Have You Ever Been Lonely?

Patsy Cline’s song has replayed itself in my mind since a show I watched included it. No doubt it’s a catchy little ditty, and in all honesty I have to admit my answer to her question is in the affirmative. A literary cliche mentions being lonely in a crowded room. All such thoughts are intended to emote feelings of dejection and longing for the better times before, “My Darlin’, she went away.”

When I feel sorry for my solitary self, God reminds me what He gave up to indwell Jesus, live among His creation, and subject Himself to all the abuse we could dish out. Think about it; the I Am, the eternal One, the Creator of the Universe, stepped out of His eternal comfort to be born of a virgin, not to set up His kingdom and be worshiped by all mankind, but to be tempted in all the ways that we have—without sinning—and in His innocence to be treated like an accursed sinner, even a criminal, to buy us back from the lying enemy who swindled humanity with promises of God-likeness.

I know you’ve heard all this before, but how often do you think about it, meditate on it, shed tears of conviction for taking Him for granted, and thanks for His unending love, forgiveness and faithfulness toward you personally. Here’s God’s promise, along with one of His requirements, from Hebrews 13:5 Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU.”

In view of all that, we should live in a constant state of thankful elation, but we don’t. We let our short-term worries distract us from our long-term hope. We need to memorize Matthew 6:25-34, then meditate on His words, controlling our worrisome emotions and trusting Him as we say we do.

Father, in Jesus name I ask you to give me the joy of Your salvation, instead of letting me wallow in my own self-pity. Let me see You as You are, faithful, even to Your own hurt. Make me always grateful for your free gift of reconciliation with You and eternal salvation.

It Seemed Significant At the Time

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve had a thought while reading or listening to the Bible, but because I wanted to finish the reading I failed to write it down. When I return to the spot that jumped out at me, it seems to just blend in with the rest of the passage, and I wonder why it seemed significant.

My memory has never been stellar, but as I age, what memory I had gradually seems to ebb away. Most of my contemporaries will answer my concern with, “Oh posh! You’ve got to expect that as you get older.” Maybe so, but it is none the less frustrating.

Now, what was my point with all this?

Ah, that’s right. I seem to be exchanging my marvelous powers of recall—yeah, right!—for a broader perspective on life. I have always, and still do, pray for my Father to give me His eyes (a nod to Amy Grant here).

So easily I fall into the fleshly trap of viewing people and circumstances through the eyes of carnality. What could be an occasion for growth and blessing, I turn into a thorny problem. Will I ever learn Job’s lesson?

Job 42:1-5
(1) Then Job answered the LORD and said:
(2) “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.
(3) You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
(4) Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’
(5) “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You.”

Before Job’s tribulations he knew of God, and that was enough for Him to be obedient, but his faithfulness during his trials matured his faith and brought him into a personal relationship with his heavenly Father. Job knew, and I’m learning, that my loving heavenly Father never allows trials without a purpose.

Praise God for His loving kindness toward us!

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.

No Coincidence

I’ve felt a bit down of late, to the extent that I’ve asked God to take me home. I would like to say that such feelings aren’t self-pity, as I hate that dynamic because it denies denies God. Trouble is, I can’t say that, so I suffer shame in addition to my depression, steering me toward the vicious maelstrom that would suck me into emotion’s depths.

The enemy of our souls is often our emotions’ lord, manipulating them, and thus our will, away from godliness and the edification that it holds for us. God, however, never abandons his own to Satan’s wiles, but through “coincidences,” buoys us up when we most need it.

Today’s “coincidence” took the form of Crosswalk dot com’s daily feed, Streams in the Desert. Here’s the portion that ministered to me:

Have you asked to be made like your Lord? Have you longed for the fruit of the Spirit, and have you prayed for sweetness and gentleness and love? Then fear not the stormy tempest that is at this moment sweeping through your life. A blessing is in the storm, and there will be the rich fruitage in the “afterward.”
–Henry Ward Beecher 

That’s the sort of “coincidence” that makes me love my Savior God ever more deeply. I’m confident that He has some wonderful purpose for allowing my bouts with depression to continue. When all is revealed I will marvel at His supernatural wisdom and love toward me, and spend eternity thanking and praising Him for it.

Lord, Don’t Let Me Fall

Falling isn’t fun, whether it’s caused by clumsy feet or weak spiritual will. By God’s grace, however, the latter isn’t necessarily fatal. Psalms 37: 23-24 says, The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, And He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the Lord upholds him with His hand. (NKJV)

Lots of people try to avoid sinning because they’re afraid of going to hell; they view God as the Heavenly Parole Officer, just waiting to slap the eternal cuffs onto their weak wrists. The Lord’s apostle John took a different view: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  (1 John 4:18 ESV) According to that powerful passage, we are not to fear God’s punishment. But how can be “perfected in love”? Verse nineteen gives us the answer to that key question. We love because he first loved us.  (4:19)

So then, loving God is automatic for Christians. Right? Wrong! Just because we’ve, “decided to follow Jesus,” doesn’t mean we know of God’s love in giving His Son over to ridicule, torture, and death to free us from the eternal penalty of our sin’s guilt. To know of God’s love we must at least begin to know God, and only His Holy Spirit, working through our ever-deepening understanding of His Word by prayer and meditation, can give us that knowledge. But heed Apostle Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 8:1, Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that all of us possess knowledge. This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. Some in the Corinthian church understood the liberty we have in Christ, but they were proud of that knowledge and ridiculed the “weaker brethren” without such understanding. Bible knowledge alone makes us no better than Satan’s minions. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder!  (James 2:19)

While I’m not afraid of going to hell—praise God! Jesus took care of that—I am petrified of damaging my Savior’s holy name through my thoughtlessness and sin. When I pray, “Lord, don’t let me fall,” I’m deadly serious. I love my Lord and will not besmirch His name.

 

Extraction!

“Just relax. This won’t hurt a bit.”

Does anyone else love to hear the dentist utter the word, “Extraction?”

Okay, I lied, but with the benign purpose of illustrating a crucial, Scriptural principle. If I’d really meant the “love the word extraction” bit, the authorities wouldn’t allow me to live in the general population. Who knows where such insanity would lead.

As Lou Costello often said, “I’m a baaad boy,” for neglecting my dental health, resulting in the need to extract my broken tooth. While that’s one kind of extraction, we also necessitate another kind of painful extraction through neglect. Extracting habitual sin from our lives is more painful than getting a tooth pulled, even if the pain isn’t physical. And we must do it to alleviate an even more persistent disease than an abscessed tooth, yet without anesthesia. That’s right, we can’t even dull the pain of sin extraction, but knowing the blessed relief that awaits that procedure makes it bearable.

Romans chapter six is a pivotal point in the New Testament. It takes God’s teaching about law versus grace, and applies it to how He expects us to live our lives.

Romans 6:12-14 NKJV Therefore (since you are, “dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” you must) not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. (13) And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. (14) For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

The command is as clear as any in God’s Word; letting sin “reign” in your mortal body means embracing its power to rule your life. Jesus defeated sin, and thus death, by His perfect sacrifice, a spiritual victory through His physical death, burial and resurrection. You and I, however, are still stuck with our mortal flesh until we shed it when He calls us home.

David Mathis, of desiringGod, made a helpful observation about the catchphrase, “We are in the world, but not of it.” I followed his word-search, and discovered it is not in God’s Word as stated. Brother David pointed out that God, in John 17, expresses the thought in the opposite order.

John 17:14-19 NKJV I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (15) I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. (16) They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (17) Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (18) As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. (19) And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.

First, note verse fifteen, above. Jesus prayed for His Father to keep us from the evil one. That means Satan has no control over us, as long as we are in Christ. Also note that Jesus prayed for our sanctification, or separation, from the world’s seductions. As far as the “not of, but in” statement, you can see those two clauses are not only in the opposite order of the catchphrase, but there is far more to being, “in the world,” than just existing here; Jesus never intended that we should simply endure until He takes us away, but He sent us into the world on His Great Commission.

Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (19) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Just remember that Jesus’ Great Commission—which is actually our great commission—is just one of many commands He gave us through the New Testament writers, and all of them spring directly from God’s Great Commandment to love Him with our entire being, and to love others as ourselves. So, back to that painful, sin-extraction, which is the only way we can fulfill our Lord’s Great Commandment, and thus, His Great Commission. Bad habits are hard to break, but God gave us the power of choice. Will you use it to placate your flesh, or to obey God?

The ISIS Apocalypse (warning, graphic image)

Please forgive this horrible image, and remember that this is not a man, but the vestige of one who is now with his Savior. Rejoice for him, for his hope is now fully realized.

I received a long e-mail detailing the horrible atrocities that the hoodlums of the Islamic State are perpetrating against Christians in Iraq. I’ve seen graphic images of children without heads, and heard of the rape and pillage of Christian families. And my feelings go beyond outrage, to apprehension, and even fear. “How long before they take over our country, as they promise?”

That is my fleshly reaction to this evil that seems to be spreading, unchecked, but when I look to my Savior instead of such scare tactics, my response is quite different. Of course it’s easy for me to sit in this comfortable chair in front of my computer monitor, smack in the middle of one of America’s havens of freedom, and say I truly believe none of this Islamic State business is taking God by surprise. The truth is, God is not wringing his hands and desperately commissioning the West to step in and correct all the hideous wrongs. Rather, God is allowing this genocide to wake up his church, to open our eyes to the fact that we are not safe in this world, that our safety is spiritual, and that no matter what happens to our property, families or selves, he is always faithful. We are not to fear those who can kill us physically, but only him who controls our eternal destiny (Matthew 10:28).

I believe God is giving grace to his beloved Christ-followers when we face persecution, and even execution, for his name’s sake. He cannot abandon us because he is Love personified, but he can and will allow whatever our hardened hearts require, in order to make them soft toward him.

Never think that Father God is made of stone, that he feels nothing for his suffering church. Good heavens! He gave his own beloved Son over to worse torture than ISIS, or any other Satanic force, can dish out, so we his enemies could be saved.

My prayer is first, that God will glorify himself through this time of tribulation, and second, that his suffering church will look to our Savior for his supernatural peace, and die with psalms of praise on our lips. We dare not submit to a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (1 Timothy 1:7-8).

So look up, for our Savior is drawing near, and pray for gratitude, and courage to face whatever God allows in our future.

There! I said my piece.

I would like to recommend a blog that I just followed: No Apologies Allowed — Weekly apologetics cartoons for the faithful, the faithless, and the full-of-its. The cartoon above is from a post titled, “Are our protestations prepping us for judgment?” I submitted a lengthy comment to that post, and to improve the chances of your reading it, here it is:

You wrote, “Yet just as you can’t ignore natural laws and get away unharmed, so, too, can we not ignore the moral law within our consciences and expect to avoid the consequences.”

I maintain that, while moral law is within our consciences, God’s immutable spiritual law is independent of conscience. One of those spiritual laws is the Law of Sowing and Reaping, which works both in the spiritual and the natural plain. Whether we try to defy God, or gravity, we will reap the consequences.

Regarding the question of judgment for the church’s sin, Jesus bore the world’s sin-punishment on the cross; he paid the price to buy us back from Satan, to whom we individually sold ourselves when we first sinned. But Hebrews 10:26-31 (Darby) tells us, “For where we sin willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains any sacrifice for sins,
(27) but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and heat of fire about to devour the adversaries.
(28) Anyone that has disregarded Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses:
(29) of how much worse punishment, think ye, shall he be judged worthy who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and esteemed the blood of the covenant, whereby he has been sanctified, common, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
(30) For we know him that said, To me belongs vengeance; *I* will recompense, saith the Lord: and again, The Lord shall judge his people.
(31) It is a fearful thing falling into the hands of the living God.”

We live under the covenant of grace, and God’s grace is indeed infinite regarding our human frailties. But I’m not sure how far God stretches his grace toward those who usurp his authority, propagate false teachings and presumptuously sin (deliberately test God’s grace). Attempting to walk the boundary between the forgivable and the unforgivable is a dangerous game pursued only by those who do not love God. But those who do stand squarely on the solid Rock of our faith, the incarnate Word of God.

Thing is, those who argue about what is or isn’t sin, or what you can get away with as a Christian are missing the gospel’s point entirely. The writer of Hebrews said: Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: (Hebrews 12:14 NKJV) If God told his church to pursue holiness, he can’t have been referring to Christ’s holiness imputed to us because we already have that. Apostle Paul wrote: Having therefore these promises (that if we separate ourselves from those who are worldly, God will be to us a Father, and we shall be to him sons and daughters), beloved, let us purify ourselves from every pollution of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear. (2 Corinthians 7:1 Darby) The problem with today’s church is we simply do not fear God. As long as that is true, we will never glorify God and our praises are worse-than useless.

Open Sez He

Okay, titling this piece after a quote from “Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor” may seem somewhat frivolous, but there’s a method in my obvious madness.

Popeye is perpetually involved in the war between good and evil, but the only way he can win is to keep a can of spinach handy. Of course, you can see the spiritual parallel; we’re helpless against our enemy Satan without God’s Holy Spirit, but he doesn’t come in a can though some think getting his attention is formulaic.

Another Popeye parallel is his motto: “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.” That applies to us directly, as our pretenses never determine who or what we are. You can act religious all day every day, get to church first and leave last, and keep a sanctimonious frown tattooed on your face, but if you haven’t submitted to Jesus out of love and gratitude for what he did for you, it’s all a pretense.

The last parallel I have is a bit of a stretch; In the Sindbad cartoon, Popeye said, “Open sez me,” when he wanted entry to Sindbad’s treasure-cave.” God’s Holy Spirit says to us, “Open your heart and mind to me.” It’s possible to sincerely profess faith in Christ without ever opening up to him. Are you not sure if that describes you? Ask yourself if you open your heart to your pastor, your brethren, your family and friends, and even your enemies. Do you open your mind to God’s Word? True Christ-followers practice God’s love, giving themselves to others as Jesus gave himself to us.

Clever—or not-so clever—cartoon parallels aside, Christ will hold each of us accountable for our response to his total sacrifice for us. Are you a child of God through Christ Jesus, or just a pretender?

Warning, you may find this post offensive …

But only if you’re part of the problem.

God’s church has the bad habit of sweeping sensitive or distasteful issues under the tabu-rug. Such issues vary by denomination and congregation, but perhaps the most universally swept issue is pornography use.

A quick definition of Porn is: printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings. Usually, “printed or visual material” is interpreted as photographs or graphic images, but is that assumption realistic?

Years ago, I enjoyed reading thriller-type novels by such authors as Ludlum, Cussler, Patterson, King and Sheldon. And don’t get me started on the movies of the same genre. One common element in such fiction is vivid portrayals of violence and gore, usually motivated by “righteous” revenge. Brothers, “righteous” and “revenge” are oxymorons. The enemy of your soul places those stories before your eyes to elicit your sympathy, causing you to justify violent vengeance. Another common element of such fiction is erotic descriptions of sex and seduction. If you call yourself a Christian, you have no business placing such words and images before your eyes. Just because it isn’t technically porno doesn’t mean it’s okay.

And on the distaff side …

Ladies, stop poking your husbands if you read “steamy” romance novels, which are nothing less than verbal porn. You read them for the stories and not the sex? That’s like your husband’s claim of “reading” Playboy Magazine for the literary value alone. Ladies, those stories are nothing more than “cookie-cutter” literature, mass-produced to separate you from both your money and your morals.

Confession Time

Apostle Paul suffered from a physical “thorn in the flesh.” My biggest thorn in the flesh is my addiction to “soft porn.” Some would say, “Why, that’s not so bad; could be worse.”

Indeed it could, but it doesn’t have to be worse to stand between me and my Savior. Even though it may not cost my eternal salvation—note, I said “may not”—that garbage stunts my spiritual growth. By now I’ve realized that I’m stuck with my taste for “morality’s booze,” but by Christ’s righteous power it doesn’t have to rule my life.

I’ve coined the phrase, “Soft porn makes soft Christians,” and I don’t want to be a soft Christian. I praise my Lord and Savior for opening my spiritual eyes to what I place before my physical eyes, allowing me to fully appreciate its ugliness. Any victory God is giving me hasn’t come easily; I still struggle with the temptation, but through my persistent supplication he is giving me victory over that particular tool of Satan.

The Bible never mentions pornography, but it does cover fornication quite well. Not the same thing? The Greek for “fornication” comes from the same root word (porneia) as our word, “pornography.” Below, find listed some of the Biblical passages dealing with fornication and lust:

1 John 2:16[Full Chapter]
For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.

Matthew 5:32
But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

Matthew 19:9
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

John 8:41
Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.

Proverbs 11:6
The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust.

Matthew 5:27
[ Lust ] “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’

1 Thessalonians 4:5
not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;

2 Peter 2:10
and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones,

If you feel condemnation for your use of porn, that’s just your enemy hitting you with the ol’ one-two. First, he stunts your spiritual growth, then he turns your God-given conviction into condemnation, gaining two victories for one sin. Pretty clever, eh? Resolve to accept and submit to God’s conviction, but tell your sneaky enemy, “Be gone, Satan!” By God’s redemptive power, Satan’s ploys are wasted on you.