The Spiritual Deception of Christmas

It is with great joy that we observe the traditions of Christmas each year. We love the carols of Christmas, and the Crèche / manger scene, and the tree and the decorations, and the family visits and the sharing of presents. We are blessed by the charitable outreach in which some engage each year. We love to read the Christmas birth story in Luke. We love to celebrate the birth of Christ, of baby Jesus, in the humble stable in Bethlehem.

In my meditations about these very same things this year, I heard the voice of my Savior, Jesus, saying, “Man, why did I choose to be born as a man-child on Earth? Why did I choose my earthly ministry? Aren’t these more important questions for you to think about this year?”

We all do major in our thoughts on the birth of Jesus, as bringing God to Earth in human form, which is true. And we major on the knowledge as Christians that, John 3:16, God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, to Earth that whomsoever believeth in Him should not perish but should have everlasting life.

In my meditations of answering those questions my Savior posed to me this week, I am reminded of so many other things accomplished in the coming of baby Jesus, God incarnate in human form.

The biggest part of the answer that I see, the overarching message, is set out in Matthew 28:18, in which it is recorded that Jesus said, All authority has been given to me in heaven and on Earth. Jesus came to rescue the earth from the authority over Earth that Adam gave to Satan in the Garden of Eden. The only way Jesus could do that was to walk out the authority given to Him by God the Father and, by doing so, to take back the authority over Earth that Adam gave to Satan.

This all authority given to Jesus is detailed in the Great Commission of Matthew 28, and also in Jesus’ answer to His Jewish critics after He healed the man at the Sheep Gate pool, the man who, for thirty-eight years, had been lame. This history is given in John 5, and we find in Verses 26-27 this, the core of, Jesus’ answer to those critics who criticized Jesus for healing the man on the Sabbath day. Here, Jesus said, For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. As to the phrase from Matthew 28:18all authority, we find its explanation in John 5, that the authority included life in Himself, by which He had the power to exercise the authority of grace, to extend healing mercy as He did to the man lame for thirty-eight years. (And remember John 1:4, referring to Jesus, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”) And, of course, we see that Jesus was given the authority of judgment to be executed on men. That is the fullness of the full authority, of the all authority, given to Jesus, the Son of God/the Son of Man, in heaven and on earth: the authorities of mercy and judgment, of grace and truth.

So, everything Jesus did, is doing, and will do in the future is under the umbrella of the fullness of His authority, His all authority, on Earth and in heaven. That includes His judgments from the Great White Throne in Revelation 20:11- 15. It also includes the salvation by His grace that is suggested in John 3:16, and summarized by John in the Gospel of John 1:12 (But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name) described in detail by Paul as the ministry of reconciliation in II Corinthians 5:17-21 (which reads, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now, all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now, then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.). The salvation by grace and ministry of reconciliation are succinctly validated in Ephesians 2:8 (for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast). These two, salvation and judgment are the cornerstones of Jesus’ authority in heaven and on Earth, and out of them we see the work of that authority in preparing the Earth for the end of the ages.

Out of the work of the fullness of Jesus’ authority, we see in I John 3:8, that Jesus also came to destroy sin, the work of the devil: it reads, He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.

Jesus Himself tied this all together, in the explanation He gave to the disciples, in Matthew 13:37-43 about the parable of the tares of the field, He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world (Earth), the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore, as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire (judgment) so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

In the confrontations with Pilate over Jesus’ statement that He, in His authority, was the King of the Jews, Jesus explained in John 19:36-37“My Kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but My kingdom is not from here.” Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause was I born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” And we know, John 14:6, that Jesus is the truth!

In the special, humble, but powerful, way in which Jesus exercised His authority, He endured the crown of thorns and the beating and scourging (John 19:1) by the Roman soldiers, even before the walk to the Cross. And even these horrors exercised and extended His authority, because in it, we have available His ministry of healing: 1 Peter 2:24who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree (our atonement for sin, whereby sin, the work of the devil, was destroyed), that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed.

And He introduced us to the Holy Spirit, described in Luke 24:49 as the Promise of the Father, who would endue the followers of Jesus with power from on high and He told His followers, John 20:22Receive the Holy Spirit. And, Acts 2:1-4, the Holy Spirit came and they received Him and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. And, John 16:13 and John 16:8, the Holy Spirit guides us in the way of all truth, Jesus, and also convicts us in regards to sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment – all essential to bringing us in faith to belief in Jesus Christ, and His one way, John 14:6, to reconciliation with the Father, Jehovah God.

And Jesus came not to abolish the old Jewish law, but to fulfill it, Matthew 5:17.

With love, mercy, grace, truth, power, authority, salvation and reconciliation, the destruction of sin, the work of Satan, with healing, we lead what can only be described as an abundant life, and we know, John 10:10, that Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Hallelujah!

And in all of this, we have Peace, John 14:27, the Peace of Jesus, which He gave to us: Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

What the coming of Jesus did, and all things in addition to salvation that we have talked about this morning, was to overcome arrogant intellectualism by validating His role in creation, by validating the history of the Jews, and by validating the history of man. When we view the manger scene, the star over Bethlehem, the kneeling kings, the awed shepherds, we are humbled by realizing that Jesus did all this for us, but that He did not, and does not, make us, choose Him. Rather, like in any good relationship, He left it for us to choose Him. We have free will and free choice, and Jesus richly values all of our choices in faith to believe Him, to believe in Him, to live for Him, to be his ambassadors of the ministry of reconciliation, to be healed by His stripes, to live without fear or troubled hearts in His Peace.

So, today, and in the days ahead in this Christmas season, and in the days ahead of the rest of your life, remember the fullness of the authority that came with the little babe in the manger, wrapped in humble clothing. Choose Jesus for yourself, and share His name, His word, His Truth, in the testimony and evangelism of your own life to all those whom you love – family, friends, and others – that, I Timothy 2:4-5, God’s will may be fulfilled, in that He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Jesus Christ.

This Christmas, and forever, find the power of Christ for your life and do not let the traditions of man which will not redeem you (I Peter 1:18), nor the mere forms of worshipping God, (see II Timothy 3:5; Titus 1:16) ever deny the power of Christ available to you in your life.


And, Man, that is why Jesus chose to be born as a man- child on Earth. That’s why Jesus chose to chart the course of His earthly ministry the way He did. Man, He did it all for YOU! Will you and I do it all for HIM? That is the question you and I are left with as we observe the traditions of Christmas this and each year; as we love the carols of Christmas, and the Kresch/manger scene, and the tree and the decorations, and the family visits and the sharing of presents; as we are blessed by the charitable outreach in which some engage each year; as read the Christmas birth story in Luke; as we celebrate the birth of Christ, of baby Jesus, in the humble stable in Bethlehem. Will you take Jesus in reality for who He is in reality and live fully in His authority, in His reality? I urge you, to seize the day, to take the kingdom of heaven humbly but by force of your choices!

Thanksgiving 1621-2011

The original Americans who started the American tradition of Thanksgiving were dissenters in Europe, and they went on a pilgrimage of faith to the New World, America, and thus became known as Pilgrims. They arrived at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1620, and had their first Thanksgiving service one year later, 1621. Plymouth Rock is still there – some of us have seen it, and so is this tradition of Thanksgiving, of giving thanks to God, despite our modern secular humanism and atheism in our society and government.

The Pilgrims dissented, or disagreed, with the official religions of their governments: most of that original group of Pilgrims came from England and they disagreed with the English government and its Anglican church. As time went by, others came to America who were also dissenters: they were not Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox or Anglican Christians, although some of them, too, came. They made life decisions for themselves and their families because of their faith, not because of governmental dictates.

The tension in them by governmental dictates led them to meditate and pray, and then act. They acted by choosing not to subordinate their faith to their lives, but the other way around: by choice, they subordinated their lives to their faith. They really lived out the admonition of Paul to the Church in Rome, Romans 12:2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Rather than choosing to be conformed to the requirements of their governments, regarding their free exercise of their faith in Jesus Christ, they chose the transformation of the renewing of their minds in and by Jesus Christ, even as that meant that they chose the translocation of their bodies, of their lives, all the way to America, to the Free World. They had dealt with religious oppression in Europe, and many of them had become driven underground there for worship, even for life, or had been forced to leave their native lands, their historic family lands, their businesses and farms, their families in order to worship somewhere else in Europe according to their own choices. They had already made hard choices, made and executed out of deep convictions and faith, and fear of God much more deeply-seated than any fear of man or environment.

In America, we have come to call this freedom from religious requirement simply “religious freedom”, and so this concept is now known all around the world. Like all of our personal freedoms in America, our rights to exercise them, in America, stop where they prevent someone else from exercising their own personal freedoms. Of course, that is the current, festering problem with Sharia law, with Islam by-the- book, which abides no religion on earth but their own and mandates the earthly punishment and death to those who fail to convert to Islam. Our early Pilgrims in the 1620’s did not have to deal with that Islam issue then, but, every day, even here in America, they still found trouble enough for each day, of its own.

Today, as we stand at the front edge of Thanksgiving week 2011, we are all mindful of, and know, that we Americans have much to be thankful for: health resources, jobs, food, shelter, clothing, warmth, most of the time, by electricity or natural gas in our homes, automobiles and a relatively-peaceful and secure nation in which to live. It takes no sermon of preaching to bring such things to mind. Those first Pilgrim “Thanksgivers” had, to the contrary, been blessed with almost none of those things during that first year.

Let’s take another look at this issue of Thanksgiving, then at the beginning, and today. I believe that those first Thanksgivers celebrated their religious freedom to publicly worship Jesus Christ; they celebrated their physical enclave, their new City for Christ, in the New World, and they celebrated the opportunity to bear fruit by evangelism in the New World.

A very large percentage of their group was lost to disease alone in the first year, but they still counted their blessings, sitting at the table of First Thanksgiving, even as family members remembered the days in Europe when all of them were alive and, on that First Thanksgiving date, those unfilled chairs, and those hearts aching for the loved ones who had already died in America, had to have been most vivid and difficult. Yet, they gave thanks then, Thanksgiving, to our God, to their God, to our Jesus, to their Jesus, to our Holy Spirit, to their Holy Spirit, worshipping Him freely as they chose, not as some government dictated. Hallelujah!

The comfort components of our lives can well be summed up today in Matthew 6, which says that if we seek first the kingdom of God, all the things that we need, physically, for our comfort will be added to us (eating, drinking and clothing).

Today, in comfortable America, the Holy Spirit wants us to move beyond thanksgiving for our mere creature comforts (you know, like ice cream and Dark Chocolate Peanut M&M’s), although we have no right to take them for granted, but the Holy Spirit wants us to see and know and make choices on the basis of something deeper than the latest Steve Jobs Apple something-or-other, or the coolest new song, or the coolest new Ford F350 Dually Truck!

The Holy Spirit, today, leads us to another Scripture that we need to grasp in order to have great insight into that first Thanksgiving. This Scripture passage describes what really was going on, back then, and what they had all been through, in order to be free Christians in the New World of America. This Scripture passage is I Peter 2:19-25For this is commendable (KJV, “thankworthy”), if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth” (see Isaiah 53:9); who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness, by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going away, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

These Pilgrims, were no more perfect in all their ways than you and I are, have been or will be. But, they chose to live for righteousness, for God’s approval and not for the approval of their former government and its national religion! And, they paid the consequences: money for passage over the Atlantic, arrival here in an inhospitable place (no Holiday Inn Express, no local hospital, no grocery store, no Best Buy, not even a Wal*Mart!). In this place, they scraped out a physical existence, while so many of them fell ill and died, right off the boat, in that fateful first year. To them, the physical existence was secondary to their spiritual existence, and in that they reveled and excelled and were exceedingly fulfilled.

How could they be so happy in the midst of such physical difficulty, with so many fresh graves in their new cemetery? They, I am sure, were not so very happy, but they were filled with joy, and that is a whole different thing than happy.

Happiness is an emotional state. Joy is a spiritual state. There is a long distance between the two, for most people, most of the time. Sometimes those two states are, and thank you God when it is so, united in one person at the same time. When the Pilgrims considered their cemetery, and yet feasted at their first Thanksgiving celebration, they could not have been emotionally happy, but they were obviously full of Joy. Praise God!

Not only were the Pilgrims celebrating their Joy at their freedom of worship of Jesus Christ, in which they had invested their money, their time, their energy, their blood. They had also created this outpost of Christianity – boots on the ground, if you will – in the New World of America. This occasion of Thanksgiving the First, was an occasion of dedication of their place, their enclave, in America. So, we see here this second basis for Thanksgiving in America.

In the Old Testament, we find a similar occasion of Thanksgiving, in the dedication of the Jews’ place, of their enclave in Jerusalem, as set out in Nehemiah 12:27, when the wall, providing security and protection to the City of Jerusalem, had been rebuilt under the leadership of the governor, Nehemiah (see Nehemiah 2:5-6; 10:1), Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites (the priests) in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps.

So, now, let us look at the third basis for Thanksgiving in America, thanksgiving for the opportunity to bear fruit, spiritually — through evangelism and discipleship – in America. In II Corinthians 9: 10-13, Paul wrote, Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God. For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and with all men.

History indicates that these early Thanksgivers had guests, locals/Native American Indians, with whom they shared liberally, not only their food, but also their Christ. The real fruit of those Pilgrims’s righteousness was not that God provided them food, but that they shared Christ with all men – and the only other ones around were their newfound friends, the local Indians.

These three salient aspects of that first Thanksgiving should give us pause today, in our prayers and meditations, as we prepare for our Thanksgiving week of celebration: What are you thankful for? I hope it is for those basics of Matthew 6, yes, and for the “goodies” of our astonishing creature comforts, but that does not scratch the surface. The Pilgrims had all the right things of Joy for which to be thankful: religious freedom in their persons, and in their place, and in their privilege to share Christ, to share that religious freedom, with their neighbors! Now, that is something, some set of three main things, for which to be thankful.

In this Thanksgiving 2011, pay attention to Thanksgiving 1621.

The Spiritual Deception of Thinking You Can’t Live Forever

Oh, what a mess things are in the world. Things are such a mess in this world that many of us don’t think that we and our children and our grand-children long yet to come, have any chance of getting out of this earthly mess alive. That is a spiritual deception: none of us get out of this alive, in the physical sense, for it is appointed to every man one to die (Hebrews 9:27). As we seek not to conform ourselves to this world that is in such a mess (Romans 12:2), then we are actually seeking to conform ourselves to II Corinthians 7:1, to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. That fear of God actually gets us out of this world alive, through the pathway of physical death while in faith with Jesus Christ, so that we avoid the second death (see Matthew 10:28 and Revelation 21:8). So, things perhaps ain’t such a mess – at worst case, our way of escape to security, peace and joy is merely physical death, into a life eternal (Revelation 21:4), without tears, death, sorrow, crying nor pain.

Yet, despite the mess of this world and the people in it, I know that we here in this body are some of the most favored and blessed people in the world, and many in America are blessed in the same way, and so on with so many other clans, churches, peoples, states and nations of the world. But, it is not so, and unfortunately not so, with most of the people of the world.

You can look at the Islamist exploitation of the lives of women, children and men – those with whom they agree and those with whom they disagree. You can look at the desperate lives of refugees in those three major encampments in Ghana, displaced, imprisoned and impoverished by tribal warfare and plain, mean, criminal lawlessness. You can look at the slums of Rio de Janerio, and of Nigeria, and of those developed all across Africa, as villagers have trekked into the urban slums seeking to escape the deforested, eroded lands of their over-populated, now-inhospitable, villages, in the hopes of food, shelter and security.

You can look at the homeless in America, and in any nation of the world, and the children in orphanages around the world – normal children with no parents and little hope, and medically-challenged children as we have prayed for in those other orphanages in the Dominican Republic.

And you can look at our Occupy Wall Streeters, and their record and activities of public indecency – even reported violence and rapes – and uncleanness, even tuberculosis in the Atlanta protest encampment. And you may say of them, that maybe some of their protest points, when they are able to articulate them, rise to the level of creating a point for legitimate debate in the public forum. Yet, regardless of what you may think of them, of their conduct in protest, and of their debate points, in all of their “Occupying”, their almost universal nihilism and anger and disappointment are still very real and clear and very sad.

Yes, oh what a mess we are in, without even stopping to talk about our economies, our jobless, our under-employed, our tax burdens, or about our strategic, military problems and challenges of national defense.

But, I am here today to say, “So, what?” What about all this mess? Is it greatly different, in a gross historical analysis, from the history of man? If there is a difference, is it not true that we are better off with Christ, as well as with the modern advancements in medicine, in comfort of working conditions (when we have jobs), transportation, and shelter, at least throughout much of the world, certainly throughout more of the world than otherwise in the past?

Our worldly mess today is no worse than, and is probably better or less than, at other times in history, viewed merely from a secular viewpoint. Why do I say that: It is because, viewed from a spiritual standpoint, Christ is more available to the individuals, people groups and language groups of the world than ever before in history, and we, and the rest of the world are so, so, much the better off because of that., because of the availability of Christ to the generations of man that walk the face of the planet today. Thank you, God, for evangelism with the Holy Spirit and modern technology!!

In my meditations of late, the Holy Spirit has shown me so clearly a metaphor, in the gathering and dispersing clouds of almost every day. First, in the sky itself there is a metaphor for the spiritual covering over all of mankind, in every place and language. And in this sky, in these gathering and dispersing clouds, I see the changing forms and densities of a restless darkness competing, for space in the sky, with the resiliently flooding and sometimes darting lights of peace and rest. Metaphorically, this competition of light and darkness symbolizes the war of principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this age, of the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (cf., Ephesians 6:12) warring against Jesus Christ, our Defender and Savior, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, a war of contest for the spiritual covering of mankind.

My readings and discussions and meditations since I was last with you have been almost surreal, as artists have long used light, shadow and darkness to distort reality into the surreal: this metaphor of cloud and sun, darkness and light competing for space in the sky, has been used by the Holy Spirit to nudge me into a place of greater peace and joy, built, not at this point on a greater or different knowledge of facts, but on a different discernment and wisdom. It is that different discernment and wisdom, maybe just different for me, but certainly not new under that sun, or under those clouds, that I come to share with you today.

I have been reading about the geo-political problems, probably the present impossibilities, of exporting or transplanting democracy for self-government of peoples around the world, now and in the future. Our daughter, Claire and our son, CB, and I have discussed, and I have been helped to understand, some of the political and economic ennui, disappointment and frustration shared by much of the current generation with some of the issues of the Occupy Wall

Streeters. Our son, Lamar, and I have been discussing the Vikings and their historical patterns of violence, and their strict moral code, all as an overlay to their establishment of centuries of relative peace, and of governmental stability, in what we now call England, Scotland and Normandy. We, in America, have only been at this business of self-government for a couple of centuries and a bit more; we do not have a long, proven track record as a nation, at least not in the history books. We do not see that we are specifically mentioned as a nation in Scripture. Even on a good day, even without all the mess we in this world are in, we do not know what the future holds for this nation, this little blip on the radar screen of the globe, America.

But we do know this of our Jesus and our world, Isaiah 9:6-7For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Knowing this about our Jesus and our world, with what should we concern ourselves? With what should we frighten ourselves? What should we do?

We know that more of the world, today, has Jesus Christ available to it, in absolute numbers and, most likely, in percentages, than ever before in history, due to evangelism with the Holy Spirit and modern technology. We are thankful for the obedience of those who went before us, and those who go with us, and who have obeyed the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20And Jesus came and spoke to them (the eleven disciples) saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The answer lies in the nexus, the connective link, between this evangelism of Matthew 28: 18-20, and the reality of Isaiah 9:7. The nexus between them is Jesus Christ Himself, His reality, His certainty, His faithfulness, and His love for all of mankind.

The unforgettable words of Scarlett O’Hara, in her feigned helplessness (she was never helpless, although often deeply mired in the troubles she brought upon herself or those brought upon her by the circumstances of the life of her generation on the planet), those words, “Oh, what’s a girl to do?” ring loud in our ears, as we look at the mess of this world and ask ourselves, “Oh, what are we to do?”.

In this mess of a world, in this context, I come to you today to share a spirit of affirmation, a word of encouragement, an expectation of hope in the promise of the righteousness of God through and in Christ. I come to you today to share an attitude of heart, an attitude that does not disappoint and will not disappoint, because of the answer we have to the mess of the world– not an answer, but the answer – Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

The answer is in that nexus, that connective link of Scripture: the answer is Jesus Christ known and preached, and Him crucified for our sins (see I Corinthians 2:2). The answer is our standing and living in faith, in expectant hope, hope so expectant that we don’t worry or fret about it, that the government shall be upon the shoulders of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ Himself. The answer is in our sharing – evangelism with the Holy Spirit – God’s gift to mankind, Jesus Christ, with everyone the Holy Spirit leads us to, and that is and will be most everyone!

The answer is, as Jesus proclaimed in His sweet and powerful Sermon on the Mount, in the victory of light over darkness, in the struggle of clouds and sun metaphorically, is this, Matthew 5:14aYou are the light of the world. In other words, Jesus passed to us His torch, John 4:5, to be His light unto the world, to carry on His ministry in this mess of a world.

And here in the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ admonition and challenge to us, Matthew 5: 14-16You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

What we have to bolster our own faith and to share with others in despair – our neighbor or family member, strangers, Wall Street Occupiers, refugees from poverty and tribal warfare, the sick-deformed-medically challenged and others in orphanages, those deceived or oppressed into Islam is well- summarized by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 1:1-14 (READ Together).

In this passage, in a time when Paul, too, lived in a “mess of a world,” Paul shared to the faithful believers in the Church of Ephesus a spirit of affirmation, a word of encouragement, an expectation of hope in the promise of the righteousness of God through and in Christ and it is that which I come to share with you today. Examine yourselves and you, too, go and sally forth

to share, in strengthening believers and saving the lost, this Christly attitude of heart, an attitude that does not disappoint and will not disappoint, because of the answer we have to the mess of the world–Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

Please mediate, beginning especially this week and continuing through the seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas and the coming of the new year 2012, on the evangelical message of Ephesians 1:1-14, and the comfort and confidence it affords believers, and offers to the unsaved.

Now, a little more explanation: In old military terms, a small door to exit a fortress for a military sortie or assault was called a sally port, and to move through that was to “sally forth”, and connotes to move through it with speed, energy and violence – in Greek, harpazo. Even as we minister and evangelize with the Holy Spirit, in the sweet and loving words of the Sermon on the Mount, even using modern technology of transportation and communication, we are called to do so by sallying forth, with a military-style of organization, delegation, focus and power, because, as Jesus said, Matthew 11:12And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence (that metaphorical war of clouds and sun, darkness and light), and the violent take it by force.

Don’t be deceived into thinking you can’t get out of the mess of this world alive – you can get out alive, just in the unconventional way of Jesus Christ by first dying. Take that road, the road less travelled by (thank you, Robert Frost), the road of hope in Jesus Christ and it shall make all the difference for you, as it ahs for me, knowing that in Christ we have been adopted as sons to Himself, and we have redemption through His blood, and we have the forgiveness of our sins by His grace, and He has made known to us the mystery of His will, and we have obtained an inheritance and have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. And this, my friends is a hope that does not disappoint!

God bless you and amen+

The Spiritual Deceptions of Secular Wealth and Education

What are you going to do with the rest of your life?

Much of what is wrong with America can be understood if you choose to grasp, to know and understand and believe, our distraction from God by the spiritual deceptions of secular wealth and education. These two things, secular education and secular wealth, have “empowered” our society to a level of tolerance of the ungodly, of tolerance of the things of Bael, to the point where, except for a small remnant remaining in America, both Jehovah God and Christianity are barely tolerated any more than Islam, Buddhism, or other strains of religious non-humanism. The religion loved and practiced by the greater number of Americans is humanism. And our secular wealth has made all, except a small remnant, believe that our wealth insulates us from needing God as our provider.

And I refer to a “small remnant”, and I believe earnestly that we are part of that small remnant. I say that, not in judgment of the rest of America, or of the rest of the world, but because we clearly still, in our little body, and in those with whom we share the remnant, have our focus, mostly, on God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and their Word. That focus separates us from the rest of America, and most of the rest of the world, which chooses to disregard, ignore, deny or replace God with themselves or some other false religion.

Isaiah, the Prophet, speaks of the remnant, even when he lived and wrote, in the latter half of the seventh century B.C. In Isaiah I: 9, he speaks insightfully of the need for and the role of the spiritual remnant, Unless the Lord of hosts had left to us a very small remnant, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been made like Gomorrah.

Analysts abound with the insight that Europe and America are now in a post-Christian phase of history. Only the remnant, the small remnant, keeps this, our generation, from being a non-Christian phase of history.

My current readings suggest that much of the world is under the onslaught of poverty, starvation, sickness, the criminalization of life, and utter despair. And much of the world lives in societies in which Christianity is illegal, or scorned by the law of those societies and the vast majority of people living there. And much of the rest of the world lives in a wasteland of religious ennui (“boredom”) where their education has taught them to deny the Creator and worship themselves or other parts of the creation.

Much of he world actually does live in and with relatively- high secular wealth — as they are able to maintain a standard of living above the international shanty-towns of poverty, starvation, sickness, criminalization and despair. That secular- wealth standard typifies most of Americans, and it is a major deception in leading many Americans to believe that they don’t really need God as provider, that, “Thank you, I am doing quite well enough for and by myself!”.

Again, Isaiah, who is the most-quoted Old Testament voice in the New Testament, contrasts the remnant with the non-remnant, contrasting the faithful with the faithless and anti-faithful: Isaiah 2: 6-9For You (Jehovah God) have forsaken Your people, the house of Jacob, because they are filled with eastern ways; they are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they are pleased with the children of foreigners. Their land is also full of silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is also full of horses, and there is no end to their chariots. Their land is also full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made. People bow down, and each man humbles himself; therefore do not forgive them. [The Amplified Bible describes this humbling as being before idols; the NIV describes this humbling as suggesting that people will be humbled by their sin. I am not sure for our purposes that the distinction is that great. The point is sin, by reference to either the idolatries earlier described in this passage, or by reference to the groveling of mankind before itself, instead of its humility before God!]

Reading this, I was so struck, by its similarity to America, to the times in which our generation lives.

We have been culturally-encouraged to tolerate, accept, and follow “eastern ways”: From the followers of the Beatles and their Indian (“eastern”) mystics, to the strains of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Animism, and the Dalai Lama, many in America and elsewhere have accepted these “eastern ways”.

Many in America are fascinated with Nostradamus and his soothsaying, his so-called prophetic insight into the future, and Palm-Readers, and Mind-Readers abound along the roadsides of urban America. And of course, our secular psychologists and psychiatrists prophesy humanistic corrections to the historical past, seeking to perfect our happiness rather than our joy.

It would be a false interpretation of the phrase, “and they are pleased with the children of foreigners” to jump into the political debate over immigration. However, that is not the point of this passage: under the New Covenant, this passage, tells us that there is trouble when the children of God (i.e., the house of Jacob) “are pleased” with non-believers, with those who do not belive in the reality of Jesus Christ as God incarnate and as the only redemptive way to the Father God.

These passages, applied to help us understand America today, show us that our secular education has expanded the notion of religious freedom in America beyond mere Christian toleration of other religions, into merely tolerating Christianity along with other religions. This type of secular education is a spiritual deception, and everyone needs to be aware of this deception and to know why, when and how to take special steps when it impacts your family, so that, in your personal home and family, and in partnership with your church and the rest of the remnant, you can overcome in yourself and your children the false teachings of our secular education systems, especially up through the college and post-college levels, as well as at the kindergarten, elementary, middle and upper school levels.

The next phrase, “land is also full of silver and gold”, obviously describes great wealth, and certainly America has it, and especially so in comparison to most of the rest of the world, and even in the current economic strife and disappointment in which we live. And the following phrases, referring to horses and chariots has a military connotation, contextually, giving a sense of security and protection (invading God’s province at times), and also has a wealth connotation as the old horses and chariots were used for civilian transportation (Philip and the Egyptian Treasurer), comparable to American automobiles and trucks today.

Today, not many people, and actually none that I know or have known, actually have a religious shrine in their house where they situate and worship cast images as gods, in that fundamental notion of idolatry, the worship of physical idols. But everywhere you look in our secular society, our land is full of the things that people worship instead of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit: we worship our wealth, our highly (compared to the rest of the world) educated selves, such that we have often joined others, like with the utopian Occupy Wall Streeters, in denying the sin nature of man, on the premise that man is, supposedly, fundamentally good. It is such an intellectually interesting thing to watch the utopians proclaim the goodness of man, as the foundation of hope and change for a revolutionary, utopian, equal society, at the same time that they are protesting the evil of man, and their perception of the sins of Wall Street and its officials and employees. And those utopians don’t even see the intellectual dishonesty of their protests, in light – or darkness – of their utopian dreams.

The whole thing about idolatry is that every one falls into idolatry until they acknowledge their own sin and sin nature, and they stay in idolatry, at least of self-adulation and self- worship, until they find Jesus Christ and believe that He is Who He says He is, and repent.

While Isaiah urged God, in Isaiah 2:9, not to forgive the idolators of the house of Jacob, Jesus offers us the ministry of reconciliation, the ministry of forgiveness, to make things right between us and God. We can only make things right through Jesus with God if we rich, educated, tolerant Americans choose to refuse, any longer, to be intoxicated with the passing, psycho-babble of philosophies of the day – be them “eastern ways”, “soothsayers”, disbeliefs (spiritual “foreigners”), or just plain, mean old humanism, self-adulation. And we must also choose to refuse to believe that, in our wealth and military might, we don’t need God, or that we need to get so busy in pursuing those strengths that we ignore our faithful God, the Father, and His Faithful Son, Jesus (ever interceding for us with God the Father) and His Faithful Spirit dwelling in us, walking with us, and informing us of the nuances of God’s Word and his prophecy.

So ask yourselves, please, Am I part of God’s Remnant? Despite my education and despite my relative wealth (by measure of the economy of the world), do I really fully embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and do I really only trust in God for my provision and protection? Ask yourself, please, “Am I ready to stand in that Remnant and pray, and witness and seek the kingdom of God not only for myself, but also for my fellow countrymen, and fellow members of the community of the earth?” The Remnant needs to come alive, to lift the cover, the basket lid, from its light, risking our provision and protection because we do trust in God, so that men see and believe anew or for the first time, so that the Remnant grows large enough to restore America to being a Christian nation, and to restore Europe as a Christian culture and to bring the Gospel of the Good News to all the rest of this humble planet? What are you going to do with the rest of your life?

God bless you and amen+

The Spiritual Deception of Non-Renewal of Spirit and Mind

There is another spiritual deception, the spiritual deception of not renewing your spirit and mind and thinking and believing that you don’t need to do the things involved in that renewal, day by day, process.

Scripture (Ephesians 4:15) admonishes and encourages us to speak the truth, and to do so in love. Scripture (II Corinthians 3:6) defines us, as believers, to be ministers of the gospel of the new covenant. Scripture shows us the connections between our speaking and our beliefs. In other words, we speak of that which we believe. We find this in Psalm 116:8-10a, For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living. I believed; therefore I spoke.

So, today, I ask you to do a simple equation. Study what you speak and ask yourself what the timing, tone, content and truthfulness of your speaking says about your believing. It is like a mathematical equation: My speaking = the (f) of my believing, like a trigonometric function. There is a quantifiable linkage between the speaking and the believing. Only you and God know what is in your heart, in your real belief system. So only you and God can study and examine and determine whether your belief system is actually spoken out of your mouth as truth spoken in love. Get together with God and figure yourself out. Don’t depend on me – I really can’t get that deep into you – this needs to happen between you and God.

If you live in a world of little white lies, or if you live in a world of big, bold lies, it is of no spiritual distinction, as a lie is a lie. Scripture commands us to let our yeses be yeses and our no’s be no’s. Scripture admits of no in-between, no gray area, no excusable lie.

In your self-examination, you can determine whether your speaking is giving the right answer to your believing, by simply determining if your speaking lines up on all four corners of the page with what you really believe. Here is an example of this: if you believe in little white lies, the ones that really don’t hurt anyone, then that is what you will know that you regularly speak. If you don’t believe in those little white lies, then you will not regularly speak them: you will just incur and bear the discomfort of speaking the truth, even in love.

In Paul’s life, after his conversion at Damascus, his belief system was so grounded in faith on God’s word and commandments, that Paul’s speaking followed directly and completely as a direct function of his Christian beliefs. Paul did not have the belief system that he was supposed to speak with the intent and the effect of making no one feel uncomfortable at his words, nor that he was supposed to speak with the intent and the effect of making each hearer feel good about himself. No, and rather, Paul believed that it was better for him and his hearers if he spoke and they heard the truth of his Christian belief system.

Paul knew, and said, that on one level, this did not make even Paul feel good. Paul identified a thing called Godly sorrow, as a product of truth-speaking. Look at the passage in II Corinthians 7:8-12 (Read).

Paul was a competent minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. You also, as believers, have that purpose in your lives, and you, like a good carpenter (ha!, even as Jesus was a good carpenter), need to square up your speaking and your believing.

Paul wrote in II Corinthians 6: 12you are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. Our affections, as Paul calls them, are those things we prefer an choose to believe, those things we affect and feel good about, even when they are not in conformity with God’s word.

Oft-times, most times, to square-up, and re-plumb, your thinking means you have to change your affections by refining your believing, because it is your believing that informs and projects and limits your speaking. Fixing your speaking is not a simple matter of refining your speaking, like Demosthenes and Bubba Gump with the rocks in their mouths: no, fixing your speaking is the difficult matter of tweaking, of correcting – all in repentance – your beliefs so that what comes out of your mouth does not conform just to your belief system, or your affections, but also to God’s word. The foundation of that, the sine qua non (the “without which, not”) is that, before your speaking is right, your belief system needs to be conformed to God’s word. A lot of believers have much, even most, of it down pat, but need to move on to square things up even better in their beliefs.

Here, let’s take a leaf from part of last week’s sermon, that the first marker of whether you are “in Christ” is determined by whether you are, in your life, constantly being renewed. Last week, we referred you to Titus 3:5-6, in which Paul referred Titus, and us, to the washing of regeneration and renewing in the Holy Spirit. Today, we also point you to II Corinthians 4:16, Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. There is that renewing in the Holy Spirit and, as Paul wrote in Romans 12:2 there is available also a renewing of our minds, that we not be conformed to the world, but that we be transformed by the renewing of (our) mind. Here is our task: While the Holy Spirit is busy, day by day, renewing our spirits and therefore influencing our minds, we need to be busy, day by day, in reading and knowing the word of God that we may be renewed in our minds, day by day, and better able to receive the washing in regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit in His ministry.

If in repentance and prayer we tune ourselves in, day by day, to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, working in us daily to wash us in regeneration and to renew us in the Holy Spirit, and if, day by day, we are renewing our minds on the word of God, then we will clean up that un-square, out-of-plumb, thinking in our minds, and in so doing allow more room for God’s light of purity and holiness to shine in our hearts, transforming them, day by day, from darkness to light, from faith to faith, from glory to glory.

This process of regeneration in the Holy Spirit, and renewal of our minds in the word of God, is how we get our hearts cleaned up. This is important because Jesus and God care about our hearts and only They, and you, know your heart. Only They, and me, know my own heart.

We want, or we should want, to get our hearts cleaned up, to get ourselves “squared away”, because we have God’s promise that if we separate ourselves to Him, He will be our God, He will be our Father, and we will be His sons and daughters (all in II Corinthians 6:14-18).

And because we have those promises of God, we should not only be obligated (in our free will) but exuberant and excited and passionate about getting ourselves squared away and re-plumbed in out thinking. In II Corinthians 7:1, Paul summarizes this thinking process and conclusion like this: Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Because there is no holiness or righteousness apart from God, we cannot, alone in our flesh, perfect holiness. But we can, and should be excited at the opportunities of repentance and commitment, and refined thinking and believing to get educated enough about God’s word, and in faith like Paul, so committed to God and His word, that we get square and plumb and allow all of His light to shine fully into us, so that when we speak, we speak His truth and our truth, and they are the same thing, and then we are truly speaking the truth in love, His love and ours!

Jesus knows, and his statement is recorded in Luke 6:45, about this deep and compelling mathematical relationship, this linear relationship, between what comes out of our mouths and what is in our hearts. Jesus said here, A good man out of the good measure (a carpentry term, actually) of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil measure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Jesus continues and expresses his observation, knowing the hearts of men, and seeing their deeds, V. 46But why do you call Me Lord, Lord, and not do the things which I say?

Jesus can determine quickly whether we will do the things He says, the things He commands, because He knows the good or evil measure of our hearts. You also know your heart, and you can take that same measure. If you want to re-check your measuring, just listen to yourself, and you will know if you really know God’s Word and Spirit, whether your heart is in such good measure that what you speak conforms not just to your heart’s measure, but also, Ephesians 4:13to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a complete (perfect or mature) man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. The standard by which we are to measure ourselves is the stature of the fullness of Christ.

But (Romans 3:23) we all, even Paul, who described himself long after his conversion at Damascus as chief among sinners (I Timothy 1:15), have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – we don’t measure up, but if we square up and re=plumb our hearts, refining and tweaking them through the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, more closely, ever more closely, day by day, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, then, more and more, day by day, in repentance, regeneration and renewal, we will rid ourselves of the filthiness of flesh and spirit which impairs our holiness. Thus, day by day, we, Hebrews 5:14. . . by reason of use have (our) senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Sight is one of our senses by which we read the word of God! And that is not just good and evil on the outside in our sinful neighbors and family and friends, but my friends, it is the good and evil on the inside of ourselves that wars in the spirit and in the mind for control of our hearts.

So, do not be spiritually deceived into the complacency of some Christians and some churches and think that by infant baptism and rote confirmations that salvation is necessarily in you or those you love. Nor should you think that salvation is sufficient to clean up your heart to Jesus’ standards, and to produce the good works growing out of faith that James describes, without discipleship to maturity, to completeness in the measure of the fullness of the stature of Jesus Christ. Rather, instead of such spiritual deceptions, renew yourself daily in the Holy Spirit and in the Word of God as you passionately seek the completion of holiness in your heart, your mind, your actions and your speaking!

God bless you and Amen!

The Spiritual Deception of Misapprehension of God’s Blessings

The first chapter of Romans is one we often gloss over, except maybe for the first two verses, as we eagerly head into the substance of Paul’s analysis, exhortation and teachings. But in doing so, we miss an opportunity better to understand the blessings of God in His plan for humanity, the plan of being in Christ and delivered from bondage to sin and death, delivered into freedom, true freedom.

Let’s read Romans 1:1-17.

  • Paul defines himself, who he is, as a bondservant ofJesus Christ, who has been called (“assigned”) thejob of apostle (V.1-2)
  • Paul finds in this assignment that he is not separatedfrom the world, but is “separated (or, in some English translations, “set apart”) to the gospel of God” concerning Jesus Christ (V. 1-2).
  • Paul has received “grace” (V. 5)
  • Paul has received his assignment in life, apostle (V.5), although we know he had other “jobs” to support himself financially.
  • Paul knows that the main requirement of his apostleship is (V. 5) obedience to the faith among all nations for Jesus’ name. This is, obviously, also a main requirement for any other calling, including merely the calling to be a saint (V. 7), the requirement of obedience. Paul explained (V. 9) how he obeyed: “I serve (God) with my spirit in the gospel of His Son. Paul is saying that he is “all in” with that service, with that obedience. Paul obviously apprehended the requirement of obedience, and his choices of obedience, to be in itself, in each of those choices, a blessing from God that Paul did not misapprehend.
  • Paul says, “Hey, I’m not alone in this business of being called by God; so are you!” He says, V. 6, that the believers of the church in Rome are also “the called of God”. In other words, we may not be called of God to be all apostles, but we are called of God; He has a special assignment for us, and it may not be the jobs by which we support ourselves financially, but it is a special calling for each of us. Paul did not note that among the believers in Rome some were called; rather he noted that the believers, all of them, in Rome were among those in the world called of God. Out of accepting this calling, as Paul did in Damascus, he found, he apprehended (to understand and to take hold of), grace (which includes mercy and forgiveness) – this is a huge blessing of God! Paul was not spiritually deceived into misapprehending this blessing of God, and Paul did not want the believers in Rome to miss it either, and he did not want, and God does not want, us to miss it either!
  • In V. 7, after reiterating the blessing of God’s calling on Paul’s life, Paul reiterates the prayer for grace to be available to his readers, and then he brings into focus another blessing, the blessing of Godly peace in Christ, which he had well-apprehended, and which he wants his readers also to apprehend.
  • In V. 8, Paul expresses his confidence that the “faith” of his readers is a blessing, and his confidence that his readers have a reputation for faith that is “spoken of throughout the whole world”, is also a blessing. Kind of makes you ask yourself, “Is my reputation for faith known throughout the whole world, or how about just in my tiny, little part of the world?”. And the same for our little church – who knows of its reputation for faith? Do you, do I, do we as a church, even have a reputation, outside of ourselves, for faith in God concerning His Son Jesus Christ? Have we apprehended not only our own faith, but has anyone else apprehended our faith in a positive way? Is our faith a blessing to ourselves – well, “yes it is”, but Paul’s encouragement of the Roman believers makes us question whether we are also blessing others with the steadfastness, the consistency, the reality, of our faith. Se-lah.
  • This blessing of faith is the centerpiece of Paul’s visitation by letter and face time with the believers in Rome. He writes in V. 17 that in the gospel of Christ “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith’ (Habakkuk 2:4)”. Paul knew how to live, how to live right, how to live it up! He knew that to live justly requires faith, and because it is the centerpiece of real life, it is the centerpiece of his message to the believers in Rome and to his readers.
  • Paul also sought fellowship, in modern parlance “face time”, with fellow believers, V. 10-13. And in V. 11, Paul suggests that in that face-to-face fellowship he might impart a gift to the believers in Rome “so that you may be established”. Now, what could such a gift be? What establishes us? Is it not faith in Jesus Christ? Yes, Paul would bring and share the gift of faith, demonstrating his faith, that it might strengthen the faith of his readers, that they might be unequivocably established in their faith. Paul apprehended encouragement, V. 12, from “the mutual faith both you and me”, and in this apprehension he found a blessing, quite obviously, and he wanted to share it. We can see the echo here of Scripture (Galations 6:2) that encourages us to bear one another’s burdens and in so doing to fulfill the law of Christ. It takes faith to bear your own burdens, and certainly it does to bear the burdens of others, and Paul apprehended the tremendous mutual blessings of sharing faith in the sharing of bearing of burdens.
  • In Verses 15 and 16, Paul tells us he is ready to preach the gospel and he is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. What a blessing to be so free, so liberated, to be unashamed of the gospel of Christ! Paul fully apprehended that blessing and he reveled in the blessing. When you read the rest of Romans 1, in which Paul describes the human conditions of sin in the face of God’s obvious but invisible attributes, a condition, he writes, that leaves sinful man, who knows but has chosen (VV. 21, 28) not to retain God in their knowledge, without any excuse whatsoever. Paul was, after his conversion, never again deceived into misapprehending the gospel of Jesus Christ; thereafter he only apprehended the gospel of Jesus Christ as a blessing in his life, despite all the trouble ( see II Corinthians 11:23-28) in this life that his faith, his obedience, cost him.

What Paul has given us here is a picture of the blessings of a life well-lived, in faith, grace, peace, and unashamed obedience to God. Paul fully “got it” about Jesus; Paul fully apprehended the truth of Jesus Christ, and Paul fully delivered himself up in that faith to receive God’s grace and peace and liberation from sin and death. Paul was so free in life that he was free from death and fear of it (see Acts 14: 8-23). We have learned much from Romans 1. Spend time with it and meditate, please, on its depth and convictions, and relevancy to your life, our life together as covenant believers in God’s church, Bible Faith Fellowship, and his true universal church!

Once saved, Paul lived his life truly “in Christ”. How would we know that we are truly “in Christ”? First, that you have acknowledged that Jesus Christ is who He says He is. Then, that you have repented for your sins, and you continue to live a life of repentance; that you have resisted and turned away from sin; that you have chosen and declared your faith in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation and your translation from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.

Now, let’s look at three things about Paul, that apply to all those who are “in Christ”:

  1. You are in Christ if you are continually in the process of being renewed. Titus 3:5-6 refers to this as “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit”. Paul is saying to Titus, and to us, that we must yield and indeed welcome that washing of regeneration, that renewal in the Holy Spirit, by which we are made into a new creature in Christ. II Corinthians 5:17 (Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.) In other words, your relationship with Christ is not a one-time conversion experience and then on with your sinful life. Your heart cry is continual for God to change and renew you by His Word and by the Holy Spirit’s entreaties and power to overcome sin. Your daily heart cry is to grow up, to change and be renewed into, Ephesians 4:13-16. . . the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect (or, complete and mature) man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth in the body for the edifying of itself in love.
  2. You are in Christ if you govern the decisions of your life, your conduct, by the Word of God. I John 2:5But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in him. Do you measure yourself daily in retrospect, and also daily in prospect, by the word of God, and, more importantly, do you allow yourself to be changed, to grow into Christ, with every decision you make in life? Do you? Can you choose more wisely in your life than you have been? Please do it!! Join Paul in the prayer of II Thessalonians 3:11. . . pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. It takes faith to choose to live in obedience to the word of God and, therefore, it takes that faith and that obedience to live in Christ. We all know the verse, John 8:32, about truth and liberation, but study it in the context of the preceding, qualifying verse, V. 31Then Jesus said to the Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” The truth abides in the word of God: apprehend it so much so that you abide, you life, in that word of God and you, like Paul, shall be made free, so free in living that dying is not an obstacle for you.
  3. You are in Christ if your faith, your life, is embued with charity/which is unconditional love (I Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter). Not matter your works of obedience and faith – without love, unconditional love, your life amounts to nothing. Remember I John 4: 12b-13If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. The discernible fruit of this charity, this unconditional love is described in I Corinthians 13:4-5, love . . . is not provoked. Examine yourself: have you got the fruit? If not, get it! Lay your life down in unconditional love, in charity. We often find the test of our provocation, our un-charitableness, in our reactions to those closest to us – our spouse, our children, our parents, our siblings. But we can control those reactions, and we can make wise choices per God’s word to live a life of chosen love, not a life of petty emotionalism.

Conclusions: Abide in Christ, Apprehend the blessings of God; Do not be deceived into misapprehending God’s blessings. Hallelujah! Amen.

The Spiritual Deception of Halloween

The American culture and that of other countries around the world are approaching their celebration of Halloween. At the same time, we are looking through and beyond that celebration to Thanksgiving, the opposite of Halloween.

A bit of internet research gives this history of Halloween: Straddling the line between fall and winter, plenty and paucity, Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition. It is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Sanheim (pronounced sow-in), when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory II designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs; the holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samheim. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities such as trick-or- treating in a number of countries around the world. As the days grew shorter and the nights got colder, even today, many people continue to usher in the winter season with gatherings, costumes and sweet treats.

Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samheim, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth, to cause trouble and damage crops. The Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly souls made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, cold winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids build huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

Out of this description five things appear to be conspicuous in the lives of the Celtic Halloweeners:

  1. Celebrants of Halloween (Sowheim) depended only on nature for their provision. Christians depend on God for the sufficiency of their provision, understanding that, Matthew 6:33But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [provision, etc.] shall be added to you.
  2. Celebrants of Halloween depended only on remnants of their sacred fire for their protection. Christians depend on God for the security of their protection, understanding that, Psalm 46:1a, 7God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble . . . . The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
  3. Celebrants of Halloween depended only on animal and crop sacrifices to atone themselves before their Celtic deities. Christians know this issue differently for we know I Samuel 15:22Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice. And of course, as Christians, we believe and understand, Romans 5:11 (KJV). . .but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received atonement.
  4. Celebrants of Halloween earnestly, but misguidedly through witchcraft, sought prophetic insights into the future. Christians know, Amos 3:7Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets. And we also hear God’s rhetorical question from Jeremiah 6:10, challenging the witchcraft predictions of the Celts, To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Indeed their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot give heed.
  5. Celebrants of Halloween lived lives of desperate fears, fears of the cold, the winter diseases, the lack of food, and of the roaming ghosts. Christians know, Psalm 46: 1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear (our troubles).

What a contrast between Halloween and its origins, and Christianity and its origins! As you are tempted by the cultural temptations of Halloween, be careful that you do not get drawn into worshipping the created rather than the Creator. Be careful that you don’t, as a Christian, cause a stumbling block for others by condoning Halloween’s misguided focus on fears instead of trust in God, and its misguided focus on the natural, secular and fleshly with the satanically supernatural, rather than a rightly-guided focus on the love and power of the living God, dwelling in you.

Take this pending occasion of Halloween to study Romans 8:5-19 (READ): For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally-minded is death, but to be spiritually-minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can it be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors – not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father”. The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of his present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.

So, carnal-mindedness is death because it is enmity to God; those in the flesh cannot please God; the flesh only produces death and the Spirit of God in Christ produces only life. We are called, V. 13, to put to death the deeds of the body, so that by atonement, reconciliation through Christ, we receive the Spirit of adoption as children of the Living God, not the spirit of fear. We see that those five things the Celts worried about, and which are absorbed by tradition and its organic DNA into the Halloween celebrations of today, should all be viewed by Christians, V. 18, even when our circumstances of food and protection and prophetic insight are at their worst for us, that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Conclusion: As Christians we are looking past Halloween, annually and eternally: we are looking forward to that other fall celebration, Thanksgiving, when circumstance, fear and superstition are intentionally set aside by Christian believers who choose to rely on God, through Jesus Christ, and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, and the prophetic voices of God’s prophets for our provision, our protection, our atonement, our vision for the future, and our peace of mind. We know what to do in our lives: to trust in God, and to pray unceasingly, and to be content in all circumstances, and to live in the knowledge of the word of God and fighting the good fight in the full armor of God, Ephesians 6, when having done all we can do on our own, we stand, we stand, we stand in faith, not groveling around our re-lit hearth fires hoping for favor from the roaming ghosts. Get real; get with God and stay there.

God bless you and amen+

The Spiritual Deception of Unevaluated Faith

Today, the Holy Spirit has us continuing in the study of Spiritual Deceptions. Today we are focused on the spiritual deception of unevaluated faith. What is “unevaluated faith”? First of all, it is very personal – your faith, and my faith, that we are focused on. Second, it is a reminder that from time to time, maybe even constantly, you and I need to be examining ourselves, evaluating our faith in Jesus Christ, as we, Philippians 3:14. . . press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Mirrors were created for people to look at themselves; they are means of self-examination of one’s appearance. But we also find other means of self examination, and often self- examinations bring us suddenly into confrontations with reality, as we often find that what we thought just “ain’t what is”, sort of to coin a phrase.

I know that some people, just maybe even someone in this room, have had the experience of cruising down the highway, blithely daydreaming, or in conversation with a passenger, or on the cell phone, or just listening to music or an audio book, and suddenly seeing a radar cop at work on the edge of the road. What do you instinctively do if you are that driver, just cruising through life, suddenly confronted with the speed evaluator, the official with authority to punish speeders? Doesn’t your foot, almost invariably and uncontrollably, come off the accelerator, while your eyes rush to the speedometer? And have you ever had the school experience of turning in an exam or paper and thinking, “Man, this stuff is easy; I’ve got this made with a good grade,” and finding out from the real grade that you had actually had had no idea what was really expected of you?

These examples, as with the mirror, make clear that, often times, our perceptions of reality do not measure up to real reality. You can, and you have the power to, choose to play games in your head with pop-psychology notions that each person has his or her own reality that is in fact only the image of their perceptions. But there are some things that are real regardless of your perceptions, and especially regardless of your false perceptions, like ultimately learned by the absent- minded driver and the careless student we talked about a minute ago.

Here is the real deal: God created reality. We don’t get to create our own perception, or misperception, and call it reality. God has challenged us and called us into a real relationship, a reality relationship, with Him through Jesus Christ His Son. God has called us to eternal life with Him, with Jesus.

This whole reality is summed up in the verse which underwrote Martin Luther’s personal exodus from the Catholic monastery and his return to the real world to minister the split of believers into Catholics and Protestants, the Protestant Reformation: Ephesians 2:8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. That is the reality God created. That reality is, John 3:16, why God gave us Jesus, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Then, in John 17, Jesus, very near the end of His earthly ministry in the flesh, turned in His Job Report, His Post-Action Analysis, to His Father, Jehovah God. Study of this Report, this Analysis, reveals how Jesus understood what He accomplished and how and what the proof of that was, as manifested in the faith, and therefore in the lives, of true believers. In His Report, Jesus provided a detailed description of His affect on the people who had become true believers. Through that detailed description, we find a way to measure the true believer and the true church. It is the same measure Jesus used; what measure could be more accurate?

Thus, In His Report, Jesus gave us the evaluation tools we need to distinguish the true church from the false church (See Revelation 18:4, referring to the Great Spiritual Harlot of Revelation 17: And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you share in her plagues”.)

Because the true church is populated with true believers only, Jesus’ Report defines for us the way (not “a way” but “the way”) to know and understand, on an intensely personal level, how to go about following the mandate of Scripture (II Corinthians 13:5) that we examine ourselves to determine as to whether we are in the faith.

John 17:2as You have given Him (Jesus) authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. {there is a whole discussion available on the authority issue, that has been taught before in this body, and we will hold revisiting of that discussion for another day.}

John 17:3And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

So, these two verses sum up the game plan, they sum up God’s reality that He created. John 17: 6 contains Jesus’ Report of what He did to carry out His job assignment up to that point, on earth: I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours. You gave them to Me . . . .

We now see in the rest of John 17:6, and following, the evaluation tools by which Jesus could evaluate and say in His Report to God that these men were believers, that they had in reality chosen faith in their lives:

John 17:6 (the last phrase): . . . and they have kept Your Word. This is, purely and simply, obedience. See I John 2:3-6 (READ) – to know God and Jesus, is to obey them, and in that obedience, verse 5, “truly the love of God is perfected in (the true believer)”. See II John :6This is love, that we walk according to His commandments.

John 17:7Now they have known that all things which You have give Me are from You.

John 17:8For I have given them the words which You have given Me and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You, and they also believed that You sent Me.

John 17:13: Jesus says He is sharing this Job Report, this Post-Action Analysis, with the world . . . that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.

John 17:14. . . the world has hated them (the believers) because they are not of the world . . . .

John 17:17Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. True believers are set apart, not by their works, but by the word of God, His truth.

John 17:18: True believers, no longer of this world, have nevertheless been sent into just as God sent Jesus into this world.

John 17:20-23a: True believers are called into such unity together and with God and Jesus, that all are one in each other.

John 17:23b: That the lives, the living testimonies, of true believers, consisting of such oneness in the faith, is such a completion, a maturity, a perfection in oneness (See Ephesians 4:11-16, READ.) that even the world will know that God has sent Jesus, and that God, Himself, loves the true believers just as He loves Jesus.

Conclusion: it is time to do some evaluation of your faith on a regular basis. You need to determine if you are really in the faith, if you are really walking in the faith, in knowledge, love and obedience, each day. Recently, I attended a seminar that addressed multi-tasking, something we all do to some degree or another. The problem with multi-tasking is that we often don’t finish everything, or we don’t do any individual task as well as we might if we were just working on one thing at a time. The seminar instructor encouraged each of us to develop tools of self-evaluation, that we might use daily, to evaluate our Job and Life satisfaction, not just our effectiveness and efficiency. You know, we can evangelize, but the Holy Spirit does the convicting. So, the measure of our satisfaction needs to be our love and obedience in speaking the truth of God and Jesus, and the measure is not our effectiveness or our efficiency.

Don’t fall into the snare of not evaluating your faith; don’t be presumptive, complacent, absent-mindedly cruising through life and not paying attention to your conduct on the highway of life. Don’t be careless as a student of life and don’t ignore the mirror of your John 17 criteria, which turn mostly on your beliefs and your resulting conduct.

God bless you and amen.

The Spiritual Deception of Apathy

The Grasshopper in the story of The Grasshopper and the Ants, of Aesop’s Fable and of the 1934 Disney film short by the same name, had as his signature and theme song, the one often sung by Shirley Temple, that “the world owes me a living”. This philosophy of life empowered the Grasshopper to party throughout his life. However, when the weather changed, as winter came, he found that unlike the Ants, who had worked industriously to store up food for the winter, that he, the Grasshopper, had no food. Out of grace, the Ants took him in and allowed the Grasshopper to pay for his food by being the dancing entertainment for the Ants during the cold winter. Now, you sagely ask, “What has that story got to do with matters of the heavenly kingdom, in which Jesus is building a place for us (John 14:2), even as he sits at the right hand of God the Father and intercedes for us ( Romans 8:34)”

The answer has to do with apathy. Apathy, in spiritual terms, is the result of the smug, self-assured notion that your heavenly fire insurance policy has been bought and paid for, even if not by yourself but by Jesus Christ, and that, like the Grasshopper, you can sit back and live your life, your spiritual life, without working, because you have bought into the spiritual deception that, by God’s mercy in your salvation, God owes you a living and you can forget about Him, put Him in the file cabinet with your other insurance policies, and party on down through the ages of your life! Unfortunately, far too many Christians have fallen, often quite inadvertently, into that trap. And that’s what this story of The Grasshopper and the Ants has to do with matters of the heavenly kingdom.

{Don’t confuse this story of the grasshopper with the truth that your good works won’t get you into heaven, but (Ephesians 2:8) that your salvation is accorded to you only by God’s grace, His unmerited favor, given to you through the Blood of Jesus.}

What the grasshopper did was put living above life, because he made the assumption that his life was provided for, and that as a result, his life consisted of singing and dancing and eating of the fruit of the land in Spring and Summer. When Christians do something like this they lose their focus on God, a year-round, eternal God, our God, our Creator. In losing that focus, they lose their zeal for the things of God. It is very common and we are called today by the Holy Spirit to remind ourselves and you of this sin, of this spiritual deception of apathy, of misplaced life priorities and direction.

This problem is, and has been, so common in the church that Paul found it necessary to remind Timothy, and in so doing to remind the great church, led by Timothy at Ephesus, about it. Paul did so by reminding Timothy that the gifts of God needed to be stirred up by each believer. II Timothy 1:6Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

The same burden was also on Peter’s heart, as he wrote in II Peter 1: 12-13, about the problem mentioned in II Peter 1:4, of how to so partake of the divine nature that we may escape the corruption that is in the world through lust, and in verse 10, so that we never stumble, saying, For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you … Peterconcluded,thus,inIIPeter3:1-6,Beloved,Inowwrite to you this second epistle in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder, that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandments of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, knowing this first, that some will come into the last days, walking according to their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” For this they willfully forget that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.

And God placed the same burden on Isaiah’s heart, Isaiah 64: 6-8But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind have taken us away. And there is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You . …

We certainly don’t want to be spiritual grasshoppers, taking God so much for granted that we set God aside, put Him in the filing cabinet with our auto and homeowners and medical and life insurance, so we can just focus on the pleasures of the secular life around us. But it is real easy to slide into that apathetic state of taking God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit for granted and therefore, believers have always needed to be reminded of this issue, even as evangelism seeks to bring others to the threshold of salvation and across it.

The context in which Paul wrote to Timothy was that of a real mess in the church in Ephesus, even though many regard that at times the church in Ephesus was a showcase church, so to speak, for the New Testament believers.1 When Paul was “reminding” Timothy to stir up the gifts of God, Paul surely had in mind the things that he had been criticizing in the church, expressed in both of his letters to Timothy:

  • Putting high value on myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations (I Timothy 1:4)
  • Engaging in vain discussion (I Timothy 1:6)
  • Giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons (I Timothy 4:1) <Halloween is hereagain!>
  • Being guided by the hypocrisy of liars (I Timothy4:2)
  • Forbidding marriage and enjoining abstinencefrom foods (I Timothy 4:3)
  • Majoring in godless and silly myths (I Timothy4:7)
  • Having a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words (I Timothy 6:4)
  • Imagining that godliness is a means of gain (I Timothy 6:5)
  • Participating in godless chatter (II Timothy 2:16) <agnosticism?>
  • Holding that the resurrection is past already (II Timothy 2:18)
  • Starting stupid, senseless controversies (II Timothy 2:23)
  • Wandering into myths (II Timothy 4:4)

The historical context was that Ephesus was the culture had crept into the church, and its members, producing a religion in the church itself, that was perilously close to caring nothing about God. Is that where we are today?The local culture in Ephesus, indeed the whole local economy, was built around the pagan worship of the goddess Artemis, also called Diana. Indeed, the main temple is included in the listing of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. People came from around the world to see, to participate in the pagan worship practices, to learn of it and to be a first-hand, up-close participant in it. Tourism, shipping, retail stores, restaurants, religious icons and trinkets and souvenir shops, etc. – and you can reasonably assume, the bankers, money- exchangers, real estate developers, tax collectors, doctors, lawyers and scribes –all thrived on the business surrounding this culture of the worship of Artemis, also called Diana. You can reasonably assume that the members of the Christian church in Ephesus came from that culture, and may have been part of its economic beneficiaries, and certainly many of their family and friends were part of it. Without question, those early Christian believers brought all that baggage into the church with them, just like happens today, and we need to be reminded of that, and reminded to stir up our first love for Christ, to stir up the gifts of God bestowed on us by the laying on of hands (i.e., the baptism of the Holy Spirit – See Acts 8: 14- 17). We need to get back to the basics of seeking first the kingdom of God, Matthew 6:33-34, and then the food and shelter and clothing and our other needs will be provided, but we should never take God for granted and just assume He will provide. Keep your priorities straight! Love God and put Him first.

Dietrich Bonhoffer/Martin Luther/decision to leave the monastery changed history – reformation. James 1:27pure and undefiled religion is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. Kind of like Paul and Peter, Isaiah and Bonhoffer, were discussing!

Get your priorities right in caring about God and the things of his kingdom and about pure and undefiled religion; get out of the monastery if you are stuck there on the other side, and join up with fellow believers, per Col. 3: 12-17 (Read).

Don’t hop away from God, but ant-y up your heart and offer your bodies as reasonable sacrifices (Romans 12:1)


The Spiritual Deception of Misplaced Trust

In this present age, our foundations are shaken. In recent days our foundations have been shaken daily. Why is this issue of “foundations” so important? It is because “foundations” are what we trust in. It is that simple as a concept. When you talk about foundations, you are talking about something to trust in. In Matthew 7: 24-27, Jesus explained this issue in terms of where you build your house, on the sand or on the rock. He was talking about what you trust in. Today, we don’t have much rock in much of the country, but we do have concrete, and it is about as hard and durable as rock. But Jesus was getting at something deeper and more important than our physical houses. He was really getting at our spiritual houses. Here is what Jesus said, Therefore, whoever hears these sayings

of Mine, and does them I will liken to a wise man who built his house on the rock, and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, and it fell. And great was its fall.

In describing the rain, the floods and the winds, Jesus was describing things that would shake the house, would push, pull, twist and contort it to stress it into instability and collapse.

People today are constantly wondering about the stability of our economic system, of our values, of our way of life – here in America and as they look around the world. What they are doing is talking about trust – whether those systems can be trusted to meet their expectations. And many of these people frequently ask me if we have passed the point of no return in the culture in which we live. In other words, they are asking the question of whether our foundations have been shaken apart so that the foundations of our American culture have, in fact, been destroyed.

Regardless whether we are living in America or anywhere else in the world, we need to look beyond the physical and into

the spiritual in all circumstances. We need to understand two principles, two pillars that are foundational to the structure of our lives: (1) Trust in God through Jesus Christ, not ourselves; (2) Trust in God’s provision for us, not in man’s provision for us (whether the man be us, someone else or, particularly, the government of men).

Samson (see, Judges 16), took hold of the two middle pillars of the pagan temple in which he was imprisoned, and he pulled those pillars down, after praying in his blindness and weakness for God to strengthen him. When Samson pulled those two pillars down, the whole pagan temple fell, killing not only Samson, but also killing the pagan leadership and pagan worshippers. Those two pillars were foundational to the structure of that pagan temple and also foundational to that pagan culture. When they fell down, the rest collapsed.

There is an analogy there, in what Samson, in his blindness focused on: that pagan temple, its leaders and people and culture were entrusted to two pillars. Our way of life as Christians and to the extent that our nation was and/or is Christian, has been entrusted to two pillars: (1) Trust in God through Jesus Christ, not ourselves; (2) Trust in God’s provision for us, not in man’s provision for us (whether the man be us, someone else or, particularly, the government of

men). To pull down our society’s foundations, Satan has only to pull down these two pillars of our society’s historical underpinnings, and he has been doing so by his incessant attack, constantly shaking our spiritual house, as a nation and as individual Christians.

Now, Samson’s was a pagan culture. We have accustomed ourselves by tradition to believe that we in America live in a Christian culture, not a pagan culture. The facts are telling us otherwise, that we do live, here, in what has become in my generation a pagan culture. As they say in and of Europe, then it can well be argued that we, too, live in a post-Christian culture here in America. That is bad and sad, and it tells us how badly the foundational pillars of our culture have been shaken.

Psalm 11:3 asks the question that burns on our hearts, as we look at the foundational structure of the culture in which we are Christians: If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous to do?

Our political leaders believe that our economic foundation has been secured this week by putting a mere bandage on the problem and leaving it to be solved ten years from now, when most of them will no longer be in office. They follow that adage of, “take two aspirin and if you don’t feel better in ten years, call back and we will try to think of something else.” They believe that it makes sense to run the economic foundation of this country on the premise that the government takes in two hundred billion dollars a month from its tax payers and spends three hundred seventy-nine billion dollars a month. They trust in riches that are not there and they want us to share that deception with them.

How did this happen and is there a solution? It happened because of one thing: we quit trusting God and started trusting the government and our own selves. The solution is to quit trusting our own selves and to get back, quickly, to trusting God. Paul was very concerned about this issue, explaining to the Corinthians (II Corinthians 1: 9), Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises from the dead. In this passage, Paul is reminding the believers in Corinth, and reminding us as we re- read this passage, that the sin in us has made us dead and only the Spirit of Christ living in us gives us life. In Paul’s teaching, in Romans 8:2, 6-13, he expounded on this issue, writing: For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death . . . . So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you (the believers in the Church of Rome) are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His (Christ’s). And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors – not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

In I Timothy 6: 17-19, Paul was teaching this same principle to Timothy, in these words: Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.

Jesus teaches that it is not money that is evil but the love of it, because Jesus understood that we will serve what, and whom, we love. In Luke 16:13, Jesus pronounced, No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Paul wrote to Timothy, I Timothy 6:10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness . . . .

Neither Jesus nor Paul condemned money, earthly riches if you will, in itself. Rather their concern was in our trust in the money, in the earthly riches, because it takes our focus off of God’s provision for us, and for mankind, and therefore causes us to stray from our faith. In I Timothy 6: 17 ff, that we read earlier, Paul did not say for the rich to give their money away just to give it away. He said to command them not to be haughty (arrogant, prideful, above the need for God), and not to trust in their riches because they were “uncertain”. That means, “uncertain”, that those riches could not be trusted, that trust in those riches was misplaced. Rather, Paul taught Timothy, command those rich people to trust in God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.

Jesus and Paul were well aware of the importance of the foundational pillar of provision — do we trust in the provision or the provider, God?

In my reading this week, I was reminded of the second foundational pillar of our trust in God, through Christ, in all things, not just provisions. This week, I have been reading of the covert activities of the CIA and the Army’s Special Forces in Afghanistan, immediately after Sept 11, 2001 and for months ensuing. Of interest was that our forces there were small and under-equipped, and so they rode horseback, like old calvary, to and into battle with the Taliban. But what has struck me was their training to “Trust No One” but each other. They were taught, in that most hostile and foreign of environments, not to trust the locals, none of them, even if they seemed friendly, and even if they had so far proven themselves to be friendly.

We, too, live in a most hostile and foreign environment. We are strangers here, aliens here, just sojourners passing through, as Scripture says. We can’t trust our government, and we can’t trust most of the people we know. We in the true church of Jesus Christ, just like those 21st century Amerian horse soldiers in Afghanistan, however, can trust each other – to a point – but we, like that calvary, can trust in God through Jesus Christ. Our country has come a long way, downhill, since we thought it important to inscribe on our money, “In God we Trust”.

We can’t change the country, here in Beaufort and Jasper County, but we can check our hearts, where our treasure really is, as we really live and speak from the fullness of our hearts. We can examine ourselves and verify – correcting as necessary – that our foundational trusts are not misplaced, that we are trusting in the two foundational pillars of (1) God, through Jesus Christ, and His spirit living in us, and (2) that we are trusting in God’s provision of all things for us to enjoy.