No One Escapes

Audio Podcast Version

Christians Are Not Exempt

No one escapes this earthly death. No one escapes the pain. Somehow people seem to think that Christians get a bye on the whole earth experience thing. Even some Christians are shocked when they suffer. Christians don’t escape the natural and moral evil of this world. We are not supposed to. Just because we become believers in Christ doesn’t mean all life from here after (down here anyway) will be without pain or heartache. Christians die too, sometimes very horribly.

“But doesn’t God love us? Why would he let such things happen to us if we are his children and we trust in him?” This presumes that we should get preferential treatment from God. He lets us live life with all the heartache, wonder, pleasure, and tragedy. It wouldn’t be life if we didn’t. We all go through this life together in a broken world. Though our spirits have been born again, our bodies still age and die because they are still under the curse of sin, as is all creation.

We Are No Accident

Christians know they are going to die, and when they die, they do spend eternity with God in heaven. So, why does he leave us here? He created us to fulfill a purpose that he had in mind. He had a purpose first and then created us. He didn’t say, “Hmmm. There is going to be this little baby boy named T.J. born, and I wonder what I should have him do?” No. He said, “I have a purpose, and I am going to create this person named T.J. (or fill in your name) to fulfill it.” When my purpose is done, then so am I.

QuoteChristians should take the view that they are the leading character in their own action movie. Just like any good story, the protagonist will face obstacles and challenges as he or she navigates their way through the story. I see my life as an adventure and have many times told people “the hard times are just part of this adventure I call my life.” There are many dangers, toils, and snares, not to mention that villain. You are the leading character, but not the hero, Jesus is, but like any good main character, you will triumph in the end.

The good thing is, you get reviews as you go, by the Holy Spirit who is the protagonist’s mentor. Jesus is the author and finisher of the movie, who also should have a starring role. God is working in the backdrop to weave your story into the series that he has created.

greyscale photo of woman between two man

You, my friend have to decide how good of an actor you want to be. Do you follow the script, realizing that everything is working for your good because you love God and are called according to his purpose? Or do you try to change the script to fulfill how you think it should be directed? That will get you bad reviews for sure.

Remember, no one escapes death, not at least the first death. If you are a Christian, you like everyone else will suffer the first death (unless Jesus comes to get us first). You die once, live twice. But, if you have never accepted Christ as your Savior, then you will die twice and live once.

It’s A Choice

What is your choice? Do you accept the role that God has written for you to receive great acclaim in his name or do you play your own part and suffer the severe consequences? Will your life be a “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” or will you be famous in your Father’s eyes? Me? I want a standing ovation from Jesus with a “well done, thou good and faithful servant.” He leaves the choice up to all of us. Life is not a dress rehearsal. You don’t get a second chance once the credits roll.

Everyone Has a Story

Everyone has a story. I am no different. There is a significant part of my story that I rarely tell. I guess because it is so far in my past, but it really has defined my present and future. In Christian circles, it’s called “your testimony” or your “witness.” The thing is, our lives (current tense) should be our testimony and witness, so I don’t usually tell this part.

action aim ancient architecture

I was in the fifth grade, the second son of a single mother and the middle child of three. I loved history, and I loved knowledge. On this particular day in spring, I was playing “army” which means I was staging a battle somewhere in the dirt between several armies. In this particular scenario, I was creating my own invasion of the Greeks by the Persians. Forget the fact that the Greeks were green plastic army men with a splattering of anything I could find to represent fighting men. I.e., shotgun shells, plastic firemen, etc. The invading army was usually blue army men and their contingents. The only thing separating these two was the body of water that flowed between. In reality, it was the dirty washing machine water that drained out to soak the ground. Flood stage came along with the spin cycle.

On this Saturday morning, a kind old gentleman named Mr. Juneau stopped in our yard to talk with this dirty kid playing in the muddy water. He first asked if my mother was home. I told him she was gone and would be back soon. He asked if we went to church anywhere. I told him no. He asked me what I was doing and patiently listened as I explained the invasion. He then asked if I would like to go roller skating next week. I told I would be glad to. He said he would stop by during the week and talk to my mom about it and he left.

In the course of things, Mr. Juneau started picking up us kids to go to Sunday school and church along with other children on the church bus. Through that experience, a man listening to the voice of God to go and seek the lost, several of us were found for eternity. It didn’t stop there. God moved in my life and has blessed me immeasurably. I think of how far Jesus has brought me, from that dirty kid playing in dirty soapy, washing machine water to where I am today. He could have left me there in my dirt and in my sad estate or could he? I think not. His love for me wouldn’t allow it. If I were to die today, it would be well with my soul, because the keeper of my soul has let me live a life that I have not earned nor deserved. Truly, far blessed than I deserved. Cory Asbury (and everyone else who has picked up this song) has it right when he sings of the “reckless love of God.” I couldn’t earn it. I don’t deserve it. Still, Jesus gave himself away.

sunset hands love woman

I tell this part of my life to say this: Jesus is faithful, and he loves you. If you do not know him, you can. If you do not know him, you should. It will cost you nothing, and you will gain everything. I am not talking material possessions. For some to be blessed materially is actually a curse that will keep them from God. So, don’t come to Jesus to see what you can get materially. Come to Jesus to see what you can get spiritually and eternally. Trust him above all things. He truly loves you and is faithful in all things. This is my testimony: let my life and words bear witness to the gracious love of God.

Me, My Self, and I

Doing the “Right Things”

Recently, in a discussion, someone said they didn’t understand why they had this constant struggle as a Christian to do the right things. “I guess I am a bad Christian,” they said. Usually, there are the pat answers given to this statement. “You’re not praying enough. You don’t have enough faith or you haven’t given it to God.” I say these are pat answers since they seem to be all too common in Christian circles.

Now, before you feel I am being too harsh here to those who have said these things in response, know that I have said them many times myself and to myself. But I have come to realize that is where the problem lies: with the Self.

I am attempting to complete a devotional book that stemmed from me texting my children bible quotes and a little explanation as to what they meant and what I felt God was saying to me through those scriptures. They would send these to their friends and others would also begin to join the text list. Before I knew it I would spend fifteen to twenty minutes each time typing in the phone numbers for all the people who were following the texts. I would end the little devotion with the phrase: It’s a choice.

Hear Me Out

man wearing suit jacket sitting on chair in front of woman wearing eyeglasses

Doing the “right thing” is a choice. Please hear me out. It’s not always an easy choice, but it is a choice. A choice, a decision that you make. Each and every time. We are faced with thousands of choices every day and how we choose determines our results. I have heard it said, “You are where you are because of the choices you made.” Immediately, I can hear someone say “I didn’t choose for my parents to die…” or fill in any tragedy. True, but you choose how you respond and how you respond will determine where you will be. What about instinctive reactions?

Let me break it down like I did recently to a person who made something similar to my opening statement. That is, look at the Me, My Self, and I. Me is the combined Self and I working in unison. The “Self” is the body, the flesh, as the Apostle Paul put it. The “I” is the conscious thought or personality of the Person within the Self. Also called the Spirit. (Not to be confused with the Holy Spirit). The “I” cannot always control the Self, because the Self will do whatever comes naturally to the Self. Ah, but the “I” or the Spirit can train the Self.

Self and Spirit

gray and white short coated cat on brown wooden table top

Let’s say we could take the “I” or Spirit portion out of a human and put it in a cat, which, by-the-way spends two-thirds of its life sleeping. There may be a symbiotic relationship developed over time, but the cat is going to do what cats do. Ever try to control a cat? The Spirit could train the cat eventually, but it will always be a cat and will probably behave like a cat even when the Spirit works feverishly to train the cat. The first part of learning to train the cat would be for the Spirit to learn about cats and then work with the cat to a desired end, knowing all along that the cat will still sometimes act out of instinct.

Now, look at the human being in the same light. You have a depraved, fallen human who, though created in the image of God, acts like a depraved fallen human and in many respects as an animal. (See Galatians 5:19-21) This is the Self. Think of these phrases in this light:

  • I lost control of my Self.
  • I couldn’t help my Self.
  • I have really let my Self go.
  • Get a hold of your Self.
  • Would you look at your Self?
  • Get your Self some rest.
  • Get your Self something to eat.

Who lost control of the Self? The Spirit. The situation is even worse. Inside the Self resides a fallen, depraved, darkened, blinded Spirit. The Spirit inside the Self, which is a spark of the Divine, is dead, and the Self is only operating off training and instinct. Autopilot if you will. Subsequently, the Self will continue to act and behave like the depraved, fallen creature that it is. It should not surprise Christians when non-believers act the way they do. They are acting according to their nature and they cannot control nor help their Selves. They are slaves to this nature.

What is one to do?

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

The Spirit within must be reborn. That spark of the Divine within must be quickened, as the Bible calls it. It must be exposed to the light of the transforming power of Jesus. It must be made alive. Jesus didn’t come to earth to make bad people good. No, He came to earth to make Spiritually dead people, alive. This is the only way the Self can be tamed and trained. And with the help of the Holy Spirit that now will be there within to help get the Self under control.

In this new state, the Spirit takes on the “new creation”, but the Self is still depraved and fallen. Yet, control can be exerted. Granted, the Self will still act up and do things that leave the Spirit wondering “what just happened or why did I say or do that?” However, the Spirit under the direction, leadership, and power of the Holy Spirit can take control. That is why it says in Galatians that one of the fruits of the (Holy) Spirit is “self-control.”

Summary – What Now?

Here are summary statements that I have found helpful.

  • You’re not going to get it right all the time. Even the Apostle Paul stated that he (the super saint) still did things that he did not want to. His Self still acted out. That’s why he said he buffeted his body. He was still struggling with his fallen Self even with a redeemed Spirit. Thank you, Jesus, for I John 1:9.
  • Seek to understand your Self with all its quirks, tendencies, traits, likes and dislikes. Your Self is unique and you have to understand the basic human first and then understand the Self in which you reside.
  • Cut your Self some slack. God does. That doesn’t mean you are to give the Self a pass. It means keep moving toward maturity under the direction of the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t expect you to be perfect, but he does expect you to head in that direction.
  • When you fall, and you will, pick your Self back up and go again. Proverbs says a righteous man will fall seven times and get back up again. Don’t wallow in Self pity and feel sorry for your Self. You are a child of the King of the Universe.
  • Don’t beat your Self up for being its Self. You don’t beat your cat or dog for being a cat or a dog. You train them. Train your Self. It takes patience, time, and the help of the Holy Spirit Trainer to train your Self. Read the training manual used by the Trainer. It’s called the Bible and that is why it is there.
  • Love your Self. See your Self as God sees your Self. Worthy of loving and investing in. He sent His Son to reconcile you back to Him.

If you have not come to a place where you know for sure that your Spirit is made new. You can. God waits to renew your Spirit. Click here for more information.

Go Deeper

We are all much deeper than the layers of our skin,

Too often we judge by the outside, only by what we see.

Judging the book by the cover, assuming how things might be.

Will you choose to go deeper to know what goes on within?

 

How can we know the struggles, buried deep inside?

How can we know the depression or the mental wars?

How can we see the heartache and battle-weary scars?

How can we know the brokenness or tears of late nights cried?

 

We are all surely broken. It started at our birth,

But God so loved He sent His Son to heal, save, and set free.

He came and willingly chose to die, in place of you and me.

We are all broken, but can you understand our worth?

 

We often forget we’re a child of God, even as we struggle on.

We often get it wrong, hoping, believing in an instant cure.

We say, “Just pray enough, believe enough, it’ll work for sure.”

Child of God, the battles continue, it’s the war that’s been won.

 

Remember, you’re His child, remember He’s your Lord.

Especially in your brokenness, you are called to stand.

You’re not called to surrender, but to the battle at hand.

When you take your last breath, then lay down my sword.

 

Praise be to God, we are not alone in the stormy night.

Life will be a struggle as we head toward our home.

Truth is we are all on the journey, we are not alone.

We have His Spirit who is constantly with us in the fight.

 

Embrace the brokenness, embrace the clashes deep within,

Listen, heed the voice of God should you choose to hear it.

There is peace in the midst brought only by the Spirit.

Life struggles are to point us to trust and lean on Him.

Forgiveness – A Fruit of the Spirit?

The Question

portrait of white pigeon

In the book of Galatians, (Gal. 5:22-23) the Apostle Paul lists out nine proofs or fruits of the Spirit. These fruit show the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer who possesses these qualities. I have wondered why forgiveness is not listed here. Can one truly have the Spirit of God present in their lives without this one trait or asset? After all, it is one of the heavy hitters in the Christian walk and is sometimes mentioned more than some of the fruit.

The Simplest Answer

The most obvious and simplest answer is the list is not an exhaustive one, and forgiveness could be added. Just because it was not listed doesn’t mean that it is not a proof or a fruit of the Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit has at least three lists in the Bible. Those three lists do not contain all the gifts, and it is argued that there are more gifts than those listed. So it would be for forgiveness. For example, other concepts like mercy, justice, humbleness, etc. are not listed either. It could be argued that these are fruits of the Spirit as well. But I believe there is more to it.

In-depth Answer

 

The more complicated and comprehensive answer when looking at a particular scripture is to look at the context of the speaker. What was said before and after the scripture on the fruit of the Spirit? Also, what is said in the Bible as a whole? Paul was using an opposite comparison when he listed the fruit. Before this section, he listed the “works of the flesh” which are in opposition to the fruit. One is physically focused, and the other is spiritual. One is natural and the other is supernatural.

woman putting red apple on green shopping basket

Paul tells us to separate the fruit from the works. This is a choice and must be practiced. The Spirit is the teacher, the mentor. This choice is simple, not always easy, but simple. We have to choose the Spirit to be able to cultivate and exhibit the fruit. There is a difference between the work of the Spirit and the work of the flesh. The flesh work comes naturally. Just let yourself go. Live the lowest level, almost animalistic life. That is not only simple but easy and guess what you will get? Natural, animalistic results.

clouds countryside daylight environment

However, if you choose and walk with the Spirit, you also choose the higher road. This road is not easy. Jesus said that this road is narrow and there are very few who not only find it but travel it. The Spirit is the teacher, comforter, and mentor. The Teacher uses the Bible as His textbook and life as His laboratory. It’s is just like being in school or college. You spend time in the classroom and then you get to spend time in the practicum. If you don’t attend either of these you fail the course. Too many Christians treat the Christian life as if it is party time at college rather than time to learn and grow. Then they wonder why their life as a Christian isn’t working. They have failed the course and too often blame the teacher for their failure. Paul calls this spiritual immaturity.

Forgiveness is not a fruit

So, what has this got to do with forgiveness as a fruit of the Spirit? Forgiveness is a course in the curriculum in the School of the Spirit. I believe it is an exercise in the laboratory of life. It is an instruction given in the classroom. It is practiced in the laboratory. You have to accept the assignment and if you fail the test, you get to take it again. If you fail the course, you get held back. Thank God for I John 1:9, and thank you Spirit for your patience and mentoring, because I cannot count how many times I have failed.

Endangered Christianity

The Statement

black microphone

I have heard it said by more than one person that “Christianity is only one generation away from being extinct.” Usually, the one speaking is trying to get across to their audience the necessity to reach out and share the good news of Jesus or Christianity will be gone. It’s a combination of a fear factor and a warning. The audience, I have been one, nods in agreement as the message sinks in. We had all better get busy winning souls or there will be no one left to carry on after we are gone.

Question Everything

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

Even though it sounds good, there seems to be a lingering thought somewhere on the periphery that tugs on the brain. It asks if the statement is true. Are things that desperate? I believe the statement is one of “truthiness,” as I have heard one public speaker call it. “Truthiness” is something that sounds true and logical, but when examined further, it doesn’t pass the litmus test.

Incorrect Presumptions

To accept the statement of “endangered Christianity” at face value is to agree to several basic, incorrect presumptions:

  1. It presumes the continuance of Christianity rest solely on the shoulders of the present generation, and without the evangelistic actions of that generation, Christianity is doomed. Yes, we are commanded to reach, teach, and disciple, but we plant the seed. God waters. The thinking that it all rests exclusively with man leaves God totally out the equation, which leads to the second presumption.
  2. The statement presumes God is not capable of sustaining the Christian faith. This is not biblical. Even in the darkest of times in history, God had a remnant of believers. Case in point is when Elisha ran from Jezebel and begged God to die. He complained that he was the only one in all of the land that followed God. God responded that He had 7,000 followers who did not bow to the state-sponsored religion. God is quite capable of maintaining a following. Further, even in the darkest times yet to come as spoken of in the book of Revelation, and during the Tribulation times, God will still maintain a remnant of followers.
  3. Another presumption is one that would be shared with the devil himself: somehow God can be defeated. This thought process leaves the Christian believing they are fighting a losing battle. They wring their hands while looking to the eastern sky chanting “Even so, come Lord Jesus.” They live a life of someone who is waiting to be rescued from a sinking ship rather than manning their battle stations on a spiritual destroyer.

There is, however, a danger to going to the opposite extreme. We can smugly sit around, not doing anything, “because Jesus has won the victory, therefore I do not need to fight at all.” This too is not biblical. We are commanded to act. In many places, we are ordered to reach the world around us – proclaiming the good news.

In the book of Jude, we are told to “snatch” the perishing as one would a stick from a fire. Paul said “blessed” are the feet of those who proclaim the message of salvation. In another spot, he says faith comes by hearing the Word of God, and hearing by someone telling. Jesus gave us the Great Commission in the 28th chapter of Mathew, to go into all the world. We, as the church, are expected to be obedient to the commands and calls.

The Conclusion

Truly, it is a joint venture with God and His church to continue what Jesus started. There will always be someone who responds to the love of Christ and then will be obedient to tell others, who then respond. There is no danger of the Church going anywhere. It might get lazy. It might get beat down. It might dwindle. It might even lose power, but the Bride of Christ will continue on until He says it’s the end of the age.

The Raven Revisited

Gold featherI have always been an avid reader and have always liked the work of Edgar Allen Poe. I was reading his famous “The Raven” some time back and thought about how dark it was. Yes, I know he was lamenting his loss of Lenore, but it was so bleak. So, I rewrote it from a Christian perspective.  Here it below: “The Raven Revisited.”

Once upon my life so dreary, while I wondered weak and weary,
Over many a squandered chance of lost opportunity yore,
While I staggered, strength-sapping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my cold heart’s door.
`’Tis some mournful feeling,’ I muttered, `tapping at my cold heart’s door –
Only this, and nothing more.’

Ah, distinctly I remember it was my soul’s dark December,
And my depression a dark amber wrought its light upon the floor.
Eagerly searched I relief of sorrow; – loneliness like wasteland yarrow.
From my deeds, smoke of a claro – sorrow for a life abhorred –
For the rare and radiant prospect whom the angels all once adored –
Useless here for evermore.

Downtrodden my spirit hurtin’ dark as the color of rare aged burton
Thrilled me – filled me with final feelings never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`’Tis some specter entreating entrance at my cold heart’s door –
Some unknown specter seeking entrance at my cold heart’s door; –
This it is, and nothing more,’

Presently my soul grew weaker; straining at the voice of the speaker,
`Sir,’ said He, “You must seek forgiveness for sins performed before;
But the fact is you were napping when the Spirit came a rapping,
And so kindly He came tapping, tapping at your heart’s door,
Oh, great Spirit kind I hear you’ – here I opened wide the door; –
Brilliantness there, and so much more.

Deep into that brightness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams I, mortal never dared to dream before;
But the silence now was broken, and the radiance of love awoken,
And the glorious word there spoken was the wonderful word, `Adore!’
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Adore!’
“Intensely love” and so much more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me yearning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,’ said I, `surely fact is my lonely life has so lacked this;
Let me see then, what practice and this mystery explore –
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; –
‘Tis the Spirit and so much more!’

Open here I flung my moral sense, with examination to recompense,
In my soul stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
With all Godly obeisance made he; resident stopped and stayed he;
All, with mien of the Lord, prayed he, entered he into my heart’s door –
Entered he a heart so callous just inside my warm heart’s door –
Entered and resident forevermore.

Then this golden bird compiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the splendid and fine decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be grand engraven, thou,’ I said, `thou art sure a haven.
Stately and ancient raven directly from the bright morning shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Day’s Heavenly shore!’
Quoth the raven, `Forevermore.’

Much I marveled this splendid fowl to hear discourse so candid,
Though its answer commanded – great relevancy bore;
For I could not help agreeing that any forlorn human being
Is set free by just receiving the Spirit within his heart so sore –
Freedom explodes within the accepting weary heart so sore,
With such name as `Forevermore.’

And the raven, sitting bold he to my living soul, told he,
That one word, as if his being in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered –
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Others you have yet saved before?
Of my sorrow relieved me, as my hopes have not soared before.’
Then the bird said, `Forevermore.’

Startled at the sadness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,’ said I, `what it utters I will take stock and store,
Flown from his Happy Master whom a merciful dream caster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs release burden bore –
Till the dirges of his hope freed within me all burden bore
Of “Forever-evermore.”‘

Now the raven a stately piling set my glad soul now so flying,
I wheeled a cart and danced within my soul like never once before;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this grandiose bird of yore –
What this glad, gainly, ghostly, gaily, and promising bird of yore
Meant in stately `Forevermore.’

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the capon whose loving eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
He shall press, ah, forevermore!

Then, methought, my mind grew clearer, from the fog as from a mirror,
Removed by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Salvation,’ I cried, `my God hath lent thee – by these angels he has sent thee
Freedom- freedom meant He, from sure damnation bore!
Freedom from the chains of past sins my soul damnation bore!’
Quoth the raven, `Forevermore.’

`Prophet!’ said I, `of souls retrieval! – prophet still, of hell’s upheaval! –
The throne of emerald rainbow came thee to settle this one score,
Desolate my soul undaunted, a desert land disenchanted –
Prospect of hell horror haunted – once yes, but no more –
There is – there is a balm in Gilead? – He is glorious Heaven’s door!’
Quoth the raven, `Forevermore.’

`Prophet!’ said I, `of souls retrieval! – prophet still, of hell’s upheaval!
By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore –
A once dead spirit now awaken, a different road I now am taken
Of this salvation no mistaken, Jesus to whom the angels kneel before –
Not angels only but all creation and mankind shall all kneel before.’
Quoth the raven, `Forevermore.’

At that word light dream defying, with echo of saints glorifying –
Shaken from the night’s vision and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
On bed a gold plume as a token of the truth to soul was spoken!
My thought train still unbroken! – of the raven, salvation galore!
Life to my heart, a new creation of salvation of truth, not lore!’
Quoth the raven, `Forevermore.’

And the raven, voice committing, in mind and heart, still is sitting
Whether dream imagined or somehow real from heaven’s door;
And his echoed voice all the seeming of an angel in my dreaming,
The eternal lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his light in my core;
And my soul now regenerated, liberated, exonerated, redeemed fore,
Shall be lifted – forevermore!