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To gain the whole world

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Mark 8:36 “What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul?”

     I remember an old TV series based on a plot where people would be facing what appeared to be an insurmountable problem or huge financial problems and their world would be about to collapse.  Along would come a mysterious and sinister stranger and offer them a deal.  The deal would always seem to be a good solution to their difficulties with the payback set years in the future.  The only kicker was that the payback was their soul.  The stranger was the devil and he was always on the lookout for desperate people.  In the TV show people always did wonderfully until the night before the payback was due.  In the dark night before they had to pay up to the devil, the people in the TV show would finally see how  the deal had tricked them; stealing eternity from them in exchange for a few years of easy living.

     The devil still uses the same device for trapping people but in order to lure more people he often uses the installment plan rather than a ‘big painful payout’ at some future date.  In this day of easy finance, people sell out in small steps.   Compromise and accommodation to the world’s values take people to the same place as the desperate sellout only by small steps and compound interest.  Indeed, when people place little value upon their Christian heritage they, like Esau will trade it away when they face the slightest discomfort which they exaggerate out of all proportion;  “And Esau said, ‘Behold, I am at the point of dying. And what profit shall this birthright be to me?’ ” (Genesis 25:32)  The end result will be bitter tears and regret; “And he said, Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing. And he said, Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me? ”  (Genesis 27:36)  Sudden disaster had overtaken Esau and he didn’t see his part in it.  Esau didn’t see that what he then lost and missed, he had despised and taken for granted before.  Esau blamed Jacob for the results of his own decisions and actions.  Is this not familiar ground today?

      Today, we are not that much different from Esau.  Little if any value is placed on God’s Word in our society any more.  People demand that the bible be removed from the schools yet when a teacher writes a novel featuring teenage sex very few see it as a problem.   Where will it all end?  Bullying is rampant in schools, the much heralded ‘Character Education’ initiative hasn’t produced the ethical and moral children that were hoped for.  Indeed the Bible tells us;  “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.”  (Matthew 10:24)  Little wonder there is confusion among the children about what character is all about when their teachers reflect society’s disregard for God’s Word.  Fred Hutchison writes:  “If our European forbears had not converted from paganism to Christianity, we probably would still be living in barbarian tribes. If we fail to hang on to our religious roots, our civilization might fail and our posterity might live in barbarian tribes. This kind of collapse, dispersion, and degradation has happened many times in history.”  It’s happening today, in our communities and cities.  The fall back into barbarism and tribalism is accelerating.   The voice of Christianity has all but been silenced by those who claim to speak for the people but live far removed from the urgency’s of their daily lives.

     People don’t want kids in school to learn about Jesus.  It is claimed that Christianity offends some people and so we shouldn’t be openly expressive about our faith in a multicultural society.  Yet everything I know about how to get along in our multicultural society Jesus taught me;  “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”  (Matthew 22:39)   Through His parable of the Good Samaritan ( Luke 10: 29 -37) Jesus taught me that even though I might be fearful of strangers, they are capable of great kindness.  Jesus taught me that love is the most powerful weapon known to man; “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”  (Matthew 5:44,45)

      We have been too eager to cast away our Christian heritage on the altar of false tolerance.   If we had stayed with Jesus’ teachings and taught them to our children  there would be less bullying.  We would be able to accept new neighbours different from us because Jesus calls us to love our neighbour as ourselves.   Secular Europe seems to be abandoning experiments with ‘multiculturalism’; “Attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany have ‘utterly failed’, Chancellor Angela Merkel says.”  Holland  also is reconsidering its course; “The Dutch government says it will abandon the long-standing model of multiculturalism . . . ”   How will strangers be treated in Europe now?   Tolerance is a long held Biblical Tradition;  “Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”  (Exodus 23:9)

     As nations, we have collectively lost our soul;  “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;  Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere  The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.” (Yeats)  Our leaders and leading intellectuals can only wonder ‘what next’?  As Christians we cannot be indifferent to the suffering people endure because of their abandonment of God.  It is not good enough to say we are saved and they deserve what they get.  This attitude is born right out of a self-righteous heart.  Jesus spoke to this when he said; “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” (Matthew 5:13)

     John Donne’s great poem reminds us: “No man is an island, entire of itself. … Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.”  Why would we not feel spiritual death and dying as keenly as physical death and dying?  Let not our hearts be hardened.  Let us not smugly retreat into the false contentment of our individual salvation

     A great lament now arises;  “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” (Jeremiah 8:20)

 

The Human Condition

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I wrote in my other blog “Walking with Tony” that my spiritual condition was such that I was in constant need of Jesus in my life.  You see – I am depraved!  In my other blog I described the time my son and I gave a talk about the struggles in our lives (his addiction and my self-righteous attitude towards him);  “Afterwards a man came to me and said;  ‘Great talk, until I heard you two I never realized how very depraved human beings can get!’  This took me back a bit but then I realized that he was correct in his estimation of me.  I was depraved and I am depraved; Jesus covers me daily, every day; “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.” (Romans 4:7)  But I wondered as this gentleman walked away shaking his head, what view he had of his own spiritual condition. ”

My sister who has been my good friend all of my life will not agree; ” . . . depravity is a very strong word indeed and it is not you Tony.  It is among us for sure, but it is not you.”  You know, its nice to have a sister who believes you’re a good brother and a sister who sticks up for you.  She always has.  I love my sister and her husband is a good friend as well.  But on this point we will have to agree to disagree.  If I wasn’t depraved I wouldn’t need Jesus.

Pastor Rick Reed writes:  “Our first parents were created spiritually healthy and whole. That’s because “God created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27).  It was paradise. But it didn’t last long. Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s  instructions, introducing sin and death into the creation (Romans 5:12). The  image of God in humanity was not erased, but it was effaced. As parents pass  along physical characteristics to their children, so our first parents passed  along a damaged spiritual DNA to all of us. We are now born with a bent towards  sin. We are inherently sinful.  I know this is not a very uplifting assessment of the human race. But it  lines up with reality. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out, the doctrine of original  sin is perhaps the Christian doctrine most easily proved. Just look around. Or  better yet, look inside.”

I’ve looked inside and saw a sick person who needs Jesus.  Now that I have found Him I would rather admit the truth about myself than give Him up.

Which are you?

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Mark 2:17 “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

     Do you think of yourself as spiritually sick? 

     My son and I were invited to speak to a group of Christian men a few years ago.  My son spoke of his years of drug addiction and how he came to living on the streets.  He was very honest about the things he did to support his drug habit and the squalor he lived in.  I spoke of my failure as a father and how bitter with disappointment I had become with my son.  Both of us were far from God during this terrible time in our lives.  Jesus rescued both of us! 

     Afterwards a man came to me and said;  “Great talk, until I heard you two I never realized how very depraved human beings can get!”  This took me back a bit but then I realized that he was correct in his estimation of me.  I was depraved and I am depraved; Jesus covers me daily, every day; “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.” (Romans 4:7)  But I wondered as this gentleman walked away shaking his head, what view he had of his own spiritual condition.

     If you think that you’re ‘OK’ then you are adopting a very ‘unBiblical’ view of yourself.  Paul wrote;  “There is none righteous, no, not one … ” (Romans 3:10)  and “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.|” (Romans 3:23)  Paul described his own spiritual condition as; “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24)  The prophet Jeremiah portrayed our hearts in the following way: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)  Paul described our condition and his when he said; “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 1:15)  

     If we harbor the hidden attitude that ‘we’re OK and Jesus just makes us better’ then we tend to self-righteousness and block the many blessings that His grace can pour out on us.  Dana Chau writes: “In reality, there are two kinds of people in this world, those who know they are imperfect and those who don’t know they are imperfect. When we stop defending ourselves, we can be less self-righteous. Laughter can replace uptightness. Acceptance can replace blame. Grace can replace guilt.”  Sadly, we in the church can fall into the same trap the Pharisees were caught in;  “There was some irony in Jesus’ words when He said to the scribes and Pharisees, ‘I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’ The implication was that these religious leaders themselves needed to repent of their sin. They were the sickest of the sick, all the while thinking they had no need of a physician.”  (R. C. Sproul)

     Today, my son and I are close friends.  Once we had nothing to say to one another.  Before, I couldn’t see my son’s worth as a human being because I was blinded by my own bitter, angry judgements of him.  He was an addict. And I was not.   He was sick, physically and morally. And I was not.  I was Good.  He was Bad.  Steeped in self-righteousness I felt no need for His grace for myself (I wasn’t bad) so why should my son be given any grace.  I believed my own lie that he could pull himself up by his own bootstraps and ‘fly right’ just like his tough old man did!

     I realize now that I never really lived up to my part in being an attentive, engaged father.  I realize now that my son paid a price for my failure.   I realize now that being ‘better’ than others is a form of hypocrisy that kills relationship.  Further, this form of hypocrisy robs those afflicted with it of any power of the Gospel to work in their life.  My hypocrisy blinded me to His love for others – blinded me to His love for my son – blinded me to His love for me!  My sin of judging created a fence not only between me and my son but also between me and His love for me.  Fortunately it was my fence and not His!   God extended His mercy and broke down this fence.

     Awareness of my own depravity makes me keenly aware of my desperate need for His grace in my life on a daily basis. I struggle with pride and arrogance every day.  I struggle with thinking I’m ‘better’ than others every day.  Paradoxically, deep inside, in my wounds I struggle with feelings of insecurity and worthlessness as well.   If I need His grace every day so does my son, so does my family, so do my friends and so do you.  If His mercy is there for me; it is there for you.  Jesus told the Pharisees and he told me; “But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matthew 9:13)

Thank you, Jesus!

The least of My brothers

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Matthew 25: 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

     Jesus tells us that helping those in need is key to being accepted into the kingdom of Heaven.  Not only that, but the help that we give He considers to be directed towards Him, personally!  “For I hungered, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took Me in; naked, and ye clothed Me; I was sick, and ye visited Me; I was in prison, and ye came unto Me.” (Matthew 25:35,36)  This passage of scripture also indicates that quite often we won’t recognize His face in those we have compassion for;  “Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, `Lord, when saw we Thee hungering and fed Thee, or thirsty and gave Thee drink? When saw we Thee a stranger and took Thee in, or naked and clothed Thee? Or when saw we Thee sick, or in prison, and came unto Thee?”  (Matthew 25: 37-39)  Jesus tells us that when someone is down and out and really needs help, that someone stands in for His expectation of our response.  They way we respond has eternal consequences for us (Matthew 25:34, 41).

     Often you don’t have to go far or look too hard to find someone in need of love and mercy.  It could be your son or daughter, who hungers for a listening ear and some encouragement.  It could be your friend who has just lost his temper and has made himself a stranger to you.  Your friend may need the shelter of continued friendship even though he or she isn’t deserving of it.  It could be your wife, who through the intimacy your share is vulnerable to every harsh and critical word that passes between you.  Without our armour we are naked to those closest to us and easily hurt.  Our words can heal or hurt; “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof. ” (Proverbs 18:21) Scripture tells us:  “Therefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: … ” (James 1: 19)   Love your ears more than your tongue!

     Some spend a lifetime paying their tithe while going through the motions of a religious life and never meet up with Jesus;  “Not every one that saith unto Me, `Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father who is in Heaven.”  (Matthew 7:21)  Jesus doesn’t care about narcissistic spirituality and lofty otherworldly over-identification with some ‘Great Presence Out There’ or ‘Inner Luminosity in There’.  Jesus cares about how you treat your fellow human beings when they need your help especially when they are not that lovable.  “If any man among you seem to be religious and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion, undefiled before God and the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”  (James 1: 26, 27)  Affliction stinks!  Affliction offends!  Affliction demands!  Affliction inconveniences!  Affliction repels!   And in the middle of that awful stinking, offensive, demanding mess is a broken individual and Jesus’ expectation.

     To really help someone you must ask prayerfully how to help.  Discernment is very important so you don’t enable. Codependent people have difficulty saying no. They do and give even when it is irresponsible to do so. Do you have a child or loved-one who abuses drugs or alcohol and you realize that their request for funds is only going to be used towards financing their bad habit? Is it impossible for you to turn the person down because you just want to be kind and maybe your kindness will make them feel better? This is a common symptom of the perpetual cycle of codependency and enabling.”  (Enabling and Codependency)  We must learn to listen to God and help in His way and not hinder in our way.  Sometimes the best help you can give is just to listen and not babble harsh judgement.  Oh that I might remember my own words and follow them with God’s help!

     Scripture tells us; “Withhold not good from them to whom it is due when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.”  (Proverb 3:27)  The Holy Spirit will show you how to give to those in need if your heart is open to it.  The time will be right to help and you will have the resources available.   The Bible gives good advice on giving help to those in need; “Give in proportion to what you have. Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have.  Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality.  Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need.” (2 Corinthians 8:11-14 New Living Translation)

     The essense of spirituality is to have a heart for Jesus.  Lookout for the least of His brothers; “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in My name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.” (Mark 9:41)  A commentary points out;   “If done from love to Christ, it will be rewarded; and hence we learn that the humblest acts of Christians – the lowest service that is rendered – will be graciously noticed by Jesus and rewarded.” (Barnes Notes)

     Jesus said; “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples: if ye have love one for another.” (John 13:35)

     Praise the Lord!

12 Steps to Recovery from my self-righteousness.

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This is taken from a website about a book by John Fischer – Recovering Pharisee

The book is called:  “12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me)

I haven’t read this book yet but I plan to get a copy ASAP.  After tackling some issues with self-righteousness in another blog post called:   Lip Service, I’m interested in learning everything I can about how to root out this weed from my spiritual garden.  Below are the twelve steps by John Fischer.

The 12 Steps for Recovery from Spiritual Pharisaism

1. We admit that our single most unmitigated pleasure is to judge other people.

2. Have come to believe that our means of obtaining greatness is to make everyone lower than ourselves in our own mind.

3. Realize that we detest mercy being given to those who, unlike us, haven’t worked for it and don’t deserve it.

4. Have decided that we don’t want to get what we deserve after all, and we don’t want anyone else to either.

5. Will cease all attempts to apply teaching and rebuke to anyone but ourselves.

6. Are ready to have God remove all these defects of attitude and character.

7. Embrace the belief that we are, and will always be, experts at sinning.

8. Are looking closely at the lives of famous men and women of the Bible who turned out to be ordinary sinners like us.

9. Are seeking through prayer and meditation to make a conscious effort to consider other better than ourselves.

10. Embrace the state of astonishment as a permanent and glorious reality.

11. Choose to rid ourselves of any attitude that is not bathed in gratitude.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we will try to carry this message to others who think that Christians are better than everyone else.

I think I’ll print these steps out on a card and put it in my wallet so I can reflect on it often!

When Caesar demands more!

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Matthew 22:21 “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

     While we live in this world, we must follow the laws of the land.  Respect for authority, obeying traffic rules, paying your taxes and keeping the peace are all things that God calls us to do;  “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but from God; the powers that be are ordained by God.Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God, and those who resist shall receive for themselves damnation.” (Romans 13:1,2) The laws of the land vary from place to place and time to time but insofar as such laws promote order, peace and proper governance God calls us to follow them.

     Scripture does give examples of decrees and customs that we cannot take part in.  Daniel’s friends where tossed into a fiery furnace because they refused to worship the golden image of king Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3: 16 -20).  Where do we draw the line beyond which we cannot go?  Jesus tells us to love God first and foremost and to love our neighbours as ourselves; “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbour as thyself.” (Luke 10:27)  These two commandments were the foundation for ‘the law and the prophets’ according to Jesus (Matthew 22:40).  They make a good ‘line in the sand’.

     How easy it is for this line to move as it is drawn in the shifting sands of our hearts especially if you are entrenched in the world.  In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees gave Caesar far more than his due.  They sought friendship with Caesar and his world;  “And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.” (John 19:12) They feared Caesar far more than God;  “Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.”  (John 19)  They loved Caesar’s world far more than the kingdom of Heaven.

       We in the church struggle with this line due to fear of man; “God has called His people to set the world on fire; unfortunately, too many church leaders today waste their time trying to put fires out and make people happy!”  (Christian Post)  The world is increasingly hostile to God’s Word.  Secularization has proceeded to the point that any religious point of view is all but inadmissible in a public forum especially if it is Christian.  Ravi Zacharias documents the evolution of secularism in American Society;  “Religion has been systematically eliminated from public policy debates by an entrenched, highly secularized information elite.” (Deliver us from Evil p. 24)  Jesus calls us to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). And the salt of the earth; “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” (Matthew 5:13)   It’s very hard to be the light of the world if you cannot speak in His name.  And to silence yourself is to give up your salt and hide your light.

     The world does everything it can to suppress His name and take the savour out of our salt.  This happened to Peter and John; “But that it [the Gospel] spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name. And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.”  (Acts 4:17,18)  Today, too many of our Canadian leaders see Christians and the work of spreading the Gospel in a negative light; “ ‘I  have no objection to faith-based organizations providing services. Sally Ann (the Salvation Army) and others have been doing a great job for years. But these people are evangelical fundamentalists,’ Martin said. ‘Offering much-needed sports opportunities is just their way of luring in young prospects. ‘ ” (MP Pat Martin)  ‘Lure’ them to what – abundant life?  When Caesar demands that we shut up about Jesus and just be nice what do we do?

      Put God first and be a light on a hill. Provide salt in a world that has no seasoning.    This need not be done by ‘shoving Jesus in your neighbour’s face’ but rather by expressing His light  through kindness and help done in His name.  Love your neighbour by showing him what God has done for you!  Peter and John came up with the best response;  “But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19,20)  Simple testimony is a powerful witness; a man cannot help but speak about that which has saved him and his family. 

     Let us do likewise.

     Praise the Lord!
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