want to experience all that He has prepared for those who remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

For some reason, we human beings seem to be anti. I mean, some of us are bent on doing the opposite of right. If a child’s father says go left, that child often chooses to go right. If the speed limit says 55 miles per hour, we often go faster. It is strange behavior, which I could expound further, but I will stop here.

Even in the case of Sabbath time, our God said to remember and keep it holy, but we often forget and treat the time as mundane as the other six work days of the week. Then somebody got the idea that it would be acceptable to exchange the holiness only accorded to the Sabbath, to Sunday. Then, if that was not bad enough, some churches have added extra so-called holy days to the calendar like Epiphany, All Saints, Christmas (some call it holy), Ascension, Mary Mother of God, and other obligatory purported holy days depending upon your locale.

Last Holy-day Standing?

This is odd, since those who ascribe holiness to these times, disavow and discredit the only biblically valid holy day in our era. After God nullified all other holy days when Jesus gave His life for us, because they were shadows that pointed forward to His life, death, and everlasting ministry, the seventh-day Sabbath continued.

Let’s ask God to help us keep things simple, shall we? God gave us blessed, holy time. Let’s remember it every week. And, please do not venture upon hallowed ground and invent new holy days that God never sanctioned. This is way above all of our spiritual paygrades. Let God be God, and give thanks for what He has provided to keep us in remembrance of His love, holiness, and sovereignty. Amen.




Feverish Fear of The “Caravan”

An Old Story of The Hard Heartedness of An Ancient People And Their Pharaoh

It’s not just left-leaning writers, like Nicholas Kristof, who are attempting to diffuse the paranoia of an “invasion” of impoverished refugees. Fox News anchor Shepard Smith calmly and succinctly called out the fearmongering for what is. David Thornton of the unapologetically conservative website, The Resurgent) tried to disarm the disinformation campaign as well.

All three are in agreement that there’s no need for a massive troop build-up at the U.S.-Mexico border. Like its prequel in April, 2018, there’s not likely to be much of a caravan left by the time a few of them make the 1,000-mile trek on foot. There’s also no evidence of Middle-eastern terrorists masquerading as Central American migrants. But I guess brown is the new black and they all look alike, right?

Embed from Getty Images

Why is this feverish fear so contagious? It has politicians “concerned” about people exercising their right to vote. The civil rights’ era label of “outside agitators” has been pulled from the recycle bin to apply to voting rights activists. It has lawmakers wanting to revoke the citizenship of people born in this country. It has conspired to disenfranchise the Natives of this land from casting ballots.

 

Exodus of the West?

Could the book of Exodus give us a clue to what’s going on in the minds of some Americans, who consider themselves the Americans? Let’s consider the following excerpt:

Joseph and his brothers and all that generation died. The Israelites, however, were fruitful, increased greatly, multiplied, and became extremely strong, so that the land was filled with them.

Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power over Egypt. He said to his people, “Look at the Israelite people, more numerous and stronger than we are! Come, let’s deal wisely with them. Otherwise they will continue to multiply, and if a war breaks out, they will ally themselves with our enemies and fight against us and leave the country.”

So they put foremen over the Israelites to oppress them with hard labor. As a result they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more they multiplied and spread. As a result the Egyptians loathed the Israelites, and they made the Israelites serve rigorously. (Ex. 1:6-13, NET)

Deliberate Disinformation

Let’s dissect a couple of things here. First, this king had a case of selective memory and strategic forgetfulness. How is it that he could know about a foreign people living in his land, but not know how they got there and where they came from? He referred to this rapidly growing demographic as Israelites, in other words, the offspring of Israel. Doesn’t referring to them as Israelites beg the question, Who was Israel and how did his offspring come to reside in Egypt?

The truth is, this king didn’t want to know about Joseph’s role in making Egypt great. Pharaoh wanted to deny or diminish any people or accomplishments that would credit outside agitators with meaningful progress to Egyptian science, politics, economics. To borrow from Rage Against the Machine’s “No Shelter,” this king’s agenda was for everyone to see through…

 

[Egyptian] eyes, [Egyptian] eyes

View the world through [Eyptian] eyes

Bury the past, rob us blind

And leave nothing behind!

 

It’s much like American amnesia regarding people like Peter Salem, Paul Cuffe, Benjamin Banneker, Charles Drew, Garrett Morgan, Alice Ball, Dorothy Vaughan, Patricia Bath, or Michelle Alexander. Hebrews in Egypt could’ve identified with Public Enemy’s line, “Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps.

Irrational Anxiety

Not only was there deliberate disinformation going on, there was also irrational anxiety. As Proverbs 28:1 says, “A wicked person flees when no one is chasing him” (NET). Why would this pharaoh imagine that a people whose ancestors had helped Egypt prosper during a catastrophic famine join ranks with a foreign army? Could it have been the unrestrained greed and unresolved guilt of the Egyptian leaders that aroused their fears of the Hebrews? Did his legacy of subjugating others to get ahead make him dread his chickens coming home to roost?

Embed from Getty Images

Pharaoh’s ignorance and fear led to increasingly oppressive policies. The harsher the Egyptians treated the Israelites, the more they despised and feared them. What the pharaoh and his followers didn’t realize is that retribution wouldn’t come by the hands of the Hebrews themselves. God’s hand would hold His cup of wrath to their lips until the last drop of His indignation was swallowed. The more pharaoh hardened his heart against human cries for mercy and Divine calls for justice, the fuller the bitter cup of vengeance became.

Siphon Up – Trickle Down

Pharaoh could have saved his empire and family a lot of devastation by humbling himself before God and changing his ways. However, it seems almost impossible for rich, powerful bullies to repent. They fear that if they repent, then they might have to repay (Luke 19:1-10). Such people are rare as a camel walking through the eye of a needle. Most prefer to keep siphoning up surpluses, while stingily allowing droplets of sustenance to trickle down.

Just as ancient Egypt had its chance, 21st century pharaohs have their chance to reverse course and be agents of reconciliation, peace, and prosperity for the people under their authority. However, Revelation lets us know that just as with Egypt, worldly powers in the last days are filling up God’s cup of wrath by serving themselves at the people’s expense. Soon a global series of plagues will eclipse the severity of Egypt’s tribulation.

 

Exorcising the Demonic Forces of Fear

As in Exodus 12, there is a way for the people of God to escape, and it’s not by colonizing the moon or Mars. Jesus is our Passover Lamb, who takes away the sins of the world (1 Corinthians 5:7; John 1:29). This Lamb dedicated Himself to be our sacrifice before the world even began (Revelations 13:8). However, our profession of faith in Him has to be more than meeting under a steeple or having cross tattoos and jewelry (Matthew 7:21-23).

Faith in Jesus means walking in the light of truth and love with Him (1 John 1:6-7). As we walk with Jesus, He infuses us with a love that casts out fear and brings us into fellowship with others we wouldn’t normally gravitate to (1 John 2:6-11 and 4:18). Instead of seeking to take the life of others, Jesus’ love moves us to live sacrificially for their benefit (1 John 3:16-17, Romans 12:1). Living out the gospel in this manner gives us confidence, rather than fear, when judgment comes (Proverbs 19:17; Matthew 25:31-46). It also give us peace of mind in this life (2 Timothy 1:7).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




Got Guilt?

Put away destructive guilty feelings; grow with productive guilty feelings.

Sitting down, head in hands, the gentleman sharing with me had no idea how he could ever move beyond the carnage. He caused a lot of pain by his lapses in judgement. While it was so long ago, he still struggled with the lingering effects of a mistake.

He went to church. The man served on the deacon board, was active in Bible study, had a loving family, and what he felt was a growing, dynamic relationship with God. But like clockwork these recurring feelings of guilt shrouded him in a cloud of despair. He struggled, fighting back tears as he re-lived the details which plagued his dreams, consumed his prayers. He knew he was overcompensating in his generosity to dispel the pain of his past. Listening to his struggle, I connected in many ways to the growing remorse that painfully came from the re-telling of his story.

Blameworthy

If I were to be honest, I had been there before, and maybe so have you. We’ve been at the meeting place of disappointment and disgust in ourselves for the mistakes. The feelings, whether warranted or not, true or untrue, that cause us to replay in our minds past failures, misguided actions, or choices that turned out less than ideal.

Guilt can be associated with remorse that we feel as a result of doing or thinking something that we feel is wrong. Webster’s Dictionary has a variety of definitions I can appreciate: “the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty; the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously; feelings of deserving blame for offenses.”

The Dictionary of Psychology published by the American Psychological Association contends that guilt is a “self-conscious emotion characterized by a painful appraisal of having done (or thought) something that is wrong and often by a readiness to take action designed to undo or mitigate this wrong.”

Moving Cycle of Guilt

Guilt is a very powerful, yet complex response. It is action-oriented and prompts us cognitively or emotionally do something in response to how we think or how we feel. It can be real, based on actual events or derived from some false perception of our actions that if we really thought about it, could be traced to our inner misguided voices which heighten our sensitivity to the lies we tell ourselves.

Guilt is not just associated with doing wrong. There are some of us who feel guilty for the right things that we do. For instance, placing an aging relative in a nursing home because they cannot take care of themselves.

Self-Condemnation

The conscious plays a selective role which, Thomas Aquinas, the early church philosopher, suggests is a compass that either accuses or excuses our behavior. Because of the selectiveness of the conscience we can perceive even right actions that harm others indirectly, as being worthy of our self-condemnation.

Productive guilt drives us to repent, make recompense for our wrongs. But punitive guilt forces us to internalize our struggles and can oftentimes lead to shame. Shame is allowing the guilt to grow to the point that it moves from what we do; to who we are. We go from making mistakes to being defined by them to the point that we become our mistakes.

Get-Rid-of-Guilt Plan

  • Make guilt useful.

    Victor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning suggests that we can utilize guilt as a motivating factor in making ourselves better individuals. He states that “you are responsible for overcoming guilt, by growing beyond yourself.” What he is alluding to is the power within each of us to rise above the negative self-talk and constant beating up of ourselves to do something productive with the mistakes we have made.

 

  • Allow guilt to teach you.

    Your past does not define you. No matter what you have done, as long as you are still alive you can find forgiveness and recompense. God is far more concerned with who you are becoming than who you have been. Past mistakes can teach us, but also serve to help us teach others. The beauty of the scars from our past is the ability to point to them as we share our story with others to help them avoid where we have been.

 

  • Take responsibility, but don’t beat yourself up.

    Accept that you made a mistake and resist the seduction to think that you are so special that you can be the only other perfect person (other than Jesus) to walk the face of the earth. Mistakes are a part of the human condition.

 

  • Challenge your negative thoughts and feelings.

    Determine the source of your guilt. Is the guilt you are feeling truthful, or are you feeling guilty based off some misconception? Are you having persistent feelings of sadness, isolation, anxiety, depression? If those feelings are tied to your perception of your mistakes, it is time to do some serious introspection.

 

  • Accept that you are forgiven.

    Stop beating yourself up and thinking that you deserve to die or to suffer for your mistakes. Someone has already done that for you. In Grace for the Afflicted, Matthew Stanford contends that guilt can be used as a demonic accusation that can lead us to call into question the validity of the word of God.It can prompt us to read the promises of the Bible that tell us “as far as the east is from the west, so far He has removed our transgressions from us“ (Psalm 103:12), or “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:19) as fanciful tales. Guilt can cause us to take the word of God which unequivocally assures us that we are forgiven for our past mistakes, our present ones, and the future ones as a lie, and can cause us to forever feel that we stand accused even for those things for which we have ardently sought forgiveness.

 

  • Let go.

    We cannot move forward and hold on at the same time. In order for us to be free from the guilt we carry, we have to let it go. The pathway to being able to let go of the condemnation and barrage of self-criticism, is truthfulness and honesty, which leads me to my last suggestion…

 

  • Seek help.

    There is nothing wrong with going to talk to someone who can keep your confidence about your thoughts, feelings or actions. Suffering in silence is one of the most unproductive things you can do. Talk to a counselor, pastor, or even a friend. Negative feelings grow when we keep them hidden, but there is something about bringing our darkness to the light that makes the burdens lighter that we carry because we are able to share them with someone else.

 




Perfecting Your Practice

“O For a Faith That Will Not Shrink.” Faith Practices in Perfection.  Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Listen to “Thoughts in Worship 10.23.2018” on Spreaker.

“David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the LORD be with thee” (1 Samuel 17:37).

Getting Ready

You have heard it said that practice makes perfect, but I say to you that perfect practice makes perfect.

Many rehearse music in order to become the best that they can be. They put their all into it. Just imagine if you were rehearsing for a piano recital and the musical piece was selected for you? You go to the music store to purchase the score and go to rehearse. Weeks have passed and the time has come to perform. You sit and prepare yourself, and suddenly you realize that the music you had been rehearsing was all wrong. You heard wrong and now you are completely unprepared. Now what do you do?

David was a little shepherd boy. One day he left his sheep behind to check on his older brothers. At once, he discovered that a giant Philistine stood in the valley blaspheming God near to where his brothers were. The giant openly defied God and the armies of Israel. David was filled with righteous indignation.

“And David spake to the men that stood by him, saying, What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel? for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” I Samuel 17:26.

David proposed that in the name of the Lord, he should fight the Philistine; everyone that stood by discouraged Him. Eventually, He had audience with King Saul and told him the same.

Dress Rehearsal

“And Saul said to David, Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him: for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth. And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God.

David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the LORD be with thee” (1 Samuel 17:33-37).

Glorious, Godly History

There are many incredible details left in the story, but the short version is that David, armed with the might and determination of the Holy Ghost, defeated and removed Goliath’s head using the Philistine’s own weapon. In the end, the Lord was glorified, the Philistines had respect toward God, Israel realized their faithlessness, and young David saw his faith confirmed.

It is incredible to see the point of reference David used as assurance that he could defeat Goliath. He recalled the times that God had given him opportunity to exercise, or practice his faith. When he encountered other predators, he defeated them. With each victory, his resolve was strengthened. This is indeed a case of perfect practice makes perfect. Many put their trust in self, others, and worldly strength. They experience what appears like victories, but when the crises come, they realize that their practice was not complete. They rehearsed the wrong sheet music, so to speak, and now they are at a loss as to what should be done.

When You Meet Your Test

As the Lord gives us opportunity to exercise faith, it is well that we do so. When the Goliaths of circumstance arise, we will be prepared and with God’s power, we will be the victors. Remember; perfect practice makes perfect.

 




A Little Eye Contact, Please

“O For a Faith That Will Not Shrink,” with undivided attention. Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Monday, October 22, 2018.

Listen to “Thoughts in Worship 10.22.2018” on Spreaker.

“And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; And while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

A Moment of Your Time?

One of the biggest signs of disrespect and disregard for others is not paying them any attention. Let me narrow it a bit. For example, you are stepping up to a counter to order food because your stomach sounds like a lion cub is trapped inside. As you begin your order, the cashier does not acknowledge you, repeat your order, or tell you how long it will take for your meal to be ready. You pay in spite of the disregard for your presence; when the order comes out, it is wrong, and with no apology.

Try this one on for size: you are excited to tell your big brother about something that happened earlier in the day, and you want his advice. While you are talking, he never even looks at you. He is more concerned about getting in that last IG post, retweeting his favorite artist’s post, or scrolling through his Facebook timeline than giving you eye contact. How do you feel?

My Time with You

It is unfortunate that a few moments of direct eye contact and attentive listening is out of the question these days. Could it be that this inattentiveness leaks into our spiritual lives? Could it be that we are losing spiritual battles everyday because we cannot pull ourselves away from whatever is “so important,” that we miss our time with God?

Our God is different, thankfully. Even in less than ideal situations, He is always attentive. Even when we have made mistakes, or He is busy running the universe, He makes time to answer our prayers. He is so attentive to our needs that He prepares to deliver them before He inspires us to ask Him. He gives some blessings before we ask. He’s just good like that. How can we resist the love of such a God? Is He worthy of our time? Is He worthy of our attention? Is He worthy of us pulling away from the lights, notifications, bells, whistles, and distractions for alone time with Him? Is He worth it?

Fullest Experience

If we are to develop a shrink-resistant faith that will not fail when tested, we must learn to give God our undivided attention during devotional times, so we can experience Him to the fullest and be charged up when difficulties come.




Reframe Your Pain: Six Lessons On Loss

How can I see hope and purpose beyond my circumstances? How can I live a functional life with so much dysfunction around me? How can I get through this crisis, since I can’t seem to get out of it? How can I use this situation to grow?

Asking “How?” questions can spark the creativity necessary for reframing how we view our painful experiences. The biblical account of Job provides some big pictures to help us reset, rewire, reframe, our thought processes for dealing with stress, suffering, and sorrow. In quick succession, Job lost his children, his wealth, and his health—yet he held onto hope.

His story can help us “gather warmth from the coldness of others, courage from their cowardice, and loyalty from their treason.” Here are six ways to reframe your pain.

One: Know There’s a Battle in the Background (Job 1:6-11)

The same enemy that brought pain to Job long ago and pains us today, began by being a pain in the atmosphere. Revelation 12:7-12 tells how an angel earned the nickname Satan, which means “the accuser.” He got his name from what he does non-stop, as Job 1 and Zechariah 3:1-2 reveal. He seeks to hurt God by hurting us, to condemn God by condemning us. His additional goal is to make us desert God and join his losing team. If it seems the world is getting crazier, it’s because the intensity of Satan’s attacks is directly related to the imminence of his demise.

  • Since God won the war in heaven, we have confidence that He will win the battle in the background that’s currently spilling into our lives, and
  • Since we can’t see what’s going on behind the scenes, we shouldn’t presume to know the cause of an individual’s suffering.

Two: God is Bigger Than Your Outbursts (Job 3)

Have you ever heard of someone described as having the patience of Job? The picture of a patient Job is developed when we don’t pay attention past chapter 2. Beginning in chapter 3, and for much of the remainder of the book, we see the impatience of Job. He even recognized his own impatience: “Oh, if only my grief could be weighed, and my misfortune laid on the scales too! But because it is heavier than the sand of the sea, that is why my words have been wild” (Job 6:2-3, NET, emphasis added). Though Job implores God to strike him down, God isn’t tempted for a moment to do so (Job 6:8-9).

  • God can handle the wildness of our words toward Him, but people can’t. Cast your cares on Jesus and avoid emotionally overtaxing others.

Three: Sometimes Friends and Family Make Miserable Comforters (Job 16:1-5)

Even with the best of intentions, your loved ones will let you down. Job and his wife were both hurting, but processed their pain in very different ways. The fruit of Mrs. Job’s 10 years of childbearing was destroyed in one windstorm. Then some of the family’s wealth went up in smoke, while the rest was plundered by ruthless marauders. Now her husband’s physical condition rendered her home remedies useless. In Job 2:9, her solution was for Job to verbally curse God—thinking that would ensure a swift end to his agony. Mrs. Job’s intended comfort was offensive to Job. As the adage goes: Hurt people hurt people. Unfortunately, it is those closest to us who can hurt us the worst.

  •  If you accept that friends and family will fail your expectations, you’ll reduce your emotional burdens. Expecting more than others can deliver frustrates everyone.

Four: God Has No Grandchildren—Only Children (Job 19:25-27)

When we aren’t able to lean on anyone else for strength or solace, our individual relationship with God becomes imperative. If Job would’ve relied on his wife’s relationship with God to get him through, he would have cursed God to hasten the rest of death. If Job would’ve relied on his friends’ relationship with God, he would’ve confessed to something he wasn’t guilty of in order to be released from punishment. Job had cultivated a connection with God over his lifetime; therefore, he knew he didn’t need to settle for their recommendations. Job’s certainty was, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and…he will stand upon the earth…after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God…my own eyes will behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27, NET).

  • It’s OK to know the God of your grandparents, as long as you get to know Him for yourself.

Five: Restoration Follows Reconciliation (Job 42:7-10)

God doubled Job’s prosperity after Job prayed for his friends. God commanded him to intercede for people that had multiplied his misery. They had been trying to persuade Job that he was getting what he deserved, but now they must rely on his prayers to prevent them from getting what they deserve. When Job prayed for his errant friends, he foreshadowed the work of Jesus. After being afflicted with unearned suffering, he brought sinners into harmony with the heart of God. Instead of getting Job to abandon God, Satan’s attacks resulted in Job reflecting His maker’s image clearer than ever before.

  • God blesses us the most when are conduits, rather than consumers, of His blessings.

Six: Empower the Vulnerable (Job 42:13-15)

Job felt what it’s like to be powerless over your circumstances and even your own body. He had been wounded by self-righteous friends kicking him while he was down. He learned to distrust societal norms to protect his children’s well-being, especially his daughters. That’s why Job’s daughters are named, but not his sons (Job 42:13-14). Usually it was the sons whose names were publicized, while the daughters would be largely anonymous. Instead, Job made sure Jemimah, Cassia, and Keren Happuch, were recognized as individuals with names and personality.

Job further liberated his daughters from dependence upon the patriarchal system of his day by giving them an inheritance (Job 42:15). Usually, young ladies would be dependent upon and controlled by their fathers until they’re handed off to a husband. When their husbands died, the inheritance would be passed onto the sons. Widows would then be dependent upon their sons. Job’s move turned that construct upside-down…or perhaps, right-side-up.

  • Don’t waste painful experiences. Suffering should deepen our capacity for empathy. Draw from that reservoir to anticipate and meet the needs of others. Doing so will replace sorrow with joy, and loss with fulfillment.