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The “Five Whys” of Life (Why are We Depressed?)

“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

“Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.” Proverbs 12:25

During the process of product development and manufacturing, it has become standard practice in the industry that when a problem occurs the process is halted and a root cause analysis is conducted to find a solution to the problem as well as to assure that the problem never occurs again in the future.  There are various methods to conduct the root cause analysis, but the most popular was introduced by Taiichi Ohno, who is known as the father of the Toyota Production System, which became Lean Manufacturing in the US.  He called the method “the Five Whys”, directing the production team to continue asking “why” five times, and after doing so, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.

Our lives are very complex and can be challenging, much like the product development process.  We are not well prepared for the challenges we face throughout our lives, as both children and adults or parents, and we can easily find ourselves in a state of despair or confusion.  I find it helpful to periodically look back at the foundation of my Christian faith and reestablish the thought process that has brought me to the conclusions I now rest upon. I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to ask “Why” five times while examining what I consider the core problem of our lives.  I feel that we can gain insight into the nature of this problem and its solution.

The first step is to define the problem. It has been my experience, and my observation, and I think that you would agree, that many people find themselves in a deep state of depression at some stage of their life, some earlier than others.  Related to this, is the lack of motivation and dissatisfaction we feel about our life.  I’m no expert about the extent of this problem, but I know of too many people who are on anti-depression medication.  I also think that many people  who are seemingly functioning normally and appear to be happy and satisfied to most onlookers, are in reality deeply dissatisfied with their life and struggle to keep themselves going every day.

This problem of depression and dissatisfaction can affect people at all stages of life, and I believe it can occur multiple times throughout our lifetime.  I also believe that everyone has dealt with this condition at some point in their life, and have had to come up with some sort of solution, some more successfully than others, to keep them going on in their life. For me personally, I was a teenager when I faced this problem.

Okay, so here’s the initial problem: People are depressed and dissatisfied with their life and have no motivation.  The next step is to ask the question, “Why are people depressed, dissatisfied and unmotivated?”

As I have stated, I have faced this problem myself and I have thought about it for a long time. My conclusion (my answer to “Why” number 1) is that this problem is the result of people not having a clear understanding of their purpose in life.  With no clear purpose or meaning in one’s life, all becomes vanity; all of their efforts and labor are in vain.  King Solomon said it thousands of years ago:

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher (Solomon); Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?  One generation passes away, and another generation comes, but the earth abides forever.”  Ecclesiastes 1: 2-4

By the way, one of the first songs that I had written on my guitar was related to my identifying with this feeling of vanity.  The chorus of the song states: “Is all my labor just in vain?  Can someone free me from my pain, or will my whole world just trickle down the drain?”

This problem is directly related to a person’s world view, which deals with the deeper questions of life such as, “who am I, what is my purpose, why was I born, where will I be after I die?”  Everyone must face these questions and come up with some answers that form their world view or philosophy of life.

Following this line of thinking, my analysis concludes that the next question (Why #2) is something like this: “Why do people not clearly understand their purpose in life?”

The understanding of our purpose in life is directly related to our belief about the origin of human life here on earth. People have two choices with which to establish their view of human origin: the most popular in our current western culture is the idea of the universe originating from a “big bang” that occurred millions of years ago, and then life resulting from a series of evolutionary progressions that caused life to evolve from the molecular level to human beings; this is known as the theory of evolution.  The second choice considers this universe and all life on earth as being created by a superior being; this view is known as intelligent design, stating that our world was created by a master designer of superior intelligence (i.e. God).

Those who choose to believe that the theory of evolution is the true explanation for our origin, then see their purpose as being a part of the progression of the evolutionary process.   It has been my experience that the purpose resulting from evolution is too vague to contribute to the resolution of our dissatisfaction and resultant depression.  Being one in billions of people involved in a random progression of life over billions of years with no clear and definite conclusion, and supposedly controlled by an unknown “force”, results in uncertainty and confusion. The vanities of life that King Solomon referred to are still apparent and are unresolved with this view.  Nothing is new under the sun, and all thing end in vanity. This view does more to fuel our anxiety than to resolve it, and this leads to depression.

Obviously, my choice has been the latter (and hopefully yours also).  I’m convinced that the intricacies of our bodies, as well as other animals and plants, and the beauty of the world around us, did not happen as a random process; there must have been some intelligence behind their design.  There are many books and documentaries that explain this in more detail if you need to be convinced further.  One recent documentary is called “Is Genesis History?” and is available on Netflix.  Another excellent documentary is called “God of Wonders” and may be available on YouTube if you search for it, but can also be purchased on the Berean Call website. Here’s the link: https://www.thebereancall.org/.

With this knowledge about our origin being from a Divine Creator, we can now look closer at our question: “Why do people not clearly understand the purpose of their life?”  I believe there are two answers to this. The first is that they have chosen to believe in the theory of evolution as the source of all life.  Although I could pursue this further, I would rather pursue the second answer, that people have accepted the belief in a Divine Creator, since I believe that most people reading this have accepted as truth that we were created by a Divine Creator.  Although some people believe in a Divine Creator or Intelligent Designer, it appears that many still don’t understand their purpose in life, so we need to look into this further.  Many have not received the answer to this problem regarding their purpose in life from the Superior Creator God that they have come to believe in, so this is still a problem.

Following this path of reasoning, we now come to our next “why” question (Why #3): If there is a Divine Creator who has created the universe and all life that is in it, why is He silent?  Why doesn’t He reveal Himself to us and give us direction and explain why He created us and for what purpose. Why don’t we hear a voice from heaven or see this Creator God with our own eyes?

My answer to this is that God has revealed himself in the Bible. And God in His wisdom has chosen to not reveal Himself physically to all humans, but instead to reveal Himself exclusively to the people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, in the past, culminating in the coming of the Messiah, who was the “Word made flesh”, or the human representation of the Creator God.  This revelation has been recorded in the Bible for all to receive, but it requires faith, that is, believing without seeing God physically.

“Jesus said to him(Thomas), ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ ” John 20: 29

This has been my personal conclusion as I have been convinced that the Biblical record from the writings of Moses to the record of the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is the true representation of the Creator’s message to His creation.  We learn from the Bible that we were created in the image of God and were purposed to serve Him, to honor and glorify Him, and to bring pleasure to Him.  Included in this purpose is a special relationship where God becomes like a Father to us, and we can enter into a type of friendship with God.  Jesus came to reconcile our relationship with God so that we can enter into a direct communication with Him and become a part of His family.

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3: 16-17

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ,..” 2 Corinthians 5: 17-18

The next question that arises is why people don’t fully understand their purpose, even though we have embraced God as our creator and have recognized and believe in His revealed Word, the Bible. It seems that we become confused about our condition in this life, even though we have been reconciled to God.  The next question we may ask is “If a loving Creator as revealed in the Bible is our source of life, why is my life so hard? “  or “Why is there evil, pain, and suffering with the final condition death?”  Would you agree that this is confusing even to Christians?

Condensing this, we come to the next question – Why #4: “Why did God create us in a world where life is very difficult and ends in death?” As Christians, the answer to this should be very clear, but I am afraid that for many Christians it’s not clear or it has faded into the background and has not become a part of our thinking and world view as we walk through our life. This was the case for me for a long time.

We must look again to the Scriptures to find the answer to this.  The truth is that God did not originally intend for us to be in this world as it is today.  We should, in fact, recognize that we don’t belong here.  Adam and Eve were created in a world that had neither pain nor suffering, nor was there a need for rigorous work to survive, nor was there death.  Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God, choosing to believe the serpent’s lie that they could become like God if they ate the forbidden fruit, caused a curse to come upon this entire world and the human race.  Additionally, Satan has somehow been allowed some control in this world as a result of this sin.  Legally, it seems, he has the right to influence and garner some control or authority over this world through spiritual means.

As Christians, we must recognize that we don’t belong here and as children of God we have an inheritance waiting for us in heaven, or in the future heaven and earth that will be restored at the second coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  For now we are aliens and strangers on this earth, temporary residents who are just passing through on our way to a better place.  This understanding helps us to cope with the pain and suffering and evils of this present world.  Also, we look at death as a welcome event.  Paul, the Apostle, said it like this:

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” Philippians 3: 20-21

And this:

“For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1: 21

This truth of having a future in a new heaven and earth that will be completely different than our current cursed world system resolves the problem that was defined by King Solomon of the vanity of vanities.  As Christians we recognize that the next world that God has preserved for us will be beyond our comprehension and will be without the curse.  We will have an existence that will satisfy and complete our lives, with no negative impact.  It will be the full, abundant life that Jesus spoke about! (See John 10:10 quoted at the start)

Our final question (#5) should be this: If we have come to belief that we were created by the living God who also created the universe and all that is in it, and that He is the loving and holy God that has been revealed in the Bible.  And if we believe that this world has been cursed and placed under the control of the devil and his forces until the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, when we will be transformed and join in His glorified condition, then why are we depressed?  How can we be depressed if we really believe this?  Is this a reality in our lives?  Why would any hardships or trials dampen our joy in this amazing reality of eternal life with Him in a future new heaven and earth?

“For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

“What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8: 31 – 39

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.” Philippians 4: 6

“Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new,’ and He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’  And He said to me, ‘It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.  He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.’ ” Revelations 21: 5 – 7

Amen.

Be Patient Until the Lord Comes

“Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and late rain.  You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors.  As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast.  You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” James 5: 7-11

We live in a very impatient society.  We learn from an early age that time is money so if we are not rushing than we are wasting time and losing money.  And yet it seems that we spend so much of our time waiting.  We wait for the light to turn green, for the progress bar to finish, for the water to boil, for vacation time to come, for retirement, and for many other events, big and small, to either arrive or to complete.

As we allow more and more pressure to be put on us to perform faster and faster, it generates more and more stress in us.   The stress causes us to become less and less patient, possibly resulting in outbursts or anger and impatience.  When riding with one of my friends, he would start yelling, “You can go! You can go! You can go!” when the light turned green and the car in front wouldn’t move immediately.  If you have been to a big city like New York, you learn quickly that people are very impatient and seem to function in that mode, and are even proud of it.  They are quick to beep their horn or shout out obscenities, and consider it part of the city culture.  All of us are faced with the pressure to move quickly and get things done, and to produce as quickly as possible.  We also expect the same of others and become impatient if they don’t.  This attitude of impatience infiltrates all areas of our lives as it is a part of our western culture (at least here in the USA).

On the flip side, I find it amazing that the things that we look forward to with so much anticipation are usually anticlimactic, that is, they usually don’t deliver what we expect.  It’s like we are motivated by the expectation, but then disappointed when we reach the desired goal, so we quickly shift our attention to the next anticipated future event to again motivate us.  Ultimately, this approach leads to frustration and even despair, and this could also contribute to an increase in our impatience.

There are two problems that I’m pointing out here: first is our tendency towards being impatient as we are trained to do so in this society by being pressured to move and work at a fast pace, as well as the desire for immediate results, and second is our misplaced anticipations, when we place them on the things of this world and allow our expectations to be set very high as a means of motivation or whatever the case.

As Christians we must deal with both of these problems.  In fact, I would say that there is a high importance on getting this right in our lives.  The Lord has placed a very high value on patience.  Have you considered why?  Consider this verse:

“Love is patient…..”  1 Corinthians 13: 4

And this:

“For the fruit of the Spirit is……patience…..” Galatians 5:22

When we think about being patient we don’t always equate this to love.  Nor do we always recognize patience as a fruit of the spirit or as being spiritual.  But patience is a part of the very nature of God.  Jesus displayed patience, and patience in suffering, as He lived His life here on the earth and suffered for us as He was beaten and crucified as an innocent man.

There are many scripture verses that emphasize the importance of patience or patient endurance towards the hope that we have in the return of Jesus, but I chose to look closer at the above quoted verses in James.  James begins this letter with an exhortation to be patient:

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (endurance or perseverance). But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect (or mature) and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1: 2-4

In these initial verses from James also lies a key to our ability to be patient, that is, that we must change our attitude towards the difficult circumstances that we face, recognizing that they have been allowed by God for the testing of our faith.  When our faith is tested and we endure, it produces in us an increase in our godly character, and more specifically, it produces patience in us.

Allow me to spell this out:  When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances that require us to wait and endure patiently, there is nothing wrong, but this is exactly what God wants for us.  We need to submit to it, rather than attempting to circumvent or side step around the circumstances, and recognize that this is the testing of our faith and that God has ordained the trial for us to endure.  In His time, He will open a door for us to move on or to be removed from our situation.  It will be clear to us that it is time to move on, otherwise, If we don’t submit to the Lord’s will by continuing in the circumstances, these circumstances (or something similar or perhaps even more difficult) will only come back upon later.

I like what it says in verse 8 of James 5:

“You also be patient.  Establish you hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”  James 5:8

In the Amplified Bible, after “Establish your hearts”, it adds in brackets, “Strengthen and confirm them (i.e. your hearts) in final certainty.”  Here lies the second key related to the second problem that we have mentioned.  Rather than placing our hope and expectations upon something in this world that will only disappoint us, we need to establish our hearts upon the hope that we have in heaven and make up our minds to be steadfast in our focused anticipation of the glory that we will share with Jesus Christ at the end.  There is tremendous power in this hope, as the scriptures attest to:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8: 18

“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4: 17-18

As Christians, we therefore have the perfect solution to the problems of impatience and stress.  I don’t say this lightly because this solution was brought to us by the Lord Jesus Christ and was paid for by His life and death, to establish our hope of glory that is incorruptible and assured beyond all doubt.  As we patiently endure through this life, we have the example of the endurance of the past prophets and saints, and the endurance of the Lord Jesus.  Armed with this knowledge we know that whatever the situation that we face, we can get through it by the grace of God as they have done in the past.  We also are confident that God is on our side and is even using our trials to work into us a more Christ-like nature of love that will only make us stronger and give us more reward in the end.

As Christians we should be known for our patience and our ability to endure hardships.  Let us establish our hearts in strength and set our faces like flint towards the future hope that we have in Christ not allowing any circumstances to undermine our character or cause us to become impatient.  We now know the source of our strength: a changed attitude towards the trials that we face and a steadfast hope set on the promise of future glory in heaven.  My prayer is that everyone who reads this will find this source of strength, and even more so, so that they will persevere until the end, when Jesus returns.  Amen.

The Cross of Christ has Multiple Purposes

“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1: 17-18

“For I decided to know nothing among you accept Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2

The Apostle Paul made it very clear that the power of the Gospel was contained in the cross of Christ, and that this was the center of his message.  He did not use eloquence of words or the wisdom of this world to enhance his communication of the gospel but focused solely on the crucifixion of Jesus.

When men accomplish a good work in their life and there is a secondary benefit or additional accomplishment, sometimes unintended, we like to use the saying, “He was able to kill two birds with one stone.”  When God does something, I like to say that it is the equivalent of killing millions of birds with one stone.  We can’t even recognize or understand all that God accomplishes when He does a work in our lives.  Yet we are hesitant to let go and let Him do it.  We are hesitant to entrust things to Him and wait on Him.  Let it be known that the great and amazing God that we serve has multiple purposes in all that He does and accomplishes above and beyond what we are even capable of thinking or imagining.

The greatest event in the history of mankind was the death and subsequent resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and there were multiple accomplishments as a result of this event.  It is important to fully recognize that the cross/resurrection event had multiple purposes.  We like to think in terms of singular purpose.  The cross is often preached in Christian circles as a means of forgiveness and redemption for a fallen world.  As important as this purpose of the cross of Christ is, we are remiss if we focus on this purpose and accomplishment only.  For there are many very important things that the cross represents for us and many purposes that we need to consider and implement in our lives.  The power of the cross of Christ is in all of these purposes.  This is what I would like to discuss; let’s look at the main purposes of the cross:

The Cross represents God’s merciful forgiveness and love for us

“But God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and made us sit with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in t he coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2: 4-7

Most Christians understand that the death of Jesus on the cross was a means for God the Father to extend forgiveness for our past sins so that we can be reconciled in our relationship with Him.  This reconciliation was initiated totally from His side out of His mercy and His love for us. In fact, we were enemies of God and did not deserve to be forgiven, but God reached out to us and touched our lives, opening our eyes to His truth so that we could be restored in our relationship with Him.  Our understanding of this undeserved favor and love towards us resulting in our total forgiveness is critical. It ignites a response of love in us towards Him.  It also establishes our perspective towards others, as we must consider His mercy towards us when we look to forgive or show mercy towards others.

I won’t belabor this point since I believe it is a topic that most Christians have been taught well, but I will emphasize its importance and suggest that we all have need for a deeper understanding of the depth of God’s love for us.

“While we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man – though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die.  But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we are now 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.  Not only so, but we also rejoin in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, though whom we now received our reconciliation.” Romans 5: 6-11

The Cross represents God’s justice and legal victory

“And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this He set aside, nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in Him.” Colossians 2: 13-15

The Scriptures have revealed to us that God has established a legal system, a government, in the heavenly, spiritual realm that applies to the spiritual principalities and powers that be.  It has also been revealed that it is important to God that His character remains impeccable in the sight of all.  Therefore, in order for Him to remain just, and for the legal requirements of His heavenly governmental system to be satisfied, there needed to be a legal payment made for our redemption.  This payment was made by the death of the Lord Jesus on the cross, and His blood represented the payment to justifiably redeem us from the penalty of our trespasses.  Thus, God remains just and fair while mankind receives a means of reconciliation and restoration with God.

We will most likely never know the full extent of this redemptive act until we reach heaven and see the fuller picture of the situation.  For now we need to know that God had a legal purpose in the Lord’s death and has fulfilled that purpose and gained an important victory over His enemies.

We must also recognize that we are totally acceptable to God the Father based on the blood of Jesus and we can enter boldly into His presence even now, and we can be confident that He will complete our salvation and fulfill His promise of eternal life to us in the future.

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until His enemies should be made a stool for His feet.  For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are consecrated.” Hebrews 10: 12-14

“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from and evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to live and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10: 19-25

The Cross is an example for us

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5: 1-2

Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the living God, left His position in heaven and humbled Himself to become a man.  He then lived a spotless life without sin, and when called by the Father, began an earthly ministry that was unparalleled by any other, filled with signs, wonders, miracles, and revelations in full obedience to the will of His Father. His obedience to the Father culminated in His suffering and cruel death on a Roman cross as an innocent man.  His only “crime” was to stand for the truth and attempt to reveal this truth to the world.  The details of His life are recorded in the Gospels.  These records display His nature.  His final act of suffering and death are the ultimate example of selfless love and obedience to God.  This example should inspire us to walk in similar selflessness and love, with the same type of endurance in the face of evil and persecution from evil men.

We are without excuse if we attempt to see our situation, no matter what it may be, as impossible for us to overcome, or as impossible to endure while walking in love.  Jesus set the high bar for us to emulate.  We know love by His love. For Christians, there is no place for hatred, jealousy, strife, divisions, etc.

“For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning that we should love one another, and not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.  Do not wonder, brethren, that the world hates you.  We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love remains in death.  Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3: 11-18

Christ’s suffering and death on the cross is an example for us to emulate.  We can expect to encounter the same hatred towards us.  We need to be prepared to suffer if necessary.  We need to give of ourselves as He did to practice the same love as He did.

The Cross is a tool for our transformation

“But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6: 14

As Christians we understand that a transformation must take place in our lives.  We must become new creatures.  We must become spiritual, born of the Spirit.  An internal transformation must take place that changes the way that we think, the way that we perceive our surroundings and situations. We must change our world view to one that is based on faith, and not on our own understanding and observations.  So how does this change occur?

We must put the old nature to death.  We are instructed by the scriptures to die with Christ on the cross, to crucify our old self., and the cross is the tool that we use to accomplish this.  We die to our flesh and die to this world system.  We consider ourselves as having died with Christ.  This is an act of faith whereas we believe that our old carnal man has died and we have become a new spiritual creation.

“For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.  We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.  For he who has died is freed from sin.  But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” Romans 6: 5-8

It is important to realize that we are not just dying, but we are dying like He died, and this unites us with Him, bringing us into the promise of also being resurrected like He was.

The Cross and subsequent resurrection is a source of our Hope

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1: 3

I would have much to say about the hope that has been established by the cross and resurrection, but I will have to save it for a later writing.  Suffice it to say that the promise of eternal life has been established by the event of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is the focus of our hope.  This is what we are waiting for.  This is why we are storing up our treasures in heaven.  This is why we are patiently enduring this life, patient in well-doing, and not wearying in our good works, so that we can receive the promised reward of glory, honor, immortality and eternal life.

In summary, we, as Christians, can look to the cross to increase our love, establish our hope, transform our inter nature to become spiritual, and as an example of how we should walk in love, endure suffering, and face persecution.  As the song writer has said, “I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it one day for a crown!”  Amen.

 

 

Learn What is Pleasing to the Lord

“Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” Ephesians 5: 8-10

It should be the goal of every Christian to please the Lord, but we cannot do this unless we know what is pleasing to Him.  The main source to learn what pleases Him is the Bible, but we also have the Holy Spirit and our conscience to guide us.  It is a good thing to seek God to find out what pleases Him, and to read the scriptures with this intention in mind.

In general, the father and child relationship is a good guide for us.  We know that a father is pleased by a wise and well behaved son or daughter who listens well to instructions and follows closely what they are told to do.  The book of Proverbs brings out this idea of the Lord being like a wise Father instructing His children:

“Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, and give attention to know understanding; for I give you good doctrine; do not forsake my law.” Prov. 4:1

And this about how a wise son pleases his father:

“A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother.” Prov. 10:1

This may seem simple or obvious, that God is pleased with our wisdom, understanding and obedience to His commandments, but it is the lack of focus on these simple things that has gotten many well meaning believers into trouble over the years (like the Pharisees during the time of Jesus).

We have a tendency to focus on what pleases other men, instead of what pleases God, or we focus more on what feeds our own flesh and pleases us.  We easily get distracted and turn our focus to secondary things.  The Gospel of Mark has a great guide for what should be the focus of our attention to please God and do what is most important to Him:

“Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘Which is the first (foremost) commandment of all?’ Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all commandments is: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all you mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ So the scribe said to Him, ‘Well said, Teacher, You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’  Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’” Mark 12: 28-34

You will notice that the scribe’s wise answer included the point that having this understanding that there is only one God, and having a love for God and neighbor is more important than offerings and sacrifice, indicating that even back then there was an issue with people focusing on the wrong things when attempting to please God.

We must also recognize that God is Spirit and therefore we must be spiritual and understand the things of the Spirit in order to please God.  Being spiritual requires faith.

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11: 6

It is very clear in the scriptures that our carnality, or our focus on the things of this physical world that feed our carnal nature, is displeasing to God.  Removing the things of this world from our hearts and focusing on the things of the Spirit, or being spiritually minded, is pleasing to Him.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.  For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal (fleshly) mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8: 5-8

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but of the world.” 1 John 2: 15-16

This makes perfect, logical, sense because if we are carnally minded and without true faith, we become foolish and are unable to follow God’s instructions (or even see and hear them), and cannot walk in true love.  But if we exercise our faith, and turn from the things of this world in our hearts, and focus on the spiritual promises that God has given to us, and long for heaven, then we can see and perceive the truth, and are empowered to walk in love with the law written on our hearts, therefore pleasing Him.

“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”  Galatians 5: 16-17

When we focus our hearts on the things of God, the things of the Spirit, and His power and influence in our lives, and through our faith begin to walk in the Spirit, we then are able to see the truth from God’s perspective, and can honor Him and give thanks for what He is doing in our lives.

In Psalm 50, the Lord makes it clear that He doesn’t need anything from us, but He expects from us thankfulness, obedience to what we have committed to Him, and that we call upon Him for help so that He can be the glorified when He delivers us from our troubles and meets our needs.

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all its fullness.  Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” Ps. 50: 12-15

And so we see that it pleases God that we are thankful, and we should be thankful often, for the food that we eat and even the air that we breathe, we should not take it for granted.  And we should thank God for the many things that He does for us throughout our lives.

It is not wise for us to make vows to the Lord, but if we do, we should fulfill them.  For example, if you are married, you made of vow before God that needs to be honored completely until death.

We see also that God is pleased when we come to Him.  He wants us to make Him our God and not to substitute His place as God in our life with either our own power or thoughts, or with other men or other manmade organizations or institutions.  He alone is our deliver and help in our time of need.  He needs to be honored as such and then rightfully glorified when He delivers us from our situations.

Pleasing the Lord takes some effort and requires our attention.  Paul the apostle makes this clear in his teachings:

“But I want you to be without care (concern). He who is unmarried cares for (or is concerned about)  the things of the Lord – how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world – how he may please his wife.” 1 Cor. 7: 32-33

“You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” 2 Timothy 4: 3-4

In summary, we see that as beloved children we should be focused on making sure that our lives and actions are pleasing to our Father in heaven.  We need therefore to be obedient to His instructions and commands, but this requires that we turn from this world and focus our minds and hearts on the things of the Spirit, becoming spiritually minded.  Walking in the spirit will allow us to love God fully and to love our neighbors, as we have been instructed to do.  The Lord needs nothing from us, but instead desires that we are thankful to Him for the things He does in our lives, honoring Him as our God, and looking to Him in our time of need, and glorifying Him for His help and deliverance.  It requires some effort on our part to not only learn what pleases Him, but to keep focused on what is pleasing to God rather than what pleases us or other men.

I will leave you with this exhortation from the word from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:

“Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 4: 1-2

The Lord Requires Obedience

“Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15: 22

Obedience to the Lord is difficult for us because it first requires that we recognize and submit to the authority of the Lord, and then for us to be attentive to Him about what He expects from us, and finally, we then must determine in our hearts to heed His requirements.  For most Christians it is easy to accept His love and forgiveness, to receive His many benefits like His guidance and direction for our lives, or His healings of body and mind, and His many blessings.  It is much more difficult for Christians to turn over the “reigns” of their life to the Lord totally, submitting to His commandments and instructions in every area.

My purpose in writing this message is to encourage Christians to pay attention to this need to obey the Lord, not only the commandments that are written in His word but also in the things that He has placed upon your heart, and has spoken to you about individually.  This is a reminder that obedience is important to the Lord.

Some Christians are confused about obedience, thinking that any one mentioning it as a requirement is being legalistic.  This idea is false and is only used as an excuse by those who wish to continue in disobedience.

The New Testament of the Bible does not remove the requirement for obedience to God’s commands, but rather supports it. It first exposes the error of the Old Testament of attempting to be obedient to God without faith, and thinking that this faithless attempt at obedience will merit a place in God’s family and kingdom.  The result of this erroneous approach of focusing on obedience without having a true, living faith, is that God’s requirements are eventually either made less important than, or even replaced by, men’s requirements, rituals, and traditions.

Although the Israelites from the time of Moses on were attempting to make themselves right before God by focusing on being obedient to the laws that were given to them through Moses, they failed because they did not have true faith.

“But that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law.  Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone.” Romans 9:31-32

J.B. Phillips translation of verse 32:

“And why? Because their minds were fixed on what they achieved instead of what they believed.”

But the error of the Israelites and the later shift in the New Testament to faith and grace, does not remove the requirement that we must be obedient to God’s rules, laws, commandments, etc.

“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then releases one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5: 17-19

On the contrary, the New Testament now gives us the power to keep the laws and commandments of God by giving us a true, living faith and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We now can walk in the spirit, having the law written on our hearts and doing by nature the things that God requires.  By becoming spiritual in nature, we can walk in love, and love fulfills all of the laws of God.

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery. You shall not kill. You shall not steal. You shall not covet.’ And any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”  Romans 13: 8-10

As Christians, with the Holy Spirit intimately connected with us and abiding in us, our conscience is alive and fully functioning.  So rather than focusing on a list of do’s and don’ts, we can now allow our conscience to guide us as we focus on walking in the spirit and walking in love.  We need to be assured that our conscience is clear, allowing the Holy Spirit the freedom to show us clearly what needs to be corrected when our conscience is accusing us.

“They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts. While their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them”  Romans 2: 15

My main point here is to emphasize that Christians need to be mindful of this requirement of obedience and that God expects obedience from us.  As stated earlier, this means that we need to recognize and submit to His authority and all authority that has been established by Him, and we must be open to His directions and instructions for us, listening to His voice and heeding it.

There is a very interesting portion of Scripture from the book of Jeremiah that emphasizes this need to be open and aware of the Lord’s instructions and to obey them:

“Then came the word of the Lord to Jeremiah saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Go and tell the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, ‘Will you not receive instruction to obey my words?’ says the Lord. The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, which he commanded his sons, not to drink wine, are performed; for to this day they drink none, and obey their father’s commandment. But although I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, you did not obey Me. I have also sent to you all my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying “Turn now everyone from his evil way, amend your doings, and do not go after other gods to serve them; then you will dwell in the land which I have given you and your fathers.” But you have not inclined you ear nor obeyed Me. Surely the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have performed the commandment of their father, which he commended them, but this people has not obeyed Me.”’” Jeremiah 35: 12-16

I find it interesting that God was aware of the obedience of the sons of Jonadab to their father.  He is aware and honors our obedience in all circumstances.

As for the error of the Israelites, the Lord says there are two (vs. 15): “But you have not inclined your ear nor obeyed Me.” The two are: 1) not listening, 2) not obeying.

By not “inclining their ear” I assume He means that they were not attentive to His instruction; they didn’t listen for it.  I say again, this is the important lesson for us, to be aware of the requirement of obeying His instructions and listening attentively to His voice.  Also, we need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and our conscience.

One last warning: we are very good at making excuses for ourselves for why we don’t obey the Lord.  Don’t deceive yourself.  God knows your heart anyway so there is no sense in making excuses.

In 1 Samuel chapter 15, Saul was instructed by the Lord to destroy completely or exterminate the Amalekites, but he didn’t do so and was rebuked by the prophet Samuel and was rejected by the Lord.  When Samuel confronted Saul, he first made an excuse:

“But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the Lord God in Gilgal.” 1 Sam. 15:21

Samuel’s response was longer than this, but the gist of it was in the above quote at the start of this writing:

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” 1 Sam. 15: 22

After this Saul admits to Samuel that he sinned:

“Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.’” 1 Sam. 15: 24

In closing I urge you to listen attentively to the Lord’s instructions for you, and be strong and committed to perform them completely.  God will honor this obedience both now and in the future in heaven.

I leave you with this exhortation that Paul the Apostle gave to Timothy, his son in the Lord, regarding the law:

“Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk,  desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm. But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.” 1 Timothy  1: 5-11

Amen.

What’s the Problem?

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.” John 6: 63-64

The biggest challenge that physicians face in their practice of medicine is the diagnosing of a patient’s illness or condition.  Once they determine the source problem it is usually straight forward to prescribe a treatment to correct the condition.  Likewise, it is important to get to and treat the root cause of the problem because treating the symptom will not correct the problem.  Defining and understanding the problem and its root cause is the greater part of the work of finding a solution.

Albert Einstein said something similar.  He said if he had one hour to solve a problem and his life depended on it, he would spend the first 55 minutes determining what question to ask. Then, if he asked the right question, he could easily solve the problem in the last 5 minutes.

We live in a complex world with many intertwined issues.  There are many intelligent people trying to come up with solutions and ways to improve our dire situations.  Many of these problems have plagued mankind for centuries and continue to plague us.  History is constantly repeating itself with wars and economic collapses and we can’t seem to resolve the underlying issues or find the root cause.

I recently read an interesting quote from two authors named Strauss and Howe who have written a number of books about what they call “generational theory.” Their most recent book is called “The Fourth Turning” where the authors examine the generational cycles and patterns of history in an attempt to determine what could follow in our future. The quote below, which I believe is from their latest book, seems to sum up well the challenge of determining the root cause of the problems that we face:

“We perceive our civic challenge as some vast, insoluble Rubik’s Cube. Behind each problem lies another problem that must be solved first, and behind that lies yet another, and another, ad infinitum. To fix crime we have to fix the family, but before we do that we have to fix welfare, and that means fixing our budget, and that means fixing our civic spirit, but we can’t do that without fixing moral standards, and that means fixing schools and churches, and that means fixing the inner cities, and that’s impossible unless we fix crime. There is no fulcrum on which to rest a policy lever. People of all ages sense that something huge will have to sweep across America before the gloom can be lifted—but that’s an awareness we suppress. As a nation, we’re in deep denial … individually focused yet collectively adrift …” Strauss and Howe

Men are continually searching for solutions to society’s problems but they seem to be chasing the wind.  As the quote above indicates, the world’s problems can be confusing and misleading, causing frustration and exasperation.

I would submit to you that the lack of a solution comes from ignoring the revelation from our Creator. Doesn’t it make perfect sense that the One who created us would have the answers for the source of our problems?  The Scriptures reveal to us that man’s root problem is a broken relationship with the Creator God.  This relationship is a spiritual one and, therefore, the root cause of our problems is a spiritual issue.

Unfortunately, conventional wisdom has removed any spiritually based philosophy from the acceptable list of credible viewpoints to be used to solve our problems and therefore they have limited themselves to solutions that deal with this physical world only and are based on man’s logic only.  They concentrate on historical information from the past, or improving social or economic practices with increasing controls or regulations, laws, etc. All of these approaches have failed and will continue to fail because they don’t address the root cause – man’s spiritual condition and relationship with God.

Consider this: if somehow we could eliminate all of the greed, all of the envy, all of the jealousy, all of the covetousness, all of the selfishness, all of the arrogance and all of the dishonesty in a society, then it is quite conceivable that the result would be the disappearance of a large part of the problems that our world faces. All of these negative character traits are the fruit of our carnal nature, the fruit of the flesh.  When our relationship with God is properly restored, our carnal nature dies and we are born of the spirit, and then transformed into a new creature with a spiritual nature.  The fruit of the spirit replaces the fruit of the flesh.  The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” John 3:5

This transformation from carnal to spiritual has occurred throughout the centuries since the time of Jesus Christ in all those millions of Christians who have sincerely and legitimately been converted by receiving and believing the Gospel message.

You’re probably thinking at this point that it’s impossible to change all the people in a society in this way, that is, to have them converted to true Christianity.  The Scriptures state that God has allowed evil people to exist in this world along side of good people until the end of the age, when He will separate the good from the evil, and He will destroy this current world and create a new heaven and earth that functions in righteousness (see the parable of the wheat and the tares).  Therefore, this world will not be completely “fixed” until that time; in fact, according to the prophecies about the end, it will get worse and not better.

Although the collective human race cannot be changed to become spiritual in nature, a significant number of the individuals of this world can be changed.  I would even go as far as to say that in some cases large portions of a society can change, maybe not entirely, but to an extent where most could become spiritual, restored in their relationship with God.  In 1904, there was a spiritual revival in South Wales were over 100,000 people were converted to Christianity with the associated fruit of their repentance and transformation to spirituality.  As a result the jails were emptied and the bars went out of business.  What is impossible with men, is possible with God.

Here’s a quote from a local newspaper during the time of the revival in South Wales [my comments in brackets]:

“Drunkards have been soberised, publicans [a pub or bar] have lost much business, conduct on public streets has elevated, and the police and magistrates have had quieter times…. The bottom of the pits [coal mine pits] have been utilized as centres for prayer and praise meetings, and there has been a general raising of the standard of public life.” South Wales Gazette – 1904

It is also important that we remain clear on the true problem and solution, even if we know that we can’t change the entire world, we can still influence at least a small part of it.  We can influence those who are around us, in our families, in our work places or schools.  We can focus on one individual at a time, and make a difference.  We can pray for God to bring about a larger scale revival.

Of course to the non-Christian world this idea of needing a spiritual rebirth is foolishness.  I am convinced that the problems of this world are rooted in the carnal nature of man that needs to be replaced by a spiritual nature, and this replacement can only take place through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust [strong desire] of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication [sexual immorality], uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited provoking one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5: 16-26

It is critically important that we understand what the Scriptures define as “carnal” or “walking in the flesh” and what they define as “Spiritual” and “walking in the Spirit”.  It is likely that your understanding of these is not aligned with the Biblical definition.  I would strongly advise that you take the time to study the Scriptures to learn it firsthand.

We can be certain of this though, as the Scriptures also guide us, that if a person is displaying the fruit of the flesh they are carnal in nature, even if they may sincerely think that they are spiritual, and if they are displaying the fruit of the Spirit, they are spiritual.  We must be careful to examine the fruit without bias, as we can easily be deceived.

“You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit.” Matthew 7:16-17

Here is what I have come to understand concerning the carnal nature and the spiritual nature from the Scriptures:  Both of these are a mindset, or a way of thinking and viewing ourselves and the world around us.  A carnal mindset is focused on this physical world and on the things that are important in this world, whereas a spiritual mindset is focused on the things of God, and on the things that please Him.  The carnal mindset does not require faith and is concerned with more immediate rewards in the here and now, whereas the spiritual mindset requires faith and looks to the future rewards that God has promised.  Another distinguishing factor is our hope, or knowing what we have placed our hope upon or what we have set our mind and heart upon.  The spiritual mindset has its hope set on God’s promise for Heaven and is waiting for His return, where as the carnal mindset has its hope set on a future condition in this world.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” Romans 8: 5

At this point we need to ask another “why” question to get to an even deeper root cause.  Why do people remain carnally minded?  Or, what is preventing the conversion from carnality to spirituality in people?

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul explains that there are two types of people who are in need of conversion.  The first type is those who have suppressed the truth that God has shown them and therefore have carnal fruit in their lives, doing wicked and unrighteous things.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely, His eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.” Romans 1: 18-21

The second type of person is the one who has supposedly embraced God’s truth, but has not applied the truth to their own life, but instead has used the truth to judge others.  This type of person believes that they themselves are “spiritual” and acceptable to God, but the bad fruit that they bear exposes their self deception, and their erroneous assumption that God will overlook their evil actions because of their knowledge of the truth.

“Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume upon the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” Romans 2: 3-5

This second type is particularly deceptive because the person can claim to be a Christian and can agree with all of the truths of the Bible, but they choose to continue to live their lives, or “walk”, in the flesh. This is the deception of religious people who practice the religious ceremonies and adhere to certain regulations, but they don’t make the necessary internal changes that convert them from carnally minded to spiritually minded.

Jesus had much to say about this same error to the religious Pharisees of His time, and the Apostle Paul wrote much in his letters to the early churches to counteract the false concepts and teachings that the religious Jews were attempting to promote that would have shifted the focus of the brethren to religious ceremonies and traditions that would have kept them walking in the flesh rather than walking in the Spirit.

Of course, each of these types of unconverted people has varying degrees of error.  Some of them are so far into error the Scriptures says that God has turned them over to a “reprobate” mind and no longer pursues them with the truth.  I believe, though, that anyone can turn back to God and receive the truth if they so desire.  Only God knows a person’s heart.

The Scriptures make it clear that all men are in need of this conversion, there are no exceptions.  They also state that the only path to conversion is through Jesus Christ, the Messiah who was sent for this purpose.

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” 1 Timothy 2: 3-7

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” John 14:6

In order for a person’s relationship with God to be restored, there is first a requirement from God that needs to be met.  God is holy, righteous, and just, and He cannot overlook the sin in a person’s life before entering into a relationship.  The only payment for our sins that is acceptable by God is the ransom that was paid by Jesus Christ on our behalf.  The Scriptures make it very clear that there is no other payment that is acceptable.  There is no man that can boast that he has earned a righteous position before God because of his own goodness or righteous actions.  We all must humbly accept the payment that Jesus made on our behalf.

Once we enter into a relationship with God based on the payment made by Jesus Christ, we are then fully acceptable as a child of God and are assured of the promised inheritance.  Our name is recorded in God’s “book of life”.  We can then communicate with God and live our lives in close relationship with our Creator.

We also recognize that the Lord Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead and has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father as King and Lord of all creation.  We, as part of His kingdom, honor Him as King and Lord.

On our part, the only requirement is that we exercise a sincere and true faith towards God and what He has promised through His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.   It is this faith that causes us to pass from a carnal creature to a spiritual creature.  This faith requires that we die to this world and the hollow promises it offers and become alive to the promises of eternal life in heaven and a resurrected body that transcends the second death.

What I have just explained is the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it is the source of life for the entire world and is the answer to the problems we face.  Our first responsibility is to make sure that we continue to walk in the spirit and in the truth.  After doing this, we can then look to promote this truth to others.  We must recognize though that we are witnesses of God’s power to change lives.  As we walk in the spirit and display the fruit thereof we become living testimonies of God’s truth.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5: 13-16

Be aware also that it is God through His Holy Spirit that is working to convince those unconverted people of the truth and to draw them to Himself.  Sometimes He may use us, so we should be open to the possibility of being used to speak the truth to those who are ready to hear.

“Jesus therefore answered and said to them, ‘Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.’” John 4: 43-45

In conclusion, we must never lose sight of the fact that the root cause of all of our problems here on earth is the need to be in right relationship with our Creator God and to be converted from a carnal nature to a spiritual nature.  Although the problems of this world will never be completely resolved until the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ when He will restore His righteous kingdom, we can still experience the fruit of the spirit in this life.  The Holy Spirit can also use us to influence others around us either by them seeing our transformed lives and actions, or by us speaking the truth to them in love.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor. 5:17-21

Again I encourage you to walk in the spirit and to put your carnal nature to death.  This is a daily exercise that we must continue until the end.  Also, remember that the words of Jesus are spirit and life.

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.  The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.” John 6: 63-64

Amen.

Don’t Worry about the Wicked

“The Lord is righteous; He has cut in pieces the cords of the wicked.” Psalm 129: 4

No matter which news outlet you choose to listen to, whether the main stream media or the alternative online media, all news seems to be bad news.  The media’s role appears to be to expose the evil in our society, and so we are constantly seeing evil.

I would agree that there is an important role of the free press to keep other powers in check and this sometimes requires exposing the evil of powerful groups or governments, but the volume of negative news is constant and overwhelming.

Currently, there is also a battle going on to determine what media outlet represents the true view of reality and which represents “fake news” or propaganda. The battle lines are drawn.  On one side there is the accusation that the main stream media is owned and controlled by the evil elites who want to control the opinion of the masses, promoting their agenda and world view, with most of the “talking heads” having this same world view, allowing it to influence and bias their presentation.  On the other side there is the accusation that the alternative media consists of amateurs who create stories based on rumors and don’t verify their sources, or even worse, that some are at least sympathetic to, or possibly controlled by, Russian or communist propagandists.

Personally, I think that both sides are biased by their world view/philosophy and by what they think is the best thing for the future of our society or the world.  As Christians though, we must take all news with a grain of salt, recognizing that absolute truth only comes from God, via His Word, and all other information must be subject to being overridden by the Scriptural truths.  We need the Holy Spirit’s help to discern what is true and what we need to take to heart or what we should dismiss.

As I stated earlier, no matter what source of news we choose, we are being bombarded with continual exposure of wicked devices and criminal rackets.  We are also faced with the choice of which evil is the source of blame for our problems.  Is it the government and politicians, or the wealthy one percent elites, or is it the big corporations, or is it the banks and financial system, or is it the racists, or is it the lazy welfare entitlement seekers, or is it the illegal immigrants, or is it the dead church and religious fanatics, or is it the Islamic terrorists?  (I could go on)  I would say that there is enough blame to go around to all of them.

It stands to reason that this onslaught of news about the evils and the wickedness of our current situation would cause us to be distressed and worried.  For many the solution is to block it out or ignore it; pretend it’s not there; put on the glasses that make everything look rosy.  I would suggest that ignoring reality is never good and potentially could result in serious problems.  For example, prudence requires that we assess our situation and, if need be, make the proper preparations for the future.

“The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” Proverbs 22:3 & 27:12

A much better approach is to establish in our hearts the reality that God is in control and will deal appropriately with the wicked people of the world.  As biblical Christians we learn from the Scriptures that although Satan has been given some authority in this current age, the Lord is still in control and will assure that in the end the wicked will be punished and the righteous will be blessed.  Let’s look closer at what the Bible says.

The opening verse from Psalm 129 in the Amplified Bible says this:

“The Lord is righteous; He has cut in two the [thick] cords of the wicked [which enslaved the people of Israel].”  Psalm 129:4

You might ask the question, “Why does God allow the wicked to enslave His people in the first place?”  We must recognize that both Satan and the wicked men in this world are tools that God uses for His purpose.  And what is His purpose and why does He allow evil to touch His children?  The answer is: It’s not our place to question God’s ways.  This verse in Romans 9 applies to this situation also (although not the exact use in the context of Romans 9):

“But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay….” Romans 9:20-21

We do know from the Scriptures that God uses the trials in our life to produce in us a deeper character, making us stronger, more loving, and more like Him.

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,…”1 Peter 1:6-7

The fact that God allows His people to suffer affliction at the hands of the wicked is confirmed in the first three verses of Psalm 129, just before the verse quoted above:

“Many a time they have afflicted me from my youth – Let Israel now say – many a time they have afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me.  The plowers plowed on my back; they made their furrows long.” Psalm 129:1-3

The metaphor used in these verses of someone plowing on your back suggests that these afflictions were not insignificant.  The key words in this verse are “they have not prevailed.”  God knows what we need and how long we need it.  The wicked always lose in the end.

We, therefore, as God’s beloved children, do not need to worry or fret, or fear what the wicked may do to us.  We can rest assured that God will protect us and will only allow us to be exposed to the evil of the wicked when in accordance with His purposes for our lives.

Here’s my testimony of recent events in my life:  Back in 2007 it started with hearing that I had health issues with my cholesterol being too high and need to change my diet, so I embarked on a serious  and challenging change to my eating habits.  Next I heard from my wife of 28 years that she didn’t want to be married to me any longer; (we split up then and later divorced in 2012).  A month after my wife’s leaving I was laid off from my job where I had been employed for almost 10 years.  Not much later the crash of 2008 came when I was laid off again from my next job and I lost half of my 401k retirement savings and was forced to cash it out with no place to roll it over.  I also was under water on my mortgage since I recently refinanced, couldn’t sell my house in the current market to pay off the mortgage, and was forced into foreclosure on the house.  The low point came when I was given a 2 week notice to leave my house and I had no place to go.  The Lord provided for me then (a friend allowed me to stay in a 1 room apartment attached to his business and hired me as a laborer) and the Lord has continued to provide for me, and has now turned my situation around completely.

I look back and see this time as being a very valuable time of spiritual growth for me.  I can look back and connect the dots to see how God has brought me though many situations for my good and the good of my friends and loved ones. It would have been a mistake to look to the evil forces of the world as the reason for my predicament. God was allowing these things to occur and He was in control.  He had me right where I needed to be.

I’m sure that many of you have faced much more difficult trials than what I went through.  My purpose in mentioning my past is to encourage all of us to remember that God is in control.  I must remind myself often that God has sustained me before and will do it again.  He may have more challenging trials ahead for me, but I trust that He is able to bring me through them and that they will be for my perfection and for His glory.

We have no need to worry or fret about the wickedness that surrounds us.  God is the source of our needs and He is greater than the powers of this world or this age.

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into bans; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit (18 inches) to his stature?  So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin. And yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying what shall we eat? Or what shall we drink? Or what shall we wear?  For after all these things the Gentiles seek.  For your heavenly father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matt. 6:25-34

Most importantly, seek first the kingdom of God.  Turn from sin and seek His righteousness. This should be our focus, and not the barrage of information that slams us daily from the various news sources.  Turn the news stations off and close your computer if they are causing you to worry and fear.  Look to God’s Holy Scriptures to build you up in your faith and strengthen you for the days ahead.

The final victory comes when the end of this age comes and the righteous Judge sets all of this straight:

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10

“For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’  So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.” Romans 14: 9-12

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.  And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened, and another book was opened which is the Book of Life.  And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” Revelations 20: 11-12

“And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Revelations 20:15

Having this Scriptural view of the evils of this world, in the light of God’s control of our lives and his ultimate judgment of the wicked men of this age, we can be free of all worry and fear, and then be free to make sound judgment about what we need to do, if anything, to prepare ourselves and our families for the future.  We can then be open to the leading of the Spirit, and able to move forward with the necessary plans with confidence.

There is really nothing new under the sun, as King Solomon said many years ago in the book of Ecclesiastes.  Today I see man’s greed as the root of many problems, which he manifests in the government and financial systems of the world, causing great inequality of wealth, which in turn is causing rebellion by many who feel they have been abused.  These wicked, greedy men are bound for judgment, either in this life, or when the Lord returns as Judge.

I leave you all with this interesting prophecy from Habakkuk from the 7th century B.C. with words that could apply to today’s wicked, greedy men (from the Amplified Bible):

“Look at the proud; his soul is not straight or right within him, but the just and the righteous man shall live by his faith and in his faithfulness. Moreover, wine and wealth are treacherous; the proud man is restless and cannot stay at home.  His appetite is large like that of Sheol and [his greed] is like death and cannot be satisfied; he gathers to himself all nations and collects all people as if he owned them. Shall not all these [victims of his greed] take up a taunt against him and in scoffing derision of him say, Woe to him who piles up that which is not his! [How long will he possess it?] And [woe to him] who loads himself with promissory notes for usury! Shall [your debtors] not rise up suddenly who shall bite you, exacting usury of you, and those awake who will vex you [toss you to and fro and make you tremble violently]? Then you will be booty for them.  Because you have plundered many nations, all who are left of the people shall plunder you – because of men’s blood and for the violence done to the earth, to the city and all the people who live in each city.  Woe to him who obtains wicked gain for his house, [who thinks by so doing] to set his nest on high that he may be preserved from calamity and delivered from the power of evil!  You have devised shame to your house by cutting off and putting an end to many people, and you have sinned against and forfeited your own life.  For the stone shall cry out of the wall [built in sin, to accuse you], and the beam out of the woodwork will answer it [agreeing with its charge against you]. Woe to him who builds a town with blood and establishes a city by iniquity! Behold, is it not by appointment of the Lord of hosts that the nations toil only to satisfy the fire [that will consume their work], and the peoples weary themselves only for emptiness, falsity, and futility? But [the time is coming when] the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2: 4-14

Amen.