I’m Beside Myself

I always knew I was a bit odd, and you won’t find too many to argue with me on that point. I even have the authority of God’s Word to back me up:

For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you. (2 Corinthians 5:13)

Bible dictionaries tell me that the word rendered, “beside ourselves,” means to be out of one’s mind or insane. Most assuredly, that’s the way the world views Christ-followers, although some of us qualify as bonkers outside of Christ’s influence.

Back in the day, those who would be, cool strove to be seen as, “right on, groovy, out’a sight, and with it.” But according to 2 Corinthians 5:13 (that’s the bold printed passage above), such pop-cultural approval is exactly what we Christ-followers are not to seek.

Am I saying we need to dress in black, home spun suits, drab, ankle-length dresses, and speak in King James English? Not at all! I am saying that Christ-followers must first seek to minister to the world as did Christ, whom the religious leaders at the time viewed as at least mad, and possibly even demon possessed. Yet, the common “sinners” knew they could go to Him without fear of condemnation.

Holiness goes against the world’s rules, and those who refuse to participate with its corruption are thought a bit odd. And therein is the rub; if we’re told a lie often enough, we may begin to believe it. The world tells us that our religion needs to be relevant, so they can identify with it. The more the church accepts the world’s principles, the more those of the world approve, until all resemblance to the true, Biblical church is lost. What’s left is only a shell of human religion, with all the festering religiosity within.

Sometimes we may have to do a little church-hopping to find the true Body of Christ, but I guess that’s the cost of faithfulness. In the final analysis, what value has the world’s approval compared to God’s approval and our eternal destiny? If they see me as beside myself, so what? I’ve been called worse.

Prayer Is an Attitude

Surrender to God in prayer, even though you have nothing but yourself to give.

I am only human. Moments of weakness come upon me, weakness that Jesus paid for on “the place of a Skull,” where the Roman soldiers dropped his cross into a socket dug in that hard earth. I know even as I choose to ignore God’s principles that, though He is grieved, His presence is none-the-less with me, and upon my confession and contrition, that sin-guilt is washed away(1 John 1:9).

In view of my chronic weakness, I have a prayer ready at a moment’s notice:

O Father, please prevent my taking Your grace for granted, and keep me from bringing a reproach upon You.

Two Kinds of Prayer

The two ways of living are: self-centered, and God-centered. The same applies to prayer: Self-centered prayer makes demands of God, usually under the guise of claiming His promises and expecting Him to give us what we want. And yes, we can take that attitude even when praying for others, when our confidence lies in the power of prayer rather than in God’s sovereignty.

God-centered prayer takes the attitude that we are both subservient and submissive to Him. He owes us nothing, and only by His grace may we stand, kneel, sit, or lie prostrate before Him in prayer.

God-centered prayer confesses our sin and expresses our gratitude and praise for His forgiveness, before we enter into our shopping list of petitions.

God-centered prayer echoes Christ’s words in Gethsemane, “Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.” We must never take the arrogant attitude that just because we want something it is automatically aligned with His will.

God-centered prayer expresses sincere gratitude for His action regarding our prayer—and everything else for that matter—whether or not we get what we want. “Everything else” means just that, even when we don’t see the immediate blessing.

Pray Without Ceasing

See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:15-18)

Verse 17, “pray without ceasing,” stands out to me because simply praying for fifteen minutes, let alone continuously, is a challenge. I see it as maintaining a mental attitude that allows me to pray spontaneously, without having to clear my conscience of unconfessed sin, before I can come boldly to the throne of grace.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Will you receive a “Holy Ghost blessing” every time you pray? No, and don’t expect it or you will become disillusioned. Once in a while, though, if you concentrate on Him, God will make this promise real to you: “Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” (1 Peter 1:8b)

Dratted Tailgaters

The State of New Mexico was reworking I-25 through Raton Pass, so the speed limit through the construction zone was reduced to 35mph. I would have happily obeyed the speed limit, but for a car whose driver wasn’t satisfied with obeying the law and rode my bumper unmercifully.

Being a compliant sort, I allowed him to hurry me along to about 50mph. I mean, the pavement was good for a detour and as it was Sunday, hardly anyone else was on the road, so what was the harm?

Apparently that State Patrolman saw the situation differently, and my lack of resolve to obey the law cost me $85. I wondered why he stopped me, instead of the tailgater, and I voiced my concern to the patrolman. His answer? “You were driving too fast through the construction zone, and shouldn’t have allowed the other driver to influence your driving.” He probably didn’t realize it, but he applied Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (2) And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Besides, it was a radar trap and I was in the lead, so I got the ticket and learned a valuable lesson.

I wonder why that lesson doesn’t transfer more easily to life in general, and more specifically to my faith-life. Lesson #1: I must not allow the world system to seduce me into disregarding God’s principles for holy living. Many will say, “I’m forgiven, so why should I concern myself with holy living?” Apostle Peter saw the issue a bit differently: 1 Peter 1:15-16 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, (16) because it is written, “BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” Sure, we have Christ’s imputed holiness if we are living for Him with our sin-guilt washed clean by His holy blood, but throughout the New Testament He urges us to live not according to the world’s corrupt standards, but by His standards, which is the definition of holiness.

Lesson #2: While tailgating in traffic is unsafe, illegal and stupid, “tailgating” Christ our Savior is by far the safest way to reach our ultimate destination.

Are you a “world-tailgater,” or a “Christ-tailgater?”

Apple Cluster Sin

Sandy’s Donuts makes “apple clusters.” They are the yummy clusters of goodness that most bakeries call, “apple fritters,” and simply typing that places me in serious temptation. Like this morning when, after getting up late, I didn’t feel hungry for breakfast, so I delayed it til after 2pm when I began feeling hungry. But that isn’t when the apple cluster temptation began.

My yearning for those clusters of fried, sugary goodness began as I was trying to concentrate on my daily Bible-reading … of course. While struggling through those Scripture passages, I prayed for God to counter my almost-certain baked goods binge. After my reading I realized that our household garbage receptacles were nigh unto overflowing, so hungry as I was, I set to gathering the refuse and began the fifty-yard trek to the dumpster. During my return trip I began feeling convicted about my yummy, afternoon plans as God’s inaudible voice reminded me of the consequences:

First, James 4:17 NKJV Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. This nugget of wisdom from author James isn’t new to me; in fact, it haunts me more than I care to admit.

Do you really want to willfully sin?” said that pesky, silent voice.

Isn’t it somewhere included in ROBERT’S RULES OF ORDER that debaters aren’t supposed to detonate the “S-bomb”? If it’s not, it should be.

Second, “You will feel depressed and bogged down later.” Again, nothing new, but the hard truth of experience. While my palate loves those apple clusters, the rest of my body does not. No need for Your quiet voice here Lord, but thanks for the reminder.

Third, “You’ve already grown out of at least two wardrobes …” Enough said.

And finally, my own inner voice for a change, “Of course, You’re absolutely right Lord. I’ll be glad I didn’t. And thanks ever so much for Your help.

Sin? Really?

How could enjoying one (or two) wonderful apple clusters possibly be sinful? After all, lots of other fat Christians (forgive my frankness) manage to indulge their appetites for such palatal pleasure, so why not me? The answer is easy; I don’t want a thousand or two calories, however delicious, forming a barrier between my Savior and me. Regardless how you cut it, to willfully disobey is sin.

Does satisfying any of your appetites, whatever they may be, put a busy-signal on your prayer-line? Does praising your loving Savior seem just a bit hollow when you allow His conviction to penetrate your denial, and indulge anyway? If we honestly have to answer in the affirmative, James 4:17 applies directly to us.

Where is your battle line drawn?

I confessed just one of my struggles, but I have many more. What are your struggles? You may be skinny as a rail, able to look down your nose at us fat folks munching out on our sugary poison, but Apostle John says you are not free of your own guilt:

1 John 1:8-10 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (9) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (10) If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

If God’s church seems lacking in vitality, you and I can see the reason by simply looking in a mirror. A sinning church is an impotent church. How have we sinned? Read the New Testament and apply it to yourself, rather than to Betty-Sue over there.

And pray! Serious, sin-confessing, prostrate-on-the-floor prayer. Then watch the Holy-Ghost victory flow.

Peter’s Stunning Affirmation

I confess to having questions about certain Biblical statements, and theologians’ opinions don’t help much. If said highly-educated theologians were to establish a consensus in their interpretations I would have little choice but to accept their analyses at face value. But they haven’t, so I keep questioning.

Speaking of difficult teachings, John 6 records one of Jesus’ most controversial statements, and debate about it continues to this day:

John 6:53-58 NKJV Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. (54) Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (55) For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. (56) He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. (57) As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. (58) This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”

This teaching was so misunderstood that when outsiders heard of it they accused Christians of cannibalism. When some of Jesus’ followers balked at His teaching and turned away from Him, He said to the rest of His disciples:

John 6:67-69 NKJV …, “Do you also want to go away?” (68) But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (69) Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Though Peter finally got it, his understanding was not his own. When I quoted excerpts from John 6 above, I omitted some crucial truths for the sake of continuity. Not only is this crucial, but it is the source of heated controversy even today.

John 6:63-65 NKJV It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. (64) But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. (65) And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”

If you were hoping for my personal opinion regarding these profound truths, I’m afraid I must disappoint you. It is enough for me that Jesus preserved these truths and spoke them to me through His Holy Spirit. I pray for Him to wash our minds of preconceptions, to make them ready to receive His unadulterated Truth. And it’s all right there in black(or red)-and-white, waiting for open and pure minds to receive it.

I’m Not Dying

Oh sure, the world is quieter than it used to be. I glance down at my hands and they look like I forgot to iron them. I lack energy to get out of my own way. I have to be careful what I eat; everything I enjoy is off my diet and likely to come back to haunt me. I have CRS, but can’t remember what it means. People say these dreaded words to me: “Can I help you with that sir?”

But I’m not dying—I’m transitioning! And it’s about time; seventy years on this blue-and-green marble is long enough in my book. What about God’s Book, though?

God’s Word doesn’t tell me, “Let your light shine before men, until you get old, then hang up the spent lantern.” I can’t find the word, “retire,” anywhere in the Bible. Even the Levites, when they completed their twenty-five years of temple service, were assigned other duties.

No, my thinning skin should just allow Christ’s light within me to shine through all the brighter. These words of Jesus changed my life when I realized He was talking to me:

Matthew 5:14-16 NKJV “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. (15) Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. (16) Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Without the Christians who held up their light before me, I’d be a goner. And without me and millions of other Christ-followers holding up His light, the world is full of goners.

“Getting saved,” isn’t our final game play, it’s just the starting gun’s report, the kickoff, the tip off, throwing out the first ball, and there’s no timer on the game board. In fact, there’s no game board, ‘cause keeping score is God’s job, and notching our Bibles for every “decision for Christ” is pure presumption, an act of pride that should alert us to the probability that our motivation is not to glorify our heavenly Father, but to glorify ourselves.

Now I need to examine my own life’s priorities; is influencing others to live for God numero uno? Or do I just want to sit back and enjoy the view of others marching straight into perdition? If the second option is true of me … or you … we may as well be dying, ‘cause we’re no earthly good.

Give Me A Sign … or Else!

I confess to allowing myself to feel envious of other Christians when they receive obvious miracles in their lives. Don’t get me wrong; God has blessed me in uncountable ways, but many of those blessings are very subtle and easily missed. Other believers get the spectacular signs, while I just … live.

I asked God about that, and while He didn’t answer me audibly, even in a “still, small voice,” He guided me to some words that Jesus spoke to the nit-picky religious experts of His time: Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him. But He sighed deeply in His spirit, and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Assuredly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.’ (Mark 8:11-12) And again: “’A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.’ And He left them and departed.” (Matthew 16:4)

 

Have you ever been to Charismatic meetings where the evangelist coaches seekers to ask God for the Baptism in the Holy Spirit? If so, you know how he tells them to babble, and believe it is the gift of tongues. Years ago I fell under that sort of evangelist’s spell and walked away convinced that I had spoken in tongues, assuring me that I had been filled with the Spirit. Shortly afterward I discovered several Bible passages in 1 Corinthians 12-14, and you know what? None of them instructed me to actively seek the gift of tongues. Between those passages and what I’ve quoted above, I walked away from tongues feeling I had been deceived. After all, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign.”

A number of times I’ve tried to share my testimony with skeptics. In response, they often demand proof, like miracles or other signs. How different is that from demanding a particular spiritual gift before we believe we have the gift of the Holy Spirit? Perhaps it’s just my lack of faith, but I typically just back down from such confrontations with some lame excuse like, “God doesn’t jump through hoops like a trained monkey.”

God Is Faithful, Always!

A trained monkey He isn’t, but faithful He is. Many years of fighting with God about the weak state of my faith has led me to a firm conviction; He loves me enough to withhold things I’ve wanted, that He knew would become barriers between Himself and me.

It’s sort of like Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” While God hasn’t exactly given me an abundance of revelations, He knows that miraculous sign gifts would work against His greater purpose for me. And my demanding a sign would place me firmly in the same league as the Pharisees and lawyers of Jesus’ time.

Truthfully, He’s given me one of the greatest signs of all: I have peace with performing no miracles, speaking in no unlearned tongues, and receiving no prophetic utterances. Instead, He has given me a longing to love others as He loves me, and I think that is quite enough.

It Comes Naturally

Even this couldn’t stop the people’s murmuring.

The greatest personal challenge I find in Scripture happens to have been authored by my namesake. Most Bible students would agree that Author James didn’t mince words when dealing with the essential issues of daily life in Christ. The coincidence of our given names has nothing to do with my interest in his letter to the scattered churches. Rather, it is the practical nature and authority of his instructions to God’s people.

And he leads with a powerful right cross to the mouth.”

James launches into his instructions like a boxer throwing a violent first punch to the enemy’s weakest point: his mouth. Satan relies on our natural human penchant for spreading negativity.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Satan sows discontentment when the church encounters opposition, “various trials,” or simply when some don’t get their own way. It begins with murmuring and griping, and progresses to outright rebellion, much like God’s people Israel in the wilderness.

Joy? Under trials? It just ain’t natural, and that’s the point. It separates God’s true children from the wannabes and pew-sitters who seek just enough religion to get that righteous feeling once a week.

Beware of brethren* who accost you after church with statements like, “Hey, what’d ya think about Pastor’s sermon today? I mean, …” Chances are what follows will be critical and mean-spirited.

And then a jab to the solar plexus.”

The next few verses never fail to knock the wind out of me.

James 1:5-8 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (6) But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. (7) For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; (8) he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Verse five qualifies the promise that follows. Fine and dandy, but the condition that follows the promise describes me perfectly. Yes, I ask in faith, or I at least summon all the faith I can muster. Unfortunately, I’m a “What I see is what I get,” kinda guy, so when I ask for godly wisdom but keep making the same bone-headed gaffes, I can only conclude one thing; my faith is either insufficient, or it isn’t true.

Yes, sometimes I am driven and tossed by the wind. And yes, sometimes I am double-minded and unstable. All this uncertainty grieves my spirit, and in my more depressed moments, causes me to wonder if I’m truly one of God’s people. Yet, that very grief tells me that I do belong to God. If I didn’t, wouldn’t all this be a non-issue?

Lord, I believe, …”

One of the most encouraging accounts of Jesus’ ministry is … click here and I’ll let author Mark tell it.

So verse 24 has inspired the desperate prayer of my life.
Lord Jesus, I know You want me to become like You, and for that to happen I must believe that it will. Like the possessed boy’s father, I believe. I know that You can transform me into Your image. But I need to know that you will transform me. Deal with my unbelief, Lord, so I can become truly like You. Thank You Jesus, by faith, for Your plan for my life.

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* “Brethren” is the archaic form of today’s “brothers.” It meant, “brothers and sisters,” but those with “sexist” issues take exception. Many modern translations render the word, “brothers and sisters,” but that seems awkward, so I’ve chosen to use the archaic form to include both male and female Christ-followers.

Insight from a Lamp, a Bowl and a Bed

light under bushel

Luke’s Gospel records one of Jesus’ shorter illustrations that involves a bed and a pot, jar, basket or vessel, depending on which version you read. In the past I had thought my understanding of this illustration was complete, but today I noticed something new that isn’t new at all.

Unless the lamp was electrically powered, placing it under a bowl would soon extinguish it. Since Jesus’ illustration was from Biblical times, I think it’s safe to assume that the lamp wasn’t plugged into a hundred and ten volt receptacle. That being the case, placing a lamp under a bowl would be rather a stupid strategy for lighting ones house. And then there’s the (assumedly, not electrical) lamp placed under ones bed. “Toasty” would not be an overstatement for ones night’s sleep.

Jesus’ most obvious point with this illustration is what He stated directly in verse seventeen: For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. The fact of the matter is no one would do these things, for the reason that no one turns on a light so it won’t be seen (unless you’re nine years old and reading a comic book under the covers).

The balance of Jesus’ illustration is an even more difficult lesson; if one were stupid enough to place his lamp under a bowl he might think his light is safe for when he needs it, but when the time comes the flame will be gone. And hiding ones light under the bed will cause such a blaze that everyone will know of his foolishness.

The bowl and the bed are both attempts to conceal the truth one has taken unto himself. Verse eighteen opens up the nutshell for all to enjoy:

Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.”

I must take this to heart by faithfully sharing my humble insights any way I can. If they are from God He will make them germinate, grow, and produce fruit in someone’s life. If they aren’t from God they will simply lie there producing nothing. To God be the glory, regardless how He uses me.

Mom’s Admonition

I used to have the habit of picking at my scabs. Mom warned me about it, but I usually forgot, or worse yet, ignored her admonitions. Why didn’t I realize it only caused my wounds to start bleeding again? Truth be told, my idle fingers still find the occasional scab, and without thinking I reopen those old wounds. What is it about imperfections that draw our attention to them?

Jesus’ disciple Thomas wasn’t around when the resurrected Savior first appeared to the others. I’m sure that when he finally saw Jesus, wounds and all, he had seen enough to convince him that Jesus was alive. Yet, Jesus told the doubter to place his fingers into the open wounds, driving His message home with a force like that of the spikes driven through His holy flesh.

Even though He gave my body the ability to heal itself naturally, my interference keeps reopening those old wounds. Similarly, I still bear open wounds from my past sins, but that’s not because Jesus failed to heal them. These bothersome scabs are emotional: shame, remorse, and regret. Since Jesus’ blood already covers the sins that inflicted these wounds, my insistence on “picking” at them makes them fester, causing completely unnecessary pain, and worse yet, forming an artificial barrier between myself and my Lord.

The Prideful Sin of Perfectionism

You’d never know to look at my room that I tend toward perfectionism … spiritual perfectionism, that is. As I read Christ’s perfect law of liberty (the entire New Testament), I can’t help making a checklist of my personal infractions, which in itself is an infraction. Apostle Paul gave us a beautiful, liberating, absolute rule in his letter to the Roman church:

Romans 8:1-2
(1) There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
(2) For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.

Like I said, it’s a beautiful thing. Yet, I read the conditions and wonder if the promise truly applies to me. Am I really in Christ Jesus? Do I really walk according to the Spirit? Only with affirmative answers can I claim that promise.

I have to constantly remind myself that the very fact of my concern along those lines means this wonderful promise is my very own. And for those not-so rare times when I slip up, Apostle John provided an equally beautiful answer:

1 John 1:8-10
(8) If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
(9) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
(10) If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

Take THAT, all who stand pridefully in your, “sinless perfection.”

A careful examination of this passage reveals the identity of its audience: we, us. That includes St. John himself. So, if “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was guilty of sinning, what business have I picking at my scabs of imperfection?

The answer is Mom’s admonition!