So I got to thinking, which I'm prone to do in rare moments of lucidness - and I thought to myself, why don't we start being "Biblically correct"? We're already politically correct, and I think we can all see how well that is working… everybody trying to say just the right thing, using just the right words, so that no one offends anyone else. And that's good, I think… but nobody ever says, "Hey, we need to be Biblically correct, so we don't offend God." How come we're not concerned about offending God, when we're so concerned about offending people? That's sorta like not using shampoo so you don't kill your head lice, but hitting a lion on the nose with a stick… well, not really, but it's the best analogy I could come up with.
I gotta be honest with you - well, I don't, but I will - getting things correct with God is a whole lot more important than getting things correct with people. I'm not advocating that we be mean spirited to people who disagree with our faith-based views. That wouldn't be Biblically correct. I'm simply suggesting that we follow God: that we believe His Word, that we trust His guidance, that we have faith in Him and that we follow the example of Jesus Christ as best as we can - and be Biblically correct.
When we run up against things, or people, that are at odds with God's Word, we need to stand for what God says is right. We need to adhere to our faith and not the political correctness of society. Society gets a lot of things wrong, while God NEVER makes a mistake… well, maybe creating humans wasn't His best idea, but I'm personally grateful for the opportunity to live and serve. And I have a great family that I want to instill with the idea that being Biblically correct is the most important thing you can do. It'll save your life! It'll give you one too.
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life."
John 5:24 NKJV
So the next time somebody talks about being politically correct, I think I'll just tell them I'm really not interested, and everything that needs fixing would get fixed if we all were just Biblically correct!
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Psalms 119:105 KJV
Walking in the day whenever possible, and using a light at night,
P.S. I always find it much easier to find my way at night when using a flashlight. I hit fewer trees and bleed less… however, since we have about 18 flashlights and no one knows where any of them are, I usually just walk around the property in the day.
P.P.S. If you know where all the flashlights go, please let me know. If you have spares please send me one… or a box of band-aids.
Seahawks win! Seahawks win! And they didn't just win, they dominated!
Please forgive my euphoria, but it's been 38 years that I've been waiting for this day… the day that I can say my team is the Super Bowl Champion! Not only was I there when the franchise came to town, I was actually asked if I wanted to tryout for the team… true story. I won't go into the details, because it sounds so much better when I leave them out. Unfortunately I wasn't thinking (which happens a lot!) and I said "no". What? The Seahawks asked you if you wanted to tryout and you said no? Yep, that's what I said. In retrospect I wish I had… but that was 38 years ago and I've just got to let it go… or maybe Pete Carrol will give me a second chance.
I know people say baseball is America's pastime… but football is its' passion! It also seems like football has a higher percentage of Christians than any other sport. I don't have any scientific numbers to back that up, but I don't need any, because that's my theory. And since our society doesn't need proof for most scientific theories, I'm chalking my theory up to science. So theoretically, football has more Christians than any other sport. And I want to talk about that, and the declarations these athletes often make about their faith.
When you find an on-fire Christian, a guy like Kurt Warner, former quarterback of the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals, he's not afraid to tell you he's a Christian. In fact my favorite sports quote belongs to him. After winning Super Bowl XXXIV, Mike Tirico, an announcer for ABC said, "Kurt, first things first - tell me about the final touchdown pass to Isaac." To which Kurt replied, "Well, first things first, I've got to thank my Lord and Savior up above - thank you, Jesus!" To my surprise the stadium erupted in cheers. But why is that my favorite quote in sports? Well, as a Christian the most important thing to me is Jesus Christ. Not because I'm forced to serve Him, but because of what He's done for me, and the fact that regardless of what the world thinks, I know He loves me enough to die for me. I owe Him. Everything. He's changed my life and made me a better person. He's given me a richer life and filled it with purpose. He comes first. But that's what you'd expect a Christian to say. We'd sound pretty stupid if we said we serve a God that can't do anything. So when I hear someone else proclaim that they have experienced the same life changing events that I have, because of what Jesus has done for both of us, it gets me excited about my faith. It is a bond between us that goes deeper than just sentiment or words. It's a game changer. Or is it?
Does God determine the outcome of a game based on the number of Christians that are on a team or that support it? A lot of people see Kurt Warner as a misguided athlete that has placed his faith in the wrong place. It's the coaches, the general manager, the other players, and maybe a little luck (and I don't mean Andrew), that determine the outcome of the game, right? It doesn't have anything to do with God, right? (For all you that don't know, Andrew Luck is the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts. Personally, I don't believe in luck, or that it changes anything. However, I do believe Andrew is a great quarterback… and when it comes to the Colts, Luck is a major factor in the outcome of every game.)
So, does God get involved in the outcome of football games based on the Christians on the team? Yesterday I thought the answer was no… that God doesn't intervene in a game where both sides have Christians on their teams. It's like a parent rooting for one kid over another. But today I'm not so sure. And here's why. It's not about the other guys, it about you… it's how you respond to Jesus. So even though there may be Christians on both teams, their commitment level to Christ may be different. Some are Kurt Warners - there's no ambiguity about where they stand. Others are quiet, but still strong in their faith. Still others are closet Christians. What I've seen is that those who are steadfast, determined and excited about their faith tend to perform at a level that sometimes is beyond what their talent level would predict. It's not because they don't have talent. It's because their faith allows them to express it fully. And because they allow God the opportunity to work in their lives, He does. He helps them to be all they can be… and sometimes more.
David (you remember him - smallish shepherd boy) wasn't the best warrior in the Israeli army. In fact, he wasn't even in the army! He was an errand boy for his father. Yet his confidence in God changed a nation forever. Did his faith give him an edge. Absolutely! Did his faith give him a victory. Undeniably!
Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it.
Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.
Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.”
David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
They repeated to him what they had been saying and told him, “This is what will be done for the man who kills him.”
When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”
1 Samuel 17:21-28 NIV
As far as I know, everybody in the Israeli army was Jewish. They all believed, and supposedly served, the same God. But ONLY David had the courage to act on his faith. And because of that, even his own brother got upset with him. He knew David's confidence level was greater than his own, and that bothered him. But what Eliab failed to realize was that David's confidence came from his faith in God. And that gave David an advantage.
David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.
This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
1 Samuel 17:45-47 NIV
If you're looking for confidence, David had it. David put his trust in God… so completely that he was not afraid to challenge the most feared warrior of his time - not with a sword, or a spear, or a javelin - but with his belief that God would protect him. Most of us are terrified when we overdraw our bank account. Some of us are just afraid to tell the rest of society what we believe. So I doubt many Christians would be confident enough to volunteer to fight the injustices placed upon us by an outside threat. And if we do, we'll surely take some flack from our own family!
But a sporting event is a lot different than the battle between the Israelites (with a third less calories than regular Hebrews) and the Philistines. There were no Christians on the other side - just one really big heathen, and a bunch of heathenettes. So in this case it was pretty obvious that God was taking sides. For the Super Bowl, or any other sporting event, I'm not so sure God cares about who wins. I think He cares about who serves Him, and those that believe in His Son. And I know He loves all of us, or He wouldn't have sacrificed His Son for us. So it's not about the game, folks. It's about us… and our salvation.
Now as excited as I am about our Super Bowl victory, I know that God is not the genie of football championships. If anything, I think He's disappointed that a Seahawks victory means more to some people than He ever will. Football is a game. Jesus Christ wants to give us life. That's what Kurt Warner understands, probably as well as anyone. And if you had asked him after Super Bowl XLIII (in which his team lost) about what it was like to be on the losing end of the score, I hope he would have answered the same way he did after he won Super Bowl XXXIV.
Being a Christian isn't about all the trophies, riches and accolades you accumulate in life. It's about living a life that is above what the world has in store for you. It's about trading death for life… and it's about sharing that life with others. Hopefully that's why Christian athletes are putting "first things first", and thanking Jesus for what they have. In no way do I think Kurt Warner's acknowledgement of Jesus Christ was to elevate himself over others or to insinuate that God had given him victory in the Super Bowl. I think he simply wanted the rest of the world to know that he was grateful for what Jesus had done for Him.
Life has nothing to do with the Super Bowl. Life exists only because God created it. It's great to be a winner, but you can't be a winner in life without Jesus Christ. I just wish Seattle could get as excited about Jesus as they are about the Seahawks. That would be a world changer.
You remember Joshua. Tall, nice looking man; former spy, now leader of the people of Israel. Well, it's his first day on the job and he's trying to fill some pretty big shoes. Moses is gone and it's up to him to lead the people into the promised land. Israel has been roaming around the wilderness for 40 years, waiting for the remnants of a disillusioned group of Jews to fade from their ranks, so they can at last inherit the land promised to them by God. All their dreams are about to be fulfilled, they will no longer be a people without a home… everything that had been promised to their fathers is about to be realized, and Joshua is the man that is going to lead them there. Not Moses - Joshua. No pressure. So Joshua leads the people across the River Jordan and into the promised land. But there'a a problem… a big problem. And it's name is Jericho. If you don't know about the battle of Jericho, don't worry - I'm not going to bore you with the details here. I have another item I want to bore you with. And it determines whether we are victorious or vanquished.
As Joshua prepared for the battle he moseyed himself over to Jericho to scope out the city. And when he did he saw something that caught his attention. It was a man holding a sword.
Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.”
Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”
The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
Joshua 5:13-15 NIV
Did you notice that Joshua didn't ask for the man's papers or request any current identification? He just hit the deck and asked for instructions. Joshua immediately understood the gravity of the situation. He also knew how to correctly respond to God - he obeyed.
So why did the commander of the Lord's army say he was on neither side? Why wasn't he on Joshua's side? Joshua was a good guy, so why wasn't the commander with him? I'm so glad you ask these questions, because I've wondered that myself. Maybe it's because he served God and not people. Maybe it's because it really doesn't matter what people think, but rather if we're willing to follow God. Maybe he was on God's side because men aren't always on the right side. Maybe we mess up, and God doesn't want to back us when we do. Maybe God doesn't wants to base His actions on our abilities or wisdom. Maybe instead of us trying to get God to be on our side, we should try to get on God's side.
It's not about who's side God is on, because God doesn't take sides. He's not interested in conforming to our perceptions of how we think He should respond… and He usually doesn't make His decisions based on what we think. We really don't have a side for Him to take. He's the creator of the universe, so what is it that we have that would entice God to be on our side? He already owns all the sides that are worth taking. There is no incentive for God to pick our side. It's up to us to choose if we want to be on God's side - not for Him to decide if He wants to be on ours. If we're on God's side, then He's for us. If we're on God's side, then the commander of His armies is already fighting for us.
Enlisted for life,
In football the one person you want to take care of is the quarterback. When the other team forces your quarterback to the ground before he can make a play, it's called a 'sack'. Well, technically there's more to it than that, but I don't want to bore the Downton Abbey folks with details. You just can't let the opposition sack the quarterback. Quarterback sacks dramatically impact your ability to be successful. And should you ever sack your own quarterback - well, that kind of thing can end your career.
Many years ago, when I was a partner in a garment printing company, we had a walk-in customer of some notoriety visit our establishment. He was a quarterback on an NFL team (who will remain anonymous, since I'm not). Being a huge football fan (as in my love for the game and not in size) I was quite excited to have him grace our modest facility. As famous and pampered personalities go, he was quite congenial and pleasant. He wanted us to print some shirts for him, which we did. After that initial encounter he and his wife became regulars at our shop, bringing us small sports team orders to print. And things were going splendidly until I had a moment of spiritual enlightenment… an epiphany if you will, that was about to change a number of lives forever. My conscience was having bouts of conviction. I was feeling remorse for some printing I had done in the past; things I had printed on shirts (as a Christian) that were so vulgar that I can't even hint at what they said. I was not a good example of what a Christian should be.
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 KJV
I had to draw the line. And I chose that moment to do it. But before I did anything really stupid, I wanted to get my partner's approval. Normally I just went ahead and did something stupid, and found out later that I had ticked-off my partner. So this was an improvement. Over the next hour I briefly explained to him my issues with printing things that were ungodly. As such, I could no longer condone printing designs with the word "devil"... or anything else that wasn't Christian (but mostly it was just the "devil" stuff).
Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil."
Ephesians 4:25-27 NKJV
Don't give place to the devil, folks! My partner agreed. And from that moment on we decided to never again print anything with the word "devil" on it. Well, let me tell you that it didn't take long for our resolve to be tested. The next day in walks my quarterback buddy with an order for, you guessed it, "devil" shirts. By now I had developed a very congenial relationship with him, so it was my task to nicely explain how I couldn't print his order, even though I really liked him… because I was a Christian; and Christians don't let their quarterback friends print "devil" shirts. We also don't give place to the devil; but as the redness in his ears spread to his face, I may have just neglected quoting that scripture to him. He was not a happy camper. And after explaining to me how unhappy he was, he left… and never came back. Quarterback sacked. Now I had new remorse and conviction. The way things ended didn't seem at all right. But I really didn't want to print "devil" shirts. I just couldn't do it. Now I looked like some sort of religious fanatic. Another one of those stupid Christians, that have such weird beliefs, that nobody wants to be one. And normally that would be the end of the story - except sometimes God updates you on your "stupidity".
I had shared my faith with my quarterback friend so he could understand that I was a strong Christian, with uncompromising values when it came to following Jesus Christ. For my efforts, I had lost thousands of dollars in business, and driven off someone who needed Jesus in his life. And even though that event happened over 30 years ago, I remember it to this day. There were times I beat myself up for not doing a better job of handling that situation. Maybe if I had just done things differently this guy wouldn't have walked away hating me. But when it comes down to making a different choice, I still refuse to print "devil" shirts. So I guess I did the right thing… but I was never too sure. Then one day I was walking down Lake Washington Boulevard with my future wife, when who do I see walking towards me but my former friend, the quarterback. Only he's not with his wife, or she's dyed her hair. My first thought was, 'Will he even recognize me?' My second thought was, 'Will he still remember the "devil" shirts?' My third thought was, 'Is that his wife?'
As we slowly closed the gap between us, I prepared myself for the worst, while hoping he wouldn't recognize me, and just walk on by. But as we converged I heard my name. He recognized me. Not only that, he remembered my name! But maybe he's forgotten the "devil" shirts. Nope. The next words out of his mouth: "Hey remember those shirts…?" Uh, maybe… like every day since we last saw each other, on my never ending stupid-things-I've-done instant replay reel. Well he never forgot either. He had remembered what I'd said, and was now a Christian. His wife had divorced him and the young lady he was with was a Christian that God had brought into his life. He'd never been happier. And now he understood what I meant. Well, I guess I can update my instant replay reel - it looks like I can add a happy ending to the mess I made.
I haven't seen my quarterback friend since that day. But I hope and pray that his faith has grown over the years, that his life has continued to be blessed, and that he still remembers me in some positive way.
Sometimes I do things and think I've screwed everything up… and most times I probably have. But God doesn't care. He's in the business of fixing things, and changing lives. So now I'm glad I do dumb stuff just so God can show me how He fixes things.
Trying not to sack the quarterback,
©D Crouse 2013
A lot of people hate Jesus. Myriads more just avoid Him, including people who believe in God. Why? What was it that Jesus did, or said, that caused so many people to negatively respond to Him, or just avoid Him? I spend a lot of time thinking about things like this, which means I either have too much time on my hands or I need professional help; probably a little of both. But I think I've come up with a plausible answer. Would you like to hear it? I thought not… so this time I'm not going to tell you… at least, not yet. But that still leaves us with a lot of 'haters' and 'avoiders' in the crowd. So I'd like to dedicate this piece to them. And I can relate, at least with regard to the 'avoiders' - I've been there with you. I've spent a lot of time avoiding Jesus - mostly unintentionally, but sometimes purposefully. So this little piece is also for me. I need to wake up and smell the sandals; I need to take a better look at how Jesus walked and get on the right path. With that in mind, let's proceed.
I believe the synthesis of Jesus' entire message can be distilled down to one amalgamation of scripture (sorry - I went a little 'chemical' on you for a second there). And if I knew where that scripture was, I'd tell you what it is… wait… here it is…
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Matthew 22:36-40 NIV
My first thought is that this sounds pretty simple. We're getting back to something that is manageable for people. Just two commandments! God knows we need 'simple' - because people don't do well with multitasking. That whole thing with all the Levitical laws just wasn't working well for us. I can never remember if I'm supposed to sacrifice one pigeon or two if I touch a dead yak. And there are so many rules and regulations… there's got to be at least a dozen or more. And people can really only concentrate on one thing at a time. A dozen is way too many. We all think we can handle more than one thought at a time, but in reality most of us can't. To see if you can, start by rubbing your tummy and patting your head. Many of you are saying, "That's not so hard." Some of you are saying, "This is stupid - no way am I rubbing my tummy…." And the rest of you are saying stuff I can't repeat. Now, for those of you that are successfully rubbing your tummy and patting your head, lets add something to that to see if you can multitask - like… disarming a nuclear warhead, set to detonate in 10 seconds, using only your teeth. Ready… GO! 10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2…. Are you dead? Well, clearly, most of us are not good multitaskers - and are dead. But that's what happens when we make things too difficult. Jesus is only trying to make things easy for us. So let's keep it simple and just look at the greatest commandment… love God. Which brings me to a profound question… why is that the most important commandment? Hhhmm? Which leads me to a corollary thought… why do so many people have trouble with loving God? Since I was unsuccessful in deactivating my nuclear bomb, I'll just concentrate on one of those questions: why is loving God the greatest commandment?
When you love someone, you'll do anything for them. Which means when they ask you to do something, you'll do it. But true love cannot be gained by force; you can't force someone to love you. So God gave us free will and then told us the most important thing we could do is love Him. A commandment is a pretty strong request, and I think that's something people find objectionable. We rebel against commands. But perhaps we'd feel better about the first commandment if we understand the reason behind it. God didn't give us that commandment so He'd feel better about Himself, or because He needs our love or compliance. He's God. He can make people out of rocks. He doesn't need us. But He does love us.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
John 3:16-17 NIV
The first part of that scripture is one of the most well known quotes in history. But the second part is often omitted. God loves us so much that He sent His Son to save us - by dying for us. He didn't come to condemn us; He came to save us! And what's He saving us from?… well, ourselves of course. Look at all the horrific things we do to one another. Does the name Adolf Hitler ring a bell? How about set off a few air raid sirens? Ya, left to our own devices we will kill one another. Even the most saintly among us can be led down the path of petty hostilities toward our fellow man, and woman. That's why the second commandment Jesus gave us is second. If we can love our neighbor as we love ourself, there will be no violence, unless of course, you're some kind of masochist… which is why we have the first commandment.
God is just trying to protect us from ourselves, and a fallen angel called satan. But I don't want to digress into some tirade about the devil. This is about Jesus, and His love for us… and our avoidance of His love. And I think we get things completely backwards most of the time. We look at Jesus and see a man that wants something from us. We worry He has some ulterior motive that will compromise our freedom. We have a couple names for that. One is 'paranoia' and the other is 'insanity'. Jesus didn't come to enslave us. He came to save us. He didn't die too make His existence better, or improve relations with people, or get on God's good side, or look good for the angels. He died to save us… from everything. And it wasn't pleasant, and He wasn't looking forward to it. Truth be known, He would have rather avoided it.
"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."
An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
Luke 22:42-44 NIV
That doesn't sound like a man who's excited about what's coming. Jesus knew His immediate future was going to be horrific. He also knew He had done nothing to deserve the punishment He was about to endure. But He didn't back away from the cross, because He knew it would allow some of us to escape our sin and restore our relationship with God.
Jesus tells us to love God because He knows that no one loves us more than He does. Therefore there is no better, or safer, place to invest our love. Our own interests are best served when we put Him first, because He will only do things that are good for us.
Jesus tells us that others don't have that same beneficent attitude towards us. John 10:10 is one of my favorite verses.
"The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. NKJV
Jesus came to give us life! And not just ordinary, mundane, boring, scratching my rump life - He came to give me abundant life! So if you just have an average, rump scratching life, you've been missing out on what Jesus died to give you. That's how I can tell when my life is screwed up… it's not abundant. And when it is (when my life is abundant, that is) I know that I'm living the way Jesus wants me to. The problem is, my life isn't always abundant. In fact, it's a lot less abundant than I'd like. But that is not an indictment against Jesus - that's an indictment of how I live my life. If my life sucks it's because I'm not following the instructions God has given me. And the reason He gives me those instructions is because He knows I'm not smart enough to make the right choices without them… and thus, my life tends to suckiness.
"If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you."
John 15:10-13 NKJV
The two things that really hit me about Jesus are that He showed us how much He loves us by making the ultimate sacrifice for us; and, that He wants us to be filled with joy. Joy is a powerful witness of a rich and fulfilled life. It shines out of people like warm rays of sunlight that brighten the world around them. It tells people you're alive. Let's be honest (and I try to be, whenever possible): when was the last time you said, "Hey, I really like hangin' with Grumpy because he's such a depressing jerk!" We avoid negative people. And conversely, we are drawn to joyful ones. Not comics - but people who possess genuine, all natural, accept no substitutes, joy. And an abundant life is filled with that joy.
When I started this little piece I noted that Jesus gave us two commandments, that, if followed, would fulfill all the law. Give yourself a star if you can remember them both (I've already forgotten my name). What I didn't mention was that the word 'commandment' is derived from two root words. One of those words means 'to set out for a definite point or goal', with one of those ending points being 'eternity'. The other word can be loosely translated to mean 'to rest in the blessings of God' (or at least, that's how I'm choosing to translate it; you can check it out for yourself and tell me the error of my primary root analysis, if you like). So commandments are more like an invitation to blessings and eternal life than a hammer to pound us into compliance. What I'm really trying to get at is, if God wanted to force us to do what He wants, He would. And He has the power to make it stick. But He doesn't do that. Instead He chooses this radical option of free will. None of His commandments are binding unless we choose to make them so. We are not forced to do anything. You are now free to pillage about the country. But whether or not you choose to follow God's unforced commandments, there will be consequences.
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Matthew 11:28-30 NIV
My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.
Proverbs 3:1-2 ESV
The consequences of following are, among other things, rest, love, joy, peace, salvation, abundant living and eternal life. We're also told that following God's commandments will give us longer life. Refusal: not so much. Personally, I'm down with the commandments.
Now I know we don't like to be told what to do. Commandments don't mix well with pride and arrogance. I know because I struggle with those… and I don't like being told what to do. I'm a free spirit. I want to sail my own ship… over the edge (by the way, they have determined the world is round). But just like the ignorant sailors of old, I was too stupid to understand that God just wants me to have a better life; both in this world and the one to come. I was convinced that I knew more than God. I believed what the rest of world was telling me: the world is flat and there's no getting around it (yes, that's a pun). But then I realized that God wasn't out to ruin me, or even control me. He wants to help me. And His commandments are designed to make my life better. God's commandments aren't given to control us. They're the path to freedom, and life.
A lot of people have been avoiding Jesus because they don't want to be restricted. They'd rather have the world bind them in chains than have Jesus liberate them with life. And satan will package anything, and everything, that is against God's commandments, to look like freedom; but with each package the user unwraps, the more they become a slave to the devil's deception. In the end, what the world packages as freedom ends up being bondage.
So let's recap. The world hates the commandments of God. In the United States we can't even have them displayed in courthouses. Satan packages God's freedom as slavery, and his(satan's) slavery as freedom. Jesus offers us a joyful, abundant life and teaches us to love God, and each other… and is hated for it. Satan offers us death, bondage and denigration of the Christian ethic… and the world laps it up. I can certainly see why it's so hard for us to choose the right path. Yet, in spite of my sarcasm, we constantly ignore Jesus. And given the truth, I am at a loss to say why - except for the rumination, that perhaps we don't know the truth. Well, you know what they say:
"… you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
John 8:32 NKJV
And that, my friends, is why lying is so popular. So while the world tries to figure out the truth, I think I'll try to reduce my avoidance of Jesus. Who knows, I might actually enjoy myself!
Scheduling lunch with Jesus,
There seems to be a lot of controversy about whether or not Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. Certainly those who adhere to a faith different than Christianity would take issue with this claim. But what really surprises me is how many "Christians" don't believe it. Salvation through Jesus Christ is the central dogma of Christianity. To say anything different is to invalidate the Christian faith. So I was somewhat perplexed that a very well known celebrity had stated they were a Christian, but that Jesus couldn't possibly be the only way to God. In addition, I have learned that two very well known Christian leaders have also implied that Jesus is not the only way to God. Not only did I find that these three prominent "Christians" have difficulty acknowledging that Jesus is our only option for salvation, but I also discovered several other prominent adherents to the Christian faith that had the same lack of conviction. You would know all of them, unless you've never watched a TV, listened to a radio, surfed the internet or read a newspaper (do they still have those?). I'm not going to mention names because I hate lawsuits, but just Google 'Jesus is not the only way'
and see where that takes you. I think you'll be surprised.
So what's going on here!? Is Jesus the only way?
To quote the genius and simplicity of Rocky Balboa, "Absolutely!" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, & the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. "
John 14:6 NKJV
But those of you not convinced merely by what Jesus said might counter, "Well that sounds pretty closed minded; even intolerant. I thought you Christians were supposed to be a loving people."
We are. (Well, not so much for me - but the rest of the flock is very loving.) That's why we spend so much time trying to get others to accept Christ. We don't want to see bad things happen to you if we're right. We love people; and, as noted, I have my moments - but don't use me as the poster boy for 'Christian love' ads. I tend to be a bit testy, and given the power, would have turned a large portion of the human race into yaks long ago; how many? - lets just say the yak would be the most plentiful mammal on earth. So aside from my desire to create the world's largest yak herd, is there any point to this? Hopefully, or you'll be wasting two minutes of your valuable time. But if you read on, I promise you I'll actually get to the point (or at least 'a' point).
Since the day Jesus declared to the world that He was the ONLY WAY, people have been trying to minimize that statement. Why? I think one reason is that most people like to do things their way. After all, we're pretty smart and we should be able to determine what's right and what's wrong, right? Self determination, master of my own destiny, captain of my own ship, and all that good stuff, right? …although I 'know of' (not 'know') several despots that would disagree; they prefer to be the captain of your ship, leaving you rowing a very cramped dingy, chained to their destroyer. But most of us want to write our own rules... determine our own fate... and be in charge of our own lives. Guess what? You are! God gave you free will. Now YOU get to decide what you're going to do with it. Go ahead, decide. Did you choose Jesus?
Having only one option really limits your choices. Would a loving God really make it that difficult or limited? (I hate it when people say that kind of stuff - when you're God you don't need approval to do anything. Just be thankful one of us isn't God, or there'd be an over abundance of yaks.)
While our society rejects Jesus, and our religious leaders rewrite the Bible, can we at least try to look at this from God's point of view?
So pretend you really care, or are at least willing to humor me for another minute.
Okay, I don't know this for sure, but allow me the latitude to try and look at this from God's point of view - but since I'm not God, there are no guarantees or money back offers. And for those who are currently casting disparaging remarks at me for presuming to understand how God thinks, let me just say... relax! This is just an exercise in communication. It's not like I'm God - which is evident by the fact that you're not a yak. And if there are any yaks reading this, I do apologize for any negative connotations this article might imply about your species. Please know that I hold yaks in the highest regard.
So, let's say you're God (remember this is hypothetical - you're not really God) and you have an entire world full of people that continually separate themselves from you. You want a better relationship, but no matter what you do, people don't seem to understand that everything you're telling them is to make their lives better. Instead, like naughty little children, they seem to delight in being bad. What would be the ultimate act of love? I think you see where I'm going with this (and for those that don't, don't worry - I'll tell you). Again, suppose you're God (remember, you're not) and this Christmas you want to give the world something special. You're short on time because you have to hammer San Francisco with a small earthquake, throw a typhoon at Burma and drop a small meteor on a guy named Don. So you stop at the local Walgreens on the way home and get a box of Russell Stover chocolates for everybody - nothing says love like Russell Stover chocolates. It's love in a box! As expected, the world is overcome with gratitude at your thoughtfulness, and becomes a perfect place. Not! For a gift to be special it has to be valuable. For someone to know how much you love them, you have to demonstrate that love through a truly meaningful act. God did that by sacrificing His Son for us.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
John 3:16 NKJV
It would be one thing for me to die for someone, but as a parent I can tell you, it would be much harder to give the life of one of my children for someone. There is no greater gift God could give us than His Son.
Forget about there being only one way. Be thankful there's a way at all. And if there were a bunch of ways, or even one other, then that makes the original gift of less value - it would no longer be the most important or meaningful thing that God could do. It would just be another box of chocolates. So the ultimate act of love that God could use to demonstrate His love to us, would be to give His only Son for our salvation.
God doesn't want to condemn us. He wants to save us, and He gave us a way to attain salvation. And that 'way' is Jesus, who for our sakes was willing to endure the suffering of the cross.
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
John 3:17-18 NKJV
... who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed.
1Peter 2:24 NKJV
And Jesus didn't die for a select group of followers. He died for the world. Any person, of any race, religion or belief has the same opportunity to accept the gift. The gift is available to anyone that wants it. You just have to ask for it.
But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
In the original Hebrew the phrase "confession is made" means 'to agree with another'. It also means 'not to deny'. So there is a level of commitment needed on the part of the confessee. You have to agree with Jesus and you can't deny Him. But if you're looking for an easy, all inclusive opportunity to a better and eternal life, nothing could be easier. I favor it significantly over blowing myself up.
For many the idea of ONE option is too restrictive. For God, ONE option was the ONE WAY He could show the most love. So that's why Jesus is the ONLY WAY. But that's just the way I see it.
©D Crouse 2013
Since it's the Fourth of July, I think it only fitting that I consider the leadership of our first President, George Washington, but not as President - rather, as a leader of his men. George Washington led from the front, unlike many generals of the day - and certainly unlike our current military, where many generals never even see the field of combat. The heat of battle is not a safe place for your best and brightest commanders, so keeping them safe is often the main concern during warfare. That wasn't the case with Washington. He was fearless in battle, and did not shy away from danger when the time for leadership was required. At the Battle of Princeton, Washington commanded an army consisting of mostly civilian militia. These men were untrained and unfamiliar with actual combat, so when seasoned British troops attacked the American brigade under the command of John Cadwalader, the men broke ranks and ran for their lives. Washington arrived on the battlefield to see Cadwalader's men in total disarray. After positioning his men to slow the enemy advance, Washington immediately rode to Cadwalader's fleeing men and said the immortal words, "Does anyone want to go to Hooters?" Okay, I was just seeing if you're paying attention. But just think how that picture might look - Washington and the lads hittin' Hooters for happy hour. That's when showin' a little ankle was considered sinful! We've come a long way baby... or have we? But, as often happens, I digress. What Washington really said was, "Parade with us my brave fellows! There is but a handful of the enemy and we shall have them directly!". He then regrouped his frightened men, and with hat in hand, rode to the front, positioning himself between his troops and the British. As he gave the command to "fire" the British also fired a volley into the American ranks. Washington and his horse disappeared in a cloud of smoke. One American officer, certain that his commander had been killed, pulled his hat over his eyes. To the amazement of more than a few, when the smoke cleared, there was Washington waving his men forward, unharmed and leading the charge. How many of us would put ourselves in that position to achieve victory? How many of us would even dare speak against the evils of this world, knowing society will condemn our beliefs?
Being a Christian is not easy. God has a pretty black and white guideline of what sin is. And the Ten Commandments is a good place to start. I know a lot of people, especially Christians, will say the Old Testament is no longer in effect - probably only Christians will say that, since people who don't know what's in the Bible have a real difficult time coming up with that argument. But Jesus never said the Old Testament wasn't in effect. He came to fulfill the law, and just because we live by grace doesn't mean those Old Testament values are no longer valid.
"Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose."
Matthew 5:17 NLT
Jesus gave us to two commandments and said all the law and the prophets were based on those two commandments.
"Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?"
Jesus replied, "'You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments."
Matthew 22:36-40 NLT
But there's more to being a Christian than just knowing what to do. Jesus also requires us to follow Him, and uphold His values - not only because they are right, but also because doing so makes our lives better. And we all want a better life, don't we? Well, apparently not. Because most of us make no effort to follow Jesus (I think that's a dangling participle, but since I don't know what those are, I can't say for sure). Ya, we've got the lip service down, but we're not leading, because we're not at the front setting the example for others to follow. And when you are you'll know it, because there's gonna be a hail of fire coming at you from BOTH sides. But don't worry, because when the smoke clears, you'll still be there - unharmed, in the grace of God.
The world needs examples of Godly people. Being one is not about being judgmental or condemning others. It's about standing for what is right and being a leader. It's about leading others to the grace of Jesus Christ, and the redemption and blessings that come with doing what's right.
It takes courage to lead. And you can't do it from behind.
Takin' a few volleys for Christ,
Disclaimer: While Hooter's employees show more 'ankle' than is permissible by 1776 dress code standards, no judgmental conclusions of the Hooter's dress code are to be inferred from this article. I do apologize for any offense created by this observation, inferred or otherwise, to George and Martha Washington, the Continental Army, the Christian community, the general public, Hooters and owls in general.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."
Mark 12:41-44 NIV
Jesus never tells us what happens to the woman after she drops the coins in the offering. Why not? Well, what if, after tossing in those two coins, she found a financial backer to fund her new line of camel hair creams and became a billionaire? Then people would start thinking that if we throw a few shekels at God, He's going to make us independently wealthy. Conversely, if the woman was hauled off to jail later that afternoon for not paying her library fines on overdue Dead Sea Scrolls, then people would think that God doesn't care about this poor widow, so He probably doesn't care about them either. Not true at all. But if the fate of the poor widow leaves us in the dark, it's because we don't see the light. Giving is not based on a reward system - because then it wouldn't be giving. If you give with the expectation of a reward, you've missed the point entirely. Want to know a little secret? Giving is the reward.
What this story does tell us is that God sees our sacrifices. He knows our financial condition. BUT (big but here), what's most important to Him is the condition of our heart. This woman's heart was the heart of God. She gave all that she had. Do we?
Now is the time for God's people to step forward and throw in our coins. I'm not asking anyone to give away all their monetary possessions. God doesn't care about that stuff anyway, unless it impacts your ability to follow Him. He cares about us. And He does care about what you don't have... and if you don't have Jesus you can be the wealthiest person in the world, but you're still a beggar, standing outside the Kingdom of God.
God doesn't need our money, nor does He want it. God is so wealthy that every toilet in heaven is made of gold; even the poop (can I say poop?) in the toilets is made of gold (that's why you should never eat anything called a "nugget"). God wants our heart. When you have a good heart you don't have to be asked to give. You don't have to be asked to serve. You just do it! Look how well that's worked out for Nike.
Everything we have was created by God. None of our physical possessions will go with us when we leave this earth. So don't get too attached to them. Invest all that you have in Jesus Christ and I promise that you will find wealth that exceeds anything the world has to offer. And that gets me back to the widow. She could have thrown in one coin; after all, she had two. But she was letting God know that her wealth was in His Kingdom, and that she trusted Him with ALL that she had. She understood that real wealth isn't how much money you have - it's what you have inside you. And that's not poverty.
I'm encouraging you to throw in both coins and see what happens. Don't hold anything back. Give your whole heart to Jesus. It might just change your life.
Rich in spirit,
People spend A LOT of time chasing stuff that they think will make their lives better - but in reality, they are getting poorer with every effort they make to become richer.
In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying, "Thus speaks the LORD of hosts, saying: 'This people says, "The time has not come, the time that the LORD's house should be built." ' "
Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, "Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins? Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: "Consider your ways! You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes."
Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified," says the LORD. You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?" says the LORD of hosts. "Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit.
Haggai 1:1-10 NKJV
Of course I like to draw obscure analogies from anything I read, and Haggai is no different . So it's probably a good thing I don't do much reading. To be truthful, I don't even know how to pronounce "Haggai", but that's not going to stop me from commenting on what he said. Just consider it one of my many personality flaws. But even with my personality flaws in tow, I believe the message Haggai brought the people during the reign of Darius, the great Persian king that lived over two thousand years ago, still has a message for us today (and tomorrow, and the next day - maybe even until the end of the week). Folks, the Lord's house should be built!
Through Haggai, God tells us that the reason we are lacking is because His house has been ignored. In fact, it's in ruins. And so are our lives, because we've neglected God's temple.
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NKJV
Translation: take care of the temple. When we go after worldly stuff, we can never get enough to fill our bellies or quench our thirst. Our bags have holes, so everything just falls out the bottom. At this point many of you might be examining your bag. Some of you might say, "there are no holes in my bag, Don". And if that's true, bravo! But for those who still feel empty inside, we need to do some sewing (or sowing). We need to start building the temple, and give God a position of importance in our lives. Some of you do a better job of that than others... I find I'm constantly sewing (not sowing). So while I'd like to set myself up on the 'pedestal of perfect example', I can't. I'm simply too busy mending my bag. So I consider my ways, ask for forgiveness, and wait for the dew. And you know what? The dew falls whenever I build God's temple. Makes me feel better too. It's weird how that works... not weird like the neighbor down the street, who is constantly sharpening knives in the front yard, while humming the tune from Deliverance. Weird like having blessings that appear every time my life gets better. Not only do I feel better inside, things on the outside improve as well. As we build our temple according to His plan, our lives get better. It's as if God blesses me for listening to Him. Go figure. Well, whatever it is, I like the way it makes me feel, and the blessings that come with that feeling aren't so bad either. But you can't trick God into giving you a new bag. You've got to really want it. And that will be evident in your willingness to work on your temple. There might be design flaws in the rebuild if you're just out to become better off financially.
For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
Romans 14:17 KJV
Do you want a temple of meat and beer (no light beer allowed)? Or are you more interested in righteousness, peace, and joy? One will satisfy the belly (well, other than the fact that I don't like beer... yes, I'm a complete ale reprobate - pray for me). The other will satisfy the soul. The ironic part is, if you satisfy the soul, God will satisfy the belly.
Maybe I'm making to much out of what some thousands year old prophet had to say to a bunch of temple-less Jews. But what I'm really having trouble resolving is how well things work when I just follow his advice.
Will work for blessings,
Researchers from the University of Liège in Belgium noticed that red-bellied piranhas make barking noises when they are picked up by humans. Who knew? Of course they wanted to know why. Ooh, I know, pick me - it's because they don't like to be picked up! (Hopefully that saves the university millions of euros). As it turns out, piranhas bark about other stuff as well - but it mostly seems designed to avoid aggression by other piranhas and to let people know they really dislike being held. Don't believe me? Ask the researcher with 3 fingers.
But piranhas aren't known for their barking abilities. They are, however, known for their ability to strip a carcass to the bone in a matter of seconds. And while there is probably a great deal of exaggeration in piranha folklore, it's not over their ability to bark. So I've decided I want to be a Piranha Christian. I want to be known for my bite. I want to bark less and do more biting. And the 'bite' is sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others. The great part about sharing the Gospel is that it actually involves talking - and that's right up my alley (there's a lot of other stuff in the alley that probably should be hauled away - but I've got the talking thing down). It's the perfect vocation for people who like to talk - because Jesus tells us to go tell others.
"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, 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." Amen. Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV
The basic message is 'hit the road, amigos' (piranhas are from South America). Make disciples of ALL nations, baptize and teach. Making disciples and baptizing... that's the stuff that 'bites'. Satan reels and heaven rejoices every time a sinner repents.
"Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Luke 15:10 NKJV
There's a lot of work to do. The world is waiting for God's word; for God's forgiveness; and for God's salvation. They're waiting for you.
Then He said to them, "The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Luke 10:2 NKJV
Jesus tells the disciples that He's sending them out as piranha among wolves... alright, it's 'lambs'; but piranha sounds a little edgier (and I've got to get as much out of the piranha thing as I can). And I know we have the capability to pack a pretty good bite, because we have the ability to receive the Holy Spirit. You can flat out tear it up when the Holy Spirit puts you in piranha mode.
"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Acts 1:8 NKJV
So what are you waiting for? Get your bite on muchachos and muchachas, and let your inner piranha run wild. We've got the power!
Biting, and flossing after ever meal,
P.S. If you'd rather not be a piranha, no problem. Not everyone has a piranha personality. Be who God made you to be. Just stay out of the goat pen and the viper den.