Monday, June 30, 2008

#255: Paul's Thorn in the Flesh

Webster’s definition of the word “thorn”: 3) anything that keeps troubling, vexing, irritating one, like a constantly pricking thorn: usually in the phrase “thorn in one’s side” (or flesh). As to what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was—as described in 2nd Corinthians 12:7—other than a gnawing discomfort, it has been a puzzle for most who desire to have a clear-cut answer. And yet, there seemed to be no concise answer. Nevertheless, there are many pieces to that puzzle, and when those pieces are all coalesced, an answer seems to emerge. This subject may not interest many, but others would like a creditable answer to this intriguing question that has been no more than a poor case of mere speculation.

In this post, I will let the New Testament speak for itself. I will use over a dozen New Testament verses that are interconnected.

Paul was an extremely zealous Pharisee, a strict observer of the Mosaic Law, as were other Pharisees. His name was changed from Saul to Paul after he became a believer in Jesus Christ—a new life, a new name.

Before Paul’s conversion, as he was on the road to Damascus—Acts, 9th Chapter—he was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. In fact, he was going to Damascus to get permission from the high priest to imprison all who belonged to the Way (an early group of Jewish Christians). When Paul was nearing Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. The light was so brilliant that it blinded him, and he had to be led by the hand. Jesus spoke to him about what he must do to promote the cause of Jesus Christ. In short, that was the beginning of his conversion to Christianity. While in Damascus, a man named Ananias was commanded by a holy vision to place his hands on Paul’s eyes to restore his sight. Ananias replied, “This is the man that has done much harm to your saints.” Nevertheless, he placed his hands on Paul; then Paul could see again, but apparently his vision was still impaired to some degree.

Some believe it was Paul’s poor eyesight that was his thorn. There are three verses that imply that Paul’s eyesight was not the best.

Galatians 6:10. “You see what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand.”

Romans 16:22. “I, Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.” (He wrote the letter of Romans for Paul). Most likely, it was difficult for Paul to write.

Galatians 4:15. “I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.” Again, this implies that Paul’s eyes were impaired. Therefore, it is understandable why some believe it was Paul’s eyesight that was his thorn.

Another wild guess was that it was Paul’s wife that was his thorn, since he was away from home much of the time. Only thing, nowhere in Scripture does it give even a hint of Paul being married. This guess doesn’t pass “the smell test,” to say the least.

There is another train of thought that has been floating around—mostly by men—t, that turns my stomach. It is that Paul had a weakness when it came to sensual desires. This belief is farther from the truth than heaven is from hell. I am certain those who believe this way are the very ones who need an excuse to somehow justify their weakness when it comes to moral conduct. I will unequivocally refute that belief by bringing up two sections of Scripture.

First: 1st Corinthians, Chapter 7. In this chapter, he is giving instructions on how men and women must conduct themselves in marriage and its implications. Then he talks about how it would be better if they stay single, but if they can’t control themselves, to marry. Then, in verse 6, this is what he says: “I wish that all men were as I am.” The implication here is that he is single and has no need or desire for women or marriage. Never once in any of his letters to the churches is it even implied that he is a womanizer or that he is married.

Second: In Romans, 7th Chapter, are several of the most misunderstood verses in the complete New Testament; and that heresy has done more damage to Christianity than any other false teaching. I have been so upset about how this section of Scripture has been so perverted, that I wrote a complete post on this very section: # 130: “The Knack of Making Sin Acceptable.”

If one is not familiar with the New Testament and parts of the Old Testament, much of post #130 will sound like Greek. Not to confuse anyone, it might be best for some to skip this complex and extremely long post until better and more complete knowledge of what the Bible is about has been acquired.

I will summarize that complete post in a few concise sentences. In the Old Testament, some of the great prophets of God often use the personal pronouns “I,” “me,” or “my” to denote the nation of Israel, especially when Israel went astray from God’s commands. In that post, I quoted many of those Old Testament verses. That is exactly what Paul did; he spoke the same as Old Testament prophets, using the singular pronouns “I,” “me,” or “my” to refer to Israel. When people (Gentiles) who were/are not familiar/aware of that type of writing, they think Paul is writing about himself. Repeating: When Paul says “I,” “me,” or “my,” he, without a doubt, meant the nation of Israel. He starts in Romans, Chapter 7, verse 18 and ends in verse 20. Please read it for yourself. I will only quote verses 18-19. “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.”

In conclusion to the three dubious theories of Paul’s thorn in the side, I now will display what, most certainly, is his thorn. First, I want everyone to imagine they did something that was very bad, and possibly, out of character; it was a very shameful and horrid act in your past life, something that adversely affected the lives of others in a very harmful way. You might have acted in innocence or you might have actually been malicious. Either way, you were completely forgiven. And even though you were forgiven, the memory and realistic images of the people you hurt or killed—like in an auto accident—are still constantly on your mind. You just can’t forgive yourself. This thought pattern torments you night and day. You just can’t get free of it.

Now, attempt to put yourself in the place of the Apostle Paul as a zealous Pharisee, before he was converted to Christianity. At this time, without his knowledge, Paul was doing Satan’s work in the name of Jehovah. This goes to show that religious people can unintentionally be on the evil one’s side. He sanctioned the execution of Stephen, one of God’s great holy men. He persecuted and put many who believed in Jesus Christ in jail, and had others put to death (Acts 22:4).

Let me quote a dozen or so verses, showing that after he became a Christian himself, the images of those He persecuted just wouldn’t go away; he just couldn’t get the hatred he had and all the harm he had done to the people he now loved out of his sight or off his mind. The reason this is evident is by the many times he brought up these painful incidents in his many letters to the churches. Those persecuted people are the very ones he lovingly dealt with after Jesus Christ made him the lead apostle in the difficult task of converting the Gentiles to Christianity.

Here are the verses that imply his past sins against Christ’s church continually haunted him, and this remorse is his thorn in the flesh. See if you don’t agree. The following is paraphrased from 2nd Corinthians 12:7-10. The reason Christ gave Paul this thorn—although Paul called it “a messenger of Satan”—is so he would not become conceited because of all the great work Christ was doing through him, and his surpassing great revelations from God. When Paul asked the Lord three times to take it away, the Lord said to him, “My GRACE is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” There is the clue: the word “grace.” Grace has to do mainly, if not exclusively, with forgiveness of past sins (being made acceptable and perfect in God’s sight). That tormenting guilt is exactly what he needed to keep him humble. That phrase “My grace is sufficient for you” implies that Paul’s feeling of remorse will/can never separate him from the love and need—yes, need—God has for him.

1 Timothy 1:15. “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” Meaning: No one persecuted the early Christians more than him. He is still the chief of sinners; nevertheless, a forgiven chief of sinners.

Philippians 3:6. “. . . as for zeal, persecuted the church.”

Acts 22:4. “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their DEATH, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison.”

1st Corinthians 15:9. “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

Acts 22:19-20. “‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarded the clothes of those who were killing him.’”

Acts 8:3. “But Paul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”

Galatians 1:13. “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.”

1 Timothy 1:13. “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.”

Acts 9:1. “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogue in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”

That murderer, devoted to God’s law, who persecuted the Jews that he felt were violating what the old Testament Scripture commanded, was turned by Christ into a man, who in Romans 13:9-10, said this: “. . . Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” And He also said this in Romans 12:20: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink . . .”

You decide for yourself if the above verses are a legitimate reason for Paul’s thorn in the flesh (the vivid memories of past crimes against Jesus Christ). Leave me a comment.

I end with this conclusion: The crux of Paul’s thorn is twofold, showing us that no matter how bad or violent one’s past is/was, God’s grace and mercy can erase it all, although the memory may still haunt the individual. God’s grace and mercy are like getting a cheap piece of metal (lead) and turning it—“clash, bam, allacazam”—into a beautiful, shiny piece of valuable gold.

Also, when God blesses a person to do great work for Him, a thorn of some sort may be the best remedy to keep a person humble and void of conceit.

Friday, June 27, 2008

# 254: Advantages of Living Godly Lives

This will, no doubt, be the most encouraging post so far in this blog. Most often, I report on the shortcomings of traditional religions, which is truly needed. Without a doubt, there are many advantages that are derived from conforming to the ways of Jesus Christ, in comparison to the good things which are offered and taught by this “me-first” world. There are so many advantages that I don’t know where to start. By all means, the greatest advantage is that genuine Christians have complete confidence in a hope that is sure; that hope is for life in the hereafter, which is immeasurably superior to what this world offers. Hope is an attribute that makes life worthwhile. The greater and more certain the hope, the more meaningful and enjoyable life will be.

One emotion the people of this world lack is a joy that overrides all of the disappointments that are bound to come. They may have happiness, but happiness always depends on good events that are happening or have happened. The permanent joy the Lord gives through His Holy Spirit has its sights on what good things are to come: seeing Jesus Christ face-to- face. By not depending on “good things” in this world, we automatically have the advantage of looking forward to eternal treasures and pleasures. This type of joy must be experienced to even start understanding what is being said.

In America, not much, if any, physical suffering will be inflicted on Christians by others because of our freedom of religion. What we will experience is being a pariah and treated with scorn by those who think we are religious nuts (out of our mind). That type of suffering I enjoy; in fact, it brings a euphoric blast to my heart.

In countries where the Christian religion is looked down on, or outlawed, the physical suffering by outsiders may be extreme. Still, joy will be in their/our hearts with the blessed possibility that we will be in the presence of our Lord and Savior because of our pending martyrdom for Jesus Christ.

Even though God loves all people and desires all to be saved, we are taught by Scripture that God has a very special love for His children. As He is the Father of all obedient Christians, it brings confidence to those who are proud of having such a powerful and influential Parent. Also, it feels great to know that we are in His care at all times. Is there a better joy that anyone can experience than to know for certain that he/she is loved and cared for by the most powerful entity in the whole universe? There is no doubt there are many more advantages for disciples of Christ. Here are a few more.

Having a road map for life is one of the most valuable assets in the Christian life. And that is exactly what we have. That guidance comes in two forms from the New Testament and the guidance we receive from God’s Spirit. They are never in conflict.

John 16:13. “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”

Luke 1:78-79. “. . . because of the tender mercy of our God . . . to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

That is a great advantage God’s children have over the people of this world. Only one thing, we must make sure the inspiration we are listening to is not the spirit of this world. Just remember, that evil spirit comes with sweet words and presents himself as an angel of light. Most often we can tell who he is because his inspirations are not in accordance with New Testament Scriptures. That is an excellent reason to be thoroughly familiar with our holy instruction book; that is, if we wholeheartedly desire to do what is right, and thus please our Savior in every way.

By the way we live, we will bring the Word of God to life. Then, and only then, will those who also desire to live a holy life have us as their model and mentor. That is the best, if not the only, way to propagate the life of Jesus Christ. The holy life Jesus Christ lived and the words He taught will be our guide to God’s blessed eternity.

One of the most misunderstood advantages we have is that we can avoid, with little or no effort, the main thrust of this materialistic, self-centered world, which is that Christians don’t need or desire all the material trappings the pagan world goes after; for instance, things that impress others, like shiny new motor vehicles, big homes in upper-class neighborhoods, always going places and doing things, having more than enough money to blow on anything and everything to show others that they are better than them, etc. We will be content with the least of everything; all we need is the minimum amount of clothing, shelter and food. If we have these, we will be more than content with them. We carry very little worthless baggage. For certain, at the same time, we must work and do all we can so as not to be in need and burden other Christians.

1st Timothy 6:8. “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

Those who get entangled with an excess of worldly things such as a desire to get rich, etc. are on a path that leads to destruction.

1st Timothy 6:9-10. “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

Not having a desire to compete or trying to put ourselves above others is one of the greatest advantages we have over non-Christians. We are not concerned with what people think of us; their opinions mean absolutely nothing to us. Rather, we at all times desire to please our commanding officer: Jesus Christ.

Much of my adult life, I was a man of the world. Whatever standards the world set for success, I attempted to follow. I was in a trap that could not be satisfied until I came into the path of freedom that God alone can give. The reason is that materialistic attitudes or things, be what they may, cannot satisfy the spirit person inside us all. Unknown to most humans, we are spirit beings with physical bodies.

The ways of the world are cruel. The reason they are that way is because it is a dog-eat-dog world, regardless of how much one dresses it up as wonderful or paints it pretty.

I don’t often use Bible verses that are made infamous by traditional churches by being over-quoted and under-practiced. Nevertheless, these two upcoming verses say much concerning this post and the advantages we have by living a Godly and holy life as taught by Jesus Christ.

Matthew 11:28-29. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Did you notice that these verses do not include the wealthy or the wannabe wealthy?

In conclusion, regardless of how modern Christians present themselves, for the most part, they are living lies. What I mean is this: It is difficult, if not impossible, to separate or tell the difference between atheists and run-of-the-mill Christians, either by their appearance or casually visiting with them. That is an indictment that may tell on them at the resurrection. Our advantage is to have the desire and power to live and speak as the New Testament teaches, which has benefits not only in this world, but also in the world to come.

The following is a comment worthy of being read by all the bloggers.

JC, I have come upon your blog this evening, as I was putting the final touches on my Sunday School lesson for tomorrow. My church is currently without a senior minister, and I am concerned we are heading in the direction of “fluff” Christianity or Christianity “lite” where God’s grace and forgiveness are thrown out as a “get out of jail free” card instead of something to be earned and respected. I do not believe Christianity should be a meaningless love feast, like Woodstock In Jesus’s two greatest commandments, He instructed us on how to love with purpose. Christianity was never designed to be a “feel good” religion where anything goes. As you stated repeatedly, there are instructions - and awesome ones, at that on how to be a proper Christian that God gifted to us through his son Jesus Christ.

I am probably preaching to the choir here. I just wanted to tell you that I will visit your site often and am going to give our the web address tomorrow in Sunday School. While I haven’t read everything you’ve written so far, you are speaking what is in my heart and putting a finger on my disappointments in churches, as of late. The other side of “Christian lite” are the churches that ignore Christ’s commandments on loving our neighbor and absolutely are missing the ball on loving Him first and foremost, as they slyly breed hate toward those whose behaviors they do not understand (nor try to). Half the Christian churches are pushing many far from Christ and the other half are forgetting all about Christ I want to see us put Him back in the center and gravitate toward Him rather than leaving Him in a backroom somewhere prior to entering the pulpit.

I appreciate what you are doing and think it is extremely timely and necessary. I look very much forward to reading more of what you have to say.

Thank you


jc said: Rachel, thank you very much for your encouraging words. jc

Sunday, June 22, 2008

# 253: Religion Gone Bad

There are thousands of religions in our world that claim to be true, yet, the majority of those religions come up short when it comes to the criteria that identify a religion as true. The question comes up: What is truth? That is the question Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, asked.

If there is one dominating truth, it is something that is good for every human being, regardless of race, creed, color, age, nationality, education or whatever else can separate us. That Godly truth is that everyone should have selfless love for each other. This statement paints a lofty picture of a seemingly unattainable pie-in-the-sky-type aspiration.

Yet, the Christian religion was meant to be the religion of truth. Only thing, the New Testament that diligently described that truth has been compromised to the point where it no longer is taught in the vast majority of organized religion. The crying shame is that we hear the words “love” and “truth” throughout many religions, but when it comes to putting those principles into practice, they come up null and void. That could be characterized as bad religion.

As has been quoted many times in this blog, that principle originates from the most basic teachings of Jesus Christ. In Luke 10:25, Jesus was asked by an expert in the law, “‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus answered, ‘. . . how do you read it?’” The expert in the law answers in the following verses: Luke 10:27-28. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’” That love for God and neighbor is the absolute truth that must be the holy grail for everyone who calls themselves Christians.

That Godly truth has been compromised by none other than the greatest Christian preacher in the world, Billy Graham. He was engaged in a crusade in 1987 in Nova Scotia. After he quoted the aforementioned verses, this is what he adamantly said: “No one in the whole world has ever kept those two commands.” After that, he said no more about the most important precepts in the Christian Bible. What he did with the wave of his hand and words that flowed from his mouth was to nullify the centerpiece/foundation of all Christianity. Without question, disregarding what Graham said, it must be our main focus to love God and neighbor to the best of our ability for our entire lives, while striving to love God and neighbor to a greater degree every day as we continue to grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ. That statement is what it means to love God with our complete being. That is the absolute truth, without compromise. Anything less than that is bad religion.

Here is a way we can spot most phonies: When people speak well of certain clergymen/women, that is a sure sign of their evil intent. Luke 6:26. “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” Preaching exactly what the New Testament teaches will never win anyone a popularity contest. Therefore, I don’t expect many accolades from some readers of this blog.

When love is no more than a byword/slogan, the result is the reason why Christianity is in the shape it is in. That is Christianity gone bad, while singing the praises of Jesus. This heresy of making little of love for God and neighbor bothers me more than words can tell. By the way, there are dozens of verses which teach that the only way we can display our love for God with all our faculties is to be obedient to all the teachings presented in the New Testament. I will quote just two verses: Luke 11:28. “He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.’” 1st John 5:3. “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” Also, there are many verses that make it obvious that we must love those in need. I will quote just one verse. 1st John 3:17. “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”

Truth can also be described as being a person, namely Jesus Christ. He said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.” Through Him, truth is personified. As the love Christ has for humanity continues to grow in our lives, we have the right/duty to also personify the truth by saying, “Watch my life, hear my words, and you will see truth in action.” Do you think a preacher of any large denomination would have the audacity to challenge his/her parishioners to live the truth as described in Scripture? Don’t hold your breath. In truth, God entrusted all His disciples to spread the truth of the gospel. That is exactly where churches per se have failed miserably.

Being a disciple of Christ gives us the greatest duty that any person could ever acquire. It is our responsibility to show the lost world what truth is, thus exposing the lies of Satan’s bad religion. Do we do that? A whopping no! Why not? Because, as we were taught by compromised religion, that is not our duty. What most churches teach is half-truth, which is worse than no truth at all. The reason I say that is because most of those church-going religious people believe they are going to heaven simply because they go to church and somehow think they believe what the Bible teaches. They are badly mistaken. Without an active, whole hearted love for God and neighbor, it is impossible to please God.

Our whole life must be focused on how we can please God and Jesus with our every thought, word and deed. That is the only way we can live the truth. Do we do that? A resounding NO! Why not? Repeating, because bad religion teaches us that it is not necessary. This is a hard teaching. Yet, by the grace of God and His Spirit that lives within us, we will have the desire and power to please God at all times, and not just by doing little or nothing. To put it another way, we will miss out on the blessings of heaven more so by the good we didn’t do, and not so much by the evil we did do. It is relatively easy not to do evil things, but extremely challenging to live by the requirements that lead to real life.

It is impossible for people who don’t possess the Holy Spirit to live a life of love, regardless of what churches teach to the contrary. Please remember, bad religion will sweet-talk us because it wants our money and attendance. Therefore, if anyone thinks this teaching is a lot of bunk, God, Christ and I unequivocally say that you don’t have the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Faith, God’s grace and the Holy Spirit are the spiritual equipment necessary to start living in a way that pleases God. Romans 8:9. “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” The reason for the above verse is that the Holy Spirit is the critical component which gives Christians the power, or better yet, the will power to live the Christ-like life. Or course, the Spirit activating His will in our lives does not happen automatically; we have to continually desire Him to manifest Himself by listening to His Holy inspiration.

Along with that, the Holy Spirit makes us one with Christ, God and each other. That is called the unity of the Spirit. John 14:20. “On that day you will realize that I am in the Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” For that reason, we will never be or feel alone. This presence of God’s Spirit abiding in us will be noticed when we won’t need to be in the company of friends as much as before. This contentment will grow as we continue to live and obey as Scripture dictates.

It will make no sense or logic for those without the Spirit to live and love as Scripture and the Spirit of Christ dictate. And I can understand: I was there at one time. The problem is, those without God’s Spirit can’t understand how or why they should consider others better than themselves. The only way anyone can start to understand that Godly principle is to actually start experiencing the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, religion gone bad is rampant. Let us identify if we are part of a religion that leads to damnation and make the necessary changes. I say, no religion is better than bad religion. Amen. Try to figure out why that short statement is true. Leave a comment. jc

Saturday, June 14, 2008

# 252: Extensions of Jesus Christ

Christians believe Jesus Christ came to earth to die on a cross to save us from being sent to eternal damnation; which He did. Along with that, Jesus came to show us, by His life, how to live in a way that pleases our heavenly Father. By the life He lived and what He taught, He became an example for all people who call themselves Christians or disciples of Christ. He also became our example for another reason: so that we can become extensions of His life; then future generations will use us as examples of how to live. Christ lived a perfect life. Consequently, with perfection as our holy grail (role model), living the Christian life will be a death-defying challenge as we continually strive for a greater degree of perfection.

Some might be thinking to themselves, "How can we become extensions of Christ?" Let Christ reveal a Divine mystery. First, we must realize that Almighty God is an awesome God. In fact, there are no human words that can accurately describe His greatness. He is the God of a universe with no limits. Our solar system and even our Milky Way galaxy are but a minute speck when compared to that gigantic background. Yet, not many Christians dare speculate as to the infinite number of other worlds that have the potential to inhabit intelligent life. The question comes up: How can God give individuals on the earth special attention to the point of being extensions of Him and his Son?

The answer is simple. Well, not so simple. All the goodness that consists of what God is could rightfully be summed up as His Spirit; His Spirit exists in countless entities, which the New Testament calls the Holy Spirit. That Holy Spirit is in limbo until He enters a human being (Christian). When He does enter a person who has accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and conveys it by diligent obedience to the commands of God, at that time He will start to make His existence known to that individual. But never will He violate the free will of the one He inhabits, even if He could.

That Holy Spirit desires to control every action, thought, desire, ambition and motivation, along with the mind, heart and the complete will of the person He indwells. Repeating, never will He force any of God's attributes on the one He indwells, although He may lovingly coax Christ's ways but with no coercion. The only time the Spirit can do His work is when a person wholeheartedly desires to be changed into a Christ-like individual. When those changes start to manifest themselves, that person is starting to become an extension of Jesus Christ. As that person continues to grow, He/she becomes more and more Christ-like; thus, more power will be available so that he or she can and will display, to a greater degree, what Christ desires from people who are genuine Christians.

However, there is a problem: When one receives God's Holy Spirit, but there is little or no growth/change in how one lives, that would signify that one's faith is not genuine. Anyone who claims to be a Christian and neglects the guidelines of the New Testament is undermining the truth of the gospel for those who will come later. Therefore, the Spirit must unwillingly leave that person, since she/he is deaf to His inspiration. People in that position may believe they are still Christians since they still religiously go to church every Sunday, pay their tithe and are "good" the rest of the week. Nevertheless, without growth into the likeness of Christ, which displays their disconnection with Christ, they are stagnant; that is a sure sign of death. They don't show any Christ-like characteristics which would verify their extension to the life of Jesus Christ. That is a sad situation. They are the people this blog has been desperately attempting to reach for three years. The only thing is, they believe they are already Christians, and since their present religion is satisfying and requires little or no effort, why should they change, thus being burdened and challenged to live as extensions of Christ?

The most important question we could ask is this: How was Jesus able to obey everything His Father commanded Him? John 14:31. "but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. ‘Come now; let us leave.’" The answer is that since Jesus was the possessor of His Father's Holy Spirit, and sharer of God's Divine nature, He was inspired by the love His Father had for Him and the love He had for His Father. Therefore, He was able to believe, without a doubt, in what His Father said. Hence, because of the certainly of His belief, He accomplished all that His Father commanded.

Let us look at Scriptural evidence that we Christians also are extensions of God and His Christ. First and foremost, we must follow the example of how Jesus Christ was able to explicitly obey all that His father commanded. 1st John 2:6. "Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did." Ephesians 5:1. "Be imitators of God." Philippians 2:5. "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." 2nd Corinthians 5:21. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." These verses, and several more which display the same precepts, are the open secret of why we must emulate the life of Jesus Christ. That must unequivocally be the goal of every serious Christian. One of the reasons God gave us His Holy Spirit, as He gave to Jesus, was to inspire us to live like Jesus. The more we love our heavenly Father with all our facilities, the stronger our belief, and the easier it will be to live within all the guidelines of His Word, the Christian Bible. That tells us that the way Jesus was connected to God, we also can be connected. That connection is the extension of His life from generation to generation through His disciples (you and me). Every Genuine Christian is one of Christ's disciples. They are one and the same; don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

When we are living as above- mentioned, we can be absolutely assured of our destiny, along with making our calling and election sure. 2 Peter 1:10. "Therefore my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall."

If God could inspire Jesus, who was totally human, to have the ability to be completely obedient to all that He said, and thus give Jesus absolute assurance of His destiny, He can and will do the same to other humans who also have an active desire to be totally obedient to all that He teaches, and thus be given absolute assurance of their Salvation. Assurance of Salvation combined with lack of obedience to New Testament Scripture is a path of complacency that, most likely, will lead to an unexpected death. Another prevalent indication of death in the modern church is a lack of sharing their faith with those without Christ. Philemon 1:6. "I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ."

Anyone who believes they are absolutely certain of their extension/connection has another challenge to think about: They must be faithful and overcome the niceties the world offers until the end of life. Revelation 2:10. "Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life." Revelation 2:26. "To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations." Romans 2:6-7. "God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life." [Emphasis added.]

In conclusion, much of this post will not resonate well with most people who call themselves Christians, and with good reason. The reason I say that is because the center piece of this post is that having an active desire of becoming like Jesus is not optional, but mandatory. There is nothing easy about living the lifestyle of the Christ in this pampered and coddled society. Consequently, we cannot be extensions of Christ and still engage in the dictations of our “anything goes” American lifestyle.

Let us not forget, if we don't strive to live as Jesus did and still call ourselves Christians, we will be propagating false examples for all other potential Christians. Isn't that what has been happening for the last several hundred years or so?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

# 251: The Best Things in Life are Free

Let us examine what is best for humankind; things that are free which give real and lasting meaning to the way we live. Since this is a Biblical blog, most if not all, that will be written herein, will stem from adherence to Biblical precepts.

Wisdom: No doubt, some are born with the ability to think and act wisely. But I believe most who have wisdom acquired it a little bit at a time. Since all holy wisdom comes from God, He is the one who gives wisdom. Another way of putting it: Wisdom that is free of charge can be gotten by clinging to all that comes from the mouth of God: the Christian Bible. To condense what that is can be summed up in two sentences: to actively worship by believing and obeying all that He teaches, to have an active desire to love Him as He requires, and to have genuine faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; at the same time, to desire the very best, spiritually and materially, for all people, especially the needy, regardless of whether they are rich or poor, friend or foe. That is wisdom that money can’t buy.

Godly wisdom is to think of all the outcomes which could possibly result before acting on the spur of the moment. The appropriate action should be, if possible, what is the best for all concerned parties. Remember, wisdom that is from above will always attempt to include the word “love” in the equation; without divine love, self, most often, will be the winner and not God—which is not wisdom, but worldly foolishness in the eyes of the Lord. Those who follow this rule will acquire true wisdom free of charge. It is not strange to say that Godly wisdom may sound like stupidity to most who don’t know Jesus Christ and what He stands for, even though His name may constantly be on their lips.

The greatest free gift of all is the Salvation from damnation that God offers to everyone by His grace, through His Son Jesus Christ. This free gift cannot be had by our own goodness or effort. There is no way a person can be good enough to say, "God saved me because I was good and deserved it." It is given freely when a person truly believes in a way that makes Jesus Christ their Lord (boss) and Savior. Isn’t that wonderful? Eternal life free of charge. There is a catch, however: The only evidence that a person really has possession of this gift is obedience to all that is taught in the New Testament. In other words, there is no obedience without the producing of good fruit. John 15:8. "This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."

Another priceless freebie is a Divine love that cannot be conjured up by our own effort. This is the selfless, powerful love that gives us the ability to love when love is not deserved, and in a realm were ordinary human love cannot function. This is a love that many "christians" do not possess, not to mention pagans. Godly love must be given to us directly from God. How do we know we have it? When the welfare of others is more important than our own, Divine love is the evidence that we truly have faith in Jesus Christ and actually belong to Him—when we live in a way that love for self can be considered as hate in comparison to our concern for those in need. Then we know with certainty that God’s Holy Spirit is living in us. That free gift of agape love gives us freedom from self-concern. That is Christianity in its purest form. Luke 14:26. "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple."

Another attribute we all need is to have peace with ourselves, with others, and especially with God. The world could be in turmoil and our peace would remain intact. How do we gain this peace that defies all reasoning? We can’t buy it with money or influence. It is free and comes from God. It is similar to the peace that Jesus Christ had. He knew His destiny, who He was, and who He belonged to. When we truly know our destiny, know who we belong to, and live accordingly, one has one of the most valuable gifts in existence. This kind of peace is what is missing in the world today. Without that peace, we will be continually groping around at everything that comes along, hoping to find something that will permanently satisfy our emptiness.

There is much temporal happiness in the world, which comes and goes depending on circumstances. But what we all need is a joy that withstands all conditions, the bad with the good. This is easier said than done. Some might ask, "How can someone be joyful when they are going through a living hell?" The answer cannot be understood unless it is experienced. The worse we have it, the closer we get to what we are longing for. What I mean is, when things are so bad, we give up all hope for any good to come to us in this world. Then the day can’t come soon enough to go to a much better place to be with our Lord.

The more highly people think of themselves, and possibly with good reason, the less patience they will have with the failings of others. And isn’t that what the majority of Americans are striving for? It seems like everyone, in their own way, wants to be a big shot. Well, that is not the way it is in the Christian community, or more rightly so, the way it is supposed to be. Patience is a virtue that trouble and hardship bring. There was an old man who always prayed to God for more patience, and the more fervent his prayer, the more trouble came his way. He said to the Lord, "Lord, I pray for patience and all I get is trouble." The Lord responded , "The fruit of trouble is patience." In other words, even though patience is free, it comes by way of hardships. When we are able to put ourselves in the shoes of others (empathy), patience is not far off. When people have Godly patience, they can be reassured that their life is pleasing to God. Pray for more patience.

Are you and I kind? Let us not answer that question too quickly. Rather ask ourselves this question: Could we be kinder than we are to people who really don’t deserve our kindness because of the ungodly lives they may possibly be living? If a person is not kind, one can bet their bottom dollar that they do not belong to Christ. For those of us who are not kind, let us ask ourselves this question: why not? Most likely we are secretly selfish, and lack God’s love in our lives. That may be a hard answer, but nevertheless it is most often the truth. Let us seek God’s love so that we can be kinder.

Another thing that is free for the asking is hope. When someone is living a wretched or mediocre lifestyle, a realistic hope can give that person new life. I don’t mean a “hope-so” type of hope, like counting on winning the lottery or something of that sort. What I mean is, if you had a rich uncle who was seriously ill and his last will and testament was made out to you, now that is realistic hope. That type of hope makes life more bearable. Almighty God offers every one of us a hope that exceeds all other hopes: a hope of eternal life. Even though this hope is free, it demands that we live according to God’s rules. Hope becomes more valuable and valid when life is not going well. In fact, when life is all peaches and cream, hope is not necessary; why would anyone need hope when they have it made? And even if there is hope, it, most likely, is a shallow type of hope. That may be the reason eternal life may be nothing but beautiful, empty words to the wealthy. When there is hope, life can endure all things, even in extreme situations. Without realistic hope for a better life, life is a dead end. That could be the reason why Jesus said, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." Luke 6:20.

Goodness is a virtue that sums up much of the Christian life. One doesn’t have to pay for goodness; it is free for the taking. As a matter of fact, without goodness, there is no Christian life. Goodness is a direct result of love for God, but mostly for all concerned. What I mean is that one can’t be good to one person and then say, “I won’t be good to that person, because I don’t like him/her.” True goodness that comes from God is impartial. The love God has for us can be translated into goodness. Luke 18:19. "‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone.’" Yes, our God is a good God. And He is, or should be, our only role model. Ephesians 5:1. "Be imitators of God . . ." As we learn of Him, we must start to put it into practice to the best of our ability. The main way love can be made visible is to be good to those in need.

Thankfulness is all but missing in the world today, whereas it should be most prevalent. This is what I mean: We have so many things to be thankful for, but we take them for granted; that is called complacency. Volumes could be written on this subject; therefore, these few paragraphs won’t even scratch the surface. Being thankful in a conscious way, especially in the spiritual sense, is absolutely free and can enrich our lives more than money. That seems to say that when we are not thankful, we are robbing ourselves of many joys that are not available to many of us. For instance, does anyone deserve what God so freely gives us through faith? Absolutely not. How often do we think about the great privilege of actually being a child of God?

Once a person repents before God of their wrongdoings and accepts Jesus Christ as their Boss and Savior, they are freely forgiven of all past sins. There are many, many virtues we receive freely from God; that list is too long to explore at this time. Therefore, let me go to the physical benefits we now enjoy in this 21st century which we never give thanks for. Let us compare all the benefits we now have that were not available in the 15th century or before. Let me give a short list of things we would be without: no running water, no automatic hot water, no central heating, no indoor toilets, no electricity—that means no computers or other electronic gadgets, no gas- or electric-powered transportation, no telephones, no garbage collection, no government programs to help the needy, no fresh fruits and vegetables in the winter time (except in warmer climates), no supermarkets or department stores, no paved streets, virtually no health care or much-needed medicines, no trains, planes or cars (walking would be the main form of transportation), all clothing is washed by hand, cooking, for the most part, has to be done outside. This list could be endless. Are we thankful for all these everyday things and more that we now take for granted? I don’t think so. Try it; start being thankful to God for the everyday things we now have that make life easy. You will be surprised how much that type of attitude can cheer up a person even on a down day.

Of all the attributes in the spiritual life, prayer is my weakest link. Though I do much praying, I could do much, much more. Why is something as easy as prayer difficult for me? I don’t know why. But prayer is a powerful tool to get the attention of God’s ear. I mean prayers followed by action. How much richer our lives could be—I don’t mean material riches—if we would only pray more. It costs us nothing to pray, only will power. It is no wonder the lives of most Christians are mediocre. They lack active prayer. After today, I am going to make every effort to pray much more, not for things for myself but for the benefit of others and the Christian cause. Why don’t you bloggers do the same?

Compassion and empathy are virtues that are vital to getting closer to God. I personally have a natural form of empathy for the hurting (especially children who are handicapped, and also for adults), which is good, but it hurts and produces many tears. This form of empathy bothers me because my hands are tied, in most cases, to do anything to help. Another reason this blog was started is that I hurt and have compassion for the millions, including some of my relatives, who believe they are Christians but don’t know what the New Testament teaches as to how to live in a way to please God, along with a few atheists. If these people don’t somehow wake up to the truth, they will be going to a place of torment for eternity. This bothers me more than most can realize. Repeating, that is why this blog is mostly an emphatic warning bell to many who may think they are saved without giving hell a second thought. The possible reason for this lethargy is that they must believe hell is not real, saying to themselves, "Certainly God wouldn’t send me to a place like that; He is a loving God."

One of the most valuable gestures anyone can give that is absolutely free is a smile. A smile tells people that you like them. Remember, if one has the joy of the Lord, they have a reason to smile. Smile especially when someone is talking to you. Also try to smile when you are talking to others; this will take practice. When you are walking along the street or wherever, or when you are approaching someone, give them a smile; most likely, you may have made their day. And if not, you are at least expressing what is inside of you; hopefully the Spirit of a joyful God. In other words, a smile is the most valuable and the only thing we can give to a passing stranger. Try it; you may be surprised. Along with that, a smile, although it may be not genuine, can make our day more bearable.

The word “holy” in a Christian's point of view is to be separate from the ordinary. God says, "Be holy, for I am holy." There is much said in the New Testament about separating ourselves from the things of this world. Christians are to be involved with the things of God and Christ. And when we are involved in worldly matters, we are robbing God of time which is supposed to be dedicated to things that promote the holy cause of Jesus Christ. We are not only free to do that, but we are commanded. If we don’t, that may be evidence that we are not holy, and, most likely, do not possess God’s Holy Spirit. Think about this: God cannot be mocked. What I mean is, when we say we are Christians and don’t live the way the New Testament teaches we are supposed to, we, most likely, are pseudo- christians. Holiness is free, but it will take a lot of holy will power and self-control to live a holy life.

Holy will power and holy self-control, which again are free, are the mainstays of the Christian life. This is not only for Christians, but for all walks of life. How do we get these precious attributes? Again, all good gifts come from God. When we are one with God and we know it, God can do extraordinary things through the most ordinary people. If everyone in the world had holy will power, this planet would be heaven on earth. Even though my Christian life may be lacking in many avenues, one thing I don’t lack is will power and self-control. I think because of living in poverty and ignorance as a youth, those attributes were necessary to survive in this dog-eat-dog world. Because of what I lacked in wealth and knowledge, my self-control and will power were automatically developed. Even though we don’t have to pay for them, they take much effort at all times. I sometimes ask myself, Why did I get so involved with the things of God? I truly can’t answer that, but my guess is that what I lacked in physical niceties, I made up with spiritual values. That means even though I have little of material value, I believe I am one of the wealthiest people in the world because my eternal treasures, which are real, are in safe keeping. That is enough of my autobiography.

In conclusion, the things that have real and lasting value are free of monetary charge. Hence, the saying “The best things in life are free” is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.