Fixate On the Eternal

Here, in the West, we focus so much on the “here and now” with all its passing pleasures and empty vanity. We desire wealth and people’s praise. We live as though this is all there is. The Western church is just as guilty. Yet, to those who truly belong to Christ, the apostle Paul writes,

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. ~ Colossians 3:2-10

Paul gives us three reasons to set our minds on (eternal) things that are above. First, those who are truly born-again have died in Christ; therefore, they have also died to sin. Being in Christ, they are united with him in his resurrection (see Rom. 6:1-14). To put it another way, they are given a new identity.

Second, it is the genuine believers responsibility to set his/her mind on things above. In part, this serves as an act of spiritual worship (see Rom. 12:1-2).

Third, Paul warns us the wrath of God is coming on account of unbelievers and false believers.

Along these lines the apostle John writes,

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. ~ 1 John 2:16-17

Consider who you are and whose you are. Do you belong to Christ? If so, you have a new and honorable identity. In Christ, you are a part of a holy and royal priesthood (see 2 Peter 2:5, 9). In Christ, you are a prince/princess of the Great, Eternal King. This world is not your home, you are just passing through. So why focus so intently on what is passing? Set your mind—fixate—on what is eternal.

• What are your thoughts? Start a conversation.

Polarization and the Stripping Away of Our Humanity

On their album, Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd has a song entitled, “Us and Them”. The lyrics begin with, “Us and them / And after all, we’re only ordinary men.” This reminds me of a part in Homer’s, The Iliad, when Hector, the noble hero of the Trojans, was home with his family before his upcoming dual with Achilles, the champion of the Greeks.

While the book celebrates the Greek warriors, this scene takes us into Hector’s home, loving on his family, although knowing he might not return to them after the fight. What struck me about this, when I read it in college, was the reality of persons in war. On each side are dads, moms, sons, and daughters. The vast majority do not want to be there, but are there because of duty—for “love of God, King, and country.”

While their cultures might be different, their humanity is very much the same: intellect, emotions, passions, dreams, ambitions, love, affections, fear, etc.

One of the dangerous consequences being recognized, due to modern technology and social media, is polarization. While technology is not fully to blame, it has, indeed, confounded matters. No longer is it simply disagreeing or being divided. It has become demeaning, demonizing, and dehumanizing enmity. We have the Left/Right, liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican, black/white, etc. Mind you, I am not at all promoting pluralism or ecumenicalism, nor am I endorsing complete individualism and autonomy. However, we are becoming a society that strips away the humanity of persons who are not like us and/or who do not think like us.

Some foundational doctrines in Christian theology concerning people are: 1) Created in God’s image, 2) original sin, and 3) Redemption.

First, all people are made in God’s image, and He has placed us in the time and place as He sees fit.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. ~ Genesis 1:27 (ESV)

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. Acts 17:26-27

Second, the suffering we see in our world is rooted in original sin; that is, because the first couple sinned, sin is now passed on from generation to generation. We often view racism, violence, perversion, etc. as the problems; however, these are merely symptoms of the “spiritual disease” each of us is infected with.

As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” … For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. ~ Romans 3:10-12, 22-23

Third, God has a genuine love for fallen humanity and has made redemption possible for all people who are willing to repent of sin and believe on His Son.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. ~ Romans 5:8-10

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. ~ 2 Peter 3:9

Although sin has distorted our desires and perception, it has not eradicated our humanity and worth to God. Yet, how easily—especially with social media—we can slander and demonize others. Regardless of ethnicity, color, or beliefs, we are all but ordinary people. We work, play, love our families, and want to survive. Mind you, none of this is meant to ignore crime or injustice; however, we can be so malicious, injurious, and even murderous with our tongues and posts. The distance from verbal harm to physical harm is not far at all. In fact, Jesus explains:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. ~ Matthew 5:21-22

We are also told,

No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? ~ James 3:8-11

Yet, consider the way people slander, accuse, and dehumanize others on social media. How brutally nasty people can be towards others whose views are different. Too often a distinction is not made between the person and the view. So, going straight for the jugular, so to speak, honest dialogue is not permitted and the person’s humanity is trampled on. As a result, there is no consideration that the other is a person with a past full of various experiences. Furthermore, this is someone’s son, daughter, parent, etc. Dangerously worse still, God’s image, love, and redemption are denied a person. In the end, such polarization makes us like beasts, monsters, and devils ourselves.

We can fight to the death for our opinions, perceptions, and convictions; yet, the Bible tells us:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-2

Strangely, whenever we seek to dehumanize others, we dehumanize ourselves, too. Sadly, the more our climate becomes polarized, the more our humanity is stripped away.

Golden Opportunities

Recently, after shopping for groceries and putting them in the vehicle, I pulled out of the parking spot. No sooner shifting the gear into drive, I noticed someone’s wallet lying on the ground. I stopped, shifted the gear to park, and got out to retrieve the wallet. I got back into the vehicle so I could park it, and then took the wallet to the customer service desk.

When I retrieved the wallet, various thoughts rushed through my mind. First, the principle of the “Golden Rule.”

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. ~ Matthew 7:12

I remember thinking if I were to lose my wallet, I would desire for someone to return it to me. From this, I began thinking of the common desire for rewards. Too often, people want something in return for doing what is good and right. Sometimes people’s decision to do good is dependent on whether something is “in it” for them.

I then remembered some words my grandpa had shared with me many years ago, “If you can’t help people, then what’s the point in living?”

I share this not because I am some great, selfless human being. I am not. However, in a world that ridicules the Bible as being irrelevant, how profoundly different our world would be if people were to strive to live by this seemingly simplistic principle to treat and do to others as we would want to be treated and have done to us. May we learn to seize golden opportunities each day as they arrive.

When the Church Neglects Her Map and Compass

Imagine traveling across a continent, desert, or ocean with a destination in mind, yet neglecting your map and compass. No doubt you would get lost and disoriented. Now, consider what would happen if you began following a group of people who were going in an altogether different direction than you had in mind. What would happen? You would eventually arrive at an altogether different destination than you had anticipated.

Without being critical, this is precisely what is happening with many churches and professing Christians today. God has given and preserved for His people His written Word and Holy Spirit, but too often these are being neglected, even scorned.

The prophet Isaiah prophesies the Lord’s disciples will complete the sacred writings, and these (with the help of the Holy Spirit) will guide people to truth.

Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples …. To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. ~ Isaiah 8:16, 20 (ESV)

Psalm 119 is a celebration of God’s Word, throughout which the psalmist notes that the Scriptures are a light and safeguard to him.

The apostle Paul declares,

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. ~ 2 Timothy 3:16

And the apostle Peter explains,

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. ~ 2 Peter 1:19-21

And finally, Jesus repeatedly declared His confidence in the absolute truth and trustworthiness of God’s written Word, copied and passed down from generation to generation.

For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. ~ Matthew 11:13

Then [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” ~ Luke 24:44

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. ~ John 16:13

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. ~ John 17:17

The prophets, apostles, and the Lord Jesus Christ all testify to the Scriptures being the Word of God; thus, being absolute truth and completely trustworthy. Yet, how is it so many preachers and teachers are questioning as to whether or not the Scriptures can be trusted? How can so many mask unbelief with false humility, saying we cannot be certain of anything? How can many say Jesus is but one of many ways to heaven, when Jesus declares Himself to be the only way (see John 14:6)? 

Still, how can some who profess to be “Christian” go to conferences to worship such false goddesses and/or to follow along with the world and its acceptance of practices, behaviors, lifestyles, and philosophies? The Scriptures declare, “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). In Christ, the two are not separated; therefore, grace (which is so often emphasized) is never to be disconnected from the truth.

The Scriptures are to be the map for the church, and the Holy Spirit serves as our Compass, if you will. Nevertheless, many churches and professing Christians dismiss these in order to follow their own deceptive hearts (See Jer. 17:9; Pro. 14:12), feelings, and the ebb and flow of the world and its various religions and philosophies. So then, how can they reach their desired, and assumed, destination (heaven) if they disregard the map and compass? 

I know of pastors and theologians who say, “Christianity, and its theology, must change.” Each of them have these in common: 1) They disregard clear teachings of the Bible, and 2) They mean that Christianity must become more “relevant”—that is, to become more like the world in its supposed “progression,” “inclusion,” etc. The overarching consequence is while trying to be “relevant,” churches are becoming irrelevant. By disregarding the map and compass, the church is losing her moral bearings, and has become increasingly ineffective and powerless.

Christianity does not need to change, let alone become something it was never intended to be. Rather, churches and the people of God must regain dependence on the divinely given Scriptures and Holy Spirit. We must accept as truth what God has revealed, regardless of our initial thoughts or feelings. As Paul declares, “Let God be true though every one were a liar” (Rom. 3:4). We must accept what God calls sin, and we need to yield to what He deems as holy or profane, acceptable or unacceptable. We need to follow His commands and instructions, instead of trusting our own plans and agendas.

The church must not only understand, but also accept, the fact that this has never been well received by popular culture. Christians have always been persecuted for their rejection of godless behaviors and ideologies. The church has always faced conflict for her believe in an exclusive God and the means to come to Him. It does no one any good to compromise truth in order to make it more “attractive” and “palatable.” While the truth should always be proclaimed in love (see Eph. 4:15), if it is twisted or distorted it ceases to be what God has intended. In other words, distorted “truth” ceases to be truth. Apart from truth there can be no true salvation, no true redemption.

Thus, when the church neglects her map and compass, she becomes disoriented and lost. When she begins following the lost world which is traveling toward its own destruction, where does she then think will be her destination?

For further consideration as to what it means to be a Christian and a part of God’s holy people, I invite you to read my book, A Royal Priesthood: The Christian’s Privilege and Responsibility – Studies in Practical Theology:

Defending the Innocent

Children, infants, and the unborn have a special place in the heart of God. Yet, in the cries against injustice and oppression, these are the least defended even while being the most helpless and innocent.

Many of us are aware of legislators signing bills legalizing the killing of the unborn up to the time of birth, and to have people literally applaud and cheer in response. Human trafficking is considered a billion dollar “industry.” The accounts told of the rape and abuse of babies and children are heartbreaking. Added to this is a disturbing rise and push to “normalize” pedophilia.

While many try to justify such practices and perversions, one cannot do so without jettisoning the teachings of the Bible and the God of whom it reveals. God is a God of love, indeed; however, He is also holy, pure, and just. Abortion, rape, exploitation, and pedophilia are each diametrically opposed to love, holiness, purity, and justice.

In the Old Testament, some of the people sacrificed their babies to the idol Molech, in which the babies would be burned alive. Was God pleased by this? Absolutely not!

They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination ~ Jeremiah 32:35 (ESV)

Is God silent about the unborn? No. 

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations. ~ Jeremiah 1:5

And the psalmist writes,

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. ~ Psalm 139:13-14

In the New Testament, Jesus the Savior says of those who would harm children and cause them to sin and lose trust in Him:

It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. ~ Luke 17:2

Make no mistake, such sins are forgivable for anyone who truly confesses and repents of them; however, it is no small matter to applaud and trivialize such wicked and beastly practices. How hypocritical for persons to cry out against injustice and oppression, all the while ignoring the cries and shed blood of the weakest and most helpless.

As followers of Christ, may we put on the whole gospel armor and stand against this push to endorse all that is clearly against God’s teachings and character. God is a God of love and purity; there is nothing loving about mutilating the unborn or violating and exploiting children. These, in fact, are outright defiance against God’s love, purity, and holiness.

Understand, these are not political issues, they are moral ones. Politicians might use these for or against their advantage; philosophers, psychologists, and doctors can debate them; and celebrities trivialize these, but these are moral issues at a foundational level. 

Wicked people will continue to practice wickedness, but woe to all who claim to be persons of God, yet condone and justify such behaviors of which He clearly condemns and denounces. May we be a people who are willing to defend the most vulnerable and innocent of people—the unborn, infants, and children. 

Every Spiritual Blessing

The Scriptures declare the true followers of Christ are blessed in Him “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3). Notice, we are blessed with every spiritual blessing, not necessarily physical blessing. We are not promised earthly wealth, great health and longevity of life, popularity, or freedom from suffering. Yet, regardless of one’s position/condition here on earth, the person who is in Christ has every spiritual blessing. But what does this mean?

In the first chapter of Ephesians we are told that the true people of God are chosen in Him. We are made holy and blameless (that is, cleansed and made new). We are predestined for adoption as sons and daughters of God. We are redeemed, forgiven, and granted an (eternal) inheritance. And we have been sealed with His Holy Spirit.

In the second chapter of Ephesians we are told that we were once dead in our sins, followers of the devil, and children of wrath who lived in the passions of body and mind. But God, in His marvelous love and grace, made us alive in Christ. All of this is given to us by His grace. We do not—cannot—earn it. All of it is given to us as a gift.

We were once separated, alienated,  and at enmity with God. However, in and through Christ, we are brought near and reconciled to God by the blood of Jesus. Through His cross He killed the hostility.

I do not know what your circumstances are, but I do know that life is difficult. Look upwards to Christ, cling to God’s promises, and remember your identity and position in Christ. All of this is by His great mercy and grace, not by our doing. Regardless of how lowly our position is on earth, every spiritual blessing belongs to each person who is in Christ. Be encouraged, my friend!

Armed for Battle

In such times as this, when evil is advancing, it is all too easy for the follower of Christ to mistake the real enemy. While there is an element of truth in wicked people being our foes; yet, Jesus died so that persons, regardless how evil, might repent and be saved. Yes, we are to resist the advances of the wicked, but the true war lies beyond our natural realm. 

We read in the Scriptures,

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. ~ Ephesians 6:11-12 (ESV)

From whence does this modern thrust to abandon God, decency, and all that is sacred? From whence comes this push and applause the unnatural killing of offspring, and the morbidly growing dismissal of the heinousness of pedophilia? From whence comes the growing renouncing of order and justifying the criminal? While it is true each of us is plagued with a sinful heart, throughout history most civilizations still valued virtue and shunned vice. But our present world is changing this. Why?

We are told in the Scriptures that our real enemies are wicked, demonic spirits that hate God and humankind made in His image with an absolute, malicious hatred. How are followers of Christ to engage in the warfare? With blazing guns like the heroes in the movie, The Matrix? Certainly not! 

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. ~ 2 Corinthians 10:3-4

We are told our armor consists of truth, faith, righteousness, (knowledge of) salvation, and the gospel of peace. Our weaponry are the Word of God (the Bible) and prayer (see Eph. 6:10-18).

If we, the people of God, truly desire  to see the advancements of evil hindered, it will not happen by vehemently opposing rioters or simply casting a vote, and it will not come by being either passive or aggressive. Positive change can only come as God’s people engage in battle through honest prayer, both individually and corporately.

Know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s. ~ 1 Samual 17:47

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. ~ 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Rising to Challenge Our Thoughts

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. ~ Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

The mind is an incredibly complex entity. Intangible, yet amazingly powerful. Still, for many of us there are predictable patterns—ruts—our thoughts will follow if we are not active in taking control over our thoughts. Such proactivity is not easy, but requires diligence and discipline.

Our thoughts, if left unchecked, can lead to the “gutter,” focus on destructive desires, toxicity (e.g., thoughts of sense of meaninglessness, failure, worthlessness, self-harm, etc.). Such thoughts trigger feelings, and the feelings will add reinforcement to unhealthy thinking. This will further distort our perception of reality and become a “stronghold” difficult to penetrate and conquer.

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. ~ 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

Do Not Be Taken Captive

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. ~ Colossians 2:8 (ESV)

Followers of Christ are warned to not be taken captive by philosophies and various deceptive falsehoods that would lead us away from the truth of Christ and the gospel. From indoctrination in our universities to ideologies and ideologies pumped through media, there is no shortage of teachings that would lead us away from the truth of Jesus Christ and His teachings.

We are told the problems are racism, corruption, certain people groups, poverty, etc. We are further told the saviors are government, unity/conformity, violence, etc. However, the former are each symptoms of a greater problem, and the supposed “saviors” only create deeper problems.

The real problem is sin within us, and each of us are contaminated with it. Sin manifests itself in various ways: pride, hatred, greed, selfishness, slander, violence, lying, etc. There is only one Savior who can help us, and this is Jesus Christ. It is He who died for the sins of the world, and who gives to all who believe in Him in truth His Spirit  that we might truly walk in truth, love, and peace. 

Do not let the world’s empty philosophies distract you from the truth.

Metamorphosis

Hey everyone, it has been a few weeks since I have last posted. I want to give a brief update about some upcoming changes.

I am wanting to change the look just a bit. The other changes have to do with content. I am going to return to some original considerations before I began blogging, while still implementing some of the changes I had made afterward. Briefly, the changes will be as followed:

1. Slightly new look.

2. Shorter blogs encouraging reflection for those who have busy schedules.

3. Subjects touching on important matters I think are often neglected in sermons.

4. And, hopefully, still offering encouragement to the depressed and discouraged.

Lord willing, I hope to make these changes sometime this week, but life has a way of changing our plans, does it not?

Anyway, I hope you may have a blessed week during a very strange year!

Blessings to you!