Monday, July 13, 2020

"What Really Matters"

1st Corinthians 8.1b-3 NIV

“We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. 

But the man who loves God is known by God.

What is “knowledge?” Paul argued “the man who thinks he knows something does not yet know.” Apparently, if I think I know something, I don’t.

But even if I did possess a little knowledge, what good would it do? According to the Bible, knowledge makes me arrogant, proud, and ‘puffed up.’ What use is that? A ‘puffed up’ guy becomes a target for anyone with a sharp witted pin. He is quickly deflated to nothing more than limp and colorful latex with a gaping hole, thus fulfilling the biblical adage... “Pride goeth before... a fall” (Proverbs 16.18 KJV).

Lord, deliver me from becoming ‘puffed up’ by the small amount of knowledge I possess. If I must focus upon self-improvement, then I should concentrate on increasing love rather than knowledge.
  • Knowledge is self-centered, but love is others-centered.
  • Knowledge puffs self up with arrogance. Love builds others up with hope.
  • Knowledge is about self. Love is about others.
Love has another benefit. When directed toward God, love apparently increases His knowledge base. Small acts of real love get God’s attention. Loving behavior mysteriously expands His omniscience-capacity and makes the loving human “known by God” in a new way. I would rather be “known by God” than be in 'trivial pursuit' of additional facts about Him.

The best knowledge one may possess is the simple knowledge that small acts of love toward others matter to Jesus.
______________

“Stack of old books” (2003) at the top of this post is by Toronto photographer Quin Liam (http://www.fromoldbooks.org/pictures-of-old-books/). Mr. Liam’s images are “out of copyright” and he graciously offers permission for use of his photographs.

Friday, July 10, 2020

"Undistracted Devotion to Me"

1st Corinthians 7.32-34a, 35 NASU

“But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided…. This I say... to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”

[I wrote the blog entry below exactly six years ago, in July 2014, just three months before precious wife, Adonica, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. I have been single again for nearly five years, since this vile disease took her life. I could not have then imagined my life without her, and now all I have left are pleasant memories, like the ones in the article below. I miss her and still occasionally shed bitter tears, but I have our two beautiful children who remind me every day of the woman I cherished for twenty years. 

God has been gracious to me. Many people never find true love. I did once, and I recently, I found it again! Jesus brought another amazing woman into my life earlier this year. I am surprised to learn that I can actually love again, deeply, with a new woman of my dreams. She, like my dearly departed wife, is a gift from God. I am certain Adonica would approve of her. I will share more as our story unfolds....

Until then, today is my new opportunity “to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.” 

I hope you will enjoy my six year old article reprinted below.] 
________________________

Periodically my wife leaves me! It’s a good thing. She and the children get an early start on a family vacation and I catch up a few days later. After years of happy marriage, I anticipate times of separation with mixed emotions. Besides the incredible intimacy we often enjoy and the fact that clean socks magically appear in my dresser drawer, there is the family routine I’d prefer not to alter. I like reading to the kids before bedtime, eating dinner as a family, having someone to talk to, touch, and hold. When Adonica leaves, I genuinely miss her. I get lonely.

On the positive side, I fill the empty hours with lesser priority, but still enjoyable activities like longer office hours, more television, time with buddies, a little more junk food, and a couple of videos I’ve been waiting to see. Hmmm... sounds like a watered down version of my old single life.

There is little doubt that I spend many hours of my life being ‘concerned about how I may please my wife.’ Why wouldn’t I? The love of a good woman far outweighs the cost of the emotional investment a man must pay to have her. 

Nevertheless the Bible says a married man’s “interests are divided.” Let’s be honest... divided from what? 
  • “…undistracted devotion to the Lord,” or
  • “undistracted devotion” to me?
Someday I may be single again. I hope not, but it could happen. “Till death do us part” may involve hers before mine! I cannot predict the future. My marital bliss (and bliss it is) is a temporary gift. Besides inspiring me to treat my wife with respect and appreciation during the fleeting moments we share together on earth, the notion of “till death do us part” reminds me I may face life again someday alone. I did not do 'single' very well the first time and would likely do no better if it happened again.

As a long-term married guy, brief times of separation are good practice for me to learn how to “secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

"That"

1st Corinthians 6.9b-11 NIV

“Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

“And that is what some of you were.

“But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

“And that is what some of you were.” It’s embarrassing to admit, but I was “that.” I cannot deny that the “that” to which Paul referred included me! I did not do everything on the “that” list:
  • sexually immoral
  • idolaters
  • adulterers
  • male prostitutes
  • homosexual offenders
  • thieves
  • greedy
  • drunkards
  • slanderers
  • swindlers
But it would be fair to say I committed (or thought about and wanted to commit) at least eight on the list of ten. I was batting 800 on Satan’s baseball team. I was what Martha said about her dead brother’s decaying body...


“Lord... he stinketh”!
John 11.39 KJV

“That” is what I was. I stunketh to high heaven (or low hell) and desperately needed a spiritual bath. By God’s undeserved grace and mercy, I got one! I was cleansed, “washed… in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”


“…for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then,
you’ve been cleaned up and given a fresh start by Jesus...”
1st Corinthians 6.11 “The Message”

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

"One Bad Apple"

1st Corinthians 5.6-7, 11 NASU

“Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. 

“...I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler...


According to the writer Paul,  “one bad apple spoils the barrel.”  Be careful with whom you associate. Sin is infectious. Even “a little leaven leavens the whole lump!” You may think it does not matter whom you choose as a friend, but that’s not true...

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.”
Psalm 1.1 NIV

We tend to overestimate our innate goodness. We minimize our self-centeredness. Most individuals think of themselves as “a good person” in direct contrast to what God’s Word teaches:

“Don't imagine yourself to be quite presentable
when you haven't had a bath in weeks.
Prov 30:12 The Message

“There is none righteous, not even one...
There is not who does good, there is not even one.”
Romans 3.10b; 12b NAS

“...all our righteous acts are like filthy rags
Isaiah 64.6 NIV

Besides our own innate goodness, we also often think more highly of the goodness of others than we should. Or, we mistakenly overvalue our ability to positively influence those we deem as less good than ourselves. Unfortunately, moral influence normally follows the path of lower, not higher, values. We who thought of ourselves as good people move imperceptibly toward the lesser standards of those with whom we associate. It happens slowly and unintentionally. 

“Be very circumspect in the choice of thy company. In the society of thine equals thou shalt enjoy more pleasure; in the society of thy superiors thou shalt find more profit. To be the best in the company is the way to grow worse; the best means to grow better is to be the worst there.” [1]

How did we get to where we are? It was the company we kept.

“Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’”
1st Corinthians 15.33 NAS


____________________

[1] Unsourced quote from Francis Quarles, 17th Century English poet.

The funny image at the top of this post is entitled "One bad apple..." and used by permission of English photographer Linda Scannell whose work you can view at http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindascannell.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

"Self-Consciousness is Self-ish"

1st Corinthians 4:3b-5a

“...I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time,…”



Can personal effectiveness be swallowed up by too much introspection? Could one’s destiny be sadly altered and negatively determined by his own limited (but finely-tuned) low opinion of self? Is it possible to be too self-aware?

If I begin with the premise that I am not all-knowing then judgment of anyone, including myself, is, at best, incomplete. Conclusions drawn from an incomplete analysis set the stage for bad decisions and failure. Should I, like Paul, learn to become “conscious of nothing against myself?”

The concept is foreign to me and requires almost supernatural strength to overcome the common motivations of guilt and shame. In the real world of service to others, I have little time to consider the wider impact of my actions. I must get in the moment according to the need of the moment and sometimes act quickly without regard for the opinion of self and others. Paradoxically, this often turns out to be the best thing I can do for those around me.

Reducing self-consciousness in my behavior toward
others is the most self-less and Christ-centered thing I can do.

To be “conscious of nothing against myself” is not an excuse for sin. Like Paul, “I am not by this acquitted.” But its practice does direct my attention away from relentless introspection which, while appearing spiritual on the surface, masks an unhealthy fear of others and drives me toward the false goal of perfectionism.

Instead of focusing on my sin, becoming “conscious of nothing against myself” places the responsibility for my examination in the hands of Him who is both caring and capable enough to render true judgment about me. It also frees me to become more effective in my service of others.
________________

Artist of drawing above unknown. I cannot decipher the signature or locate the artist, but would like to obtain permission and give proper credit for this amazing drawing.

Monday, July 06, 2020

"A 50 Year Old Infant?"

1st Corinthians 3.1 NASU

“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.”

I want to be a spiritual man, not a man “of flesh.” According to his first letter to the church at Corinth around twenty-five years after the crucifixion of Jesus, Paul described “men of flesh” as nothing more than “infants in Christ.” Apparently, a believer’s maturity has little to do with time logged as a believer. Maturity in Christ should not be measured by the number of church services attended, ministry involvements, Bible knowledge, positions or church offices held, size of charitable donations, Christian labels, jewelry, or lingo.

True spirituality has less to do with outward indicators and everything to do with deeper and less noticeable concepts like quiet suffering, hard choices, self-denial, delayed gratification, personal endurance, reliance on God, faith, obedience, discipline, and sacrifice. There is no easy way to grow up. Spiritual adulthood is developed in the trenches of temptation and hardship. There we find strength to trust Someone bigger than ourselves and make decisions that shape our destinies.

A true ‘man of God’ must prepare to suffer. He will remain ‘an infant in Christ’ if he consistently chooses the easy path, harbors secret sin, and nurses on the milk of self-centeredness. No matter how established he may appear, a man is only as ‘grown up’ as the depth of his relationship with Jesus who said,

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself,
and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”
Luke 9.23 NASB

Brand new believers can quickly grow into a spiritual adults if, by virtue of true repentance, they submit themselves to the authority of Christ. Conversely, devoted followers of Christ can easily fall backward toward ‘spiritual infancy’ by consistently succumbing to the voice of temptation. In Christ, it is possible to be a fifty year old spiritual infant or a brand new Christian man of God!

“So, if you think you are standing firm,
be careful that you don’t fall.
1st Corinthians 10.12 NASU
_______________________

The photograph above of a man crying is called "Big Baby" by Canadian photographer Jean-François Thériault http://www.flickr.com/photos/66757701@N00 who kindly gave me permission to use the photo with these important words: "Lots of photographers find their pictures used around the web without any credits or any kind of compensation. I'm very happy to see there is still good people around here that are aware of our hard work."

Friday, July 03, 2020

"Knowing Nothing is Harder Than it Looks"

1st Corinthians 2.1-2 NASU

“When I cam to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.

“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

Paul was a smart man, an actual scholar. Trained by the famous Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22.3), The Apostle was highly educated according to the strictest sect of his religion (Acts 26.5). He was “a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee… as for legalistic righteousness, faultless,” (Philippians 3.5-6). If anyone had reason to boast in his knowledge, Paul did. He could have ‘wow’-ed any audience with his grasp of deep theological concepts. Yet, this amazing man of faith was “determined to know nothing… except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Why?

Most of us spend our lives acquiring knowledge. Culture attaches a premium to good schooling and rewards the well-educated. A young professional in any industry can easily rack up over twenty consecutive years in the classroom (from Kindergarten through post-graduate studies). That's a lot of preparation; and for what reason? Blind Bluegrass guitarist, Doc Watson, once recorded a tune about it [1]…
“You can go to your college,
  You can go to your school;
  But if you ain’t got Jesus
  You’re an educated fool.”
There’s only one thing harder than acquiring knowledge and that’s learning to put it aside  once we have it when it is not needed. It takes serious determination and true humility and a revelation from God, to clear our minds and make room for truth.

“For I determined to know nothing among you
except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

________________

The image "Clear Minded" was used by permission of by Jakes Jacobs from the Republic of South Africa (http://www.flickr.com/photos/koosroos). 

[1] This verse may have originated from the old blues tune "Denomination Blues" which was probably authored and first recorded in 1929 by Washington Philips. Doc Watson likely heard this song growing up in the 1930's. It has been recorded by other notable guitar masters like Ry Cooder and Mark Knofler.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

"God's Foolish Plan"

1st Corinthians 1.18; 26-27 NIV

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

I am the opposite of God. I value strength and wisdom, power and intelligence, beauty, brains and brawn. He, on the other hand, elevates the simple, foolish, weak things of this world to demonstrate His character and convey His message. 

If I were God, I would do my divine thing differently. I would select smart, good-looking, super-fit, and successful people to prove my point. To achieve my objective to inspire the masses and win a following, I would utilize individuals who already command universal respect… movie stars, political leaders, war heroes, famous artists, beautiful models, rock icons, the filthy rich, and big name authors.

By contrast, God chose me and people like me. He chose complete unknowns to promote the most important message in the universe. This strategy seems questionable to me.

“God deliberately chose men and women that the culture
over-looks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to
expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’”.
1st Corinthians 1.27 “The Message”

God chose shame as the pathway to salvation. I would rather use inspiration. Shame seems so, well, shameful. For me the way up is the way up. For God, the way up is the way down. Humility, weakness, human frailty have no place in my plan. But God used weak and foolish people to shame the proud, powerful, popular, and pretty. I would have paid the proud, powerful, popular, and pretty to reach everyone else. Apparently, God and I are very different.

At the beginning of time the members of the Trinity consulted together and formulated a plan to reach the world with the message of God’s love. Jesus agreed to die on a cross. They knew it would seem foolish to everyone else. They did not consult me. I would have voted against this foolish plan. It is a very good thing that I am not God.

_________________

The beautiful shot of big hands cradling a tiny foot is called "daffodil" by Pawel Loj (http://www.flickr.com/photos/48745248@N00/).

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

"Satan Crusher"

Romans 16.20 NIV

“And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”


I have an enemy. He hates me and has a plan for the destruction of my life. His name is Satan. He is older, smarter, and stronger than me. Like me, he knows and believes in God (James 2.19). Unlike me, God does not dwell with him.

What an amazing thought... God lives inside of me!

With God in me I am able to overcome the enemy of my soul. I am assured of this by the promise of Scripture:


“…greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world.”
1st John 4.4 NIV

“Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
2nd Kings 6.16 NASB

Jesus and His angels are greater than all the demonic forces of hell. You can endure anything Satan throws your way because…

“…the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

________________

The photo above is called "Chris Stomping" by Brunswick, Georgia photographer Amanda Moncus (http://www.flickr.com/photos/amandamoncus/). Chris is Amanda's husband and they gave me permission to use their photo in this post.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

"Keeping Hope Alive"

Romans 15.4 NASB

“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

Our existence depends on hope... hope for a future filled with fun, love, adventure, peace and security. We possess an incredible capacity for patience in difficult situations as long as hope is alive. But when the flame dims and hope is extinguished, it’s all over. We engage in a process of slow death grasping at habit-forming activities and their false promise of a life with meaning. We want truth that “will set you free” (John 8.32). Instead, we settle for a 'B.T.N.' (better than nothing), lesser truth. It’s counterfeit truth, but it’s all (we think) we have or deserve. Our bad situations turn worse and misguided actions escalate in our desperate search for hope in all the wrong places

Many nine-to-fivers live for the weekend in hope of filling the space of forty-eight hours with enough television, recreation, sex, food, sleep, and alcohol to sustain them for another five days of drudgery at meaningless jobs. The overachiever falls into exactly the same trap. As a 'successful professional,' he gropes for significance and he trades his family and faith for a career promising status, peer approval, and the finer things only high salaries can provide. But hope is not a commodity. It cannot be bought even with hyper-dedication toward a temporal goal.

Hope begins at a particular point… the point of truth. It’s more than theological truth. It’s the truth about you… your calling, your important responsibilities, your God-given design, purpose, and dreams, your right standing before God. You must be clear, very clear on the truth about you. Get to know and appreciate this truth. Don’t sell out for a lesser truth or another person’s truth. Find your own truth. Keep searching until you peel away every layer of false hope and find the real, naked, and unencumbered you. Jesus will meet you there. He’ll take you by the hand and show you the worlds you must conquer. He’ll reveal your original destiny. He’ll impart a single-minded focus-ability empowering you to drive with all your might “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3.14). This is your truth and it’s the only place to find lasting hope. This is the hope worth living for because it’s based on a truth worth dying for. Once you get this hope, never lose it. Keep hope alive...

“...through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures”.
_______________

The image of the child looking through the curtains is called "3\365 a new hOpe" and used here by permission of an artist from Kuwait by the name "Anwaar." Find more of her creative photography at http://www.flickr.com/photos/sadfeeling/.

The portrait "Hope" is by photographer Ferran Jordà of Queralbs, Catalonia, Spain, whose work can be found at http://www.bw-color.com/fotos-245-hope.htm. Ferran gave me permission to post this beautifully expressive photo here.

Monday, June 29, 2020

"My Account of Me"

Romans 14.10b; 12-13a NIV

“For we will all stand before God's judgment seat…. So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.”

Twelve years ago I stood before a judge at Beaverton Municipal court. On May 26th, 2006, I failed to notice the reduced school speed limit and was photographed driving 32 MPH in a 20 MPH zone. The judge asked me to “give an account.” This was my account: “I thought I was going the speed limit of around 35 MPH. I was right about my speed but wrong about the limit. I was driving 32 MPH in a 20 MPH zone… just like the ticket says. I’m sorry and will try not to let it happen again.” The infraction cost me time and money. I was lucky, though. The judge was gracious and reduced my ticketed fine of $242.00 to $192.00.

Someday, I will “stand before God’s judgment seat.” There I will be required to “give an account” of myself to Heaven’s Judge. This is a sobering thought. I was not overly worried about my first speeding ticket in many years. But what will I say on the day I face my Creator? I deserve the eternal death penalty for the sins I have committed. I am indescribably grateful for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ which covers the price of my offenses. His blood pays the debt for my sin. But I cannot avoid a personal appearance at the “judgment seat.” I will stand before God and “give an account” of me. What will I say? How will it go? The text offers a small clue that may help things go a little better for me on the Last Day…

“Let us stop passing judgment on one another.”

I cannot live a sin-free existence. There will be an accounting to make. But I can work on being less judgmental of others. I can learn to more quickly walk away from another person’s crime scene when Jesus quietly reminds me, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone…" (John 8.7). Extending mercy to others now will make things go better for me then.

“For judgment will be merciless for one who has
shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
James 2.13 NASU

Friday, June 26, 2020

"My Parent Paul"

Romans 13.14 NASU

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”

“Put on your coat,” I used to holler at my kids when they ran outside to play on a cold day. Why did I care? They obviously didn’t know any better. They were so intent on playing with their little friends that they easily forgot the essentials… shoes, coats, going potty, etc. I cared about their welfare more than they did. That’s a parent’s job.

Today, Paul is my parent and reminds me to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

I become so intent...
obsessed, hell-bent, preoccupied, fixated

...on playing with my little friends...
work, money, busy schedules, screen time, unending list of distractions, etc.

...that I can easily forget the essentials.
relationship with Jesus, prayer, Bible, seeking God, loving others, etc.

Sometime in my very near future, I will go outside and face cruel and wild forces of adversity, cold winds of failure, sub-zero temptations of the flesh, and the freezing power of fear. I should anticipate the conditions and listen to my parent Paul...

“Put on Jesus”!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

"Choose Your Pathy"

Romans 12.15 NASU

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

What ‘pathy’ am I on?
  • A-pathy ~ I could not care less. I feel nothing toward you.

  • Sym-pathy ~ I understand you are experiencing pain or joy. I express my understanding and acknowledge your feelings, but remain emotionally distant.

  • Em-pathy ~ I allow myself to genuinely feel and express your emotions.
Am I empathetic, sympathetic, apathetic, or plain pathetic? I certainly can’t fake it. There are times when I actually don’t care and wish to ignore the subtle request for a shoulder to cry on. I may not want to laugh at a silly joke. I often deem myself incapable or unqualified to enter the ‘feeling realm’ with another human. I cannot respond to every cry for help, so I erect an emotional wall shielding me from all but the most urgent or, in my opinion, the most legitimate of needs. 

This selection process allows me plausible deniability, so I can later claim, “I didn’t know.” But the real question is:  Should I have known? Or, would I have known if I had wanted to?

Upon reflection, perhaps there is a more self-serving, even sinister motive... “Which needs, after I have met them, will have an eventual outcome that serves or benefits me in some way?”

Real caring is a choice. If I am to shed tears when others cry or truly enjoy their happiness, then I must explore the idea of empathy; that is, learn to develop a well-functioning emotional radar capable of reading signals others are trying to emit. Without a finely-tuned, personal sensitivity meter, I may miss a chance meeting when I am most needed and waste my energy on low priority, safe, sterile, and comfortable caring gestures. 

What a waste! I may never share another’s sorrow when he learns his wife has terminal cancer. I could miss the opportunity to celebrate when a friend is promoted to the position he always wanted. I might miss a connection with a person whose contact would enrich us both. Is it possible that I have not “shown hospitality to angels”  when I had the opportunity (Hebrews 13.2)?

Without empathy, I am a lesser man.


Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
________________

The wonderful images entitled "Empathy" and "Empathy x3" are used here by permission of Swedish photographer Per Jorisch (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jorisch/).

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

"Unalienable Gifts"

Romans 11.32 NIV

“For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” [1]

What does the Declaration of Independence and the Bible have in common? Both refer to the equality of “all men.” [2] The focus of our founding fathers was the entitlement of opportunity afforded all people because of their essential equality in the eyes of the Creator. Paul’s focus in the book of Romans appears to be the mercy freely granted “all men [people] because of the loving nature of their Creator. No argument regarding the beneficiary. Both documents name “all men[people] as the recipients of the Creator’s good things. 

But questions emerge. Are we endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights? Or, are we bestowed upon by our Creator with undeserved mercy? The book of Romans says “all men [people] are disobedient and deserve the sentence of death…

“All have sinned... the wages of sin is death”
Romans 3.23; 6.23

Merging the theological and historical documents produces a new concept: 

“We hold this truth to be Divinely-revealed and self-evident,
that all people are created equal, insofar as they are self-centered
sinners and destined for destruction, and yet all are bestowed upon
by their Creator with certain unalienable Gifts, that among these
are undeserved Mercy and Eternal Life in the pursuit of Jesus.”
~ The Declaration of God ~
_________________

[1] From the 1776 United States Declaration of Independence. “The term inalienable rights (or unalienable rights) refers to a theoretical set of individual human rights that by their nature cannot be taken away, violated, or transferred from one person to another. They are applicable only to humans, as the basic necessity of their survival” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inalienable_rights).

[2] I use the term “all men” as interchangeable with “all people.” This was the intent of Paul in the book of Romans and, if it wasn't the intent of the authors of the Declaration of Independence it should have been.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

"Surprise!"

Romans 10.19 “The Message”

“Moses had it right when he predicted, ‘When you see God reach out to those you consider your inferiors – outsiders! – you’ll become insanely jealous. When you see God reach out to people you think are religiously stupid, you’ll throw temper tantrums.’”

Moses. Isaiah. Paul. They all preached the Universal Love of God (Romans 10.12, 19, 20). No one is beneath God’s dignity. No one is beyond His reach. No one is lost for good… unless they want to be. But why would they want to be? Why would anyone want to remain untouched by the All-Encompassing Love of God? 

People want God’s love and doubters need to be informed, just as the Bible says...


“For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
“But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? 
And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? 
And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”

 Romans 10.13-14 NLT

Maybe people just need an opportunity to trust Jesus. Could they be waiting for me to bring the message? Are am I resistant to share the truth with those who think and behave differently than me? Am I prone to pass judgment on outsiders? Have I developed a holier-than-thou attitude? Do I believe, “They’re pagans in fast pursuit of hedonistic pleasures. They obviously want nothing to do with Jesus. Their behavior is deplorable. Disgusting.”

It’s not easy to extend the Love of God to all people at all times. I once channel surfed to a public access TV show featuring a gay pride parade in Seattle’s Fremont district. Supporters cheered a troupe of naked bicyclists who had painted their exposed bodies with flamboyant and colorful designs. What would you think if you were taking your family for a neighborhood stroll and saw that? 

Perhaps we forgot…
  • Jesus died because He loved the naked gay guy on a bicycle as much as you and me.
  • Every behavior is either an act of love or a cry for love.
  • God has plenty of love to spare.
God, deliver me from the attitude of religious superiority that grants me permission to conclude You love me and people like me more than those I consider to be unworthy “outsiders.” Broaden my mental boundaries. Increase my capacity to love. Surprise me by an act of Your Universal Love.
__________________

Photos above are of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride March in New York City on June 26, 2005 by photographer Don Wiss (http://donwiss.com/pictures/) and used here with his permission.

Monday, June 22, 2020

"For the Sake of My Brothers"

Romans 9:1-4a NIV

“I speak the truth in Christ — I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.

How much do I love my brothers?

Enough to serve them selflessly? Yes, occasionally.

Enough to die for them? If given the chance to be a hero, I suppose I might possibly act impulsively and give my life for that opportunity, as long as my death was quick and relatively painless.

Enough to give up my salvation and suffer eternal separation from God? Absolutely not. Emphatically no!

Was Paul crazy? He claimed he would sacrifice his eternal future with Christ “for the sake of his brothers.” The Living Bible paraphrases the apostle: “I would be willing to be forever damned if that would save you” (Romans 9.3). Even if Paul was under emotional stress (“I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart”) or tended to exaggerate, nevertheless it appears he believed what he said to be true:

“I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying,
my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit”
Romans 9:1 NIV

Paul’s statement is audacious, fantastic, almost unbelievable. Was this a ‘messianic ego’ running wild? Did he honestly think the sacrifice of his eternal destiny could secure the salvation of his brothers? Or, was it love? Did Paul literally love his people enough to trade his salvation for theirs, if he could? A similar offer was made by Moses over a thousand years earlier and recorded in the book of Exodus:

“But now, please forgive their sin – but if not,
then blot me out of the book You have written.”
Exodus 32.32 NIV

Is this what it takes to be a leader? If so, count me... out! I would never qualify! But I follow One who does. One who made Himself “cursed and cut off from” God for me and my brothers:

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying,
‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which is, being interpreted,
‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ ”
Mark 15:34 KJV

For my sake and “for the sake of my brothers” Jesus was willing to forsake it all.
________________

The inspiring image of Jesus on the cross by IZZYGALVEZ (2007) is featured on Photobucket (http://media.photobucket.com/image/jesus%20on%20cross/izzygalvez/IZZYGALVEZ-JesusCross-John3-16-Sepi.jpg).