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On being “poor in spirit” to inherit the kingdom of Heaven

If one were asked, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” What will the answer be? Each one of us may offer a different response. This may range from, “It means to follow Christ” to “Having acknowledged and received Christ as one’s personal savior.” Yet, how many of us actually considered the question in our own lives? What does it really mean to be a Christian? How are we able to address this question?

There are two faucets of being a Christian. First, it is based on a genuine and sincere confession of one’s own sinfulness that has separated themselves from God. This awareness of our own human depravity brings us to the realization that we stand in need of a redeemer – someone who is able to stand in our place of judgment and take upon themselves the depth of our sinful nature. Upon doing this, we become right before a Sovereign God. Jesus Christ provided this sacrifice for each one of us. Through His atoning sacrifice, we are justified with His righteousness, because of it being imputed into our own lives. The second faucet of being a Christian moves beyond the efficacy of the cross. This means, we take up our cross (see Matthew 16:24-26, ESV) and follow Christ as he leads us.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven

~Matthew 5:3, ESV ~

Initial step into the Christian lifestyle begins with humility. It is the conscious realization of one’s need and dependence on Christ for redemption and salvation. Paul emphasizes this in his letter to the Corinthians, “For the message of the cross is … to us who are being saved the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, ESV) This message Paul is referring to is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Romans chapter 5, Paul stipulates this when he compares Adam as being the one sin and death were introduced into the world through the fall (as recorded in Genesis 3). Through Christ, as the apostle argues, salvation is granted to all men whereby they can receive a “new life” through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Humility does not end at the point of conversion. It is a constant aspect that marks authentic Christian living whereby an individual continually approaches a Sovereign God, and their fellow man, with a sense of humility. The cost is summed up in what Christ taught his disciples in Matthew 16:24-26: “…whoever loses his life for my sake will gain it.”

What, then, is the best way one loses their life for the sake of Christ? Emmet Fox, writes in his book “The Sermon on the mount”:

To be poor in spirit means to have emptied yourself of all desire to exercise personal self-will, and, what is just as important, to have renounced all preconceived opinions in the wholehearted search for God. It means to be willing to set aside your present habits of thought, your present views and prejudices, your present way of life if necessary; to jettison, in fact, anything and everything that can stand in the way of your finding God.

In his article at Blue Letter Bible, Chuck Smith writes the following commentary:

This first characteristic of the child of God is a foundation that God can build upon. God cannot build upon the foundations of pride, self will, or our own ambitions. God’s process is usually that of emptying before filling (Luke 2:34; Jeremiah 1:10). A man who is truly poor in spirit will not be admired by the world (Luke 16:15). “Poor in spirit” indicates a willingness to surrender to the authority and control of God, so that He might govern our lives. We will not be making demands, because we’re unworthy and undeserving (Genesis 32:10). Poverty of spirit is a consciousness of our own sinfulness and spiritual poverty (Isaiah 6:5; Daniel 10:8; Luke 5:8; Jeremiah 17:9-10; Psalms 8:3-4). The way to happiness is poverty of spirit (Luke 18:10-14; Matthew 7:13).

In a sermon preached in 1873 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and published in 1909, Charles H. Spurgeon shares this insight:

The cause for placing this Beatitude first is found in the fact that it is first as a matter of experience; it is essential to the succeeding characters, underlies each one of them, and is the soil in which alone they can be produced. No man ever mourns before God until he is poor in spirit, neither does he become meek towards others till he has humble views of himself; hungering and thirsting after righteousness are not possible to those who have high views of their own excellence, and mercy to those who offend is a grace too! difficult for those who are unconscious of their own spiritual need. Poverty in spirit is the porch of the temple of blessedness. As a wise man never thinks of building up the walls of his house till he has first digged out the foundation, so no person skillful in divine things will hope to see any of the higher virtues where poverty of spirit is absent. Till we are emptied of self we cannot be filled with God; stripping must be wrought upon us before we can be clothed with the righteousness which is from heaven. Christ is never precious till we are poor in spirit, we must see our own wants before we can perceive his wealth; pride blinds the eyes, and sincere humility must open them, or the beauties of Jesus will be for ever hidden from us. The strait gate is not wide enough to allow that man to enter who is great in his own esteem; it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a man conceited of his own spiritual riches to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Hence it is clear that the character described in connection with the first Beatitude is essential to the production of those which follow after; and unless a man possesses it, he may look in vain for favor at the hands of the Lord. The proud are cursed, their pride alone secures them the curse, and shuts them out from divine regard: “The proud he knoweth afar off.” The lowly in heart, are blessed for to them and to their prayers Jehovah ever has a tender regard.

All three lend interesting credibility to the understanding of what it means to be poor in spirit. In fact, poverty essentially means lacking. This means, for one to come to the Cross, they realize there is a deep “lacking” that is only accomplished by the atonement of Christ. To us, the cross is power of our salvation through God (see 1 Corinthians 1:18). It is the power by which we are redeemed and justified. It is the power in which we move toward true spiritual maturation and growth.

As stated, humility is the single most important step in the life of a Christian believer. Most important step because it moves us toward the next seven steps of the Beatitudes that Christ gave to his disciples (see Matthew 5). Humility brings us to the cross and humility carries us beyond the cross.

The second component of this first step is that we become inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven. Paul, the Apostle, refers to us as being “Heirs and Joint-Heirs” with Jesus Christ (see Romans 8:17, ESV). From the moment we receive salvation through the Grace of God, we are no longer strangers. We become members of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Going back to the question, what does it mean to be a Christian? the answer is a genuine and sincere response where one responds from their own humble experience. For me, being a Christian means to become humble in realizing one’s definite need of redemption and salvation that is only through Jesus Christ and Him alone. It means emptying oneself of previous perceptions and defined realities in order to surrender one’s will in order to strive in living according to the will of a Sovereign God who is just and merciful.

 

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High school student: I’ve been suspended 3 times for preaching, handing out Bible tracts

High school student: I’ve been suspended 3 times for preaching, handing out Bible tracts

Timothy Berman:

This article has garnered much conversation about separation of Church and State. Does a student have the fundamental right to attend a public school and freely express his faith without fear of intimidation, threat’s or even harassment from other’s? In our modern society, the courtroom of public opinion seems to lean more and more heavily toward atheistic vitriolic statements that attack Christianity, Christian beliefs and values and even Christian’s themselves.

Granted, I was not present there as an eyewitness and there are always three sides to every story. However, the question I ask is this: Have we gone so far to allow public opinion to become more matters of fact rather than engaging in healthy dialogue about differences of public opinion without showing forth our willingness to wrestle in the mud pit like pigs?

Originally posted on Q13 FOX News:

EVERETT, Wash. — Michael Leal says he preaches the message from the gospel and hands out Bible tracts every day at his high school — actions that allegedly got him suspended three times in one month.

“Lately it’s been outside, maybe a few times inside, it really depends on where I’m at and where the people are at, as well,” Leal said Wednesday.

The senior at Cascade High School in Everett says he was suspended three times in the month of October for preaching and handing out Bible tracts during school hours on school grounds.

“It’s usually during quiet time, self time, time for yourself, or lunch, after school, before school, stuff like that. I never try to do it to disrupt the school schedule at all,” Leal said.

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After the first suspension, Leal said he contacted an attorney to send the school district a different message.

“Students  don’t leave…

View original 174 more words

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2014 in Authentic Christian Living

 

What it means to be the Church today

What it means to be the Church today

If the Christian churches were to disappear today – will people know the church is no longer present within the communities? More specifically, have Christian Churches become a relic of the past? Turn on any Christian radio program, listen to many of the sermons being prepared by some of the well-named theologians and Christian ministers. One will hear the constant bantering of end times and the coming of Christ. Much of this comes about because of what we are hearing on the news about ISIS and the continual conflict in the Middle East. The dismantling of our own Constitution and the relegation of the Christian Church and freedom’s associated with Christianity in our society as a perceived movement of intolerance against modern social acceptance.

This article is not about end times, the middle east conflict, or the supposed post-Christian era we are living in today. What this article is about is how individual Christians are the Church. What it means to be the Church in our communities today and how this impacts and moves us through the times of what many want to refer to as post-modernism. The Christian Church is not a particular building, a house of worship. The Christian church is built on individual collectivism and beliefs. Christians, in essence, are called to be living stones that are continually being built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood in order to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-5, ESV).

Within the context of our modern culture and society – Christianity and the Christian belief system is viewed as a relic of the past. A cultural shift has occurred in which many view the Bible to no longer have any validation for faith, hope, and guidance. In the Ancient Near East, there are stones that are seen today as dead stones. Meaning, they are mere relics of a past religious belief system and form of worship that we are only having some basic understanding. Today, many people do not erect altars of stones as a form of worship (See Exodus 24:4, ESV).

Christians today have two great admonishments that ought to be lived by. The first is loving God. The second is loving others as we love ourselves. Both of these two admonishments are conjoint commands:

He said to him, ‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like unto it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets hang on these commands (Matthew 22:37-40, ESV)

The first principle is based on whether or not we (as individuals) have cultivated a deeply, profound and purposeful relationship with God. This deep caring relationship is not casual, it is not based on a moment of convenience. Every member within the Christian body moves through a life-long process of commitment to God by daily living, communing with and following all precepts. We are essentially a living sacrifice (See Romans 12:1-3, ESV) unto God where we show forth our devotion and priority in seeking him out. This is accomplished through daily prayer, regular scripture study, and aligning and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

This rich, deeply cultivated relationship that we engage in with God, develops an authentic deep concern for the welfare of our fellow neighbors. We learn to love them, including our enemies, in the way a Sovereign God is able to show us. We reach out, not in a sense of convenience to someone hurting and broken. No, we reach out to them with a profound deep compassion in recognizing that they are hurting and broken. This brings us to the four main points of our conversation:

  1. Our relationship with others is driven by our deep affection and authentic relationship with God.
  2. It is concrete and not abstract where it has become painstakingly practical and profound in our act of service toward others.
  3. These deeply profound relationships we cultivate in our lives are authentic and a way of life.
  4. Becoming an authentic Christian body is based on individual members who possess a driven passion of authentic love toward God and reaching out in an authentic love toward others within our communities.

In essence – the Church is not built on ideologies, specific doctrines to hold to, creeds, or mission statements. The Early Christian Church of Jewish and Gentile Christians were based on a love for God, the message of God, and the fellowship of one another:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47, ESV)

Being the Church today is not a building, a temple, or a place of worship. It is about individuals coming together in a collective deep and profound love of God and one another. Being the Church is relational rather than doctrinal. Yes, while Biblical doctrine is prominent in identifying true Christian beliefs from false Christian beliefs, the premise of the Church is a deeply committed and profound cultivation of relating to a Sovereign God whom we serve in order to develop deeply profound committed relationships with others. Through our sacred sacrifices, many may still come to know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent because we emulate the divine love of God.

 

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Having achieved divine satisfaction

Having achieved divine satisfaction

Today’s devotion focuses on the last verse of Genesis 1. It reads:

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31, ESV)

From the first moment of creation to the last moment of God’s creative work (which is humanity fashioned after his image and likeness and given dominion over the creation of all things) God saw all that he has accomplished as good and beneficial.

Each creative act, a Sovereign God saw what he had accomplished as being good. There is a sense of satisfaction through approval as to what is accomplished and completed. This was not dismissive, it is purposefully brought to our attention in the final scheme of having completed something and approval of all that has gone on before.

Satisfying Life Graphic_560_560

A painter who has completed a painting that he has painstakingly worked on stands back and admires the work completed. A writer sitting back and looking at the finished product of a published work. The potter who has given time and devotion in fashioning an object out of clay steps back and looks over the final product his hands had molded in its completeness.

Authentic christian living is an opportunity where we are being fashioned, shaped and molded into a new life that will eventually become complete. Throughout our maturation in faith, we develop a sense of satisfaction in knowing we are doing and living according to the will of God. All that we do in our lives is a devotion and sacrifice to allow the redeeming power of Jesus Christ and his imputed righteousness to complete the work in our hearts. At the end of the day, when we step back and examining the things we have set out to do – are we satisfied and in approval of all that we have accomplished?

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2014 in Christian Devotion

 

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Stewardship of all things

Stewardship of all things

This morning’s devotion moves us from how we were fashioned to how we were given dominion over all things:

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:28-30, ESV)

Dominion in the Hebrew is memshelah and means “to rule, govern and authority.” Man was not only created after the image and likeness of God, humanity had been given the first blessing and charge – to have dominion over all things. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” is an interesting phrase because it refers to humanities responsibilities in taking care of all the creative work God has already accomplished. In essence, a Sovereign God has blessed humanity with the charge of stewardship over his creation.

Christians today are blessed as they move into their own calling of stewardship. Stewardship over family, over their employment, over their homes, churches, community and beyond. As we move into and fulfill the blessings of stewardship, God is gracious enough to bless us all the more. More importantly, we all are stewards over our own lives in how we choose to live out our lives.

Therefore, as we move into our story of living an authentic Christian life, let us meditate on how we are fulfilling the responsibilities we are called to take on in our own lives and become better stewards over our own lives, where we work, the influence we have within our communities and within our families.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2014 in Christian Devotion

 

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Man – A divine creation

Man – A divine creation

This morning’s devotion is focusing on the book of Beginnings. Genesis is about the beginning of the universe, the creation of the heavens and the earth. All things were created by God. Humanity is the pinnacle creative work of a Sovereign God.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27  So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27 ESV)

There is no greater simple truth than this: we are the posterity of Adam and Eve, and through them, we have the understanding that a Sovereign God created after His own image and after His own likeness. Perfectly innocent and with harmonious fellowship with God. Both, men and women, have a beginning. We did not merely evolve, we were created, fashioned and designed by a God who desires to have a meaningful and intimate relationship with each one of us.

Michelangelo painting

Michelangelo painting

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2014 in Christian Devotion

 

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{You can’t handle the Ruth} Marginalized People

{You can’t handle the Ruth} Marginalized People

ruthcoverThe book of Ruth is one of the most interesting books of Holy Writ. The following articles stem from the notes taken from Pastor Rob Stewart’s Sermon series at the Ballard Church. The first of the series focuses on Ruth 1:1-19. Ruth is a story about liminal people who make courageous decisions in the face of great oppositions. Liminal refers to those who are in a period of transition, or at the stage of transitioning/transformation. It also refers to individuals that are at a place where they occupy boundaries/positions on both sides of a boundary or threshold. Individuals, who otherwise do not fit within one set of group or another. The historical context of Ruth fits within the time when ancient Israel was ruled by judges. A time where there seems to be no social structure remaining and corruption abounds. A time period when the Jewish people started doubting and were abandoning their faith in him. A time where there is disorder economically and socially. Ruth is essentially a story that shows how we are being called out of our particular stations in life to where God moves us into our own story where we find greater meaning, greater blessings, and greater peace.

The story of Ruth opens up with Elimelech moving his wife and family from Bethlehem to Moab. A famine cursed the land of Israel. Within about ten years, Elimelech (Naomi’s Husband) dies, then her son’s who had married Moabite women (Orpah and Ruth). Naomi’s son’s also passed on and left the three women as widows. Due to the famine, Naomi hears about how the Lord is blessing Israel by giving them provisions during this time of famine. She decides to leave Moab and go back toward Bethlehem. On the way, her two daughter-in-laws journey with her. Along the way, Naomi petitions the two of them to return to Moab and find another husband so that they may fair better than she. At first, both of her daughter-in-laws want to continue with her. However, as Naomi presses even more, Oprah concedes and departs from the two women. Ruth, however, proclaims her allegiance with Naomi:

16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge.Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. (Ruth 1:16-18, ESV)

Through this proclamation to her mother-in-law, Ruth bounds herself to not only Naomi, she bounds herself to the people of Israel and to the allegiance of Israel’s God. Ruth is essentially placing her faith in Naomi and the God of Israel by this proclamation. What we also take away from this story is how Ruth steps out of her current situation and makes her journey with Naomi back to Bethlehem. This, despite what opposition may occur.

Ruth steps out of her current circumstances with faith and assurance that provisions will be provided. She does not make any excuses for where she is at now, and looks forward to what lays in store for her. Ruth steps out of her old life and moves toward a new life that awaits her.

As we liken the scriptures unto ourselves and our lives, how many of us find ourselves in a land where there is famine? Famine is essentially the lacking of food. In scripture, Famine represents God’s scourge that has come upon people who have walked in disobedience, or to advance God’s divine purpose in the hearts and lives of those whom he has called out. What is even more interesting is that Elimelech leaves his home and abandon’s his people. He takes his family with him and because of this decision – his family faces adversity through the famine that has fallen upon the people.

First, we must see ourselves in light of Ruth 1:1-19. Charles H. Spurgeon provides the following verse by verse commentary, beginning with verse 1:

That was a bad move on their part; Better poverty with the people of God, than plenty outside of the covenanted land.

Spurgeon continues in relating the move from Bethlehem to Moab involves the Christian moving from the blessings and promises of God to another land where idols and idol worship is presented:

That is generally what happens; those who go into the country of Moab continue there. If Christians go away from their separated life, they are very apt to continue in that condition. It may be easy to say, “I will step aside from the Christian path for just a little while;” but it is not so easy to return to it. Usually something or other hampers; the birdlime catches the birds of Paradise, and holds them fast.

In other words, we become marginalized by the decision (as Christians) to separate ourselves from the people of God and the inherit blessings therein. We experience hardships and losses because of the spiritual famine that has come into our lives.

Second, we must see others in light of Ruth 1:1-19 where individuals have made decisions that have brought them into a land of idol worshiping. Individuals who are not part of the community of believers, however also suffer under their own spiritual famine. These individuals are just as marginalized as those who have stepped away from the will and desire of God.

Third, the journey back to the place where we know there is great blessings is a difficult one:

It is often the case that, when our idols are broken, we turn back to our God. It is frequently the case that the loss of earthly good leads us to return to our first Husband, for we feel that then it was better with us than it is now. Naomi had also another inducement to return:—

For the Christian returning back to faith – it is the most difficult Journey. The parable of the Prodigal comes to mind here in relation to how marginalized an individual has become and the transitional process they are going through in returning back to the place where God continues to bless his people. For the unbeliever, some will journey with us toward the promised land and the blessings bestowed on those who reside in the promised land. Yet, despite this, some will eventually turn away from us and from the blessings of God. They return back to the comforts of their own idols and their own people. However, for those who desire to continue to move forward into the new life that awaits, they continue with us as our companion and guide.

Ruth is a complex story with complex characters. Unlike all the other books, Ruth presents people in their human nature and shares with us the decisions they are faced with and how they come into their own story. It illuminates the representation of Christ and how we are sojourners and foreigners – making our way toward the promised land where we are continually blessed by God. We either deviate from that path or turn away completely. Our lives are complex and it is when we step into our story that God has for us, we are able to partake of the fruit of peace and purpose God blesses us with.

 

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Are you “Saved”?

Are you “Saved”?

I happened to read Matt Lemon’s blog article – You aren’t “Saved” today. His article comes from a Latter-day Saint background and understanding of salvation. The focus and intent is not on the debate of whether we are saved by grace alone (Sola Gratia) or by Grace and Works. His focus seems to come from an understanding of the nature and premise of how Christians come to faith in Jesus Christ and are in the process of being saved as a means to obtain salvation. His first assessment is summed up in this statement: 

I’m saved” that also is a lie. I am in the process of becoming saved.

Lemon asserts that while confessing Christ as one’s Savior, confesses one’s sin’s and commits their life to Jesus Christ is an important and early step, the process of salvation does not mean one is “saved”: He concludes that this devalues Jesus Christ who is the one that will stand to judge us. He continues with an analogy that while he is accepted into the nursing program, he has not become a nurse until he completes all educational requirements. Another analogy he uses is that of a student attending a university, they are not fully graduated from their university of choice therefore, they cannot say that they are a Graduate – they are in the process of graduating. Lemon finally shares his thoughts on grace by equating God’s Sovereignty as that of a parent paying their child’s tuition. Something a child will never pay back. However, for that child to graduate, they must put forth the effort and invest in their studies and academic performances. In essence, he equates the death of Jesus Christ and his Resurrection as the payment of our tuition here in mortality. However, it is up to us to work through the necessary steps to obey the commandments and endure to the end. 

While the nature of God’s grace, obedience, and the accountability of humanity is an ever ongoing discussion – the attempt of Matt Lemon fall’s short to the reality of God’s Grace and whether our salvation is up to us to maintain. In essence, are we saved by the Grace of God or are we in the process of being saved through God’s grace and then our own effort and abilities? The answer to this question is a resounding no – it is always God’s grace that moves us through the process of sanctification. Meaning, it is not left up to our own ability to maintain and work toward our salvation. We are saved from the moment of acceptance of the divine grace of a merciful and Sovereign God. We are saved through the grace of God to move forward in sustaining and growing spiritually in Christ, Jesus. 

Latter-day Saint doctrine teaches that we are saved “after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). Their emphasis is that salvation is contingent on how we perform in this life. According to the third article of faith: 

“We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”

According to Lemmon’s article and the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salvation is unmerited favor of a Sovereign God in where an atonement for our sins was provided by Jesus Christ. Something we could never pay or even repay. However, that is as far as the atonement of Christ affords – forgiveness of our sins. At the point of salvation, it is up to the individual to prove their worth and reason Christ’s atonement may apply to us in order for us to obtain our own salvation. This is not what the scripture teaches. 

While I agree that those who come to faith through Jesus Christ and accept the atoning sacrifice, there are those scriptures that speak of how we ought to follow in obedience, salvation is not contingent upon our own effort and willingness. The grace of a sovereign God does not end at our confession and asking of Christ to cleanse us. The Grace of God continues through our lifespan as we turn our will over to Christ and learn of Him and his ways. In this way, the Grace of God is continually saving us as we continue to be living sacrifices and transform our thoughts, our being and reliance on Jesus Christ. We are both saved and continually being saved through the Grace of God. 

How we are saved – Justified and created anew

At the point of conversion, an individual turns to God and confesses their sin, allowing the atonement of Jesus Christ to cleanse them, and by and through the Holy Spirit, become a “new creation” in Christ. Here is what Charles H. Spurgeon taught: 

There are three stages of the human soul in connection with Christ: the first is without Christ, this is the state of nature; the next is in Christ, this is the state of grace; the third is with Christ, that is the state of glory.

Spurgeon continues his sermon by defining the three stages of the human soul in connection with Christ. In the first connection, while we are born of natural means – we are not born again in the sense that we have been regenerated into a new creation. This new creation is referenced in how our natural self is put to death and we are created with a new hope and new desire. This is the pre-eminence of God’s Sovereign Grace – we are saved and born again in the sense that we are created with a new heart. We change from being natural enemies to being friends and adopted sons and daughters of God. Spurgeon continues and discusses the other two states as the second “in Christ” leads to the third being with Christ in a state of Glory. 

Spurgeon’s sermon focuses on how the Believer is a “new creation in Christ” and based this sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:17:

Turn we now to the expression itself, “in Christ.” I never heard of any persons being in any other man but Christ; we may follow certain leaders, political or religious, but we are never said to be included in them. We may take for ourselves eminent examples and high models of humanity, but no man is said in that respect to be in another. But this is a grand old scriptural phrase in which the disciple and the follower of Christ becomes something more than an imitator of his Lord, and is said to be in his Master. We must interpret this scriptural phrase by scriptural symbols. We were all of us in the first Adam. Adam stood for us. Had Adam kept the command, we had all of us been blessed. He took off the forbidden fruit and fell, and all of us fell in him. Original sin falleth upon us because of the transgression of our covenant head and representative, Adam the first; but all believers are in the same sense in Christ, Adam the second, the only other representative Man before God, the heavenly Man, the Lord from heaven. Now, as in Adam we all fell, so all who are in Christ are in Christ perfectly restored. The obedience of Christ is the obedience of all his people; the atonement of Christ is a propitiation for all his people’s sins. In Christ we lived on earth, in Christ we died, in Christ we rose, and he “hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places” in himself. As the apostle tells us that Levi was in the loins of Abraham when Melchisedec met him, so were we in the loins of Christ from before the foundation of the world; faith apprehends that blessed truth, and thus by faith we are experimentally in Christ Jesus.

The take away here from Spurgeon’s comments is this: We are all condemned because of the nature and purpose of the Fall. Through Adam came sin and death. Sin separates us from God. To this, both the Christian and Latter-day Saint (Mormon) come to agreement on. Death also separates us from God as well and both agree on this teaching.; Where the Christian and Mormon separate themselves is on the purpose and premise of the fall. Going back to Spurgeon’s original comment, we see that without Christ, we are outside of the Grace of God. We are spiritually dead because of our sinful nature. Even the Mormon Scripture states

17 And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent. 18 For behold he judgeth, and his judgment is just; and the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy; but men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent. 19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

Prior to our conversation to the Christian life, one is outside and already condemned. We are not in Christ and therefore are not redeemed. We are dead to God, spiritually at first and then physically if we do not come to know Christ as our Savior and redeemer and taste of the redemption that is by and through Christ alone. In other words, unless we partake of the Grace of God and receive salvation from our sins, we will remain enemies to God. John 1:9-13 teaches

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Even Christ himself taught Nicodemus:

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

All this teaches that a person is saved by the power of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We are saved from our sins. We are not in the process of being saved. Salvation is not contingent upon us accepting Christ, then proving our worth in order to be saved. Therefore, the analogies Matt Lemmon uses fall short in explaining the nature and power of God’s Sovereign Grace and how we are Saved through God’s Sovereign Grace. What this means is that we are saved by being Justified in Jesus Christ and called out of our sinful nature. We have become a new creation in Jesus Christ. 

We are being Saved – Sanctified through Jesus Christ

The other aspect of this rests upon understanding those scripture passages where obedience in following Jesus Christ become relevant. Most Latter-day Saints miss the point of the passage of the Biblical text as it talks about Obedience to the commandments of God. First, and foremost, the commandments hang on two simple truths: (1) We must love the Lord our God with all of our might mind and strength; and (2) Love our neighbor as ourselves (See Matthew 22:34-44). 

Christians do not discount the reality that one must follow Christ. However, the difference is this: Latter-day Saints place the emphasis on our own ability and moral agency to follow Christ and walk in obedience. The Christian accepts the reality that without the power of God’s divine sovereign Grace, we are not able to fulfill and walk in obedience. Meaning, the grace of God is constant in the life of the Christian believer who recognizes that being obedient to Christ is not based on their moral agency, it is based on the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we are kept in the Grace of God. We are essentially sustained through the process of sanctification. Spurgeon illustrates this in relation to how the Christian is “in Christ”: 

In the New Testament the Lord Jesus explains this phrase of being in himself …. . He represents us as being in him as the branch is in the vine. Now, the branch derives all its nourishment, its sap, its vitality, its fruit-bearing power, from the stem with which it is united. It would be of no use that the branch should be placed close to the trunk, it would be of no service even to strap it side by side with the stem, it must be actually in it by a vital union. There must be sap-streams flowing at the proper season into it, life-floods gushing into it from the parent stem; and even so there is a mysterious union between Christ and his people, not to be explained but to be enjoyed, not to be defined but to be experienced, in which the very life of Christ flows into us, and we by the virtue that cometh out of him into us, become like unto him, and bring forth clusters of good fruit unto his honour and unto God’s glory. I trust you know what this means, beloved, many of you. May you live in the possession of it daily! May you be one with Jesus, knit to him, united to him never to be separated for ever. As the limb is in the body, even so may you constantly be one with Jesus.

Like Spurgeon, those who understand the true nature of Grace come to realize that we are sustained by the Grace of God and become Like Christ through our being “in Christ” always. We are one with the redeemer and savior of the World. Through Christ, we exist. Through Christ, we walk in obedience. Without being “In Christ” we are unable to fulfill the necessary ability to love God and our Neighbor. It is by learning and growing that we move from Faith to Faith from Grace to Grace. The more we grow and mature “In Christ” the more we are filled with God’s Sovereign Grace. The more we are filled with God’s Sovereign Grace, the more that this outpours toward others because we now become living testimonies of what Christ has done and is doing. We are being changed, shaped and transformed daily by constantly putting to death our sinful self and sustain the new creation that only happened through Jesus Christ and the atonement he provided. 

The reality is that Christians are saved by and through the power of Christ’s atonement – it is not a lie, it is scriptural truth. The lie is that we are not saved and must conform to prove our worthiness in order to receive the gift of Salvation at the end of our journey. This is the deceptive Doctrine that goes against the Scriptural truth and teaching. 

Yes, we are saved and we are sustained in being saved through the Grace of God as provisioned by the cross our Savior was crucified on. As arose on the third day with a newness of life, so to have we become new creations by and through the power of Jesus Christ. 

 

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Ostracized – the real problem with Latter-day Saints and Christian fellowship

In this day and age, there is competing information regarding what is and what is not true. This is especially true when it comes to the difference between Evangelical Christianity and Latter-day Saint (Mormonism). Much of this difference rests upon doctrines and scripture. Having participated in various forums and social media regarding the defense of the Mormon Faith and doctrines, I had to step away. Today, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had Elder David A. Bednar speak at the 2014 Education Week on spreading the gospel message through social media. In fact, there is coming out a feature documentary titled “Meet the Mormons.” Another aspect of this is the previous campaign of “I am a Mormon” that ran during the presidential election between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints no doubt spends an undisclosed amount of money for public image advertisements to gain more membership, engage in more conversations about what the Church believes, and to minister and bring people unto Christ. The age restriction for missionary candidates were even lowered to offer more young men and women of the Church to serve the Church in spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

All if this is good and well intended.

However, there is an underlying problem that drives individuals away from the Church. No, I am not talking about individuals finding out about information that is published on websites and social media sites that attempt to expose the doctrinal errors of the Mormon faith. Granted, there are those who do often leave the church because of this information individuals come in contact with. There is another force that drives people into an “inactive” member status. Yet, this is not just problematic within the local LDS wards (congregations). It is also problematic within the Evangelic Christian community as well.

This problem is the act of ostracizing individuals and family.

Putting aside the assumption as to whether or not the LDS Church is Christian or not, the reality is that many people who come into a local LDS Ward or a local Evangelical/Protestant/Catholic Church experience a very powerful and valid sense of not belonging. In my own experience, this comes with “Well you have to make an effort to put yourself out there.” And, speaking on my own experience, that is all I am able to do and share here in this article. Furthermore, these experiences are not merely isolated incidents – they are several incidents that have occurred over many years. The other sad reality is that many individuals silently slip away – and no one seems to notice. Or, if they do notice, they do not go and do anything to seek them out and find them.

Typically, the one area where this is most experienced is when an individual or that individuals family calls on their local leadership during a time of need. This is where the sense of being ostracized by one’s faith based community is really experienced. This reality set in (and prompted the reason for this article today) when I spoke with a friend of mine. She confided in me that she had received a food order from her local bishop and ward. However, she has not had any hometeachers (which is a Priesthood calling that all male priesthood holders are to fulfill) and neither had any visiting teachers come by (part of the Relief Society).

One has to understand the functions of these two significant things. Within the LDS Church, hometeachers and visiting teachers are supposed to go out into the homes of each member of their local ward and not only bring a monthly message. This message is contained in the Ensign (The official publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). In addition, the Hometeachers and Visiting teachers are supposed to ask if there is any needs the family has. This is typically asked of the father (who is the head of the household). If the person is a single mother or a single woman, they are still asked if there is any need. If there is, then these individuals bring this information back and are to report it to the Bishopric or Relief Society president and then the leadership determines how to fulfill these needs. This all sounds well intended – and for the most part, it works.

Yet, herein lies the problem. Majority of the LDS Wards battle the compliance with hometeaching. Most (in my experience of attending various wards) the compliance record per month in hometeaching is around 30-40 percent. That means, only 60-70 percent of the families and individual members of the local LDS Ward are not being seen by hometeachers. It is a real struggle and many times I have sat in the Elders Quorum class on Sunday hearing the Elders Quorum president or members of the EQ presidency plead with the “brethren” of the quorum to complete their hometeaching assignments. Regarding the Visiting Teaching of the Relief Society, I am not exactly sure on that – however, there may be similar aspects that not all sisters of the local ward are faithfully fulfilling their visiting teaching assignments.

Now, granted sometimes it is hard to get a hold of individuals and families. However, the question is asked, with such lack of effort in going out and reaching these individuals and families, what is in place to work with those who stop going? The LDS Church actually has a plan that they are suppose to implement and work on seeking out those who are no longer active and encourage them to return back to the Church and getting them back into fellowship with other members of the ward. This is where the ward missionaries and ward missionary leader tackles. Unfortunately, one can see the burden and how this all is overwhelming.

How then is it possible that a large church like the Mormon faith have such wonderful messages of hope, inspiration, counsel and guidance allow individuals to be ostracized? Well, many times it is the people within the confines of the local ward.

In my own personal experience, I have been told by a bishop “I don’t have time right now,” or I have called and left messages, even shown up requesting hometeachers and got the “we are working on that”. Six months later and they are still “working on that.” In addition, when it comes to those who are in need of help or assistance because of one thing or another – there is the idea that that person is too much of a burden on the ward. This does not even happen with season members as well. I have personally seen individuals come to a baptism at an LDS Church and it is a very very small gathering (because they do it either after Church on Sunday or on a Saturday). Out of a typical ward membership of say 500, maybe 10 will show up and it is typically the missionaries, the ward mission leader and ward missionaries, someone from the bishopric and a few other local leaderships. Yet, I have been to Evangelical Churches where they have a baptism performed at the time of the service where there are 500 to 1000 people in attendance.

What is the point that I am making here then?

The point I am making here is that while Evangelical Christian Churches typically engage in ostracizing individuals and families, it pales in comparison in how the local Mormon Wards ostracize people. The question that ought to be asked if you want someone to come join you in fellowship and worship with you because you proclaim to have the “fullness of the Everlasting Gospel of Jesus Christ,” then why is there a problem in associating with people and serving those individuals who are reaching out and requesting help? In my own opinion, the local LDS Wards need to put the real focus on how they are losing members because someone does not meet their preconceived notions of being successful, having a family, and part of the “Elite” membership group.

Authentic Christianity is not about living the gospel and being around those we are comfortable with. Authentic Christian living is about going out and seeking those who are lost and bringing them to Christ and embracing them and accepting them as part of the family and body of Christ. Even the Savior himself taught that a shepherd will leave the flock of 99 to go out and find that one lost sheep. The LDS Church has had many lost sheeps leave the fold because they have been ostracized from fellow members and the local leadership.

 

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Chasing after happiness

In my earlier article, I shared about how I came to the decision to let go of happiness in my life. In this article, I want to get more into the discussion  regarding what it means to chase after happiness in our lives. In order to understand how we are going to make a paradigm shift from, we have to look at what our perception is.

Chasing after happiness

The current perception (regardless of one’s faith in Jesus Christ or lack thereof) in our own society is that we feel the necessity to chase after that which may bring us happiness. Now, do not get me wrong here. There is a reason we find happiness in the things we get and acquire while we are living in this world. There is nothing wrong with establishing goals and achieving our goals. There is a natural inherit sense of accomplishment that creates a well-spring of pride and happiness. The problem lies within the contingency that only when we have obtained particular things in our lives, then are we able to get into a place of being happy, finding contentment and creating a sense of joy (or the ability to enjoy life once we get what makes us happy).

Zig Ziglar stated this:

People are basically the same the world over. Everybody wants the same things – to be happy, to be healthy, to be at least reasonably prosperous, and to be secure. They want friends, peace of mind, good family relationships, and hope that tomorrow is going to be even better than today.

Again, there is nothing wrong with this idea. We all are wanting to seek fulfillment, purpose and meaning in our lives. Where the error is in how we attach a sense of “I will only be happy if/when…”. Take for instance the sampling of statements:

  • I will be happy when I am able to get employment
  • I will be happy when my spouse/partner will change
  • I will be happy when I get a better vehicle
  • I will be happy if my children start actually listening
  • I will be happy when I get a better job
  • I will be happy when….

Take a moment and think about some of the statements you may have said out loud in conversations or within your own private thoughts. We place the emphasis on defining when we will be happy based on what needs to happen in our lives to gain fulfillment of that sense of happiness.

In his book, “Our search for Happiness”, Russell M. Ballard (General Authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shared the following about his experience flying with three wealthy executives:

… it became clear that, although these were men of good will who had done many good things in the world with their wealth, the most important thing in life to the billionaire was to accumulate more and more money, which appeared to be the source of his power and prestige. Wealth seemed to be what made him happy and proud. As far as I could tell, it was his passion, his obsession, his very reason for being. As he discussed his international financial empire and impressive array of worldly possessions, I sensed that beneath that collection of materialism was a foundation of unhappiness that comes from spiritual deprivation. The billionaire did not speak joyfully of family or friends. He seemed not to know much of real peace or contentment (Ballard, 1993).

Ballard reflected on that incident and then shared this gem of truth:

The treasure we’re talking about is a feeling of comfort, peace, and eternal security. Because I know that I’m part of a holy plan designed by a Heavenly Father who loves all of His children equally and who wants them all to achieve eternal success, there’s no pressure on me to compete with anyone for worldly acclaim and accomplishment. Please don’t misunderstand: There are many good men and women in the Church of considerable means who know and live Heavenly Father’s eternal plan. Their contributions to God’s kingdom, both spiritually and financially, have been significant. We all want to provide the necessities of life for our families and do the best we can with the talents God has given us. But when considered from the unique perspective of eternity, fame and popularity aren’t nearly as important as loving and being loved; status doesn’t mean much when compared to service; and acquiring spiritual knowledge is infinitely more meaningful than acquiring an excess of wealth.

Ballard cited Matthew 6:19-21 and what the Savior spoke to His disciples. The fruit that comes forth from seeking after the Kingdom of Heaven and the Will of God is very tangible and real in the life of the Christian believer. Ballard sums it up with his own thoughts:

It’s that perspective and the attendant spiritual and emotional tranquility that are among the positive fruits of knowing—really knowing and living the gospel of Jesus Christ. It clarifies the relationship between people and their God and gives meaning and purpose to every individual life. Far more than being just another way of worshiping, it is a way of life. It guides every decision and underscores every relationship, including one’s relationship with oneself. You see, you can never look at yourself in the same way if you know that you are a child of God, and that He knows you, loves you, and cares about you. And you can never look at others dispassionately if you know that they are your eternal brothers and sisters who, like you, are here on earth trying to learn and grow through mortal experiences, both good and bad.

 

In a world teeming with uncertainty and frustration, such understanding brings a peace of mind that is a delicious gospel fruit, indeed. What comfort and security come from knowing that we have a purpose for being! What a blessing to have the solid anchor of specific values by which to live! How exciting to understand our ultimate, divine potential! How reassuring to realize there is a source of power much greater than our own, which can be accessed through personal faith and prayer and through the righteous exercise of God’s priesthood authority! And how encouraging to know that there is a source of strength that can help us cope with daily trials and find peace in a troubled, turbulent world!

Again, we are a world in turmoil where our hearts ache for the misery and death that seems to surround us. In our own lives, we’re faced with moments where we experience misery and unhappiness. Many turn to various vices – to include alcohol and drugs – to seek relief from their troubles and sell themselves short for a momentary sense of happiness. No matter where we are in life – chasing after happiness to secure peace and balance in our lives causes a downfall.

What then? Are we not to seek happiness in our lives? This is not what I am meaning at all. The whole premise here is that our perception focuses on what it is that I can get, carry out, and/or own that will bring happiness, contentment and joy into my life. We fail at securing happiness through the things we set our own hearts upon.

 

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How I am letting go of happiness in my life

10429404_10152745862572262_6148051151511782276_nNo, I do not want to live a life of misery where there is no hope, there is no faith, and there is no charity. I am not giving up on myself or on my life. Regardless of my age and where I am now at. So, then how is it that I am finally letting go of happiness in my life? What does that even mean for myself and those I am of service too? And, how is this important to acknowledge and surrender once for all?

First, it started with a simple question posited by my, then, three-year old daughter: “Daddy, are you happy?” A simple question from an innocent beautiful young woman. She is now four and getting ready to reach five years of age. It is a question where I am asking myself Are you happy? Furthermore, it begs a deeper question – What does it mean to be happy? I remember giving her a simple answer. More questions developed as I contemplated my understanding of happiness.

Second, I work with people who are struggling with addiction in their lives. Individuals seeking to discovery or rediscover who they are. And, move toward a healthier lifestyle. Part of this includes an understanding the power of addiction. The process of recovery, and engaging in a literal lifestyle change.

  • Mental and Emotional well-being
  • Physical and Nutritional well-being
  • Relational well-being
  • Financial well-being
  • Spiritual well-being

Coming back to that simple question – Daddy are you happy? I developed and tailored the topic more as it began to unfold in my own thoughts and understandings. Not only is this significant to understand in a recovery environment. It is significant to understand in the Christian lifestyle. Much like the addict, Christians begin a road of recovery. Christians are learning how to find who they are in their relation with Jesus Christ and a Sovereign and merciful God. This brings us to the third concept.

As Christians, we must ask how we come to understand what it means to be happy? Are we happy with who we are? What we are all about? And, how we are able to serve others in the same way that our Savior served those whom he ministered to? Sometimes, it is the simple question that launches us into self-reflection of who we are.

Finally, the more I pondered and see the events unfolding in our own communities: I am left to wonder – am I happy? And, are others happy?The reality is how complex this question is to answer.

A radical paradigm shift has occurred. My thinking about happiness, joy, contentment and coming to a place where there is peace of mind and balance has changed. This shift occurred because of a particular revelation. A realization how wrong many of us are going about in finding purpose and meaning in our lives. In short, we spend our time chasing after happiness.

Chasing after happiness means we are going after external things. This false perception rests on the idea of what will “make us happy.” It enslaves us with thoughts of resentment and bitterness. Meaning, we have developed belief systems and statements about what makes us happy. Happiness is contingent on obtaining material possessions, prestige, achievements and the accolades of family and friends. Granted, nothing wrong with this. It is how we set our own identity and definition of who we are, what our purpose is and what it is we are able to give. In essence, we are chasing after happiness and never satisfied or finding fulfillment in our lives.

This is how I have decided to let go of happiness. Far too long I have chased after external sources to bring about my own preconceived notion of what makes me happy. When I am not able to meet those things, or fulfill my expectations, disappointment and other negative thinking creates adverse behaviors and consequences. Even as Christians, we tend to cause disappointment in our own lives. Disappointment and a sense of failure in our own selves, in the sight of a Sovereign and loving God (who is merciful and compassionate) and those who are part of our sphere of influence.

In light of this personal revelation, let us explore the premise of how our perception develops. How this paradigm shift occurs when we explore the relationship between happiness, joy and contentment. For me, it is no longer about chasing after what I believe will make me happy (for there is nothing in this world that will ever make me happy). It is all about seeking ways to find enjoyment in the life. It is about finding ways to develop a deeper sense of being, how God perceives us and what He desires for us to grow in our own lives.

 

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Christianity and the depressed soul

Today, a great entertainer has passed away. 63 years of age, Robin Williams was notably one of the funniest and well verse actors of our time. My personal condolences to the family. I join with others in prayer. Prayer for comfort, peace and understanding. Many reports are coming out that Robin Williams suffered with depression. One may never fully comprehend the depth and struggle he has had with depression. As I mourn with fellow fans at this tragic news, my thoughts are turned toward the many other individuals who are not so famous. Individuals fighting their own silent battle with depression. Even I suffer from depression. It is a struggle for an individual to deal with – and most of the time it is dealt with alone.

As Christians, we understand that everything is based on faith. “Turn to Christ and pray,” is the common answer. However, those who are aware of those struggling through a season of depression do not understand the real internal struggle. This is why it is important for Christians to arm themselves with understanding of those who are afflicted by depression.

According to Relevant Magazine, there are five things Christians ought to know about depression. Part of this understanding is summed up here:

This isn’t to paint the Church with broad strokes. Incorrect beliefs about mental illness are pervasive throughout our culture. However, some of the “church-y” misconceptions about clinical depression and anxiety spring from a genuine desire to understand them scripturally. It’s necessary to generalize a bit to understand these attitudes: there are things well-meaning Christians tend to get wrong.

While there are some well-to do Christians that reach out to help one experiencing depression, the belief and understanding sometimes causes more harm than good for the individual who is suffering. For me, personally, I recall numerous times when I had found myself alone and someone would come by and say something to the effect of, “I don’t envy you.” There is nothing to envy. I do not wish anyone to suffer the way someone who is feeling depressed. The other cliche answer is, “Pray and God will heal you,” or, “Have enough faith and God will care for you.” While all of these statements are scripturally sound, the notion to merely pray is not enough for a person struggling.

In addition, there are some Christians that insist there is some demonic attack going on with the individual and therefore needs to be set from from this demonic oppression. While I personally believe that Satan is real and that there are demons, sometimes we tend to blame these things wrongly. This does not dissolve the reality that the adversary uses our weaknesses to his advantage – because he does. What this means is that we must understand that depression is a very real scientific aspect of those who experience it on various levels.

What then are fellow Christians supposed to do when it comes to helping someone who is dealing with depression?

First, show empathy not sympathy. Depression has many causes and is very complex. A person dealing with depression is not seeking sympathy from others. However, when shown empathy, there is a stronger connection that allows an individual to know there are people who do care. This is where true compassion comes in. Empathy is not wrapped up in warm cliche statements. Empathy is a real depth of reaching out to the other person and recognizing their pain. This is exemplified in the way Christ himself engaged with others. The compassion he had for them during his mortal ministry, and the compassion he has for us is amazing. If anything, Empathy is a Christ-like attribute married with compassion.

Secondly, because depression is a clinical diagnosis (and most who have depression also have anxiety), the last thing a person is not wanting to hear about is criticism and judgment. While most Christians may not willfully engage in judging and criticizing someone, there is the idea that because someone is experiencing depression, they must have some secret sin or are under demonic attack/oppression. On the contrary, making statements that quite possibly may be construed as critical and judgmental will further push an individual deeper into their depression.

Third, as Christians, we must recognize that depression is not necessarily a moral flaw and character defect. Depression happens through a variety of means. For instance, our service men and women are coming back with Post Traumatic Stress Disorders and experience depression because of the traumatic experience. Mothers suffer from Post-Partem Depression. Individuals caring for ailing parents may also suffer from some form of depression. In fact, according to Churchleaders.com, Pastors are prone to experiencing depression:

Most counselors and psychologists interviewed for this article agreed depression among clergy is at least as prevalent as in the general population. As many as 12% of men and 26% of women will experience major depression during their lifetime, according to the American Medical Association. “The likelihood is that one out of every four pastors is depressed,” said Matthew Stanford, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. But anxiety and depression in the pulpit are “markedly higher” in the last five years, said Smoot. “The current economic crisis has caused many of our pastors to go into depression.” Besides the recession’s strain on church budgets, depressed pastors increasingly report frustration over their congregations’ resistance to cultural change.

The Christian Post also states:

Depression and anxiety are caused mainly due to stressful activities pastors are required to undertake, such as grief counseling, fulfilling the competing demands of church members and delivering message every week during the worship service, the study noted.

Pastors work in the social human services field. Many counsel members of their congregations on a variety of issues an individual, family or couple may face. This is no different than those who work as Mental health practitioners, drug and alcohol counselors, where they are exposed to the trials and brokenness of individual clients.

Yes, there are a lot of resources and help out there for those who are suffering depression. Yet, the greatest resource a person experience depression can receive are those fellow Christians coming around and helping them through the season they are experiencing. It is not just about comforting words. It is about being present and being of service to those who are suffering. Being there listening, praying, comforting, and not allowing an individual to feel isolated and alone.

Finally, when a person is so despondent and take their own life, the last thing that is needed is condemnation. Only God himself knows the heart of man – we don’t. This engages in the debate as to whether or not Suicide is morally wrong, sinful and unjustified. To the person who is suffering severe depression, ending their life means ending the darkness they are enveloped in. This does not mean an advocacy for suicide as an answer. It means that when a person may take their own life, those who are left behind struggle to make sense of it all. The only real thing a Christian may be able to do during this time is to mourn with the family, pray with them and for them, and leave it in the hands of a Sovereign loving God. At the end of the day, depression is a struggle for the individual person – regardless of whether or not they are Christian.

As Christians, we are called to reach out with a Christ-like attitude to show forth compassion and empathy and mourn with them who mourn, and through our own humble ministry to reach out to depressed souls, we may bring them back into the compassion of Christ. Not through warm words that we hope make them feel better – only through being present with the spirit and love of Christ, no matter the outcome.

 

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Where Have All The Christians Gone? – Identity Fulfilled

Guest blogger Colleen Batcheider writes this on August 8, 2014 Where Have All The Christians Gone? – Identity Fulfilled. Here is an excerpt of the article:

Christianity calls for distinction of character, difference in action and determination of lifestyle. It is a decision that stems from belief and is evidenced through faith. We have raised a generation of chameleons who have sought relevance without redemption.

We have become so desperate to keep people in the church that we have refused to be the church. Drunkenness is permissible. Premarital sex is normative. Righteousness is ridiculed and purity is archaic.

This article raises a relevant and most important question: As a Christian, are we merely conforming to the idealism of what Christianity is all about? Or, are we willing to shed the illusion and false perception and realize that being a Christian is much more of character and integrity?

Today, it is more important to get back to what being a Christian truly is rather than conforming to a false idea of how we perceive Christianity is.

 
 

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{Talk to me Seattle} “Come Follow me” – The Call of Christ

{Talk to me Seattle} “Come Follow me” – The Call of Christ

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth.

“Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
~ Matthew 9:9 NIV ~


People are always seeking after something in order to find fulfillment in their lives. Today, another great message from Ballard Church. This message focused on Matthew 9:9-13 and the calling of Matthew. The question proposed is: how are we following Christ and what does it mean to get up and follow after Him?

The guest pastor spoke on his own life and growing up within the Christian faith. His perception became one where he played the game – “Jesus Says,” (as it relates to the old game Simon Says) where rules were followed. As he relates how he followed the rules, he became cynical and judgmental toward those who were not following after the same rules. In relation to this, the Pharisees of the First Century had built up all these rules and requested that people change and follow the rules or they were not considered “righteous” in their eyes. Christ challenged this perception when, not only, did he call Matthew to follow after Him, he also went into the home with Matthew, other tax collectors and those considered sinners.

Today, many Christians may find themselves playing this “Jesus Says” game with those who are deemed sinners and are liken to the tax collectors of the First Century. Part of this is possibly due to fear of being around those whom we otherwise may judge and are cynical of. This is motivated by fear: Do we fear being around those who are not like us? Christ himself did not find it a problem to surround himself with the tax collectors and sinners. To Christ, these were the one’s who needed healing. These are the individuals who needed the mercy and love that Christ offers to one and all. In reality, no matter where we may find ourselves, we are sick because we all are sinners. The difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that we heeded the call to follow Christ.

As Christians, we must come to admit, acknowledge and have a deep awareness of our need to follow Christ and Christ alone. It is through following Christ are we able to find fulfillment in our own lives. In turn, through our following of Christ, we are able to approach those who also are sick and in need of following Christ – reaching out to them with the very love Christ has for all those who are seeking.

For Christians, we are being called out of our own arrogance and self-righteousness. We are being called out of the seat of the scornful and the seat of judgment. We are being called forth, not to follow after specified rules and regulations, we are merely called to follow after Christ. For those who are not Christians, Christ is calling you to follow him despite where you are currently at in your own life.

Here is the two perceptions from this message:

  1. Pharisee’s say – Change and then you are able to join us and follow us
  2. Christ says – Join us and follow after me and your life will change

Today, many people are like the Pharisees when they say, “When you are able to change your life and comply with the particular rules that are established then you are able to change and are able to join and follow us.” Yet, instead it is Christ’s message that says we simply get up and follow after Him and in so doing, we are able to change our lives through the power, love and relationship cultivated through Jesus Christ.

Here are four things to keep in mind:

  1. Being a sinner is not a disqualifer to follow Jesus Christ. In fact, the reason one is a sinner shows there is a need to seek after redemption that comes through Jesus Christ. Being a sinner is actually a pre-requisite in following Christ.
  2. Being a non-believer i snot a disqualifer. Even a Christian who is unsure of his/her beliefs is not a disqualifer in following after Jesus Christ.
  3. Invitation to follow Christ is an invitation to a relationship with Christ. The Christian faith is not established on a prescribed set of doctrines (while they are important); the Christian faith is predicated on the relationship we are able to cultivate with the Savior through our willingness to come to him and follow after him.
  4. Following after Christ ought to force me to focus on where I am at in my relationship with the Savior and not where any other individual is at or how they are living their lives.

Authentic Christian living is simply about following after the Savior. Whether you are a sinner (for we all are sinners), a non-believer or a Christian in a season of doubting their faith and relationship with Jesus Christ, or a Christian who continues to strive for a deeper and more fulfilling relationship. Wherever one is, the call is simple: Come follow me. We either stand up and follow Christ or remain seated and choose not to follow after him. What are you seeking after today in order to find peace and fulfillment in your life? Are you getting caught up in following rules and regulations or are you interested in following Christ?

 

 

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CA Open letter to readers and followers

This is directed to those who are readers and followers of this blog.

First off, thank you for taking the time to make Christian Authenticity part of your daily reading and devotional. There are many various blogs and inspiring articles out there that one is able to read. Again, thank you for your time and readership. Secondly, it is the hope that Christian Authenticity continues to gain more readership, social media likes and shares, and continued growth. Regarding this, the goal is to add more contributing writers to CA who have a passion to share their thoughts and commentary on how they are living out an authentic Christian life. In addition, not only is CA seeking contributing article submissions, guest posts, we are also seeking for financial contributions to start paying for the ability to implement videos into blog posts, and potentially provide nominal compensation for those who do write for Christian Authenticity.

Finally, CA is interested in how the articles are helping you in your faith and how it is inspiring you to walk in a more genuine and authentic Christian life. This is your chance to provide a letter in how the articles inspire you, provide feedback in what you – the readers – are looking for in articles and also any questions and concerns regarding some of the areas of your walk with Christ that you are struggling with.

I look forward hearing from you and hearing your thoughts and feedbacks. You can leave your comments and suggestions in the comment section or email them privately to christianauthenticity@gmail.com

 
 

Psalm 118: The Lord’s Steadfast love endures

Psalm 118: The Lord’s Steadfast love endures

Oh give thanks to the Lord for he is good;

For his steadfast love endures forever!

***

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;

the Lord answered me and set me free.

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.

What can man do to me?

The Lord is on my side as my helper;

I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.

~Psalm 118: 1, 5-6 ESV ~


In his work, Commentary on Psalms Volume 4, John Calvin makes this introductory note:

At the time when this psalm was penned, whenever that was, David having attained to the possession of royal power, and aware that he reigned for the common safety of the Church, calls upon all the children of Abraham to ponder attentively this grace. He also recounts his dangers, the magnitude and variety of which would have slain him a hundred times, had not God wonderfully succored him. From this it is obvious that he came to the throne of the kingdom, neither by his own policy, nor by the favor of men, nor by any human means. At the same time, he informs us that he did not rashly or by wicked intrigues rush forward and take forcible possession of the kingdom of Saul, but that he was appointed and established king by God himself. Let us remember that it was the design of the Spirit, under the figure of this temporal kingdom, to describe the eternal and spiritual kingdom of God’s Son, even as David represented his person.

Reading through this Psalms for a morning devotion, the thought struck me: How have I turned to the Lord in the times of my distress? More importantly, How have I continued to follow him beyond my own trials? These two questions are important because it shows our character and devotion to God, or a lack of trusting in Him in all things.

Many times, we come to the throne of grace because of some form of distress. Seeking refuge from God, blessings, comfort, and dare to cast our burdens at the feet of Him. Yet, when we make it through the distressing season, we soon forget to seek after God. King David did not forget to seek after God. He followed God and walked with God each day of his life.

Living out an authentic Christian life is not merely following and seeking refuge from a Sovereign God when we are distressed for a season. It is an ongoing relationship where we learn to trust in God and gain confidence that no matter how the enemy surrounds us, we are able to take comfort in knowing God is on our side.

This is because Jesus Christ is the stone that the builders rejected and has become the chief cornerstone of our lives. Today, many reject Christ and the simple message of the Gospel. Yet, as we strive to live out the Gospel in our lives, it is through this active testimony that we will challenge the present thoughts and powers of our day and time.

 

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{Talk to me Seattle} Blessed to bless others

{Talk to me Seattle} Blessed to bless others

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which we swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

~ Deuteronomy 8:17-18 ~


 

Another wonderful message from Pastor Rob Stewart of Ballard Church today. The message of his sermon focused on the purpose and reality of wealth. This is in comparison of what our modern society seems to have lost focus. The world strives to build up treasure for their own pleasure and enjoyment. Securing the latest modern technology as a must have when others are not in a position to afford such luxuries. The privilege of owning a home, ability to go on vacation, purchase better vehicles, and even trading in a late model smartphone for a newer smartphone. Our society is addicted to consumerism. The problem here is that there is nothing wrong with consumerism in general. The problem is how we approach consumerism and wealth.

Pastor Stewart showed a picture of a billboard in Seattle: “Nothing should come between you and everything” and it pictured a family with black and white products that are part of our everyday lives. This sign sums up the constant pressure where our society is constantly moving toward better things. In other words, modern society is driven by social consumeristic perspectives. This raises a very important question. How are we orienting ourselves within the Christian Faith in relation to social consumer pressure?

From the Washington Times.

From the Washington Times.

If there is anything our modern society teaches us is this: there is a disparity between the wealthy class of our society as opposed to those who are impoverished. This culture war between the rich and the poor seems to be widening at a high rate of speed. Talk of wealth redistribution has come up and engaged many people on both sides of the political arena. It is even reported that Pope Francis called for a legitimate redistribution of economic benefitsThis conflict is played out in our own society where there is a call for higher wages than the standard federal minimum wage. This is based on the idea that there is a huge inequality in those who earn minimum wage than those who are earning more than the standard minimum wage.

In fact, according to Christianity Today:

The U.S. economy is distributed much more unequally than other Western economies. By the most common measures of inequality, the U.S. is ranked as the 39th most unequal economy (out of 136 countries). The U.S. is ranked near Uganda, Jamaica, Cameroon, and Cote d’Ivoire. Turkmenistan, Mali, and Cambodia have greater income inequality than the United States. Canada is ranked 101st; the entire European Union is ranked 111th. Sweden is considered the most equal nation.

What then are we, as authentic Christians, to understand about the purpose and nature of wealth, wealth redistribution and following Jesus Christ? The answer is this: God does not shame people who have obtained wealth. Neither does God punish and look down upon those who are impoverished. We are blessed whether we have or whether we are lacking. It is about being content despite where we find ourselves. The Apostle Paul himself writes to the Christians in his letter to the Phillipian’s that he learned to be content regardless of being in need or not.

Another aspect of wealth and authentic Christian living is based on the admonishment of Paul as he writes to Timothy:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant not to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. ~ 1 Timothy 6:17-19

What Paul is saying is that we are to recognize the spiritual gifts of wealth. First, it is for our enjoyment so long as we do not become arrogant and take credit for the work in receiving the blessings of prosperity. Second, we must take the wealth we are blessed with and give to those who are hurting, broken and in need. In this understanding, we are called out to utilize those things that we are blessed with to help restore those who are broken and repair those who are in need of repairing.

We are left with the understanding that just as we are blessed by the Grace of God, we must also reach out and show that very same grace to others who stand in need. In need of God’s love, restoring hope and redeeming power that is only through Jesus Christ. This allows us to walk in humility and fulfill those good works that God has already prepared for us to walk into (Ephesians 2;8-10).

Remembering that wealth is a blessing from God, we must turn from worshiping the wealth that we accumulate and utilize all available resources we have to bless those who are in need. This is summed up when the Rich young ruler came to Christ and asked of the master, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The call to give up our worldly perception and love of those worldly possessions allows us to give our all in surrender to Christ in order to be of service to others and reach others who are despondent and in need of restoring hope. In addition, we who are impoverished must turn from the love of money and gain in this life and actively seek after the kingdom of God – knowing we will be blessed with greater riches in this life and in the life to come.

 

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Don’t Waste Your Life

Timothy Berman:

A wonderful and beautifully written article on how we as Christians ought not to squander the life we have been given.

Originally posted on Grace Starts Here:

By: Alina Sopt

What is the meaning of life? Is it to be happy, to accumulate wealth, to create a healthy family? Or is it to indulge in personal pleasures like gamboling, drugs, or sports obsession? Better yet, do you define a “good life” as Sally and Jim retired near the sea shore at the early age of 58, collecting sea shells and fishing when they’re not lounging around in their million-dollar beach house? 

If you said yes to any above, you’re wasting your life.

Pastor John Piper coined the interesting phrase: “Jesus saves from the American Dream.” 

In order to understand the dangers of the American Dream, one must understand that they were created for more. 1) The Bible explicitly states that God created us for His glory. The Creator of the universe did not create us to boost His ego or complete Himself, for no one is greater than…

View original 857 more words

 
 

Finding peace and balance

Finding peace and balance

For the past couple of Sundays, I have attended the 9:15 am service at Ballard Church in Seattle, Washington. Pastor Rob Stewart is currently preaching a series entitled {Talk To Me Seattle}. This morning sermon focused on Matthew 5:6, Isaiah 32:16-17 and Psalm 85:10. The topic: Having a deep hunger and thirst for righteousness and finding fulfillment in satisfying those deep hungers and thirsts. The focal point of this sermon is finding peace and balance in one’s life.

God’s desire is for us to come to know righteousness. Not in the sense that we are to fulfill any legalistic laws in order to garner blessings. The truth is that God’s desire for us to come to know righteousness means that we come with a deep ache to find true peace and balance that is only granted through His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Matthew 5:6

What is righteousness? Based on the message this morning, Righteousness is essentially Shalom. According to one website, the Hebrew for Shalom means “Peace” and the root word is Shalam, which means “To restore” and connotates a sense of “wholeness and completeness.” In this context, we read the passage of Matthew 5:6 as “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for peace, completeness and wholeness, for they will be filled.” It is the idea that we come with a deep ache to find fulfillment in our own lives. Seeking to be filled with a sense of wholeness and completeness.

This is a deep intimate desire to right the imbalance we may feel in all aspects of our own lives. The recognition that there is imbalance in the lives of others. Through our recognition of our own imbalance in our own lives, coming to quench that hunger and thirst that cause us to ache and seek peace: we are then able to turn to others with deep compassion and reach out to them in order to help them find peace and balance in their own lives.

Along with this, we come to know that in finding ourselves in a deep ache to satisfy our own hunger and thirst, the blessing is knowing that Christ is there with us in the midst of our own imbalance. In fact, one does not have to be right with God in order to seek Him. It is not about fulfilling particular laws of obedience before we are blessed and satisfied in fulfillment of finding balance and peace. Christ is there with us in the midst of our own storms where we struggle to make sense of the things going on in our own lives. Jesus is on our side when we ache deeply for peace and balance.

Today, are you finding yourself with a deep hunger and thirst for balance in your own life? Seeking for true peace of mind? It is when we turn our hearts toward Christ that He comes and gives us “living waters” where we find that peace and balance.

 

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How religious pretense is a danger to authenticity

How religious pretense is a danger to authenticity

Within the cultivation of an authentic Christian lifestyle, there is a sacred religious piety that evolves within the individual. This piety is not fulfilling any type of rote of religious practice. Piety is the hallmark of one’s reverence toward that which is sacred and holy. There is genuine piety in a person’s relationship with a Sovereign Heavenly Father and then there is a pretense of piety that offends a Sovereign God. This religious pretense is a danger to authenticity because it is more of an outward appearance rather than a genuine inward change and transformation.

In Matthew 23:23-26 describes the religious pretense of the scribes and pharisee’s:

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full [b]of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

It is one thing for someone to walk in disobedience. However, it is entirely more dangerous to walk in disobedience and present a more outwardly appearance of maintaining compliance to those same commandments. More dangerous because the focus of the individual is not on the inward self that is defiled, it is maintaining an appearance to hide the inward defiled self. Genuine authenticity in the Christian life begins with an inward transformation. It is cleansing of one’s heart, soul and mind. Through this process, the inward self flows outwardly in order for us to grow in love and reverence of the sacred and holy.

Are you living a life that is based on outward glamour and religious pretense? Or, have you had a genuine change of the inward self where piety has taken root and is producing a truly transformed authentic Christian life?

 

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Loving God – Fundamental and important command

This morning’s devotion and commentary comes from Our Daily Bread by Philip Yancey.

When asked by a lawyer to identify the most important rule in life, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). In those words, Jesus summed up what God most desires from us.

We are not merely called to come unto Christ. We are not merely called to take up our cross on a daily basis. We are not even merely called to preach the Gospel and heal those who are broken and ill. None of this is possible, in fact, unless we understand one simple truth: Authentic Christian living involves us developing a romance with our Heavenly Father. We love God and seek to deepen that love for Him and with Him.

Love is the foundation of a healthy relationship. As we seek after and draw near to our Heavenly Father, we do so because we have a desire to love Him. Within this deepening love comes trust. How are we to love God?

I wonder how I can possibly learn to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind. Neal Plantinga remarks on a subtle change in this commandment as recorded in the New Testament. Deuteronomy charges us to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength (6:5). Jesus added the word mind. Plantinga explains, “You shall love God with everything you have and everything you are. Everything.”

We come to love our Heavenly Father in the same way that a child develops their love for their own earthly Father. Through the dependence and reliance on time spent together, receiving appropriate direction and counsel, being able to come and discuss our difficulties and challenges we face, knowing that our Heavenly Father is there. In today’s society, there are many who have not experienced a healthy love of a Father. Today is a day to turn to the one true Father of all and humbly come before him with all your brokenness and heartache and lay it all on the alter of prayer. Seeking God daily and drawing near to God brings about subtle and significant changes in our own perceptions, attitudes and beliefs. We grow in love with a Father that is for us and with us in all things and in all ways.

For many today, this may be quite difficult. Blogger JMJ Mitchell writes this in her blog Endless Strength:

There are similar passages in Mark and Luke where Jesus says that we must love God more than anything else…more than our family and friends.  This is a hard thing to comprehend because I think it’s a pretty normal thing for most of us to feel like we love our spouse more than we could love anyone or anything else. Or maybe we look at our children and we acknowledge a level of love that we cannot fathom being surpassed.  Yet, Jesus still commands us to love God the most.

She continues:

The homily centered on the fact that we are not to love God because HE has any NEED for our love.  That idea is preposterous because God, Himself, IS love.  There is nothing we can give to God.  But, our happiness (whether to be had on this earth, in this lifetime or in the next life) depends on our ability to love God the most.  If we love God more than we love our family, our friends, our things, our jobs, our activities…then we order our actions in such a way that we are happy.

Because we come to love our eternal Father in heaven, we order our lives in a manner where blessings are able to flow outwardly. In fact, the passage states that we are not only to Love God with everything, we are also commanded to love our neighbor as we love our own self. This is selfless love – giving of ourselves over to another person. It is through our deepening and strengthening love of God, that we strengthen and deepen our love for our families, for those within our churches, and those within our communities? Want to learn how to be compassionate person? Love God and learn how our Sovereign Father is compassionate.

How have we forgotten the true desire of our hearts to come to love God first and foremost in our lives? Living authentic Christian lives begins with obeying this simple command – to Love God with everything we have. how are you loving God today?

 

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5 key principles defeat produces growth

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, and how you can still come out of it.” -Anonymous

First time in Seahawk franchise history did the team and the 12th man obtain the Superbowl championship. Those who watched the game saw the defeat of the Bronco’s (43-8).  The Seattle Seahawks franchise has won 8 division titles, 2 NFC Titles and now 1 NFL Superbowl title. Compare this to the Bronco’s franchise history record of 9 Division titles, 7 AFC Titles and 2 NFL Superbowl titles. In addition, the Seattle Seahawks had gone to the Superbowl twice in their franchise history while the Denver Bronco’s went 7 times to the Superbowl. For Seattle, this Superbowl win showed the fans that our team has grown and became one of the best teams in the NFL. The Denver Bronco’s also proved that they had become one of the best teams as well. Yet, in this last superbowl, the Bronco’s faced an abysmal defeat. Faced with a strong defense, offense and special teams – the Denver Bronco’s mustered all that they could to do their best despite the onslaught they faced.

So, what does this have to do with living an authentic Christian lifestyle? Simple, really. In life we face our wins and we face our defeats collectively in various seasons. As the saying goes: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. The question is – how do we handle defeat? And, more importantly, how does defeat foster growth? Here is how.

1. Accept the present reality

We may not know the exact thoughts of Payton Manning and his team as they realized their team faced great odds of winning against the Seattle Seahawks. However, it may be safe to consider that the looming reality this game was not going to be won caused them to question their ability and purpose. In life, we question the reality of the situation and how defeated we have become. We may have drawn on the strength of others, received encouragement and empowerment from wise friends and our own counsel with God. Our faith is placed properly and yet, it happens, we fail in some way and become defeated.

Accepting the present reality of our defeat begins the process of growth. This is because, when we are ready to accept the fact that we have been defeated, we actually release ourselves from emotional and spiritual bondage of self-inflicted suffering. We free ourselves from spiritual torment in questioning God and our own faith. Through the power of acceptance, properly placed in Jesus Christ, we are able to move forward in how to utilized those moments of defeat as stepping stones toward greater growth and empowerment. In fact, through acceptance, we do not allow denial to take root in our lives.

This does not mean that we say “I am utterly defeated and therefore it is no point”. We still have to live, we still have to apply ourselves and continue to drive toward the goal. In fact, watching the game, the Bronco’s did not give up, they continued to strive for the goal. They continued to play and made some really good plays within the game itself. Despite the fact that they were too far behind to win the game. We merely do not stop living our lives and live out our faith because we are defeated. We live out our lives and faith while fully aware and accepting of the fact that we are defeated and still move forward despite this.

2. Focus on what can be improved

Once we accept the reality of our defeat we free and empower ourselves to look at what needs to be improved. We look at what is working and what areas are weak. Then, we come to strengthen those areas that are weak. In Football (as much in all sports) we review the nature of our loss and investigate what may have been accomplished differently. We are not focused on the would have, could have, should have. We focus on what we are capable of improving.

This is where it takes work. Hard work and it begins with being Honest, open and willing to make necessary changes – even sacrifices in our own lives. Here, we take personal inventory of our own moral values, strengths and weaknesses. This is especially true if we find ourselves defeated by temptation.

3. True defeat comes when we give up and true growth comes when we rise above our defeats

There are two different types of defeat. The first is what this article focuses on – those moments in life where we experience defeat during various seasons of our lives and the ability that we are able to bounce back and turn them into growing points in our faith and life. The second is our own volition of giving up and not even applying ourselves and accepting the defeat because of our own self-pity. The difference between the two is one becomes a victim and seeks others to rescue them – sometimes persecuting those who may  not understand their plight. This involves blaming others for the misfortunes that have befallen them.

However, with the first one, an individual takes responsibility and accountability for their defeat and realize that just because they have failed and do not see themselves as a victim of the circumstances. While we want others to understand our plight and misfortune, it is up to us in how we turn them around and grow from them.

Hence, we decide to allow ourselves to become utterly defeated or decide to utilize our defeats to strengthen our resolve to become better people for our families, employment and community.

4. Acknowledge that it is a process that takes time

People in our society today are caught up in the nature of instant gratification. It has to happen right this very moment. Yet, the nature of growth is something that takes time and only occurs in stages. Growth from our own defeat takes time. It also takes patience.

The season for Football is over with. Regardless of whether a team has won or loss is not as important in what they are doing to prepare for the next season. In fact, each time has a fresh start at the beginning of the season.

For us, as Christians, we move through various seasons and stages of life. We simply do not stop growing and learning. Behind every defeat we face, there is a new season opening up that avails us the opportunity to grow in better and healthier ways where we become conquers through Jesus Christ (Romans 8:31-39). By acknowledging that it will take time and that our growing into spiritual maturity is a process of growth, we avoid becoming stagnant.

5. Realize that it is through Christ that we are able to overcome – even our own defeats

Faith is not built on the aspect that life is easy. In fact, faith only grows in those times that challenge us, where we face all manner of obstacles, and even face our own defeats. Utilizing our faith only comes from how we have cultivated it through the more troubled and challenging seasons of our lives. Without our faith, there is no hope.

For Christians, this comes in knowing that Christ is not only our Savior, it is coming to understand and know that as He had overcome the world – we are empowered (through him) to overcome our own obstacles and challenges. This is the promised blessings that we have.

No one knows defeat more so than the Savior of the world. He faced defeat daily when challenged by the religious leaders. He faced his defeat at the trial. He faced his defeat when being flogged. He faced his defeat when nailed to the cross and lifted for all to see him. He faced all of these with an eye single to the Glory and Will of God who had sent him (John 17:3) so that through Him, he is able to bring about the immortal and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39). Christ faced his defeats because He knew that sin and death will ultimately be defeated by his sacrifice for all of humanity.

Living an authentic Christian life is about living in the manner of how Christ lived. This includes facing our defeats in those times and realizing the greater picture that our defeats will ultimately lead to our own spiritual growth and maturation. This is only accomplished as we come to Him on a daily basis and follow after his counsel and his guidance. This does not mean we will live a tranquil life, it means that when life challenges and defeat us in those seasons, we are able to rise up with faith and hope and become conquerors through Jesus Christ.

 

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I am with you and for you

Human beings were created to be social creatures. We are naturally designed to communicate with one another, to live with one another and to develop healthy interpersonal relationships. In this life we have allies and we, unfortunately, have enemies. No greater ally do we have than that in Jesus Christ. For if he is for us, then who is able to stand against us (Romans 8:31)? Today’s devotion comes from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young:

You face nothing alone – nothing! When you feel anxious know that you are focusing on the visible world and leaving Me out of the picture. The remedy is simple: Fix your eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. Verbalize your trust in Me, the Living One who sees you always. I will get you safely through this day and all your days. but you can find Me only in the present. Each day is a precious gift from My Father. How ridiculous to grasp for future gifts when today’s is set before you! Receive today’s gift gratefully, unwrapping it tenderly and delving into its depths. As you savor this gift, you find Me.

The assurance a Christian has is their faith and the words of God that as we draw near to Him, he will draw near to us (James 4:8). We have a divine relationship with our creator where He is there with us and for us no matter what things we face here in life. This is where true peace is found. Are you drawing near to Christ and the Father today? What is preventing you from drawing near and knowing that Christ is with you and for you? The promise is that God will neither leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6 and Hebrews 13:5). The only time we feel forsaken and left alone is due to our own volition and it is our own design that we have left and forsaken our Loving Sovereign Father.

 

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Dilemma of Obedience

This is not about works or grace in the current contextual understanding. It is about hearing the Lord speak to us in our present day lives. Oswald Chambers has this to say:

Get into the habit of saying, “Speak, Lord,” and life will become a romance (1 Samuel 3:9). Every time circumstances press in on you, say, “Speak, Lord,” and make time to listen. Chastening is more than a means of discipline— it is meant to bring me to the point of saying, “Speak, Lord.” Think back to a time when God spoke to you. Do you remember what He said? Was it Luke 11:13 , or was it 1 Thessalonians 5:23? As we listen, our ears become more sensitive, and like Jesus, we will hear God all the time.

As Christians, we become so enraptured with the doctrinal disputations of one another that we fail to see the simple message and blessings that are inherit with following Christ. The Psalmist says that the man of God meditates upon the Law of God day and night (Psalm 1). Today, Christians meditate upon the words of God breathed through the scriptures that he has provided. These scriptures contain the message of God; as revealed to men that He has called. This is the dilemma of obedience. We forget to listen and ask the Lord to speak to us. Here is where personal revelation comes alive and where we learn to walk in obedience to the voice and will of God.

In order for us to walk in obedience to the will and desire of our Heavenly Father, we must approach with an open heart and mind – asking the Lord to speak and then take a moment to listen for His voice and direction. It is the husband and wife who come together and say “Speak Lord” and await their own revelation to continue to deepen their faith and devotion. It is the son or daughter who comes to the alter of prayer and says, “Speak Lord”, and await revelation in how they go about their pathway toward academic pursuits and potential careers. It is the recovering alcoholic and addict that comes to the alter and say, “Speak Lord” and then receive their own revelation in how they are able to be empowered to surrender their own powerlessness over the type of addiction they are suffering. It is the pastor who comes before God and says, “Speak Lord” and then awaits for revelation in how to speak to and instruct the congregation he Shepard’s.

Availing ourselves to not only ask the Lord to speak but also to receive revelation and instruction shatters the dilemma of obedience. For it is through our obedience to the revelation God spoken to us that we walk in faith and accomplish His will and desire.

Today, are you asking the Lord to speak into your heart and life and awaiting His revelation for your life?

 

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Dilemma of great expectations

I once asked a counselor what the major issues were that brought people to him. Without hesitation he said, “The root of many problems is broken expectations; if not dealt with, they mature into anger and bitterness.”

~ Joe Stowell, Our Daily Bread – Great Expectations ~

Expectation is the strong belief that something will happen or will be the case in the future. In the Christian life, there are some wonderful things we believe will happen that are promised blessings. These are wonderful expectations to hold to. However, there are those particular strong beliefs that we hold to and they never happen or be the case. These are broken expectations and cause serious dilemma in our own lives when they are not dealt with in an appropriate and healthy manner. However, many of us take on the nature of expectations, as well as hold others to those expectations we have established. This is not to say we steer clear from established expectations in our lives and in the lives of other people. However, what is being said here that too high of an expectation may lead one down the pathway of judgmental and critical perceptions of themselves and other people that become counter-productive and unhealthy.

Living an authentic Christian life becomes easy the more we turn our will and life over to our loving Heavenly Father and decide to follow the example of Jesus Christ. The key here is that Christ showed compassion with everyone he met – including the religious leaders of the day. Following the example of Christ, when we face broken expectations within ourselves or in other people – may we move to a more compassionate and empathetic understanding than one who is overtly critical and judgmental.

 This is important to understand, for in this life, we have available opportunities to allow ourselves to be vessels that draw all men unto Christ. Whether through our own act and away of living or the nature in which we serve other people and treat others as we desire to be treated. Shedding off the more benign expectations, we are better equipped to focus on the more established expectations of our faith in Jesus Christ. These expectations motivate us to share the message of the Gospel to those who find themselves entrenched in their own broken expectations.

Let us not become overtaken by the bitterness and anger of those broken expectations where our own faith is jeopardized.

 

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Freeing those in bondage

NASB Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Daily Bible, HardcoverIn the Life Principles Daily Bible by Charles F. Stanley, the readings are: Exodus 3:1-4:31; Psalm 16:1-6; Proverbs 5:1-6; Matthew 18:1-20.

Reading the particular life lessons included in the passages – a theme about going before and setting the captives free. Moses was called by God to go before the Pharaoh in seeking the freedom and liberation of the Hebrews. Today, in our culture and society, we are like Moses. Called to go before the leaders of the world to set free those who are enslaved to all manner of sin and appetites of human desire. These particular appetites are contrary to the nature and being of a Sovereign and loving Heavenly Father. As Christians, we serve a “God who is alive, present and gives life and breath to everything to everything that lives (Acts 17:25). He is whether anything remains or not.” 

For many of us, we shrink back into thinking that only certain individuals have the gift to go into the world and bring to Christ those who are hurting, broken, and enslaved to our depraved appetites. The reality is, we all are called and chosen to preach the gospel in accordance to our capacity to do so. Moses did not think of himself as an influential speaker to fulfill the task God had placed onto his shoulders. Yet, despite our own frailties and inabilities, it is through our own humble submission to a Sovereign God that we are able to obey his words. In so doing, “He will make us competent for whatever task He has given us.” 

The best way this is accomplished is through our own humility where our concern is no longer resting upon particular social status, public opinion. Instead, God, through Jesus Christ, encourages us to place trust in him (like children place their trust in their parents), regardless what others may think. Through our own submission to the will of a Sovereign God and following Christ through our ability to emulate His teachings and examples in our daily life, we are able to bring about the salvation of others.

God wants “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). That includes children.

As we come together in fellowship, to pray for those whom are broken, hurting and enslaved to their appetites, we are coming together in His name. This is in order for us to receive encouragement and empowerment to serve one another and our community for the sake of Jesus Christ. As we focus on Christ, and follow our Father in Heaven, we are given powerful and yet simple tools to draw all men unto Christ. It is through this, that we are moved into a position to free those who are in bondage and lead them to their own inheritance and blessings the Gospel of Christ brings about in each one of our lives.

The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; you support my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me (Psalm 16:1-6).

Inclining our own attention to our Heavenly Father’s counsel and the example of Jesus Christ, we begin to gain understanding, observe discretion and our mouths reserve knowledge of the things of God (Proverbs 5:1-6).

 

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Planting and nurturing a living tree

There is something incredibly hopeful about a fresh start. I suppose at one time or another we have all wanted to start again with a clean slate.

~

January is almost coming to a close and the question rests upon where people are at with their resolutions of the new year? Have you lost steam in accomplishing your goals? Or, are you increasing and meeting your goals with success? Depending on where one finds themselves in relation to the first day of the new year and today, we must take inventory of how we are progressing in our lives. Reading through the Ensign (published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). The First Presidency Message focuses on the nature of repentance and how individuals are able to start off with a clean slate in their lives. President Uchtdorf provides an anecdote of how one purchases a new computer where the hard drive is fresh. However, over time, the computer becomes cluttered with all types of files and electronic debris:

I love getting a new computer with a clean hard drive. For a time it works perfectly. But as the days and weeks pass by and more and more programs get installed (some intentional, some not so intentional), eventually the computer begins to stall, and things it used to do quickly and efficiently become sluggish. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all. Even getting it to start can become a chore as the hard drive becomes cluttered with miscellaneous chaos and electronic debris. There are times when the only recourse is to reformat the computer and start over.

I recall numerous occasions where the arduous task of reformatting and re-installing the necessary software onto my own laptop took several hours to a couple of days. A task most do not look forward to. However, it is an essential task to complete in order to bring the device back to a more optimal state where the slate is fresh and clean. President Uchtdorf relates this to how we start off the new year with a fresh page, ready to be written upon. The past year being behind us.

Human beings can likewise become cluttered with fears, doubts, and burdensome guilt. The mistakes we have made (both intentional and unintentional) can weigh upon us until it may seem hard to do what we know we should.

He continues:

In the case of sin, there is a wonderful reformatting process called repentance that allows us to clear our internal hard drives of the clutter that burdens our hearts. The gospel, through the miraculous and compassionate Atonement of Jesus Christ, shows us the way to cleanse our souls of the stain of sin and once again become new, pure, and as innocent as a child.

Our journey toward a more authentic Christian lifestyle ought to focus on the nature of establishing goals where our lives become transformed in such a way that we begin to find peace, empowerment, and a renewed sense of being. This transformation is not easy, and sometimes takes the necessary steps to reformat our own “hard drive” in which we can get back to a more operable sense of perception.

Maintaining and sustaining the journey of a transformed life is to picture a tree being planted. It takes years for the tree to grow. The experiences that will ever shape the tree, the shedding of leaves, the new growth of trees. The nurture it takes to ensure the health and vitality of the tree includes the necessary pruning. In our own lives, we must engage in the same process of pruning and nurturing one does in caring for a planted tree. However, this does not happen over night. It is not dependent on others. We are the caretakers of our own life. In order for us to live a truly transformed authentic Christian life, we must decide now to take action and plant our own tree.

This includes the pruning process of removing those things from our lives that have held us back, shedding of habits and sins that have led us down various paths. The more we nurture our spiritual lives, the more abundance our growth becomes and the more we root ourselves into the ground of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Again, how are you in fulfilling those new year resolutions? If you have not begun the process of transforming your life into a more authentic Christian lifestyle, take the time now to plant that spiritual tree and begin the process of nurturing it.

 

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Obtaining knowledge by learning through faith

“Let us continue, brethren and sisters, to work in the name of the Lord our God; gathering wisdom and intelligence day by day, that every circumstance which transpires may minister to our good.”

Lorenzo Snow, December 7, 1869 ~

Reading through the first chapter of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snowthe parable of the talents comes to mind. In the Graco-Roman First Century, Talents referenced the amount of weighted gold an individual possessed. The moral lesson here, and as applicable in the context of the first chapter of the manual, is that each one of us possess certain abilities to learn, comprehend and understand. In short, we start off in different capacities in our ability to learn. Living an authentic Christian lifestyle is based on how we are applying our capacity to learn and increase in knowledge and understanding. This is summed up in the following statement:

In this system of religion that you and I have received there is something grand and glorious, and something new to learn every day, that is of great value. And it is not only our privilege but it is necessary that we receive these things and gather these new ideas.

The nature of religion is not so much about dogmatism or doctrinal assertion. The nature of religion is based on aligning oneself to a particular philosophical belief system in which we learn and understand the value and importance of maturing spiritually in our present life. Spiritual maturation is not something that happens in a vacuum. An individual must obtain particular knowledge and understanding. They must grow through a process of transformation. This can only happen through our ability to learn. The scriptures are replete with passages that differentiate the wise and the fool.  The wise increases in knowledge and understanding, ever learning and discerning. Unlike the wise, the fool is not careful in how they learn and mature in their own lives:

There are some who do not learn, and who do not improve as fast as they might, because their eyes and their hearts are not upon God; they do not reflect, neither do they have that knowledge which they might have; they miss a good deal which they might receive. We have got to obtain knowledge before we obtain permanent happiness; we have got to be wide awake in the things of God.

What this means is that for us to develop a more authentic Christian lifestyle, we must understand the virtue of learning. Understand the nature of gaining appropriate knowledge in our lives to where we are not only increasing our own talents – we are empowered to help others increase in their own talents and understanding as well. This comes back to the purpose and application of the parable of the talents. Two of the three men were given different weighted amounts of gold. The first two invested and increased their talents. The third hid his talents.

How we increase our knowledge, empower ourselves to learn through the faith and grace of God is by exerting ourselves, engage in faithful living, and persevere:

There must be a labor of mind, an exertion of those talents that God has given us; they must be put into exercise. Then, being enlightened by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, we may get those ideas and that intelligence and those blessings that are necessary to prepare us for the future, for sceneries that are to come.

This fits in well with the nature of the parable because the master did not commend the three individuals on how to utilize their talents. Each one possessed the capacity to discern and apply their understanding in how to increase their particular lot in life. Today, living in our culture and society, we tend to focus on the idea that God provides and until he provides, we sit and wait. This is dangerous thinking because we must be dutifully engaged in learning and increasing in learning through the empowerment of our faith. Our Heavenly Father has given us our lot, it is up to us to take that and improve on it whenever and however we may.

The same principle will apply in all our actions in relation to the things of God. We have to exert ourselves. … This remaining idle without putting ourselves into action is of no use; if we remain perfectly neutral, nothing is accomplished. Every principle that is revealed from the heavens is for our benefit, for our life, for our salvation and for our happiness.

Learning by faith requires that we come to an understanding of the principles of redemption, salvation, and how our lives truly become transformed. Faith is an action where we engage it on a daily basis. A Christian is not someone sitting idle. Everything the scripture teaches, it teaches that we are to be active. Active in ministering to others, active in seeking the will of God, active in service to our families and communities, active in living out an authentic Christ-centered life that shines forth the purpose and reason for the hope that lies within our own hearts.

We think, perhaps, that it is not necessary to exert ourselves to find out what God requires at our hands; or in other words, to search out the principles which God has revealed, upon which we can receive very important blessings. There are revealed, plainly and clearly, principles which are calculated to exalt [Christians] and preserve them from much trouble and vexation, yet, through lack of perseverance on our part to learn and conform to them, we fail to receive the blessings that are connected with obedience to them.

The failure to engage in increasing our knowledge and learn through the power and efficacy of faith disables us to live a true and authentic Christian life. Like the individual who dug a hole and hid his talent, he remains stagnant, not ever changing. Fear, instead of hope, ruled his life. He feared the loss of the talent given him. He remained idled and through his inaction and idleness, he truly lost all that he possessed when the master returned and each one of them reported back on how they increased the talents provisioned into their hands. Likewise, we become stagnant in our own lives, fearful and anxious. We lose hope and become lost within the mist of darkness where confusion and disillusion hinders our ability to move toward a healthier and meaningful life.

We must not neglect our spiritual improvements while we seek for worldly wealth. It is our duty to make every effort for the purpose of advancing ourselves in the principles of light and knowledge, as well as of increasing around us the temporal blessings and comforts of this life.

In other words, we must be actively seeking after the Kingdom of Heaven and not after the treasures of the world (Matthew 6:33; KJV). It is when we seek after the will of the Father, grow in our knowledge and understanding of his will, do we increase in the ability to provide for ourselves and our families. the principle truth of gaining knowledge in this life is to increase the kingdom of God, to increase and empower others towards a more authentic lifestyle. In essence, the increase of our learning by faith, we are blessed all the more by the hand of a loving and Sovereign God.

For our information and spiritual knowledge we are entirely dependent—we feel so dependent—upon the Lord. And in proportion to the exercise of our faith do we receive information, communicated through the Lord’s servants. … He addresses us, through his servants, who address us on occasions of this character when we assemble together to worship our God.

The more we come together to learn from one another, to hear the words of God breathed out from the scriptures, and gain personal revelations in relation to our own counsel and inspired living – true authentic Christianity takes root, is cultivated and eventually blossoms with beauty and splendor. In all things, our lives is not meant to merely overcome and endure – our lives are meant to grow and increase in knowledge and learning how to endure and overcome those things that challenge us. This only happens if we take action and increase the talents we have been provisioned with. Today, we have a choice to either remain idle and stagnant in our faith, or we can grow and increase our faith through learning and obtaining knowledge that facilitates true spiritual maturation.

 

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Return good for evil

In the devotional titled, Stand a Little Taller – counsel and inspiration for each day of the year, we read the following scripture and thought:

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and

persecute you, and shall say all manner of

evil against you falsely, for my sake

~ Matthew 5:11 ~

Draw comfort from the words of the Master when we as a church are spoken of by those whose lives are torn with hate. They lash out at one thing and another. they manufacture and spread vile falsehoods behind which there is not a shred of truth. There is nothing new about this. But we shall go forward, returning good for evil, being helpful and kind and generous.

Reading in the news, information quickly accessible via social media, and other such venues shows that our society appears to grew more and more depraved. The principle truths of Christian living and Christian faith has become a misnomer in our culture. The more we see the desecration of moral values and ideas, the more we cringe at the thought of how best are we capable of living out an authentic Christian life? The teaching is quite clear, we ought not to return evil with evil. Instead, we continue to do good unto those who persecute us, revile our faith and seek to oppress the simple message of the Cross. Here, Christ is sharing that it is not because of us, or anything we have done. It is because of whom we represent in our lives – for it is against Christ that the revilers come against and persecute. For us, we continue to show the love and compassion of Jesus Christ unto those who are hungering and thirsting after something more.

 

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Aside

In today’s devotion at My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. we read about how important it is to look unto Christ and be saved:

Do we expect God to come to us with His blessings and save us? He says, “Look to Me, and be saved . . . .” The greatest difficulty spiritually is to concentrate on God, and His blessings are what make it so difficult. Troubles almost always make us look to God, but His blessings tend to divert our attention elsewhere. The basic lesson of the Sermon on the Mount is to narrow all your interests until your mind, heart, and body are focused on Jesus Christ. “Look to Me . . . .”

Many of us have a mental picture of what a Christian should be, and looking at this image in other Christians’ lives becomes a hindrance to our focusing on God. This is not salvation— it is not simple enough. He says, in effect, “Look to Me and you are saved,” not “You will be saved someday.” We will find what we are looking for if we will concentrate on Him. We get distracted from God and irritable with Him while He continues to say to us, “Look to Me, and be saved . . . .” Our difficulties, our trials, and our worries about tomorrow all vanish when we look to God.

Wake yourself up and look to God. Build your hope on Him. No matter how many things seem to be pressing in on you, be determined to push them aside and look to Him. “Look to Me . . . .” Salvation is yours the moment you look.

Each morning, are we turning to God for direction in our day? Are we seeking the will of a Sovereign and loving Heavenly Father who directs our path? The more we turn to seek and rely on God, the better our life becomes as it continues to transform from the old life, becoming a new creation in Jesus Christ.

The more we look to Christ, the more we are walking in the light and truth of the simplicity of the Gospel message. How are you turning to Christ and looking unto God?

My Utmost for His Highest | Look Unto God

 

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